We did not visit all of Japan, but only the center part. Japan is on several islands and it is roughly the size of California. The tsunami and earthquake occurred north of our route, and where we toured there was nothing related to the tragedy.
In Japan, everywhere you go you see Tori gates which mark the entrance to sacred ground according to Japan's indigenous Shinto religion. Most Japanese follow rituals from both Shintoism and Buddhism, and the two religions have been intertwined for much of Japan's pre-modern history.
Behind most Tori gates is a Shinto shrine which contains the remains of a personage. The vermilion and white colors are supposed to ward off evil spirits.
Japan imported Buddhism from India via China in the 600s. Fierce guardian "Nio gods" flanked the gates to Buddhist temples. Linda's strange look is her attempt to appear scared for sake of conversation with the children she shows it to.
Pagodas are distinctly Japanese and enshrine relics of past Buddhas. Pagodas were the most important and frontmost structures of early Japanese Buddhist temples, but they were later placed behind and to the side of main temple hall.
Before entering a Japanese Buddhist temple, believers fan themselves with incense smoke and then splash their hands and face with holy water.
Don't be alarmed: a "reverse Swastika" from India's Sanskrit characters is just a symbol denoting a Japanese Buddhist temple.
A statue of a Buddha usually sits inside a temple's main hall, and tourists are not allowed to take pictures inside. Fortunately for tourists, a tidal wave in 1495 destroyed the last temple enclosure of this Buddha in Kamakura.
To learn Japan's pre-modern history, tour its Buddhist temples. A Japanese prince is considered the founder of Japanese Buddhism, a vehicle to unify the country and undermine the power of its contending clans. The prince founded a seminary here in Horyu-ji in 607 which was rebuilt in 710 following a fire. Early Buddhist temple structures were largely unadorned but distinguished by deep eaves and soaring rooflines. The Horyu-ji temple contains the oldest surviving wooden structures in the world and oldest known Japanese clay guardian deities at its gate.
Nearby Nara, home to a large population of protected and tame "sacred" deer, became Japan's first "permanent" capital in 710. Under the previously dominant Shinto strictures, the site of an emperor's death became "unclean," so each new emperor had to move to a new location.
Buddhist temples rapidly became larger and more ornate. Nara's original Todai-ji temple, completed in 752, was 50% larger than this 1709 Edo-era reconstruction, which is still the largest wooden structure in the world. The Chinese gable at the center of the lower roof was an add-on in 1709, but the ostentatious gold finials remained true to the original temple. Tour books warn that this premiere attraction draws heavy crowds :-) ..., so we got up early and beat the rush.
Todai-ji temple houses the Great Buddha (Daibatsu), originally cast in 746. Emperor Shomu may have ordered its construction as a charm against a recurrence of previous devastation from smallpox or to help unify the country behind its new religion. Whatever the intent, the construction was a huge drain on the economy.
This protective Nio god stands atop the evil being that he has vanquished. He guards the right side of the entrance, and his mouth is closed. A Nio god on the left side would have an open mouth. Together they symbolize the beginning and the end of things.
The Great Buddha is gigantic and sits on a lotus flower with petals the size of this replica. The monks seated above the exhibit are chanting--a bonus we got from arriving early.
