Posts Tagged ‘travel’

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

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Sicily 2017 Slideshow

May 13, 2017

Was it one week or two?

It was one hundred lifetimes lived in a single day.

Warm sun on my skin

Within days, my skin goes brown, my eyes grow bright.

A gentle breeze floats in from the sea.

I am surrounded by beauty

and smiles.

How will I ever go back home?

This ancient land clings to my feet, tugs at my heart.

I am trapped by an invisible seaweed netting.

Cherry tomatoes burst with flavor. The local markets display mounds of dried wild herbs and mountains of colorful fruits and vegetables, which will taste as beautiful as they look.

Every morning and evening, we practice yoga to the sound of birdsong

and to soft lapping of waves.

The fragrance of the zagara flower is intoxicating.

Orange blossoms perfume the wall-less outdoor yoga studio.

Mt. Etna lets out a steady stream of smoke, steam, and dreams.

Mongibello stands tall, shrouded in purple at sunset, pink at sunrise.

What do you call the blue of the Sicilian sky and sea?

Flamingos, not yet fully pink, are feeding at the marsh.

Are there words to describe such insane raw beauty?

At night, I wonder how my parents ever left?  I wonder if I  carry the scars of their pain?

Quarry stones, hewn perfectly, stand witness to ancient history and warm today’s cat.

With the click of my camera, I capture the wild red poppies growing in a field of yellow daisies and I offer the poppies’ perfection to my lost friend Adriana.

We do yoga in the ruins of the tuna fisheries.

I feel the solidity of ancient stone under my feet, the mass suffering of the giants of the sea, and the beauty of the moment.

I watch my friends, long-time friends and new ones, do yoga on this ancient island. I lead them in a yoga sequence and I feel  Madre Terra’s energy coursing through us all.

Mother Earth and the Sicilian Sun nourish our spirits.

I breathe and I am renewed.

Fran’s website: http://www.frangallo.com

Turn up your speakers and enjoy the slideshow below (about 8 minutes long):

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow

Greek Sicily

May 1, 2017

Who has time to write when in Sicily?  So photos will have to do.

And yes, the weather has suddenly turned very warm and perfect.

The Greeks left their mark here!  Sicily was a Greek Colony and has the most beautiful Greek ruins.  We spent yesterday in Siracusa with Eleonora as our guide.  Enjoy a few photos from yesterday.

A roadside shrine to Mother Mary:

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Below: Temple of Apollo.  Perhaps this was one of the most significant temples in ancient Greek times.  The pillars in the photo below are monolithic and it is short of a miracle that they are still standing because most of the area was leveled to the ground during the great earthquake of January 11, 1693. The earthquake was one of the biggest to ever hit Italy.  It destroyed at least 45 cities and killed more than 60,000 people.  Catania was hardest hit and two-thirds of the people of Catania lost their lives.  Many of the towns including Siracuse and Modica had to be completely rebuilt.

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The main cathedral in Ortigia is my favorite.  It was a Greek Temple whose ancient pillars are perfectly preserved because they were filled in with walls for a church.  In the photo below, you can see the Greek Temple pillars embedded in the exterior walls.  These columns, thousands of years old,  are even more beautiful from the interior.  From Greek Temple to Mosque to Catholic Church, this cathedral is remarkable.

Perfectly preserved Greek Temple

Sicilian girl sitting on the steps dating back to the the ancient Greek temple-turned Catholic Cathedral

Sicilian girl sitting on the steps dating back to the the ancient Greek temple-turned Catholic Cathedral

Poster promoting a traditional puppet show in Ortigia

Poster promoting a traditional puppet show in Ortigia

Our group!

Our group!

Rain Follows Me

April 21, 2017

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We woke up to birdsong and a great big blue sky.  Our morning here consists of breakfast on the rooftop and Peppa’s beautiful smile and great sense of humor.  Peppa works at this B&B San Placido Inn and prepares breakfast for us in the morning.  She is from Bulgaria, talks a million miles per minute in Italian, and is ever so funny.  Rick is very intrigued by her since he has met very few Bulgarians and is eager to ask her questions and engage her in conversation.  She is extremely friendly and has a lot to say in answer to Rick’s hungry questions. Guess who gets to be the interpreter at 8am?  Ecco la!! So I listen and translate and do my best to catch up with these two eccentric minds whose ideas bounce back and forth as if in a fast-play tennis match.

