Wabi-Sabi Sole

Finding Beauty with Imperfection

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MariCAR Christmas

I’ve been talking about wanting to see the numerous holiday illuminations in Tokyo relentlessly. Dave had a great idea. Let’s do a MariCar ride around Tokyo and check out the Christmas lights. Brilliant! The wardroom is SRF set the date for Friday, 12/15 at 7:00 pm. Perfect for seeing lots of people and holiday lights. There were 8 of us plus the two guides. Keeping with the Mario Cart theme, Dave and I picked Mario and Luigi costumes.

Friday was pretty chilly. Fortunately, our costumes allowed for plenty of layering. I stuffed my inside and outside pockets with hand warmers and put warmers in my boots. I stayed toasty the whole way.

The ride took us around the middle of Tokyo. The sights included Ueno, Ginza, Tokyo Station, Asakusa, and Tokyo Skytree. So much fun for only ¥7000 – $70.00. This was a different course than I rode last year with Dina. Plus, before we rode the course during the day. Nighttime would be a new experience!

Here are a few shots from along the route.

Seeing Tokyo Skytree was really cool. We saw it as we approached and then stopped for a group photo.

Here are a couple pictures of the trees around the Emperor’s Palace.

From Asakusa- Kappabashi- Kitchen town.

Ueno Station.

The highlight was waving as we were stopped at lights. It was easy to make people smile.

Dave and I had so much fun. It was a little scary at first and when you go really fast or hit bumps. But, it’s super cool and fun. We talked about who in our family would love this the most. We agreed his brother Bob, niece, and nephew – Jade and Jordan would absolutely love the experience. I hope we can go during your visit. Here is what you need to do in order to participate in MariCart when you visit. I took a screen shot of the website. Basically, you need an International Driver’s License. You obtain that and I will make our reservations.

Keep in mind, you’re allowed to wear your own costume. Dave suggested next Christmas season we dress as Santa and his elves!

MariCAR

Just when I thought I had heard it all… a friend told me about MariCAR in Tokyo. Essentially, you can dress as your favorite character and drive around the streets of Tokyo in a go-kart.

Dina invited me to go on this adventure with a group of spouses. Yes, please!  It was hysterical. We decided to pick the Mario & Luigi costumes to stick with the true Mario Cart theme.

We had a total of 8 spouses.

There were 2 guides, one in front and one behind, to lead the way and help if anyone was stuck at a light. This happened a couple times, however, it was no big deal. The group ahead would stop and wait. We hit two major areas of Tokyo. First, we passed by and stopped at Tokyo Tower. Think of this as the Japanese Eiffel Tower.

Please also keep in mind, we were driving on the roads. NOT a closed course. There was traffic!!

I also have to mention how many people were taking our photos. Every time we stopped we had a paparazzi. It was hilarious and so much fun! Especially, at Shibuya Crossing! We drove through three times. Each time was more fun than the next!

One of the ladies wore a go pro camera. She is directly behind me as we rode through Shibuya. That’s me in front with my blond curly hair!!

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It was a blast. And now you’re asking, “can we go when I visit?” Maybe. You need to have an international driver’s license. It is my understanding you can get one at AAA before coming to visit. It’s really not too hard to drive on the left because you are following. I would recommend not being in the lead. The traffic lights are a bit confusing at first. Also, no rubbing. In MariCAR, rubbing is not racing – it’s breaking! Please see the rules.

Did you see number 4? I can only imagine how many pictures & posts I made on FB today. If you’re going to make a spectacle of yourself, make a big one!! Go big or go home!!

Meatball and Beer

On Sunday, Dave and I went up to our favorite barbecue and beer spot in Yokohama – Bashamichi Taproom. Our beers were refreshing and delicious after our 40 minute train ride.

We both enjoyed our meals. Dave opted for the Lucky Seven Anniversary special.

I happily picked my favorite, the brisket sandwich.

After lunch, we walked around the local area a little bit before going back to the train. We found this little bar called Thrashzone Meatballs. The sign outside said “meatball and beer.” Yes, please.

We popped inside to check it out. The beer list was longer than the meatball menu! Look at the last beer. Lagunitas IPA! My Chicago heart was so excited.

