Thursday, May 15, 2014


Collin and I were fortunate enough to spend ten days in Japan last month.  It was an amazing trip to a beautiful country, and Collin and I enjoyed spending time together, just the two of us, with no children!
We flew in separately, and after meeting up in Tokyo, we began our adventure!
We first visited the Senso-ji /Asakusa Shrine.  It rained for all of ten minutes, hence all the umbrellas.  The temple grounds leading up to the main building were lined with food vendors and small shops.  We hadn't had lunch yet, so we had an octopus on a stick.  The food in Japan is amazing...even food vender food!

 The smoke in the middle of the picture is coming from a huge incense burner.  People would approach the smoke and fan it towards themselves.
 A Buddhist service in progress in Senso-ji.
 One of the paintings on the roof of the outdoor area.
 Collin and the five-storied pagoda
 These paper lanterns were huge!
 Buddha statues on the temple grounds
 Paper lanterns with prayers
 Everything was so new and exciting for me.  Collin goes to Japan for business a half-dozen times a year, so he's seen it all before.  It's neat because now I have experienced it, and know what/where he's talking about when we Skype while he's gone.
 At the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) station, awaiting our trip to Kyoto.
 Mt Fuji!  It was a beautiful day, and Mt. Fuji was visible from the train.
 Collin and I spent three nights in Kyoto.  We arrived in the evening, and the next morning began sightseeing with Nijo Castle - which is actually a complex with many buildings, including the two main strucutres, Ninomaru Palace and Honmaru Palace, and an extensive garden.  The complex is surrounded by two moats.
 The main gate of Nijo Castle, built in 1626.
 We toured the Ninomaru Palace, which had reception areas, offices and living quarters.  The palace is known for its "nightingale" floors, which were constructed to "chirp" like a bird when anyone walked on them.  The noise prevented any sneak attacks.
 The underside of the nightingale floors, showing the construction technique that creates the chirping sound.
 The Nijo Castle compound
 Our trip coincided with the height of the cherry blossom season.  Everywhere we went had amazing cherry blossom trees.
 Collin and I on the grounds of the Nijo Castle.
 Next, we were off to Kinkaku-ji (the Golden Pavilion), a Zen Buddhist temple.

 The temple reflects perfectly on the pond.
 The top two stories are covered in pure gold leaf.  The temple is surrounded by a Japanese strolling garden.
 The third and final tourist spot we visited on our first day in Kyoto was Kiyomizu-dera, a Buddhist temple founded in 778.  Kiyomizu means clear water; it got its name because of a nearby waterfall.
 One of the vibrantly painted gates leading to the main buildings.
 Observing the inside of the temple
 Its located at the top of a mountain and the views were really spectacular.
 The main hall has a veranda that is supported by huge timbers.  Amazingly, not a single nail was used in the building's construction.
 One of the small pagodas on the temple grounds.
 Water from the waterfall cascades down in three streams into a pond.  People use long-handled cups to catch and drink the water, which is believed to have wish-granting power.
 Later that evening, Collin and I were invited to an amazing experience by one of the business men Collin works with in Japan.  It started with a traditional tea ceremony.
 Being served tea by a geiko (geisha).
 After the tea ceremony, we watched an Ordori, a singing/dancing/acting performance put on geikos and maikos (geikos in-training).  The real treat of the evening was having dinner at an okiya (tea house), which is ultra-exclusive; you have to be invited to dine there, and Collin's business associate was our ticket in.
After a multi-course dinner, during which we were attended to by geikos and maikos, they performed music and dances for us.

 The dancers were extremely graceful.
 Watching the performance; the performance space was adjacent to the table.
 This girl was my favorite - she is gorgeous!
 The massive Kyoto train/subway system.  We had rail passes which allowed us unlimited train rides for the duration of our stay.
 The station also has shops, stores and restaurants; you could spend a whole day here and never even see a train, given all the other uses for the structure.
 Our second full day in Kyoto we took the subway to Nara and visited Horyu-ji.  The buildings of Horyu-ji date from the 7th to 17th centuries and contain some of the world's oldest wooden structures.
 We were two of only a handful of tourist here that day - then some buses arrived and the area was flooded with hundreds of school children.
 There are 45 separate structures in this Buddhist temple compound!
 Collin has been interested in photography lately, and experimented with all the camera's settings to capture individual water droplets coming from this dragon-head fountain.
 I love the exotic architecture!

