Archive for October, 2007

Tuesday, October 30

Waiting line

Great day today! I saw No. 1 on my hit list: the Uesugi screens, rakachu rakugaizu, scenes in and around the capital. I was prepared to travel all the way to Yonezawa to see them, and here they were at the Kyoto National Museum, part of the Kano Eitoku show. I got to the museum about 10:30 and found I had to wait in line 40 minutes to get in. They don’t seem to know about timed tickets here. The exhibit was terribly crowded but I patiently squeezed my way in to see each of the objects. The show is glorious; almost worth the entire trip to Japan. I did not buy this catalog, although it’s very tempting. I have to investigate shipping before I commit to another book that heavy.

After I finished looking at that exhibit I went to the permanent collection of the museum and saw many other beautiful things. Those exhibits were relatively empty and peaceful, the way I like to look at art.

Across the street from the museum is Sanjusangendo Temple, my other stop for the day. This temple has 1000 bodhisatva sculptures and a large, thousand armed kannon. This kannon actually has 21 pairs of arms, but it is said each arm saves 25 worlds, making a thousand arms. The arithmetic reminds me of the way the 10 plagues of the Passover Haggada get multiplied to 300 plagues. No pictures allowed inside, but here are some from outside.

Back of Sanjusengendo

The building is long and narrow, to house all those Bodhisttavas, and the large Kannon.Another tree being trained

Another picture I couldn’t resist.

Can’t get away from it

The weather changed while I was in the museum, and became quite cool. I had conversations this morning with two English speakers who both said the weather had been unusually warm for this time of year. I’m glad it finally cooled off.

This time I figured out the buses, got the right one and got off at the right stop. My rescuers from yesterday not only gave me that necessary hand, they gave me information about food shopping near the hotel. I found the French bakery they mentioned and a mini mart where I picked up a salad and a Japanese specialty called Okonomiyaki, a kind of grilled omelet. I’ll go back to the bakery, but skip the mini mart.

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Monday, October 29

I just heard that is was 31 degrees in Pittsburgh today. It’s still quite warm here and the mosquitoes are active. I think I got two new bites today. I crossed the street early this morning to the Kyoto Imperial Palace, where I scheduled 3 tours, the Imperial Palace and Shugakuin Imperial Villa for today and Katsura for Wednesday. The Imperial Palace tour was easy, very pleasant. Again, the trees were the highlight for me. Pine trees are trained to this imperial shape. Imperial pine treesAfterward, since it was just across from the hotel, I returned to my room before setting out to Shugakuin, View from the Emperor’s Tea Housean hour, two subways, one electric train and a taxi away. I decided that tour would also be easy and left my cane in the hotel room—a mistake. Again I found myself climbing steep, uneven steps and not knowing how I would get down.

I needed help. Just an arm to hold on to, but I needed it desperately, and I hate asking. With me on the tour were a couple, obviously American, but now Israeli, observant Jews. I went over to the woman and asked for a favor. She and her husband were both very gracious and helped me get down all the stairs, much easier than using the cane. I wish I could travel with them all the time.

I wanted to go to one more place this afternoon: Shimogamo Shrine. Kami at ShimogamoIt really wasn’t near anything, but was sort of on the way back from Shugakuin. I took two buses, got off at the wrong stop and wound up walking a very long distance, finally arriving toward dusk. Although well within the boundaries of the city, Shimogano is situated within a huge old growth forest, with several streams, and mosquitoes, running through it. In spite of the mosquitoes, walking through the forest in growing darkness was very special.

By this time I was really tired and still had to think about dinner. Before I went into Shugakuin I found one of those little restaurants that had absolutely nothing written in English. Since it was the only thing around I walked in and was seated and presented with a cup of cold green tea. First time I’ve tried that; I really liked it. I couldn’t read the menu so I asked for soba. The waiter said, plain? I said, what else? He said, tempura. I agreed. I got a bowl of hot soup filled with soba noodles, bits of green onion and a tempura shrimp, mostly breading, floating on top. Not what I expected. Soba is usually served cold and I didn’t expect the soup.

