Finishing Frenzy and Travel Updates

Whew, those Japan posts took a lot to put together. I’m so glad I did though as now I have a great reminder of what a great trip it was.

So, what’s been going on around here since I finally finished up the trip. Well, as I think I mentioned in my last blog post-Mom and I headed back to Seattle for my cousin’s wife’s funeral. Since we had driven down last time, we decided to take the Seattle/Victoria clipper this trip. It takes just under 3 hours one way. The seas were calm, and it was a great trip both ways.

Funerals are never fun, the best thing about them is catching up with family afterwards and there was a lot of that happening. My sister and her husband picked Mom and me up at the Seattle Clipper terminal and we headed down to Renton where my cousin lives.

There were two services, one Friday night and one Saturday morning. On Sunday we headed back home.

Otter Family Victoria Clipper Dock

Mom and I enjoying the Clipper Ride home

Toronto Bound

The next weekend I was off to Toronto for a business conference with my online digital marketing group where I met up with some great friends. Needless to say, that was a fabulous weekend. I had so much fun and learned a lot as well.

The conference was held in downtown Toronto so there was 5 of us that shared an Airbnb condo in the heart of Toronto. It was really convenient from the airport, one train from the airport and then less than a 5-minute walk to the condo. Perfect!

We had a great view of the CN tower and glimpses of the lake, couldn’t really ask for much more! This was my first time ever in Toronto so I found it fascinating. The conference was held in the Globe and Mail Centre on the top floor. Wow, what a view of the city you get from there. Too bad the winters are so cold there. Maybe next time I will get to Niagara Falls.

On the Quilting Front

On the quilting front, I have been finishing up projects some that have been sitting around for years.

Judy Niemeyer Wedding Ring Star Quilt that has been a top for almost 5 years

I Spy Quilt that I started at least 7 years ago

A little Victoria Golf Course wall hanging designed by Susan Teece

And last but not least Blended Beauty which was a kit that myself and two of my long-time quilting buddies purchased together. Heather finished hers years ago. Kelli used the fabric from the kit for other projects and I finally finished mine. It looks like I forgot to take a picture of the back of the quilt before I handed it to the church as their raffle quilt. It turns out there was so much fabric leftover in those fat quarters from the kit I was able to piece together all of the remnants and just use two smaller pieces from my stash to make the quilt back. The quilt back is almost as pretty as the front.

So that brings us somewhat up to date. I still have two quilts to quilt and 5 or 6 more kits left to complete. Not sure if I will get them all done before the end of 2019 but I will try.

Nara Japan

Nara was Japan’s first permanent capital and was established in the year 710. It is located less than an hour away from Kyoto. Nara holds some of Japan’s oldest and largest temples. Karen and I arrived in Nara in the early evening and found our way to our hotel.

The next morning we made our way to a very large park where we were going to visit two of the shrines. In Nara, the deer are also sacred and you can find them roaming all over, unlike in Miyajima Island though you can feed the deer in Nara so they can become a bit of a nuisance as you make your way through the park to the different temples.

(remember to click on the red arrow to see all of the pictures)

Central Golden Hall (Kofukuji Temple)

The first temple we visited was the Central Golden Hall.

“Kofukuji (興福寺, Kōfukuji) used to be the family temple of the Fujiwara, the most powerful aristocratic clan during much of the Nara and Heian Periods. The temple was established in Nara at the same time as the capital in 710. At the height of Fujiwara power, the temple consisted of over 150 buildings.

The temple features several buildings of great historic value, including a five-storied pagoda and a three-storied pagoda. At 50 meters, the five-storied pagoda is Japan’s second tallest wooden pagoda, just seven meters shorter than the five-storied pagoda at Kyoto’s Toji Temple. Kofukuji’s pagoda is both a landmark and a symbol of Nara. It was first built in 730 and was most recently rebuilt in 1426. Neither pagoda can be entered by the public.” Japan-guide

(remember to click on the red arrow to see all of the pictures)

Todai-ji Temple (Great Buddha Hall)

Next up we visited Todai-ji Temple

“Todaiji (東大寺, Tōdaiji, “Great Eastern Temple”) is one of Japan’s most famous and historically significant temples and a landmark of Nara. The temple was constructed in 752 as the head temple of all provincial Buddhist temples of Japan and grew so powerful that the capital was moved from Nara to Nagaoka in 784 in order to lower the temple’s influence on government affairs.