The Buddhist priests in Nara became increasingly powerful and corrupt. Japan's rulers responded by moving the capital city to Kyoto in 794 and shifted support to Shingon Buddhism, imported from China in 805. Only two guardian temples were allowed inside Kyoto's city limits, at its southern entrance, including To-ji, a late 8th to 9th century temple. It has statues of deities in Shingon Buddhism, 21 statues in all, all gold-plated and showing their age. 11/9/11
To-ji is home to the tallest pagoda in Japan (826, latest rebuild in 1644). 11/9/11
Kyoto's temples ring the perimeter of the city. Kiyomizu-dera (“pure water,” 780), is a temple with huge timbers supporting a veranda and thatched cedar bark roof, dedicated to God of Mercy, Kannon Bosatsu. One of our most crowded sites, but still not too much to handle. We were interviewed by a group of schoolchildren. 11/10/11
Adashino Nenbutsuji temple (9th century). Initially used as a burial ground, has 8,000 collected headstones—extensive but the older ones are substantially eroded. It appears to be still collecting recent headstones or serving as a graveyard. Site of a 1000-candle ceremony every 8/23-8/24. 11/12/11
Kyoto. Chion-in temple (1234)--here, and Yasaka-jinja shrine were beautifully lit up. 11/9/11
Tenryu-ji temple is the site of the first of five famous Zen rock gardens. The temple was destroyed 8 times by fire, the last in 1864. The garden dates to the 14th century. Has a gorgeous pond with 7 vertical stones at the back in a Sung Chinese landscape painting style. 11/12/11
Tenryu-ji temple garden 11/12/11
The Golden Pavilion: Kamakura interrupted Kyoto's reign as Japan's capital from 1185 to 1333, during which time Zen Buddhism became ascendant., influencing subsequent temple architecture. Built starting in 1394 as a retirement home for an emperor, the Golden Pavilion burned down several times, most recently by a loony Buddhist priest-in-training in 1950. The rebuilt structure was gold-plated in 1987, and the original is thought to have been gold-plated only on the 3rd floor, falling short of the emperor’s goal. It’s a little odd to see a rebuilt structure exceed the original in its construction. 11/10/11
Golden Pavilion: another view
Golden Pavilion: the garden. As we saw in so many gardens and backyards in Japan, here is a persimmon tree with the bright red-orange ripe fruit.
Silver Pavilion at Gingaku-ji, 1482: A shogun dedicated his life to building this Zen villa/temple, though it was finished after he died at age 55. It has the bell-shaped upper-story windows characteristic of Zen temples, but was intentionally constructed to be less ostentatious than the Golden Pavilion and lacquered in black that aged to beige and appeared silver under a full moon. 11/13
Ginkaku-ji gardens. We were struck by the deep-green mossy grass. Incredibly, although it was a Sunday in a peak holiday season at a Zen temple, a worker at the temple ran a very loud irritating gas blower for most of the time we were there.
Ginkaku-ji temple has a gorgeous raised sand-bed Zen garden. The cone of sand represents Mt.Fuji.
Ryoan-ji (end of 15th c): The world’s number one Zen rock garden. No one knows the creator’s intention, so it’s what you make of it. Impressive in its austerity, but not very photogenic: fifteen rocks in groups with mossy bases scattered within raked white gravel. We were again interviewed by a group of students. This time, when they asked us where we were from, we asked them to guess, and we dropped hints. They simply would not volunteer a guess—we had gone off-script. 11/10/11
Kongobu-ji (1593 ): Beautifully retained wall screens, Japan’s “largest” Zen rock garden, and a large kitchen that can serve thousands. The shogun ordered his nephew regent to commit suicide here in the “Willow room” with willows of the 4 seasons on the wall screens. The Zen garden represents two protective dragons emerging from the clouds; the white sand comes from Kyoto. 11/17/11
Numerous other famous temples and shrines are located south and southwest of Kyoto. Byodo-in (1053) was established in nearby Uji to appease the gods so that they would allow believers to enterthe “Pure Land” paradise of eternal bliss. Famous for its huge wooden Buddhist temple, perfectly balanced with soaring ends—known as the Phoenix Hall, with two Phoenix birds at either end of the rooftop. Commoners could not enter, but a window with latticework in front of the large Buddha statue allowed them to view him from across the “Western Ocean” pond in front. 11/14/11
The spiritual center of Shingon Buddhism is Koyasan, a hilltop monastery town south of Kyoto where we stayed toward the end of our trip. Fudo-in is the oldest existing building (1198) in Koyasan, 11/17/11
A 30-min train ride and 10-minute ferry ride from Hiroshima takes visitors to Miyajima (Shrine) Island. We then took a quick aerial tram ride up followed by a one-hour hike down Mt. Misen. We also had to hike up for a km from the top of the tram ride to the top of Mt. Misen. Beautiful vistas, but limited visibility on the day we visited. 11/03/11
Myajima’s most famous site is Itsukushima Shrine, fronted by its floating Torii gate which is partially submerged during high tides.According to Lonely Planet, the floating Torii gate is one of the top three photographed sites in Japan. Torii gates may have started as roosts for crowing birds (cockerels) who by legend drew goddess Amaterasu from her ocean cave, restoring light to the world. 11/03/11
Itsukushima Jinja (Shrine): Shinto/Bhuddist shrine that dates back to 593 with a major expansion that added pavilions in 1168 under a tyrant who made a fortune here carrying on trade with China. Impressive mainly from its appearance over water during high tide and land during low tide. Commoners were not allowed to set foot on Miyajima, and the O-Torii gate and Its-shrine were constructed to allow approach by boat.. 11/03/11
Here's the same view of Itsukushima Jinja at low tide.