Five middle-aged Japanese women were finishing lunch as I entered: housewives for an afternoon out. They also went to Shugakuin. They behaved amazingly like American women in the same situation. If I didn’t have a language problem, I’d feel right at home.

Without really knowing where I was going I boarded yet another bus outside of Shimogamo and hoped it would take me someplace where I could buy dinner. I was hoping to get to Daimaru, a department store with a good food court. Somehow I got to a Daimaru, but never found their food court, instead went to a different franchise, not as good. I was too tired to keep looking and gratefully got on another bus and came back to the hotel.

Bruce Pee, ILL Store

Even tired and hungry, I couldn’t pass up this one!

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Sunday October 28

I’m in Kyoto now, back at the Palace Side Hotel. I will be here for the next 10 days, and I just found out they have a place in the lobby where I can go online with my own computer. It makes me happy, but not as happy as when I could work from my own room. I left Hiroshima this morning, taking this streetcar Hiroshima streetcarfrom in front of my hotel and going to the train station. I had arranged for a reserved seat on the 9:10 Shikansen. Arriving at the station about 8:15 I found I could take an 8:45 train in the unreserved car. That worked well, today there wasn’t much competition for the unreserved seats. I like it because I’m not tied to a specific time. The trains along the Tokaido route, Tokyo to Hakata, run frequently.

At Himeji, after I photographed this wonderful Mikoshi,Mikoshi I put my overnight case and my coat into one of those wonderful coin lockers and set off for Himeji Castle, one of the great sights of Japan. Himeji CastleOnce beyond the entrance I found a crowd gathered around a man and woman dressed in old-time clothing and a sign saying you could take their picture for free. Another man was helping take pictures of people seated next to the woman. I don’t usually take pictures of myself, but I couldn’t resist this one.Me and two friends

Going up into Himeji Castle required a lot of stair climbing, some of it very difficult. I took one of Arvin’s collapsible canes from Carol for just this kind of thing. I’ve only used it twice before, and I really hate it. I feel very old when I am using it. Coming up these stairs was a terrifying experience for me. Terrible stairsAnd I couldn’t imagine how I was going to get down. As I left I found out I could have gone a different way, much easier. It was a good thing; I would have had to go down those stairs on my bottom.

Outside of the castle a great street fair was going on. There was food, music, performances, games of chance, and probably other things I couldn’t fathom. I had street food for lunch, a kind of shish ka bob, and was most impressed with these people who were making sure the trash was properly sorted and recycled.Volunteers

Next to Himeji Castle is a beautiful Edo style garden. I think these men are part of a photography club that hired models to pose for them. They were all over the garden. There was much more to see but I was worn out, so back to the station and home to my hotel in Kyoto.Photography club

One last picture: Halloween at HimejiAging pumpkins

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Saturday, October 27

Hiroshima with A Bomb dome

It‘s a beautiful day today, just as 9/11 and August 6, 1945 were beautiful days. The sting of evil is more potent on a beautiful day. I spent most of the morning in the Hiroshima Peace Museum and the Peace Memorial Hall. I feel like I have to write about it before I can go on to more pleasant things. This museum powerfully conveys the horror and the agony people suffered in the atomic bombing. I feel wrung out, and enormously sad, having spent the entire morning with tears in my eyes. I have never understood what makes us think we are justified in killing others. After seeing this memorial I am even more convinced of the monstrosity of justifying killing. More than that, I think we have accepted nuclear weapons as a fact of life and forgotten how devastating they can be. Our leaders say they believe the bomb can be used as a deterrent. They should be made to understand that these weapons should never be used. It is just too easy to go from thinking of them as deterrent to planning to use them. This is what certainly what is happening today. The city of Hiroshima has created a powerful memorial and remembrance of this terrifying event. They should now persuade every world leader to visit here and fully understand what took place.

Torii at Miyajima Island

To decompress, I spent the late afternoon on Miyajima, an island just off the coast, sacred to the gods of rice production and fishing. One of the attractions of the island is a herd of tame deer. They wander freely and accost the tourists, looking for food. This was the first time I ever touched a deer. I watched them eating food stolen from visitors and Fighting over a paper box

even eating paper, just like goats. As I was walking back toward the ferry one of the deer tried to get into, or eat, my bag. He approached from behind, at first I thought someone was trying to pickpocket me, and wouldn’t stop until a young Japanese couple helped me My protectors
shoo him away.

