Day 9 – 15 Tigers in the Garden

Today revealed the highlights of Kyoto, Japan’s capital from 794 to 1868 that was spared destruction during World War II.

We began at 16th-century Ryoan-ji Temple (ca. 1540), where we saw the dry garden of sand and rocks (kare-sansui), a marvel of classic Japanese design. The simplicity of its 15 rocks belies a complex symbolism which its designer never revealed – but whatever the meaning, we’re sure to feel the calm that the garden is meant to instill.

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The story of the garden is as follows: You can only count 14 rocks in the image, and you can only see 14 rocks from any single perspective, however, if you go to the far side of the garden you can see the 15th stone – the hidden stone – reminding us that only if we view the world from the perspective of others can we see the whole picture.

A very lovely sentiment displayed in a very gentle and permanent way as re minder for life to those who viewed the garden.  A reminder that no one single view can always be right.

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Ok – now for those of you that know me personally you know that I have a vegetable garden at my home in Arizona.  I’ve been having problems with my 3 troublemakers (Thor, Mavi, and Shade) eating my sweatpeas in the garden (those are MY Sweetpeas! Grrr)  So, when I saw this fence I realized that I want to build this at my home! I think it will help keep out my little monsters!2016-04-08 10.13.24

Boys eating moms sweetpeas

My trouble makers!

Our next stop was Kinkaku-ji, the lakeside Temple of the Golden Pavilion originally constructed in the 14th century as a retirement villa and later converted to a temple. Burned to the ground by a fanatic in 1950, the temple has been entirely reconstructed
following the original design, and is covered in gold leaf from Kanazawa all the way up to the upper floors. Its setting on pillars suspended over the water makes it one of Kyoto’s most inspired – and inspiring – sights.

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The shaping of Pine trees was something I have come to expect.  This one has been shaped continually in the shape of a wealth boat – a symbol of wealth for the culture.

You can see the cat beckoning wealth with his paw up sitting on top of the Ingot (what this tree is supposed to be shaped as)

 

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OK – I HAD to include this picture.  I have to admit that I can get really upset about this.  (I know, I know, they say it’s a reflection of self to get upset, and certainly it is in this case – I feel I spend WAYYYY too much time on the internet for sure!).  Really ladies?  Really?  You are in this lovely park, amazing surroundings, and they sat there for the 15 mins I was staring at this lovely garden literally heads down in their phones.  Amazing!  Jeez!!  I read an article the other day talking about how the average adult spends 4 YEARS of their lives staring into their phones by the time they are 30 years old.  4 YEARS!!!  I think, other than doing my posts, I need to get out in the real world more and get off of the internet! OK – enough ranting! Sorry!2016-04-08 11.06.00

On to the next adventure of the day!  After this lovely place of calm and peace (yes, breathe! Calm and Peace!) we then went on to the 17th-century Nijo-jo, the medieval castle of the first Tokugawa Shogun, containing “nightingale” floors that squeak to signal the presence of intruders.

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The nightingale floors were amazing!  Since the Shogun lived here most of the time he wanted to know when ANYONE in the castle moved, at ANY time, so he had the floor boards intentionally installed in such a way that they squeaked.  There was NO way you were going to sneak up on the Shogun! Do you see the little wooden piece?  It allowed the floors to stay in place but still “squeak.”2016-04-08 12.29.21 HDR-2

We ended this full day at Kodaiji Temple to attend a tea ceremony. Both a state of mind (calm and content) and performance art prizing ritual and grace above all, the traditional tea ceremony to this day represents the principles of harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility encouraged by Master Sen no Rikyu, who perfected the ritual Zen practice when tea first was brought to Japan from China in the 16th century.