Until recently, Todaiji’s main hall, the Daibutsuden (Big Buddha Hall), held the record as the world’s largest wooden building, despite the fact that the present reconstruction of 1692 is only two-thirds of the original temple hall’s size. The massive building houses one of Japan’s largest bronze statues of Buddha(Daibutsu). The 15 meters tall, seated Buddha represents Vairocana and is flanked by two Bodhisattvas.”Japan-guide

The giant Buddha is defiantly worth seeing and very impressive. While we were touring there a procession of monks, both male and female made their way up to a landing and then started doing a prayer chant. Many visitors to the temple stopped their tour to pray and chant with the monks. It was quite a sight.

(remember to click on the red arrow to see all of the pictures)

Next Up Shopping

After we toured the temples we decided to walk into the town for lunch and found a really cool shopping arcade that was more geared to locals instead of tourists. We had a really tasty lunch and then spent a couple of happy hours touring the little shops around the arcade before heading back to our hotel. 

The next day we were heading back to Tokyo and our last stop of the trip Disney Sea!

Hiroshima and Himeji Castle

After breakfast at the Watanabe Inn, we were driven down to the ferry dock. Actually, we asked to be dropped off at the Post Office as Karen wanted to ship some of her purchases back home. You should have seen the confused looks on the two lone Post Office clerks. In Japan, the post offices also serve as bank branches. After a bit of back in forth in English and Japanese, we were able to get what we wanted across and Karen got her parcel shipped. Once that was completed we headed back on the ferry and local train back to Hiroshima.

Hiroshima

I have been to Hiroshima and visited the A-dome site before, however, Karen had not and I believe that you can’t visit Japan without visiting the site where the A-bomb was dropped. When we got to Hiroshima train station there were many English speaking guides around helping tourists find there way around. We discovered that our Japan Rail passes would allow us to ride the hop on hop off bus for free. This bus would take us to the A-bomb site. Bonus!

Once at the site, we walked around the site and visited the peace park. We had picked up some food for lunch at a 7-11 at the train station so found a spot where we could eat lunch before heading to the museum. Parts of the museum were closed for renovations but we did get to see some of it.

An interesting fact, the museum is really good and the first time I visited it I was surprised at how well the story of the bombing was told without blame being put onto either side. I have since learned this is because the Japanese people don’t blame Americans for dropping the bomb. They blame war! They, of course, don’t ever want it to happen again though so there are many books in both English and Japanese explaining the stories and why nuclear bombs should be banned altogether.

(remember to click on the red arrow to view all the pictures)

Onto Himeji Castle

Once we finished touring the museum we made our way back to the train station and oh I didn’t mention earlier what we did with our suitcases. The train stations all have luggage lockers. There wasn’t any left that would take both our suitcases and backpacks however in Hiroshima they have places where you can drop your luggage off for $15.00 and pick it up later in the day. I guess a lot of people make Hiroshima a day trip, not an actual overnight destination. Anyway, we picked up our luggage and carried on to our hotel in Himeji.

The next morning, Karen and I checked out of the hotel but asked if the hotel could keep our luggage so we could tour the castle. We then walked up to the castle purchasing snacks for breakfast from the local family mart. I had been to the castle before but Karen had not.  

