Photomerge (Adobe Photoshop)

The blog has slowly been changing into a book. I got to March 27 and found five small images and the following: “The first sight of the park is jaw dropping. When I get back to my other computer I’ll try to put together the photos above to show the entire first view.” In the past I’ve done these merges manually. This time I decided to let Photoshop do it for me. To say I am excited by the result is an understatement. I can’t wait to find the next set of images I shot with a merge in mind.


Suizenji at Kumamoto

Suizenji at Kumamoto

Information about making a merge can be found in the tutorial section of Photoshop help under “Reshaping and Transforming”.

No excuses

Nine Mile Run

Nine Mile Run

IMG_5701 IMG_5703

I just didn’t feel like communicating. I’ve been working on my photos, remembering the gardens I visited and working on two, or maybe three new books. I’ll write about them when they are further along.

Flowers above are from a wonderful place in Pittsburgh called Nine Mile Run, at the south end of Frick Park. I walked there last week with Friend #1 and went back today with Friend #2. I’m trying to do more walking. We went to a new entrance to the park; one I didn’t know about, and took a long walk. Getting back to the car we drove to Duck Hollow where the run flows into the Monongahela River. More pictures soon.

Jetlag is over

It actually seems to get easier as I get older. I think it’s because my attachment to time is slipping. Sometimes I think I could easily reverse day and night, which is what I was doing this week.

Coming back was not too difficult. The train is always a pleasure; my only disappointment was that Mt. Fuji was not visible. Sometimes there is a great view from the train. The flights were good. I was able to get some sleep on both of them. Crossing the Pacific I was in business class and was able to make my seat lay down. I slept and also watched a movie, “Hyde Park on the Hudson”, which I missed in the theaters. I had about three hours to wait in Dallas that I was able to spend in the Admiral’s Club. They do that for people who fly first or business class. I hadn’t been in one of those clubs for many years. In a strange way it is conspicuous consumption on a grand scale. It felt like the lobby of a six star hotel, marble and all.

By the time I got on the next plane I was zonked and promptly fell asleep before it took off, waking up to find a cup of great nuts (this was first-class, no little bags of mystery snacks) on the arm of my seat. I refused the lunchtime snack, ate the nuts and went back to sleep.

I was afraid to add my photos to my big computer without doing some upgrading. So, with the help of the wonderful people at the Apple Store I was able to upgrade my copy of iPhoto and spend much of the last two days importing and sorting my pictures.

Here are the pictures from my last day: Narita, the town, about 20 minutes from the airport.  PR on it praises the old-time feeling of the shops, etc. I found only two interesting shops: one sold Taiko drums and one sold bamboo objects. Neither had anything I wanted to carry on the plane but it was fun to look.

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April 23: Last day

April 23

On the train to Tokyo, this time on the Nozomi Super Express. It makes only 3 stops in the 2.5 hour trip. I am sad about leaving. I don’t think there is anything more I want to do here, but I’ve enjoyed the challenge and I’m going back to too soft a life. Have to figure out more ways of making life difficult.

At the hotel in Kyoto they asked if I would return next year. I agreed, but I think the answer is no, at my age you never know what new aggravation each year will bring and not alone, not unless Eli or Charna will come with me.

I met a woman at the hotel who said she was a journalist. Maybe she freelances, I have doubts about what she really does. But the story she should write is about the hotel. It is clearly a part of the Kyoto community and also gives you, if you stay any length of time, a sense of belonging as well. The women at the front desk all knew me and wanted to know what I was doing each day. And everyone was always helpful. There were at least three concerts in the lobby, mostly attended by people from the neighborhood, although hotel guests were always invited. One of the meeting rooms became a bar each Thursday night and again was open to hotel guests and the community. And there were free Japanese lessons two evenings a week. I attended and didn’t learn much language but was able to get lots of questions answered. I am now friends on Facebook with the teacher, which is great.

Someone, I think Alice, asked about crowds here. People are generally quiet. Only very small children and teenagers seem to make any noise. There isn’t even much horn blowing. Traffic noises are only engines, tires and occasional emergency vehicles. People are encouraged not to talk on their phones in public and to keep them on vibrate. On the shinkansen there are rules about not letting the phone ring and going to the end of the cars to talk. That said, this isn’t a quiet place. When you walk on a quiet street in a residential neighborhood, as I did when I visited Tojiin, you notice the silence. There are constant recorded or mechanical noises. Public toilets and subway entrances announce their presence with a small dinging noise. Streets with stoplights tell you when to walk: one direction chirps, the other ding dongs. Buses and subways have constant recorded monologues, often in several languages, about the next stop, what you can do there such as transferring, what attractions are there, warnings about the doors closing, and on trains, which side the doors will open on. I almost have the Japanese memorized.

The stops on the shinkansen are announced with a little musical riff then the announcement is made in two languages. On the trains in Kyushu announcements were made in Japanese, Chinese, Korean and English.

