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I have frequent flier miles and an itch to go. Just have to find out what my cardiologist has to say.

Home again

and mostly recovered from my 36 hour trip. Here is the email I just sent to United Airlines, detailing some of the agony.

I have begun to go through my pictures and hope to post more in this blog, but for the most part I’ll be back at Studio Ruthe.

Dear United Airlines,

You have just gone from being my favorite airline to being the airline I hate the most, all in 36 hours. Part of the reason is that 36 hours later I am sitting in Dulles Airport still waiting for my flight to Pittsburgh. Let me tell you about this fiasco.

I went to China and Japan on one of your frequent flier tickets. I made my reservation well ahead of time, and after only three tries, we got it right. When I got to Japan I realized I had made a mistake and decided to change my return flight. I understood there would be a $100 (plus) charge. When I finally completed this transaction it cost me $150 (plus) for a total of $225. I think that transaction was highly profitable for you. That was OK. The problem was I was flying from Osaka (Kansai) to San Francisco to Washington (Dulles) to Pittsburgh. This did not make me happy, but I wanted to go home. I was also unhappy because I did not have a seat on any of those flights.

I got to Kansai early in hopes of getting a decent seat, but wound up against a bulkhead in a seat that wouldn’t go back more than 2 inches. Almost ten hours with the seat in front of me in my face did not make me happy. I was even more unhappy when my luggage didn’t show up. In fact I was looking for a non-existent United rep to make a lost luggage report when it finally appeared on an entirely different carousal. It took so long to get it I would not have made it to the next flight, but I didn’t have to worry: it was delayed an hour and a half. That connection did not allow enough time in between flights, not unless you figure out a method for prompt luggage delivery to connecting passengers instead of the current system of early in, last out.

I did not know, while I was on flight 886, that it was continuing on to Chicago. If the person who made the changes in my itinerary had given me the option of going to Chicago, even if it required an overnight stay, I would have been happy to do so. I had already figured the odds on my making it to Pittsburgh that night and was pretty sure it wasn’t going to happen. I am always happy to stay overnight in Chicago, but that offer was never put on the table.

At Kansai, when I was finally given seats on all three flights I was told only middle seats were available from San Francisco, but somehow, magically in San Francisco, I found I could change to an aisle seat. What kind of profit can you possibly make by playing games with seating?

Because you claim a weather problem delayed my flight from San Francisco, I had to pay for my hotel room. I think you should pay, because I never would have selected that itinerary if I had been given a choice.

All of that leaves you at the bottom of my list of airlines, right along with US Air. I thought frequent flier programs were supposed to generate good will for the airline. You have succeeded in alienating this customer to the point where I don’t care to be part of your program.

Sunday, December 14

This is my last full day in Japan. I have mixed feelings about leaving, but I am sure it’s the right thing to do. As each day ends I think I’ve really seen everything I need to see and there is no reason to remain. Then the next day I find something new and wonderful. A small part of me wants to remain, but I know it is really time to go home. So this will be my last post from Japan. There will be more posts and pictures after I return to Pittsburgh and have the use of my Mac instead of this toy I’ve been working on. I want to thank Mage in particular, and all of you who have commented on my photographs. Because of the size of this computer screen I really have only a poor idea of what I’ve been posting. I can’t wait to see the photos on my big monitor.

I found a good way to get to that mythical temple, and this morning I did it. Taking the subway, instead of a bus I was able to get to within five minutes walk of the temple entrance. There were many English directional signs in the subway station. Just outside the station the sign had an arrow indicating walk straight then turn right. The first possible right turn takes you through a little tunnel with no additional signage; another path to take on faith.

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The temple, Nanzenji, is one of those large complexes with many sub-temples. It’s in a beautiful area next to the mountains on the east side of Kyoto. There were relatively few tourists when I arrived before ten this morning. The weather was somewhat threatening and considerably cooler than yesterday. I entered the complex and walked past all of the sub-temples until I reached Nanzenji itself, where I went through the Hojo (abbot’s living quarters) and viewed the garden, again only from the building.

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This is such a wonderful location. No matter where you look there is something beautiful—the mountains frame everything you see. The next place I went, Nanzen-in, had no English signs, but I had memorized the location from the large sight-seeing map as you enter. Before you enter the garden you go under this amazing Roman-style aqueduct, part of the Biwako Canal.

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This was a wonderful stroll garden. As I walk through these gardens I am just overwhelmed by their beauty.

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Leaving Nanzen-in I noticed the aqueduct seemed to end just up a nearby slope. I walked up to see it; the water comes from the ground and is carried across a valley.

End of the aqueduct

End of the aqueduct

Then I found another garden, Saisho-in. This little sign in the garden tells a lot about these gardens and Japanese culture.

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Back down in the valley I found another garden: Tenjuan, also very special.

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The last garden was part of the Konchi-in sub-temple. This one really required more thought and contemplation than I was willing to give. It is lovely, but I can’t say I fully understood it.

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I was getting very cold and had enough garden for the day. I got back on the subway and went to find lunch and do a little more shopping.