 Nara is known for its deer.  They are wild animals, but not scared of humans.  There are hundreds of them just walking around intermingling with tourists and locals.
 Collin was excited to show me Todai-ji.  This is the main gate, the largest gate in Japan.
 Todai-ji is one of the world's largest wooden buildings and houses the largest bronze statue.
Notice how small the people are that visible in the doorway of the structure!
 Emperor Shomu ordered the temple to be built to ward off an epidemic of smallpox that was sweeping the nation in 728.
 The large, central statue - Buddha.
 Other statues but I'm not sure of what/who this is supposed to be.
 Another statue - these things were HUGE!
 After Kyoto we took a train down to Hiroshima and spent one night there.  Upon arrival in Hiroshima we boarded a ferry to go to Miyajima.
 The small shops lining the way to the Itsukushima Shrine.
 This is the shrine's torii, which is sitting at the entrance to the small bay.  It is not anchored in any way, the sheer weight of the structure keeps it in place regardless of the relentless movement of tides.
 The shrine at low tide.  The open ground is flooded at high tide.
 Collin with the torii in the background.
 Another one of Collin's artistic photos...he's pretty good if I do say so myself!
 A short hike takes you to the first of two gondolas that go to the top of the mountain on the island.

 What an amazing view!
 Miyajima Island is famous for roasted chestnuts and oysters, and we found an out-of-the-way restaurant halfway up the hike to the gondolas.  We stopped for lunch and cold beer on the way down.
 The torii with the tide getting higher.
 This is the amazing bathtub in our hotel room in Hiroshima.  The window goes right down to the tub side and I had a relaxing bath overlooking the Seto Inland Sea.
 The following day we spent at the Hiroshima Peace Park and Museum.
 A memorial to the thousands of people who dies as a result of the first A-bomb.
 One of the memorial plaques.
 Behind me is the a structure now called the A-bomb dome.  The atomic bomb detonated almost directly above this building, and the force pushed down on it, as opposed to against it, so the majority of the structure remained standing.  Everyone inside was instantly killed from the sheer heat of the bomb.

 A side shot of the A-bomb dome.
 A photograph in the Peace Museum showing that absolute destruction of the city, with the still -standing A-bomb dome in the middle.
 After Hiroshima we spent two nights in Nagoya.  Our first sight-seeing spot was Nagoya Castle.
 Some of the interior artwork
 More artwork - the use of gold foil was impressive!
 Collin's at the top of the staircase looking all the way down!  We got our share of exercise that day!
 As pretty as a postcard
 Also in Nagoya we visited the Toyota Museum.  The museum went through the history of Toyota (did you know that it started as a loom manufacturer?), all the way to the present-day method of building cars and into ideas of the future.
 The whole museum was interactive - I was controlling these machines with the controls in front of me.
 The cityscape of Nagoya at night.  We went to Peat's Irish Pub one night and had some good European pub grub.  Weird thing to do in Japan, I know.  I added my name to the wall with the sharpie marker, as most patrons have.  I hope it's still there when I go back.  I saw Collin's name from one of his numerous trips over the years.  So neat!
 Also in Nagoya we went to the Noritake museum.  These are my exact dishes, although my yellow is a bit more muted.
 The museum self-tour passes by work areas where artisans are working.
 The display room was really fascinating.
All too soon, our trip was over.  But not before we could experience something wonderful - first class airfare for our return to the States.  We're talking full lay-down beds for the eight hour flight!  China and linens for the gourmet meals, and a wonderful selection of wines too.  That's the way to travel!
 It was a wonderful, and much-needed, vacation but it was nice to see the boys again too.  I heard that Latham's preschool teacher was a bit curious as to why we would choose to vacation in Japan.  She asked Latham if we had family there or what.  He replied, "No, they just needed a break from us."  That about sums it up!
People ask how the trip was, and the only way to put my feelings into words is to say that it was "the trip of a lifetime!"...but that's not exactly true since I want to go back!