Day 8 – Trains, Pottery, and the Million Buddha Shrine

This morning we board the train for the two-hour journey south form Kanazawa to Kyoto, Japan’s Imperial Capital for a millennium and now the country’s cultural and artistic capital. A true gem with more than 1,600 temples, hundreds of shrines, three imperial palaces, artful gardens, and well-preserved wooden architecture, Kyoto embodies Japan’s rich culture and complex history. The art of kabuki theatre, as well as Japanese gardens, traditional cuisine, and superb crafts thrive here, attracting legions of visitors and Japanese alike.

Now, the trains – a lot of you have seen the posts on facebook about how crowded, smushed, and crazy the train stations were – I don’t think so at all! Actually they were very organized, well run, and clean!

I was waiting in line at one of the restrooms (when isn’t there a line for women anywhere in the world!) and by accident one of the other tourists hit a red button on the wall.  Almost immediately (5 seconds max!) a female police officer came over (in a very orderly run if you can ever call a run orderly) and peered into the line asking if there was a problem, was someone hurt!  I was SO impressed!  Even if America had a button for an emergency, we would be talking about a 20 minute wait before someone came over, and it would have been a slow crawl instead of such amazing service and assistance.  Go Japan!

But, back to the trains, as you can see in the pictures below – I don’t think it was all THAT bad!  Your thoughts?

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Upon arrival in Kyoto we visited the currently producing pottery shop of a very ancient pottery family, Unrakugama Pottery, a family-owned pottery house producing fine handmade ceramics and earthenware..  They have been producing and training professional potters for over 125 years in this very location!

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After visiting the pottery center, we then went to see the shrine of 1 million Buddhas – the Sanjusangen-do.2016-04-07 14.45.49

I really wish that we were able to take pictures inside, but we weren’t able to do this.  The Buddhas were too old and they were afraid of flashes destroying more of the beautiful gold leaf and designs on each of the Buddhas.  So, the best I can do is some fun pictures of me outside of the main temple and a few websites for you to see professionally allowed photos of the shrine.  2016-04-07 14.48.522016-04-07 14.47.092016-04-07 14.46.332016-04-07 14.46.002016-04-07 14.47.35
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3gDDK-Fof-A]

In the temple itself there are one thousand life-size statues of the Thousand Armed Kannon which stand on both the right and left sides of the main statue of Buddha.  Each statute has 100 arms for a total of 1 million hands to help lift your spirit to enlightenment / heaven.

A few websites with some amazing photography of what we saw – just breathtaking!!

Sanjūsangen-dō – on Wiki

Google Images

 

Day 7 – Kanazawa, Gold, Samurai, & Sea Cucumbers?

Today we toured the Hakukokan Gold Leaf Museum in Kanazawa.  This is one of the top 3 producers of Gold Leaf in all of Japan (Kanazawa produces over 98% of all gold leaf in the world!).  Our representative at the house and gallery was very proud of his company, you could tell by the pride and fervor with which he spokes of his company, their history, and what amazing product they make. The Hakukokan celebrate the art and craft of gold leaf technology and houses a collection dating to the late 16th century! Pretty cool!

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You can see these replicas of temple pagodas which have been covered from top to bottom in gold leaf.

If you zoom in on the pictures you will notice that there is not the slightest wrinkle in any way on any of these intricate details. Gold leaf is applied by hand and can only be touched with chopsticks because the gold leaf is so thin that it will stick to your fingers and the oil on your hands if you attempt to touch it.

They even put it on food here! The gold is supposed to pull all impurities out of your system as it passes through! Love it!

Here you can see a video of an artisan pounding the boldly using the machine. In the past this process was done by a master and his student. With the master slowly turning the bundle and the student using two hammers to pound the package of goldleaf. NOTE! That drumming sound you are hearing from the machines in the video below – inside that room it’s as loud as the inside of a jet engine!!!  Thank goodness for earplugs!

One of the things that I thought was interesting was how all of the pieces of this process are then being used again in some other way. The pieces of paper that separate each small sheet of gold leaf as it gets pounded are later used as Oil Blotting Paper Sheets
(historically by the geisha, and currently by the local girls while they are out on a hot summer day). I have to admit that I bought a package for myself, and have been using it along the trip. I will definitely be buying more of this for our hot Arizona summers!