And the "floating" Torii gate at low tide.
Looking back across from Myajima Island, framed within one of Japan's most famous sites is a Scientology structure. Amazing display of cultural insensitivity.
Daishoin temple (806) on Miyajima Island is a gorgeous Shingon Bhuddist temple with lots to see; worth an extensive and leisurely visit. It's probably over-the-top as an "all-in-one" pilgrimage stop for practicing Buddhists, but it puts a lot of religious imagery in one place. 11/04 11
Daishoin temple (806): steps with 500 stone Buddha-type figures, each with a different expression, most smiling. 11/04/11
Daishoin temple (806): Closeup of steps with 500 stone Buddha-type figures. 11/04/11
Daishoin temple (806)
Daishoin temple (806): a tengu demon (human/bird) punishes those who abuse religious precepts.
Tosho-gu, Nikko (1617): Tokyo (initially named Edo) became Japan's capital under the Tokugawa shogunate in 1603. Nikko's opulent structures were intended to deify the Tokugawa clan. The first Tokugawa shogun is buried at Tosho-gu, the opulent temple in the background. Nikko is one of the most famous sites in Japan. Not far from Tokyo, but you beat the crowds if you spend the night in Nikko. 10/20/11
Tosho-gu, Nikko (1617) Another view. Nobility visitors came bearing gifts, and apparently the customary bottle of wine of those times were the huge lanterns that adorn the grounds of many temples. 10/20/11
Chuzen Lake: Hiked 6 miles on a trail with three waterfalls. Farther and longer than indicated on maps. Lots of friendly Japanese. We exchanged the greeting "Konnichiwa" with all. 10/21
Chuzen Lake hike
We travelled from Matsumoto to the city of Takayama via Kamikochi National Park. Hiked in Kamikochi but we were a week late for fall colors. Choko, a pleasant young woman sharing our first bus, saved our itinerary for the day by shepherding us through bus connections to Takayama. Very scenic busrides with well-kept houses, beautiful flower gardens, and gorgeous fall colors. 10/24/11
More of our hike in Kamikochi Park.
Another scene on our hike in Kamikochi Park.
The Nakasendo Road was built in the 1600's to link Kyoto and Tokyo. From this tiny historic town of Tsumago, we hiked 7.8 kilometers to its sister town of Magome via a preserved portion of the road. 10/22/11
The Nakasendo Road as seen in Tsugamo. 10/22/11
From Shirakawa-go took a bus to Ainokura in Gokoyama to see the thatched-roof houses of the area. The roofs are 3 feet thick and very steep to handle heavy snow. They have 4 stories to accommodate many family members. A beautiful blue-sky day. 10/27/11
Houses in Ainokura 10/27/11
Ainokura i 10/27/11
Shirakawa-go, in the heart of the "Japanese Alps" with traditional thatched houses
Inside look at a traditional thatched house roof
Our day at Shirakawa-go was another very special one. Clear blue skies and early fall colors. We saw all of the main attractions and caught the last (4:50pm) bus to Kanazawa. The Folk Museum (Seikatsu Shiryokan): A fascinating place which showed several structures in the gassho (thatched roof) style. We went early before the tour buses arrived and practically had the place to ourselves. 10/28/11
Shirakawa-go Folk Museum 10/28/11
The Folk Museum. 10/28/11
Shirakawa-go: The primary overlook point with the classic gorgeous view of the whole village. 10/28/11
An easy 4:15 train ride from Kanazawa to Hiroshima. The weather was perfect, so as soon as we checked in at our Comfort Inn (although part of the international hotel chain, it is a typical Japanese business hotel), we walked to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, 10 minutes away. We saw the Cenotaph where a registry of the 200K+ fatalities is kept in a memorial stone chest, the perpetual peace flame that will be extinguished only if/when all nuclear weapons are destroyed, Genbaku (“Atom bomb”) dome, a mound covering urns with the ashes of 70,000 bodies recovered after the explosion, the memorial Peace Bell (Linda rang it), and several other outdoor memorial exhibits. The impression was overwhelming, even before we went into the museum. 11/01/11
Here a a "before" photo of the only building still remaining at the bomb epicenter 11/01/11
Here's the same "atom dome building," as it looks today. Sturdy buildings nearest the epicenter, such as this one, were not all flattened because the impact force was straight down rather than angled. The roof of the dome was blown through to the floor. 11/01/11 11/01/11
During more ancient times, here in Tsumago, we were struck by the use of stone fish on the roof of an historic inn. Fish were considered good spirit protections again fire because they never close their eyes and they live in (fire-extinguishing) water.
