In the Rockies

In the Rockies
Butler Gulch

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Other Special Places --

This is the Senso-ji Temple, considered by some to the Tokyo's most famous. For me it was the one four blocks from my hotel. When it rained I went to the end of the subway line which was a few steps away from this Shinto Shrine. The complex is large and I started early when it was cool and still emptied my water bottle and was hot and thirsty when I visited. I even stopped in a MacDonald's for water, a clean bathroom and a Japanese style ice cream coffee. It was early enough that there wasn't a line to get in which I saw at all the MacDonald's near train stations. The other customers were all Japanese.

The Sense-ji Temple was founded in 628 making it the oldest temple in Tokyo. It's a Buddhist temple and the largest and most lavish of any Buddhist Temples I visited. As with others, these buildings are recent reproductions as the others were destroyed in WWII bombing.                                                      

 Art is painted around the roofline and on ceilings. The five story pagoda isn't open as it holds burials.

The Kaminarimon Gate below is one of the most photographed sights in Tokyo.  Look at the people under it to get a sense of its size. I saw and took a couple of photos of family groups standing under it.

There are nice gardens here but the shrine and all of its buildings are the show. I did walk through all of the gardens and found them lovely.            

As you leave the shrine, you can walk into this covered street of shops, some many years old selling all types of souvenirs. I intended to go back to one of them for a couple of purchases my last morning but changed plans and needed to leave for Harajuku, the youth area first thing my last day. 

Now I'll go from the flashy Buddhist shrine to the most austere. I'd read about Ryoan-ji in Kyoto both in my Frommer's Japan and on line. It's a dry garden with fifteen rocks arranged in three groupings surrounded by gravel. Fifteen signifies completeness in Buddhism my guide book says but only fourteen can be seen at any one time and that depends on where one sits or stands. Scholars have argued the how and why of fifteen rocks in that formation over the centuries. The Temple was acquired as a Zen training center in 1450 and the garden is supposed to have been created by a highly respected Zen monk around 1500.

I understood that it would be crowded but had found that with the heat and schools having started most shrines and gardens weren't so crowded. There were people sitting around the side and one end of the garden, most quiet. They were willing to move so one more could sit. It was hot. The side was in sun as was most of the garden. I didn't stay as long as some but moved to the side moss garden where others were silent, some meditating. The feel of this shrine was peaceful, so much so that I didn't want to leave.

 I chose to leave by walking through the peaceful manicured woods as I left since I'd stayed so
long that I was going to catch a bus back to the Kyoto train station and catch a train back to
Nagoya and my friends' home. Only a silent man and a young couple who asked if I'd take their photograph passed me as I walked and watched the sun flicker in and out of the woods.
The main building at Ryoan-ji is called a tea house. It isn't open to walk through but was easy to see as I walked around it. The painted scenes are similar to others in palaces though this was never a palace.

This pond was made in the late 12th century. The light on it was different when I went in and I could made a study with the photos I took. It is lovely! I left Ryoan-ji Temple feeling a sense of peace and being reluctant to leave.

Back on the street I think I misunderstood the bus stop sign and again walked what the sign said was .7k--and in the heat seemed longer to the next bus stop and caught a crowded bus using my train pass headed thirty minutes or so to the Kyoto train station. Sleeping youth occupied the seats for the elderly and handicapped. About halfway a young boy came and said there was a seat for me. I looked to see that a woman tourist had stood from her seat and motioned me to take it.

The Kyoto train station can barely be imagined by photographs.

And that afternoon I was joined by an Australian woman from Perth (my Nagoya friend is from Sydney) as we took photos of the changing pictures beamed onto stairs that looked down on the station. I knew what track my train was on and what time the one on which my reserved seat car was coming and enjoyed my time in this station including the garden at the top of four escalator flights.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Takayama -- in the mountains with friends

I'd been told by a hiking friend that the train ride to Takayama was beautiful. Clouds hung over the mountains that morning and as we climbed into the mountains, rain came down eventually making it impossible to get good photographs from the train. But for as long as possible I held my i-Phone to the window and pushed the button.