Two of the specialties of the island are oysters and a kind of pastry shaped like a maple leaf and filled with various things ranging from red bean paste to chocolate to cream cheese. Of course, I can’t pass up food. I had two oysters, opened to order, and steamedOysters steaming
in their shells over a kind of grill. The maple leaf pastry I tried was filled with bean paste and came with a bowl of green tea.

I remained on the island until after dark to see the huge torii lit up. Most beautiful, as I left the ferry a huge full moon was rising over the harbor.

Moon over Miyajima

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Thursday October 25

Long, beautiful day trip to Koyasan. The sky looked threatening, and I think the TV predicted rain. It’s all in Japanese, but it’s amazing how much like our TV it is. I easily get the context if not the details. The weather person showed a lot of umbrellas on a map of Japan. It was pretty easy to figure out where he was showing. But I got lucky. It did rain, but was finished by the time I got off the train. Another no umbrella day and it was great.

Koyasan is southeast of Osaka in the mountains. Much of the long train trip was beautiful. I could see mountains in the distance with mist swirling around them.

on the train

All of the foliage was lush. While we were still in lower elevations there were a lot of trees with orange balls on them. I’m guessing they were persimmons, not oranges. Truth is I have no idea how persimmons grow.

After about 2 hours on two trains and a cable car (funicular), I arrived at the place where Buddhism really took root in Japan, brought by the famous Kobo Daishi. I went first to the amazing cemetery, Okunoin. Half a million tombstones sit amidst trees so old and tall you can hardly see their tops. Trees so tallI spent almost two hours walking around this cemetery. I love looking at trees, and sometimes they make me want to cry, they are so beautiful. trees and tombstonesSome priests came along; one of them stopped at an old tree with a deep fissure in its bark. He put his face into the indentation and talked to the tree. I was deeply moved. We smiled at each other and bowed. I had no way to tell him I felt the same way he did.

I’ve given a lot of thought to spirituality here. Other tourists have told me they are looking for Japanese spirituality. It’s not easy to find. Temple in the midst of Osaka

Shrine in Hiroshima

I don’t really understand what we generally mean by spirituality, and I don’t consider myself a spiritual person, unless my love of trees qualifies me. Koyasan is clearly the most spiritual place I’ve visited in Japan.

There is a great collection of temples and halls in the opposite direction from Okunoin. I took the bus all the way to the far end and began walking back, stopping for lunch and a rest along the way. I went into Kongobuji Temple, Reihokan Museum and Kondo Hall, all very interesting. The museum, in particular, had some interesting paintings.Tokugawa Family Tomb

Because I was unclear about the type of facilities available here and unwilling to sleep on the floor again, I made this a day trip from Osaka.

I got back to the cable car a little before 5 and it left the station about 5:15. Buying a bottle of water before I boarded, seemed a good idea at the time. It was a terrible mistake. There was no time to stop before I got on the first train and it didn’t seem necessary. That train trip seemed longer than when I came. This trip has trains that are slow and slower; a good thing going up into the mountains. By the time I got to the second train I really needed to stop. But I didn’t know how often the trains ran and I wanted to get back to Osaka, get some dinner and take my shoes off. I really suffered. I kept trying to figure out if I could get off the train, use the facilities and board the next one. I just didn’t know. I figured from the information I had about the trip I would arrive in Osaka about 7:30. Agony!

At 7:00, suddenly, everyone got off the train. I did too! The hell with it; I would figure out how to proceed after I relieved myself. Then I couldn’t figure out which train I would have to get back on. I found an attendant, and after some rather confused discussion, found out I had arrive at my destination. I didn’t have to go anywhere. Sometimes getting around is very difficult. I’m glad I can still laugh at myself.

As I walked back to the hotel all of the Pachinko and slots places were lit up and booming. Young women were standing outside to entice customers. A very different sight than the sad, quiet, recovering street I walked through in the morning.