And Mt Etna this morning from our rooftop breakfast. You could really see the billows of cloud-like eruptions from the mountain. It's really something to see! The wind picked up again and it was rather chilly out today. Well, it was the same temperature as Seattle. I looked. Seattle was 50 degrees and Catania reached a high of 52. People had their coats and hats on. I could see them shivering as they walked by!

And Mt Etna this morning from our rooftop breakfast. Last night’s winds chased the clouds away! You could really see the billows of cloud-like eruptions from the mountain this morning. It’s really something to see! The wind picked up again after breakfast and it was rather chilly the rest of the day. Well, it was the same temperature as Seattle. I looked. Seattle was 50 degrees and Catania reached a high of 52. People had their coats and hats on. I could see them shivering as they walked by!

The B&B has very interesting decor: antique books on Sicily, paintings and old sketchings of Etna in eruption over the years, ships and boat collector items such as rudders, oars, nets, fishing tackle, and this "weaving". I took this photo because this reminded me of my dad. On Palm Sunday, Sicilians take the blessed palms that are handed out during mass and later, at home, they weave crosses and baskets from the crosses. My dad weaved the most beautiful and intricate crosses for us. I never learned how to do it, but it was wonderful to watch him. He told us stories as he wove these for us. We kept them and treated them as precious gifts until the next Palm Sunday came around.

The B&B has a very interesting decor: antique books on Sicily, paintings and old sketchings of Etna in eruption over the years, ships and boat collector items such as rudders, oars, nets, fishing tackle, and this “weaving”, antique cameras and puppets, typewriters and a mishmash of antiques that are fun to look at. I took this photo because this weaving reminded me of my dad. On Palm Sunday, Sicilians take the blessed palms that are handed out during mass and later, at home, they weave crosses and baskets from the crosses. My dad would take the palms we received on Palm Sunday mass and, back at home,  he’d weave the most beautiful and intricate crosses for us. He’d always start out by saying, “Oh, honey…I think I may have forgotten how to make them!”  And then he’d make them.  They were more beautiful every year!  I never learned how to do it, but it was wonderful to watch him. He told us stories as he wove these for us. Stories about his mother and about his paternal grandmother, Mamma Luigia.  We kept the weavings he made for us and treated them as precious gifts until the next Palm Sunday came around.

We made a quick trip to the villa to have a meeting with the wonderful owner, Piero, and the caretakers. Very productive time. Then once back in Catania, we saw this unusual shop with gigantic candles made of bees' wax. These candles are about 6-7 feet tall and thicker than my arms. They are used for the bi annual Santa Agata's procession. Her golden statue used to be taken out only once a year, but after she stopped a major lava flow from coming pas the city palace in the 15th C, the faithful of Catania started taking her statue out for huge processions twice a year. The second day to commemorate how she answered the prayers of the faithful to stop the lava flow. By refusing to marry a pagan, St. Agata was tortured. Her rebuked pursuer ordered her breasts to be cut off. She then was burned in a pit. Witnesses say that she

We made a quick trip to the villa to have a meeting with the wonderful owner, Piero, and the caretakers. Very productive time. Then once back in Catania, near our B&B in the heart of the historic district, we saw this unusual shop with gigantic candles made of bees’ wax. These candles are about 6-7 feet tall and thicker than Rick’s arms (slight exaggeration!) ! The faithful buy and use them for the annual Santa Agata’s procession. This third century saint has an interesting (and gruesome) story. Her golden statue, made of gold, used to be taken out only once a year, but after Santa Agata answered the town’s prayers by stopping a major lava flow from coming past the city palace in the 15th Century, the faithful of Catania started taking her statue out for processions twice a year.  The procession in February is the one that goes on for days and has been happening annually for over 1,700 years. St. Agata had made a vow to God to never marry and to devote her life to God. When she refused to marry a man of wealth and power who had fallen in love with her, beautiful St. Agata was tortured by him. Her cruel and rejected pursuer ordered her breasts to be cut off.  She then was burned alive in a pit in the center of the city for all to see. Witnesses say she didn’t burn.  According to witnesses, the flames engulfed her, she died a martyr, but her pure body did not burn.

More on St. Agata’s story below and an interesting website that helps people locate where her statue is during the procession festivities:

“Saint Agatha lived during the 3rd century AD, and yet 1,700 years later the entire city stops for three days to remember a strong girl who said no to a man.”

