#6 Japan, May 26, 2018

Change of Plans! We had planned to go to Kurama on Thursday, a town up in the mountains which we can reach with ‘our’ train near our house. However, it rained that morning and my iPhone promised rain for all day. So instead, we went to the Takashimaya Department Store. We started in the basement Food Halls, which were stupendous. Row after row of food for sale, much of it prepared and much that you would cook at home. It went on and on.

There were French-fried chicken parts; many kinds of fish; salads with wagyu beef and egg yolks; crabs; eel; and even flowers.

Much of the pricing seemed sensible; however there were a few things like one piece of beautiful sushi-quality tuna that cost $140 for two pounds; two oz. of salmon roe that cost $15; and some very special Wagyu beef that cost $260 for a half pound.

We looked through each floor (there were seven in addition to the basement food halls) at many US and European brands of clothing. There was a display of Noritake china—-my mother and my mother-in-law both had Noritake china. Burt found the kitchen-ware area interesting, but how to get any more home?! The store put out a catalog of all the food items which was thick and free, which the clerk gave him.

At lunch time we went upstairs to the seventh floor where there were 15 restaurants. We had decided we wanted eel (again!) which we love. There was a special eel restaurant—-Unagi Toku—-where we were served lovely eel lunches. There were two young women in kimonos sitting near us. One does see them on the street occasionally, but not often.

When we finished lunch, we set out for home, walking to the train stop, and then buying the tickets to ‘our’ station. I apparently made that same mistake I had made before——-I was sure I knew how to do this, now—-when the machine kept our tickets. This time, I got the man and he fixed the situation by refunding me most of the money that I would need to buy the correct ticket.

It was still misting a little; we were carrying umbrellas that our apartment provides. Now when I bought the correct tickets for the train, I forgot my umbrella there. I was already on the moving train when I thought of it. So it goes.

At the department store, Burt had bought some shirasu or white bait. That evening for
dinner he made a ramen noodle dish that included these tiny fish. When he bought them, the clerk packed them in a plastic bag, along with a plastic wrapped large ice cube. This had still not melted when we arrived back at our apartment.

Our last day was beautifully sunshiny, which we wanted for going to the mountains. We got the Eisen train, and 20 minutes later were at Kurama, the last stop on the train. The greenery on the mountains was more than welcome, as the houses in Kyoto are cheek by jowl, with virtually no yards. We have also noticed that they do not have or sit on balconies—-apparently they remain indoors, even in the nice weather.

 

 

 

Of course the Kurama Temple was well up the mountain side—-a monk established this place in 734 AD, and of course he would do so up the mountain. However, we were lucky to have a tram to take us up, part way, anyway. Then it called for walking up, up, up to the temple.

 

There was a lovely path, but MANY steps. Luckily there were benches along the path for us to rest——the old gray mare, she ain’t what she used to be——-but that’s OK, we take our time. Actually one youngish woman, a Japanese Hawaiian, we learned later, refused to go up all the way to the top, and sent her aged father up alone, while she and her mother stayed behind.

The temple was slightly underwhelming, but the atmosphere and the beauty of the mountains/forests completely made up for it. We were really glad we did this little jaunt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We took the train back to our station, and went back to our apartment for a brief rest before going on to our other activity for the day.
WHICH WAS:::::

A Kaiseki lunch at the Heihachi Tea House, established in 1576, which was right in our neighborhood. We had spotted it several days earlier, picked up a brochure, and returned to make a reservation for our last day, a few days later. We made sure that we wouldn’t be sitting on the floor—-we need regular chairs and a table; yes, we would have that!

In the 17th and 18th centuries, this Tea House served the lords, merchants and ruling monks of the time (according to the brochure).

 

 

The entrance was lovely and we were greeted by a maitre’d (?) woman, who escorted us to ‘our’ room.

 

We removed our shoes, walking on the tatami mats, and were seated. We had our own little balcony, overlooking the Takano River. The foliage along the river was beautiful, and then we saw a mother deer and her fawn across the
river!

 

Our waitress was dressed traditionally, and always
bowed low before sliding open the doors and coming into our room. We ordered some wine, which was a French white Burgundy, and toasted each other for having such a good experience in Japan!

 

 

Then our 1st course: Tea and a mochi; our 2nd course was a variety of tidbits; our 3rd course was sashimi; notice how none of the dishes match as in a set—-that’s how it was in our apartment, too.