My hotel in Osaka

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Random Observations

Bagels seem to be big here, and I think they’ve done a better job interpreting them than was done with some other food imports. At least, they look good.

Not surprising: Halloween is big here. There is a long tradition of dealing with ghosts and spirits here. I don’t know what they think Halloween is really about, but I can understand how they would embrace it.

Buses here are on time. The sign at the bus stop said the next bus would be at 4:41; it arrived on the minute.

The fashion for pants worn so low you wonder how they stay up (and sometimes don’t) does not seem to have caught on here. Mostly everyone seems well covered, except for the school girls whose uniforms have mini skirts worn with knee socks. It’s not very attractive. Many young men look like they’ve just stepped out of comic books: strange hairdos, weird costumes. This was truer in Tokyo than in Kyoto. I’ll try to get more pictures. In Osaka the fashion seems to be short shorts with knee high boots. I saw one young woman with the falling down pants, for the first time. She also had long shoeslaces untied on one of her sneakers. I only saw her from the back.My favorite outfit

There must be a lot of osteoporosis here. Many bent over old women walk around pushing tiny walkers that look almost like small strollers. I guess they can sit in them when they need to, or carry packages. It’s very sad.resting on the walker

There are toilets everywhere. Unlike New York, where you never pass up an opportunity because you don’t know when the next one will be, you can find facilities in train and subway stations, on the street and every tourist facility. I haven’t found a dirty one yet. Sometimes I have to wait for a western toilet, or go looking for one, but there is usually something available. A lot of places have handicapped facilities—always western. For that purpose I am always handicapped, or I certainly will be if I have to squat. Heated toilet seats, found in unheated places, are just as startling as icy ones.

Fractured English: New ING, no idea what that is; Heart in (as in I left my heart in), fast food, I think. They also have Daily in; SunEver Coffee; There’s a lot more. I have to write them down more quickly.

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Friday, October 26

I am sitting on a shinkansen bound for Hiroshima and I’ll write as long as my battery holds out. I think the trip will be only 1.5 hours. It’s a gray, gloomy day; the rain seems to be here with a vengeance. When I left the hotel this morning it was only spitting and I never bothered to open my umbrella. I went over to the nearby train and subway station and left my bag in a locker. They have lockers in every station and they are wonderful. Makes everything so much pleasanter. I’m just carrying a little overnighter, but this computer makes it heavy. I left my big bag at the hotel in Kyoto.

When I arrived in Osaka a woman at the tourist info office told me the folk art museum (one of my big interests) was in Expo Park, nowhere near my hotel. I chose the hotel because I thought the museum was nearby, and it was near the station for the train to Koyasan. (still working on that post) I kept wondering how I made that mistake, having great faith in my internet research. Last night I searched again and found the museum on my map, right nearby. So that was this morning’s destination. Amazingly, I found the place with only one request for help. It opened at 10, and I was early. With no coffee shop in sight, walking around several blocks, I bought a can of hot black coffee from a vending machine. The machines are all over and sell both hot and cold drinks, including beer and sake. When I was here last I could only find coffee with cream and sugar; now they have several kinds of black coffee—not great, but acceptable.

Back to the museum:9:55 and the doors were open. There was a woman outside sweeping the sidewalk. (They do that a lot here.) She told me the museum was closed until Nov. 1, but I should come into the gift shop.

Folk art museum

This museum is supposed to have a pair of folding screens, drawn by Hamada from information provided by Yanagi, with maps of the location of craftsmen. This is what I wanted to see. I asked about them in the gift shop. Either they didn’t understand me or they just don’t know, but they also referred me to Expo Park. Too bad. I should have brought the journal article I found for my class. Most of it was in Japanese and I might have gotten better answers.

Now I’m sitting in the hotel of my dreams: I can work on my computer on a desk in my own room. Of course, I’m in Hiroshima and feeling the need to get out and see things. Just thought I’d have a cup of tea first.

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Finally got around to posting some of the photos: Murasaki no ryo, Kyoto Station and that strange toilet, the ultimate symbol of male impertinence, which is here.