However, I did choose to drink local. I selected the Speed Kills. It was excellent.

The meatball menu consisted of two options. Regular or the Special. Regular meatballs were served with marinara with mozzarella. The Special was a Moroccan style meatball. The meatballs were served by the size number.

We started with four regular meatballs. They were served in small cast iron skillets.

The meatballs were made using a “takoyaki” maker. Takoyaki is an octopus dumpling very common in Japan.

As we sipped our beers, we chatted with one of the managers. He is an ex-pat making a go here in Japan. We decided we couldn’t leave without trying the Special. The Moroccan meatballs were served with small pitas.

We couldn’t help but make Happy Gilmore jokes with each bite. “That’s good meatball.” With all fairness, they were delicious and the beer list was extreme as promised. It was worth the stop and I will make sure to stop in again soon.

On a slightly different note. I know I mentioned the strong winds we have been having. Sunday was glorious. Sunny and no wind. Monday was sunny with strong winds. I took a couple videos from our walks to the beach each day. Check out the difference a day makes!

Sunday 1/14/18 – so calm and peaceful.

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Monday 1/15/18 – watch for the wind surfers!

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Buddha & Brews

The weather on Tuesday was beautiful. I decided to mix up my day trips and use the lovely day to explore Fukuoka. The Midori-Huis Ten Bosch Limited Express train makes the trip to Fukuoka from Sasebo in about two hours.

I arrived at the Sasebo train station with plenty of time to spare before catching the 8:06 train. I’m glad I did. I’ve learned in Japan that trains with special names require a special ticket at a special price. Such was the case with the Limited Express. I needed two tickets. One ticket for the train and one for Express Train! Yikes! And that is only one way! I needed to make the most of my day!

Once arriving at Hakata Station, I switched to the JR lines and took a local train to Nanzō-in Temple. I first learned about this Temple from my friend, Paula. She and her husband were stationed in Sasebo and went to visit the Temple. Her pictures were so cool, I knew I had to add this to my list. The Nanzō-in Temple is known for its large bronze Reclining Buddha statue said to be the largest bronze statue in the world.

The statue is about 134 feet long, 36 feet tall, and weighs 300 tons. It was spectacular. Better in fact than I anticipated. I thought I would stop by really quickly, snap some pictures and leave. Instead, I lingered and enjoyed the serenity and harmony I felt during my visit. The long cord from his hand is connected to the prayer area so visitors can “touch” Buddha as they pray. His feet are decorated with symbols to represent healing powers.

The statue is reclining because it represents Buddha at the moment of death or as he enters nirvana.

Besides my feeling of serenity, I also wasn’t expecting fall foliage to decorate the beautiful temple.

These two might be my favorite.

But, then there’s the one with the waterfall and bridge.

Like I said, I spent way more time here enjoying a sort of fall foliage meditation. I’m so glad I decided to visit today while the skies were clear.

I returned to the train station and caught he 12:02 train back to Hakata Station. I wanted to take the 15:32 Limited Express back to Sasebo so I could meet Dave for dinner. The 15:32 put me back at 17:24. So, I had about 3 hours to kill before my train. On my way to Fukuoka, I researched different options. Parks, foliage, “Fukuoka” ramen, and/or shopping were all viable options. As I was on the train after my visit to the Temple, I was ready for a beer. One divine search for zen leads to another. I searched “breweries” in Google Maps and the Asahi Brewery popped up. It was only one stop from Hakata – 4 minutes. Perfect. I arrived at the Brewery around 12:40.

The receptionist was so welcoming and asked if I had a reservation. No. Ok, then how about 1:00 tour? Hai! Arigatōgozaimas! She gave me a set of headphones so I could enjoy the tour in English.

The tour took an hour. It was really fun despite the language barrier. Oh, and did I mention – FREE! The hops were not edible but the barley in the canister was available for sampling.

A couple more pictures of the packaging process. Did you know the only place in North America that brews and packages Asahi is the Molson Coors Plant in Canada!

A couple pictures to help you understand the volume of beer brewed and packaged at this plant. This is where cans are filled with Asahi. It fills 1500 cans per minute.

