Sunday, April 29, 2007

Byakugoji and Sin Yakushiji

My plan had been to follow the sites listed as World Heritage sites in the map that we had been given at Nara station. Somehow in my calculations I had picked the wrong place, and we ended up making a trek to byakugoji.

By this time our feet were already starting to ache so we took the bus a ways and were then tasked with climbing a long stairway to the temple. These stairs though, did help us to
realize one of the charming points of this quaint little temple, the view of Nara city. The temple also holds an image of King Emma- a particularly fierce looking god (who unfortunately I was not permitted to photograph- but another gaijin didn't pay attention to the signs, so I stole it from his blog)
The way down is always much easier, and the view is whited out a bit in this picture.
As if our feet hadn't been punished enough, we had to make our way back either to the bus or walk back to the hotel from there. As either one involved a bit of a walk, we (sorry mom and aunt Liz!) decided to walk. We used signs pointing towards Shinyakushiji for our bearing and ended up going into the temple.
Shinyakushiji was founded in the Tempyo period (747 ad) and is said to be the only remaining build from that era in it's original condition (source- pamphlet given at site). The main Buddha shown inside the main building (Yakushi- the patron of medicine) is a national treasure.
Also housed inside the main building shown above were 12 divine generals, beautiful wood carved statues, each one representing one of the 12 chinese zodiac years. I quickly found Mouse and said thanks to him (because he represents the year I was born...)
It was a beautiful and serene setting and I thought a fitting end to a busy day of checking out Nara's beauty. We rested/soaked our feet and had a nice Italian dinner in town (took the bus both ways) and fell asleep quite easily to get ready for our last temples to view and our trip home.

Friday, April 27, 2007


After leaving the gardens we made our way to the site of the Big Buddha- Daibutsu --Todaiji unfortunately showing a picture does no justice to the sheer scale of the building that the Buddha is housed in. If you look closely at the above picture, you can see the little dots in front of the building- those dots are people. To stand before such an enormous structure is awe inspiring and surreal at the same time. That matched with the clean look and peaceful atmosphere made it a beautiful experience.
Ritsy showing her approval helps a little bit with the scale.
The Walkway is flanked with Korean boxwoods and the typical Japanese architecture. Here I was trying to capture the gold (what do you call it?) rising behind the wall.
Another case of "I can't do justice to the sheer size of this thing in a picture". Trust me, this guy is huge!
After enjoying the beauty of the daibutsu. we stopped to check out this curiously garbed statue. This statue is said to have healing powers, by rubbing a part of the statue and then rubbing the same spot on your body, he will cure your ailments. We, of course, all tried to heal our aching legs, feet and butts with marginal results. Maybe we didn't leave enough money for him?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The next leg, museums and gardens

We set out the next day, our hearts full of adventure and wonder. We started out into Nara park and Ritsy leaped at the opportunity to teach the deer the difference between a book and a piece of sembe.
The first destination was the Nara museum which had a number of interesting buddha sculptures and some ancient tea kettles and the sort that spoke of an incredible attention to a love of art and of the buddhist gods. Some of the old artifacts were quite reminiscent of the North American Native's art that hints of ancestral links...? We were unable to take pictures in the museum and it was too bad as there was a special ceremony that day that is held only twice a year. The local monks come into the museum to pray for all the statues in the museum, they chanted a long and hypnotic sutra while some of the monks walked around the main floor.
Upon departing the museum, we stumbled across a small temple that I never knew the name of. Though not of the spectacular variety, it was still quite beautiful with the sakura trees in bloom.
As my aunt has a great love of gardening and was teaching us a lot about the flowers and trees, we decided to go to a couple of Japanese gardens that were right next to each other, Yoshikien and Isuien gardens. The above pictured flower was quite beautiful but I forgot the name, so for now I will call it a Toddus Spectacularis flower. Both gardens showed a great attention to care and detail and were both beautiful and relaxing. As I have a horrible memory for flower names, I did not take many pictures and could not identify the flowers that I did. I will point out how restful the gardens were....
... This garden had a room for resting and a place for resting.
And finally in Isuien garden there was a moment of foreshadowing as we had a glimpse of our next destination... Todaiji.