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Wednesday, October 24, food

Tonight’s dinner was a bento box from Takashimaya—very high class. First, it almost looks like it’s gift wrapped. After I opened the double bag I found a piece of ice sealed in a plastic packet taped to the cover. I’m not sure this would keep the fish cold if I had a long way to go with it, but it was a charming gesture. Inside the box I found a lot of rice in the largest compartment, with a little, round, red, pickled something that was solid salt, in the middle. There was a small bit of salmon on a lettuce leaf, one tempura shrimp alongside, a piece of kabocha, a few slices of cucumber, something like a Kirby, along with unidentifiable bits of stuff, maybe seaweed and a long, stringy, dried Chinese veg I’ve forgotten the name of. Under the bits and pieces was a tiny plastic container of soy sauce. Another compartment held a mystery vegetable. It looked a little like a canned peach, but it tasted more like a potato, sort of. There was also one beautiful cherry tomato. I’m trying to lay off the salt; I’ve had a real overload in the last few days, so I did not eat that pickle or use the soy sauce.

I wish I could remember everything I ate on Monday with Warren and Yumiko. It was a fabulous dinner. I mentioned that I had eaten a wonderful sauce with the Shabu Shabu on Sunday night. Yumiko recognized it as Ponzu sauce. She ordered several dishes with it, a cooked, but cold spinach salad, and another vegetable we couldn’t give an English name. There was a wonderful fish that had been lightly breaded and deep fried. It was very crispy and you could eat everything including fins and bones. A dish with white potato tasted slightly sweetened. There was more; I’m having trouble remembering. I could never have ordered that dinner on my own. The menu was entirely in Japanese and I don’t think any of the staff spoke English. Too bad; I’d love to have a rerun.

There is more fresh produce than I remember from 20 years ago. Mostly, it’s not too outrageously price, but I did see a $100 melon, in a gift box, of course. I’ve bought, bananas, persimmons, fresh orange juice.

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Tuesday, October 23

I will be spending about 12 days in Kyoto. There is so much to see I don’t know if 12 days will be enough. This was my first real sightseeing day and I didn’t know where to begin. Warren gave me a great itinerary, telling me not to try to see too much in one day; I’m not sure I have the stamina to follow it. I began my tour at Heian Shrine where the matsuri ended yesterday. They were still cleaning up; it was fun to see all the work going on.

Heian Shrine torii Heian Shrine Cleaning up after Jidai Matsuri

I had already walked some distance from the subway stop through a neighborhood I hadn’t really seen before. I got on a bus and let it take me to Ginkakaji, one of the tourist highlights. Ginkakuji good luck charmIt’s a beautiful place, but too many people. One of the highlights is a white sand representation of waves and Mt. Fuji. Following paths through the mountains there are wonderful views of the temple, Kyoto, and the almost unbearably beautiful gardens and trees.

Waves and Mt. Fuji Kyoto view trees more trees
Most tourist places attract shops and services; this was no exception. Before you get to the temple you walk through about two blocks filled with vendors, where I stopped for lunch on my way out.

Just outside of this area is the Philosophers walk, a trail alongside a canal lined with cherry trees, other interesting foliage and more than a few souvenir shops. The guidebook says the path is a mile. It felt like more, maybe because I had already walked a long way. I made a brief stop at the Kumano Shrine and made Eikando Temple my last destination. I was supposed to get to one more temple, Nanzen ji, but it was already 4 pm and I couldn’t make it. I hope I can get back there.

Walking along the canal Making cherry trees twist Along the path, but no chocolate

Most of the temples have calligraphers who will make a beautiful souvenir of the temple for 300 yen. Twenty years ago you had to buy a blank book for them to work in. This time I noticed they have them already made. I brought a book, somewhat larger than usual, that I probably bought when I was here the first time. They happily put their marks, black ink and red stamps, in my book for the same 300 yen. I collected two of them.

I got off the bus in a big shopping area and got something for dinner and breakfast. Breakfast was not part of this hotel’s deal. They have a buffet priced about $10. I tried it this morning and didn’t like it well enough to do it again. I really like the Japanese breakfasts I’ve had in the other hotels. This buffet is a mix of both Japanese and Western; not enough Japanese.

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