“Himeji Castle (姫路城 Himeji-jō) is a hilltop Japanese castle complex situated in the city of Himeji which is located in the Hyōgo Prefecture of Japan. The castle is regarded as the finest surviving example of prototypical Japanese castle architecture, comprising a network of 83 rooms with advanced defensive systems from the feudal period.[7]The castle is frequently known as Hakuro-jō or Shirasagi-jō (“White Egret Castle” or “White Heron Castle”) because of its brilliant white exterior and supposed resemblance to a bird taking flight.[6][8]”   

The castle is one of the few in Japan where you can actually go and tour inside. As mentioned I had been there before and was going again, because it is a site worth seeing and Karen had not been there. I was glad to be seeing it again, but feeling a little mundane about it all but when we got to the moat area we realized that the cherry blossoms were out in full bloom.  It was beautiful, but I still wasn’t prepared for what was waiting for us as we finally entered the grounds of the castle. Hundreds of cherry trees in bloom everywhere the eye could see. It was the most amazing and breathtaking site, the pictures I took can’t even compare to the pink fairyland we entered. Here you had pick blossoms at full bloom everywhere you looked with the iconic Japanese castle rising up in the background. It truly took your breath away.

(remember to click on the red arrow to view all the pictures)

After touring the castle we grabbed some lunch and then headed back to the hotel to pick up our luggage and head back to the train station as our next stop on our adventure was Nara.

Going it Alone

On April 10, 2019, Karen and I were now travelling in Japan on our own. We were up early, long before the rest of our group that we had been travelling with so we had all said our goodbyes the night before. Most of the group were travelling home however there was one other couple besides Karen and I who were also heading out on their own.

That morning Yoshi was up early (he was always up early) and helped Karen and I flag down a taxi to take us to Kyoto train station where we had to find the Japan Rail office to exchange our rail vouchers. We found it fairly easily and also figured out which Shinkansen (bullet train) we needed to get us to Hiroshima. From Hiroshima we had to change trains to a much smaller local train and from there we were to catch a ferry over to the island. All of this transportation was covered by our rail pass which made travelling really easy. Warning, this is another very picture heavy post. There was just so much to see here.

Miyajima Island

Miyajima Island is considered one of the top three most scenic spots in Japan. It is a very scared Island and one that I had been to before. It had been a quick visit though and I wanted to go back and stay a little longer this time. Karen and I choose to stay in a very traditional Japanese Inn called a ryokan, the one we chose was family run with only 4 rooms and it was located halfway up a mountain with a creek running alongside so you heard the sound of running water all the time, which I found to be very relaxing. The ryokan served both breakfast which could be Japanese or Western and a very traditional several course Japanese dinner, we had two dinners at the inn and both times dinner took over two hours but the food and service were excellent.

“The Watanabe Inn is surrounded by rich nature where creeks murmur in the quiet atmosphere through the four seasons. In this atmosphere, we serve only four groups of guests per day. Please enjoy Japanese good meals with fresh foods of Miyajima in Hiroshima. We prepare a bath made of a Japanese cypress in each room which will completely relax you. Warmth and “warm-heartedness” of the Japanese styles invite you here Miyajima.” (taken from their web site https://www.auberge-watanabe.com/english/).

As mentioned this place was on the pricy side but so worth it!! Karen and I both thoroughly enjoyed our time at Watanabe Inn and would highly recommend it!

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Walk Around the Town

When we arrived on the island we made our way to the information centre and asked for them to call the Inn. Someone then drove down to pick us up and take us to the Inn. We had a couple of hours before our 6:00 pm dinner so we went exploring but made sure we gave ourselves enough time to come back to the Inn to change into Yukata for dinner. We had two dinners and two breakfasts at the Inn and I will post some of the pictures of the meals below.

(remember to click on the red arrow for more pictures)

Itsukushima Shinto Shrine

One of the most famous shrines in Japan is the Itsukushima Shrine which was built over the water. Unfortunately when Karen and I visited the tide was out so we didn’t really get to experience it with the water lapping under us as we walked the many corridors. We checked the tide schedule but it seemed that high tide was after dark while we were there. Too bad as from pictures we saw it looks pretty awesome with water all around it.

“The centuries-old Itsukushima Shrine (厳島神社, Itsukushima Jinja) on Miyajima is the source of both the island’s fame and its name. Formally named Itsukushima, the island is more popularly known as “Miyajima”, literally “shrine island” in Japanese, thanks to its star attraction. The shrine is known worldwide for its iconic “floating” torii gate.