 The three of us, my friend whose dogs we took to Nagoya and the friend who accompanied me, went to Takayama in the Japanese mountains for two nights and three days, escaping from the 100 plus heat.
 Takayama has a charming and historic old town with homes that have been there since the Edo period. I didn't take photos of the homes as we walked through back streets that were dark and showed walls of the homes. I wish I'd taken a photo or two of the shows and our friend who spent more time in them possibly did. My only photos of Takayama proper are of the water from the bridge that separated old town from the area where our hotel was and looking down on shops from the bridge above. It has a famed fall festival and my friend hopes to take her husband and daughter and visit during that time this fall.

We stayed in a ryokan that I'd found on It wasn't fancy and the staff was almost non-existent but the rooms were spacious with a sofa and chair as well as room for two Japanese-style beds on the floor. What made it perfect was the large lounge room with many Japanese coffee table books that our friend who was dealing with a painful foot could enjoy while our friend whose dogs we brought and I headed out to see the Hida Folk Village. We could have found a bus but decided to walk the mile and one-half, the last part up a steep road.

Hida Folk Village is an open air museum exhibiting houses and buildings built during the Edo Period----1603 - 1867. These houses were relocated from their original locations to create the museum in 1971.  I was interested because a hiking friend who was there as part of a tour a year ago recommended it. I was particularly interested in the examples of farmhouses with steep thatched roofs which resemble a pair of hand joined in prayer--"gassho."

The illustration of the woman weaving took a wall and is an example of other crafts illustrated so beautifully. We saw a man sitting on the floor weaving straw baskets in silence in a building where neighbors would have gathered. One craft house was home to a master wood carver and had I planned to spend a significant amount of money, one of his owls would have been my choice. He was happy to have us view him as he worked. We walked up a steep hill to see a home with both privacy and a view of the area and down steep stairs as large rain dropped plopped on the steps ahead of us. The rain didn't last long and we stopped at a tourist gift shop down the hill.
The old wood's luster shines even in my I-Phone photo. I don't remember if this was one of the public buildings or the home of the Shogun. Both were very large. There was an extensive exhibit of how weddings were done from the engagement with both sets of parents present to the food preparation for an extensive celebration. The kimono before was in this exhibit as the bridge's wedding dress.

I couldn't resist taking a photograph of the alstroemeria growing wild as they often grace my living room (from Trader Joe's). I'm aware that they are considered a Peruvian lily but they were growing wild at the Hida Folk Village.

That evening we'd planned for what was my most expensive dinner of the entire trip. A sushi bar restaurant--that's how it seemed to us--was a couple of doors down from our hotel. We'd looked in the first night and saw that the seats along the bar were filled with Asian men enjoyed beautiful food and planned to get there at 5:30 so we'd be first to get those seats the next night. The meal was a fixed price including either a beer or sake and we watched as our beautiful sushi was prepared. From the soup to the dessert that I don't remember, it was perfectly done but came in a rush--definitely not my style and I was eating after the others finished. What I began to notice as we sat there were the Japanese couples who came in, nodded to those preparing our food and headed to what was obviously a larger room in the back. One couple had their children with them. Our sushi bar meal was set up to attract tourists. The locals likely ate from a simpler menu in the back room. The food was excellent and the preparation      fun--more if I hadn't been so busy eating to be ready for the next course! My friends still think of that meal as simply wonderful and it was good, but perhaps not $35 good.

The next morning Jenni and I headed out early to find coffee. I'd tolerated the unusual instant one could make in the lounge room the day before but she hadn't been willing to try it. There were coffee shops everywhere but as I would see over and over, they didn't open until 9 am or maybe even 10. We ended up at a hotel coffee shop and I absolutely enjoyed scrambled eggs with my coffee. Jenni enjoyed the croissant that went with my breakfast and our coffee was excellent.

