Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

Enticement

May 29, 2017

Japan Autumn Tour with Daily Hatha Yoga

OCTOBER 29-NOVEMBER 12, 2017

I recently made a slide show for the  Japan trip coming up Autumn 2017 and found myself marveling at the various photos depicting a place and a people very dear to my heart.   Below are a few of my Japan photos I choose to share today with a description of why these, in my mind, are such enticing photographs.

Registration is now open for the Japan Autumn Tour with Daily Hatha Yoga.  Please check out my website and join me if you can!  Meanwhile, enjoy the photos:

Miyajima Island

Miyajima Island.  We visited this peaceful healing place after a day in Hiroshima. We felt heavyhearted as we left the historical horrors of Hiroshima and, by contrast, coming to this place was like listening to soothing music.  The island is considered sacred to the Japanese.  Docile deer roam the island and add to the gentle island atmosphere.  Deep red shrines punctuate this precious island, which seems to embrace its visitors. The green of the forests makes for relaxing sleep, something everyone needs when traveling.

The main shrine on Miyajima Island.

The main shrine on Miyajima Island is photogenic at all times of the day.  Here it was sunset and the tide was out.  The Japanese have a strong esthetic sensibility.   Japan is a photographer’s paradise.

And yet another from Miyajima.  I guess you'd think this was my favorite spot.  There were many favorite days, places, and activities.  It's just that Miyajima possessed a certain varying enticing light at all times of the day, making it a very photogenic place.

And yet another photo of Miyajima. I guess you’d think this was my favorite spot. There were many favorite days, places, and activities throughout the trip. It’s just that Miyajima possessed a certain varying enticing light at all times of the day, making it a very photogenic place.

This musician played the koto for us in Kyoto.  The music is so ethereal.  She was so lovely, too, and so accomplished.  Her English was nearly perfect. Plus she did yoga three times a week!  She blushed when she told me about being a yoga practitioner!

This musician played the koto for us in Kyoto. The koto music is so ethereal. She was so lovely, too, and so accomplished. I love her kimono.  Her English was nearly perfect. Plus, I found out she did yoga three times a week! She blushed when she told me about being a yoga practitioner!

Mossed over lanterns at a shrine in Nara.  The shrine was full of these ancient lanterns.  Once a year, these lanterns are all lit up. It was delightful enough for me to see the lanterns within the wooded shrine. I walked the ancient path and felt as if they were already illuminated.

Mossed-over lanterns at a shrine in Nara:  The shrine was full of these ancient lanterns. Once a year, the lanterns are all lit. It was delightful enough for me to see the lanterns within the wooded shrine. I walked the ancient path at dusk and felt as if they were already illuminated.

Land of tenderly tended gardens.  As soon as you walk in a Japanese garden, you lose yourself to the paths, the carefully placed and pruned trees, the ponds and reflections. The scent of earth and pine envelope you and let you know you are imperfectly perfect just as you are.

Land of tenderly tended gardens:  As soon as you walk in a Japanese garden, you lose yourself to the paths, the carefully placed and pruned trees, the stones,  the ponds and reflections. The scent of earth and pine envelope you.  The gardens let you know you are perfectly imperfect just as you are and that life is ephemeral.

What's in a cup of tea ceremony's green tea?  Thousands of years of culture, sensitivity, the art of hospitality, kindness, beauty, and serenity.  From the sound of water slowly being poured and the swoosh of the whisk bringing the tea to a froth, to holding the ancient cup made by a master potter, my hands warm to the cup and my heart warms to the soul of Japan.

What’s in a cup of tea ceremony’s green tea? Thousands of years of culture, sensitivity, the art of hospitality, kindness, beauty, and serenity.  From the sound of water slowly being poured and the swoosh of the whisk bringing the tea to a froth, to holding the ancient cup made by a master potter, my hands warm to the cup and my heart warms to the soul of Japan.