“She was a teenager from a wealthy family who had decided to devote her life to God. When she refused the advances of a Roman prefect (Sicily was then under the rule of the Roman Empire), he had her tortured in many ways, including severing her breasts. This episode has even inspired a local sweet in the shape of breast, minne di Sant Agata (St. Agatha’s breasts).

The Feast of Saint Agatha is the most important religious festival of Catania, attracting many people from the surrounding areas and tourists – it is estimated that up to a million people line the streets of the city during the three-day festa.

“For a few days, people forget their problems, their differences, their social class and  just focus on venerating Saint Agatha in an incredible mystical atmosphere. Everyone experiences the celebration in different ways, not everyone is a religious devotee, for some it is a photo opportunity.

The three-day festa has a long and busy program. It opens on February 3 with a midday procession of eleven candelore, large candle-shaped structures symbolizing the guilds, and two carriages belonging to the old local Senate with the highest religious and civil authorities of Catania. It ends in the evening in Piazza Duomo, where the St. Agatha Cathedral is located, with a fireworks display.

On the morning of the 4th, a statue of Saint Agatha holding her relics is placed on a 40,000 pound silver fercolo, or carriage, and carried around the city by devotees until it is returned to the Cathedral late at night, or, sometimes, even at dawn.

On the morning of the 5th, Mass is held at the Cathedral. Throughout the day, the reliquary bust of St. Agatha is exposed there. In the afternoon, it is taken for another procession, ending in the early morning of the 6th.

With such a long procession and so many different highlights, as a non-Catanese, how do you know where to go, what to do, what not to miss?

“Actually, this is also a problem for many of the locals. During the days of the festival, devotees wander the streets day and night in search of the saint, asking themselves, “Unni ie’ a’ Santa?”, Where is the saint? This is why to help everyone answer the question and honor St. Agatha, there is a website called Unni ie’ a’ Santa (Where is the saint?).”

A light dinner at DOC, where the kind and proud owner, Giuseppe, tells us that he is in his third month of newness. "Please tell people about me on Trip Advisor." So I did!

A light dinner at DOC, where the kind and proud owner (and English speaking), Giuseppe, tells us that his restaurant DOC (Duomo Of Catania) is in his third month of newness. “Please tell people about me on Trip Advisor.” So I did!

I am ruined for life...a tomato will never taste the same again once I leave sun kissed Sicily

I am ruined for life…a tomato will never taste the same again once I leave sun kissed Sicily

And many Sicilians have laughing eyes and a great sense of humor. We saw this sign outside a wine shop and just had to step in to talk with a young woman and her father. The father only spoke Sicilian and his daughter's English was impeccable. "I'm so glad you got the pun! You know, not everyone understands my humor. Some come in and ask where my buckets for sale are! They take me LITERALLY." Then we talked about the rain. She and her father's hands were ice cold! If you look at a map of Sicily, there is SUN everywhere, except this evening in Catania...where we have rain. It came suddenly. We were eating at DOC (Duomo of Catania) and then suddenly we see rain. In fact, in all of Europe, in all of ITALY, there is one rain spot and it is here in Catania. And it was cold tonight. People are wearing their coats and hats. Vendors materialize from seemingly no where..."Umbrella?" Vendors from Africa, Bangladesh, and other Asian countries trying to sell us umbrellas. We laugh and tell them, "This is nothing. We are from Seattle. This is our NORMAL." And they laugh, even though they have lost a sale or two to is.

And many Sicilians have laughing eyes and a great sense of humor. We saw this sign outside a wine shop and just had to step in to talk with the owners of the shop, a young woman and her father. The father only spoke Italian and his daughter’s English was impeccable. “I’m so glad you got the pun! You know, not everyone understands my humor. Some come in and ask where the buckets for sale are! They take me LITERALLY.” Then we talked about the rain. She and her father’s hands were ice cold! If you look at a map of Sicily, there is SUN everywhere, except this evening in Catania…where we have rain. It came suddenly. We were eating at DOC (Duomo of Catania) and then suddenly we see rain. In fact, in all of Europe, in all of ITALY, there is one rain spot and it is here in Catania!  Rain seems to have followed me from Seattle.  And it was cold tonight. People are wearing their coats and hats. Clever vendors materialize from seemingly nowhere…”Umbrella?” Vendors from Africa, Bangladesh, and other Asian countries trying to sell us umbrellas. We laugh and tell them, “This is nothing. We are from Seattle. This is our NORMAL.” And they laugh heartily, even though they have just lost a sale.