Saturday, December 13

Another beautiful, warm day and another temple: Jisso-in in the north of Kyoto. For this one I had to take the subway and a bus. The temple was interesting; there were some wonderful paintings on the doors. The garden was viewed only from the building. I thought there was supposed to be a stroll garden, but it was blocked.

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I had intended to visit two or three other temples in the area, but it looked like it would require a lot of bus and train riding. Nothing was convenient. I got back on the subway and went to the Kyoto Botanical Garden, which turned out to be very interesting. I was able to identify several of the trees I had been photographing. The garden is huge and contains a European style garden, a conservatory, a Japanese garden and areas with different kinds of trees such as fir, camphor, cryptomeria, cherry, plum and maple.

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I found out that these wonderful sculptural forms enclose cycadacea, but still don't know what that is.

I found out that these wonderful sculptural forms enclose cycadacea, but still don't know what that is.

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The conservatory

The conservatory

Weeping cherry

Weeping cherry

Cryptomeria

Cryptomeria

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Next to the botanic garden is the Kyoto Garden of Fine Art. An interesting structure by Tadeo Ando displays porcelain recreations of some of the most famous western works of art. The first thing you see when you enter is Monet’s Water Lillies, lying in a pond.

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This, and Sunday at the Grand Jatte by Seurat, both approximately original size, are dwarfed by the structure, which is open to the sky, and appear much smaller than the originals housed in galleries. Works by Renoir, Van Gogh, da Vinci, Michangelo and a Chinese and Japanese scroll painting are also shown.

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I think this is a uniquely Japanese way of handling reproductions of works of art. Last year I saw something similar, although not so spectacularly displayed, at an “Art Park” in Osaka.

All week I thought about going back to the lovely restaurant I went to with Jacqueline, but each day, as I finished walking around, I couldn’t think about getting on another bus and taking that long ride. Tonight, as every other night, I stopped and bought a take-away box and ate in the hotel room.

Friday, December 12

Tomorrow my big suitcase gets shipped to the airport so I won’t have to schlep it. I decided I ought to go shopping today in preparation for leaving. Also, it’s Robin’s birthday and she had a request. I asked one of the young ladies who works at the hotel for suggestions about where to shop. They are very knowledgeable and go out of their way to be helpful. It was a beautiful day, still warm with a blue sky. I probably should have gone to another temple, but the truth is I needed a break. I got to the shopping area about 10:15 and found they didn’t open until 11. Back on the bus to the train station and Bic Camera, a huge electronics dealer next to the station. Robin’s request had been USB gloves, to keep your hands warm while using the computer.

Bic computer is a daunting place. There are seven floors of electronic stuff and every floor has loud music and loud announcements, which I don’t find conducive to the challenge of shopping in a foreign language. I’ve actually managed to purchase two things there at different times: a lan cable and a USB storage device, and failed to purchase a battery for my camera because they no longer carried it. I have yet to find anyone who speaks English there. The battery and the USB device were easy. I just took out the one I had and asked for another. I couldn’t do that with the lan cable since I didn’t have one, making the purchase a lot trickier. This time I was pretty sure would be impossible. How do you ask for something that might not even exist?

I walked around the entire computer floor until I found the obvious place where such an item would be if they had it: a huge case with plastic models of sushi with USB connectors sticking out of them. Amazing! If they had had the gloves, this is where they would be, but no such luck.

Back on the bus, it was lunchtime already, after which I finally went shopping. Most of the fashionable stuff for young women here seems to have at least a touch of that goth-lolita business, making it very hard to find anything I want to buy. I managed to get a couple of things and went back to the paper store where I thoroughly enjoyed looking at all the papers no longer carried by the shop in Tokyo.

Thursday, December 11

It’s gotten very warm again, about 60 degrees F, just amazing for December. I was warm all day yesterday; today I wore lighter clothing. I’m not complaining, but it is weird. This morning I went back to the temple I didn’t want to climb to yesterday. Going to these places requires a large measure of faith. You get off the bus at the proper stop, easy enough. Sometimes there is some signage, but sometimes you just start down a narrow street and hope it’s the right one, as I did today, and found it without much trouble. Alas, it was not open to the public. Too bad; it was one of the places Jacqueline recommended to me for great trees.

The temple I couldn't get into

The temple I couldn't get into

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Having climbed to what was evidently the foot of Mt. Hiei, I wasn’t willing to go back down with seeing something. Consulting my map, I found Honen-in Temple nearby, at any rate neither up or down. I loved this temple. No special garden, but wonderful trees and relative solitude. That’s really all I ask.

Entry path

Entry path

The trees were so tall I couldn't get the entire tree in my photos

The trees were so tall I couldn't get the entire tree in my photos

Another climb

Another climb

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Special sand paintings

Special sand paintings

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Notice that leaf directing the water

Notice that leaf directing the water

Amazing tree roots

Amazing tree roots

This was behind a pagoda-like sculpture. Any ideas on what it may signify?

This was behind a pagoda-like sculpture. Any ideas on what it may signify?

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I got back on the bus and went to the stop for Shisendo Temple. After another one of those walks on faith I found it. This was a special garden, very neat and precise, part of which, a mostly dry garden, you could sit and contemplate from one of the buildings and a large part to stroll through.