Takayama is famous for its floats, 1603-1867, used in its Fall and Spring Festivals. They are so tall (nearly 30 feet) that the top level has to lowered into the level below to fit through the doors. It takes 20 to carry the floats. A heavier ceremonial palanquin is also on display that requires two rotating teams of 40 to carry. It is no longer part of the festival because Tak cannot come up with 80 volunteers of similar height to carry it. 10/25/11
Lion Dance Ceremony Exhibition Hall in Takayama: The best part of this attraction is its mechanical puppets show. The puppets date to the 17th century and are mechanically sophisticated. 10/25/11
Mechanical puppets. 10/25/11
Masks of Japanese lions are found all over Japan, but don't look like lions because the first artists had never seen one. Also, a long-nosed deity. 10/25/11
In the city of Kanazawa: a colorful exhibit of a noble bride’s wedding gifts. The gift wrappings are amazing. works of art 10/29/11
In the same wedding exhibit: an ornate bouquet made entirely of candy. 10/29/11
Myajima. Parents of deceased children leave gifts and wishes on their behalf for the deity of mercy and give her a red bib. We saw such red-bibbed statuettes all over Japan 11/04 11
Japan has improved on Western toilets; theirs come with dials and buttons that do all sorts of things that we won't say or couldn't figure out. We can say that we appreciated the heated seats and pre-flush. Amazing. 10/23/11
A metro train driver, with gloves and mask. Many Japanese wear the masks to help with allergies. Tokyo, 10/20/11
It's not all about temples. Japan has some scenic castles too. Matsumoto Castle (1590) is known as Crow Castle due to black color and wing-shaped roofs. 10/24/11
Kanazawa Castle is spacious and recently restored. It has clever tactical features such as guard towers with outfacing walls built at acute angles to increase the guards' field of vision. 10/29/11
Nijo castle (built 1603 for first Tokugawa shogun and finished 1626 by his grandson: A must see, with the most colorful and well-preserved wall paintingswe’ve seen in Japan. Interesting features as well, including “nightingale floors” that squeak to warn of intruders, and progressively more ornate quarters until reaching the shogun’s living space where only women were allowed. Also contains a separate palace with beautiful grounds and a great overview area. Once again, you had to be there: No inside pictures—true of many of the attractions with the most impressive interior exhibits, including the 21 statues of To-ji, 1001 statues of Sanjusangen-do, and the Zen garden of Daisen-ji. 11/13/11
Nijo castle buildings 11/13/11
Nijo castle moat. The strategic features of Japan's castles were never put to the test, since none of them were ever attacked. 11/13/11
Naga-machi samurai quarters. Very well preserved old section of Kanazawa which was not bombed during WWII. The Nomura house, home to a high-ranking samurai, was one of our favorites, with a gorgeous garden and sliding doors with beautifully painted screens. We also saw much more basic quarters for low-ranking samurai. Under the shogun, the samurai lost their military function and instead became highly educated administrators. 10/29/11
Naga-machi samurai quarters. rs. 10/29/11
Kanazawa is famous for its gold leaf, but this was the unexpected find of the day: Hakuza Hikarigura, a gold leaf store with the world's first pure gold platinum leaf. The storehouse was gold-plated inside and out 10/31/11
Also at the gold leaf store, a clerk showed us how they cut gold leaf. It was so thin that we could and did rub a piece of it into our hands until it completely disappeared. Not too pricey, but not our type of souvenir. 10/31/11
cutting the gold leaf into a square. 10/31/11
In the Inland Sea area of Japan, we went to this open air museum). Villagers still knew how to make replicas of the 12th century vine bridges built in the mountain by refuges after their defeat by another clan in 1185. 11/7/11