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The glittering Kinpaku no Ma (or Room of Gold) is especially beautiful!

 

Next we went to the Nagamachi Samurai district, where the ruling family’s samurai warriors lived on narrow streets protected by tile-roofed earthen walls.

We visited the home and garden of one of the local samurai. You can see pictures of his armor below.  I am not sure that I would want to be on the other end of this guys’ sword!2016-04-06 10.50.29

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Up until the Edo period, which was a period of peace, they practice their martial arts and the arts of the sword somewhere between 6 to 10 hours each day. Once the period of peace arrived this samurai became collectors of artwork and promoters of culture and art and peace throughout the town. Often commissioning theater, poetry, and other artworks.

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Another great example of a simple, yet powerfully present, Tokonoma

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We then move on to the national landmark, world renowned, Kenrokuen Garden.  The garden’s origins date to 1676. One of Japan’s three finest traditional gardens, Kenrokuen (Garden of Six Attributes) represents the six qualities required for the perfect garden: extensiveness, factitiousness (manmade), antiquity, water, wide prospect, and quiet seclusion. Its trees, ponds, waterfalls, and flowers stretch over grounds of 25 acres. We also view Ishikawa Gate, the only remaining section of the town’s original castle; Higashi Chaya-gai teahouse district; and the Higashi-Chayamach geisha area of tall, narrow houses.

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I think one of my favorite parts of this particular intersection was the female police officer who was so clearly loving her job this day.  She was happily bouncing around with her police whistle, directing traffic, the rickshaws with the Chinese tourists in their Kimonos, the cabs, the cars, and even the dogs!  It was impressive! She was so happy to be there, making sure everyone knew when to move, when to stay, and when it was safe to cross!

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Mini where’s waldo game! Can you see her in blue?  Just to the top right of John in the Red hat!  Too many people to get a good shot, but I couldn’t help but smile – she looked so happy!!

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You can see how large this park actually is!  Amazing!

Parks all over the country are like this – huge sprawling expanses that are right in the middle of everything.  Just lovely, and what a place to be able to escape into from the middle of the city!

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For dinner we dined at a local specialty restaurant (picture someone inviting you to a fine french dining experience – small plates, VERY specialty things, but YUMMMMY!!!!)

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Not for the squeamish!  This is the ovary of a sea cucumber!  Not too bad if I say so myself! (Not too many of the people on the trip were happy about eating that AFTER they found out what it was! 🙂

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This trip is just too much fun! 🙂  Some of what we are seeing I swear I will never see again.  It is really what makes life just that much more amazing!  Talk about the impermanence of everything!  I think Buddhism is starting to rub off on me!

Day 6 – Beauty in the smallest things & Straw Roofs

The idea of a Tokonoma intrigues me.  It is such a simple display of wealth, power, and beauty all wrapped into one elegant portrayal.  Similar to many other parts of Japanese culture, they find beauty in the smallest things.

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A nail head cover in the hall of the governor. Even the smallest things were beautiful. This was approximately 2 inches in width. It’s a bunny rabbit, a symbol for harmonious living.

The placement of each branch, the curve and reflection of light off of every vase, the correct hanging height of every piece of artwork all held meaning.  I found it fascinating, and very logical, everything in a room’s place to be viewed from the sitting height. In order for us to properly understand the beauty of much of the country we needed to either be kneeling or sitting on the floor.

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Today we went to visit the hall of the governor in Takayama before we headed on to Shirakawago.  As you can see below the governor in the room in which others would come to me him had an absolutely beautiful Tokonoma.