Koi and reflection of leaves on the water.  How lovely the Koi of Japan.  Embracing longevity and smooth transitions in life, the koi swims silently across the water. Time stops still for a moment.

Koi and reflection of leaves on the water. How lovely the koi of Japan. Embracing longevity and smooth transitions in life, the koi swims silently in the water. Time stops still for a moment.

Rooftops are so pretty that they don't look real.

Rooftops are so pretty that they don’t look real.  Waves and waves of tiled roofs give shelter to a culture steeped in history.

A tea house reflected in the water.  What I love about this tea house are the two people enjoying their tea.

A tea house reflected in the water. What I love about this tea house are the two people enjoying their tea!  I’d love to know what they are discussing.  How did they plan this day? “Let’s wear our kimonos tomorrow and go have tea at the tea house!”  Did they know they would be reflected in the water, photographed by this American woman, their collective dreamy image brought back home with me so I can forever dream their dream?

These little dippers at every shrine seem to purify my heart as well as my thoughts.  I enter the shrines clear of worldly concerns.

These little dippers at every shrine seem to purify my heart as well as my thoughts. I enter the shrines clean of worldly concerns.

Transformed!  Every group has an energy, a way of clicking together, a way of forming a family-like bond, if only for the precious time together, sometimes some the bonds formed go beyond the time the group is together.

Transformed! Every group has an energy, a way of clicking together, a way of forming a family-like bond, if only for the precious time together, sometimes some of the bonds formed go beyond the time the group is together.  I look at this photo and my heart leaps with joy.  Such a fine group of people!  We all experienced the Japan journey together last year. 

Chiaki, our guide, is certainly a great part of this experience.  The reason why I am so late in getting the word out about the trip is because I was waiting to be sure SHE would be our guide.  I would not want to do the trip without her.  She is simply amazing.  Her English is excellent, her love of her country, her work, and people she works with is evident, and her knowledge of history is profound.  She is entertaining and she is REAL.  She is honest and hardworking.  I cannot sing her praises enough.  Suffice to say, those going on this trip are LUCKY.  Chiaki holds us all and guides us to all fall in love with Japan and with her.

Chiaki, our guide, is certainly a great part of this experience. The reason why I am so late in getting the word out about the trip is because I was waiting to be sure SHE would be our guide. I would not want to do the trip without her. She is simply amazing. Her English is excellent, her love of her country, her work, and the people she works with (us!) is evident, and her knowledge of history is profound. She is entertaining and she is REAL. She is honest and hardworking. I cannot sing her praises enough. Suffice to say, those going on this trip in 2017 are LUCKY. Chiaki holds us all and guides us to all fall in love with Japan and with her.

Experience Japan for two weeks October 29-November 12, 2017.

DETAILS and TO REGISTER: http://www.frangallo.com

Autumn Haiku

December 2, 2016

It’s already December!  Have I really been back from Japan for almost a month now?

On the first day the group was together in Japan, I gave everyone an index card containing a haiku translated into English. Each haiku had an autumn theme.  I asked everyone, if possible, to capture an image with their cameras to match their particular haiku.

A haiku poem traditionally contains a specific image which becomes a symbol for a given season.  For example, crows, red dragonflies, colorful leaves, full moon, moonlight, bamboo, sake, frogs, wild geese, cranes, and herons are common images or symbols for autumn haiku. It was a tough assignment I gave out.  It was not always possible or easy to capture the simple-yet-rich imagery depicted in the haiku.

I did, however, receive the following examples of Autumn Haiku with their corresponding photos below.

The first haiku below is the one I assigned myself (!).  I thought it would be easy to find a lone empty road, but I couldn’t seem to find what I wanted.  Instead, I captured the lonely beauty of the ancient cemetery at Mt. Koya.  The tombstones, tilted drunken sentinels standing watch next to ancient trees atop the forested mountain, were covered in moss.  Instead of a road, there was a footpath running the length of this vast cemetery.  I certainly would not want to brave this path alone at night.

