Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Wednesday, Apr 18th, Hakodate, Japan


Noboribetsu-onsen means "milky river" in Ainu, and the mineral hots springs just above the town provides the color to the river.  Its reputation for healing has resulted in plenty of hotels with onsens (public baths), as well as the beer gardens which are springing up.

The valley through which the river flows has been dubbed "hell valley", and it is guarded by ogres who determine your fate after death.  We took a walk through it, and all made it out.

Hakodate has played a major role in Japan's emergence from the period of Shogunate isolation.  After 220 years in which the only point of contact was by Dutch traders confined to a small island in Nagasaki, U.S-led negotiations (gunboat diplomacy) headed by Commodore Mathew Perry from 1853 to 1859 resulted in the city receiving delegations from Russia, France, Britain, and the U.S.  It also contributed greatly to the end of Japan's shogunate government, and the return of the control by its emperors.

After touring the port, we took a cable car to the top of Mt Hakodate to see the night lights of the city.  Straddling two oceans, the southern end of Hokkaido Island is a visual reminder of the energy being spread by a new generation of entrepreneurs.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Wednesday, Apr 18th, Hakodate, Japan. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Tuesday, Apr 17th, Noboribetsu, Japan


Another travel day aboard an express train and a local bus from Sapporo to Noboribetsu (Milky River), so named by the local Ainu for the mineral waters originating from geothermal underground springs (Hell Valley).

But we got in too late to see any of it, and had to settle for the public baths and pool on the third floor of the hotel.

But earlier in the day, we explored Sapporo.  From the 38th floor of the JR Tower to the center of the city (Odori Park), Miyuki showed us her city.  Growing up fast since the 1972 Winter Olympics, it has become home to Japanese seeking a colder climate and a wilder territory.  With Hokkaido containing 20% of Japan's land and only four percent of its population, Sapporo feels like it has room to breathe and opportunity to experiment.  Heeding the founder of its university (William S. Clark), who inspired his students "Boys, be ambitious", the city feels full of future dreams.

What it doesn't have are locations which display a thousand years of history.  No shrines or temples or castles that were built as statements of power.  In fact, the shoguns which came to Sapporo became civil engineers, like the one who built the canal through the city shortly after the Mejii Restoration in 1866.  What Sapporo showcases is the successes which occur when cultures are brought together to share ideas and energy.  It may not have much of a past, but it has a heck of a future.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Tuesday, Apr 17th, Noboribetsu, Japan.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Monday, Apr 16th, Sapporo, Japan


From the southern most part of Japan to almost the northern most, we flew today.  Nagasaki to Sapporo took from just after breakfast to just before dinner.  

But before we talk about today, I really have to tell you a little more about yesterday.  Though Pat and I hung out at the hotel in the afternoon and early evening, our traveling friends decided to spend some time at the Nagasaki Peace Park and take the rope lift to the top of a hill to see the lights of the city after dark.  This morning, they all said the Peace Park and evening lights were absolutely overwhelmingly moving and beautiful, and we all made plans to assemble some of their photos and some guest narrative at the end of the tour to bring the experience to all of you.  I will be very grateful to them for the addition, and Pat and I are sorry to have missed it.

And now to dinner.  Sapporo is located on the island of Hokkaido, which was the home of the Ainu people until their almost assimilation in the last twenty years.  We're hoping to be able to stop by a store featuring Ainu crafts tomorrow.

Over a hundred years ago, Ainu and others in Hokkaido were raising sheep and eating lamb meat.  The wool was needed to keep them warm, and the lamb diet was thought to have originated in their Mongolian warrior ancestors.  The specific dish we had tonight is called Jingisukan (Genghis Khan), and the fact that we were having it in the Sapporo Brewery didn't hurt our generally upbeat spirits.  Cooking itt at the table over what looked  like an overturned warrior helmet added to the revelry.  Now if we can just get the grease and smoke out of our clothes.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Monday, Apr 16th, Sapporo, Japan.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Sunday, Apr 15th, Nagasaki, Japan


Our new guide, Miyuki Ogawa, led us to two districts of Nagasaki this morning.  Dejima, was a man-made island (2.2 acres) where first the Portuguese, and then the Dutch, were confined for over two centuries.  In 1634, the Shogun lemitsu implemented his anti-Catholic edicts by ordering that all Portuguese live on the island.  Most left, and six years later, the island was deserted.  In 1641, the Dutch East India Company Trading Post was moved from Hirado to the island.  For the next 213 years, it served as the only port in Japan in which foreign trade could be conducted. 