Our 4th course was a clear soup in a beautiful wooden bowl with cover; it contained green tofu, a mushroom, carrot and a green herb;

 

Our 5th course was another group of stuff—-one thing made out of the skin on heated soy milk; our 6th course was trout with ginger; our 7th course was tempura; our 8th course
was a ‘pasta’ (she called it) but bore no resemblance; our 9th course was rice with slimy yam (same as I had at the craft market) which is pretty ‘exotic’ and pickles. Our 10th and last course was dessert: sweetened agar agar with fresh fruit and tea. Burt knew many of the names of these various foods, and some we learned from the waitress. You med techs—-did you know people ATE agar? This concluded our wonderful lunch——the price? $200 and worth every penny!

We lingered a bit on our balcony, just enjoying the beautiful view and the tea.

The waitress and the maitre’d escorted us out to the street, thanking us all the way! Japanese people are so polite and gracious. We must seem like clods to them.

This was a wonderful capstone on our trip to Japan. I’m so glad I got to visit it—-it was a ‘hole’ in my traveling—-80 countries and no Japan. Burt had been here once 15 years ago, so was ‘an old hand.’

The things to see in Kyoto, Shimada, and Nara were wonderful, but the Japanese people were the standouts. Of course our trip to visit Yurie and her family was the highlight——staying in a Buddhist temple—-how many get to do that??!

Now we are home in Minneapolis, which is good, too! Thanks to all of you who wrote to us while we were traveling—-it’s always fun to hear from you all.

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#5 Japan, May 22, 2018

We managed a big shopping trip one day. Burt bought a beautiful blue and white Japanese robe, similar to the one that he wears here in the apartment, furnished by the apartment. He also bought an obi to use as a hanging in his living room. I bought a cute jacket and a Japanese doll. Then we moved on to the Nishiki market which was nearly next door, and Burt got some more wasabi. We also stopped for a snack—-takoyaki. These are little round puffs with octopus inside and mayo and shaved bonito on top. They were delicious.

On the way home on the trains something happened with our tickets. One particular machine didn’t spit them back out as it was supposed to—-or maybe I did something wrong. Anyway, for the last leg of our trip on the railways, we had to buy another ticket. So it goes.

In the morning before we left, Burt bought a fresh bonito—-a small fish in the tuna family. He butchered it with his new knife, rather expertly, I thought; then cooked it to perfection for dinner, along with mushrooms and a salad plus fruit.

Our apartment is on the second floor, with a tiny, narrow staircase going up to it. It is 30” wide——think carrying suitcases up and down! Each step is 9” deep, which means our shoes wouldn’t begin to fit on each step, that is, if we wore shoes up, which we don’t.
With the slippers we are provided, it’s worse. We actually go down backwards holding on to the railing. There is a Buddha at the top of the staircase, with praying hands, hoping we make it, I guess.

Japan is so QUIET! There are actually signs on the buses (in English, too) that say not to make noise. On the bus the other day Burt and I were conversing in a normal but low voice. An elderly man turned around and smiling, put his finger to his lips to shush me. When we were resting at a rest stop in the Nijo-jo Castle grounds, there were about a dozen other people doing the same. There was one conversation going on in normal tones of voice—-it sounded so out of place. I said to Burt that they must be Americans, and yes, they were!

There seems not to be any attempt to cheat the tourists. In my 40 years of traveling in 80 countries, I have ‘straightened out’ clerks, waiters, etc. about the bill. Sicily was one of the worst—-every restaurant waiter kited the bill, and then when it was pointed out, they smiled and changed it. Well, here in Japan, I have twice felt the need to ‘correct’ the bill and twice, upon detailed review, I have been wrong!! I guess I won’t do that again!

Sunday afternoon we went to the Kyoto Concert Hall to hear the Kyoto Symphony. Burt had found this on the internet well before we went to Japan, and so I had ordered tickets.

 

We walked 20 minutes to the subway and rode it for one station. Then another five-minute walk and we were at their newish, big round concert hall.

The orchestra was huge for this program, which was two Leonard Bernstein works, “Suite from On the Waterfront,” and his 2nd Symphony. and a symphony by Shostakovich. The conductor was Junichi Hirokami, a tiny man who conducted with such verve, using his entire body to convey his musical wishes to the orchestra.

We enjoyed the program immensely; and the concert hall was gorgeous. There was no photography allowed but I did sneak a picture early on while the orchestra was warming up, and took this picture of a picture of the conductor. Later the house filled nearly completely.

The next day we sallied forth again, walking 20 minutes to the Matsugasaki Station on the Karasuma Subway Line. This time we went for two stops, then walked about 20 minutes to the Daitoku-ji, a beautiful temple/Zen garden which had not many people visiting, and so was QUIET—-a place for contemplation. It had wonderful Zen gardens, as well as one pretty view after another of the greenery (or red-ery, as the case may be—-Japanese maple trees!) Burt thought it one of the highlights of the trip because of the quietness.

