Wabi-Sabi Sole

Finding Beauty with Imperfection

Category: Train (Page 1 of 7)

Hakone Highlights

Before arriving in Japan, Lisa asked if a trip Hakone was worth it and possible. Taking the trip was definitely possible. Katie and I visited Hakone last November for fall foliage. As to if the day long trip was worth it, well, it definitely would be on a clear day because we could have a great view of Mt. Fuji. Viewing the weather forecast, we decided Sunday would be a great day to visit and it would give Dave a chance to join us. (He hasn’t visited Hakone either and it was on his list.) We left the house at 6:45 to begin our trip to Odawara. We arrived at 8:15 and we were first in line at the ticket office when they opened at 8:30.on the train from Zushi to Odawara, I gave Dave a lesson in how to properly open an onigiri.

We hopped on the first train of the day from Odawara to Hakone. This was already our fourth train of the day!

We followed the same counter-clockwise route around the Hakone area Katie and I did a year ago. The second train of the trip around Hakone was the incline railway.

The third section of the trip was the Ropeway. We couldn’t have asked for a better day! The sky was perfectly clear.

As we crested the top, we were able to see Mt. Fuji. The entire car exclaimed with joy!

We stopped for a lengthy break after the first Ropeway ride. We enjoyed views of Mt. Fuji, the sulfur mines, and lunch snacks (fried potatoes and bacon).

We continued along the Ropeway enjoying more beautiful views.

The final leg of the journey was a boat ride across Lake Ashi. It was breathtaking.

After docking in Hakone, we walked over to the Hakone Shrine.

Before boarding the bus back to the train, we stopped for a couple final pictures with Mt. Fuji. We couldn’t get over how clear it was and perfect temperature.

We worked our way back home on the trains. Along the way, we stopped in Ofuna for sushi conveyor dinner. This restaurant had the cute Shinkansen delivery method. We had a couple impressive stacks of plates by the end of dinner!

It was a fantastic day. We were so lucky to have beautiful weather. More importantly, we are so happy to have wonderful friends visiting. We love sharing Japan adventures.

Family Day

On Monday, 10/15, I had the wonderful opportunity to greet my Uncle and Aunts and their friend during the Yokohama port visit of their cruise. Their ship docked at Osanbashi Pier in Yokohama. I took an early train up to meet them. Even on a cloudy day, it wasn’t hard to spot the ship!

After joining up, we set out for a one-day Julia Tour of Tokyo. Here is a picture of me with my Aunt Merrily, Aunt Eileen, and Uncle Jay. Throughout the day, we attempted to recall the last time we saw each other. It’s been at least 20 years since I saw my Aunt Merrily and probably closer to 30 since I saw my Uncle Jay and Aunt Eileen. Regardless of the time, it didn’t take long to quickly fall into step and reminisce of days past.

The cute blue elephants at the Yokohama pier were too cute to pass up a picture opportunity. Pictured here are my Aunts and Uncle and their friend, Nan, who was cruising with them.

Our first stop in Tokyo was the Tokyo Metropolitan Building. It provides a great birds eye view of Tokyo. The best part, it’s free! I joked that by taking them to the top of the building, I could show them ALL of Tokyo!

On one of our numerous train rides, Aunt Merrily asked me to take a picture of the Tokyo Subway map. It looks like a big bowl of colorful ramen.

After our trip to the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Building, we took a break for lunch. A delicious bowl of ramen filled our bellies and fueled us for the rest of the afternoon. I know I’ve mentioned how much I love Japanese eggs. The ones in ramen are smoked. Oishi desu!

After lunch, we headed to Harajuku. We walked and shopped our way down Takeshita Street. It’s one of my favorites in Tokyo. As long as it’s not too crowded!!

During our shopping, we stopped for a break. We thought we were just getting flavored tea. To our surprise, it had little balls of tapioca at the bottom. Needless to say, the first sip was quite a surprise. We all had different strategies for enjoying the drink. It provided a humorous highlight to our tour. Sometimes you just don’t know. Now that I do, I might not stop there again.

After a little more shopping, we took the train one stop to Shibuya. First stop in Shibuya is always at the Hachiko Statue. Hachiko is remembered for his loyalty. He walked everyday with his person to Shibuya Station. One day his person never came back. He had died of a heart attack. Hachiko lived the rest of his life at Shibuya Station waiting for his person to return.