Crowds at the two markets I attended were difficult, but would not have been if I moved a little faster. Crowds in train and subway stations are more difficult but they come in waves and I generally was able to wait until they are gone.

I promised to tell you about my Buddhist amulet. Before dinner at the temple on Koyasan a monk came and put bracelets on our arms. The bracelet is supposed to ease our way through difficulties. Perhaps it works. I am intrigued because of its construction. It is beautifully made of multicolored cords and has three knots and no apparent beginning or end. There is something on the internet about Buddhist endless knots, which seem to be the same as Celtic endless knots. Of course, you can do things with drawings you can’t do with reality. When I get home I’ll do a more extensive search.

I shot more than 2000 pictures, maybe more than 2500. Most of those are garden pictures. I haven’t done many street pictures; too many of their streets look just like ours. I’m afraid I will disappoint you, Mage. Pictures of shops, funky architecture and strange things some women wear on their feet are subjects I didn’t take, although some of it was tempting. And the spiky white thing around the tree stump you asked about indicates the stump, or more often a living tree or rock, is sacred. Japanese believe in kami, sacred spirits, thousands of them that can live anywhere, but often in those trees or rocks. I am ready to go along with them; especially on kami that live in trees.

April 21: Another flea market and window shopping

I have reached the end of my garden viewing. I’m sure there is something I am missing, but it is becoming too difficult to find. The gardens I haven’t seen require more travel time and much more walking. So, today and tomorrow, my last day in Kyoto, will be shopping days.

I started back at Toji Temple for Kobo-san, the mother of all flea markets. It was hugely crowded with people just pouring in. I’ve been at markets at Toji before but I don’t think I have ever seen so many vendors. There were produce stands, food stalls with places to sit while the food cooked, and even a flower and plant market in addition to all the antiques, kimonos, clothing, bags and lots of other stuff. The food intrigued me; many are things I can’t identify and would love to know about.

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When I finally had enough (I never bought anything) I went to the main Kyoto shopping area to visit paper stores. Much as I love Japanese papers (washi) nothing intrigued me enough to cope with getting it home. The sheets are usually about a square meter, which means carrying a tall roll and making sure it doesn’t get bent. I did it in 2007, but the papers aren’t as interesting this year and I am not prepared to deal with it. I will just have to bind my books with the stash I have at home.

April 20: Hokongo-in, Daikakuji, and Matsuno’o Shrine

Another cold, warm day; less wind, but less sun. Late day rain was predicted; I got back to the hotel just as it began. I had a bad night, first time since I arrived. Pain in my legs woke me up and kept me awake. Decided not to do so much walking today. Hokongo-in was just off the bus stop. Good for my legs, but traffic noise never left the garden. This temple is famous for its lotus flowers, which won’t grow until later in the year. The roots were soaking in pots of water in several places in the garden.

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And the waterfall stopped flowing right after I took the picture. I almost had the feeling it started flowing just because I walked toward it.

I got back on the bus and went to Daikaku-ji, another of the large temples near the mountains west of Kyoto. It was not a great garden and I’m not sure how it got on my list.

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Then a different bus and south to Matsuno’o Shrine, famous for its clear spring water used for making sake. I particularly liked the tortoise sculpture in the garden and the little girl feeding the fish.

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April 19: Three more gardens and an unexpected lunch

As hot as it was yesterday, today had sunshine and a bitter cold wind. No wind, you were hot, wind or shade, very cold. I always feel like I have dressed the wrong way; today there was no right way.

i bought a book about Kyoto gardens that lists them by area, making it easy to figure out where to go. First on my list for this morning was Ryoan-ji, a famous zen dry garden. Although I saw it years ago, and I don’t especially like dry gardens, I decided it would be good to see again. Never know when you can learn something new. I arrived to find mobs of school tours and immediately decided to leave.

The next place on my list was Tojiin. I looked for a bus stop and found a sign for a train that stops at Tojiin. I never found the train but finally found a large sign with directions and continued walking. Tojiin was a wonderful garden. No surprises but the usual beautiful, peaceful scene.

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I had no clue about where to go when I left Tojiin. I started walking, looking for a bus stop again. I have a good bus map, so given a stop, which always has lots of info, I could figure out where and how. I continued walking, finally finding a busy street as opposed to the lovely residential neighborhood of Tojiij. The wind was blowing very hard and I was tired, cold and needed to sit down.

I walked into a small restaurant, where no one spoke English except for one customer. He helped me order and get lunch and then sat with me and talked. He is a part-time lecturer at a local university but his primary interest is photography. He is using an old Rollei, shooting 120 film and doing his own darkroom work. He gave me a copy of a beautifully printed brochure showing his work. It was probably done for a show. Nice work, very subtle. After lunch he walked me to Keishun-in the next garden I wanted to visit. I’m sure I never would have found it without him. I almost never found my way to the bus stop afterward.

Keishun-in is one of about 50 sub-temples of Myoshin-ji, which also includes the more famous Taizoin-en I visited earlier in this trip. Kaishun-in is the only other sub-temple open to the public on a year round basis. The garden was pleasant but doesn’t come close to the spectacular Taizoin-en.