When we had contemplated all we wanted
to, we were pretty tired and decided to take a taxi to a restaurant, which we had in mind for lunch. The first taxi driver apparently wasn’t available (probably waiting for a client who was visiting the gardens). Still, he got out of the taxi, approached another taxi who was just pulling away; ran after the taxi, called to the driver, who heard him and stopped. It is just amazing the lengths people in Japan will go to to help you. We were able to engage this taxi to take us. As it turned out, the restaurant we had him take us to wasn’t open so we walked on down the (our) street toward home.

We stopped on the way home for an Italian (??) lunch at Pino Trattoria. Of course it had a Japanese cast to it, but was VERY good. We had a salad with potato salad, Italian omelet, diced salami on a Japanese yam and other things with greens; good bread and olive oil, wonderful Yebisu (Japanese) beer with the creamiest head—-we had been walking in hot weather so it tasted terrific; then pasta made with shirasu or white bait——these are tiny baby fish of several species, along with mushrooms and capers. Dessert followed—-strawberry sherbet and semifredo plus an espresso.

The next day we took three trains to the Netsuke Museum. We’ve finally learned how to buy tickets from the machines by reading the fare tables. Now we’re almost ready to go home! It always works that way.

The Netsuke Museum is housed in the only existing samurai residence in Kyoto, which was built about 1817, which were the latter years of the Edo period (1603-1867).

The house offered as much to see and appreciate as the little Netsuke. It had a fabulous garden in back, and the rooms were covered with tatami mats (removed our shoes, of course).

This collection of Netsuke has 4,000 pieces; about 400 mostly contemporary and some antique were on display here. They are mostly made of ivory and wood, although there are some metal and amber ones, too.

Across from the Netsuke Museum was the Shintokuji Temple. This is not well-known; in fact there wasn’t a word of English directed to visitors. It had several small buildings as well as the big temple, which we enjoyed.

Turtles were swimming and sunning; Dragons were squirting water; and old stones were sporting pretty red ‘dresses.’

Now it was lunchtime and we were fixated on having eel. Using my iPhone, I found an eel restaurant near the Museum. We walked and walked and walked and finally, with a man helping us, found it—-CLOSED for lunch. OK, we’ll find something else. We came across many restaurants but in this part of town, apparently, people don’t eat lunch out—-they were all closed for lunch! We finally settled for another Italian restaurant—-not so nice as yesterday’s, but by this time we were famished.

Lunch over, we took our three trains home again, stopping on the way to make a reservation for a Kaiseki lunch at a very famous restaurant (and inn) very near our apartment. It will be on Thursday, our last day here. We had hesitated, fearing that a very traditional restaurant, which this is, would have us sit on the floor, and we’re really not up for that! So we inquired, and she assured us that we would sit on chairs up to a table. We think and hope it will be a unique experience! Time will tell——-

 

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#4 Japan, May 18, 2018

A couple of days of rest-up, catch-up with Burt doing some lovely cooking. One day an ‘unknown’ fish with rice and salad; another day with wagyu beef——this is totally marbleized with fat, and cost about $20 for a 6 oz. steak. In between he likes the Japanese bathtub in our apartment.

On Tuesday we took four trains to Nara. We got on at a station very near our apartment; transferred three times, and voila—-we were in Nara. Our hotel, the Nikko Nara, was next door to the train station so we walked right over. We could not check in until 3:00 PM (we arrived at 9:30 AM) so we checked our suitcase and went exploring.

Nara is kind of like the state fair. There are huge crowds, and many school children. Several times, two children approached Burt to speak to him in English. They were obviously on an assignment for school. Once when they asked where we were from, and Burt told them “Minneapolis in the USA,” another man, who overheard, turned around and said in English, “I’ve been there many times!”

We looked in at a minor shrine; it had a big ‘gonger’ that would gong a big bell. There was also a ‘footprint’ of Buddha’s foot.

 

At 11:00 we stopped for lunch as our breakfast had been very early, and we needed a rest. We had a great adventure for lunch—-Burt had Miwa Saumen, which was rice and wheat noodles in a broth with shrimp, green onion and shitake mushrooms and azuki beans; mine was Kamameshi, which was chicken and rice cooked in a pot which they brought me. The directions (in English) said: “Wait 15 or 20 minutes for it to cook; do not remove top until the flame goes out, then turn over the 3-minute timer (a little egg timer) and wait; then remove top and eat.”  There were several other accompaniments to both meals—-tofu, pickles, and a sweet.