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View from the governors personal room

View from the governors personal room into the courtyard

After the brief idea of what it was like to be a commoner, (which by the way you cannot really see from here because you would be sitting on the dirt floor outside of the hall to even be able to address the governor), we headed on to Shirakawago, a UNESCO world heritage site compromising thatched roof homes relocated from villages that were raised for the construction of a dam nearby.

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In addition to its status as a world heritage site, the village also is a vibrant living community’s residence work together to preserve the Gassho-style architectural style unique to this region: wooden houses with steep thatched roofs made to withstand heavy snows.

One of the questions that was brought up is how frequently do the roofs need to be replaced? According to our guide to Tanidasan, the roof only needs to be replaced every 60 years if there is a proper fire being burnt inside the house, as the smoke will seal the straw against leakage and pests. If there is no fire being burnt the roof will last for 30 years!  Much better than our warranties in the States!

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in the following picture you can see the home proudly displaying four fish flags. Each fish flag represents a son in the family, and promotes to the neighbors that they have eligible sons to marry off. In the culture in Japan only the oldest son inherited anything. So all other boys were expected to make their living performing some other skill. They may become warriers, artisans, artists, or businessmen.

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One of the things that I found fascinating about this particular village was that in the waterways actually created their own system of easy fishing. What you are seen below is carp that they will eat if the weather becomes too unbearable to hunt.

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And of course, what village would exist without the due from the governor’s house?

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Day 5 – Bullet trains & Serenity

So, today was mostly a travel day  I have to admit, normally I don’t like travel days, but today! Today we got to ride a bullet train!  AWESOME!!!!  I’ve posted a video of it on our YouTube channel if you want to watch what I could catch of that thing (Damn it moves fast!).

We travelled by bullet train from Odawara station to head to Nagoya, and then from Nagoya to Takayama. All I have to say is thank goodness for Starbucks! I woke up this morning with a NEED for some Chai Tea – not quite like home, but pretty darn good.

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I have to say that I personally find Takayama to be one of the most peaceful places that we visited. Calm, small, town.  Only 500,000 inhabitants.  Big enough to have modern conveniences and small enough to be just perfectly charming.

After being settled into our hotel, we went to the best preserved section of town, an old commercial street and visited the local stores and street food carts.2016-04-04 15.27.35 HDR-2.jpg

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Some of the old homes were just lovely! (This one has been turned into an Art Gallery!)

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I just love how they use the natural world around them to make even small spaces gorgeous representations of the world at large.

 

Known for it’s beef, the Hida prefecture ranks #4 behind Kobe, etc. in best beef in Japan.  2016-04-04 15.32.43 HDR-2.jpg

 

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And yes, it was quite yummy! Beef bun steamed! Yum! I LOVE street food!

 

Nice and simple afternoon/ evening.  It was COLD! Windchill, raining, and so we ran back and got into our Takayama hot baths!  Jeez I love this country!

Can’t wait to see what tomorrow holds! 🙂

Shauna~

Day 4 – Mt Fuji (The Cookie) & Hakone National Park

This morning we left Tokyo to head out into the countryside.  Our first stop of the day was to be Mt Fuji.  Now, you’ll notice from the title that Mt Fuji was a cookie.  Yes, you read that right, a cookie.

After many hours of travel by bus we had one heck of a day!  First, we were on our way up the Subaru line up the mountain of Fuji.  We waited, patiently, in line with the other buses, only to find out that the poor weather conditions (see clouds and high changes of rain) would block us from going above the 4th station (we could only see the peak over the 5th station) AND to even get to the 4th station would take us 4 hours!!!!  Well, considering none of us were that terribly upset about skipping a 4 hour crawl up the mountain, we took some pictures in the snow and headed back down the Subaru line.

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My new favorite cookies (saved the day so I got to See Mt Fuji!)

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What Mt Fuji looked like on the day I went! Gorgeous right?

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Darn that cookie was good!

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One of the best professional shots of what Mt Fuji “SHOULD” have looked like while we were there (with all the full glory of the beautiful cherry blossoms we were seeing!)

