May 14, Alone for 4 days

I got off the train at Nagoya, leaving my family to go on to Tokyo and home, tomorrow. I am on a different train going to Takayama, in the mountains of Gifu. This is the first rainy day of the trip. I’m happy to be on the train and won’t do much sightseeing. This is the day to do laundry.

Lunch, rain and the train.

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More rain pictures. Passing some wonderful scenery but giving up on pictures.

The train got in about an hour late. I didn’t know Japanese trains could ever be late. But something delayed us early in the trip. There was an announcement of which I understood nothing. My hotel is about a half block from the station. I walked to the hotel, did my laundry and listened to last night’s Rachel Maddow, then went out for a walk in the rain.

 

May 13, Last day in Kyoto, last night with family

Steve and Charna went on a long bike ride over much of Kyoto. Robin and I went shopping, together and separately. She’s a great shopper; I am not. I decided I wanted a cane. Robin has been helping me climb stairs and navigate other tricky walkways and I am having more difficulty this trip than in 2013. It seems like a long time ago and I was certainly in better shape.

We all met up for dinner in another Okonomiyake restaurant in Pontocho, which seems to be filled with restaurants.

Afterward, to my surprise, we went for ice cream to celebrate my birthday. Actually, I’ve considered this entire trip a birthday celebration. When I reached 80 I decided I would celebrate every birthday; generally with a party. This has been an amazing celebration and I will celebrate again in 2 weeks when my actual birthday arrives.

These were some of the parfaits that were offered. Mine was chocolate and more restrained.

We had a fun conversation with a Japanese man who had been all around the world and now worked as a tour guide in Kyoto. And I would have had none of this had I been alone.

May 12, Arashiyama

We will be leaving Kyoto on May 14, so all together we went to the train station to arrange for our seats on the Shinkansen. Then we got on a local train to Arashiyama. On the map it looked like there were two stops in Arashiyama. When everyone got off at the first stop I said we should stay on to the next one. Of course the train didn’t stop; it went a long distance through a tunnel and suddenly we were in the mountains. We got off at the first stop and took the return train. But I wasn’t sorry we took the extra side trip. I really wanted to go sit on a rock in the river. (It’s very hot here during the day.)

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Again we split up. I started walking toward Tenryuji along with hundreds of others, and the family went to the Monkey Park. I explored a small garden which turned out to be a restaurant then went on to Hongon in, a sub temple of Tenryuji with a wonderful garden, which was almost empty.

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I left just as my family returned, we had lunch together then went to Tenryuji where I sat in the garden while they explored the temple and climbed the mountain behind the garden. I had done all this in 2007 or 2008 when I was better able to climb.

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My last trip to Japan was in 2013. I wanted to return, but I knew that if I returned by myself it would be the same trip. Having them with me has made this a much different trip. They interact differently with other people; I see things through their eyes making much new and exciting; and have gotten to see many things I would have missed had I been alone. We went for dinner to Kyoto Tower. I had never been there and not at night. We had a taxi driver who played rock and roll for us and ate at the food court.

May 11, Temples and shopping

I have been to most of the temples, shrines and gardens in Kyoto. While the family went to Fushimi Inari, which entails a lot of climbing, I went to Kamiji Kakimoto, an elegant paper store where I had made an amazing purchase on a previous trip. I bought a small roll of paper, not too expensive and easy to carry home. Only recently I began to use it for bookbinding and decided I needed more of this amazing stuff. Before I left Pittsburgh Karen Gerhart told me it was a special Kyoto paper. It is indeed special, strong and light; great for tabbing sheets together. I will be going to paper stores in Tokyo as part of the workshop I’m taking, so I only bought one other paper roll and an interesting manuscript book, intended for calligraphy but I think I will find another use for it.

I had a long walk from the subway to the store and passed antique shops, furniture shops and some other craft places. After making my purchase I had lunch in a non-fast-food place, no English, not even the prices, and I chose my lunch from the models outside the door. It had a large piece of shrimp tempura, two tempura string beans and lots of rice with possibly egg, cheese and something else. It was good, but remains a mystery.

Met the family at Konchi in Garden, a sub temple of Nanzenji. They had a great time climbing at Fushimi Inari. Charna and Robin bought fox masks, the fox being the guiding spirit for Inari shrines.

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We went into the Nanzenji grounds, looked at some of the buildings and did lots of people watching. Finally took a taxi back toward Nishiki Market, walked around looking at shops, found the canal at Pontocho, then headed for Sou Sou, where Robin wanted to do more shopping.

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On the way we came upon this wonderful Rube Goldberg machine for making bean paste cakes. I wanted to stay there all night.

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May 10, Imperial Palace

We are in a Japanese house here in Kyoto. R & S are sleeping on futons on the floor. Charna and I have separate rooms, each with two beds that almost entirely fill the room. It’s not a great setup; the second bed is a nuisance. But my floor is tatami covered and I like that. Next to our house is a pot garden with interesting decorations.

Today, Steve went bicycling all over Kyoto; Charna stayed at our new house, and Robin and I went to the Imperial Palace Garden where Charna met us later. The palace grounds have now been designated a national park and much use is made of them by the public. Many of the buildings were open this week in honor of the accession of the new emperor.

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We met up with Steve and went on to the Nishiki Market filled with food and people. Much of the food was mysterious as is much else here in Japan. Dinner was in an interesting tofu restaurant.