This is a picture of the bottle filler. It only fills 600 bottles per minute.

After our tour, we were given the opportunity to sample Asahi beer. Asahi encourages consuming alcoholic beverages in moderation. Therefore, you only have three FREE samples to consume in 20 minutes with your bag of beer snacks. Moderation is the Wabi-Sabi of life. I think so.

Just in case you were wondering what it was like to be a blonde American traveling alone today, I felt like a rockstar. I railway staff helping me buys tickets, use my PASMO, and find my correct track. At the Brewery, the tour guide checked on me throughout the tour and sat me at my own table. It went above and beyond excellent customer service. My third sample and my fellow tour members.

I purchased some of the beer snacks for Dave as a little present. I would bring him beer, but there is an alcohol restriction on American service members stationed in Japan after a Marine killed a Japanese man in a drinking and driving accident Sunday morning in Okinawa. The incident is very sad, preventable, and unfortunate.

As the sun sets on my day trip and I reflect on how I spent my time, it was pretty perfect – for me. I didn’t see the amazing shopping mall or sample Fukuoka ramen. But, I was able to enjoy Buddha, fall foliage, and a beer (or three). My take away from this outing was – you can’t do everything, you can’t please everyone. So, do what you love and make sure you have fun doing it!

Nara

We took a quick trip on Friday from Kyoto to Nara. We expedited the trip by traveling on a Limited Express Train. The typical hour trip only took 35 minutes! 

Not only is the route orange in Google Maps, so was the actual train!

Once in Nara, we made our way towards Nara Park. Within Nara Park are several famous Shrines, Temples, and deer!! The deer are a sacred part of Nara Park and considered “messengers of the gods”.

For ¥150, you could buy deer crackers from street vendors. The deer started early begging for crackers from this vendor. Look at the first picture- the deer in front is sticking his tongue out at me! 


We didn’t buy any crackers. Instead, we enjoyed watching other visitors feed them. 


The deer weren’t shy. They walked right up looking for a snack. 


Our first Temple we visited was Kofuku-ji Temple. Pictured here are the Temple’s Golden Hall and five-story pagoda are a National Treasure and date to 1425. The Eastern Golden Hall was built by Emperor Shōmu and the pagoda by his wife, Empress Kōmyō. The pair of buildings represent the ideal of marital harmony. 


Other beautiful buildings were also on the Temple’s grounds. 


As we continued through Nara Park, we saw even more deer. My favorite was watching people take selfies or pose with the deer and the deer would poop or pee and the tourists didn’t notice! Ha! 

The first Shrine we visited was Kasuga Taisha Shrine. The walkway to the Shrine has over 3,000 stone lanterns. No worries, I didn’t take a picture of them all. Although I tried! They were really impressive and unique. 

In keeping with my tree theme of the summer, look at the tree growing inside the remains of an old tree! 


After visiting the Kasuga Taisha Shrine, we were ready for lunch. It was approaching 11am and starting to really heat up. We doubled back to the area around the train station where there was a conveyor sushi restaurant. It was well air conditioned, served cold beer and delicious sushi. For those reasons, I could have stayed all afternoon. 


But, we had the Todai-ji Temple to visit. The Todai-ji Temple is also a World Heritage Site. The current structure was completed in 1709. The Great Buddha Hall is the largest wooden building in the world and houses the largest bronze image of Buddha dating back to 752 (the head however has been replaced and only dates to 1692).  

Now that’s a Big Buddha! 


My favorite spot in the Great Buddha Hall was behind the Great Buddha. There was a lattice door allowing a delightful breeze to come through. Plus, as Bill would say, we got a chance to see Buddha’s pooper. Can you tell how hot it is!?! The breeze felt amazing! 

Buddha’s Gold Pooper. 


We continued around enjoying the great hall. 

The fierce warriors are guardians to protect Buddha from evil. 


And how about this guy? If you rub the corresponding body part on him as the part that ails you, you will be healed. I rubbed his knees and gave him a high-five! 


We started to make our way back to the station to head back to Kyoto. We chased the shade the entire 20 minute walk. We purchased our train tickets for the 1400 train to Nara. While waiting to depart, I checked the weather. No wonder we were so hot! Heat index of 119!!!! Wow! 


