Desert: A Healing Place

November 20, 2016

After coming back from Japan, I made a quick escape to the desert with Rick. We spent a few days in Palm Springs, California with friends Linda and Steve.  I had no idea how much I would appreciate this escape when we planned this trip months ago.  Linda and Steve jokingly call their desert home the “fat farm” probably because we ate low-fat healthy meals.  To further go with the theme, we went on three great calorie-burning hikes in the desert.  I love the “fat-farm”!

We walked through nature preserves, desert springs and oases where thick palms groves thrive, sculpted gardens and sculpture gardens, and national parks and trails.  Mockingbirds, rabbits, lizards, a coyote, cactus wrens, butterflies, dragonflies, and many other creatures treated us to viewing them.

How lucky to have spent a few days in the desert sun and air!  How lucky to have spent time, away from the onslaught of media, with like-minded friends whose values are a true inspiration!

Enjoy the slideshow from Palm Springs and the surrounding trails and places of nature.

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow
Create your own slideshow - Powered by Smilebox
This photo slideshow customized with Smilebox

Industrial Yoga

November 19, 2016

A crazy idea, an industrial yoga photo-shoot. Why do it? Seems easier to ask why not? The idea came to me on a rainy day in Seattle, during the rainiest month of the year, November, my birthday month, in this rain-forested part of the world, the Pacific Northwest. I wondered if this idea had ever been explored before?

Yoga and Industry?

Yoga and Gray Buildings?

Yoga in an Industrial Setting?

To find out, I went on line in search of “Industrial Yoga Photo Shoot” and nothing came up. I tried other wording and, still, nothing. What I did find were photos of yogis inside studios that looked like large lofts, lofts serving as yoga studios within former industrialized buildings, fully remodeled with a fresh post-modern look and the telltale interior brick wall to indicate the building’s humble beginnings as a warehouse or supply depot.

I dragged my friend/massage therapist/visual artist, MaryAnn Kuchera, into the rain, to the SoDo District, South of the Dome, the dome that no longer exists, the one that was blown up to bits in order to make way for a bigger-better sports arena. I dragged her to this industrial district that has become the home of Starbucks headquarters. Not sure how I convinced MaryAnn to join me in this endeavor. There wasn’t much in it for her (or me) except that we got to hang out together in the rain. She must love me because there was no glamour in this project. But I wanted no one but her engaged in on my off-the-wall creativity. I thought I’d have to do some heavy convincing, but she agreed right away to be my on-the-scene photographer.

MaryAnn has an eye for detail. She is an artist. And she’s busy. We had to work hard to find a time that fit into our busy schedules. I wanted a Northwest winter setting, read “rain”, complete with gray buildings and low clouds.

Talk about getting what you want!

The day we chose was bone chilling cold. It was pouring. We knew what to expect. After all, it was winter in Seattle. I was worried that, with the cold weather, my body wouldn’t be elastic enough for some of the asanas. MaryAnn took her place behind the camera. We did our work. I warmed up enough at times to take off my many layers. Then I’d get shivery and have to layer up again. One thing I can say, the experience felt real because it was real! It was a typical winter day in Seattle. There were many areas, like the shipyards, which were off limits to us, barred by high chain linked fences and barbwire. And I was in no mood to jump barbwire fences. As is, I climbed fire escapes and loading docks, risked standing on train tracks, and took in the hard stares from the drivers rumbling past. I did all in the name of capturing a part of Seattle that seems to be hidden from the everyday downtown worker, the backbone industrial area, an almost hidden essential artery of the city.

But why yoga in this setting? I am still trying to figure this one out. When I first saw the photos that came out of the shoot, I was not satisfied. They weren’t really what I had in mind. Or so I thought. I put the photos aside and didn’t look at them again for a while…until today. Almost one year later. Now I kind of see it.

It’s about me and all of us, adapting to our environment. It’s about yoga teaching us how to ground, how to navigate life, how to perceive with new eyes. It’s about yoga teaching us how to be playful and, at the same time, how to put your nose to the grinder. With the lines of my body, I explored and fit into the open lines of the city, the loading docks, the wires, the fences, the streets, the railroad tracks. This is something we cannot do within a studio setting.

I did yoga asanas in this setting in order to draw attention to the overlooked, to what may be viewed as the possibly polluted parts of the city, in order to promote the enhancement or rejuvenation of these areas. Starbucks headquarters has moved into the old Sears Building in the SoDo District. Others will do the same. Perhaps what we captured will soon be a ghost of the past, buildings that once existed, destroyed to make way for something bigger, better, racier.