Monday, April 23, 2007


The first temple that we visited in Nara was Kohfukuji. The temple was originally erected in roughly 669 AD to pray for the illness of then statesman Fujiwara no Kamatari. The temple had been moved around a couple of times finally settling in it's current location in the middle of the capital of Nara. It grew to be one of the Four Great Temples of the Nara period and subsequently one of the Seven Great Temples of the Heian era. The temple lost a lot of it's power over the years but the great Tokugawa Ieyasu had tried to rebuild it's power by sending lots of rice to them that allowed them to rebuild many buildings. To this day it is the main HQ for the Hosso sect (Buddhist).

The more interesting buildings upon our arrival seemed to be the pagodas. The first one we witnesses was the 3 story pagoda- the original was built in 1143, but the current building was built in the Kamakura era(1185-1333). Inside is said to be wood paintings.
There is also a 5 story pagoda which is quite large to look at, indeed it is the second highest pagoda in Japan standing at 50.1 meters(according to the pamphlet received upon entrance).
Around the grounds many of the famous Nara deer had made their way...
It was our first chance to feed the deer which I quite enjoyed, they all seem to make a Japanese style bow when asking for the sembe (or fried rice cake). The male deer are a little more aggressive and will nudge you in the behind if you don't feed them or they will just follow you around. One deer thought the book that Ritsy was holding (a nice picture book of the sites of Nara that she was given for free at the temple) was sembe and tried to eat it. Here she is showing off the bitten book.
This was our first temple, and we might have been a bit tired from our journey so we didn't fully check out the entire area, but I thought it was an interesting and pleasant start.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Nara hotel

The day after getting to Kyoto, we all checked out and made the 4 hour journey back to Hamamatsu on the Toukaido line. Upon arriving back home, I had about an hour to relax, then had to go to teach the Tuesday night class. I was surprised I was actually not too tired though I think I was making some bad jokes...

The next day, I knew the ladies were tired so we all just relaxed and saved our energy for the next day's trip to Nara that Ritsy and I had arranged.

The morning of the trip we weren't too rushed and were able to make it out to Hamamatsu station at a leisurely pace and we made the trek by shinkansen to Kyoto, then by local train to Nara. I could see that Ritsy and my mother like sleeping on trains....
After arriving we were told that it takes about 20 minutes to walk to the hotel we were staying at, the Nara hotel, but it felt more like 30-40 minutes. When we finally arrived though, it was well worth the trek...
The hotel on the outside looked like a classic Japanese building through and through, the entry way was quite beautiful I thought.
From the back of the hotel next to the street, you had a great view of the pagoda from Kofukuji (next blog entry)...
The restaurant at the hotel was pretty expensive so we chose to find some places to eat locally. The first days lunch we enjoyed the joys of Mos burger, and for dinner we had a great little teishoku style set meal at a cafe located just across the street from the hotel- Here Ritsy helps my mom choose from the menu.
The hotel definitely did not disappoint and was a great base from which to enjoy this delightful little town!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Ni jo no-no

My mother and Aunt actually arrived here a little earlier than I saw them. They had about 6 days worth of tours between Tokyo and Kyoto through JTB tour. I chatted with them on the first day and then unsuccessfully tried to call them at their hotels for the last 4 days of their tour. On the day before meeting with them, I was getting worried when I tried to call the hotel in Kyoto at 8 pm and they hadn't checked in yet. I needed to talk to them as I was meeting them in Kyoto in order to guide them back to Hamamatsu on the regular train ( I had a discount ticket the seishun juuhachi kippu that gave me 5 day passes for 8000 yen- this year was a special price!). Well I did some detective work after a while and found that their tour that day would have them arriving late in Kyoto. My wife left a message for them at check in and we finally got in contact.
At the last minute I decided that it might be a good idea for me to track down a hotel to stay in and I found the mitsui garden hotel shijo. The hotel was a little more than I wanted to pay, but comfortable and conveniently located. I arrived a bit early after stopping off in Nagoya and visiting my pals in the Nagoya office for the company I work for, Time/Life Zenken- so I tried to go site seeing nearby and picked Nijo-jo to visit.
To my chagrin after taking the two or three pictures I could from across the way, I found out the castle closed at 4 o'clock! I had just checked in at 4- oh well, a future visit I suppose. Instead I wondered the popular shopping district around Karasuma/Shijo and was impressed with how many shops there were.
Finally it was about 6 o'clock and I found my way to the Nikko Princess hotel where Cathy and Liz were staying.
The ladies both were a bit tired after a hectic schedule of touring, but after a quick freshen up were ready to find some dinner.
My mom-
Aunt Liz...
We headed back to Shijo and found a restaurant/izakaya called Kyoto dining (or something like that)- and had a surprisingly delicious dinner- but no, we didn't eat tofu there!
The first day was brief but a good and interesting start to the ladies visit with us!

