A Travellerspoint blog

Japan

Tokyo

Walking in the Rain

storm 57 °F

On our Saturday in Tokyo, we set off from the ship to explore the city with Jane and Doug Kline and a local guide, Satsuki Aono. Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate with our plans. In a steady cold rain with gusts of strong wind, we slogged our way around a vast garden in what used to be the grounds of the Shogun's Tokyo residence. Beautiful ropes for winter protection still draped delicate shrubs and pines. Hints of spring were evident in the just opening blossoms of plum trees and in an ornamental field of rape. Beyond the moated garden rose the skyscrapers of the Tokyo business district, like much of Tokyo, a contrast of old and new.

We were glad when we could escape the cold at a nearby restaurant. Hot miso soup and tea restored our spirits for an afternoon foray into Tokyo's famous Shibuya crossing, a setting reminiscent of New York's Times Square. When the pedestrian lights turn green, large crowds surge in many directions across the busy intersection.

Throughout the day, our guide conducted us about the city on the highly efficient and highly complicated subway system. We were grateful to take our seats in the action reserved for the elderly and "those with internal disorders."

Satsuki, although scrupulously polite, was disappointed that we elected not to visit "Electric City," an area devoted to display of the latest electrical appliances and digital equipment. This, apparently, is a Japanese favorite place to stroll, checking out washing machines and vacuum cleaners and iPhones.

The Japanese are immensely interested in and fussy about their food. Appearance matters almost as much as taste. Fruits and vegetables are individually wrapped so they can be inspected from all sides before purchase, and any unfortunate item with bruises or bumps is sent off to make juice. We have intriguing photos (which won't upload) of what is available, including cod rolls dyed orange, a spiderlike animal in a tank, huge oysters, sea urchins resting on little papers, and octopus eggs.

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Posted by HopeEakins 02:31 Archived in Japan Comments (1)

Kyoto to Tokyo

Day three of the overland adventure

overcast 60 °F
View Bill and Hope 2019 on HopeEakins's travel map.

Aha – more temples to visit! The 14th century Kinkaju-ji Temple with its Golden Pavilion is three stories high and covered in gold leaf. It sits in a carefully designed landscape with pond and shimmers in the sun. Next off to Tanryuji Temple. The problem with such revered and respected locations is that they don’t allow shoes. Hope had to take hers off and store or carry them and walk in bare feet (cold floors!). Bill got special treatment because of his leg brace, so they tied plastic bags over his shoes.

At Tanryuji Temple we crossed many tatami mats to lower ourselves onto small stools and take lessons in the posture required for Zen meditation. Hands were set, shoulders relaxed (hah), neck straight, eyes adroop, back curve tipped inward .... and we heard the sounds of bells and wood clappers. During each ten minute meditation, we were taught to empty ourselves of reasoned thought and focus on being present. A monitor walked around and if you bowed politely, he curled you down and hit you sharply 6 times with a wood paddle. The head monk said this was like acupuncture and would focus your attention and improve your meditation posture.

We put shoes back on, walked to the monastery refectory, shoes off, and onto small stools for a Buddhist vegetarian lunch. The photo includes foods like turnip/tofu “cheesecake” and burdock and pickles. Shoes back on for the trip to the train station.

Whee! The Shinkansen bullet train to Tokyo was amazing, comfortable and smooth with speeds about 200 mph. The landscape is not very attractive – there are many industrial areas and the residential areas are not landscaped. When we flashed by the top of Mt. Fuji, it was shrouded in heavy mist.

At last we returned to the Silver Whisper about 7 pm. The butlers were waiting for us and welcomed us back with champagne. It really felt like we were back home.
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Posted by HopeEakins 23:51 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

KYOTO

Day Two of the overland adventure

rain 60 °F

Today we delved deeply into Japanese spirituality and cultural experiences. We began at the Konkai Komyoji Temple where we removed shoes and had a Buddhist worship experience. A priest wearing a stole like garment gave a sermon (10 minutes, translated for us) on worship, pronounced blessings upon us and our travel, chanted a long prayer, rang bells, and dismissed us. Then we were off to a Tea Ceremony. The tea mistresses study for years to put boiling water and powdered green tea into a pot, swish it with a bamboo whisk, and pour it. Every gesture is precise and reverent and respectful. They sit on their shins and rise up gracefully like elegant swans. It takes forever. Then a little cookie painted with flowers was given and received with TWO hands, then the tea was brought in a small bowl and we drank (ugh!). Matcha is very bitter and cloudy. Custom requires one to finish the bowl and slurp the last bit noisily to show appreciation. Bill did; Hope braved the disapproval of the tea mistress. Bill was really getting into this endeavor and went next to kimono wearing while Hope went to study calligraphy and found that using a brush is a lot harder than using a pen. Finally ikebana. We had containers and beautiful branches and flowers and a teacher who helped us get our flowers and branches at exactly the right angle with just enough space.