We care about our bodies. Well, why not care about the industrial artery of the city? On a bigger scale, why not take care of mother earth the way we care about our bodies, with respect and tender care? There is definitely a relationship between yoga and the environment. Seattle’s Duwamish River is a silent witness to this photo shoot. As I did Warrior II, I was aware of the Duwamish’ rushing presence, the Duwamish showing signs of revival. Finally, she is starting to thrive through much effort to clean her up after some 70 years of chemical dumping and neglect.

At times the industrial area felt dark and somewhat frightening. Do they have a soul these vast buildings and machinery, concrete and steel, cold and hard surfaces? Perhaps this yoga shoot was about shining the light of yoga on the darker parts of the city.

Our world is changing so fast that these places might not exist for much longer. The gray building could go down overnight and be replaced by a high rise apartment complex. On a regular basis, this city takes structures, knocks them down, and within months, newer bigger buildings come into being. Maybe this photo shoot is the start of something big, something new?  A new awareness through yoga.

Autumn in Japan Slideshow

November 13, 2016

And so our autumn journey to Japan is wrapped up in a slide show. As you watch, you’ll hear shakuhachi music, Silver Bamboo, by Dean Evanson.  Be sure to turn up your speakers as you watch these lovely images float by like autumn leaves swaying in the wind.  A great big thank you to my fellow travelers. Your laughter still rings in my ears! The trip was fantastic and I will offer it again in November 2017.

We travel, initially, to lose ourselves;

And we travel, next to find ourselves.

We travel to open our hearts and eyes

And learn more about the world than

Our newspapers will accommodate.

-Pico Iyer

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow
Create your own slideshow - Powered by Smilebox
Make a picture slideshow

Take only memories,

Leave only footprints.

-Chief Seattle

Yoga Inspiration

November 8, 2016

I am back home now.  I woke up in the middle of the night trying to figure out which city I was in. Was I in Kyoto, Koyasan, Osaka, or Miyajima? Or was I in Tokyo or back in Tsukiji at Kazuko’s apartment? Gradually, I figured out I was back at the condo in Green Lake, home sweet home, with the memory of Japan freshly imprinted in my mind. The Japan experience was incredible, rich, and so varied in scope.  I have a lot of processing to do!

There are a few more Japan-related blog posts to come. For now, I share this poem with you, along with photos of my fellow travelers and yogis, whom I spent the last two weeks of my life with, in the land of the Rising Sun, the Land of Kindness, Japan.

I chose the poem below before going on the trip. It embraces the philosophy of Hokusai and I feel it reflects what we experienced on our trip. Hokusai was an Edo era painter and lived from 1760-1849. He is most famous for his work of art called The Great Wave. He is the best-known and most revered Japanese artist and was extremely productive. He is perhaps the most famous non-Western artist and may very well be the equivalent of Michelangelo.

I think the poem depicts the way of the yogi. I loved the words of this poem and ideas conveyed before I left for Japan, but as I read this poem to the group on our last yoga session, I realized that the words had taken on a deeper dimension after having experienced Japan these past weeks. The poem embraces values found in Japanese culture as well as a deep running undercurrent of the Japanese approach to life.  It is a blend of the indigenous Shinto religion where stones and trees hold spirit and intelligence and of Buddhist philosophy and wisdom, where awakening oneself to the moment, living a life of mindfulness and awareness of thoughts and actions, and living a moral life lead to becoming an enlightened peaceful being.

Hokusai Says

Hokusai says look carefully.
He says pay attention, notice.
He says keep looking, stay curious.
He says there is no end to seeing

He says look forward to getting old.
He says keep changing,
you just become more of who you really are.
He says get stuck, accept it, repeat
yourself as long as it is interesting.

He says keep doing what you love.
He says keep praying.

He says every one of us is a child,
every one of us is ancient
every one of us has a body.
He says every one of us is frightened.
He says every one of us has to find
a way to live with fear.

He says everything is alive —
shells, buildings, people, fish,
mountains, trees, wood is alive.
Water is alive.

Everything has its own life.

Everything lives inside us.

He says live with the world inside you.

He says it doesn’t matter if you draw,
or write books. It doesn’t matter
if you saw wood, or catch fish.
It matters that you care.

It matters that you feel.

It matters that you notice.

It matters that life lives through you.

He says don’t be afraid.
Don’t be afraid.