Leaving Dejima, we took taxis to the top of a local hill to visit Glover Gardens.  Built for Thomas Blake Glover, a Scottish merchant on the scale of Andrew Carnegie, who probably had more impact on Japan than anyone other the Mathew Perry.

Glover assisted Japan to come out of its isolation, and helped them build and utilize ships, mine coal, make beer and automobiles.  He went bankrupt once, married into and sired a large Japanese family, and died a very rich man.

The garden, sometimes referred to as "Madame Butterfly Garden" for its statues of Puccini and divas associated with his operas, enjoys a lovely layout of a large variety of flowers, and has spectacular views of the city from its hilltop location.  It is part of an open air museum of residences of former western merchants.

On the way down the hill, we stopped by a large building housing the floats for the Nagasaki Kunchi Festival, held in early October of each year.  If you're thinking of coming to Japan at that time of the year, this would be a festival you would not want to miss.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Sunday, Apr 15th, Nagasaki, Japan.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Saturday, Apr 14th, Nagasaki, Japan


Hiroshima means "broad island".  You couldn't tell it when we arrived on the ferry from Miyajima.  But when Mori Terumoto saw it in 1589, it was a bunch of little flat islands stretching out from a hilly mainland.  He built a castle, and began to connect the islands with rocks from the hills.  His successors continued the plan.  Hiroshima is still flat, but it's home to 1.2 million residents today.
In 1945, there were 350,000, and we killed 140,000 of them in 10 seconds at 8:15am.  The latest toll is 320,000 when you count in those who died from radiation poisoning.  Before we boarded two trains to Nagasaki, we visited the Hiroshima Memorial Peace Museum.  The highlights for me in it were the artifacts collected from the ruins, and the video stories (20,000) of the survivors.  Much of the rest was literally old news on wall displays.

Outside in the Peace Park, we saw several memorials dedicated to the event, which were much more intended to drive home the importance of stopping it from happening again.

Mostly sponsored and maintained by children and their advocates, walking around these reminders brought home the message more powerfully.

And if you're wondering what that paper that Teddy, our guide is holding up to the's his flowchart on our route today (bus to train station to use lockers, taxis to museum and back, lunch, retrieve luggage, train, train, taxi, etc.) - so he wouldn't get us lost.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Saturday, April 14th, Nagasaki, Japan.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Friday, Apr 13th, Miyajima Island, Japan


The group is living in three separate hotels, and today is a day in which we are on our own.  The locals suggest that if you enjoy walking, there are 4,5, & 6-hour hikes which take you to most of the island's interesting places.  Pat and I decided to start with the 4-hour, and see if we can add the extra distance (it includes a ropeway up Mt Misen, and across to another peak to an observatory and temple.

On the way, we stopped by the Miyajima Traditional Crafts Center (Miyajiman Kobo), the Five-Storied Pagota, and the Hokoku Shrine.
We caught the free shuttlebus at Momijidani Park, and boarded the Miyajima Ropeway at Shishiiwa Station.  We transferred to the second ropeway, and rode up to just below the summit.  After viewing the panorama at that point, we decided that hiking the last 105 meters in elevation would have to wait til next time.

Upon arrival at the bottom of the ropeways, we continued on the walking route.  We visited the Daishoin Temple, Tahoto Pagoda, Daiganji Temple, Miyajima History and Folklore Museum, and plenty of shops, cafes, and ice cream stands on our way back to the hotel. 

Passing by the O-Torii Gate, we watched as hundreds of visitors took advantage of the low tide to walk out and touch it.

 To see all of the photos taken today, click on Friday, Apr 13th, Miyajima Island, Japan. 

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Thursday, Apr 12th, Miyajima Island, Japan


Today, after sending our luggage to Hiroshima where we will reunite with it in two days, we walked about a kilometer from the hotel to the Ishite-ji Temple.  Known in particular for the Niomon Gate, it is number 51 on the list of eighty-eight temples on the Kaiku Shikoku Pilgrimage Trail.

Our own pilgrimage participation so far consists of getting temple staff to add beautiful caligraphy to the blank pages in temple books we bought at the beginning of the trip.  The art is beautiful, and when unfolded, it's going to make a great wall-hanging.