Cool random side tangent re: the Subaru line – I didn’t know but it was named Subaru line because the drive up the mountain appears to take you straight upwards towards the Pleiades star group (a very important group in Japanese culture.) This is why the automobile symbol for Subaru is the group of stars! I never knew! 🙂

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So, down the road we headed.  We were going towards Hakone National Park to do a boat cruise on the Hakone Caldera Lake.  Well, considering we missed our boat twice in two different locations, we gave up on that too!  Pretty, but we were all getting tired from all the running around!

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So, now, on to something more interesting.  Some of the ladies were getting hungry so we asked to stop at a rest stop to get some food.  I certainly wasn’t expecting a fully automated kitchen!  It was amazing!  There were only a few attendants to clean away dishes and hand you your order, and a single chef, but otherwise ordering and  taking your money was completely automated!  AMAZING!  Who knew that at a rest stop they would have something so high tech!

2016-04-03 13.15.27 First you pick what you want

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NOTE: there was also an awesome local market – um yeah, we don’t get carrots this size! I think we are being cheated!!!

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Well fed and back on the bus we went.  Heading for our Ryokan.  Ryokan’s are where the travellers of the past would stay.  Samurai, merchants, lords, all of the above.  The hotel was very nice, clean, and staff very willing to help – as I’ve become accustomed while I am here.

 

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The “greeting room” for all new visitors to this particular Ryokan.

A panorama picture of our room.  Cool right!  VERY comfortable and I have to admit that I LOVE not having a bunch of “stuff” around me.  It’s extremely peaceful!2016-04-03 15.51.30.jpg

Before dinner, I had about an hour to kill, so I went roaming around this peaceful town.  <3!!!  Check it out!

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Can you see?  Even a Sith Lord needs to take a relaxing weekend in Takayama!!

 

This Ryokan has a hot spring bath, as we were close to the Caldera, and of course, we had our full Japanese dinner (meaning a 3 hour event with more food than any human can really eat!).

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55 degrees outside, and about 102 in the baths.  PERFECT!!!

After dinner, up to bed I went.  Sleeping on tatami mats I thoughts was going to be rough, but really it was quite nice.  The only issue that I had was being able to “roll out of bed” to my feet.  I actually had to muster the morning strength to “get up” out of a bed on the floor (versus my 4ft high mattress on risers at home [so that Thor doesn’t try to climb into bed with me! (Thor is my 150lbs Beauceron, biggest baby ever, and if I let him into bed I would be on the floor!!]).

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The view from our dinner space.  Um, yeah, peaceful.  <3

How can you not get a good nights rest after that!!!

PS – want a good ghost story??  So, for those of you that haven’t fallen asleep with the “peace” of that last image, let me tell you a tale!

So, as you know I am on this portion of my trip with my Mother.  I adore my Mother but we have different travel habits for sure.  In each room at this Ryokan they had little slippers for that room (you changed shoes a ton!).  So, in the very small bathroom they had a pair of slippers for the floor.  Mom didn’t want to trip over them, so she put them up on a counter.  I didn’t know why they weren’t on the floor, so I moved them back.

Mom looks at me and says “I think there is a ghost in this room.”

Why mom? What’s going on?

Well, I moved these shoes and now they are back where they were.

I laughed!  “Yes Mom, there is a little old lady spirit who wants her shoes just a certain way.” (I said jokingly.)  “I moved them.” 🙂  Mom just laughed and said OK – thank goodness she didn’t go to sleep thinking there was a ghost!! 🙂

Can’t wait until tomorrows adventures!

Shauna~

Day 3 – The Imperial Castle of Edo

Today we visited the Imperial Palace East Garden of Edo as well as learned Calligraphy with a world renowned artist of Japan.

Firstly, I have to say that the walls of the Imperial Palace are very reminiscent of the walls of Sacsayhuamán in Peru.  I visited there again last year with my Shaman John for a private audience with Don Pepito (his nickname) and was able to visit this powerful place again.  It never ceases to amaze me the power and skill of accomplished humans!