Party at Josh's crib

It's been a long while since I have posted, I am really sorry! I have been quite busy over the last week and a half with my mother and aunt being in town, and naturally I will blog about it soon, lord knows I have about 400 pictures to sift through to pick my highlights, but I will get back to that in the next post.

My last post was about the Hime sama doucho festival in Kiga, and I wanted to further post about the history of the festival but was having a tough time digging up the true story, I will keep my eyes open though, and maybe I can tell the story next year! I have uploaded these two videos from the festival though-- one and two. One is about 3 years old from the first time I went to the festival- it includes me trying to be funny with the camera- the second video is just a few clips I took with my camera- I especially like the monks with the basket heads.

On the 8th of April, I had a great little get together with my Tuesday evening Eigo 4 class. One student that has taken my course for 3 terms now and always is not only a great contributor in class, but also contributes to my blog sometimes- Josh- had a little bbq at his house. Unfortunately he only ended up in one of my pictures, this one where I was taking a picture of Harry taking a picture of me(he is in the back with the cap and the grey sweatshirt).
We were also all glad to finally meet Kouji's wife and see his new baby that we have all heard so much about! His wife made some delicious Thai curry that had Ritsy and I humbled in our past attempts to make Thai curry... Kouji also brought some excellent coffee and was hand filtering cups of coffee- it was naturally sweet and delicious! I later learned that it would be impossible for me to buy the coffee as the man who ran the shop in Hiroshima closed his shop.
One of the stars of the bbq was also Takayasu's daughter Yuri, who was shy but absolutely charming!
We also were really impressed with Josh's home in Miyakoda which looked like a log cabin that could have been in Whistler. We later learned that the home was designed and largely imported from Bellingham Washington, just across the border from Vancouver. Ritsy was scaring me talking about making a second home that looked like his.
It was a great BBQ and I look forward to next one there!

Monday, April 2, 2007

Princesses and Cherry Blossoms

The roof of Sakura added a nice bit of atmosphere to the festival
On the weekend after teaching my Sunday class I headed out to Kiga, Hosoe to watch the hime sama douchu matsuri. This was my second time going to the festival but I still managed to really enjoy it. I always enjoy going to the Japanese festivals or special events. There is always a sort of carnival atmosphere, probably I get that feeling seeing all the food kiosks or the children happily scooping goldfish.

We started out by going to a nice Unagi restaurant called Hikifune, then we had to move our car about 2 kms out of the way to park. From there we could catch a shuttle bus back to the festival.
On the walk from the shuttle bus I saw something I hadn't seen before, they have built a recreation of the checkpoint that used to stand on the Hime sama road in eras past. It was quite lovely and a nice touch - last time I had gone, I was looking for the original checkpoint that had been destroyed a long time ago, and all I could find was a small sign.
We sat along the main pathway and enjoyed the viewing of the cherry blossoms- or hanami. Actually for me, I have always been a people watcher so I took in the crowd and the view and chatted with my students. It was very relaxing.
Finally the parade found its way onto the path and we could see the princess. She actually is not a real princess, every year there is a contest for a young lady to play the role, but I was impressed, the young lady smiled princessly and was quite beautiful!
To cap it all off, the princess and her posse made it to the center stage and performed a lovely dance for us all to enjoy!
It was a nice afternoon.