We were getting low on energy, so decided to go directly to the big deal: the Todaiji Temple with the Great Buddha. It is huge and spectacular. It is the highlight of Nara. We did enjoy seeing all the free-running deer that have been here for eons. People buy food to feed them, so they know no fear. They are obviously a small breed of deer.

The ‘Great Buddha’ statue was colossal. The whole temple was colossal! It had many other statues in it besides the Great Buddha. I took lots of pictures.

From there we went on to the Nara National Museum with a pond in front, with fish. It had a lovely display of old Buddhas——unfortunately no pictures were allowed, so once again, I took some pictures of pictures on the program of Buddhas that we saw. It was marvelous—-all those Buddhas from the 8th to 11th Centuries.

There was also a wonderful display of Chinese bronzes used in rituals from the 1st century BC.


Then we walked back toward our hotel, noticing these lovely Japanese ladies in full kimono. We also stopped and bought some gin; our hotel had ice! And we bought six white strawberries for $5 at a fruit store. We got checked in and repaired to our room. Burt found the ice machine and we refreshed ourselves with gin over ice, which we had stopped to buy in a shop on the way to our hotel. We each ate three white strawberries while we watched Sumo Wrestling.

We had dinner at a small restaurant near our hotel. It was great! Burt ordered a small steak which we shared while waiting 20 minutes for my order of kamameshi (again!) this time with salmon in rice along with salmon roe. Again, other pickles, tofu and a sweet accompanied our meals. Back to the hotel to relax and go to bed early.

Some observations:

*There is NO trash on the streets, train platforms, etc. They are the neatest people I’ve ever seen.

*They are highly computerized. In small restaurants one often orders by computer (Iyona did it in Shimada—-we’re not quite up to it since it’s not in English.) Buying train tickets is all by computer, also. At first we needed help, but we’ve kind of figured it out now.

*They are nicer than “Minnesota nice.” When one asks directions, they stay with you until you are definitely on your way correctly, or even walk with you to your destination.

*We have seen huge numbers of school children visiting the points of interest; they ALL wear uniforms with matching caps; one group didn’t wear uniforms but did have matching caps.

*In crossing the street, they NEVER walk against the red light. Near our apartment there is a tiny street—-more like an alley—-and never is there a car coming from it. Still, they all wait for the green light. So different than when I was in China—-there crossing the street on a green light was a deadly adventure.

*There is very little cooking oil used, including butter ($10/pound). At the supermarket, Burt has commented about the few choices and small bottles of oil.

*Everything is so well designed in Japan. For example, the toilet seats; the fare adjustment booth on the subway if you didn’t buy a big enough ticket; cash registers in grocery stores that automatically give the change; the iron, which has the cord connected to the base which heats it, so cordless! BUT get a load of the ironing board! It’s a rectangular board that you put on something!

Our train trip back to Kyoto from Nara went very smoothly—-we got the express train so only needed to transfer twice. We enjoyed Nara a lot, although the crowds do really make it kind of like the state fair!

Back in Kyoto we got the #5 bus and took it all the way to the Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art. Actually we didn’t get off when we should have, but went too far. We realized our mistake, got off and backtracked about four stations. On the bus were about 20 little kiddies with a few adults that got off at the zoo. There seem to be field trips at every turn. We have seen huge numbers of classes (with matching caps) going places.

The National Museum of Modern Art was fine, and even finer was that, as seniors, we had free admission on showing our passports. It was next to the Heian Shrine, a big gate-like affair.

We especially liked the paintings by Felice “Lizzi” Ueno-Rix, who dealt in various media.

From there we again got the #5 bus and went further downtown to the BAL department store. When I asked directions, she pronounced it BAR. Burt wanted to peruse the Maruzen Bookstore, located in the two bottom floors of the department store. They had jillions of English books. He bought two Japanese cookbooks. We also took a quick look at the other seven floors of BAL—-it kind of reminded me of Daytons as it was 50 years ago—-spiffy!

 

The next day we went on a ‘tour.’ We took the bus all the way downtown to the Kyoto Station, buying a one-day pass on the buses, good for all day. We got the Rakubus (tourist) 101 (there are three covering three routes) and took it to the Nijo-jo Castle. What a spectacular place! It was built in 1603 by founder and first Shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate, 1603-1867. He united Japan and this shogunate presided over 260 years of peace and prosperity.

 

 

 

We first saw the most beautiful Kara-mon Gate, followed by the Ninomaru-goten Palace,
all built of wood. It has 33 rooms with beautiful murals on the walls.