No trip to Tokyo is complete without walking through Shibuya Crossing several times.

We stopped for an afternoon coffee at Starbucks for a chance to watch the scramble. We were lucky to see an almost poo brown bus pass through.

By this point, it was time to return my family to the cruise ship. One last train ride!

It wasn’t without a little bit of humor at the end. Nan’s train card didn’t have sufficient funds to exit. Unfortunately, I had already exited. She had to request the assistance of the station master. We were laughing so hard when he popped out of the wall!!

It was a a great day filled with laughs and adventure. It was great to share one of my favorite cities with my family. Simultaneously, it was really fun to reconnect and reminisce. Hearing stories of their travels and retelling stories about my grandparents warmed my heart. It was such a grand and special day. I couldn’t have asked for more – well, maybe a little bit more time together!

You Had Me At Pagoda

As I planned out my month of June, I anticipated Dave being home this weekend in between work travel. Because of this, I didn’t schedule an English classes for Saturday morning. Due to unforeseen circumstances, Dave is still on travel and I didn’t have English class. This gave me an entire day to plan something. I decided to shoot for the moon today and do something completely off the beaten path. I read an article recently about the top five places to see hydrangeas in the Tokyo area. Two of the places are in Kamakura, Meigetsuin Temple (where I went on Friday) and Hase-dera Temple. Another temple that was mentioned in the article was Takahatasonko-ji Temple. Takahatasonko-ji Temple is west of Tokyo. Google Maps showed me it was about 1.5 hours away and four trains.

I left at 9:45 this morning and was cruising around the Temple grounds by 11:15. It was very easy to find once I was off the train. It was less than a five minute walk and there were plenty of signs pointing the way.

I wasn’t only drawn to the Temple because of the hydrangeas blooming. As I was reading about the Temple, I learned there was also a pagoda. Say no more. I must go! Just as beautiful as I imagined.

The grounds of the Temple are beautiful. There was a small pond with huge koi and hydrangeas.

There was also a small Inari Shrine. I truly love the fact that the Japanese accept all religions. (Temples – Buddhist, Shrines – Shinto – two separate religions) If only the rest of the world could be more accepting, we would definitely have less wars.

Also on the grounds of the Temple is a path through the woods. The path is highlighted with 88 Jizo statues. They are inspired by the Shikoku – 88 Temple pilgrimage. I love the idea of the pilgrimage, but I don’t have the time or drive to complete it. Instead, I enjoyed taking a walk through the woods in the early afternoon and enjoy hydrangeas! Here is the map I followed. The little red numbers represent the statues.

I think I was a little bit early to see the hillside covered in hydrangeas. Regardless, I wasn’t disappointed. Here are a few pictures of hydrangeas.

At one point along the trail, you have a vantage point of the pagoda.

I probably took 88 pictures of hydrangeas. However, I didn’t photograph all 88 Jizo Statues. I just took a few pictures to give you an idea of what they looked liked and how they were marked.

There were so many varieties of hydrangeas. Here are several pictures of what we’ve started calling “lace hydrangeas.” They don’t fully bloom like traditional hydrangeas. Instead they have a few blooms on the perimeter and then a cluster in the center that looks like lace.

The view from the top of the hillside was spectacular. Tokyo is way off in the background.

Here is the view from the other side. Guess what you could see on a clear day… Mt. Fuji. Unfortunately, not today.

As with all the hikes in Japan, the trail included a lot of stairs! It was so peaceful, it was worth every stair!

A few more hydrangea pictures. They truly were beautiful.

I enjoyed my day Temple and flower chasing. The sunny and less humid day was perfect for walking through the woods. Just when I was smitten with Sakura season, I’m falling bloom over bloom in love with hydrangea season! I live the blue ones!!

Connecting the Dots

I have hiked the trails in Kamakura so much and visited the many Shrines frequently. Despite my wandering, I’ve never taken the time to determine how they are all connected. Today, Katie and I hiked the Daibutsu Trail with the intention of finding the trails to the Benzaiten Shrine (Money Washing Shrine) and the Sasukeinari Shrine (White Fox Shrine).

