Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Insider' Japan Part 2

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On day 5 we traveled by motor coach to Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, home to one of the most photographed sights in Japan, if not the world: almost perfectly symmetrical Mt. Fuji , standing regally at 12,388 feet high in the park's midst. 
Before we got on the bus, this is a good picture of downtown Tokyo
Tower in downtown Tokyo  taken from our hotel room.
Before reaching Mt. Fuji, we took a leisurely boat ride on Ashi Lake, an absolutely beautiful park where we took in the scenes of the whole park.  Unfortunately, the weather was quite overcast and we did not get any distant views of Mt. Fuji.
Boat for a tour of Lake Ashi

Shinto Shrine on Lake Ashi
We then took a motor-coach ride to the "fifth station" of Mount Fuji, which is the embarkation point for those climbers brave enough to attempt the summit.  We had a panoramic view of the summit. The weather, however, was really cold and very windy.  Clouds kept obscuring the summit and in between the moving clouds we were able to get some  photos.

Mt Fuji.  We were lucky to get that picture as the clouds kept obscuring the mountain.
A dormant volcano Fuji-san as it is known to the Japanese, last erupted in 1707 and the resulting ash reached all the way to Tokyo where it actually covered buildings.  The mountain's majesty is breath taking, as writers and artists have attested for centuries.

Leaving the park we continued on to the town of Hakone and our traditional ryokan lodgings for the night - and a special night it was indeed. Upon arrival at our intimate inn, we were shown to our Japanese-style room, where we removed our shoes before entering.  Then there was the opportunity to dress in traditional Japanese clothing before dinner.  But first for those willing, we had the opportunity to bathe in a traditional Japanese bath, men and women in separate facilities.  Dinner was again outstanding and we savored a traditional tea followed by dinner featuring dishes using fresh local ingredients.  Going to bed for us was quite unusual.  We slept peacefully on a futon in a room of serene minimalist design.  It looked like a mattress on the floor, but it was firm and very comfortable and we both slept great.
Our room at the traditional Japanese hotel.  Very austere compared to our way of living. The Futon was wonderful to sleep on.
The next day was the start of an exciting experience.  We traveled via bullet train, and Wide View Hida express to the Hida Mountain of Takayama.  The town is considered one of Japan's most attractive settings with its 16th century castle, a beautifully preserved Old Town and historic buildings dating to the Edo period of 1600 to 1868.  Before we could leave, it was recommended by our guide to buy a bento box lunch, a food box packed with Japanese specialties which was very enticing to our eyes and taste buds.  Now this is very interesting, the train stations all had fast food and restaurants located through out the main part of the station.  It was not a problem to stock up on some Japanese goodies. 

The bullet train.  This is the way to travel at over 200 mph and really smooth.

Pam and I on the Bullet train.
Mt Fuji as seen from the bullet train.

The bullet train ride was thrilling and the train really moves fast.  What is really interesting is that they are always on time.  People just move in mass to get on and no one crowds or pushes.  Next we transferred to the Hida express which is not a bullet train but a slower moving train that weaves around through the valleys and over streams where we could view small villages and towns along the railroad.  The mountains were very steep and had the look of being volcanic at one time.  We really enjoyed this ride through the mountain valleys on the way to Takayama.

Our explorations in Takayama centered on three narrow streets in the San-machi-suji district, where in feudal times, wealthy merchants lived amidst the authentically preserved small inns, tea houses, peaceful temples, and sake breweries some of which have operated for centuries.  During our tour we enjoyed a sake tasting at a sake brewery.  It was outstanding and we learned the process of making sake.  I also learned that sake could be drunk cold or hot.  I preferred hot sake, and the owners of the brewery were very generous.  The ladies on the tour visited some of the region's unique lacquer ware and carvings of yew wood.  The men of the trip sat on a bench outside the sake brewery to allow their eyes to come into focus.
Narrow Streets of Takayama
Dinner as displayed outside a Japanese restaurant. 800 yen = roughly $8.00.
Sake brewery displaying their wares.
Our guide on the right and the brewery owner on the left giving instruction on how to make Sake.
Rice barrels for sake outside the brewery.
That evening we again had an outstanding Japanese style meal.  It was  excellent, and I was starting to go native.

Next morning we visited Takayama's centuries old Miyagawa Morning Market, where stalls selling everything from fresh fruit, vegetables, and flowers to pickles, crafts, and fish, line the streets leading to the river.  We could have spent more time in Takayama as up to this point it was our favorite stop.  We both thought it was because it was untouched by the war and was a typical example of old Japan.
The market had every type of fresh vegetables they have in Japan.
The we departed for Shirakawago Gassho-zukuri Villages, a UNESCO World Heritage site comprised of thatched-roof homes relocated from villages that were razed for the construction of a dam.  In addition to its status as a World Heritage site, the village also is a vibrant community whose residents work together to preserve the Grassho-sytle architectural style unique to this region: wooden houses with steep thatched roofs made to withstand heavy snow.
Thatched covered home.  People still live in this village
Lunch.  Don't ask because I had no idea, but it was excellent.  I have gained a taste for the cuisine.
The village.
We continued on to the Miboro Dam, Japan's first and largest dam built with "rock-fill technology" using only stones and clay.  We traveled on to reach Kanazawa, alluring city that survived the ravages of World War II because of its out of the way location between the mountains and the Sea of Japan.  Though somewhat off the beaten tourist path, Kanazawa is prized among Japanese as the country's best-preserved Edo-period city along with Takayama.