Love, feel, let life take you by the hand.

Let life live through you.

– Roger Keyes

Divya

Divya

Theresa, Daphne, and Fran

Theresa, Daphne, and Fran

Sisters! Debby and Daphne

Sisters! Debby and Daphne

Wendy

Wendy

JD and Kim with the lovely Maiko-san

JD and Kim with the lovely Maiko-san

Ginger and Woody

Ginger and Woody

Kevin and Fran

Kevin and Fran

Marc and Nellie

Marc and Nellie

Don

Don

Jeff and Karin

Jeff and Karin (Udon Cooking School)

Bill and Bridget

Bill and Bridget

Marc, John, Daphne, Bridget, Debby, and Bill

Marc, John, Daphne, Bridget, Debby, and Bill

Yukiko and Chiaki

Yukiko and Chiaki

Last night in Osaka: Jeff, Kevin, Don, Karin, and Fran

Last night in Osaka: Jeff, Kevin, Don, Karin, and Fran

Up the Holy Mountain

November 6, 2016

Last night was our last night at the monastery in Mt. Koya. Mt Koya is the center of Shingon Buddhism, a sect introduced to Japan in 805AD by Kukai (also known as Kobo Daishi), one of Japan’s most significant religious figures.  Mt. Koya is also the site of Kukai’s mausoleum and the start of Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage. 

We have been staying at a Shukubo (authentic temple lodging and Buddhist monastery) and have a huge tatami room for yoga. It’s not the easiest place to stay, but we have had rich experiences here.  The monastery is very spartan.  Monk-like living quarters.  Very authentic. We sleep on futon mats placed over the tatami mats.  Our shared bathrooms are a schlep down the hall.  And if you prefer a shared bathroom that has Western-style toilets, and has one room designated for women and the other for men, then it is worth your while to wind your way down two flights of stairs, across long hallways and over an outdoor bridge (in the frigid weather at night) and across long corridors that are not heated and walled in by paper windows.  In this special bathroom, you will find a heated toilet seat and all is clean and pleasant.  I think it was worth the hike!  Bathing is in a sento (one for men and one for women) and the hours for hot water are restricted between 4:30pm and 9pm. Our life here is filled with the monks’ chanting, prayer and fire ceremony in the morning, a walk through the mysterious ancient forested Buddhist cemetery Okunoin, making Buddhist prayer bead bracelets, visiting various temples and shrines, seeing gorgeous autumn leaves.  The chanting, prayer, and fire ceremony was a deeply meditative and powerful experience for all of us.  Here we experience sunny days that warm the heart and fill your vision with views of brilliant red maple leaves and golden ginko leaves, and cold nights that bring frost over tiled roofs and pine branches. 

To counter the purity of vegan meals and the simplicity of sleeping on futon beds spread over tatami mats within a room with paper doors (shoji) and paper screened windows, many of us gather at night to enjoy clandestine  sake/whiskey/wine. These furtive parties take place in Kevin’s “abode” or in the Richardson’s tatami “suite”.  We sit on cushions piled high.  We drink the bootleg from our tea cups.  Here on this most sacred Buddhist mountain in the world, it may be 34 degrees Fahrenheit outside at night, but, indoors, we embrace the warmth of our group as well as the warmth from the heater in the corner of the tatami room. Our hearts are full and our spirits rich.

Oh, Japan! You are slipping away too quickly….I hear gongs in the distant night as I pull the covers tight and fall asleep. And again, upon waking, I hear the gongs as the monks gather to chant at 6am.

 

Photo by Karin ...Autumn Leaves at Mt. Koya

Photo by Karin Bigman …Autumn Leaves at Mt. Koya

Autumn in Japan, Mt. Koya

Autumn in Japan, Mt. Koya (photo by Karin Bigman)

Mt. Koya's temples

Mt. Koya’s temples

Temple Walls

Temple Walls

Prayers and Lit Candles: Inside the temples

Prayers and Lit Candles: Inside the temples

Oh, let's pose with a monk! with Ginger and Woody Howse

Oh, let’s pose with a monk! with Ginger and Woody Howse

Stone Garden

Stone Garden and Temple

Perfectly raked stone garden temple

Perfectly raked stone garden temple

Pillars inside temple

Pillars inside temple

Panorama of Fall Leaves Mt Koya

Panorama of Fall Leaves Mt Koya

Autumn Leaves and Rooftops

Autumn Leaves and Rooftops

Novice Monk fallen asleep on drum

Novice Monk fallen asleep on drum

Mt Koya cemetery: Okunoin, situated in the middle of an ancient forest

Mt Koya cemetery: Okunoin, situated in the middle of an ancient forest

The great Buddhist Monk, Kobo Daishi Kukai. Koyasan (Mt Koya) was founded by him twelve centuries ago.

