Wabi-Sabi Sole

Finding Beauty with Imperfection

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Mt. Takao Fire-Waking

On my “must do” list while in Japan is to attend a fire walking ceremony. Dina, her family, Dave and I signed up for the ITT trip to Mt. Takao and attend the fire-walking festival.

Here was the route on the bus from the main base in Yokosuka. It was just over an hour away by bus and about two hours away by train. The mountain has many hiking trails to reach the summit. For this trip, we wanted to get to the summit quickly in order to return to the Festival on time. So, we took the chair lift and then made a short walk to the top. I will tell you about our morning adventures in part 2. For now, let’s get to the fire-walking festival.

The Festival is held on the second Sunday in March. In Japanese it is called the Hiwatari-matsuri (Fire-walking festival).  The yamabushi monks perform the ceremony for purification and as part of the training of Shugendo. Shugendo is a religion unique to Japan that mixes Buddhism and ancient mountain worship. The ceremony included many prayers and chanting as the monks prepare a sacred fire. The rituals to build the fire and embers are meant to cleanse misfortunes. The prayers said during the ceremony, are for world peace, longevity, protection from misfortune, traffic safety, and good health. To finalize the ceremony, the yamabushi monks walk through a path of smoldering embers. Spectators, regardless of their beliefs, are invited to walk across the embers as well. And we did!!

Here are a few pictures of the Festival. We arrived at the festival area about 45 minutes before it began in order to have a good view. The large square in the middle is where the fire will be built.

The head priest arrived a little after 1300. He is dressed in the purple robe. He had an attendant carrying the large parasol for him.

More monks continued to enter the ceremonial area.

After several speeches and prayers, the monks began the ritual of lighting the fire. One of the monks shot arrows into the crowd and then to the structure. The arrows create a barrier against evil.

The fire was spectacular!

Talk about a fire pit!

The monks rushed around with buckets of water to control the blaze and organize the ember pit. We could feel the heat of the fire from where we were standing!

Eventually, the ember pit was established.

Two monks, one either side, took bamboo stalks and dipped them in the urn of boiling water. He then proceeded to whip himself on his back! With hot boiling water for about a minute!!! What!?!

This again was an effort to build a barrier against evil. We all contemplated way those two were the ones who had to whip themselves. Did they draw the short straw, most junior, or maybe bad behavior!!

Next was the fire-walking! The monks and spectators lined up to walk across the embers.

And then it was our turn! There were a couple rules when inside the ceremonial area. Obviously, we were barefoot, no cameras, no hats and one monk instructed me to roll up my pants. Also, you step in salt mounds before and after walking across. The coals were cool by the time we walked across. However, we could feel the heat on our face.

It was yet another cultural event that provided insight to customs and rituals. It was really fun to watch and participate in the festival. Tomorrow, I will share with you our ride up Mt. Takao on the chair lift and the walk to the summit! Thanks for reading and I hope the pictures and videos load correctly.

Florida Road Trip Part 2

Let me pick up where I left off on the previous post, Florida Road Trip Part 1. Saturday morning, Juliana and I picked up George at the Fort Lauderdale Airport. Once we had him safely aboard the bus, we made haste for Key Largo. Clearly, our speed was not fast enough for others.

One more video as we drive off the continental United States.

Our first campsite was at Pennecamp State Park. With the campsite set up, George had the chance to enjoy his first vacation beer.

As I look back through my pictures, I realize I never took a picture of the seafood dinners George and Juliana prepared. Each day, we would stop at a local fish market and buy seafood for dinner. We had a wonderful assortment throughout the week. Snapper, tile fish, pompano, and stone crab legs. All local fish and all were delicious.

Sunday morning I unintentionally woke up early. The bug bites I had received over the past two days made my feet feel on fire. I know my gnarly runner’s feet are not pretty, but please humor me and notice the welts on my feet. They itched so badly, when I looked at the picture, I felt the urge to scratch my feet! I had these welts on my hands, the back of my legs, my shoulders, my arms and a few on my face as well.

Since I was up so early, I decided to catch the sunrise.

Later that morning, George and Juliana both rented sea kayaks and I rented a paddle board. We spent about two hours exploring the inlet around Pennecamp State Park. Knowing my luck with phones, I left mine on dry land while we were out. So, no pictures.