 

 

The grounds were spectacular and huge, right in the middle of this crowded city. Every tree and bush looked as though it had been designed for just that space.

 

 

 

Actually we saw some tree pruners with ladders who used a drop cloth to catch any prunings, which were tiny.

Burt discovered that the Shigeharu Cutlery shop was very near the Nijo-jo Castle so when we were finished with the Castle we interrupted our ‘tour’ to walk the few blocks to the cutlery shop where Burt bought a wonderful knife for cooking, made out of steel—-not stainless—-but the real McCoy. This kind of knife holds an edge way longer than stainless. The maker/seller engraved his name on the blade. What a treasure for Burt.

 

 

One more stop finished our ‘tour’ and us, too. It was the Kinkukuji Temple, also called the Golden Temple. It was beautiful, as were the grounds, but we will admit to taking a taxi home——sightseeing is fatiguing! There were huge crowds at the places, too.

We bought our dinner at our grocery store—-three boxes of suchi, along with watermelon and clementines, and brought it back to our apartment.

We’re loving Japan—-stay tuned!

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#3 Japan, May 13, 2018

Wednesday, the taxi came at 7:30 AM to take us to the Kyoto Station. We could have taken a bus and subway, but there are many steps to walk down in the subway and we had a suitcase to bring to Shimada City. We went to visit Yurie and her family. Yurie was an exchange student 45 years ago with my cousin and husband, Marlys and Jim, in New Richmond, WI. When Marlys emailed her that we were coming, she was a blazing planner, helping us with all kinds of information, and inviting us to spend time at their home, sleeping in their temple; her husband, Hajime, is a Buddhist priest.

She bought train tickets for us and had them delivered to our apartment ahead of time. It was the Hakari 460, a bullet train—-and they are wonderful! It took about 1 1/2 hours to arrive at Shizuoka Station, a city near Shimada. Yurie met us on the platform; her daughter-in-law and son had come along to meet us, as her daughter-in-law, Iyona, had driven them from Shimada.

We stopped for lunch at a Ramen Restaurant, having Ramen noodles and gyoza.

Soon we were at their ‘Second Temple’ (they have two, probably because their elder son, Hiro, is also a priest). Then to their main temple to meet Hajime, Yurie’s husband, to have tea, sitting on the tatami mat (shoes are removed upon coming in the building) up to a low table, which is pretty hard on
our foreign backs!

The temples have ‘tablets’ for each member (about 500 members in the ‘First Temple.’) and also cemeteries on the grounds with stone pillars containing cremated remains of parishioners.

Hiro and Iyona had helped plan all the activities for us.

We were brought to a large room within the temple, where we unpacked and they made up futons for us. The futons had 2” mattresses and a bedpad. Another pad-like item was our bottom sheet. There was no top sheet, only blankets. There were pillows but no pillowcases—-a towel was wrapped around the pillow. There was a large low table and another table loaded with wine, beer, waters and snacks, and two tiny low chairs.

After tea, we were brought into a main room of the temple for a women’s group to sing songs and chant for us, using traditional musical instruments. They meet twice a week and are all in their 70’s, 80’s and 90’s! Yurie gave us music to follow along with their songs. This was spectacular!! Luckily she gave us foreigners little stools to sit on so we were comfy during the concert. Her 90-year-old mother, Michiko, was a member of this group. She’s the one on the left.

We were driven by Iyona with Hiro and Yurie, to the Horai, the world’s longest wooden pedestrian bridge that crosses the Oi River. It was built in 1879; before that people got across he river by being carried on conveyances or on a man’s shoulders.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We visited several reconstructed 300-year-old inns that were used for people to stay when the river was too high to walk across. To carry them across the river porters charged different rates as to the height of the river, chest-high being the highest charge.

The inns had several conveyances in them from long-ago times.

 

The Master Sword Maker’s House was our next stop. Yasuaki Hagi has spent 45 years making and caring for swords, including the collection at the Boston Museum. He showed us several 300-year-old swords. Some of them had names carved into the handles.


He also demonstrated how he polished them, a long and arduous business. When we left, Yurie gave him a gift-wrapped package and an envelope with money.

Until this time I had not remembered to present the family with gifts that I had brought. Later when I did, I could see that it was at the wrong time (many other people present for dinner) and without the proper presentation. Yurie suggested having the children open the gifts. Burt later thought that perhaps if there are gifts with children present, and none for them——a faux pax on my part. In the meantime, we were given gifts at every turn——an over-the-top number of them!