Not one traveller
braves this road –
autumn night.

-BASHO

Cemetery at Mt. Koya

Lonesome path. Cemetery at Mt. Koya. The five stacked stones represent the five elements Earth, Water, Fire, Wind/Air, Space.

And Jeff was the first to submit a photo for his haiku!  Here is his assigned haiku and his photo from the bamboo forest:

Moonlight slants through
The vast bamboo grove:
A cuckoo cries

-Basho

Jeff's photo of the bamboo forest

Jeff’s photo of the bamboo forest

Bill was not able to photograph the solitary leaf of a kiri tree while in Japan, but when he returned to Vancouver, BC, he saw an image which would help him investigate the loneliness Basho describes:

Come, investigate loneliness
a solitary leaf
clings to the kiri tree

-Basho

Bill's photo and haiku below

Bill’s photo of the solitary leaf

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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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!

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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!”

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.

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!

Tsukiji Tuna Auction

October 29, 2016

If you are squeamish, vegetarian, or vegan, I think this blog post may not be for you.

It is late and I must be up early tomorrow morning for yoga and for another full day of activities here in Japan, so will keep my writing on the short side.  I have fallen behind on my blog posts.  We went to Tsukiji a few days ago.

The day started at 1am when the alarm went off. I think I am crazy for opting to get up at this hour to see the tuna auction at Tsukiji Fish Market....but it was an experience I am glad to have seen!

Tokyo: Tsukiji Tuna Fish Auction.  The day started at 1am when the alarm went off. First thought: Have I gone crazy?  I think I have gone temporarily insane for opting to get up at this hour to see the tuna auction at Tsukiji Fish Market….but it was an experience I am glad to have seen!  The first 120 people in line get in every morning.  By the time we got to the fish auction site a little after 2am, there was already a long line formed!  However, getting there early got us in!  No reservations allowed.  First come first serve basis!  Here we are in a “holding tank”.  Squished together like minnows, we sit and wait for hours.

A seller comes in to explain to us how the whole process works. He is funny, speaks pretty good English, and gives us lots of facts about the whole tuna fish auction process! Finally, at 5:35am, we are called in to witness the auction.

A seller comes in to explain to us how the whole process works. He is funny, speaks pretty good English, and gives us lots of facts and explains much about the whole tuna fish auction process! Finally, at 5:35am, we are called in to witness the auction.

Each tuna sells for $100,000 or more. A 250 kg blue fin tuna can sell for over one million dollars

Before the auction begins, the buyers examine the fatty ends of the tuna.  The bluefin tuna are frozen (so they appear white).  Their fins are cut off.  The fattier the end portion is  near the tail, the more desirable the fish.  The buyers use hooks to dig into the flesh to test the fat content. Each tuna sells for $100,000 or more. Highest selling tuna fish ever?  In 2013, a 222kg bluefin tuna was sold for 155.4 million yen (1.8 million USD)

Inspection continues. Security guards everywhere. Tension in the air. I had no idea the bluefin tuna are so big. It made me sad to see their carcasses, but I was also amazed by the whole process of supply and demand. Even today, not much is known about the bluefin tuna. We do know that it is one of the fastest swimming fish, that it has an immense habitat range and that the Atlantic bluefin tuna is endangered.

Inspection continues. Security guards everywhere. Tension in the air. I had no idea the bluefin tuna are so big. It made me sad to see their carcasses, but I was also amazed by the whole process of supply and demand. Even today, not much is known about the bluefin tuna. We do know that it is the fastest swimming fish, that it has an immense habitat range and that the Atlantic bluefin tuna is endangered.

Crazily waiting for the auction to begin. In 20-25 minutes it will be done. Buyers will use their hook to haul away these huge fish. Within minutes, the frozen fish will be cut with a saw and sold to various restaurants. We could see the process taking place as we were exiting the auction hall.