The shrine and its torii gate are unique for being built over water, seemingly floating in the sea during high tide. The shrine complex consists of multiple buildings, including a prayer hall, a main hall and a noh theater stage, which are connected by boardwalks and supported by pillars above the sea.” Japan-guide

The shrine was our first stop in the morning as we wanted to go before it got too crowed to really enjoy it. We came across a wedding party at the shrine I guess they figured they would get their wedding in before the hoards of tourists. We did get to see the torri gate “floating” the afternoon before as we were coming in on the ferry. We also walked back down the mountain on our second night there to take pictures of the gate and shrine all lit up after dark.

(remember to click on the red arrow for more pictures)

Omote Sando Shotengai

Omote Sando Shotengai is the towns main shopping street. After touring the shrine Karen and I decided to go and explore the little shops that the town has to offer. On Miyajima Island, the deer are considered sacred and you can find them roaming everywhere, at one time you could feed them, however, they were becoming such a nuisance that it is now forbidden to feed them and you could face a fine if caught doing so.

The other thing you see all over the place is these little cookies calls Momiji Manju. We found them offered and made at several shops along the main street. Each were just a little bit different offering different fillings such as red bean paste, chocolate or custard. They are a soft cookie and were very good. If you bought a cookie you were offered a free cup of tea and a place to go and sit to enjoy your goodies. After buying several little souvenirs and getting some street food for lunch we headed back up to our Inn.

(remember to click on the red arrow for more pictures)

Daisho-in Temple

After about an hours rest we decided to tackle the climb to Daisho-in Temple. The climb was worth it, the view at the top was worth seeing but the temple itself was so vast. The temple complex is spread out over a large area on the slope of the mountain with many different buildings on many different levels. Many, many stairs and so much to see. Karen and I spent several hours there and we could have spent more however dinner was again at 6 so we had to make it back down the mountain for that, luckily our inn was situated right at the start of the temple climb. This was a truly unique and peaceful Buddist temple and not near as busy as the Itsukushima Shrine. I thoroughly enjoyed my time poking around and visiting all the different places there was to visit.

Daishō-in or Daisyō-in (大聖院) is a historic Japanese temple complex with many temples and statues on Mount Misen, the holy mountain on the island of Itsukushima, off the coast of Hatsukaichi, HiroshimaJapan. It is the 14th temple in the Chūgoku 33 Kannon Pilgrimage and famous for the maple trees and their autumn colours. It is also called “Suishō-ji” (水精寺). Including Mt. Misen, Daishō-in is within the World Heritage Area of Itsukushima Shrine.

In this temple there is a flame which is said to have been burning since its foundation, for more than 1200 years.”

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After our stay on Miyajima Island, we were heading to Himeji to visit the Castle there but first a stop in Hiroshima.

 

Last Day of OAT Tour

Tuesday, April 9, 2019, was the last day of the OAT tour. There was really only one tour scheduled then we had the afternoon to explore the area ourselves before the farewell dinner and the sad goodbyes.

This is the last day of our OAT trip however Karen and I still have a week to go travelling through Japan on our own. This series is almost finished and for those who have been reading along thanks so much for your support. I have tried to do this in bite-sized pieces so as to not take too much time to read.

Nijyo Castle

The tour today was Nijyo Castle, it was another castle where you couldn’t walk inside but you could walk around the grounds. It was a beautiful warm sunny day. Here is what Yoshi had to say about the castle:

“Today, we visited Nijo Castle 二条城which was their residence of Tokugawa shoguns and their messengers when they visited Kyoto on special occasions. It was constructed by the first shogun of Tokugawa Shogunate, Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1603. After the Meiji Restoration, it served for some time as the detached palace of the Imperial Household, but it was given to Kyoto city in 1939. Brilliant and strong, the typical style of art favoured by the samurai class is prominently observed there. We saw a big tatami floored room where the last shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, declared his will to end his governing of Japan. We enjoyed strolling the garden there also.”

While we were visiting there was a special event going on so part of the grounds was closed for visitors, however, we did get to see many, many women lined up in beautiful traditional kimono waiting to go into the event. It was certainly a sight to see! 