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My lunch companion gave me casual directions to Taizoin-en, which would have made leaving easy, but I was not able to follow them and spent an enormous amount of time trying to leave the temple complex. Finally got to the bus and decided to visit one more garden: Shinsen-en, a small urban garden connected to a shrine, with entertainment provided by fish and ducks competing for food thrown by visitors.

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April 17: Samboin, Kaju-ji and Zuishin-in

This was a gray, warm, muggy day when I needed lots of help and everyone I met was wonderful to me. I just missed the bus as I got out of the subway. The next one was scheduled for 40 minutes later. I decided to walk; probably less than a kilometer. The trouble with walking is figuring out the starting point. I stopped a young couple and asked for directions, which they gave me with some difficulty, but enough information for me to start walking. I knew it would be a straight shot once I had the correct road. After I had gone about 200 meters a car stopped and the young man offered me a ride. Since the road was beginning to climb (most temples are on or near mountains) I happily accepted. Help #1.

Entry courtyard, Samboin

Entry courtyard, Samboin

I paid my 500 yen admission and was told no photographs. At that point I was wondering why I had come. Then I had to go into a building, first removing my shoes. The two steps leading into the building were extremely high and, as usual, there were no railings. Help #2 arrived in the shape of one of the men who worked for the temple. After the steps I was summarily urged toward the garden and  continued to wonder why I had come.

Samboin is absolutely the most fascinating garden I have visited and they don’t allow photographs. I could cry. There seems to be only a few images on the internet. Three guards are posted to make sure you don’t take photos. I could understand if they were selling good photos, but they aren’t. I bought two postcards with lousy pictures.

Diagram of the garden

Diagram of the garden

It is a pond garden with a mountain as backdrop and all of the usual elements, islands, lanterns, pine trees. It’s the details that count and there are amazing details. Two islands, covered with pine trees, and representing tortoise and crane, are the unusual part of the garden. One has a pine tree purported to be 600 years old. This is a small tree, almost a Bonsai, with a huge, thick trunk, and represents the quietness of a tortoise. The other island has a stone bridge on its left side that represents the neck of the crane.

I stood and looked, trying to memorize the scene, as long as my legs allowed. Again, no place to sit except the floor. When I finally left the same old man helped me down the stairs, after having a considerable conversation with me. Help #3 and he was cute.

I walked back to the subway; much easier going downhill and went one stop to visit two other temples. I tried to follow the map in the subway and went off in the wrong direction. My intention was to visit Zuishin-in first. I asked several people and got directions in Japanese that were meaningless. Finally asked another man who indicated he would take me there. We stopped at the first temple where we each rang the bell and prayed. I don’t know what he prayed for: I just asked to find Zuishin-in. He probably thought I was a follower because I am wearing a good luck bracelet that was put on me at the temple on Koyasan.

We finally came to a large temple with no signage, he assured me was Zuishin-in and help #4 left. The sign at the entrance indicated it would cost 400 yen. I paid and found out I was at Kaiju-ji. The lady at the window showed me a diagram of how to get to Zuishin-in and I walked into a wonderful garden at Kaiju-ji and was enormously pleased I had made this mistake.

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When I finally left the garden I thanked the woman and indicated how much I enjoyed it. She gave me this hand drawn diagram of how to get to Zuishin-in. Help #6.


The only trouble with these kinds of directions is where do they really begin. Do I turn right immediately after I leave the temple of is there another right and a left first? I finally figured it out and got to Zuishin-in, which turned out not to be nearly as wonderful as Kaiju-ji. Also needed a hand getting up and down their railingless steps; not a boost this time, just a hand for balance.That was help #7 and #8.

Finally it was time to return to the subway that was a long way underground. I knew I had come up in an elevator but couldn’t remember where it was. Help #9 guided me across the street and into the elevator. And I was able to buy cooked broccoli for dinner, making it a great day.

April 16: Two more gardens and an adventure

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I couldn’t resist: a trip down the Hozu River with, as the brochure says, “raging torrents and breathtaking ravines, at times dousing you with water, at others passing in calmness.” It wasn’t quite like that. There were rapids and we did get splashed occasionally, but the adjectives didn’t quite match the reality. It was fun, squeezed in with 24 Japanese who were out for a good time. I went for the great scenery that was not easy to photograph. Several women next to me spoke English so I got some translations. And they were very nice and helpful. I couldn’t get in or out of that boat without help. The hard part was sitting for two hours.

The boats took us to Arashiyama, an area filled with temples. The first one I passed, Hogonin Temple, had a lovely garden and the stillness to enjoy it, which I did.

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Hogonin is a sub-temple of Tenryuji, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, with a lovely, unfortunately crowded, garden. Visiting here on a previous trip I walked quickly past the pond and climbed away from the temple where there were fewer people. This time wasn’t as bad. I got to see the pond and was mostly alone when I climbed.

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