The amount of guard gates that the untrusted Daimyo (Lords) would have had to go through to actually obtain entrance to the palace (past Ninjas – YES REAL NINJAS – 100 of them – guarded the castle gates at the 3rd gate – you know the first two were just Samurai (gate #1) and basically the Edo Navy Seals (gate #2) – NINJAS – PS – the Shogun was awesome – need I say more!) was crazy! Check it out:

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Gate #1

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the “100 Ninja” guard house – um yeah, NINJAS!!

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A lovely day in a lovely garden.  I was literally imagining what it would be like to be a court lady roaming the grounds with all the flowers in bloom and enjoying the gorgeous day!

So, from here we went to our calligraphy lesson. (Do you see the size of that brush in the foreground!  That thing weighed a TON! made from the tail hair of (2) horses! (The horses are safe – no worries!)2016-04-02 10.20.04.jpg2016-04-02 10.16.30.jpg

I will let you watch for yourself! (Kind of long, so speed it up!)

Learn about the tools of Calligraphy

Watch Shauna paint a Tiger (Tara Tara)

You can also see that they gave us our names in Calligraphy (here is a photo of mine – and I have to love it!  Unending Prosperity is what the symbols mean! YAY! 🙂

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Day 2 – Tokyo Proper

Waking up in Tokyo is fun for sure!  The blackout curtains in our hotel are so dark I couldn’t tell what time of day it was!  And, of course, a few hours of time difference to home (16 to be precise).  So, waking up at 1:30am Tokyo time to check emails and be wide awake is always fun! 🙂

But, there is something special about being in a new place with no where to really go for a few hours.  I was able to read more about the neighborhood that we are in, what the local top rated restaurants are, and where the historical locations to go are.

After a few hours of reading about the Shogunate and the history of Edo (pronouced like “meadow”) (now called Tokyo) ending in 1868 I was ready to head out with the group to Tokyo.

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A brief view from our hotel (which, by the way, starts on floor 25 of the Shiodome Media Group tower).  This is the view from floor 27 (of 34).

Today we headed out to Meiji Shrine Park & Asakusa Kannon Temple.

Meiji Shrine:

This was built for Emperor Meiji to commemorate the amazing and wonderful things he did for Japan – bringing it into the public world and away from separatism of Old Japan.  Read about it on Wiki here.

We learned all about the history of the place, the shrines, and the political and still spiritual importance of the place.

As you walk into the park you are surrounded by amazing forest, beautiful shrines amoungst the trees, and birds chirping everywhere.  We were also greeted by a procession of Shinto Priests on their daily route to the main temple.  I have to admit, my favorite part is the sound of the gravel crunching under the wooden shoes.  I don’t think those things would be comfortable, but they seemed just fine.  (Lots of practice and walking I am sure!).2016-04-01 09.54.57.jpg

We then had to ensure that we cleansed ourselves by walking through the large gate (there are a lot of these all over Japan – they are meant to cleanse your body of negative thoughts, emotions, day to day troubles etc as you enter a holy place) and proceeding to also wash our hands with fresh spring water from the underground aquifers.

We were lucky to be able to see not only the priests that day, but also a lovely wedding – gorgeous bride – and a whole team of new recruits for a company here in Japan being blessed on the first day of the companies fiscal year for prosperity in the new year! (No photos allowed inside the temple! Sorry guys! You will just have to visit! 🙂 )

Then on to Asakusa Kannon Temple.  This was fascinating for me! I LOVE busy places – people, smells of food, vendors, lots of colors! One of my favorites.  Basically, like most religious gathering places, there are tons of people making it a community.  Japan is no different!

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Some ladies purchasing good omens for their coming month. Small donations for big wishes!

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Can you tell how happy I am to be here? I LOVE the cherry blossoms! They are everywhere this time of year!

