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.

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The fire was spectacular!

Talk about a fire pit!

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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!?!

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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.

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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.

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! 

Motomachi 

Earlier this week, Yasuko-San called to tell me our Friday English class would need to be cancelled. That gave me a whole day to do – whatever! Happy Friday to me! 

Dina also had a free day and we planned to go to collect more sea glass at Sea Glass Beach. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans for the day. It never rained but, remained overcast and cool. Not so much beach weather. 

Instead, we decided to venture up to Motomachi shopping district in Yokohama. Here is the gateway welcoming shoppers. 


Motomachi 500m upscale shopping street in Yokohama. It is located between Chinatown and Yamashita Park. Here was our route on the train. 


The street was filled with a couple of familiar stores. 


There were also a variety of other stores. Like this men’s purse store. The St. Bernard bag was too cute! The sexy lady men’s pins were just weird. 


Speaking of purses, I did buy a new purse from Kitamura2. 


I’ve been searching for a new crossbody bag to replace my tired Longchamp bag. This purse was a 40th birthday present from my Mom before we went to Paris.  I have enjoyed carrying for the past two years so much. It is absolutely perfect. If Longchamp still made it, I would buy at least two more in blue and black.  Considering the miles and continents it has travelled, it’s in pretty great shape… just like me! Ha


Today, I welcomed Blue Boy into my life. He is cute, functional, multicolored, and my first Japanese purse. He has a few more zippers than Longchamp and a very big job to fill. 


I was so thankful to have Dina along with me. She provided sound support as I invested in my new traveling companion (my new purse) and she provided comic relief at a fine leather goods establishment. First, you must stick your hand in his mouth. Which I did… it was furry and warm. 

And then there was the all-American fire truck… in Japan. 


The best was helping Dina find a new hat… maybe not this one. 

It’s Japanese size! 


And there was the incident with the BIG chair. Honestly, I wanted to sit in it. I was just too scared of making a scene! A selfie will have to do. 


One more place to mention as we walked through Motomachi was the adorable pet store. Kawaii!!!

These two puppies were ridiculous. The first one will not get bigger than a soda can. He was only ¥199,800 or about $1800. 

This little fluffy friend was ¥299,900. For shock factor, let’s say $3,000. (I know, I rounded the wrong way) by the time you buy supplies he will be that much! Crazy cuteness. 


We reached the other end of Motomachi and we were ready for food. 


We decided to head to Chinatown for lunch. On our way, we passed this adorable group of teenagers. Pandas in Chinatown, of course. 

Eventually, we found a delicious sushi restaurant in Chinatown.  Tuna rice bowl made complete with a grapefruit Hi-Ball and corn on my salad. 

Tuna rice bowl…. Nom nom nom…


As we headed back to the train, we saw our Panda friends again. This time, the were more than willing to pose! Kawaii! 


Happy Friday! May we always have a good friend(s) to laugh, shop, and drink with!  Kanpie! 

AWkitchen Garden 

One of our favorite restaurants, Farm To You, in Kamakura closed in March. Dina first took me there in November. I’m not officially sure but, I think it might have changed ownership and then the restaurant was given a new name. Regardless, it has reopened as AWkitchen Garden. Dina and I set out to indulge in a deliciously fresh lunch. We were not disappointed!


They are open daily according to the sign.


We arrived at 11:50 and had to wait about 15 minutes for a table. While we waited, we snapped a couple pictures of the Endoshima Line train and the gardens of the restaurant. Everyone LOVES the Endoshima Line train!


Once we were seated, we learned The lunch menu is only offered as a set. The set included: a salad, soup, and a choice of pizza or pasta. We both selected the Margherita pizza.

The table was set with two types of vinegar, strawberry, and kiwi. Also, two types of salt, balsamic dressing, lemon – rosemary water, and our glasses of wine.


First up, an amazingly fresh salad. This would be Dave’s favorite! It was so beautiful, I had to take a couple pictures from different angles.


The soup was a fresh onion gazpacho. It was fresh and oniony.


The Margherita pizza was very good. It was wood-fired with fresh basil, buffalo mozzarella, and a delicious tomato purée sauce.


The wood fired crust was my favorite. Dina snapped a picture of the oven for me. Notice the original FTY (Farm to You) logo.


This remains on my list of favorites in Kamakura. Mainly for the salad and the atmosphere. The pizza wins an honorable mention by U.S. pizza standards and a place winner in Japan. I’m not sure I would recommend we go when you visit. Mainly because I know the pizza will disappoint you. Unless you want an amazing salad after eating so much ramen! Or we need a vegetarian option.

Mt. Takao

The ITT trip we took on Sunday dropped us off at the base on Mt. Takao around 8:30am. We had about 3.5 hours to walk around and explore the mountain before we needed to find our spots for the fire-walking ceremony. We posed for a couple pictures with the map of the trails on the mountain.

We were given tickets to ride the chair lift up and down the mountain. The ride on the chair lift took about 12 minutes. Once we arrived at the top of the chair lift, we had about a 45 minute walk to the summit. In true Japanese fashion, there were directions for how to enter and exit the chair lift.

