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. 

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.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Saturday, Apr 14th, Nagasaki, Japan


Hiroshima means "broad island".  You couldn't tell it when we arrived on the ferry from Miyajima.  But when Mori Terumoto saw it in 1589, it was a bunch of little flat islands stretching out from a hilly mainland.  He built a castle, and began to connect the islands with rocks from the hills.  His successors continued the plan.  Hiroshima is still flat, but it's home to 1.2 million residents today.
In 1945, there were 350,000, and we killed 140,000 of them in 10 seconds at 8:15am.  The latest toll is 320,000 when you count in those who died from radiation poisoning.  Before we boarded two trains to Nagasaki, we visited the Hiroshima Memorial Peace Museum.  The highlights for me in it were the artifacts collected from the ruins, and the video stories (20,000) of the survivors.  Much of the rest was literally old news on wall displays.

Outside in the Peace Park, we saw several memorials dedicated to the event, which were much more intended to drive home the importance of stopping it from happening again.

Mostly sponsored and maintained by children and their advocates, walking around these reminders brought home the message more powerfully.

And if you're wondering what that paper that Teddy, our guide is holding up to the's his flowchart on our route today (bus to train station to use lockers, taxis to museum and back, lunch, retrieve luggage, train, train, taxi, etc.) - so he wouldn't get us lost.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Saturday, April 14th, Nagasaki, Japan.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Friday, Apr 13th, Miyajima Island, Japan


The group is living in three separate hotels, and today is a day in which we are on our own.  The locals suggest that if you enjoy walking, there are 4,5, & 6-hour hikes which take you to most of the island's interesting places.  Pat and I decided to start with the 4-hour, and see if we can add the extra distance (it includes a ropeway up Mt Misen, and across to another peak to an observatory and temple.

On the way, we stopped by the Miyajima Traditional Crafts Center (Miyajiman Kobo), the Five-Storied Pagota, and the Hokoku Shrine.
We caught the free shuttlebus at Momijidani Park, and boarded the Miyajima Ropeway at Shishiiwa Station.  We transferred to the second ropeway, and rode up to just below the summit.  After viewing the panorama at that point, we decided that hiking the last 105 meters in elevation would have to wait til next time.

Upon arrival at the bottom of the ropeways, we continued on the walking route.  We visited the Daishoin Temple, Tahoto Pagoda, Daiganji Temple, Miyajima History and Folklore Museum, and plenty of shops, cafes, and ice cream stands on our way back to the hotel. 

Passing by the O-Torii Gate, we watched as hundreds of visitors took advantage of the low tide to walk out and touch it.

 To see all of the photos taken today, click on Friday, Apr 13th, Miyajima Island, Japan. 

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Thursday, Apr 12th, Miyajima Island, Japan


Today, after sending our luggage to Hiroshima where we will reunite with it in two days, we walked about a kilometer from the hotel to the Ishite-ji Temple.  Known in particular for the Niomon Gate, it is number 51 on the list of eighty-eight temples on the Kaiku Shikoku Pilgrimage Trail.

Our own pilgrimage participation so far consists of getting temple staff to add beautiful caligraphy to the blank pages in temple books we bought at the beginning of the trip.  The art is beautiful, and when unfolded, it's going to make a great wall-hanging.

After lunch, we caught a bus to a hydrofoil ferry across the strait to another slower boat to Miyajima Island (Istukushima).  We'll be staying on the island for the next two days, and then crossing to Hiroshima.

The island is famous for the 6th century Istukushima Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage site.  The Japanese government has declared several of the buildings national treasures.  The island, and the waters around it, are part of the Setonaikai National Park. 

On our way from the ferry to our hotel, we walked along the boardwalk past the Temple's torii gate out in the bay.  At low tide, you can walk out to it, and the coast was lined with photographers waiting for high tide to capture a sunset shot of it floating in the water.

Dinner isn't normally the highlight of the day, and it would be hard to compete today with the Ishite-Jin Temple.  But our hotel dinner tonight had to be one of the most memorable of our trip.  Here is the menu:  Local Organic Salad: served with tomato cheese dripping, dried baby sardine and miso dressing.  Japanese Hors d'oeuvvre: Jellied red sea bream roe, bamboo shoot with Japanese pepper miso, boiled octopus, roasted yam with ume flavor, salt-pickled red sea bream with cream cheese, bite-sized sea eel sushi, fried icefish, shrimp dumpling fried with broad bean, wild vegetable shoot rolled with prosciutto, ark shell and canola flower marinated with mustard, bracken marinated with tofu, broth-soaked butterbur.

Clear Soup with Clam-dumpling: Hamaguri clam, starchy egg cake, kogomi plant shoot.  Local Premium Sashimi: squid, red sea bream, cutlass fish, amberjack, blended soy sauce, citrus flavored soy sauce.  Spanish Mackerel and Seasonal Vegetable Hot Pot: spanish mackerel, seasonal vegetables, ginger, Japanese pepper.

Local Hiroshima Beef Steak: Taoshita beef, garnish vegetables, Hiroshima lemon, wasabi soy sauce, rock salt, oyster sauce.

Sake Steamed Oyster: oyster, Hiroshima lemon.

Oyster Kettle Rice: oyster, burdock, fried rice.

Barley Miso Soup: barley, wheat gluten, Nameko mushroom.  Pickled Vegetables: Japanese radish, Hiroshima mustard, pickled with Japanese red basil.  and Desert.  Served with a flight of three sake selections.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Thursday, Apr 12th, Miyajima Island, Japan