The great Buddhist Monk, Kobo Daishi Kukai. Koyasan (Mt Koya) was founded by him twelve centuries ago.

ok

Okunoin

Dressed statues commemorate children who did not live long in this world

Dressed statues commemorate children who did not live long in this world.  They wear red bibs and are called Ojizu.

these stone carvings represent earth, water, fire, air, and ether, often the elements are marked in Sanskrit

these stone carvings represent earth, water, fire, air, and ether, often the elements are marked in Sanskrit

Ojizu

Ojizu

Moss covered head stone

Moss covered head stone

Autumn Leaves..Koyasan is the only place where the have leaves started to turn red already.

Autumn Leaves..Koyasan is the only place where the have leaves started to turn red already.

Cemetery Statue

Cemetery Statue

Cemetery Statue

Cemetery Statue

l1380006

Kimono Night in Gion

November 5, 2016

We’ve had so many experiences here in Japan.  Our guide, Chiaki, seems to say everyday, “Today, you have another highlight!”  And it’s true!  Everyday seems to bring on another grand adventure and unique experience. One of our highlights was the afternoon we went to Gion, the geisha and entertainment district in Kyoto, to dress up in kimono!

We went to a Kimono Rental.  First we were told to choose a silk kimono.  Next, the attendant chose a slip to match the kimono and helped us choose an obi (silk sash).  I was also told to choose a silk purse.  While the women in my group were choosing their silk kimono, the men where choosing theirs. From there, the women were led into one room and the men led into another.

Once in the women’s room, each of us had a professional attendant helping us with the whole process.  I was helped into a white robe/undergarment.  A few of us had chosen to pay the extra 580 yen ($5.80) to have our hair done in a traditional style to go with the kimono wearing.  I was led to the hair dressing department in my white robe where a women commenced to tease my hair.  I would rather describe the hair styling action as “ratting” but I know the proper word is “teasing”.  Rat-Tease-Spray-add a hair ornament shaped like a fan, and voila, before I knew it, I had an Audrey Hepburn-like hairdo.  It took about 10 minutes for the hair transformation.

th

14632864_10209955111746048_2124519966255015754_n

Then back to the dressing room, where the completion of the kimono wearing took place.  Layer after layer pulled tightly over my midsection, the kimono began to come together.  Then we were given tabi, socks with a separation for the big toe so we can wear our special geta shoes.

It was so fun to see everyone in our group so completely transformed. We then walked to a temple and park and took thousands of photos.

Hot off the press!

Hot off the press!  What a good looking group of kimono-clad-yogis!

We walked over to a park and took this photo

We walked over to a park and took this photo. 

Ladies!

Ladies!

And Gentlemen!

And Gentlemen!

with Don and Karin

with Don and Karin

The Lovely Canadians!

The Lovely Canadians!

with Jeff!

with Jeff!

Having a kimono on is like being hugged tightly.  You cannot slouch so your posture looks fabulous. You feel regal because, of course, you have a regal bearing to your stance.  You cannot, however, do yoga. When you walk, you have a mincing step…and below is Karin and me trying to do Warrior I.  Impossible!

14595597_10209955061984804_3196241522985248221_n

We wore our outfits to dinner, too. We went to Ganko Takasegawa-Nijoen for a multi-course Kaiseki dinner.  Kaiseki is a meal at one with nature. Every food that is served is in season.  When guests eat kaiseki dinner, they will often find things from nature such as flowers and leaves adorning the food.

Ganko Takasegawa-Nijoen is more than a restaurant. It is a villa-turned restaurant with an exquisite garden that has a river and waterfalls running through it.  It was originally the villa of the Edo-period business magnate Suminokura Ryoi and later that of Yamagata Aritomo, the Prime Minister during the Meiji period.  The historic home has occupied the same location for 300 yeas. The restaurant has a spacious Japanese garden that hardly anyone would expect to find in the middle of Kyoto.  The food is refined and the overall experience was one of a kind.

Bill stands near a lantern in the garden!

Bill stands near a lantern in the garden!

