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Tuesday, May 16, 2017


 Before I talk about this wonderful trip we took to Japan, I should also mention a few fun things about Hawaii, after all, we connected that to our Japan trip for two reasons:  spend a great week with family, namely the Barentsens - Kara, Chris, Ellie and Tate, and it also helped to have a break in up-in-the air time.  We flew to San Francisco airport where we met up with the B Family and left directly for Oahu.  It was a very long flying day for me and Dan with two very long flights and a three hour layover in SF.  Anyway, we had a blast with them spending four days on Oahu and four days in Kauai.  Here are some pictures.
 We stayed at the Westin Resort on the North Shore of Oahu.  The kids got in the water the second we put our suitcases down.
 I took an hour walk every morning up here - the resort (I'm guessing) owns many many acres with lots  of trails both in the woods and along the shore.
That's one tree that keeps spreading via branches that hang down and root.  Banyan Tree
 I discovered acai bowls here and wondered how I have lived without!  I ate one every day of our trip and part of every day's planning was finding where I would get my next bowl!

 Another trail.
 At the Dole Plantation gardens
 Another BOWL
 In case you didn't know this, all the Hawaiian islands have wild chickens running around, many times with a brood of baby chicks following the mamas.  They are as plentiful and common as squirrels are here in New England and soon it became very normal to see them everywhere - strip malls, the beach, restaurant doorways, walking by resort pools, etc.
 Above and below - The amazing Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie.  Top notch place - young, lovely, talented people keeping their island cultures alive and sharing them with the world.  So fun, so professional and beautiful.

 Above and below - these young men climbed up this very tall coconut tree like it was nothing and then remaining perched while a narrator talked on and on and I wondered how they could maintain their strength.

 Our Chris (in the middle) got chosen out of the audience to participate with three other guys.  Then a couple weeks later, my son-in-law Mark got pulled out of the audience as well when he and Gabe visited.  Those two have the kind of faces (and personalities) for getting chosen.
 The Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  So lovely - we walked the grounds before we headed to the PCC.  It got a wee stormy for a few minutes as you can see from the sky.
 And another BOWL!

 And another bowl ...
 Taro fields in Kauai.

 My final bowl! :(
 The Barentsens paddle boarding - Dan and I were in front of them in a kayak.
Good bye gorgeous Hawaii!

Okay, now here is Japan.
My first impression when I arrived in Tokyo was the delightful toilet in the airport!  Combo toilet, bidet, bum spray (with settings) and dryer.  I was to discover that these toilets are the norm for Japan; houses, restaurants, public parks, gas stations, every where.  (And they have the old timey squatters too - I had to use one once when all the western style were occupied and I couldn't wait).  We first stayed for three nights at the Palace Hotel in Tokyo right across the street from the Imperial Palace.  Cherry blossom season had just begun.  It was to be mainly overcast with periods of rain and in the 50s temperature wise for much of our time there.