The ride up the mountain on the chair lift was breathtaking. Literally and not because of the views. I didn’t realize how steep the chair lift would be and how far off the ground we would be at times. Please keep in mind also, there were no seat belts.

The chair lift took us up the steep mountain!

Don’t look down!

I did have to breathe a little deeper and remind myself not to look down!! Once we were on solid ground, I was much happier!

The walk to the summit included a couple of highlights. The first was the monkey park. Unfortunately, it wasn’t open and we didn’t have time to stop. Maybe next time! Fortunately, we brought our own monkey! The picture of Dina’s youngest daughter photo bombing is one of my favorites. Talk about monkey business.

Next we passed the octopus tree. The “octopus cedar” is a 450-year-old tree given its name because of its unique root structure.

Continuing along the trail, we walked passed many lanterns and large wooden slats leading to the Yakuo-in Temple. We couldn’t figure out what the meaning of the wooden slats. We were really confused when we saw “Gloria.” Our best guess was, these were names of people who made donations to the temple.

The temple is dedicated to Yakushi Nyorai, the Buddha of medicine and healing. The temple was very large with a lot of stairs between the two levels.

Dave and I walked around the corner right at the time the head priest was leaving the temple. Here they are starting their ceremonial walk to the fire-walking! Look how close we were!!

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We continued our walk up more stairs…

Until finally reaching the summit. Although it was a very hazy day, we had a small glimpse of the top of Mt. Fuji. Mt. Fuji is the small white spot in the middle of the picture.

Summit proof!

Going down the mountain was a lot faster with only a couple stops for silly pictures.

Even the chair lift seemed to go faster on the way down. Surprisingly, the chair lift wasn’t nearly as scary going down. Perhaps, because we knew what to expect.

The view was lovely. Dave and I discussed making a trip back to Mt. Takao in the fall when the leaves are turning. Now that we know we can easily arrive in two hours by train, we have a new place to see beautiful leaves and Mt. Fuji!

Enoshima Island

Thinking of something to do on a crisp winter mostly sunny day, Dina suggested we go to Enoshima Island. It is a small island just off the coast. We took 3 trains to get to the island. It took a little over an hour. Here was our route.


One of the trains is the Enoshima Electric train. The train actually hangs from the tracks. The train was very smooth and quiet. It was a little weird to see other trains hanging from the tracks!

Train Station

Train coming in opposite direction


Once we arrived in Shonan, we had a short walk through the town and across a small bridge that connects the island to the mainland.


On the island, there are several shrines, a temple, an observation tower (lighthouse / sea candle), lots of cafes, a garden and sea caves. Once you are on the island your mode of transportation are your feet! Keep in mind there are a lot of stairs!  Oh, and on a clear day, you can see Mt. Fuji.

A Torii gate greets you once you are over the bridge and you begin climbing to the top of the island.


Our first stop was at the Enoshima Shrine. The Enoshima Shrine is a Shinto Shrine dedicated to the worship of the Goddess Benten. Benten is one of the Seven Lucky Gods. Within the Shrine are three shrines: Hatsuno-miya, Nakatsuno-miya, Okutsuno-miya.

But first, we must climb stairs.


The lanterns are part of the illuminations. I was excited to see the illuminations will last until 2/19/17. There will be plenty of time for Dave and I to return to see the lights.


Three pictures that scream “Japan.” A shrine, a fortune wall and a red bridge (over a road – yes, with cars).


Up we continue to the Shrine.

The man in the center is throwing money on to the alter and making his wish to the Gods


We had our temple books stamped and continued up the island and up more stairs!


We enjoyed a nice view along the way!


And another Shrine.


Our next point of interest was the Sea Candle. I didn’t make Dina go up into the Candle today because it was cloudy around Mt. Fuji. Another reason to return.


Our next point of interest was the Enoshima-Daishi Temple.

Temple Roof

Temple Altar

Stained Glass Window

Here, Dina returned a fortune she collected earlier this year. Fortunes must be returned to the Temple where they are collected before the end of the year. Another reason Dina suggested Enoshima for our adventure today!


Within the temple gardens were two statues of Goma, the God of Fire.


We had our temple books stamped and continued on our way. Past another shrine with a built in selfie spot. Too bad I don’t have an Apple Watch to click my picture!




On we went. This time down the stairs. It was while we were descending, Dina mentioned we had to walk back up all these stairs!! Wait, what!?!

Fortunately, there was a nice view even without Mt. Fuji.


We could have continued walking along the cliffs and down to the sea caves and tidal pools. We didn’t have enough time today for too much exploring. Another reason for Dave and I to return.

We began climbing back up!


Finally, at the top we stopped for a snack. “Octopus Cracker” You will have to eat one when you visit. It’s a cracker made out of Octopus. Seriously.

Can you see the eyes and tentacles?


We continued our walk back to the train station. We stopped for one more snack. I picked ice cream with donuts. Yummmm! Much better than the octopus cracker…


A very fun and chilly day exploring another beautiful area of Japan. I am excited to go back and see the areas we didn’t have time for and the illuminations!!

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