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Just hanging outside on my patio!  Apparently there are quite a few home owners that wouldn’t give up their homes as Tokyo grew so there are many single small homes in amoungst the giant corporate towers.

 

After leaving the temple we were sent out on our own for the afternoon to checkout the city.  I LOVE SUSHI!!!  So, after 3 months ago finding out that I was headed to Japan, checking to see if I could get into Jiro’s sushi 3 Michelin Star Sushi restaurant, and being told that the reservations are 2 years out, I decided the next best thing would be to get sushi straight from the source.  I headed to Nippon Fish Market for the afternoon.

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I know, it doesn’t look like much, but this is where the most expensive fish in the world is sold.  1.8 Million dollars later – for a fish!.

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My sushi on a revolving belt.  LOVE IT! 🙂

So, after eating some delicious sushi and finding some Mochi balls (Mango, my Mom’s favorite) I headed back towards the hotel and stopped in at the Hamarikyu Gardens (the old imperial gardens).

The smell of the flowers was overwhelming! And Ravens everywhere (one of my favorites) and lovely, lovely views – very Zen – at every turn.  Did you know that Zen garden designs will actually change the ground you are walking on to ensure that you stop to see they view they want you to?  If they have a path with small steps, you are meant to focus on the walking, when there is a large step / stone you are meant to stop and look around.  Check it out!

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Really reminds me of central park in New York City!

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The oldest black pine in the whole world – 300 years old!

 

So, even though the park was amazing, I have to admit, so was the walk back.  Even the manhole covers are lovely!  2016-04-01 16.04.57.jpg

One of my favorite parts so far of Tokyo is the dichotomy of the integration between the natural landscape and the giant corporate towers that exist.  This picture perfectly summed that up for me.

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Two businessmen walking away to a hidden garden path behind the corporate buildings filled with beauty, flowers, small vines and trees, all ready for Spring to arrive!

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Well, if that wasn’t enough for one day – adventure and beauty all wrapped in one – for the evening we went out for a traditional group Japanese dinner.  KAMPAI everyone2016-04-01 19.10.54.jpg2016-04-01 20.13.15.jpg2016-04-01 19.57.08.jpg

One more night in Japan down, and many more amazing journeys to live!

 

Day 1 – Arizona to Tokyo, Japan

Today is the inaugural flight and blog for WithoutBags.com.  I am so happy to be launching this site with this trip.  It’s going to be amazing! (yes, both the site and the trip!)

This trip will include Japan (tour), Northern Thailand – Chiang Mai, Singapore, and then Bali.  I am adding (3) new countries to my trip count on this venture.

This morning I woke up at 4am to get the dogs ready, me ready.  Vitamins taken, puppies given great belly rubs and lots of momma love before I leave them for 7 weeks.  This trip is taking me from Scottsdale, AZ to Japan, Thailand, Singapore, and Bali.  I adore trips like this but I always worry about things at home (dogs, business, and family) but then I realize that I’ve spent over a decade perfecting my systems and my teams to make sure that everything goes according to plan.

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Ready to come with you Mom! Thor, Mavi, Shade (Left to Right)

I called for my uber to take me to the airport.  The awesome gentleman Mike who was my driver told me the most fascinating story.  I always ask why / how people end up driver uber.  I find the stories so interesting.  Such a slice of life.  Mike’s story is that he was an ex-banker before the crash of 2008.  He was making net take home of about $250k/ year and had a staff of about 125 that helped him cater to wealthy doctors, lawyers, etc.  He told me about how after the crash he moved to Chile & Argentina for a year and met his wife and then moved back to the states.  When he couldn’t find a job as “a fat, old, ex-banker” a friend of his suggested driving for Uber.  Now he lives in Tucson and makes over $6k/month coming up to Phoenix to drive in 36 hours shifts each weekend and then go home.  Driving for uber doubled his take home for him and his family.  I LOVE success stories.  Those who find a way to make it and create and grow and (not only survive but) thrive in the world as it is.  I sometimes feel pity for those who are so stuck in their ways that all they think about is the way things “used to be” and they can’t get out of it, see the future, and move on to bigger, brighter, and better things.