After lunch, we caught a bus to a hydrofoil ferry across the strait to another slower boat to Miyajima Island (Istukushima).  We'll be staying on the island for the next two days, and then crossing to Hiroshima.

The island is famous for the 6th century Istukushima Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage site.  The Japanese government has declared several of the buildings national treasures.  The island, and the waters around it, are part of the Setonaikai National Park. 

On our way from the ferry to our hotel, we walked along the boardwalk past the Temple's torii gate out in the bay.  At low tide, you can walk out to it, and the coast was lined with photographers waiting for high tide to capture a sunset shot of it floating in the water.

Dinner isn't normally the highlight of the day, and it would be hard to compete today with the Ishite-Jin Temple.  But our hotel dinner tonight had to be one of the most memorable of our trip.  Here is the menu:  Local Organic Salad: served with tomato cheese dripping, dried baby sardine and miso dressing.  Japanese Hors d'oeuvvre: Jellied red sea bream roe, bamboo shoot with Japanese pepper miso, boiled octopus, roasted yam with ume flavor, salt-pickled red sea bream with cream cheese, bite-sized sea eel sushi, fried icefish, shrimp dumpling fried with broad bean, wild vegetable shoot rolled with prosciutto, ark shell and canola flower marinated with mustard, bracken marinated with tofu, broth-soaked butterbur.

Clear Soup with Clam-dumpling: Hamaguri clam, starchy egg cake, kogomi plant shoot.  Local Premium Sashimi: squid, red sea bream, cutlass fish, amberjack, blended soy sauce, citrus flavored soy sauce.  Spanish Mackerel and Seasonal Vegetable Hot Pot: spanish mackerel, seasonal vegetables, ginger, Japanese pepper.

Local Hiroshima Beef Steak: Taoshita beef, garnish vegetables, Hiroshima lemon, wasabi soy sauce, rock salt, oyster sauce.

Sake Steamed Oyster: oyster, Hiroshima lemon.

Oyster Kettle Rice: oyster, burdock, fried rice.

Barley Miso Soup: barley, wheat gluten, Nameko mushroom.  Pickled Vegetables: Japanese radish, Hiroshima mustard, pickled with Japanese red basil.  and Desert.  Served with a flight of three sake selections.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Thursday, Apr 12th, Miyajima Island, Japan

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Wednesday, Apr 11th, Matsuyama, Japan


Most Japanese live on its four largest Islands.  So far, our trip has been mostly on Honshu, the largest of the four by far.  For the last three days, we've been on Hokaido, the smallest.  Tomorrow, we head to the largest of the 8,500 others (Miyajma), and the only one that is entirely a World Heritage Site. 

Cities in Japan are designed around a hill containing either a shrine or a temple (and sometimes both).  Shrines have priests, and are organized to honor millions of Shinto deities.  Temples have monks, and are organized to honor Buddha, and his many representations.

And then there are towns built around castles built by daimyos and shoguns.  Matsuyama Castle, on Mt. Katsu, is one of them.  Most of these were never attacked in their time (we bombed quite a few of them in WWII), and stand mostly so warlords and the Shoguns generals can claim territory and feudal taxes.

We walked up the hill to it, and then up the stairs inside it, and saw the territory.  Today, it looks like any city.  In the 1600s, it was all rice fields and potential rivals. 

But we travel to learn more than who built what hillside shrine, temple, or castle.  We want to know about the culture and people that these structures grew from, and how they exist today.  We ride around the country listening to them, encounter them in shops and restaurants, watch them go to work and care for their kids.  And we try our best to adapt to their living conditions.

Our guide, Kimi, shares her life with us.  And her stories provide us with the insight that we hope will bring us a little more wisdom into how we could lead our lives.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Wednesday, Apr 11th, Matsuyama, Japan.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Tuesday, Apr 10th, Takamatsu, Japan


In 1625, the feudal lord of Takamatsu (Ikoma Takatoshi) began construction of Ritsurin,  specifically constructing a garden around a pond at the base of Mount Shuin (Purple Cloud Mountain).  It took 250 years to complete and open to the public, but it's today one of Japan's finest gardens.

The walk around the main grounds takes about two hours, and passes by scenes right out of the those Japanese hanging drawings you see in great art exhibits.

Around each corner, there appears a group of trees which display the many years of care which you can see currently being applied to their health and beauty.   We saw eight workers in ne set of trees at the same time.