Dinner that evening was in a big room in the temple. Yurie had ordered eel with rice, mizo soup and pickles (all delicious) from a restaurant. It was delivered and we were escorted into a big room in the temple with several long, low tables. Her other daughter-in-law, Miki, had come to greet us, bringing her children. They live nearby. They had brought pizza and ate that—-the children with much gusto! Later on Yurie’s nephew’s wife, Yumi, came with her three children. The children then greeted us with a lovely sign saying, “Welcome to Japan” in English. They all lined up and entertained us by singing songs in English—-“Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” and several others. Each child introduced him/herself in English and shook hands with us. What cute kids! The oldest child was in third grade, the youngest was a baby in her mother’s arms (the nephew’s wife).

When we went in to dinner, I gave the gifts that I had brought for Yurie and family——not the right time! So it goes. A bit later the younger son stopped over to meet us—-he has a Honda dealership. He mentioned the time that Yurie, he and his brother, about 13 and 14, visited Marlys and Jim, and they all came over to my house in Minneapolis for a Mexican lunch.

Before bed, Yurie showed Burt and me how to make coffee in a little kitchen near our room. There were also breakfast provisions in there. So the next morning we had coffee and cereal with milk in our room.

At 10:00 Iyona drove us to the Tea Museum. They drive on the left, with the driver sitting on the right. She is a superb driver, which surprised me, as she acted quite childish, giggling a lot. Later, as we got to know her, it was obvious that she was extremely capable at doing everything, parking quite a big car with ease into tiny spaces—-she backed it in! Burt researched Japanese childish behavior, and discovered that this is called kawaii—-which started in the ‘70s, which can be called CUTE! All young women want to be called ‘cute,’ rather than pretty or beautiful! It manifests with cartoon characters everywhere, etc.

The Tea Museum was in a beautiful modern building. We saw many interesting exhibits, and were invited to grind green tea leaves into powder, called matcha. When it was ground, the helper showed us how to ‘harvest’ the matcha and gave us a little foil envelope to take it home in.

There were wonderful displays in which to smell the different kinds of tea. This area around Shizuoka is big in tea production. We drank some green tea.

We had lunch at a sushi conveyor belt restaurant. Once again, the plates of each color were counted up to figure the bill.

Then we drove a long way to try to view Mt. Fiji. There was quite a bank of clouds in that direction, but while she was driving, Iyona saw and pointed out the high, snow covered Mt. Fiji wreathed in clouds. We all saw it, too, but before I could photo it, the clouds closed in and it was gone. Hiro said that it is only visible about one in 10 times due to heavy clouds.

We drove to a beautiful beach on the Pacific, enjoying that view, but waiting for Mt. Fuji to reappear.  We finally did see glimpses of it, but that was all!

During the day, Hajime showed us the temple, demonstrating different gongs, the tablets of the members, and Yurie gave me the bell and gong instruments in a beautiful case that the women used in their chanting group.

Dinner was at a type of restaurant called an Izakaya. This is kind of a modern Japanese ‘Pub.’ We took the local train; the station is just a few steps away from the Temple. We went for two stops—-seven minutes and were there! Burt and I each had two small martinis—-the others had beer. Iyona ordered for us all (capable woman that she is!). We had different parts (small plates) of chicken, salad, rice with chicken made table side, edimoni beans and pickles. We enjoyed being with our friends for a last dinner.

The next morning Burt and I packed our suitcase, needing considerably more room than when we came to accommodate all the gifts that we were given, including a huge box of snacks/treats. Luckily Burt had brought a big shoulder bag.

At 10:00 Yurie’s mother, Michiko, came over and did calligraphy for us—-our names with special messages, like “come back to Japan.” What treasures for us to take home.

Then we went to see her apartment. She lives next door in a high
building. She had a large colored picture on her dresser of Marlys and Jim! And then she gave us each one of her calligraphy brushes!

We said goodbye to Hajime and Hiro, who were staying behind to work.

One more activity before going back to Kyoto—-the Bamboo Craft House. Iyona drove us four. We each made a bamboo thing out of a kit. They were cricket cages! We sat at a work table and had our own helper. It was kind of tricky getting the little things together.

Finally we were successful, and went to lunch while the glue dried.

Lunch was soba noodles in a restaurant right on the grounds. Yurie and I had ours with a yam sauce—-nothing like I’ve tasted before—-and Burt had his with small shrimp.

Back to pick up our insect cages and go to the bullet train in Shizuoka with Yurie insisting on buying the tickets. I was quite put off by seeing that they cost about $125 for each person, each way! Wow, what hospitality! We got on the train with Yurie seeing us off.

We arrived Kyoto about 1:40, got a taxi to our apartment. What a wonderful side trip!! We were treated like royalty—-Marlys and Jim—-this is on you for doing so much for Yurie! Or maybe I really made a GOOD Mexican lunch for them in 2002!!