 

 

(Remember to click the red arrow to see all of the pictures including all of the women dressed in kimono)

Nishijin Fabric Centre

After lunch, Karen and I and two other ladies walked to the Nishijin Fabric Centre. As mentioned it was a beautiful warm sunny afternoon and the walk to the fabric centre bordered a river for most of the way so it was actually a really scenic walk.

The fabric centre had many different silk items for sale that were woven on sight. The centre even held classes on silk weaving should one have the time while in Kyoto. The centre also had a small silk Kimono museum and a Kimono fashion show. The four of us had a very enjoyable time wandering around checking everything out. When we were finished shopping we grabbed a taxi back to our hotel. I didn’t buy much as Karen and I were heading out on our own for a week and I needed to be able to carry my own bags so purchases had to be kept small and to a minimum.

Farewell Dinner

That night was our OAT farewell dinner, the restaurant was overlooking the river and the meal was fantastic. After dinner, I joined Yoshi and some others, for an after-dark walk through Kyoto where I saw my first Geisha and no I didn’t take a picture I thought that would be incredibly rude of me.

(remember to click the red arrow to see all of the pictures)

Next, we are heading out on our own adventures. 

 

Arashiyama District

Monday, April 8, 2019, had us travelling by charted bus to the Arashiyama district of Kyoto. This is a really beautiful place located next to a river and in the shadow of a mountain. Lots of mountains in Japan. In this area, there were lots of different shops and restaurants to explore however that wasn’t the purpose of our visit on this day.

I will let Yoshi explain more

“It was around 30 minutes to get to a beautiful Arashiyama district. We met Mr. Obayashi who was a Zen Buddhist priest at the pier where there were small traditional wooden boats. It was not easy to get on that small boat. We needed our shoes off in the boat and the roof of the boat was so low. Obayashi san explained of that area’s information. The river is named as Oigawa, Oi river. When there is much rainfall, the water level will go up to the road level of the river. He said there are monkeys, wild bore and deer in Arashiyama mountain. He has seen fox which is an endangered species.

It was around 20 minutes boat ride and we started the uphill walk of 200 steps to the Zen Buddhist Temple. Again, it was not easy for us, however, we managed to arrive at the hall of the temple. Yoshi said that there were actually 220 steps.”

Yup, we climbed lots and lots of stairs. There were a few in our group that opted out of this activity and I was even doubting myself about my ability to make it up to the temple but I did make it.

Here is more of what Yoshi had to say

“We had a talk from Mr. Obayashi regarding Zen Buddhism. Many of us made questions to him, and he made an effort to answer each question. We chanted a basic sutra called Hannyashingyou, 般若心経. Which is the wisdom of human being? In Buddhism, it is said that we, human being have two wisdom. One is the wisdom to distinguish A and B, right and left, American and Japanese and so on. The other wisdom is to see two things are the same, A and B are same, right and left are same, American and Japanese are same. If we take the latter idea, we will be a broad minded human being and easy to accept things. He also mentioned that everything on this earth will change, our body and soul will change. It is important to acknowledge this fact and accept these changes as it is, If we start this way of thinking, it is the start of enlightenment in Buddhism. We had Maccha drinks with Japanese confection. At the end, we made meditation. We knew that Zen Buddhism meditation is done with the eyes open so as not forget reality.

All of us safely descended the mountain and took a wooden boat again.”

 It was a really nice warm sunny day and I can say that it was defiantly worth the hike (and stairs) up the mountain.

(remember to click on the red arrow for more pictures. These ones are the pictures of the Zen Buddhist temple)

(remember to click on the red arrow for more pictures, these are of Oigawa Oi River and the little town in Arashiyama District)

Bamboo Grove

We had lunch in Arahiyama and had a brief time to check out some of the shops and then we had a chance to hike into the bamboo grove. I had never seen since huge bamboo before, even in all of my travels to other parts of the world. The bamboo grove was so thick and the bamboo grew incredibly tall. I was a really neat experience to walk through it. We did a circular route on our hike and came back along the river bank through a really beautiful park.

We made our way back to the hotel via our chattered bus and the next day was our final day of the OAT tour.