Okuno-in cemetery is one of the most famous sites in Koyasan, the monastery town we stayed in toward the end of our trip. We walked it at night on paths lit by lanterns Beautiful and eerie walk, and had it to ourselves, aside from a helpful security guard who showed us famous gravesites, and a small tour group that we passed near the end of our return path. 11/17/11
And we returned to Okuno-in again the next morning. Almost all rich Japanese and all big corporations (here is Nissan) try to place their ashes here. (Japanese who follow Buddhist or Shinto tradition are cremated, not buried). Lots of ancient huge gravesites, statues and trees. Also famous for superstitions: a well that you look into and if you don’t see your reflection then you will die within three years, a heavy stone that if you can lift to an upper level you will go to heaven in the afterlife. 11/18/11
Okuno-in contains many large family burial plots with pyramids of urns of the deceased. 11/18/11
Five is a sacred number in Buddhism. A cental Buddha surrounded by four guardian deities at the cardinal points. Here in Okuno-in is a five-level stupa grave marker, denoting five purified elements from the base up: earth, water, fire, air and space.
Shrines such as this one in Koyasan frequently exhibit the five sacred colors: white, vermilion, black, green and gold. 11/17/11
And the Five-story pagoda is a Japanese/Chinese fusion. A strong center pole stabilizes the pagoda. The center pole of this Miyajima island pagoda from 1407 descends only to the 2nd story. The inside is painted with auspicious images but not open to public. 11/04/11
Buddhism's lighter side: Nikko is home to the famous "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" monkeys.
And temple offerings such as these at a Kamakura shrine include beer and sake. 11/20/11
Whenever we ended up at a shrine on a Sunday, we saw a wedding going on. This was the first one we saw, on Miyajima island. The bride was gorgeous 11/03/11
More wedding pics. 11/03/11
Another wedding pic 11/03/11
Heian shrine complex (1895):. Spacious garden and Chinese bridge over pond. You can see a wedding couple on this bridge 11/13/11
Heian shrine complex (1895): . We observed a Shichi-go-san ceremonies for young girls (3 and 7) and boys (5). Lots of cute little girls in colorful kimonos. 11/13/11
Heian shrine complex. It was fun to watch the parents and the children. 11/13/11
Heian shrine complex 11/13/11
Heian shrine complex. 11/13/11
Monkey park Iwatayama: very entertaining watching the children feed the completely unafraid Japanese “snow monkeys,” with the humans instead of the monkeys caged in. 11/12/11
Monkey park Iwatayama:. 11/12/11
Monkey park Iwatayama. 11/12/11
A full day of Takayama sightseeing with our private guide, Tsukasa Ichinose. His rate was 3300y for 3 hours. He guided us for 7 hours but only allowed us to pay him for 3 hours, plus lunch. We had a traditional Hida-beef lunch and finished with drinks at a sake brewer’s shop, including one in a cup that showed a naked lady at the bottom when filled but no image when empty. The raccoon in the background is the universal symbol for a sake shop. We learned of Ichinose's services the day before by inquiring at the Takayama City Information Office 10/26/11
Kanazawa Castle: When we went to tourist information desk to start our day, Mariko offered to serve as our volunteer guide. For five hours, she toured us around. It was her last day as a guide in Kanazawa. She was soon to leave with her about-to-be-retired husband to live and take care of her mother-in-law, a traditional role that she speculated would end with her generation. 10/29/11
Linda with Max, our host at his home in Uno, a small B&B, who had spent nearly 20 years in the US. Uno was our base for exploring the Naoshima and Teshima, two Inland Sea islands with modern art. 11/6/11.
