Asia » Japan » Hiroshima April 20th 2018

In the rear view mirror, Japan still has me off-kilter. What will I say if someone asks, “What did you think of Japan?” I'm a muddle of conflicting but true-for-me opinions - I'm intrigued but not besotted. I wrote this entry first while in Hong Kong immediately following our departure; I am finishing it two months later at home, after memories have settled and distance of both time and geography give a little more perspective. Tokyo was a nut we never did crack. In fact, I have it on my ‘to return’ list but not because of the pleasure found but rather the challenge to figure out what so many others are entranced by. Or not. Anthony Bourdain, who has since left this earth, has it as his favourite city in the world and he's not ... read more

Asia » Japan » Hiroshima » Hiroshima April 20th 2018

The city of Hiroshima makes a welcoming host. Our hotel is attached to the central station, which we’ve come to find is a boon in most places in Japan - easy access from our arrival train to your room and a convenient hub for local transit. From here, three bus routes circle the places you’d most like to check out. The one-day pass is cheapy-cheapy, and the service shames the hop-on-hop-off brand (not even available here) with their frequency. Hiroshima has a castle, akin to the Matsumoto and Kanazawa versions we’ve enjoyed. Numerous museums of art, walking trails, a shrine on a hill with a roof that sticks out above the trees like a centurion hat - I imagine a giant guy kneeling under the trees ready to rise at a moment’s notice. The city is ... read more
The Miyajima Torii
Bitty-sized deer...and people
The utility side of travel

Asia » Japan » Hiroshima April 20th 2018

Where have all the flowers gone?, the song asks....then wonders if we will ever learn. I sit with iPad on knee, thinking of how to choose words that might brush the far outskirts of the unspeakable. This falls way short of the mark. Hiroshima hits your head and heart with some strange combination of horror and awe. Horror at the human tragedy that was Hiroshima in 1945. Awe at resiliency, both in the people who have rebuilt this place and in nature itself, that nurtured seeds in that radiated soil to grow the enormous trees we took shade under today, right in the epicentre. The difficulty in wrapping your head around the whys and wherefores of this atrocity doesn’t ease with spending time here. In fact, unlike those earthquakes that are part of the cosmic recipe ... read more
A-Dome Afterward
John rings bell of remembrance

Asia » Japan » Hyogo April 20th 2018

How about some word association. Kobe? Beef. We arrive a bit further south to the place where beef is centre-stage on all the resto sandwich boards, tour highlights and websites. But how about the Kobe earthquake? It was only in 1995, killed 6400 and had 40,000 casualties. Richter placed it as 7.9 and a big chase extended from the port waterfront up a kilometre or more into the city centre. Neither of us has a clear recollection of it - how can that be? We visit the port waterfront where a walking park peninsula passes a section of the rubble of the old port, with topsy turvy lampposts and broken, upended concrete piers giving testament to the destruction. Information plaques and outdoor video terminals start our education. The earthquake museum was tough to find. We understood ... read more
Notice in the bulletin train
Kobe beef teppanyaki grill
The main event

Asia » Japan » Wakayama April 16th 2018

Off we go to the Pacific Coast once again...zipping through Osaka to the unsung city of Wakayama. Our Japan Rail line gives us a view of a peninsular town surrounded by waterways. It looks like a port town, and that working end is connected by several bridges to the core. The train station is shocking to our systems for its lack of people, the streets and traffic likewise. Not many tourists have this spot on their itinerary and we’re asked more than once why we came here. Our hotel has given us the gift of a ‘castle-view’ on the 15th floor - gazing over a pretty re-creation of another legacy of my favourite shogun, Wakayama Castle. Built on a hill in the middle of the city in the 1500s, it has a similar moat and sloped ... read more
Castle view
Today’s tuna specimen

Asia » Japan » Kyoto » Kyoto April 14th 2018

I am getting a bit of a fixation on the history of Japan, those shogun families and the castles and shrines that mark where they walked, lived and impacted the people of this country. Dangerous for blog writing, cause I can wax long and painfully deep into the weeds. And then find out I misunderstood something or other. Given Kyoto has over 1500 temples, shrines and some castles on top of that, I’m going to skip the endless historical tidbits that strike me as interesting, to save you the bore-factor. One bit that clicked into place for me here was the relationship between the Imperial emperors (established in the 4th century and still exist today living in the imperial palace in Tokyo) and the shogun crowd. In 1185, the first samurai government took over political power ... read more
Tenryu-ji Temple with Outdoor verandah
Tenryu-ji Grounds...zen raked gravel
Gardener raking with toe-boots

Asia » Japan » Ishikawa » Kanazawa April 10th 2018

The characters of Japan’s colourful history are larger than life, heros and villains, builders and destroyers, hard working people along with the elite and military classes. Understanding just a little has added a lot of richness to the sights we’ve seen. A shogun was the military dictator in Japan from about 1185 onward - akin to a generalissimo. The last 250 years of the shoguns time in power began in 1600 when a general named Tokugawa seized power and established his government in Edo (now Tokyo)....thus began the Edo Period, which seems to be a superstar period as least as far as the towns and historical sights we’ve visited so far. Or perhaps its just the period recent enough to have some artifacts and buildings left standing. The Edo Period had the hallmarks of economic growth, ... read more
Kenrokuen Garden
Kanazawa Castle Gate
Kanazawa Castle Restorations

Asia » Japan » Gifu » Takayama April 9th 2018

A series of mountain towns give a flavour of smaller-town Japan. Our first stop is at Matsumoto, as we’re told the castle is worth a stop but the town has little else to capture you. We find ourselves charmed. The bus and train stations converge on the main city square, which create s hub for narrow, chararacter-filled streets with odd turns and bends. A colourful variety of shops, from musical instruments to bakeries to stationery made window-shopping fun. We pop into a coffee shop and I’m immediately drawn to a small display of fanciful post-cards, with playful scenes of children and cats - I pick out a few for our grand girls, only to find that the artist is the young woman serving us our kohi. We bought more and she signed them all for us. ... read more
Matsumoto castle
Yuki and her artwork
Festival float

Asia » Japan » Nagano April 5th 2018

Mmmm, jumping in where some might fear to tread. When was the last time I wrote about toilet happenings, bathing techniques and walking around naked? Ahhh, never. But this is Japan, where the customs around body care are gentle and somehow elevate the necessary to the level of ritual. Our last few stops have been in the mountains, where hot springs are common. Several places we stop (both accommodation and public places like the Hakone Outdoor Museum) offer foot baths. Tidy outdoor natural pools of hot spring water, lined with seating where you can soak your feet and enjoy the environs before continuing on. Surprisingly restorative. Many ryokans (traditional accommodations) and hotels offer onsens. An onsen is a Japanese hot spring with bathing facilities around them, on that score not unlike those in the Rockies. Japan ... read more
One of the simpler models
Footbath under the stars

Asia » Japan » Kanagawa April 4th 2018

One day, five trains and one hotel shuttle away from Tokyo, we arrive in the Hakone area, the home of Mt. Fuji and a mountain retreat for city folk. The trains take us south through the suburbs of Tokyo toward Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. The last transfer is to Japan’s oldest mountain railway which chugs its way up a sharp grade, and often along a steep dropoff. The 3-car train makes a few stops beyond those at platforms. The conductor can be seen pulling a few brake levers in his cab, then out he steps and disappears walking toward the back of the train, while another guy comes up from the rear to take his place - we’ve just changed directions for a switchback. A couple times the conductor is carrying some brass gear to manually switch ... read more
Train-side Blossoms
Mt. Fuji - Really!
Sailor on Lake Ashi

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