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Contemplating the garden from within the building.

Contemplating the garden from within the building.

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The Head Gardener, I think.

The Head Gardener, I think.

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After the leaves fall they still look good on the ground.

After the leaves fall they still look good on the ground.

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Temple kitchen

Temple kitchen

Nearby was Enkoji with a nice garden but not as neatly manicured as Shisendo. These gardens just amaze me with the variety of their shapes. How many ways can you place plants, water, sand, gravel, and rocks? There seems to be an infinite variety.

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The garden is famous for having this statue. It's very small.

The garden is famous for having this statue. It's very small.

I climbed some stairs to find this cemetery surrounded by mountains.

I climbed some stairs to find this cemetery surrounded by mountains.

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I wanted to see one more temple, Nanzen-ji, but this one I failed to find, got tired of walking and went back to the hotel. I may never get to there. This is the second time I haven’t found it. I’m beginning to wonder if it really exists.

Wednesday, December 10

I awoke this morning to gray gloominess and CNN telling me Illinois was the most corrupt state in the US. Although I now live in Pittsburgh I really consider myself a Chicagoan, having spent most of my first 63 years there. I wasn’t surprised to hear about the governor. Probably the bigger surprise is why it took so long to get him. He certainly didn’t make any effort to cover his tracks. I don’t agree that Illinois is the most corrupt. Pennsylvania has made pay to play legal. The other state I’ve lived in most recently, New Jersey, has some interesting things going on also. Both of these states have the potential to be No. 1, also. But I digress…

The sun came out about 9:00 and I went out. I had two temples in my sights this morning, sort of across the street from each other. I say sort of because that’s how they appear on the map. Reality is different. I began with the one on the side of the street where I got off the bus, and found it was down a narrow street about 50 m. and then up, I don”t know how much. Most of it was on a steep slope with a few stairs. I don’t like up, or down for that matter, but up I went. Shinnyo-d0 was worth it. No tourists, just enough people to keep me feeling comfortable. There was supposed to be a garden, which I think it was closed. The grounds were lovely with lots of great trees. The buildings were interesting. It was a great morning.

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I didn’t want to go back down the way I came; I found another road and promptly got lost. I don’t usually mind being lost but this was requiring more walking than I really wanted to do. I found a beautiful little garden with an open doorway. Although the entryway was open, unfortunately the actual garden was blocked—it would have to be viewed from a building and no one was around to let me in.

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Finally came to the entrance to a temple that was on the map. This one had no appeal for me being a lot of buildings with a lot of gravel around them. Another 300 m. and I came to a police box and one of those terrible communication glitches. The officer was very pleasant, but not terribly helpful. Eventually he pointed me in the wrong direction and I took another very long walk, getting to a main street where I could get a bus back to where I wanted to be. Sometimes I think I should rename this blog, “The Misadventures of a Silly Old Lady trying to get along without language.”

Having done as much climbing as I could bear to think about in one day I put plan B into effect, forgetting about the temple on the other side of a now distant street that would have required even more climbing and went to Heian Shrine instead. It’s on flat land, and I never saw their garden when I went there last year. This is a huge, stroll garden, actually four different gardens, positioned around Heian Shrine. Each of the gardens has different features, one with two beautiful old-style buildings; two with irises around a pond, unfortunately not at this time of year; one with a large pond crossed by stepping stones that were the girders of two famous bridges in the center of Kyoto constructed in the 16th Century; one designed for garden parties for poets.

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This bird followed me from the park in Osaka

This bird followed me from the park in Osaka

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By the time I finished this garden I was serious about finding lunch. However I was distracted by a sign directing me to Muran-in, another garden on my list. I tried to find a lunch place on the way, but got to Muran-in first. This garden was created by an individual, a statesman of the Meiji and Taisho periods. Entering through a narrow doorway you find a small stroll garden; nothing like the garden at Heian Shrine, but very pleasant. I put my hunger on the back burner and enjoyed my stroll through the garden.

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Now, lunch became a big issue. I used to say I would eat anything that didn’t move. I don’t know if age has anything to do with it, but I now realize I’ve become a very fussy eater. It’s not just Japanese food I have trouble with. I only eat at certain places at home, also. So I began my search, checking out the pictures, the plastic models and the occasional menu with English on iit. I found a place that said it had grilled fish and walked in. They had Japanese style booths where you sit on the floor, but they also had a counter with stools. Sitting at the counter I was able to watch some of the food preparation. It was a very tiny place, not much larger than my hotel room. The grill, and the person grilling were behind a wall with a pass through to the person behind the counter. She got a tray ready with pickles, something that turned out to be potatoes, cold, a dish of tofu, and finally rice, miso and my grilled mackrel. The fish was delicious and I particularly liked the tofu, which was slightly redolent of yuzu, a Japanese citrus flavoring.

I fell in love with yuzu last year. The dictionary definition is citron, but I’m inclined not to believe it. I think it’s something particular to Japan. I asked about the yuzu flavored tofu, but they didn’t understand. There was a lemon slice with my fish that they pointed to and called yuzu. I bought yuzu sauce at home, but it wasn’t as good as what I’ve had here.