Rain all day, but not hard, and the timing was good. We spent the whole day at the modern art exhibits on Naoshima Island, and most of them were indoors. We teamed up with Ayumi, a sweet social worker. It was our favorite modern art experience ever. One thing that made it unique was how participatory some of the exhibits were: walking around a room with diffuse lavender lighting and rounded edges that made the walls seem indistinct, sitting in a very dark room until your eyes adjusted and you can pick out a rectangular space that you then crossed the room to explore. Many exhibits took up entire rooms, and the six at the Art House Project took up entire houses. The way the art was exhibited was just as much part of the experience as the art itself—museums designed by Tadao Ando that were underground and made use of natural lighting: Monet’s lily pond paintings never looked so good. 11/05/1
Naoshima Island. Jim and Ayumi are at one of the two outdoor pumpkin sculptures that are the logos for the island. 11/05/1
Another good museum day around the Inland Sea, and that’s what we did, ferrying out to the Teshima Art Museum. We reached the island before the museum opened, along with Aya, who was the only other ferry passenger. Aya has lived her adult life in Japan and is now a software project coordinator. However, she lived in the U.S. for middle school and spoke perfect English. The museum is that thin concrete mound dug into a hillside with the hole behind us. Water oozes out of small holes in the floor, accumulates, moves around, divides and re-combines, with various ping-pong type balls and small disks serving as impediments. It’s like watching amoebas. The light is all natural, through two large holes in the ceiling. It appears to be about 120-150 feet across—not circular but rounded, with no pillars. The acoustics are phenomenal—you can hear normal voices from across the space, and natural sounds such as chirps from birds echo. Opened in 2010, designed by Japanese arch
Linda with Katsuya, our host for the first 3 days of our stay in Kyoto. We shared his one-bedroom apartment. (He slept in the living room) He is a software engineer. 11/10/11
At a Kyoto temples, we were interviewed by two groups of schoolchildren. This is one of the groups. It was hard work to get the groups to go "off script" and say something other than their pre-written questions. 11/10/11
Our hosts in the Tokyo suburbs, Keiko and Katsuo. We had many wonderful talks. They took great care of us, including being treated to Keiko's excellent cooking. We shared their small two-bedroom apartment (actually one large bedroom separated by a sliding door). 11/21/11
Signage in Okayama for the marrige-challenged. (Liebe, BTW, is the German word for love). 11/8/11
Kanazawa. Old geisha quarters: We deliberately delayed going there until the evening on the off-beat chance of catching a modern geisha on her way to work. We didn't, but the streets were lovely and softly lit. As for the sign, we think they wanted us to proceed slowly and carefully. 10/31/11
Miyajima tram ride sign. 11/03/11
Myajima, Daishoin temple signage. 11/04/11
In Nikko at our first minshuku. I'm sitting with the owner. This was our third night in Japan, after spending two nights in Tokyo at our only Western-style hotel of the trip. Dinner was delicious.The other table held 4 retired Japanese men who had just enough sake and just enough knowledge of English to make the evening fun. 10/20
Tsumago in Kiso Valley, a fabulous stop. Linda politely arranged for us to have the best room at the best ryokan (named Fujioto) in town. 10/22
Our room at Fujioto, our ryokan .
Enjoying tea in our room. 10/22
The view from one of the two balconies of our room
The view from the other balcony of our room
Ready for bed in our room. Almost all ryokans, minshukus, and business hotels provide guests with these robes (yukatas) for sleeping and lounging.