Returning back to our hotel, we enjoyed a siesta that we earned from enduring the days heat and humidity! Plus, as Dave continues to remind me, we are on vacation and naps are always ok! 

Kyu Shiba Rikyu Garden

The second garden I was able to visit on my Wabi-Sabi list was the Kyu Shiba Rikyu Garden. The garden is located on the south side of Tokyo and only about an hour and fifteen minute train ride. 

On my walk from the train station to he garden I was passed several times by the Shinkansen. Seeing the train still makes me happy. I can’t wait to plan another trip! 


Also, on my walk to the garden, I passed several beautiful hydrangeas blooming along the street. The hydrangeas alternated blue and purple. They were stunning. 


The garden was a bit smaller than the Hamarikyu Garden and again nestled in the middle of the surrounding city. The garden centers around a pond with a designated path to travel around and across the pond. 


Along your journey around the pond, there are many beautiful land and rock formations to look at and perhaps contemplate the passing of time. 


There was also one beautiful hydrangea blooming in the garden. 


As I was walking through the garden, I came across these interesting rock stairs. 

Originally, I thought they were just a cute path to follow. While reading the brochure, I realized they were there to simulate a “waterless waterfall.” The intention was to remind visitors of water coming off the mountains and flowing into the pond. Can you see it? 


On the far side of the pond was a group of artist painting the garden with watercolors. For every artist you see in this picture, there are two tucked in somewhere else. They obviously found their wabi-sabi. 


There were so many different features along the path. I enjoyed the stones and islands. 

Can you see the turtles? 

A beautiful view! Without a doubt, I was able to experience wabi-sabi in this lovely little garden. When you visit, if we need a quiet break from the hustle and bustle of the city, we can take a detour. It was worth the ¥150. 

Shinkansen 

I must confess. I was completely giddy anticipating our Shinkansen trip. Riding the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) has been at the top of my Japan Bucket List. Our trip to Hiroshima was the perfect opportunity. 

We boarded the Shinkansen in Shinagawa. Here is the route to Hiroshima. 

Considering this is the Shinagawa Shinkansen station, it seemed empty! Our train was on track 23 – car 6. 


I took a video and several pictures while waiting for our train at 10:17am. I was only reprimanded once for not standing behind the yellow line! Oops! 

The video is of the train leaving. I thought it would show the speed better than the train arriving. 

​This is our train arriving. I used the burst setting on my phone. It was still blurry! 


Once on the train, I unpacked our snacks! We packed the needed provisions. A homemade rice ball, veggie sticks, and several chūhai. We settled in nicely for our almost 4-hour journey. 

Let me tell you a little bit more about the Shinkansen. My source was Wikipedia and the JR Train website. I summarized and made it reader friendly. 

Speed – the maximum is 200 mph. The average speed is between 150-185 mph. 

The Route – the Shinkansen tracks are their own separate system. They do not cross roads or go around obstacles. They go through or over any obstacle. Most of the time the tracks are slightly elevated above surrounding landscape. Curves are kept to a minimum. Because as we all know, the fastest way from point A to Point B is a straight line. 

The Tracks – the tracks are Standard Gauge (wider tracks – lower center of gravity) vice Narrow Gauge. Being an Austin, I’m not embarrassed to admit I know the difference. Also, the actual rails of the tracks are longer. This reduces the number of welds required and the effects of thermal expansion within the rails and therefore provides a smoother ride. 

The Trains – the trains are lighter and can accelerate or decelerate quickly. This reduces the amount of damage to the tracks. Also, the cars are air-sealed to ensure stable air pressure when entering tunnels at high speed.

Side note: I felt the speed the most when going through the tunnels. The combination of the speed and confinement created excessive pressure on my ears.

Environmental Impact – the average ride (per passenger) on the Shinkansen produces 16% of the CO2 produced by the same trip made by a vehicle. Considering the Shinkansen has 342 daily departures with 1,323 seats per train, that’s a much smaller carbon footprint than driving. 