After eating lunch and cleaning up, we got back on the road and headed towards Big Pine Key. Our next campsite was at Bahia Honda State Park. Along the way, we stopped at KMart and I bought bug protection: a second pair of beach pants, a UPF shirt, thick socks, and a pair of light gloves. The “no see ’ems” were not deterred by my 100% deet. The only way to keep them from biting me was to cover my skin. We also bought two fans to put around the campsite and inside the bus to help the bug situation. After arriving and setting up camp, we went snorkeling off the coast. It was fantastic! Perhaps, the best place I’ve ever snorkeled. We were the only people in the water and the water was so shallow we could see so many fish! After our snorkeling session, we walked out and enjoyed a beautiful sunset.

We spent Monday morning at Bahia Honda at the beach. The breeze was strong and the sky was sunny. It was so relaxing.

We walked up the old Railroad/Road Bridge. From here it was easy to see the hurricane damage. The vegetation was shredded and the beach looked trashed.

Sunday night proved to be another rough night with respect to bugs. At this point, we decided to go off script. Instead of staying two more nights in Bahia Honda State Park, we decided to drive to Key West and stay at the Navy Vacation Rentals. So, after our beach time Monday morning, Monday afternoon we headed to Key West. It was a great decision. Who doesn’t love Key West? We arrived in Key West, checked into our hotel and set out to enjoy the town.

After a refreshing bug free night of sleep in American air conditioning, we were ready to tackle a full day Key West style. First up, a sunrise run, of course. With a stop at the Southern most point and Mile 0. Oh and a chicken crossing the road.

We went home to get George and the bus to take a few pictures of the bus at both of these spots.

The rest of the day was spent enjoying Key West without an agenda. As if we were on vacation!

Wednesday morning, we were back on the road again. We decided to again make haste and get further up the coast so we could enjoy a full beach day at Sebastian Inlet State Park. We stopped in Vero Beach Wednesday night. It was a beautiful night for another beach walk.

After a short drive Thursday morning, we were ready to enjoy a relaxing beach day at Sebastian Inlet State Park. We had another excellent campsite. Perfect for watching the sunset.

Friday morning, we didn’t rush to get on the road to our final campsite. We enjoyed Sebastian Inlet a little longer before making the short trip to Anastasia State Park in St. Augustine.

We arrived in time for a beach walk at sunset.

I wanted one last east coast sunrise before heading home. Saturday morning we woke up early and took our coffee to the beach to greet the sun as it cleared the horizon.

After breakfast, we packed up the bus and made haste one last time for Atlanta.

We stayed close to the airport Saturday night because my flight left early Sunday morning. We stopped for a brew and pizza before settling in for the night.

As we left the restaurant after dinner, a storm had passed and the clouds appeared to make a Mt. Fuji. I couldn’t help but see the symbolism. Just pretend the sign says “Japanese” and not “Chinese”. Our spontaneous road trip was everything I needed. It was wonderful having time together with family. We enjoyed many long conversations and a lot of American beer. We shared more laughs than I had bug bites. Despite the distance, the bugs, and time away from Dave, I would do it all over again without hesitation.

Piacere Pizza & Wine

Miki and I met for lunch in Yokosuka on Tuesday. She took me to a delicious restaurant off the beaten path and down a back alley. Literally.

Piacere Pizza & Wine offers a delicious lunch set for ¥1,000 ($10.00). The set includes a small salad, your choice of pizza or pasta, dessert, and coffee or tea. The salad and bread were perfect for making a small sandwich!

I selected the wood fired margarita pizza and Miki ordered the spaghetti with vegetables. We shared them both and they were delicious. This might take the number one spot in my list of “favorite pizza in Yokosuka.”

For dessert we enjoyed coffee jello. I wasn’t sure if I would like it at first, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was delicious.

I enjoyed our lunch today. I was appreciative of Miki taking me to a place I haven’t been and one with delicious pizza! I truly appreciate our friendship.

After lunch, I had several errands to do on main base. The first, picking up the Hooptie after an oil change. I’m happy to report she is still doing well and keeping us safely transiting around our local area. I dropped Hooptie off with Dave and was lucky enough to catch him in his office doing what he does best, fixing ships!