Kim and JD enjoying their meal

Kim and JD enjoying their meal

We wore our kimonos back to the hotel and returned them to the front desk that evening. It took me about 15 minutes to untie the obi and to undress.  Someone counted 19 pieces of garments to undo and take off.  It was a great relief to have it off, but also I felt sad because I suddenly no longer felt the postural support I felt all evening.  I also felt like Cinderella at curfew time.  All the magic was over.  I was just plain me again.  We asked Chiaki if there is a special word for the feeling one has when the kimono is taken off. She promptly replied, “We just say Ahhh!”

Give Peace a Chance

November 4, 2016

Six years ago, I wrote a blog post about Peace Park in Seattle. If you blink you will miss this gem of a park because it is so tiny.  The park embraces the story of Sadoko, a short term survivor of the Hiroshima bombing. Below is what I wrote six years ago on my blog post:

I have been wanting to go over to Peace Park for a while, so off we went.  If you blink, you just might miss Peace Park!  It is alongside a busy road, the University bridge, and an on-ramp.  I pass this park a few times a week on my way to teach yoga classes at St. Joe’s, but I have never really stopped and visited the park.

“Peace Park was the dream of Dr. Floyd Schmoe, who after winning the Hiroshima Peace Prize in 1998 used the $5,000 prize money to clear a small lot near the University of Washington. From a pile of wrecked cars, garbage, and brush, he worked with community volunteers to build the beautiful Peace Park.”

The main feature of Peace Park is the sculpture,  Sadako and the Thousand Cranes, created in 1990 by artist Daryl Smith. The statue is a life-size bronze of Sadako Sasaki, the young Japanese girl who survived the Hiroshima bombing only to die of radiation sickness at age 12.  She lived one mile from Ground Zero.

Sadako and the Thousand Cranes

“Sadako Sasaki was a Japanese girl living in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan  on August 6, 1945. In 1955, at age 11, Sadako was diagnosed with leukemia, cancer caused by the atomic bomb.

While in the hospital, Sadako started to fold paper cranes. In Japan, there is a belief that if you fold 1000 paper cranes, then your wish will come true. Sadako spent 14 months in the hospital, folding paper cranes with whatever paper she could get. Her wish was that she would get well again. Sadako also wished for an end to all suffering and to attain peace and healing to the victims of the world.

Sadako died on October 25, 1955, she was 12 years old and had folded over 1300 paper cranes. Sadako’s friends and classmates raised money to build a memorial in honor of Sadako and other atomic bomb victims. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial was completed in 1958 and has a statue of Sadako holding a golden crane. At the base is a plaque that says:
This is our cry.
This is our prayer.
Peace in the world.

In Seattle, Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Dr. Floyd Schmoe, built a life-size statue of Sadako. The statue was unveiled on August 6, 1990, 45 years after the bombing of Hiroshima. The statue is in the Seattle Peace Park and often has paper cranes draped over it.”

I found Sadako’s story very poignant and moving!  Right after the Japan earthquake, there were so many paper cranes covering Sadako that the statue itself was hard to see.  I could only see the statue covered by paper cranes from the car, (soggy paper cranes because of the rain!) and I have felt inspired to come to the park on foot ever since.  Yesterday, we found Sadako covered with thousands of fresh paper cranes.  There were a dozen roses at her feet.

Two days ago, we visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum in Hiroshima, Japan. To see the memorial is necessary.  To see it is a punch in the gut. The museum displays clearly show the horror of war and the devastation of the A-Bomb. The mass human suffering is relived as you walk through the galleries.

There were hundreds of school children with their notebooks, observing and taking notes.  The presence of children, who are so innocent and who have never experienced war, gave me hope for a more peaceful world.  I watched them hover over Sadoko’s photographs, looking at horror at her tattered school uniform, reading her pleas for peace, looking at the display of folded 1000 paper cranes.

  • On August 6, 1945, during World War II (1939-45), an American B-29 bomber dropped the world’s first deployed atomic bomb over the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The explosion wiped out 90 percent of the city and immediately killed 80,000 people; tens of thousands more would later die of radiation exposure.
  • The Gingko Biloba species of tree is 270 million years old. It rarely suffers disease or insect attack and was one of the only living things to survive the Hiroshima nuclear bombing. The trees healed quickly and are still alive today.
  • The oleander is the official flower of the city of Hiroshima because it was the first thing to bloom again after the explosion of the atomic bomb in 1945.
  • The Flame of Peace in Hiroshima, Japan has burned since 1964 in honor of the victims and will be extinguished only when all nuclear weapons are removed from the world and the Earth is free from nuclear threat.
You can see the peace flame burning!