Safety – Very. No fatalities from derailments or collisions. Deaths have occurred from people rushing the train and suicides.  

Taking the Shinkansen is a fantastic alternative to driving and much less hassle than flying. We were able to book a train, hotel, and tour package at a very reasonable price. I hope when you visit, we have the opportunity to visit another part of Japan via the Shinkansen. You won’t be disappointed!! 

On a More Important Note

Sonia and I went on an ITT trip to the Doki Doki Flea Market located on the east side of Tokyo. Here was our route. 


Shockingly, traffic was a breeze both coming and going. The Flea Market opened at 10am. Here was the line to enter. 


Here was the crowd as we walked in! 


The Doki Doki was like a giant garage sale. I was hoping for lots of Japanese antiques. Nope. Not at all. Only thing I bought was lunch. Pizza and a beer from Uncle Ken’s bus with a built in brick oven. 


I don’t plan on returning next year. I don’t suggest you go either. Unless, you need bride and groom bunnies or cats. This picture summarizes the items for sale. 


On a more important note, we found out in the middle of the night that Dave was selected to promote to the rank of Captain! I am so proud of all his hard work over the past 32+ years of his Naval career. He is dedicated to excellence and an inspiration to so many. Congratulations, my love. I love you and I’m so proud of you! 


His work surprised him with a cake and balloons! 

Command Cave Tour

One of spouse groups I joined since arriving last summer scheduled a visit to the COMDESRON FIFTEEN “Command Caves.” The command is literally inside caves that were used between 1938 and 1945. Here is a picture of the entrances to the command caves still in use.


The tour included going into the area that is used today as office spaces plus, a tour of the underground tunnel/cave network. The tour required hardhats and flashlights! Dina and I before we enter the underground caves! 


According to our tour guide, more than 260 caves in more than 20 separate tunnel/cave networks were constructed throughout the Yokosuka Naval Base. These caves were built by the Imperial Japanese Navy. There are approximately 27km (16.77 miles) of known and charted tunnels throughout the Navy base.


During the war, these tunnels were used to conduct secret operations and provide safety from air attacks. At the height of their use, the caves contained a 500-bed hospital, a large electric power facility, and a small submarine factory and warehouse. Also during the war, it is estimated that more than 800 Japanese military members lived in the caves. Can you image living here… 



Much of the cave’s history is classified and not shared with the public. During the Korean War, the caves were used as an emergency shelter and storage area for U.S. forces. During the Vietnam War, a portion of the cave was converted into the office spaces used today. The first picture was an altar. 


In 1992, U.S. Naval forces surveyed and mapped out the caves. This proved to be a very difficult and time-consuming process. Each department of the Japanese naval base were order to build their own caves. This created chaotic organization of the cave and tunnel system. As a result of this survey, it was determined the caves were unsafe and therefore sealed off with the exception of three main caves that were refurbished and currently in use.


At this point, the caves are unlit, crumbling, and a bit creepy. There were signs, rock falls, rusted equipment and decomposing wooden hospital beds.



And bugs. Big gross disgusting gejigeji. Awful. Just awful. Nightmares for days after seeing these in the dark tunnels. I made sure not to stay longer than required!


Speaking of creepy. Dina and I give our best effort for creepy/scary flashlight face. 

I’m happy to report we both made it out and lived to tell about. Yet another item I can cross off my list of “glad I did it and even more glad I never need to do again!”

Shinjuku Seven Lucky Gods

The “Shichifukujin” or Seven Lucky Gods pilgrimages are quickly becoming one of my favorite adventures. The pilgrimage reminds me of a modern day urban scavenger hunt. You must find the Seven Temples/Shrines, stamp your temple book and retrieve your cute figurine. All of this while using Google Maps, a map found on the Internet and if you’re lucky, a little bit of broken English from a monk. Or as in case today, a monk who spoke no English but was great with giving directions in Japanese while pointing at a map. I’ll come back to that story in a little bit.

This is my third Seven Lucky Gods adventure. First in Meguro and then in Zushi. Each time, I receive information about the God’s meaning. I will share what information I was given today, which may vary a little bit from what I have told you previously.