A coffee shop that we accidentally found across from the train station was special and so enjoyable that we stopped there before boarding the train home.

The decor was part of the attraction but the soft ice cream with intense warm coffee syrup over it that dissolved into more of a drink was special too.

It rained most of our last morning but that didn't stop the two of us from walking part of the path at the end of the old town, one that skirts a cemetery and winds through temples and shrines with a steep path up to ruins of Takayama's former castle. We'd planned to make the 3.5 kilometer walk but with the rain stopped short of going up to the castle ruins high above us. The first photo was taken when we first arrived and walked the length of the old town to find this shrine at the end. The red head in the foreground is our companion who didn't walk back with us in the rain.

 This was my first experience of falling in love with a cemetery set in tall woods. The rain baskets below were so appropriate as we stood under a protruding roof and watched.

It was a good trip, and although we missed our train in this small station thinking we'd be called from our seats or see movement out friend expected that we missed and rode in an unreserved car that was closer to fall, we left having enjoyed our time in the Takayama area very much.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

A Bit About the Experience and the People

The subway entrance below is the one nearest my friends' home and we went there more than once many days. They don't have a car so grocery shopping is one or two subway stops away where there are large malls. Nagoya isn't a city that many Americans are familiar with but it is Japan's third most populous urban area with a population of over two million people. My friends live in Nagoya's suburbs. When I headed out to explore other areas I caught the subway one stop to transfer to the red line and many stops to the Nagoya Train and subway station, about thirty-five minutes, to catch trains to Kyoto, Osaka, Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Takayama in the mountains where the three of us went together. I took the JR since that was my rail pass but other trains rolls through as well.

Cultural practices were on display in several ways. Men have the priority on seating when the train is crowded--often. Younger women didn't look for a seat in front of a man. One man immediately got up to give me his seat and another offered but I was only riding one stop and we were halfway there. Many times I stood while young men were seated near me. The benefit was that when I got home my balance had improved!

 Japanese style inns--ryokans advertise the experience of sleeping on a mat on a tatami floor mat. We did that at my friend's home--very thin mats. The two places I stayed where we had them the bedding was similar. The photograph you may recognize is at the monastery. The bedding on our Japanese-style beds at our ryokan in Takayama in the mountains was similar. However, those beds were on low box springs making them very comfortable and easier to get in and out of. I was glad I chose a bunk bed in a guest house rather than a mat on a tatami floor in a Japanese-style hostel. Those were usually more expensive too.

No shoes are to be worn or even touch the tatami floor mats. My friends had to sign a lease that said that shoes would stay in the entry way. No shoes are to be worn in their home ever!
The picture of me above is in a Hikari JR train, the type fast train that I took from Nagoya to other parts of Japan. While Japanese do not eat in public, unless you consider groups of young people in the covered shops or in the youth area in Tokyo, food on the trains is an exception. I exist on energy bars and my friend used her Google translate app to learn which Japanese brands might be gluten free. She found two, one I liked better than another, and I guessed on a couple of others--correctly on one, not so on the other. She warned me that eating a bar as I walked to the subway or on the subway or any other public space where others were was not polite. The drink vending machines like the one you see above are everywhere. They are prevalent on the train waiting areas and several times I purchased a cold latte from a machine--320 yen. I usually had my water bottle filled but occasionally needed to replenish it with a bottle from a machine.

Some of the various snack shops on the train line waiting areas stock bento boxes--cold dinners of Japanese food. I saw business men in the train eating prepared dinners but didn't realize how easy they were to obtain at first. Larger shops in the big train stations--Nagoya, Kyoto, and bigger ones in Tokyo have them too, but they are easy to purchase just prior to boarding the train. Sometimes the train's drink and snack trolley got to my car in time to purchase something, but they didn't carry the box meals. In the photo below you can see the drink machine in the background and the snack shop is right there.