Once at the airport got thru TSA using pre-check (THANK GOODNESS for that!!! Don’t know where I would be without it!) and waiting for the flight Phoenix – Los Angeles.

PS – if you are hungry for breakfast in LAX, American Airlines terminal, near gate 48B, eat here: OMG is this delicious! Steak, Bacon, Cheese, no beans breakfast burrito!!!  YUMMY!

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Met the nicest gentlemen on the plane.  He was heading for an interview in LA to work for one of the schools there.  He hadn’t slept, and was nervous and anxious about the interview.  He was supposed to be flown in yesterday so that he could rest before his interview, but him and I both agreed that the “mistake in booking” might just be a way for them to stress-test him for the job (making him fly in and interview on the same morning).  We started talking about travel and I mentioned that I had been to 32 countries and counting.  He said he has never left the country.  It always surprises me.  There are SO many things to see in the world, so many amazing people to meeting, foods to taste, and experiences to be had.  I just couldn’t imagine my life without travel.  I thank my mother every day for getting me on a plane at 2 months old.  I am pretty sure that put some deep seated need to travel deep in my psyche.

I arrived at LAX very early for my flight (7:10 for an 11:30 flight).  Not the best planning, but I kind of like roaming around, relaxing and stretching my legs a bit before I get on a long flight (LAX -> Tokyo is almost 12 hours).  I logged into my American Airlines app only to find that an upgrade was available.  $150 for first class!!!  AWESOME!!! To be honest I’ve never flown first class.  Most of the time I sleep on a plane flight this long.  So I’ve been willing to pay for it.  But for $150, you bet I took AA up on it!    You can see my awesome seat configuration options below.

And AWESOME on you American Airlines!  Gotta love First Class food!  There was a snack, then an appetizer, then a meal, then another snack, and LOTS of bottled water.  Um, yeah, I am pretty sure I will upgrade any chance I can get!!  AWESOME!

Ok, so, travel, watch a movie, travel, nap, travel, write this blog, and some more travel.

Arrived! YAY TOKYO!!!!!

Arriving at Narita airport, terminal #2.  Nice, clean, easy, not too crowded.  Just simple.  I am already loving Tokyo.

Now, for this part of the trip I am travelling with my Mother (the most awesome one I know!) and a group of Alumni from U of Penn.  I feel so lucky that I am able to go on this trip.  Firstly because I adore my mother, and secondly because Japan is amazing and I’ve never been! J  Add another one to the country list!

I met up with the tour group, greeted by our guide “Sammy” Tanida San.  He is very knowledgeable and a bit older, so he knows how to run the group.  I am happy to be with him on this piece of the journey.

 

To the hotel in Shiodome we go, Toyko Park Hotel, Shiodome.  Nice, business travelers mostly. Simple room with great water pressure – one of the few things I absolutely adore in a hotel is good water pressure.

Went out for a quick bite with Mom to a local restaurant in the underbelly of one of the business towers near us.  We are in the middle of a wealthy neighborhood where there seems to be a good mix of business towers and hotels.  LOTS of locals all in black suits (women, men, everyone but the kids who are all in bright colors).  I guess this is the dress for all “business men” in the city.  (More to come of them later).  Had a great meal of ground beef patty in a light curry type sauce, rice, and water.  A good basic, delicious meal.  Great for a first night so we could get a good night’s sleep.

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And now, for sleep!   Can’t wait to get up tomorrow and find out what’s happening!  (I should note, especially when I am on tours, I don’t read ahead on the itinerary.  I like to be surprised.  It is SO rare that I go on tours, normally I travel by myself and just let the days unfold.)