Friday, December 27, 2013

Japan Trip Report - Part Seven, Final One

This is the seventh and last of a series of trip reports about my husband Neil's and my trip to Japan on an Overseas Adventure Travel tour in October. Page down below to read the other six. When I left off at the end of the sixth report, we were in Kyoto, our last location.

On October 28th, we started the day with a visit to Kiyomizu Temple, dating back to AD 798 but with its present buildings constructed in 1633 (entrance pagoda shown in the first photo below). It is known for its “leap of faith” veranda and wooden terraces once used for sacred dances (second and third photos below).

Beneath the main hall is the Otowa waterfall, where three channels of water fall into a pond (first photo below). Drinking from the clear, clean waters is believed to offer longevity/health (middle stream--the one both Neil, in the second photo, and I drank from), intelligence/success at school (right one, when standing in front of them) or a fortunate love life (left one).

Next was what I called our "Farm to Table" experience. We traveled to Kameoka, a village in the countryside near Kyoto, where we had a Q and A session with local farmers (first photo below). Then we picked some fresh greens from organic fields (second photo) and took them with us to a restaurant housed in Heki-tei, a 300-year-old house where a famous samurai once lived. There, they fried up the greens in tempura bundles and served them to us for lunch (fourth photo), along with  Makizushi (rolled sushi) that we made ourselves (third photo), with instruction from the staff.

After lunch we visited the home of a musician couple who perform on and teach lessons on traditional Japanese instruments (first three photos below). Then we visited the Higashiyama district with its traditional Japanese inns and dined there, and I managed to snap a photo of a geisha on her way to a performance (fourth photo).

On October 29th, we went to nearby Arashiyama to tour two beautiful gardens. The first was Ōkōchi Sansō, the former home (first photo below) and garden (next two photos) of the Japanese film star Denjirō Ōkōchi (in old photograph, fourth photo below). After exiting the garden, we stumbled upon a Bollywood film crew, filming a dance scene in Arashiyama's bamboo forest (last photo).

Next we toured the grounds of Tenryuji Temple (first photo below). It was originally built in 1339, but rebuilt many times after wars and fires. However, the gorgeous Zen garden (next two photos)—which includes a large pond, elevated rock groupings, and delicate cherry trees—is many centuries old.

Then our guide arranged a fascinating interview with a maiko, a geisha-in-training. She served us matcha tea, answered our questions, including how she applied her back-of-the-neck makeup using a mirror (first photo below), danced for us (second photo), and posed for photos (third photo).

That night was our farewell dinner in a lovely riverside restaurant, then we flew home out of the Osaka airport on October 30th. I was fascinated by the Japanese culture and hope to return again for another visit soon.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Happy Holidays!

I hope that all of my readers who celebrate Christmas have a very merry one! For those who celebrate other winter holidays, may yours be special and cheerful, too. And for everyone, here's my wish for a very happy New Year, in which all your dreams come true. May the new year fulfill your wishes and bring you joy, and if you're a writer, may it bring you book contracts and huge sales numbers.

I will post the final report from my trip to Japan late this week, and I have a mystery author guest appearing January 7 - 9. Otherwise, I'm taking some days off from blogging to spend time with my daughter, who is visiting this week, and to make tracks on the ski slopes.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Japan Trip Report - Part Six

This is the sixth of a series of trip reports about my husband Neil's and my trip to Japan on an Overseas Adventure Travel tour in October. Page down below my mystery author guest's appearance to read the other five, and stay tuned for one more. When I left off at the end of the fifth report, we had arrived in Kyoto. The next morning, Saturday, October 26th, our guide asked us if anyone had felt the earthquake during the night. No one had. It was a 7.3 magnitude aftershock of the deadly 2011 Fukushima earthquake. Our guide had someone check on her house in Tokyo, and nothing was broken there, either, thank goodness.

After that bit of excitement, we started off on our first day of sightseeing in Kyoto, which began with a visit to Kinkakuji Temple (first photo below), also known as the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, which dates from 1397, when it was built by the third Shogun of the Ashikaga Shogunate. We also toured its lovely grounds (second photo).

This was followed by a visit to the Myoshinji Temple Complex (the building we entered is shown in the first photo below) for a meditation lesson given by a Zen priest (second photo) who spent many years studying in the United States. That was followed by a tour of the temple (next three photos: garden, altar, painted panel) and matcha tea and cookies.

Next, we visited Nijo Castle, constructed between 1601 and 1603 (gate in first photo below). It was built by Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, and became a meeting place for the shoguns (military commanders). The largest building is Ninomaru Palace (second photo), intentionally built with "nightingale floors" that squeak so an intruder would be heard at night. They  serenaded our group as we toured the beautiful building full of ornate wood carvings, such as in the third photo below.

Then we lunched at a French restaurant at the Kyoto University (dessert shown below), where we observed a practice session of the jump roping team.

After lunch, we toured Sanjusangendo Hall, built in the twelfth century that contains 1,001 statues of the 1,000-armed Kannon Buddha. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed. Next stop was the flagship store of a company that wove the decorative cloth used for obis (kimono sashes) and banners, as shown on the loom in the first photo below, and watched a kimono fashion show (second photo). We ended the day at a restaurant where they made and served fresh soba noodles (third photo).

The next day, October 27th, we toured the nearby towns of Nara and Fushimi. In Nara, we saw Todaiji Temple, said to be the largest wooden building in the world. Tame deer roam the park around the temple, and you're allowed to feed them special crackers you buy from vendors (first photo below). The temple is a popular location for school group photos (second photo). Inside was a huge Buddha (third photo), and to give kids a sense of scale, there's a crawl-through hole in a pillar that is the size of Buddha's nostril (third photo). Huge wooden carved guardians watched over the Buddha (fourth photo).

Next stop was the Kasuga Shinto Shrine (first photo below), dating back to AD 768. It's defining feature is the hundreds of moss-covered standing stone lanterns (second photo) and hanging lanterns (third photo) on its grounds that were donated by worshippers. We saw many traditionally dressed children there, being blessed at 3, 5, or 7 years, such as the girl in the fourth photo with her modernly dressed big sister. As we left the shrine on the bus, I managed to snap a quick photo of the brilliant fall colors (sixth photo).

After lunch we visited the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Fushimi (first photo below), renowned for its thousands of red torii gates (next two photos).

We returned to Kyoto, and that evening, we took a magical nighttime tour of the Shoren-in Temple. We marveled at both its beautiful interior (first two photos below) and the illuminated gardens (third and fourth photos), including a spectacular bamboo forest (last photo below).

I plan to post the final trip report and batch of photos after Christmas, so please come back for the last installment!