You can see the peace flame burning!

The peace park was established in 1949 and serves as a symbol of peace.  The museum and park were built to remind future generations of the terror of war and the terror brought on by atomic bombings.

A commitment to peace (written by the Survivors of Hiroshima):

We cannot simply wait.

Who will make this world peaceful?

The future, overwhelming with hope and dreams,

Is something that we, every single one of us, shape.

We treasure life and desire peace.

Below are my photos from two days ago:

City of Hiroshima.  Ground Zero is right by the one existing skeletal building (a few others survived the blast but this is the only one still standing)

City of Hiroshima. Ground Zero is right by the one existing skeletal building (a few others survived the blast but this is the only one still standing)

Statue of Sadoko

Statue of Sadoko

1000 Paper Cranes

1000 Paper Cranes

Near Ground Zero

Near Ground Zero

Where are we?

Where do you want to go?

Hiroshima

Hiroshima

Himeji Castle

November 3, 2016

Rick lived in Himeji for over thirteen months.  He spent a lot of time walking around the moat, admiring the castle, photographing it and the surrounding grounds in all seasons.  He was hired by the city of Himeji to write all the English signage on the castle grounds and within the castle.  That was over thirty years ago, not too long before I met him in Chiba.

Today the signage is different.  There are signage warnings with drawings depicting how using selfie sticks can lead to electrocution if the stick hits an electrical wire.  There are warnings not to talk and text with drawings that show a texting-walking figure colliding with a wall.  Modernization has taken root, but the castle itself remains a preserved beauty.

The city of Himeji was hit by air raids twice during WWII and the town was in ashes. However, the snow-white Himeji Castle was miraculously unharmed by the air raids of WWII.  In fact, wars, fires, and natural disasters have left this castle entirely intact and have not affected the structure in any way! Last year the castle was fully renovated, fortified, painted, and earthquake-proofed.  Even though yesterday was a national holiday and the castle was absolutely packed with other visitors, we felt so lucky to be able to walk inside and see this incredible structure!

Himeji Castle was build over 600 years ago (the building of the castle started in 1331). This national treasure, also known as the White Heron (some refer to it as a white egret), is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It comes complete with a moat, 21 gates, 32 tall stone curving walls, firing holes, towers, thick latticed lacquered windows, wooden flooring, and incredible tile work on the roof bearing eight different family crests on the ridge end-tiles.  Himeji Castle offers unique defenses that many other Japanese castles do not include, such as the path maze leading to the castle:

  The path maze to the main keep includes many dead ends, to prevent attackers from entering and allowing those inside to defend much more effectively.

It took us about 45 minutes to walk through the castle.  The views from the top were breathtaking. We could not have had a more beautiful day to do this tour.

Map of the castle and grounds

Map of the castle and grounds

Detail: the ends of the tiled roofs are always in the shape of waves. The waves were thought to help thwart fire in the wooden buildings.

Detail: the ends of the tiled roofs are always decorated in the shape of waves. The waves were thought to help thwart fire in the wooden buildings.

Himeji Castle.

Freshly painted Himeji Castle.

Door at the entry gate

Door at the entry gate

Some of the roofs of the 7 level roofed castle.

Some of the roofs of the 7 level roofed castle.

Another gate door at the castle entrance

Another gate door at the castle entrance

View of Himeji from the 5th floor of the castle

View of Himeji from the 5th floor of the castle

Tourists float along the castle moat.

Tourists float along the castle moat.

Kyoto’s Bamboo Forest and Cycling Tour

November 3, 2016

The best way to see Kyoto’s Bamboo Forest?  Cycle your way through.  This blog is short…I have about 15 minutes to pack my bags and take off!

Ready to ROLL!

Ready to ROLL!

We were split up into small groups of five or six. Each of us had a guide.  This is my group!

We were split up into small groups of five or six. Each of us had a guide. This is my group!  I had to pre-arrange for us to have helmets.  The helmets were on the small size.  Woody was practically choking because it was so small for him.  He wore his helmet like a turban!

Kinkakuji Temple, Gold Temple!

Kinkakuji Temple, Golden Temple!

Cycle tour temple visit!

Cycle tour temple visit!

Japanese Scarecrows!

Japanese Scarecrows!

A wonderful stop in the bamboo forest

A wonderful stop in the bamboo forest along with THRONGS of people!