Most bento box meals featured rice. Usually there was raw fish--some recognizable, some not. The rest of what was in the box wasn't recognizable unless there was tofu. Lots of gelatin squares were in desserts and once I had what seemed to be raspberry gelatin squares that must have been meant to be dessert. My friend always had brown rice (much preferably to the globs of white), roasted veggies and other leftovers in the refrigerator but I often hadn't stopped mid-day to eat so eating on the train was my late lunch.  

I found the Japanese to either ignore me or on a few occasions to be almost overly helpful. One such occasion was when I reached the train platform number where my train would arrive and a train had just pulled up. I was trying to be sure it was my Hikari before trying to reach the unreserved cars before it left. A middle-aged Japanese businessman, the only time this happened, asked what I needed. I'd determined it was my train but was standing in front of car 13. Cars 1 - 5 were those for people without reservations and many trains don't stop longer than for those getting off and those ready to get on. I said I was wondering whether I had time to reach the unreserved car. He motioned for me to follow him and led me down the platform to car five and watched me get in just before the train pulled away. While I could have done that without him and was uncomfortable that he took time to do this, he allowed me to get through various groups of people more quickly because they moved aside for him or he pushed on through. They wouldn't have moved aside for me so I likely caught that train with his help. In a couple of other              similar situations, I walked through reserved cars to an unreserved one, once arriving at my car with the train beginning to move. I could always have a reserved seat but the time it took to find and stand in line in the JR ticket office wasn't always worth it. I'll end this for now and talk about clothing in another post.

Above, Nagoya from the train platform and to the left part of the daily walk to the subway station pictured at the beginning of this post.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Two Special Shrines

I saw a castle, a palace and two gardens in Nagoya, a shrine and a garden and folk museum in Takayama, Temples and a shrine in Koyasan, a garden and art museum in Hiroshima, a shrine in Miyajima, one of the top gardens in Japan in Okayama, a botanic garden, two palaces and gardens, two shrines, and another palace in Kyoto, two shrines and the Imperial Palace garden and two art museums in Tokyo and I've likely forgotten one or two.  Most of the buildings are reconstructions as the originals were bombed in World War II.

Pictured above is Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto. This Zen temple's top two floors are covered in gold leaf. The original was the home of a famous shogun in the 1400s. It burned down several times in history, most recently in 1950 when it was set on fire by a fanatic monk. It was rebuilt in 1955. Gold leaf is continually made to keep up the two upper stories. There were lots of people here but it wasn't so crowded that I couldn't get a good spot to take pictures of the Golden Pavilion. You cannot go inside so this beauty is admired from a trail that goes around three sides and into the temple gardens that have retained their character from the 1400s.

The art in the palaces is similar but I have the best shots from the palace in Nagoya because access was best. It's called the Hommaru Palace and like others was destroyed the war time air raids in 1945. It's restoration is recent which makes a difference in the vibrance of the screens. We're told that a wealth of historical records and over 700 photographs allowed for accurate rebuilding and restoration of this palace to its grandeur from 1615 which the original was completed. It was originally the residence of the first feudal lord of Owari.

 Nagoya Castle was the most stunning from the outside of any I saw. We weren't able to go inside because of restoration work. The website says it is being restored to its original condition. It was badly damaged but not destroyed in 1945.
It was originally completed in 1615. This photo doesn't show the votive tiger fish that tops the castle but it is there. I was able to enjoy these treasurers with my friend Jenni who with her husband and daughter recently moved there and Arlene who with me took Jenni her dogs.

For anyone who reads this and doesn't know, the two dogs weren't allowed to go with Jenni needed to leave to get her daughter in school. She paid our way to bring her the two adorable 15-lb. doggies that shared our foot room on the plane. That was the only reason I would have gone during this extremely hot time of year--temperatures in the high 90s with 60-70-80% humidity. My hair looked as if I were at the beach the entire time!
I'm going to make this blog post shorter both for you the reader and for me. That means I'll do more but makes the effort easier.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Hiroshima and the island beyond -- Miyajima

Yes, for those of you who saw my Facebook post on Hiroshima, this is the same building--called the Atomic Dome, one of the few buildings to "survive" the atomic blast. The bomb detonated 160 meters southwest of what was then the Hiroshima Prefectural Commercial Products Exhibition Hall. The interior was gutted and all there died instantly but this exterior survived. It is a chilling reminder.

