Category Archives: Japan 2017

Heading Home

Another early morning greeted us so that we could grab a taxi to the train station, hop on a train to the airport, then catch our flight to Dallas, then switch planes to fly to Pittsburgh. Before checking in to our flight, we picked up all the bags and boxes Gale put in storage so we can have them as checked bags for the flight.

The flight back was uneventful, if not a bit cramped for the amount of time we need to sit in the same spot. It’s good to be home!

Day 14: Nagasaki

We woke up early this day to pack up and head to Nagasaki. We visited a couple museums related to the atomic bomb dropped there. We then had a picnic lunch in the peace park. The park had many statues and  sculptures that were donated to Japan from various countries. Another park we visited had a memorial at the hypocenter of the explosion.

We then took a bus ride to the airport and flew back to Tokyo. Tomorrow we fly back to the US.

Day 13: Gorgeous​ Gorge

I found a place that was advertised as the Grand Canyon of Japan. The reviews were all 5 stars, so we decided to take the 3 hour bus ride (one way) to the gorge. I heard it was small, and it was, but I think it was worth doing once. We rented a row boat and paddled up and down the gorge including past some waterfalls. We ate lunch at a place that slides noodles down a bamboo water chute and you need to catch them with your chopsticks. We opted to just have them served to us normally given our lack of skills with chopsticks and not really understanding what that option was about. We then proceeded to hike a trail following the river that runs through the gorge. The trail then split off and lead to a shrine with giant ancient cedar trees. The three hour bus ride back to Kumamoto ended our tiresome, but good day.

Day 12: Musashi Miyamoto

My favorite movie trilogy is called The Samurai Trilogy. It is about the life of a samurai that lived in the 1600s named Musashi Miyamoto. He won over 60 duels in his lifetime including his most famous Ganryu duel against one of Japan’s top swordsman of the time. In this duel, he used psychological tricks on his opponent, such as showing up late (extremely rude and probably angered his opponent). As he was being rowed out to the island where the duel was to take place, he picked up a piece of driftwood and carved it into a sword with his metal sword, then proceeded to use the wooden one for the duel. Historians also theorize that showing up late allowed him to have a stratigic position as both the water and the sun were at his back for the duel. Mushashi won the duel with a single blow that killed his opponent. After winning, he retired from dueling and took up the usual hobbies of painting, meditating, etc. He also spent the last year’s of his life in a cave writing a book, The Five Rings (an art of war style book).

It isn’t often that a samurai gets to retire, so I found it interesting to learn more about his life. We visited the cave where he wrote his book. It still remains pretty far from the closest city. Other important people have used the cave throughout the years (both before and after Musashi was there). The path leading to the cave has 500 statues, all unique, that are scattered all over the place. Just outside the entrance to the path, there was an antique shop / cafe. Both the food and atmosphere was great. It was a unique experience for the trip.

On the way back into Kumamoto, we stopped at a museum of art which had on display Mushashi’s swords, including the piece of driftwood used in the Ganryu duel. They had a few of his paintings, which were very good. We bought a book of his artwork. We stopped at another cafe just outside the museum, which was filled with artistic trinkets. This place was also very nice.

Day 11: Disaster At Kumamoto Castle

About a year ago, a 7.0 earthquake occurred under Kumamoto. The quake damaged several of the buildings within the castle and toppled many of it’s walls. We walked around the perimeter of the castle walls as the castle itself is closed during repairs. Many of the cherry blossoms were blooming which gave the scene a contrast between the disaster and beauty. Much of the rubble is still in place where it fell, while other rocks have been cataloged and moved to a field until they can put them back. They estimate the repairs to be finished by 2036.

Afterwards, we went to a park where there was a lake with many birds. The trails around the lake were relaxing. There was also a man-made hill that was roughly in the shape of Mt Fuji.

Day 10: Another Day In Kyoto

For our second day in Kyoto, we visited a temple that had about a bagillion temple gates. Temple gates are basically a really large pi symbol that you walk through. Most temples have one or maybe a small handful spread out over the complex. This area had them lined up back to back for about a mile (a guesstimate).

Next we explored the Uji temple. The center building had pheonixes on the roof and a very large Budda statue inside. We didn’t go inside, but we saw pictures of the statue.