Dinner was on our own in this city known for Kaga, or traditional cuisine (particularly sushi, and sashimi).  I was going more native by the day.

Japan has many gardens and in Kanazawa on the next day we visited the renowned Kenrokuen Garden.  This is a national landmark whose origins date to 1676.  One of Japan's three finest traditional gardens, Kenrokuen represents the six qualities required for the perfect garden: extensiveness, facetiousness (Man-made), antiquity, water, wide prospect, and quiet seclusion.  Its trees, ponds, waterfalls, and flowers stretch over grounds of 25 acres.

We also viewed Ishikawa Gare, the only remaining section of the town's original castle; Higashi Chaya-gai teahouse district and Higashi-Chayamach geisha are of tall, narrow houses.

We toured the Hakukokan Gold Leaf Museum, which celebrates the art and craft of gold leaf technology and houses a collection dating to the late 16th century.  A center of gold leaf craft, Kanazawa produced the gold leaf covering Kyoto's Golden Pavilion that we saw in Kyoto. Our last stop is the Nagamachi Samuari district, where the ruling family's (samurai) warriors lived on narrow streets protected by tile-roofed earthen walls.
Gold leaf covered Samurai Warrior
Pam made a gold leaf design on a plate.
This is the result of Pam's work.

Pam's reward was a gold speckled ice cream cone.

The next morning we boarded the train for the two hour journey to Kyoto, Japan's Imperial Capital for a millennium and now the country's cultural and artistic capital.  A true gem with more that 1,600 temples, hundreds of shrines, three imperial palaces, artful garden, and well-preserved wooden architecture, Kyoto embodies Japan's rich culture and complex history.
Street of Samurai homes, gardens, warriors garb

First we see Kyoto National Museum, which comprises three exhibition halls displaying ancient Asian art, texts and scrolls.  Then we visit the Unrakugama Pottery, a family-owned pottery house producing fine handmade ceramics and earthenware.
Master Potter
We began our tour of Kyoto at the 16th century Ryoan-ji Temple where we saw the dry garden of sand and rocks (kare-sansui), a marvel of classic Japanese design.  The simplicity of its 15 rocks belies a complex symbolism which its designer never revealed - but whatever the meaning, we're sure to feel the calm that the garden is meant to instill.  Our next stop was Kinkaku-ji, the lakeside Temple of the Golden Pavilion constructed in the 14th century as a retirement villa and later converted to a temple.
Rock Temple

The Temple is covered in gold leaf from Kanazawa all the way up to the upper floors.  Its setting on pillars suspended over the water makes it one of Kyoto's most inspired - and inspiring - sights.  Then we visited the 17th century Nijo-jo, the medieval castle of the first Tokugawa Shogun, containing "nightingale" floors that squeak to signal the presence of intruders.
Temple is covered in gold leaf.
We ended the day at the Kodaiji Temple to attend a tea ceremony.  Botha a state of mind (calm and content) and performance art prizing ritual and grace above all, the traditional tea ceremony to this day represents the principles of harmony, respect, purity and tranquility encouraged by Master Sen no Rikyu, who perfected the ritual Zen practice when tea first was brought to Japan from China in the 16th century.
Our guide Kondo-son explaining the ceremony to the group. 

Preparing the tea
Gigantic Buda

On our last day in Kyoto we visited the most famous of Kyoto's several geisha districts with its traditional tall wooden merchant's homes.  As in Knazawa, property owners historically were taxed on street frontage, so they built tall rather than wide.  Then we encounter the city's traditional culture as we stroll through lively Nishiki Market where shop owners sell a colorful variety of local dishes, fish, fruits, vegetables, crafts, and other wares.
Geisha district.

Young ladies dressed in native attire. 

Fish Market

We were moving all day long and I have left out a number of temples we visited.  At one particular temple there a ceremony that had just ended and we saw this couple with their little girl walking toward us.  We smiled, bowed, and held up our camera.  They stopped and motioned for us to take a picture. 

What a beautiful couple with their little girl.  She was so precious and we were very pleased that they let us take a picture of their family. Of all the pictures, this is our favorite.

We covered so much ground and saw so many historical and authentic sites that it will be very difficult to sort it out.  Hiroshima is next on the agenda. 

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Good hunting, good fishing, and good luck, Hank



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