Crazily waiting for the auction to begin. In 20-25 minutes it will be done. Buyers will use their hooks (you can see the hooks in this photo) to haul away these huge fish. Within minutes, the frozen fish will be cut with a saw and sold to various restaurants. We could see the process taking place as we were exiting the auction hall.

close up

close up.

Almost ready to start

Almost ready to start

hook

Here you can see one of the buyers inspecting the fatty tail area with a hook.  There’s a guy just beyond him in a white vest.  This white vested man bought many of the fish.  He signaled to the auctioneer with very fast hand gestures.  It all happened so fast, but my guess would be that he purchased over half of this second row of bluefin tuna…hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of fish.

The guy up on the pedestal is doing the auction...

The guy up on the pedestal is doing the auction…

Afterwards, headed to the market and saw these grapes selling for $18 USD! (one small bag)

Afterwards, headed to the outdoor market and saw these grapes selling for $18 USD! (one small bag)

But wait! The darker grapes are less expensive at $16 USD for a small bag

But wait! The darker grapes are less expensive at $16 USD for a small bag

Then we headed to a sushi shop for breakfast. Whose idea was this? This is what Don ate for breakfast. I ate some sushi, too, (it was 6:50am)...when in Rome (Tokyo, in this case) and I must admit I felt a bit queasy afterwards.

After the auction, the outdoor market was not yet open so we headed to a sushi shop for breakfast. Whose idea was this? This is what Don ate for breakfast. I ate some sushi, too, (it was 6:50am).  The sushi shop was filled with customers!  And it is open 24/7.  Freshest sushi in the world.

Last but not least, Cherished Fruit! This Meron (Melon, misspelled) was next to the Fruits Stick (that would be a $5 fruit stick)

Last but not least, Cherished Fruit! This Meron (Melon, misspelled) was next to the Fruits Stick (that would be a $5 fruit stick)

Streets of Tokyo

October 27, 2016

We logged on miles yesterday walking around Tokyo to see various areas of the city.  We started out by taking the subway to Higashi Ginza, right by the Kabuki Theater.  I took this photo from a poster..it seemed so very lifelike to me! In the past, Rick and I attended a Kabuki play.  The plays can last for hours and are very slow moving, especially because it is nearly impossible to understand what is being said in their stylized manner of speaking. Our friend’s bother was a Kabuki actor and we got to go backstage to meet him after the play.  All Kabuki actors are men.  The actor we met always played a female role and he had a special dressing room and toilet area set apart from the male actors who played male roles. He was removing his makeup when we saw him and was still in character/acting mode.

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We next went to Asakusa, also known as “Old Tokyo” to see Senso-ji Temple.  This 7th century temple is Tokyo’s oldest and most beloved temple.  It was destroyed in WWII and was reconstructed after the war.  It draws 30 million visitors every year.  The temple also has shrines within the complex. It is devoted to Kannon, a Bodhisattva known for her compassion.  Praying to Kannon is said to bring relief to suffering.

History and Origin of Senso-ji
Early in the morning of March 18, 628, when the capital of Japan was Asuka (present-day Nara Prefecture), two fishermen, Hinokuma Hamanari and his brother Takenari, were fishing in the Sumida River. Suddenly sensing something, they pulled up their net to find a statue of Bodhisattva Kannon. When Haji-no-Nakatomo, village headman of Asakusa, heard about this, he immediately realized that the object was a statue of the important Buddhist deity Bodhisattva Kannon. Taking vows as a Buddhist priest and remaking his home into a temple, he spent the rest of his life in devotion to Bodhisattva Kannon.
In 645, renowned Buddhist priest Shokai Shonin built Kannondo Hall upon visiting the Asakusa district during his travels. Following a revelation he received in a dream, Shokai decided that the image should be hidden from human view, and this tradition has remained in place ever since.
Asakusa began as an obscure fishing village along an estuary of Tokyo Bay, part of the vast wilderness of the area known as Musashi. The district later thrived as people arrived in increasing numbers to worship. When Ennin (794-864), the highest-ranking priest of Enryaku-ji (head temple of the Tendai School of Buddhism) visited Senso-ji in the mid-ninth century, he created a statue identical to the hidden one that could be viewed and worshipped by the people.
During the Kamakura period (1192-1333), the shoguns, who held the true power in Japan during this time, demonstrated great devotion to Senso-ji. Gradually, other historically prominent figures including military commanders and the literati came to follow their example. Enjoying the protection of these illustrious individuals, the temple buildings were refined. During the Edo period (1603-1867), first Edo shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu deemed Senso-ji the temple where prayers for the aspirations of the shogunate would be offered. As a result the buildings were imbued with still greater dignity, and the temple complex flourished as the center of Edo (present-day Tokyo) culture.