My cycle group

My cycle group

Next stop: yoga in Kameyama Park!  Wonderful outdoor standing yoga class!

Next stop: yoga in Kameyama Park! Wonderful outdoor standing yoga class!

Cycle tour

Cycle tour

Nijo-en Castle in Kyoto...has incredible Nightingale Floors, floors that squeak and sound like birds.. the sound is to alert imperial family and samurai families of approaching thieves or intruders

Nijo-en Castle in Kyoto…has incredible Nightingale Floors, floors that squeak and sound like birds.. the sound is to alert imperial family and samurai families of approaching thieves or intruders

wood work at the castle

wood work at the castle

A Night in Gion

November 3, 2016

I have fallen behind in my blogging!  We are no longer in Kyoto, but spent 4 incredible nights there.  Below are photos from some of  the highlights of our visit to the Gion district of Kyoto.  Whenever I go somewhere I love, I always say, “I could live here!”  Well, I could live in Kyoto and never grow tired of exploring this fascinating city with all of its rich culture. Gion is the entertainment district of the city.  It is also known as the Geisha District.

We took the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) to Kyoto. This is the high speed train.  The average delay of the shinkansen in ONE MINUTE.  It basically runs on time!  Exactly on time.  When it arrives at the station, we have exactly TWO minutes to board.  There is no messing around.  You get on and the train takes off!  The shinkansen bullet train began operating 50 years ago, nine days before the opening ceremony of the first Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo (1964).  Since then, the bullet trains have carried 5.6 billion passengers between Tokyo and Osaka. It reaches speeds of 311 mph.

Divya photographs a bullet train speeding by!

Divya photographs a bullet train speeding by!

Kyoto was largely untouched by World War II bombing, so many of its gorgeous ancient temples, shrines, and tea houses are perfectly preserved. It is located in a peaceful green alley surrounded by mountains on three sides.  17 of historic monuments of ancient Kyoto are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Kyoto is the cultural and spiritual heart of Japan.  Its renowned silk industry dates back to 794. Over 30 million people a year come to soak up the Kyoto experience, to visit more than 2000 temples and marvel at the Zen gardens and bamboo forests.  I feel so fortunate to be among the 30 million visitors!

Kiyomizudera Temple, built at the end of the 8th century.  The entire temple was built without the use of a single nail.  The temple is dedicated to the thousand armed goddess Kannon

Kiyomizudera Temple, built at the end of the 8th century. The entire temple was built without the use of a single nail. The temple is dedicated to the thousand armed goddess Kannon, also known as Guanyin, a spiritual figure of mercy.  She is a bodhisattva associated with compassion. The name “Guanyin” is short for Guanshiyin, which means “Perceiving the Cries of the World.” Some Buddhists believe that when on of a fellow Buddhist departs from this world, they are placed by Guanyin in the heart of the lotus, and then sent to the pure land of Sukhavati (Sukha means “easy” or “place of ease” in Sanskrit).  Guanyin/Kannon originated from the Sanskrit/ancient goddess from India, Avalokitesvara, commonly known as the Goddess of Mercy in India.

view of

view of Kiyomizudera Temple

rooftop

rooftop

Our extraordinary guide, Chiaki!  She is with us 24/7!

Our extraordinary guide, Chiaki! She is with us 24/7!

Our day in Gion was wet...pouring rain. Gave a most fitting ambience to the day.  Kimono and Umbrellas

Our day in Gion was wet…pouring rain. Gave a most fitting ambience to the day. Kimono and Umbrellas

A walk through Nishiki Market. Beautiful fascinating market.  This shop is owned by descendants of Samurai Sword makers.

A walk through Nishiki Market. Beautiful fascinating market. This shop is owned by descendants of Samurai Sword makers.

The prized and precious MATSUTAKE mushrooms (they grow in pine tree forests.) Check out the price:

The prized and precious MATSUTAKE mushrooms (they grow in pine tree forests.) Check out the price: $79 for a small container.  They will be chopped up and added to a special rice dish.

We had dinner in an ancient tea house in Gion and a private performance. This is a shamisen player. She is an accomplished Geisha, though a respectful way to refer to her is GEIKO because she has devoted her entire life to be being a Geisha (since she was 15 years old).  Geisha literally means, "a person of the arts", Geiko literally means "A woman of the arts"  Geiko cannot get married.  They symbolize the high culture of Japan.  They are female entertainers (this woman played and sang for us)  who act as hostess and whose skills include performing various arts such as classical Japanese music, dance, games and conversation.  She later went around to our table and spoke to us.  She was lovely in all ways.

