Saturday, April 21, 2018

Saturday, Apr 21st, Tokyo, Japan


This morning, at breakfast, we saw the remaining few of our traveling friends.  We had a great western goodbye meal last night (almost like they were helping us transition), and bid a grateful farewell to the Samurai 22 Japan Tour of 2018.  As usual, our companions added immensely to our enjoyment and learning, and we all gave the local tour guides, and Mike Roberts, the owner of Samurai Tours a big round of applause for another job well done.

Yesterday, we spent the last day together traveling from Sendai to Tokyo for our flights home today.  On the way, we stopped at Nikko, where the Tosho-gu Shrine is located.  This is a little like saying that on the way to Cairo airport, we stopped off at the Great Pyramids.  Or on the way to Sydney, we visited the Great Barrier Reef.

When Pat proposed coming to Japan, I had no idea that I would be adding so many great historical memories to our lives.  Every day on this trip, we've visited and learned more about this part of the world's great eras, leaders, cultures, and what they've left behind for us to learn from.   Today, we walked through the Tokugawa family shrine, built for Leyasu Tokugawa, the leader of the third and last of the shogunal governments in Japan's history.  Leyasu, was called the "Great Gongen, Light of the East".  A gongen is believed to be a Buddha, who has appeared on earth in the shape of a kami to save sentient beings.

There are many temples and shrines at Nikko, but the first (Renno-ji) was built in 766 by a Buddhist monk (Shodo Shonin), to further the Tendai Buddhist Sect.  This place served as an ascetic training retreat for centuries for visiting monks, during which most of the civilizations in the Americas rose and fell.  And the detail on the woodcarvings truly defines awe-inspiring.

Lastly, I have to comment on the natural environment.  Tranquility is a defined as being in a state of calm, serene, and worry-free.  That the founders of a religion which teaches the value of that chose these cedar trees on this mountain is no accident.  One can clearly understand the power of place here.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Saturday, Apr 21st, Tokyo, Japan.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Friday, Apr 20th, Sendai, Japan


One of our tour travelers said she thought this tour should be re-titled "Eating your way across Japan".  The variety of food offered at all meals, especially breakfast, exceeds most tours and we're sure we must have gained some pounds.  The airlines charge us for luggage weight, wait until they start looking at a tax on really personal carry-on.

Today, we learned about the guy that George Lucas chose as a model for the character of Darth Vadar in his sci-fi movie Star Wars.  Date Masamune (1567-1632), a "one-eyed dragon" daimyos who founded Sendai, he wore black armor and a golden helmet.

We visited Zuiganji Temple today, which Masamune rebuilt in 1609 to serve as his family temple.  The temple had been constructed in 828 by a legendary priest, Jihaku Daishi, who spread Buddhism through northern Japan.  The site is in Matsushima Bay, an area thought at the time to be so beautiful that it must be close to paradise.  In that era, monks made pilgrimages to Zuiganji from as far away as Kyoto, and for centuries lived in caves nearby.

Masamune employed 150 master carpenters to construct the temple,  Treasures (30,000) from 1000 years of Japanese history were on display in the museum here, but photographs were not allowed inside.

The Spanish Ambassador, Sebastian Viscaino, invited by Date to visit in 1614, said, "The best stone building in the world is our "El Escorial Palace in Madrid, and the best wooden building in the world is Zuiganji Temple".  The nearby garden was equally spectacular.

After returning to Sendai by train, we walked around the area of our hotel visiting five more urban temples.  We are in awe of the amount of work undertaken to develop the buildings and grounds of these temples, and enjoyed immensely the many trees and flowers both familiar and new to us.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Friday, Apr 20th, Sendai, Japan.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Thursday, Apr 19th, Sendai, Japan


We were all pretty disappointed yesterday when we arrived at the Hakodate Museum of the Northern Peoples, and found it closed.  The one day this spring that it closed, and it was the day we were to visit it.

Understanding its importance to all of us, Miyuki reorganized our activities this morning, and included a return visit.  The first and second floors of an old bank building contain clothing, tools, and weapons used by a variety of peoples who lived north of Japan.  Of particular interest to us is the Ainu, who lived on this island.  There was a large collection of ceremonial spatulas which we saw being used to stuff bamboo shoots over fire in a video being shown at the museum.

Next, we visited the local fish market, where we saw dozens of edibles from Hakodate Bay.  Catching your own squid was unique, as was drying it to make your own sake cup.  The last major eruption causing the bay left plenty of volcanic ash on the sea floor, which makes for perfect breeding grounds for Japanese squid.

Nearby was a fruit and vegetable market where we we surprised at the high prices for gift boxes of fruit.

Evidently, gift-giving is huge in Japan, and paying high prices for elegantly-packaged fruit is acceptable.  But fifty dollars for two honeydew melons?

We took a bus across town to the fortress of Goryokaku, the main headquarters of the short-lived Republic of Ezo.  This attempt at continuing the Samurai tradition in the northern island briefly resulted in a democratic election and institution of a government based on the United States model.  Swiftly brought down by the overwhelming might of the returning imperial forces in 1869, the military battles and bravery of the 7,000 rebels led by Admiral Enemoto Takaeki was impressive.

The main activity today was getting from Hakodate to Sendai, involving a bus, an express train, and a bullet train (which traveled through 54 kilometers of undersea tunnel between Hokkaido and Honchu.  Once again, the ride was unbelievable.  Anyone who doubts the effectiveness of high-speed rail should come to Japan.  Westerners may find the crowding in Japan's subways uncomfortable, but there can be no complaints about their bullet trains.  Smoother than a jet, and a lot easier to board, this means of travel is long overdue in America.

As usual when we spend until late afternoon traveling, we went out to survey the new city from a tower at night.  Over a million residents enjoy a beautiful city here in Sendai, and the shopping surpasses most everything found in America.

We'll be staying here for two nights, and then returning to Tokyo on Saturday to end our tour.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Thursday, Apr 19th, Sandai, Japan.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Wednesday, Apr 18th, Hakodate, Japan


Noboribetsu-onsen means "milky river" in Ainu, and the mineral hots springs just above the town provides the color to the river.  Its reputation for healing has resulted in plenty of hotels with onsens (public baths), as well as the beer gardens which are springing up.

The valley through which the river flows has been dubbed "hell valley", and it is guarded by ogres who determine your fate after death.  We took a walk through it, and all made it out.

Hakodate has played a major role in Japan's emergence from the period of Shogunate isolation.  After 220 years in which the only point of contact was by Dutch traders confined to a small island in Nagasaki, U.S-led negotiations (gunboat diplomacy) headed by Commodore Mathew Perry from 1853 to 1859 resulted in the city receiving delegations from Russia, France, Britain, and the U.S.  It also contributed greatly to the end of Japan's shogunate government, and the return of the control by its emperors.

After touring the port, we took a cable car to the top of Mt Hakodate to see the night lights of the city.  Straddling two oceans, the southern end of Hokkaido Island is a visual reminder of the energy being spread by a new generation of entrepreneurs.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Wednesday, Apr 18th, Hakodate, Japan. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Tuesday, Apr 17th, Noboribetsu, Japan


Another travel day aboard an express train and a local bus from Sapporo to Noboribetsu (Milky River), so named by the local Ainu for the mineral waters originating from geothermal underground springs (Hell Valley).

But we got in too late to see any of it, and had to settle for the public baths and pool on the third floor of the hotel.

But earlier in the day, we explored Sapporo.  From the 38th floor of the JR Tower to the center of the city (Odori Park), Miyuki showed us her city.  Growing up fast since the 1972 Winter Olympics, it has become home to Japanese seeking a colder climate and a wilder territory.  With Hokkaido containing 20% of Japan's land and only four percent of its population, Sapporo feels like it has room to breathe and opportunity to experiment.  Heeding the founder of its university (William S. Clark), who inspired his students "Boys, be ambitious", the city feels full of future dreams.

What it doesn't have are locations which display a thousand years of history.  No shrines or temples or castles that were built as statements of power.  In fact, the shoguns which came to Sapporo became civil engineers, like the one who built the canal through the city shortly after the Mejii Restoration in 1866.  What Sapporo showcases is the successes which occur when cultures are brought together to share ideas and energy.  It may not have much of a past, but it has a heck of a future.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Tuesday, Apr 17th, Noboribetsu, Japan.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Monday, Apr 16th, Sapporo, Japan


From the southern most part of Japan to almost the northern most, we flew today.  Nagasaki to Sapporo took from just after breakfast to just before dinner.  

But before we talk about today, I really have to tell you a little more about yesterday.  Though Pat and I hung out at the hotel in the afternoon and early evening, our traveling friends decided to spend some time at the Nagasaki Peace Park and take the rope lift to the top of a hill to see the lights of the city after dark.  This morning, they all said the Peace Park and evening lights were absolutely overwhelmingly moving and beautiful, and we all made plans to assemble some of their photos and some guest narrative at the end of the tour to bring the experience to all of you.  I will be very grateful to them for the addition, and Pat and I are sorry to have missed it.

And now to dinner.  Sapporo is located on the island of Hokkaido, which was the home of the Ainu people until their almost assimilation in the last twenty years.  We're hoping to be able to stop by a store featuring Ainu crafts tomorrow.

Over a hundred years ago, Ainu and others in Hokkaido were raising sheep and eating lamb meat.  The wool was needed to keep them warm, and the lamb diet was thought to have originated in their Mongolian warrior ancestors.  The specific dish we had tonight is called Jingisukan (Genghis Khan), and the fact that we were having it in the Sapporo Brewery didn't hurt our generally upbeat spirits.  Cooking itt at the table over what looked  like an overturned warrior helmet added to the revelry.  Now if we can just get the grease and smoke out of our clothes.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Monday, Apr 16th, Sapporo, Japan.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Sunday, Apr 15th, Nagasaki, Japan


Our new guide, Miyuki Ogawa, led us to two districts of Nagasaki this morning.  Dejima, was a man-made island (2.2 acres) where first the Portuguese, and then the Dutch, were confined for over two centuries.  In 1634, the Shogun lemitsu implemented his anti-Catholic edicts by ordering that all Portuguese live on the island.  Most left, and six years later, the island was deserted.  In 1641, the Dutch East India Company Trading Post was moved from Hirado to the island.  For the next 213 years, it served as the only port in Japan in which foreign trade could be conducted. 

Leaving Dejima, we took taxis to the top of a local hill to visit Glover Gardens.  Built for Thomas Blake Glover, a Scottish merchant on the scale of Andrew Carnegie, who probably had more impact on Japan than anyone other the Mathew Perry.

Glover assisted Japan to come out of its isolation, and helped them build and utilize ships, mine coal, make beer and automobiles.  He went bankrupt once, married into and sired a large Japanese family, and died a very rich man.

The garden, sometimes referred to as "Madame Butterfly Garden" for its statues of Puccini and divas associated with his operas, enjoys a lovely layout of a large variety of flowers, and has spectacular views of the city from its hilltop location.  It is part of an open air museum of residences of former western merchants.

On the way down the hill, we stopped by a large building housing the floats for the Nagasaki Kunchi Festival, held in early October of each year.  If you're thinking of coming to Japan at that time of the year, this would be a festival you would not want to miss.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Sunday, Apr 15th, Nagasaki, Japan.