The second, was to book two trips for upcoming family and friends we have visiting. As I have said before, Julia Tours are completely customizable and aim to provide a memorable experience. I set up trips to Kyoto and Hiroshima for our upcoming guests. Please let me know soon when and where you would like to go during your visit! I’m ready to plan it for you!!

Kakuonji Temple

It is starting to feel like winter in Japan. The thermometer we pass on the way to main base was 0 degree Celsius yesterday and this morning was -1 degree Celsius! Despite the chilly temperatures, I actually enjoy winter in the part of Japan where we live because it is much drier and so sunny! This picture is proof the abundance of sunshine. The reflection on the stop sign is blinding as I tried to capture the Japanese Maple!

Although I miss the excitement of a snow storm approaching, I don’t miss the grey sky gloom of the Midwest. Today was a crisp and perfect for a little exploring. Miki wanted to take me to her favorite Temple. Kakuonji Temple is located in Kamakura. A little off the beaten path and very close to the Red Leaf Trail.

Miki has visited this temple several times with Ikebana International. On those visits, a private tour in English was provided. During normal business hours, tours are offered hourly and only in Japanese. We arrived around 1330 and were asked to wait until 1400. As we waited, I snapped a few pictures of the remaining leaves.

Miki and I walked over to look at the prayer bell because it had a dedication in English. As I was snapping a picture, the head priest of the temple began speaking (in Japanese) with Miki. Their conversation resulted in him providing us with a private tour (in English) of the main temple and gardens.

Beyond the gate, the gardens of the temple are beautiful and serene. The original temple was destroyed and rebuilt. The temple contains Buddha, two other gods (sun and moon) and 12 warriors each representing the zodiac. Each of the warriors were looking in different directions and very life-like. Hand painted on the ceiling was a dragon. In Japanese culture, the dragon comes from the water and therefore by painting it on the ceiling it protects the temple from fire. Photography wasn’t permitted in the temple. You will have to visit to see the beauty of the temple for yourself!!

After the temple, we walked to the house where the warriors used to live. On our way, we passed this interesting plant. I stopped our guide and asked what it was. He replied, “Buddha’s hands.” I asked permission to photograph and touch. Yes, to both – it feels like an orange rind. We were informed it is not a good fruit to eat. Later, Miki and I came up with what it reminded us of – alien fingers, witch fingers, or the Grinch!

After asking for that photograph, I felt a little more bold. I asked if I could photograph the gardens. Hai! In the background is the main temple.

I also learned a few more interesting facts. The statues pictured are Jizo Bosatsu. They are Gods of the Earth. The can often be seen near farms as a prayer for a good harvest. Also, they are used as prayers for children. To give a family strong and healthy children. The red hat and bib are placed to statues for purification. Another interesting fact, the vermilion color of the Torii and bridges is also for purification. When a person walks through the Torii or over the bridge, they are purified. Next time I’m in VB, I want a ride in Roxanne’s vermilion MG – for purification, of course!

As we were walking out, the priest pointed out a very tall evergreen tree to us. He couldn’t remember “evergreen” and instead said “Christmas tree Momma.” Ha! I helped him with evergreen and he said yes, tallest in Kamakura. Pardon the power lines, they couldn’t be avoided! Consider it a little wabi-sabi.

Miki and I were very lucky and appreciative of our private tour of the Temple. It truly was an honor. Arigatōgozaimas!

SRF Holiday Party

Saturday evening the SRF-JRMC holiday party was held at the New Sanno Hotel. The holiday decorations at the New Sanno Hotel are spectacular.

The Christmas Trees and fireplace make the perfect setting for holiday pictures.

The party had everything any good holiday party should have:

Decorations, delicious food, prizes, and dancing. We danced so much, I eventually had to lose my heels! My friend, Saori, sent me this picture – she drew the heart doodle. Dave was singing his own karaoke to “Faithfully” by Journey. It was obviously later in the evening because my shoes are no where in sight. The best part, Dave’s the sober one. (Still no alcohol for military in Japan.) I’m still laughing almost two days later. It was such a fun night.