Rain on our "Sun-Kissed-No-More-Terrace" this evening

Rain on our “Sun-Kissed-No-More-Terrace” this evening

Evening sunset

Evening sunset from the terrace

 

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

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

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.

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)

Another Adventure About to Begin

October 25, 2016

The last week has flown by. It was filled with re-discovering Tokyo and meeting up with my Japanese friends.  Such an incredible week.  And tonight we have our welcome party with a fabulous group of yogi-fellow adventurers gathering from Washington, Oregon, Florida, Toronto (Ontario), and Vancouver (B.C.)!

Below are a few more photos from yesterday…

We saw two weddings at Meiji Shrine.  This bride is wearing

We saw two weddings at Meiji Shrine.  This is one of them.  She looked very solemn! Meiji Shrine is a place where bride and groom go to pray for a harmonious marriage.

This is the second bride.  Since she wasn't wearing the big white hat, we could admire her hair!!  And she was so beautiful with her smile.  She and her husband look so happy.

This is the second bride. Since she wasn’t wearing the big white hat, we could admire her hair!! And she was so beautiful with her smile. She and her husband look so happy.

I felt a little weird taking their photos, but who could resist?  Look at her feet. She has the traditional stance (toes pointing inward).

I felt a little weird taking their photos, but who could resist? Look at her feet. She has the traditional stance (toes pointing inward).

We went back to Hama Rikyu Garden and we finally found the 300 year old pine tree! How could I have missed it the first time around?  It is lovely and regal.  Its branches are held up with huge wooden supports.  I thought that a 300 year old pine tree deserves to be assisted and the supports reminded me of canes used by elderly to assist with balance.

We went back to Hama Rikyu Garden and we finally found the 300 year old pine tree! How could I have missed it the first time around? It is lovely and regal. Its branches are held up with huge wooden supports. I thought that a 300 year-old pine tree deserves to be assisted and the supports reminded me of canes used by elderly to assist with balance.  This is one of the largest black pines in Tokyo!  It was planted in 1709 by the sixth shogun.

The cosmos were so beautiful in the park.

The cosmos were so beautiful in the park.  I saw my first hummingbird moth yesterday in the field of cosmos flowers!  Looks just like a hummingbird, but is a moth! 

I remember my first autumn in Japan almost 29 years ago.  My students took me to a cosmos field.  Cosmos as far as the eye could see!

I remember my first autumn in Japan almost 29 years ago. My students took me to a cosmos field. Cosmos as far as the eye could see!

Little did we know that the park would be closing at 5.  We had just enough time to walk around. At 5, employees came around on bicycles to hurry us towards the exit.  I felt as if they would close down the park and lock us inside if we didn't hurry up.  But they didn't!  We made it out in time!

Sunset in the park. Little did we know that the park would be closing at 5. We had just enough time to walk around. At 5, employees came around on bicycles to hurry us towards the exit. I felt as if they would close down the park and lock us inside if we didn’t hurry up. But they didn’t! We made it out in time!

And a wonderful visit to the Imperial Palace gardens.  Rick and I used to walk around the exterior moat area.  Today, Don and I walked the interior!  Very interesting place.  This is a dolphin statue!

And a wonderful visit to the Imperial Palace gardens. Rick and I used to walk around the exterior moat area. Today, Don and I walked the interior! Very interesting place. This is a dolphin statue from 1657 (there is a date carved on its head!)! It is called Watari-yagura-no-Shachi of the old Ote-mon gate.  This dolphin used to be on the roof of a building used for storage and defense.

Guard House rooftop.  This is one of three remaining guard houses.

Guard House rooftop. This is one of three remaining guard houses.

Another rooftop of the second guard house of three remaining.

Another rooftop of the second guard house of three remaining.

The last of the three remaining guard houses within the imperial palace gardens

The last of the three remaining guard houses within the imperial palace gardens

Guard house

Guard house

Mount Fuji Viewing House

Mount Fuji Viewing Place

Foundations to a five story structure that no longer exists

Foundations to a five story structure that no longer exists

Pine Tree and Palace walls

Pine Tree and defense walls


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