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Above: here we are at Senso-ji

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Senso-ji

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HOLY SMOKE! The woman to the left of this photo had a wad of money.  She was putting each bill, one by one, over the holy smoke and waving it around.  I thought she was purifying her money.  Someone in our group (who was it?) suggested she was preparing to hit a casino and gamble!

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People come up to the Holy Smoke and wave it towards their faces and bodies for purification and blessings.

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We had an incredible buffet lunch at MUSASHI.  From the restaurant, we had a bird’s eye view of the Tokyo Sky Tree and the Senso-ji Temple below.

Next we went to Kappabashi Kitchen Street, a street filled with all sorts of kitchen wares.  The most interesting part about this street is all the plastic food displays for sale.  Here is what I found out about the plastic food that looks very real:

Restaurants in Japan often display mouth watering food in their windows – sushi, noodles, burgers, soup, and ice cream. But they are not meant for eating, no matter how good they look, because they are made of plastic. These food replicas are surprisingly realistic, and restaurants display them so potential customers can see at a glance what is on the chef’s menu before stepping inside an eatery. The practice is less of a novelty and more of a necessity especially for tourists since restaurants in Japan print menus only in Japanese. They’re also a convenient way to order. Rather than trying to figure out the correct Japanese translation, customers can simply point at the display window.

The food models, called sampuru, started appearing in Japan nearly a hundred year ago, in 1917. In the beginning they were used merely for decorations at home, just like artificial house plants of the time. It wasn’t until a few years later, when a Tokyo restaurant decided to use it to attract customers, that the idea started taking off. Fake food on display meant more business, and that still holds true today. It does away with the guesswork and the need to use your imagination when looking at a menu. The food replicas show you exactly what you’ll get in terms of shape, size and color, and that means they have to be hand crafted from real food samples. A single restaurant can spend as many as a million yen (USD $8,500) on plastic replicas.

l1370114Plastic food!  Or Food that never goes bad.  These are placed outside of restaurants to lure people in.

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Ice-Cream that will never melt: Plastic food displays

While walking around Kappabashi Kitchen Street, we saw many children dressed up on cute, very cute, Halloween costumes. Halloween is a fairly new celebration here. Kids dress up as princesses and sword fighters. Dressed up children and their mothers were everywhere, even though Halloween is still a few days away.

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Next stop was Nippori Textile District. This is also known as Fabric Town. There are shops where old kimonos are sold for men and women. This is the place to buy your yukata, cotton kimono. There is a one kilometer road of fabrics.

And the grand finale was the 300 year old Tofu Restaurant, Sasa no Yuki. This restaurant opened its doors in the Edo period, and continue to serve signature tofu dishes. The tofu is made fresh every morning with water from the shop’s very own well! I wish I had been hungrier and able to appreciate the various foods served. It was a 10 course meal, with a variety of tofu dishes served at each course. Who knew tofu could be silky like cream, thick as custard, ground like hamburger meat, whipped into something like a mayonnaise dressing, or turned into ice cream

What I learned is that long ago in Japan, tofu used to be only for shogun, monks, and imperial family consumption. It was forbidden to be eaten, along with white rice, for the common people.

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