Another many course lunch and a visit to the vast wooden residence of the Tokugawa shoguns who held court here at Nijo-Jo Castle for over two centuries. The evening was focused on food again. From a large selection of restaurants in a Kyoto dine-around, we chose a French-Japanese fusion venue. More chopsticks. The menu, served in NINE courses, all on a different shape and pattern of china:

Kumiage Yuba, wasabi and dashi jelly
Egg castealla
Grilled soy marinated Spanish mackerel
Teriyaki chicken
Salmon sushi ball
Fu with miso sauce
Fried shrimp with miso rice
Kyoto taro wrapped in kelp

Cauliflower cream soup, Kintoki carrot flan, chives

Pan fried Homard lobster and sea bream

Sautéed spinach, tomato braised vegetables, mustard cream sauce

Iyokan citrus sorbet

Braised Kyoto turnip, masked pumpkin, green beans, paprika
Truffle and Madeira jus

Amao strawberry soup, Louis Roederer champagne jelly, milk gelato

Coffee, tea

Posted by HopeEakins 22:09 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

NARA and KYOTO

Day One of the overland adventure

overcast 51 °F

Today we began a three-day overland adventure planned by Silversea for World Cruise passengers. Leaving Osaka we drove to Nara and the Todjaji Temple with its huge (50’) Buddha from 767 AD. The park surrounding the temple is filled with sacred deer. Filled. That means that a thousand of them poop on the stones, and since it was raining, the poop spread out in slippery smears. The deer also seem to like black polyester, because they bit Hope’s pants and left a hole in the seat. Speaking of seats, the toilets in the part of Japan we are seeing are TOTO toilets, machines with very complex controls that heat the seat, squirt or bathe the sitter in narrow or broad streams, oscillate fast or slow (we don’t know how this actually works), and produce two kinds of flush. The problem is that outside of the Hyatt Regency, the controls are all labeled in Japanese, so you push them at your own risk! Further, in public loos, or at least public ladies’ loos, one side of the aisle is labeled “Western.” If you go to the other side, the contrast is immense; the hole in the ground does not look like a TOTO toilet.

Lunch was at the Nara Hotel, a 100 year old Western style hotel, and like all Japanese meals it consisted of multiple courses, all served on different shaped and styled plates, and of course, served with chopsticks only. We might get quite thin if we stayed longer!

Next we went to another shrine (Kasuga) through a lovely Torii gate, and then drove to Kyoto. Drinks and canapés were served in a long corridor filled with Chinese silk garments on display, musicians playing ancient instruments with the scores written in strange notation, and magnificent floral arrangements. A Geisha and Maiko (younger women training to be Geishas) performance of elegance and grace and astounding dexterity followed. The white faces of the performers looked a great deal like the faces of the wooden puppets in a ship’s show the night before we left. Our dinner menu combined Japanese and Western dishes, most of which were unfamiliar. Some were tasty; some were odd.

We are finding Japan to be a highly structured society that places great importance on politeness, tradition, and cooperation. The signals and expectations are subtle and restrained, so one has to be very alert to pick them up. When Hope bowed to a guide who had taught us the distinctions of bowing and nodding, Mito smiled. “Ah, a 30° bow,” she said, “how perfect.” Hope spent the rest of the day worrying about how many degrees she was bending.

You will miss all the wonderful photos of deer and toilets and Bill and a geisha - just can't upload them, sorry.

Posted by HopeEakins 17:50 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Osaka

Starting our adventure in Japan

rain 59 °F
View Bill and Hope 2019 on HopeEakins's travel map.

In Osaka, we were well accompanied by a guide recommended by Chris Rowthorn. Sakae took us on busses and subways through the modern CBD (central business district) to Osaka Castle, a 17th century fortress in the middle of the city, surrounded by a major moat. The moat walls and the castle foundation are 90 meters high and built of huge cut rocks that have never fallen through centuries of wars, fires, earthquakes, and WWII bombing (which destroyed 90% of the city). Wow! Another wow: a group of teens on a school trip left their backpacks on the ground (neatly arranged) because there is no theft in Japan!

The Plum Garden was not yet fully in bloom, but we could smell the heady scent of the blossoms and see the bare branches covered with tiny flowers. The structure of the trees looks just like Japanese paintings. (!) We were in fairyland and we loved it. Sakae opined that Tokyo’s cherry blossoms are nothing compared to Osaka’s plum blossoms. Tokyo’s cherry trees are hybrids, she said, and so they all open at the exact same time and fall at almost the same time a week later. Buddhists see this coincidence as symbolic of the ephemeral nature of life. Sakae much prefers the many species of cherry and plum and apricot trees in Osaka that have a longer blooming season and a huge variety of colors and sizes. We agree with her.