I hired a free guide for this excursion. That meant that i paid any bus, train or entrance fees for both of us and bought her lunch. My guide was 68-year-old Emiko, a Hiroshima native who had been guiding visitors for ten years. Here she is. While you may not be able to tell in this photo, she came about to my shoulder. She walked quickly but with an almost shuffle on her toes.

We agreed to meet at the exit of the JR train at the station. From there we were going to my hostel to leave my backpack. I suspect, though Emiko was too polite to say so, that I was her first client to stay in a place like my guesthouse, Mange Tak. She had no idea how to get there and wasn't at all familiar with that area. I would have had better options with my rail pass, but buying her a ticket would have cost more. The Hiroshima Information Desk person quickly made sense of her directions to me but Emiko had to understand in different detail. She was the leader after all. I understood where the guesthouse was when we got off the bus but again she needed to lead--and it was just around a block out of our way. The Mange Tak staff person was very clear about how we could walk to cross the bridge into Peace Park. Emiko used her sweat cloth (a necessary item) to wipe her forehead several times as we walked along the street. Even though the intersections were a bit confusing, she was visibly relieved when we reached the bridge. Soon she could do her job. NOTE: Japanese do not walk against the lights! Never--well almost never. I saw one man walk after the light turned green on a side street in Tokyo.

Once at Peace Park our first stop was the Peace Memorial Museum. The exhibits that showed what happened with old pictures, archived films and models are truly horrific! It is not for the faint of heart. All the exhibit explanations are in clear English as well as Japanese and I didn't need Emiko there. What she provided was the impetus to keep on going through the exhibits no matter my urge to bolt and say that was enough. I eventually did, but only after viewing several family stories of the effects of the bomb over time on their health and financial situations. I didn't spend much time with the development of the bomb--I live in Tennessee and have been to Oak Ridge and heard the bomb development story more than once. I skimmed the pleas for peace too as that's in my DNA, but those exhibits are clear and hopeful. The flame that burns in a memorial in the park will not be quenched until all nuclear weapons are destroyed.

I was, as many are, most touched by the story of the 10-year-old girl, Sadako, who got leukemia as a result of exposure to the lingering radiation. She believed that if she could fold 1,000 paper cranes--a Japanese symbol of good fortune and longevity, she would be cured. She died before finishing the 1,000 and her classmates finished them for her. There are class cases full of brightly colored paper cranes near the memorial above.

Since Emiko was a Hiroshima native as were her parents, I asked about her family's situation during and after the bombing. Her Mother, living in a suburb with a baby boy, was a nurse called into action to help the survivors. She answered the call with two others from her area but found that there was little she could do. She didn't talk about it very much until near the end of her life. She died of cancer but was in her early nineties. Emiko was born after that with no ill effects but blamed the radiation on the fact that her younger brother had six fingers and had a child who had six fingers. I asked why her Mother stayed in the area. Her father was a soldier stationed in New Guinea so her Mother was alone with a young child and from her point of view, couldn't leave. 

There was more, more exhibits, more memorials and as always beautiful trees. I did ring the peace bell, a wonderful resonate sound. After we toured the memorials and were both dripping from the heat, Emiko guided us to her favorite restaurant for lunch. I wasn't willing to chance a nicer lunch and encourage her to do the same for my budget didn't need straining. She was welcomed by name so it was obviously her regular lunch spot. She had a plate of noodles, cabbage and other items I couldn't name. I was very boring and had thin-sliced lamb in a slightly curried sauce with, of course, rice--and three glasses of water. I'd finished my thermos long before lunch. 