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#2 Japan, May 8, 2018

We’re finally getting rested up—-it took about 3 days! However, Burt finds cooking relaxing, so we have been grocery shopping and eating a lot. Here is a dish he made of fish, shrimp and clams which we enjoyed. The prices are higher than at home, but not for the fish, which are better quality, also. The fruit is the most noticeable about price—-here is a watermelon that costs
3580 yen, or about $35. Burt said that he went on a cruise one time where he saw
Japanese people filling their plates three times with water- and musk melon. Now he knows why!

Friday we ate gyoza (pot stickers) at a local restaurant, which were very tasty. The gyoza man worked alone, making each order fresh for each customer.

Saturday we ventured out to the Nishiki Market near downtown. We took the number 5 bus from near our apartment to the subway line, and then to the Market via subway.

The market was stunning! It was just one street (with a mall top) on both sides and about 5 blocks long. There were a jillion foods that I didn’t recognize plus varieties of many that I did. White strawberries, small octopi with a quail’s egg in the ‘head, ‘ and tiny live crabs were some of the exotic things.

 

 

 

 

As we perused the market, we came to a knife shop where Burt had bought a knife 15 years ago when he visited Kyoto for a few days.

Then we came across wasabi, which Burt bought along with a tiny grater. Apparently most of the wasabi that we get isn’t the real McCoy, as it is very difficult to grow and mostly has to grow wild in pure streams of running water (according to the internet). The substitutes are from a related family. We’ll see how this tastes.

Finally we were ready for lunch, and as we exited the ‘end’ of the market, we found ourselves in a large mall with many restaurants. We chose a Tempura Restaurant, signed the sheet of customers as indicated (the only name in English, of course) and waited our turn.

We had excellent tempura and sat at the counter watching ours being made.  We were served the tempura with a tiny dried cherry blossom, which we mashed up into ‘powder’ (watching what others did) and seasoned our tempura with little bits of it. What a tasty lunch.

 

Heading out of the mall for the subway station, we saw “Used Kimonos For Sale,” which caught my attention. With Burt’s help I selected a beautiful peach kimono, which I later tried on at home—-really almost too pretty to wear.

We managed to retrace our steps from the Mall to the Market to the Subway station to the #5 bus to get home to our apartment. What a lovely day!

 

 

We became philosophers! At least we walked one morning on the Philosopher’s Path. It gets its name from a 20th century philosopher, Nishida Kitaro, who wandered here every day, lost in thought. The path is along side a canal with beautiful flowers and greenery along the way. There are also shrines like this Otoyo Shrine, first built in
837 AD. What beautiful stillness and lushness.

 

 

 

 

On Monday, it rained most of the day so we took the opportunity to organize things, go to the grocery store, as usual, and eat lunch at the Chojiro conveyor belt suchi restaurant. We prefaced it with watching a ‘how to’ film on YouTube. We walked about 15 minutes to the restaurant in the light drizzle, using umbrellas provided by our landlord.

The drill was to remove plates as they came around on the conveyor belt; the different colors of the plates denoted the price, which we could see on the menu at the booth.

We could, and did, order special things directly from the sushi maker. We ate a Lot; asked for the check which was determined by the number of various colored plates that were on our table. A lovely lunch—-more than we usually eat, but ‘worth’ it.

After a nap, and working on pictures, Burt made an astounding dinner of grilled eel, rice, pickles and hand grated wasabi. Apparently wasabi has its ‘experts’ who show you (on YouTube) how to grate it. Burt had bought a rhizome at the Nishiki Market and a grater;

 he grated it expertly and we had it with our dinner.

The dinner was way over my expectations; grilled eel doesn’t sound (or look!) all that good. However, it was wonderful, especially with the freshly grated wasabi, the pickles, and the fresh ginger, along with the rice, cooked in our rice cooker.

The next day we took two trains to go to the Kyoto National Museum. On one train there was a group of schoolchildren.

It turned out that the museum was having a special showing, using the space of the main museum, so the general collection was closed while the special exhibition was on. It was “The Genius of Ike no Taiga,” who was a mid-1700s painter. The paintings were beautiful, but I think one has to have Japanese blood to really appreciate them. Unfortunately no photography was permitted in the museum, but I did take a couple of pictures of the program pictures, which were his most famous. Here we have “True View of Mount Asama”.

 

 

 

Then this one is “Landscape of Pavilions.”

The program emphasized how much he had traveled; he said that unless one has read 10,000 volumes and traveled 10,000 leagues, he cannot be a successful painter. Gee, maybe I’m half way there!