I'm just going to tell you what I learned about Japan that was new to me plus my impressions and then I will add a bunch of pictures.  And I have to say that I can't imagine how I would have traveled in that country without Dan as my companion - he doesn't speak Japanese as well as he used to when he lived there for almost three years as a missionary, but he remembered enough to get us places, ask directions, order food, exchange pleasantries with locals,  make purchases, you know, survival speak.  Actually, I was pretty impressed at how well he still could speak and how authentic his Japanese sounded to my ears.
1.  They are the politest people in the world - such kindness, manners and respect, at least as far as I know.
2.  They bow to you from the waist to greet you, speak to you, acknowledge you, say goodbye to you and serve you.
3.  Everyone dresses very nice everywhere you go.  Most professionals, men and women, wear navy suits.  The girls and women dress up no matter where they go - most seemed to be in skirts.  The young girls wore a lot of skirts with converse or adidas type sneakers.  I saw no weird hair colors (except for a very few teen boys who went orangey blond), practically no tattoos nor multiple body piercings.  No one walks around in "ath-leisure" unless they are jogging.  All the women and girls wear makeup.  (Now I am saying "all" a lot which means very few exceptions).  And beautiful makeup - eyeliner and lipstick especially.  I loved all the different school's school uniforms - the students were so fun to look at too!  The people seem to consider their outside appearance just as carefully and honorably as they do their gardens and homes and public places.  It was glorious to behold and I took many pictures of just people and how wonderful it was to be to see pride of appearance.  It made me realize by contrast how grungy and sloppy my country and many others are in dress, hair, property etc.
4.  Japan is the cleanest country I have ever seen - if you drop your ice cream cone on a parking garage floor you can wipe it off (just to be safe) and eat it - ha! - that's how clean that place is!  I never saw one cigarette butt, one plastic bottle, one tiny piece of trash on the ground - EVER.  And I looked!  The rivers, the canals that seems to run along the streets of so many cities and towns - no trash.  We were waking across the street in Tokyo's "Times Square" and it was a sea of people, thousands of people crossing the street with us (and there were no crazy, grungy people wandering about), not a spec of trash on that incredibly populated street.  There were many foreigners visiting to see the cherry blossoms but even they (and us) honored that pristine culture and did no littering.  The country is very heavily populated and so the houses are built very close together but still you see only neatness; no piles of stuff in the yards, no garbage, no kid's toys, half empty bags of potting soil, no bikes laying around,  cars on blocks - you get the idea!  Oh how easy on the eyes it was looking at everything and everybody (except the weird food in the markets).
5.  The Toilets!  Dan and I are looking to install one in our bathroom or the powder room on the first floor for "public" use.
6.  The gardens!  The gardens seem to me not so much about flowers but more about trees, shrubs, moss, stone, water - places of peace, order, composition, texture and of course beauty.  The cherry blossom trees grow along all rivers, all canals, yards, public streets, parks, lots, dotting the hills, everywhere.  I imagine autumn must be just as spectacular because there are japanese maples planted everywhere as well and they show incredible color.
7.  The Japanese eat really weird food - especially sea food.  I don't mean to be disrespectful - the feeling is probably reciprocal and not to be taken personally.  Many food items in the markets were unidentifiable to me especially the dried foods.  Rice of course, lots of seaweed, pickled vegetables, and fish, fish, fish!  And their beautiful pastries are filled with sweetened bean puree.  Beans - cooked, sweetened and pureed and placed within a rice paste shell - exquisite to look at but a strange sensation to eat.  I couldn't appreciate the two that I ate.  At one of our hotels where we ate from the international breakfast buffet, there was an area for local foods - one of the dishes looked like a big bowl of tiny gray worms.  The card below it said "white-bait".  I looked it up later in the day and white bait (thereafter I saw it in dried piles at markets everywhere) are teeny tiny immature schools of fish (small fry) caught and dried whole.  Dan and I stayed at an authentic Japanese inn called a Ryokan for a couple nights in the city of Kanazawa and our room included breakfast and dinner.  Meals were to be served to us by one woman (who served us on her knees) in our own little closed off room with low table and cushions.  I was stunned at our first dinner - nine courses and eight of those courses were fish - mostly raw accompanied by pickled veggies and seaweed.  I was so stressed out during that meal because I really am not crazy about fish in general and I don't care for raw fish at all.  I don't care for sushi.  The dessert was a lovely looking sweet bean filled pastry that just didn't taste right.  Breakfast the following morning was very similar and I truly started to cry and feel panicky because I didn't want to offend our hosts.  We got out of dinner that night (we ate fried noodles and vegetable pancakes instead downtown) though we had to pay for it anyway and the second breakfast was a little more rice and egg along with fish - I did better with that one.
8.  When you make purchases, they are wrapped or bagged so beautifully and then presented to you (with them bowing of course) - it's an art.
9.  Banks of vending machines are everywhere - in the most unlikely places too.  That's how I bought my Coke Zeros throughout the days.  They don't serve much soda at restaurants.
10.  I'd guess that one out of every ten or dozen Japanese people were wearing surgical masks that cover the nose and mouth.  Masks were everywhere - on students, restaurant workers, people on the subway, walking down the street, helping us in shops - one young woman gave a talk at our church on Sunday morning and she work a mask while she spoke.  I read that it's to keep yourself from spreading your illness or catching someone else's thereby preventing productivity and attendance at work or school.
11.  I said "everywhere" a lot in the above summation - sorry.
The toilet panel!!

My first glimpse of the cherry blossoms phenomenon.

Heading in to the street market area of Tokyo

Did you notice the ground in the three pics above?  NO TRASH ANYWHERE
I don't understand why we just have milk or dark Kit Kats in the US - they offered dozens of flavors in JP.