During lunch I learned that Emiko, who spoke and wrote English such as "we go to gardens now. We meet at train station" had been an English teacher. She laughed and said broken English speaker was English teacher. It wasn't so difficult to understand why most Japanese speak no English! (I also was told that many Japanese children aren't interested in learning English though it's part of the curriculum.) All but one of the more fluent English speakers I met had lived in the States for a year or more. 

Her plan had been to take me to the Hiroshima castle but when she realized I'd seen the castle in Nagoya even though we couldn't go in, she asked if I would rather go to the gardens. She didn't think we had time for both. I voted for the gardens but with another place in mind. After a couple of buses which she understood Emiko and I were quickly walking down the sidewalk when I saw it. "There's the art museum," I exclaimed. "Have you been there? There's an especially large Dali on exhibit there," I said. "You want to go?" she asked as I walked toward the entrance. She thought it might be closed since there was no line or people going in or out but it was open. Emiko had some sort of pass that allowed both of us, once I showed my passport, to go in free. The Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum was mentioned in my Frommers book. The Dream of Venus was the large Dali on exhibit. It was the first piece was saw as we went into the exhibit hall. The other important piece noted in my guide gook was one called the Holocaust at Hiroshima by Ikuo Hirayama, an acclaimed Japanese artist who was in junior high when the bomb was dropped. It too was in the surrealistic style. There might have been a dozen people total in the entire museum and the paintings by newer young Japanese artists were wonderful. They were hung thematically where possible--darkness and those included a wonderful moonlit landscape and shadows in a garden and another of dancers and partiers. I wanted postcards of some of those paintings but alas only "masters" were in the gift shops collections. 

I lingered too long I'm certain in that wonderful museum for when we went to the gardens next door Emiko said we only had time to walk through half of the garden. That half was wonderful and I insisted on slowing down--she asked what was wrong--to take it in. 

Near the end of the gardens Emiko wanted to buy me a tea from the drink machine and we sat and watched the koi swim nearby. Afterward I insisted that she go with me to a bus stop I would understand so I could get back to the Guesthouse without getting lost.
I need to move through more quickly but must say a bit about Guesthouse Mange Tek where I stayed in a reasonably comfortable curtained lower bunk with four young women three of whom were American and amazingly considerate and quiet for $25. The young staff members were absolutely wonderful! The bar tender was Canadian and it was relaxing to have a beer and visit with him. The young woman who greeted me for the evening was clear with what she said but had a limited vocabulary. She recommended that I talk to the woman who came in for the morning shift. She had perfect English and was able to save me enormous time with her directions to the ferry I needed to catch to go to Miyajima Island. I had a route mapped out but could tell that getting back that afternoon to catch the train toward Nagoya and making the Japanese garden stop I planned wouldn't work easily with my plan. Everything at Mange Tek was perfectly clean. Our floor was female only with a code for the door but the men from the floor above used the showers and toilets outside our room. I didn't see or hear a man until I was leaving and a man came in his Japanese robe for a shower and shave.   

Miyajima Island is a UNESCO site, but the memorial that makes it famous is wrapped for restoration at this time. I knew that but decided to take the ferry over anyway. It was billed as a charming island. I am jaded I know but the area around the waterfront reminded me of Gatlinburg--nicer than Estes Park perhaps but similar too. I did pay to go into the shrine related to the gates that stand, when the tide is in, in the water, and took photos of the wrapped shrine. My favorite part of that island, and I didn't have enough time to hike all the way up--and perhaps wouldn't have anyway as I stopped when the trail began to get very steep and rocky was the trail that goes to the highest point on the island. My red sandals are good to a point! The young bartender had recommended it and told me where to access it after learning that I love to hike. Once again I was almost alone. Some came to the chair lift but most of them came another route and I saw only two young people after I hiked beyond the chair lift entrance.
          On the ferry going toward the island                                   A respite on the trail
 The Miyajima Shrine for Hiroshima and above the gates covered for restorative work. Look carefully and you can see the gates.