Dina and I set out this morning to Shinjuku. Shinjuku is located on the northwest side of Tokyo. It was a little over an hour away. Here was our route.


Yesterday, I marked all of the temple/shrine locations with a star so it would be easier to navigate between them. We started at the bottom and walked toward the center cluster. Then walked to the temple on the far left. Then we took the train to the two temples on the far right.


At our first temple, Taiso-ji, we collected Hotei and purchased the boat the Gods would rest upon. Hotei: God of family, peace and protection from illness and disaster.


From here we walked towards the Hozen-ji Temple. However, we were sidetracked along the way by an amazing bakery.


I enjoyed a delicious chocolate croissant. I felt super lucky it was chocolate and not red bean paste!

Around the corner was the temple.


Here we collected Jurojin. Jurojin: God of long life and protection from illness.


Our third stop was at the Itsukushima-Jinja Shrine. It was literally in the corner of an intersection. There was a Koi Pond, Tori Gate and Shrine. Yet, no person was present.


We decided to continue our journey to the fourth temple, Eifuku-ji Temple. We thought perhaps we could ask at the fourth temple where to go for the third stop.


As I learned in my previous pilgrimage, one must be bold and knock on a door or ring a bell or even just walk inside the temple. Feeling brave, Dina and I went into the temple. There was a small doorbell next to a cushion. In English, it said “bell.” So, we pushed it. Simultaneously, there was a motion detector that kept going off when we moved. Behind the closed doors, we could hear someone moving around. In fact, it sounded like he was doing gymnastics. So, we waited. And rang the bell again. And waited. And rang the bell again. Finally, a monk came out not because he was responding to our ringing. He was doing his monkly business and we startled him so badly we thought we might have helped him finish his path to enlightenment. He almost fell over. We tried not to laugh. He recovered immediately and promptly came over, greeted us, set out cushions for us to sit upon and then went to stamp our books. It was incredibly hard not to giggle. When he returned, before we could even ask how to get to temple number three, he took out a map and started explaining how to get there, in Japanese. Very fast Japanese.


To summarize, we were at the purple dot and needed to got to the small blue dot. We had been at the large blue dot in the middle of the intersection. Again, all in Japanese with finger pointing and charades.

Before leaving, we collected Fukurokuju. Fukurokuji: God of health, happiness, and long life.


The other strange part of the conversation was that the monk was so happy to give us directions he almost forgot to give us Fukurokuji. We finally asked and held up our fingers showing little God. More charades…  Ahhhh, hai!

Perhaps, the funniest part, we actually made it to the Itsukushima Temple. Here we collected Benzai-ten. Banzai-ten: Goddess of music, arts, and speech.



Plus, a few early cherry blossom pictures!


Our fifth stop was at the Inari Kio-jinja Shrine. This shrine was so tucked away!!


We collected Ebisu-jin. Ebisu-jin: God of prosperous business.


My favorite picture at this shrine was of the banana at the alter. It seems to be glowing!


To get to the final two temples, we took the train to save a little time and warm up!

Our sixth temple was at the Kyo-o-ji Temple. Here we collected Daikoku-ten. Daikoku-ten: God of grain harvest and wealth.


At this temple, there were many cute statues.


Inside the shrine, we were greeted by a monk who encouraged us to open the window and shake the mallet three times for our wish to come true. So, of course, we shook and wished!!


Our final temple was Zentoku-ji Temple. This temple is dedicated to Bishamon-ten. Bisamon-ten: God of protection from disaster and evil.

The completed Seven Lucky Gods of Shinjuku.
We never received an explanation of the boat during our adventure and so, I looked it up when we returned home. One explanation is the Seven Lucky Gods travel together on a treasure ship (Takarabune) and visit Japanese ports on New Year’s Eve to dispense happiness. Also, the symbol on the flag of the ship is the Chinese character for BAKU. BAKU is a fictional creature said to devour or prevent nightmares. Children are told to place a picture of the ship with the Gods under their pillow on the evening of January first. If the child has a good dream that night, they will be lucky all year.

It was a fun and successful day exploring another part of Tokyo. Honestly, I was pretty impressed with our navigation skills and ability to find all seven Temples/Shrines.

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