The colors were deep and vivid.  There were so many shades of green: tea leaves, moss, pine needles, and new maple leaves.  In fall, the red colors of the maples stand out in the hills.

But the beauty of the garden was the shape and trimming of the trees, the design of the paths and bridges, the pond and its huge carp, and the gentle gliding of the Japanese boat (wasen) on the lake.

Mid-afternoon, we traveled by train to Kotohira, and to the Kompira Shinto Shrine on the wooded slopes of Mount Zozu.  The Shrine, one of 88 shrines which have attracted pilgrims since the 1300s, is reached by climbing up 784 stone steps that wind their way through the town and up the slope past a Kubuki theater.  We made it to the theater, bought a cool wooden mask, and a banner displaying the other characters, and waited for our other travelers to re-join us.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Tuesday, Apr 10th, Takamatsu, Japan.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Monday, Apr 9th, Takamatsu, Japan


Today, we used eleven means of transportation.  We haven't been on bikes yet, but we've got two weeks left, so stay tuned.  All this for two hours at the Himeji Castle.

Before I tell you why Himeji Castle, how about our night as trainee Shinto followers?  First, something about Shinto Buddhism.

About the time that the chief proponent of the religion (Huiguo) was dying in China, a 31-year-old from Japan (Kukai -Kobe Daishi) sought him out and implored him to teach him all he could.  As followers of Shinto were being persecuted in China, the master declared Kukia his successor, and spent his last two months preparing him to take the movement to Japan.

I'm including this shot of some giant cedar trees in a grove nearby Kukai's main hall at the Kongobu-Ji Temple because one of the beliefs of Shinto is that spirits, deities, and gods dwell in everything.  In most every place we've been, followers of Shinto have emphasized nature, and they utilized these special places as transitions from the "ordinary" world to the "sacred" world.

So we stayed in a very well-landscaped, finely crafted, wooden structure that felt very much like an indoor campout.  Matted floors with sparse furniture in small bedrooms, communal bathrooms, and a large dining area.  Early morning prayers to the spirits, and intricately prepared organic food, were offerings to create the environment in us to undertake a calm meditative day.

The result is a society which spends a big part of their day paying attention to their actions, and asks for good fortune and the avoidance of impurity from spirits that daily surround them.

We took that charge into our adventure today, and many of us will try to build on it to improve our lives.  Arriving at the Himeji Castle , we ascended the 400 year-old, five-story "white egret (color and design)" beauty with lots of other visitors.  It's the most visited building in Japan, and has been featured in most of the Japanese historical movies you've seen.

Operating for centuries as a showcase of religious and feudal power, it projects a society which in many ways can still be found here.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Monday, Apr 9th, Takamatsu, Japan.


Sunday, April 8, 2018

Sunday, Apr 8th, Koyasan, Japan


A taxi, bullet train, subway, express train, walk, funicular, bus, and walk took us to lunch, and the start of a day which would end with a stay tonight at a Buddhist temple inn in Koyosan on a thin mat in the cold after a very vegetarian dinner served by the resident monks.

The afternoon began with a visit to the Kongobu-ji Temple Complex, home of Koyosan Shingon Buddhism, founded by Kukai (Kobo Daishi) in 812AD. Kukai is considered the most important religious figure in Japan's history, and the grand master of Shingon Buddhism.  And later in the day, we learned that he's asleep at the second stop we made - the Okunoin Temple.  Being served meals each day, his followers expect him to awaken in 5.7 billion years.

The real treasure of the day was clearly the host of temples and shrines and the cemetery at Koyosan.  A wonderful city burstng with temples, Koyosan sits in a valley between eight peaks high in the mountains of Japan.  It's likened to being in the middle of a lotus flower, but in the snow. We have been carrying around long underwear and jackets throughout the first month of our trip in very heavy suitcases.  Now, we're very glad we did.

Before returning to our inn, we took a long walk through the cemetery here.  With over 200,000 inhabitants (not really dead?) awaiting the awakening, it's more like a sea of monuments than a cemetery.  Add to it that there are thousands of mature (500-800 year-old) huge Japanese cedars, and you get an awesome display of devotion and belief.  Twelve hundred years of transporting almost a million tons of granite, found nowhere near here, to carve and use as tributes to Japan's Shoguns, Emperors, and greatest corporate leaders - is so beautifully exhibited and maintained.

To see all of the photos (lots of good ones) taken today, click on Sunday, Apr 8th, Koyosan, Japan.