Dinner at our ryokan in Tsumago
Our minshuku in Shirakawa-go was a traditional thatched home. Pretty basic —small towels, room for either a tea table or futons, but not both, no seat backs for our floor pillows, the usual thin walls, but this time with chatty neighbors However, it worked out better than we expected. Heavy blankets kept us warm, and our earplugs muffled the noise, so we both slept well after our traditional Japanese bath following dinner. During dinner, the traditional open fire dining space was too smoky for us—we made it through, but one night was enough of that. 10/27/11.10/28/11
Wada House: the largest private thatched house in Shirakawa-go. Much more upscale than our lodgings, but gives you an idea of the wood-fire cooking. 10/28/11
Our wonderful meal at our ryokan in Tsumago. 10/22
A close-up of some of our food. The "flower" is made entirely of popped rice. The blue dish holds the fried wasps...yum!
Our evening meal in Takayama before we ate it...
and after. Takayama, 10/27/11
a tasty and meaty sea snail, Takayama, 10/25/11.
Kanazawa Fish Market, Yamasan Sushi Restaurant. Jim ordered the Kaisen-don, an 18-piece sushi dish for 2650yen; don't expect to ever eat a more bountiful or fresh sushi meal. 10/31/11
Myajima is famous for its oysters, the peak season had just started, and oysters are a specialty of our minshuku, so Jim had the best oyster meal of hislife for dinner. A seven-course meal, and five of them were oysters. We also had our best Japanese bath of the trip so far (before dinner), dressed in our yukatas for dinner, then changed back for an after-dark stroll along the beachfront, with lighted lanterns, a spotlighted floating Torii gate, and tame deer to make the evening walk special. Another day in which everything fit together perfectly. 11/03/11
River fish, a great delicacy in the Kiso Valley 11/6/11
At our temple lodging in the monastery town of Koyasan, the monks served us a delicious traditional Zen vegetarian meal, including gomadofu (sesame tofu) and Koya-dofu (spongy, freeze-dried tofu). 11/17/11
Takamatsu. Ritsurin koen: Beautiful stroll garden. We tried powdered Macha tea—OK but must be an acquired taste. 11/7/11
Late in the day and pouring rain, we went to see Tokyo Tower and walk around the area. The tower was lit up, and there was a Christmas display at the base, including kids’ rides. Very festive and early. Our host Keiko, had told us that Japan celebrates holidays like Halloween and Christmas even though they don’t understand what they are about. They just do it because the US does. 11/19/11
Christmas decorations at Tokyo tower. 11/19/11
Kamakura: A "traditional" 12th century street, with old buildings, electrical wires, and crowds. 11/20/11
The Bikan Historical Quarter with its canals in Kurashiki avoided war damage and has been very well preserved. 11/8/11
Sannenzaka, Ninenzaka, and Ishibei-koji streets, all beautiful, well-preserved streets in the SE hills. Just a block or so above the bustle of Kyoto, but it feels quite removed. 11/10/11
If you are going to have these beautifully trimmed trees, you need gardeners to climb up and trim. 11/14/11
As with so many garden trees, elaborate posts are used either to shape the tree or just to keep them from falling over.
The gardens of an historic inn in Tsumago, 10/22.
Adashino Nenbutsuji temple garden, Kyoto 11/12/11
Bamboo path 11/12/11
All traditional Japanese homes have an altar, in Shirakawa-go and throughout Japan
Kanazawa. Kenrokuen Garden: one of the top three gardens in Japan, its name signifies that it combines the six aspects of what Japanese consider the perfect garden: spaciousness, antiquity, water flows, and three others. Beauty in all directions. Some trees had lost their leaves, but the maples had not turned yet. Many of the mature tree branches require propping up to keep the beauty intact. 10/31/11
Kenrokuen Garden: 10/31/11
Takamatsu. Ritsurin koen: Beautiful stroll garden 11/7/11
Takamatsu. Ritsurin koen:11/7/11
Korakuen Garden in Okayama
National museum, an historic inn in Tsugamo. Our guide (above) gave us a private tour and told us about traditional seating arrangements for meals around the central-room fire (children sat on the hard floor with no mat) 10/22/11
The Nakasendo Road linking Kyoto and Tokyo, Linda took this picture to show the first-graders at the school where she volunteers. 10/22/11
From our only Western-style hotel, our 24th floor room overlooked the Tokyo Metropolitan Government buildings, 10/19/11
Okuno-in cemetary in Koyasan, the monastery town: . 11/18/11