One more funny story to wrap up the weekend. Before Dina moved, she gave me a gift certificate for the New Sanno Hotel. The gift certificate had been given to her by visiting friends. She and the kids left Japan before Brent returned from deployment and was never able to use the gift certificate. Knowing we had plenty of opportunities to use the gift certificate, she gave it to me. I put it in a safe place and was thrilled when I remembered to bring it with us this weekend. I gave it to Dave to use towards the room when he checked us into the hotel. I was surprised when I met Dave in the lobby and learned the front desk said it couldn’t be used towards the room. Hmmm. Where can I use it? In the shops. Oh, ok. Saturday afternoon, I went to the small Navy Exchange and attempted to buy Dina a cute purse with the certificate. “Sorry, ma’am, you can not use this certificate here.” Try the downstairs gift shop. I go downstairs and was going to buy Dina a beautiful silk Obi she could use as a table runner. When I presented the gift certificate, I was again greeted with, “sorry ma’am, you can not use this certificate here.” Hmmm. I returned to the front desk and asked them where I could use the gift certificate. They said at the restaurants or bar. Considering we were having dinner at the party later, I was left with only one option. The bar! Kanpie! A couple cocktails, a bottle of wine for me and O’douls for Dave and eventually we spent the gift certificate!

Cheers, to you Dina! I wish you were still here to not only share a drink in person, but to also experience the “sorry, ma’am” with me at each location! You would have been laughing hysterically!

Because Japan

Some days I have experiences or see something that really me me think, I love living in Japan. For example, I went to visit Miki at her house for lunch. She made us lunch (spaghetti bolognese – oishi desu) and we enjoyed a wonderful conversation. She even had answers to my questions from last week. Her hospitality made me feel truly “at home” even though I’m miles away.

Once I was home, I walked down to the post office to check our mail. As I walked down the hill, I passed a construction crew repairing a fire hydrant. Their work equipment was blocking the sidewalk. To make their work less of an inconvenience and safer, they put up cones establishing a temporary walkway in the road. Seriously. I took this picture after I walked past them.

When I see this display of courtesy, I’m struck by the kindness and consideration the Japanese show to others. It all goes back to the “wa” – the good of group is more important than what is good for the individual. The politeness demonstrated at with the construction is normal. Each time I see this type of courtesy I think, because Japan! And that’s why I love living here. Kindness is an international language!

Hiking Mt. Takao

After visiting Mt. Takao last March for the Fire-walking festival, I really wanted to return to hike the mountain this fall. Rain spoiled my plans to go a couple of weeks ago. Fortunately, I was able to reschedule the hike today and I invited my friend, Amanda, to join me. In the end, it worked out perfectly. We caught the 7:21 train from Jimmuji and made it to the base of the mountain by 9:30.

After leaving the train station, we found this extra large map showing the mountain and various hiking trails to the top.

One quick picture before we started our hike!

We decided to take the darker orange trail. The Inariyama Trail.

The English description provided says, “while some sections are a little rough, this ridge top trail offers refreshing wonderful views.” It left out the ridiculous number of stairs we would climb over the next 90 minutes!! These pictures only show a portion of the stairs. According to my Apple Watch, we climbed 139 flights of stairs! My thighs were on fire by the time we reached the top.

Honestly, I’m not sure we could have enjoyed better weather. It was such a glorious day. The foliage was spectacular! Here are just a few pictures from our ascent.

Once we reached the top, the view didn’t disappoint. We were able to see Mt. Fuji. Look at her snow cap!! Beautiful. Absolutely, beautiful.

At the top, we enjoyed a cold brew and warm bowl of Udon.

The biggest surprise of the day was the number of people! Despite the hard climb to the top, I’m glad we decided to hike the Inariyama Trail. We passed so many people coming up the paved (easier) trail as we were walking back down.

We walked about part way down before taking the tram down the mountain. The leaves were so beautiful.

I’m so glad it worked out for us to hike Mt. Takao on such a beautiful day. Fall in Japan might take a little longer to arrive, but it’s worth the wait!

Sasebo Sustenance

One final discussion to wrap up our trip to the southern part of Japan. A couple of culinary experiences were on fire, literally! I already mentioned first time our food was set on fire. It was the searing of our steak at the SRF dinner on Wednesday night.