May 9

Robin, Steve and Charna went to Miyajima. I went to the Prefectural Art Museum where I spent several hours looking at an ukiyoe exhibit of Kuniyoshi, Yoshitoshi and some of their followers. I loved this exhibit of woodblock prints that was set up to highlight the skill of the Yoshi family and their students. Instead of showing each artist separately the exhibit was divided into four categories: warriors, beautiful women, ghosts and murders, and satire on current events.

I had lunch back at the train station and spent time walking around. I particularly enjoyed watching the bean paste cakes being made.

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At 15:22 we all got on the train to Kyoto.

May 8,Onward to Hiroshima

Looking forward to our first ride on the Shinkansen, but with regrets for all the things we hadn’t had time to see in Tokyo, we moved on. We weren’t sure if we would have to take the local train with all of our luggage or if we would be able to take a taxi. Using Japanese SIM cards in our phones enables us to contact each other and to use WiFi everywhere, but we are not able to make calls, local or otherwise. So getting taxis became a challenge. But the force was with us and within minutes of reaching the main street we got a cab. There are two main stations in Tokyo for the Shinkansen. Both seemed to be equidistant from our little house so I opted for the one where there might be less traffic. Tokyo is huge and we went into an area where we had never been. It was an amazing ride. First, mile after mile of tall buildings. This is no Chicago or even New York with dense centers and lower rising peripheries. This is all “downtown”. There was one area where three levels of roadway rose above us and then we immediately descended to an underground tollway that went on for more miles. I don’t think we have anything like this in the states.

The train ride was uneventful, but we did get to see Mt. Fuji.

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We stayed at the Vista Hotel in Hiroshima, which was a luxurious change from our little house in Tokyo. Arrived just in time to check in. Then the family went to the Peace Memorial while I went to Shukkeien garden. I went to the A-bomb Peace Memorial on a previous trip, when it affected me deeply. I think every American should see it, but probably once is enough. Shukkeien garden was destroyed by the bombing with the exception of one bridge.

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It’s much different now.

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Last day in Tokyo, May 7

And first day after Golden Week, so everything back to normal. We all felt the need to do laundry. Our little house has a washing machine but no dryer. The nearby laundromat had wood paneled walls and all the machines we needed. It took all four of us to figure out how to do it, but mission accomplished, we went for a walk along a nearby canal and found a tiny almost hidden shrine.

Laundry finished we went to a wonderful vegan restaurant, Nagi Shokuda, for lunch

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Where everything was delicious. Then onward to shop. Charna went off on her own; Robin and I went to the Asics store and Steve went to Meiji shrine where he did not shop.

Robin has a terrible time finding shoes to fit and usually has to order online. Today she had the pleasure of actually trying on several different shoes in the store and buying two pairs. I think she would have bought three but began to worry about getting them home. She and Charna are both able to find clothes that fit here. I don’t usually bother looking.

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We walked in Harajuku for a while then met up with Steve and Charna at a Starbucks on the sixth floor of Tokyu Plaza where I took most of the pictures above. As you enter the Plaza there is a mosaic of mirrors to look at as you rise three floors on escalators. Coming out of the elevator, which you have to take from the fourth floor, you feel like you are in a garden, or they call it a forest. And the Starbucks adds to the charm.

Steve and I headed back and had the Tokyo rush hour experience on three trains leading us to more fully appreciate our first days here being Golden Week. We bought sushi at the train station and all of us had dinner in our little house.

Monday, May 6

Charna went off on her own while Robin, Steve and I went to Shinjuku Gyoen National Park, a huge green space in the midst of a densely populated area, an oasis of quiet with a formal garden, a landscape garden and a Japanese garden.

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From there we went looking for a vegetarian restaurant. While I planned the trip overall, Robin has researched veggie restaurants. Not easy to find here. This one was on the seventh floor of Isetan Department Store. Robin had trouble believing this would be good, but I was hungry and tired of walking and persuaded her to try. We were seated in a lovely outdoor garden and the food was great. I had a salad with locally grown vegetables. Tokyo has an urban farms movement. We finished at Isetan by touring the basement food section where I got a real baguette. When I was here previously I frequently found myself looking for decent bread. The Japanese prefer something that resembles Wonder Bread but is even spongier. On previous trips I was able to get real bread in some French bakeries. This trip I’ve found fewer bakeries with more items that look good but definitely have the preferred spongy texture.

Finally, totally wiped out, I returned to our little house leaving R & S to explore on their own.

May 5: Less jet lag, more walking

Beautiful, warm, sunny day and we went to Asakusa. Because we are living on what seems like the west side of Tokyo, it was another long train ride. Transferring at Akihabara we got a look into another Japanese tradition. This is child’s day and this is how our introduction began.

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We saw these toy vending machines everywhere we went, but Akihabara was the best. This is kawaii, the culture of cuteness, at it’s utmost. I really wanted one of those blobs on top of the machines, but I restrained myself.

Asakusa is an older area of Tokyo with a large Buddhist temple, Sensoji, lots of shops selling very Japanese stuff and great people watching. 5810DA05-574A-489D-909A-409F633AAEFC

Almost immediately we were treated to a small parade, I think in honor of sake or some other potable.

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The fish (carp) kites are symbols for children’s day.

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We continued walking around the area and found another group preparing for a lion dance. I couldn’t get close enough to photograph the dance. This is the preparation.

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We continued walking around, stopped for lunch and finally went on a cruise down the Sumida River.

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