We had dinner in an ancient tea house in Gion and enjoyed a private performance of music and dance. This is a shamisen player. She is an accomplished Geisha. A respectful way to refer to her is GEIKO because she has devoted her entire life to be being a Geisha (since she was 15 years old). Geisha literally means, “a person of the arts”, Geiko literally means “A woman of the arts” Geiko cannot get married. They symbolize the high culture of Japan. They are female entertainers (this woman played and sang for us). They act as hostess and whose skills include performing various arts such as classical Japanese music, dance, games and conversation. She later went around to our table and spoke to us. She was lovely in all ways.  Please note that Maiko and Geisha/Geiko are not prostitutes.  I thought I should mention it because some people think they are.  They do mostly perform for men, but they are highly trained to represent the cultural arts of Japan.  If they decide to leave the Geisha house and move out on their own, they will need someone to support them, though they cannot marry. If they move out on their own, they find a patron. The patron is a man who is often married with a legal family of his own.  Geisha/Geiko may or may not have a sexual relationship with the patron.  And if a child comes of the relationship, Geisha/Geiko are allowed to maintain their status (for it is a high status to be a Geisha/Geiko) and are allowed to raise their child, through they still cannot marry. If they marry, they make a choice to no longer be a Geisha/Geiko.

More information on the instrument Shamisen

As the Geiko played and sang, this lovely MAIKO danced for us.  Maiko is a young woman under 21 in training to become a Geisha.  At 21, a Maiko must decide if she will continue to train to become a Geisha. This young woman will decide next year if she wants to continue her path to becoming a Geisha/Geiko.  If she does, she will choose not to marry.  She lives in a house with other MAIKO.  They have a house mother.  After she danced for us, Chiaki translated for her as we asked many questions about her life.  The Maiko-san had a beautiful way about her. She is the embodiment of grace and all the kindness that is Japan.  She also came around to our table and spoke to individuals.  She spoke beautiful English. By the way, this is her own hair!  She spends hours dressing in kimono and doing up her hair (once a week) and putting on her make-up (daily) and learning the arts.  She has two days off per month. We asked her what she likes to do on her day off?  She wears jeans and wears her long hair loose past her shoulders and goes to the movies with her friends, who are other maiko!  She travels dressed like this, always in the company of her female escort, the house mother, to various places of entertainment AND to other countries (yes, she dressed like this on flight...always with a female escort.) Only one man is allowed to enter the MAIKO/Geisha house and it is the one man who ties her OBI (waist ban). Why a man to tie the obi?  Because he has to pull it tight and has the strength to pull it and tie it!

As the Geiko played and sang, this lovely MAIKO danced for us. Maiko is a young woman under 21 in training to become a Geisha. At 21, a Maiko must decide if she will continue to train to become a Geisha. This young woman will decide next year if she wants to continue her path to becoming a Geisha/Geiko. If she does, she will choose not to marry. She lives in a house with other MAIKO. They have a house mother. After she danced for us, Chiaki translated for her as we asked many questions about her life. The Maiko-san had a beautiful way about her. She is the embodiment of grace and all the kindness that is Japan. She also came around to our table and spoke to individuals. She spoke beautiful English. By the way, this is her own hair! She spends hours dressing in kimono and doing up her hair (once a week) and putting on her make-up (daily) and learning the arts. She has two days off per month. We asked her what she likes to do on her day off? She wears jeans and wears her long hair loose past her shoulders and goes to the movies with her friends who are other maiko! She travels dressed like this, always in the company of her female escort, the house mother, to various places of entertainment AND to other countries (yes, she dressed like this on flight…always with a female escort.) Only one man is allowed to enter the MAIKO/Geisha house and it is the one man who ties her OBI (waist ban). Why a man to tie the obi? Because he has to pull it tight and has the strength to pull it and tie it!

And another private performance for our group on the KOTO.

And another private performance for our group on the KOTO.

 

Koto Performance

Ms. Harumi Shimazaki was our professional Koto Player and is pictured above performing for us. We were so lucky to have a private performance by her. Here is her website. It is in Japanese, but there is an English tab you can click to see her bio in English. There are also two video clips on this site where you can see her playing.  I was so happy to hear that she does yoga.  In fact, she told me that she LOVES yoga.  Playing KOTO is very difficult.  You have to use your entire body strength to play so she gets great relief and calms her mind with her yoga practice!


%d bloggers like this: