Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Tuesday, June 26th, Lahaina, Maui


I can't imagine a more perfect last couple of days.  There's a rainbow hanging over the valley between two mountains out our window, and it has to be illustrative. 

First, I want to thank Pat.  For suggesting we take the vacation, handling all the details (as usual), and for hanging out while I spent the last three days getting a many decade-year itch scratched well.  I have used every excuse possible to avoid facing the fact that I don't have the body of a 17-year old teenage surfer.  Over the weekend, I rented a very stable longboard, and paddled it out into 3-foot waves near where we are staying.  While I could catch waves on my knees, my legs failed me.

Yesterday, a high school friend whose lived on Maui since 1971 took me to his favorite spot with a full set of paddleboard gear and the best helper attitude possible.  So the problem of standing up after you catch the wave will be solved.  You paddle into it standing up.   But it turns out it's not so simple to even stand up and stay balanced on the board in the calm sea.

It all comes down to two ugly facts.  I'm too fat, and my legs are too weak. 

The good news is that it's fixable.  The equally good news is that I think I now have the motivation to do something about it.  I know how much the pleasure I get from the two sports that I have enjoyed the most (golf and surfing) depends on my losing weight and adding strength in my lower body.  I also know how much my health and long life depends on it.  A good friend of mine had a heart attack last week, and he was surfing at the time. 

So my challenge is to make the rainbow mean something about my future.  I couldn't have gotten a clearer message about what needs to be done, and a more classic visual to carry as the moment to begin.

Today, we drove out to find a redwood grove on the slopes of Mount Haleakala.  We got close, but needed four-wheel drive to through the deep holes in the dirt road for the last 6 miles to the trailhead.  On the way back, we visited the Kula Botanical Garden, had lunch in the town of Makawao, and enjoyed the Maui Ocean Center on the coast south of Lahaina. 

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Tuesday, June 26th, Lahaina, Maui.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Sunday, June 24th, Lahaina, Maui


Today, I spent the morning trying to get old muscles, warm water, and small surf to resurrect a childhood from over fifty years ago.   I failed.  But I had fun doing it.  This afternoon, Pat and I took the same old bodies on what's been called the best hike on Maui, and we used dinner and the evening to reward that satisfying exhaustion. 

To see the remaining few photos of the day, click on Sunday, June 24th, Lahaina, Maui.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Saturday, June 23rd, Lahaina, Maui


Our penthouse suite balcony looks at the mountains east of us this morning.  We plan on getting in a walk on the beach out front, but are still a bit sleepy-eyed from the flight last night.  Yesterday, we took the Sonoma Airport Express to SFO, and caught the 5pm United flight to Kahalui Airport on the other side of the island. 

Picking up a car, we drove here, checked in, and walked down the street to the "Down the Hatch' Restaurant at the Lahaina Wharf (great shrimp tacos).

To see our suite, and any other photos I take this morning, click on Saturday, June 23rd, Lahaina, Maui.

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.