They did have one room open with gorgeous huge wooden and polychrome statues from the 10th century, which really made me long to have my camera out of the locker where it was imprisoned. Anyway, it was a pleasant morning, followed by lunch at the Curry House CoCo, which we had spotted on our walk from the train station to the museum.

We are planning our excursion when we shall take two trains to go to visit a friend, Yurie, and her family in the town of Shimada. She was a high school exchange student with my cousin and her husband 45 years ago. They kept up the relationship and when Marlys told her we were coming, she sprang into action, inviting us to their home and sending all kinds of helpful information about visiting Japan. She and her sons were actually at my home for lunch about 16 years ago.

I hope you are all fine—-we’re doing well.

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#1 Japan, May 4, 2018

Dear Everybody,

Burt and I flew off to Japan Monday, May 2, landing in Osaka and then taking the train for 1 1/4 hours to Kyoto. We have rented an apartment for the month—as things are in Japan, it’s small but functional. It has a kitchen (well equipped for Burt to cook!) with a dining table; a living room, and a biggish bedroom with two single beds.

 

 

 

 

It was easier than I thought to navigate the Osaka airport and the Kyoto train station—there is English signage everywhere. We even bought two Bento boxes in the train station. These are ‘lunchy’ boxes of food for snacking.

Our first day was spent recovering from those long flights—4 1/2 hours to SanFrancisco, then 11 1/2 hours to Osaka. We do have wonderful grocery stores within two blocks so we did explore those and stocked up the first day. Burt is very eager to cook some of the seafood that is so available here. The first night he cooked Pacific Saury, with rice and squash. We had bourbon cocktails for an aperitif, along with suchi that we bought at the grocery store, one of which was raw shrimp, which I’ve never had before!

We’re getting used to our apartment and the furnishings.

 

Take, for example, the toilet. The first time I used it I looked everywhere for the flusher, thinking it was on the arm that has many lights and settings. Well, it turns out that those are all about the ‘services’ that there are; the flush is on the opposite side from ours, and works ‘normally.’ When you flush the toilet, water comes in to fill the tank through a little faucet on top, which allows you to wash your hands. Now, the seat is heated, and if you press certain buttons, you will get a soft wash, a wash, or the bidet, with warm water. Burt says he thinks they also come with a constant flushing sound which covers any sounds you may be making while using the toilet, but we haven’t discovered how to do that.

Burt has brought along his computer and special speakers, so, as usual, we have beautiful music. We also watched “Bobby Kennedy for President” on Netflix last night on his computer—-we enjoyed that a lot. The TV in the living room only has three channels, and all are in Japanese.  And by the way, the apartment provides wonderful robes for us to wear!  Doesn’t he look like samurai?

 

We have lovely dishes to use—-all very ‘Japanesie.’ Interestingly, most do not match, but all are very pretty.

We’re enjoying getting settled and recovered—-I thought I’d let you all know we got here. You’ll hear more from me next week when we have more to report.

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P.S. France, Nov. 10, 2017

The last day we were in Saint-Chinian and had lunch at the Auberge de la Croisade, we again enjoyed it a lot. When we arrived at 12:00, the staff was just finishing their lunch—the custom here. (Well-fed staff make happy staff!) Some patrons were arriving with their dog—we Americans are always surprised when Europeans bring their dogs into restaurants, but they are always so well behaved!

Again we had a lovely lunch with Burt’s main course being venison chop and sausage, which was really good. We also enjoyed seeing all the local people who patronize that Auberge. The Maitre’d was taking orders, as always, and when we told him that this was our third time at the Auberge on this trip and that this was our last lunch as we were going home the next day, he said that they were very honored!

When we were ready to leave the Maitre’d stopped us—-said we should come to the kitchen with him and meet the whole staff. We met the chef and the others and then the maitre’d, who had been seeing me take pictures, offered to take pictures of us with the staff. What a lovely moment!

From the Auberge, we drove the 2 1/2 hour trip to the Toulouse airport. Toward the end we got into rush hour traffic, which was a fright! We finally made it to our hotel near the airport, checked in, and then returned the rental car to the airport. By this time it was dark, and after a few errors, we managed to do that.

Having taken the shuttle back to the hotel, we were now ready to have a martini! When we had been at this hotel a month ago, we had instructed the bartender how to make a
martini, the way we liked them. We now approached the bartender, suggesting he get down the Gordon’s gin—well, he interrupted us and asked if we would like Martinis made the same way as before. He remembered us (and the Martinis) from a whole month earlier! Wow!

The next day we took our three flights home, —a long day! We loved France!

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