The second time we had our food placed on fire was on Thursday evening. We went to Michele Brown Steakhouse. The restaurant was recommended to us by my friend, Paula. She and her husband were stationed in Sasebo. She recommended the wings. We went Thursday night and when the waitress brought out the wings, she promptly set them on fire!

They were pretty good. I have no doubt the fire added extra taste.

Sasebo is also known for the famous Sasebo Burger. Each time we passed one of the certified Sasebo Burger locations, my desire to eat one grew.

Finally, Saturday night we stopped in Sasebo Burger Shop and ordered a Sasebo Burger with fries.

While we were waiting for I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw the dinosaur on the wall. There seemed to be a dinosaur theme occurring Saturday night.

The Sasebo Burger was pretty delicious. I was definitely satisfied with my cheeseburger. Looking at the first picture makes me think of the “where’s the beef” commercial.

The fries were alright. I would have preferred to have them without pepper. Don’t worry, I didn’t waste any! I ate them anyways.

My favorite Sasebo snack I ate all week were the custard filled cream cakes. My mom makes amazing cream puffs and these were almost as good as hers!

Oh. My. Goodness. They were so good. How good were they? They were so good, I ate two on Friday and purposely went back on Saturday and ordered two more!

On Friday, I ordered two hard and two soft puffs with chocolate and custard. This would give Dave and I a chance to sample both.

The worker filled the puffs to order. She laughed at me taking her picture. She laughed harder when I came back the next day and ordered more.

I didn’t really like the chocolate cream. Dave didn’t really like the custard. Team Dwyer wins again!

It’s probably a good thing we weren’t stationed in Sasebo. Two of the magnificent treats a day would wreck a healthy diet in about a week. I was happy to indulge and will be sure to stop by if I make a second trip!

Delicious Dinner

Wednesday evening, Dave and I had dinner with part of the Sasebo SRF workforce. We meet at a restaurant near the base. Our reservation was for two hours of dining. During this time, we had a set menu and open bar. We started our meal with a salad.

The second dish was a cooked vegetable medley prepared on the hot grill top in our table. Each of the prepared dishes served four people.

The server prepared our food while we watched. He spread the vegetables in a circle before pouring an Italian sauce into the center.

The final ingredient was cheese sprinkled on top. The dish was a little runny and not suitable for eating with chopsticks, instead we had a cut little shovel!

My only complaint about this dish was the amount of corn. I had a pile of whole kernel corn left on plate!

The next dish was my favorite. It started as a large piece of meat with garlic on the side m. We were instructed by our chef to “no touch”!

After a few minutes, our chef placed the garlic on top of the meat and a slab of butter.

When the meat was cooked to his satisfaction, he sliced it before searing it.

He seared it by spraying sauce and lighting it on fire!

While we were waiting for the steak to be finished cooking, we enjoyed paella.

The final dish was okonomiyaki. We had a similar dish when we went to visit Miyajima Island. There’s a lot going on in this dish. Cabbage, egg, bacon, and sauce!

The food was very good. Needless to say, no one was hungry by the end!

Fortunately, Dave and I had a some what long walk home to help us digest the meal. Along the way, we enjoyed a few Christmas lights! It was a great night with a great group of SRF Sasebo employees.

PS. I’m happy to report my WordPress App is working well again!

Saturday in the Park

Saturday MWR held a “Friendship Day” at the Ikego track. It was an open event welcoming together Americans and Japanese to enjoy fellowship and cultures. 

Dave and I were able to walk down and enjoy the event. 

Like any good American day in the park, there were American Firetrucks and Sparky! 

There were several food vendors. The longest lines were for the American hamburgers and shaved ice. 

When we first arrived, the U. S. Navy Band was finishing their set. They sounded pretty good as we walked down the hill to the track. 

There were tents set up with games for kids to play. Also, a muscle man hammer. It was funny to watch the Japanese men. They were often dressed so nicely and slammed the sledgehammer like a boss! 

The highlight was watching a group of Japanese dancers. The dancers were all ages. Check out the shoes the ladies were wearing! 

The dancers were impressive and very entertaining to watch. As you can tell by the video, it was a very windy day. I can’t imagine how difficult it was to dance with their hats in the wind! 

They had their own band playing the music. 

The little kids were so cute. 

“Saturday in the park, I think it was the Fourth of July…” or maybe just the 29th of April! 

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