For lunch we sat around a grill at a local restaurant and watched as the chef deftly prepared fried noodles and an Osaka “pancake” with eggs of a remarkable color. Those with good eyes should look almost to the bottom of the column on the English menu.

Finally, we walked through Dotombori, a district filled with entertainment and neon signs and young dressed in wild costumes. We met a Buddhist priest at a small shrine whose current ministry is to Filipina women who have been abandoned by their Japanese “husbands.”

Some of the photos are duplicated, we know. Apologies.

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Posted by HopeEakins 20:10 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Japan (with photos)

An amazing and paradoxical place

rain 49 °F
View Bill and Hope 2019 on HopeEakins's travel map.

We have looked forward to our five days in Japan with great eagerness. Neither of us has been here before. We don’t know much about Japanese literature or Japanese food or the Japanese language. We learned much from presentations by the ship’s excellent Destination Lecturer, Jon Fleming; Bill read a book about Hirohito, and we perused the Web and a guidebook. The ship has never given us instruction on behavior in other countries, but in Japan we received a letter that encouraged us how to bow and nod (a lot) and gave us guidelines like:

Never raise your voice.
Always be punctual.
Avoid using the number 4 because it has connotations of death.
What the Japanese say and what they mean are very different; e.g., they never say “no.” If they mean “no,” they say “maybe.” This is because above all, they try to honor and respect everyone.

We were also warned never to blow our nose, nor to spear food with our chopsticks, and always to use TWO hands when handing over money and paper.

Despite all this instruction, we were often surprised and bewildered. Japan is a country that is moving headlong into the future, eager to adopt Western ways, and at the same time, Japan clings to its ancient traditions and makes us take off our shoes so often that we are tempted never to visit another temple. You are always on the edge of making a mistake here. “Arigato” means “thanks” and “arigato gozaimus” also means thanks. The first is said to friends and acquaintances, the second is said to teachers, shopkeepers, etc. But how do you know who’s who? What is a guide with whom you have travelled for three days?

Our guides were absolutely terrific and spoke excellent English, in great contrast to our few words of bad Japanese. We visited Osaka, Nara, Kyoto, and Tokyo staying at a fine Hyatt Regency in Kyoto.

Shinto and Buddhism permeate the land; shrines and temples abound. In them are little shops selling blessings; in the gardens are little pots collecting coins thrown to hit them. The blessings are very specific. People line up to buy them for passing exams, having an easy childbirth, cure from disease, safe travel, etc, etc. Sometimes the blessing plaques are quite pretty, but we didn’t buy one in fear that it might be for fertility. This “pay-to-pray” movement doesn’t seem crass or mechanistic; rather, it seems that the idea of divinity overlaying and connecting with humanity is part of Japanese life. People stop into temples during the day and pray for a minute or two, trusting that a god/the gods care about them and bless them. This religion/custom appears disconnected from faith. The Japanese don’t work at believing things; they just follow the ancient ways.

In Osaka, we were well accompanied by a guide recommended by Chris Rowthorn. Sakae brought us on busses and subways through the modern CBD (central business district) to Osaka Castle, a 17th century fortress in the middle of the city. The seven story building is surrounded by a major moat. The moat walls and the castle foundation are 90 meters high and built of huge cut rocks that have never fallen through centuries of shogun wars, fires, earthquakes, and WWII bombing (which destroyed 90% of the city). Wow! Another wow: a group of teens on a school trip left their backpacks on the ground (neatly arranged) because there is no theft in Japan!

We were disappointed that the Plum Garden was not yet fully in bloom, until we smelled the heady scent of the blossoms and saw the bare branches covered with tiny flowers. The structure of the trees looks just like Japanese paintings. We were in fairyland and we loved it! Sakae opined that Tokyo’s cherry blossoms are NOTHING compared to Osaka’s plum blossoms. Tokyo’s cherry trees are hybrids, she said, and so they all open at the exact same time and fall at almost the same time a week later. The Buddhists see this coincidence as symbolic of the ephemeral nature of life. Sakae much prefers the many species of cherry and plum and apricot trees in Osaka that have a longer blooming season and a huge variety of colors and sizes. We agree with her.

We met a Buddhist priest at a small shrine in the CBD. This priest’s current ministry is to Filipina women who have been abandoned by their Japanese “husbands.” For lunch we sat around a grill at a local restaurant and watched as the chef made fried noodles and an Osaka pancake with eggs of a remarkable color. Those with good eyes should look almost to the bottom of the column on the English menu.

Finally, we walked through Dotombori, a district filled with entertainment and neon signs and young dressed in wild costumes. Even here, there was a small shrine with a Buddha covered in moss.

Photos follow:
B&H at Osaka Castle
many pix of masonry
backpacks lined up
lunch
Buddhist priest
city of Osaka
B7H in Plum Garden
Dotombori shrine

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Posted by HopeEakins 01:35 Archived in Japan Comments (1)

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