From here we walked to the Tale of Genji museum. Along the way we saw some birds that were caged up. I think a guy there was trying to tell us they used the birds for fishing, but I’m not quite sure how that works other than if the birds coughed the fish back up… Which is what the guy was mimicking. The guy also had a pet parrot in a  pet carry case. It was pretty random. Anyway, the Tale of Genji is considered the first novel ever written. It was written by a Japanese woman a long time ago. It was a good museum. I’ll have to read the books sometime.
That night, we hopped on a train for our next destination, which is the place I am most looking forward to explore – Kumamoto.

Day 9: Kyoto

We came into Kyoto by train in the morning. The Ninnaji temple complex was first on our list of things to see today. Gale said it was pretty standard as temple complexes go, but this was my first so it was interesting for me to see. Then we stopped at another temple called Tenryuji. Japan might have more temples than the US has Starbucks. This one had a nice pond and meditation area.

Next up was a bamboo grove. It was fun to walk through, especially when the wind blew and they swayed.

As the day turned to night, we proceeded to a district known for its Gaisha. We watched a show that had a Gaisha dance, tea ceremony, an elaborate puppet show, a comedy sketch, and a flower arrangement demonstration.

After the show, we were walking to a temple and saw an actual Gaisha going to an appointment.

The temple was lit up and pretty. There was a raised walkway in one area where instead of cutting tree branches to make room for the walkway, they left holes in the walkway and built around the branches.

That night, we stayed in a Japanese style hotel room. The bed mattress was on the floor and the room was small, but cozy. The desk and chair were super low to the ground too. It made us feel like giants.

Day 8

After sleeping in a bit and lounging at the hotel pool, we saw a Broadway-equivalent show, Scarlett Pimpernel. The show was entirely in Japanese and had an all female cast. I counted maybe 10 men in the theater, and one of them worked for the theater. We also think we were the only two foreigners in the audience.

From here we went to the Suntory brewery. They had an impressive whiskey library as well as a museum where they talked about how Suntory was the first Japanese whiskey, which was only in 1923.

Last for the day, we visited Osaka castle. They had lots of samurai stuff as well as some nice paintings of various battles in the area.

Surviving Day Seven

Day seven was cold. We also had our first signs of rain since arriving. Luckily it was a light rain. In some ways it was good as it kept most of the tourists away from the outdoor activities we had planned. First for today was a garden park area rated the most beautiful in Japan. I certainly can’t argue against that claim. After the garden we toured a castle ruins. Most of the castle was gone, but parts were reconstructed. Our tour guide told us the shinkansen has helped bring tourists to the area, allowing them to slowly rebuild it.

Tired and cold from walking around all day, we hopped on  a a train to Osaka where we are staying at a super fancy hotel.

Six on Six

We hit up six touristy places on day six.

1) Our backup plan if we didn’t see any bioluminescent squid on the beach the previous night was to visit the museum dedicated to the creatures. There was a live demonstration where they turned off the lights and agitated them so you could see them glow. In another room you could touch the squid. One bit me (a little pin prick sensation, nothing serious) so expect me to have some sort of mutation or super power the next time you see me.

From Toyama bay, we hopped on a train to Kanazawa.

2) The ninja temple was next on our list. The name is a little misleading. It had nothing to do with ninjas, but rather the temple had many traps and hidden features to help defend against invaders. For example, there were false walls for samurai to hide behind, ready to jump out into the main room if a guest turned violent. They also had many of the classics, such as hidden doors, hidden stairs, and pits if you stood in the wrong location.

3) After the ninja temple, we visited the samurai house. This place had a lovely garden area with water features and a tea room where we had tea overlooking the garden. They had a few samurai things on display such as armor, swords, and coins.

4) The samurai house was relaxing, but the Zen museum took it up a notch (or would that be down a notch?). The museum showed info on the guy who is credited for making Zen Buddhism popular around the world. There was a large shallow pool there that was calm and smooth. Every few minutes, a device caused ripples in the pool which slowly spread out from it’s source. 

5) Behind the museum was a walking park/garden area. Almost everyone in Japan has a garden at their house. As my wife put it, everyone in Japan is a professional gardener. The parks then need to take it to the next level. It’s just something they do and they do it well.

6) Lastly, we went to a contemporary art and sculpture museum. They had a few interesting exhibits including a halfdome made up of metal halfdomes. It gave an interesting effect when you stood inside.

To end the night, we did dinner at a German bar.