Students - see the boy in the mask at the end of the line?

The wonderful and handy vending machines.
Walking down street after street of blossoms was so blissful.
Dan at the entrance to a park and shrine we visited.  Those entrances are called Torii and they are at all shrines and as they believe they separate the profane world from the sacred when you walk through.

Simple gardens in that park.
The "Times Square" area of Tokyo.  It has a different name of course but serves a similar purpose as the one in NYC.
Can you see Mt. Fuji in the distance.  It finally cleared enough that we could see it from our hotel.
Part of the Imperial Palace grounds.
Part of an old castle in Kanazawa.
I just love that orangey red color of the posts against the pale pink blossoms.
Garden in Kanazawa.

When we arrived to our Ryokan in Kanazawa, they served us thick matcha tea (which we didn't drink - I smelled it and it smelled like fresh mown grass) and a bean filled pastry.
Waiting for our dinner - I'm smiling broadly because I have no idea what is coming.
Our first course - fish and shrimp that we were able to cook on these extremely hot stones.  I used those stones to cook as much fish that came in the next courses for as long as the stone remained hot - they weren't meant for any other courses but I could not eat the raw fish that you see below.  The two little bowls in the back had brown squid in brown brine that smelled so gross I could not even attempt.  The presentation and dishes are truly art and though I didn't eat these things I certainly appreciated the beauty and color.

I took the tiniest bite of one corner of this head.

This is our menu on rice paper - we couldn't read it (except Dan's name) but it was so pretty and I kept the flowers, glued them on and kept it.
Drinking hot chocolate I packed in my suit case before going in to the first difficult breakfast.  My hot chocolate was just straight cocoa powder in hot water and stevia.
Outside our Ryokan doors.

These three pictures are an art installation at the 21st Century Museum in Kanazawa.  When you stand above ground you see water and people down in it with their feet on the ground, walking and moving around.  What??  Later, you go down to another floor and you walk in to the pool through a door and look up at the people looking down.  It's a real swimming pool but the water is enclosed at the surface in just a couple feet of water between thick glass sheets.  So creative!
This is a place in downtown Kanazawa that saved us from our second scary dinner - fried noodles with cabbage and salt pork - so delicious!  And vegetable pancakes.  They cook right in front of you and then you eat right off a cooler area of the grill in front of you - no plates necessary.

I was provided something to wear to dinner.

Cherry blossoms along every river, every canal.

Dry riverbed gardens at a shrine.  We went to dozens and dozens of shrines.
Tiny, adorable school children in their uniforms.
Just in case you can't figure out how to use a western toilet there are instructions in all public restrooms.
I had to use a squatter just one time.
Older style buildings in Kyoto.

I never did figure out what the three food items were in this bowl - Dan didn't know either but he ate his and I took on tiny nibble of each.  Strange flavors.
Seaweed, pickled white radish and I could not identify the red thing.
Getting my coke zero on the streets above and below - a daily thing, sometimes twice.

At shrines and at the Ryokan we had to take our shoes off and then step in to them when it was time to put them back on.  Barefeet cannot touch where shoes tread.
Beginning the Philosopher's Walk in Kyoto.
Groomed stone dust at a shrine.

Walking barefoot through the halls of the Ryokan.

Isn't this little girl darling??  I also took a picture of her screaming at her grandfather who was trying to take her stick away.
We found one of our churches in Kyoto.  It was fun to attend even though I didn't understand a word and Dan only some.  I did speak Spanish with a young man though after the service - he had served a mission in Chile, like I did, and he told me about his desire to live in Japan even though he can barely speak Japanese and knows no one in that country.  It's been his life long dream of his so he's giving it a go.
I loved admiring all the kimono patterns - I took so many pictures of kimonos.
This outfit is what many of the girls were wearing - full skirts with sneakers.
More serene gravel and stone to contemplate.

In the city of Nara, we walked among the "wild" deer that roam freely in an area of that city close to a very important shrine.  They tolerate the humans well.

This was my last view of Mt. Fuji when we took the train from Kyoto back to Tokyo to catch our flight home. This is a rare rural area - rice fields cover most of the arable land.

And that's your glimpse into Japan, folks.   Thank you for enduring all the pictures, though that's just a handful of what I took.    I complained about the food but I really loved loved Japan!

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