We met at 8:30 at Zushi station and took the train to Kita Kamakura. We were on our way hiking by 8:45. We needed to set out early because I had my first Japanese language class today. (More on that in a few.)

The Daibutsu Trail greeted us with hydrangeas from the start!

It was also good to start early because it is humid and warm. Rainy season has started and as a result, the foliage is green and lush.

We made it to the first small Shrine at the top of the small mountain in good time. We were again rewarded with hydrangea beginning to bloom.

Plus, the early bird gets the… turtle photo! Oh my gosh! So, cute!

And more hydrangea. I loved the contrast of the fresh blooms with the old tree.

We continued our way through the park and used Google Maps to help guide us to the Money Washing Shrine.

Before too long, we were walking along a trail that passed above the Shrine. We stopped and looked around the Shrine before continuing on our way.

Finding the White Fox Shrine from here was a little tricky. We used Google Maps to point us in the right direction. However, we couldn’t find the path. Instead we cut through the neighborhood and found our way along the streets.

Less than five minutes later, we found The White Fox Shrine.

Here’s our selfie at the Torii. I love exploring with this girl. Kindred VB spirits. She’s adventurous and chill even when we have no idea where we are going exactly. My only complaint is she makes me hike in front and then proceeds to talk about snakes. And yes, we saw one today. Katie’s spirit name is “snake whisperer.”

The White Fox Shrine is still so cute.

We made our way towards the back of the Shrine. On my previous visit, I remembered I saw a trail leading up and away from the Shrine. This time, we followed it.

The trail was a little treacherous and would be awful hiking after it rained. It was already slick and a bit slippery. We made it to the top without issue. And back to the main Daibutsu Trail. It was here, we realized how the trails and Shrines connected. We normally follow the trail to the Big Buddha. The trail going to the left will take you to the White Fox Shrine.

If only we could read Japanese, this might not be such a mystery. As we finished up our hike, hydrangeas waved us goodbye.

We took the train from Hase Station to Kamakura Station. We walked around Kamakura and bought a refreshing beverage before heading home. My Japanese classes are now going to be held on Tuesdays at another student’s house here in Ikego. Our teacher is my Friday English sensei. I wish I would have asked her a long time ago… like 18 Months. But, better late than never! I’ll let you know how my Japanese improves.

Kyu-Iwasaki-tei Garden

As I was looking at my list of things to do in Tokyo, I realized I still had one garden to visit from the article about finding wabi-sabi in Tokyo. I hadn’t had the chance to visit the Kyu-Iwasaki-tei Garden in Tokyo. The Kyu-Iwasaki-tei Garden is located on the north side of Tokyo, near Ueno Park.

It took about an hour and 20 minutes to get there on the train. With the rain gone, it was such a beautiful day, I was happy to be out and about.

The Kyu-Iwasaki-tei Garden was built in 1896. The main residence is a western style building that was owned by Iwasaki Hisaya, the third president of Mitsubishi. The entrance to the Garden leads directly to the western residence. Currently, scaffolding was covering the front of the residence.

The inside of the residence was spectacular. The route to explore the residence allowed visitors to go throughout the two floors.

There is a large two-story porch on the southern side of the house. The east side of the porch is enclosed.

The wallpaper in the house is valuable Japanese leather paper. I took a close up picture of the paper and the large stamping tool.

The western residence is connected to the Japanese residence. Only a small portion of the Japanese residence remains. Tatami mats covered the floors and intricate drawings adorned the walls. The views of the gardens looking out were so serene.

The third building within the garden is the Billiard Room. The Billiard Room is detached from the Western Residence. However, there is an underground passageway connecting the two buildings. The Billiards Room was designed and built like a mountain lodge found in Switzerland. Notice the high ceilings!

The grounds of the garden have been reduced to only a third of the original size. Urbanization has claimed the other two-thirds. The grounds are a blend of Japanese and Western styles. As I walked the grounds, it was easy to be transported away from the bustling city. The garden is distinctively Japanese.

My favorite structure in the garden was the gigantic lantern. It had to be at least 12-15 feet high.

Looking back at the buildings and viewing the large lawn, it is easy to see the western influence. Simultaneously, you can see how close the encroaching buildings are to the garden.

This picture might be my favorite from the day. I like it because it captures the eastern and western gardens and the western residence is in the background along with the urbanization of Tokyo. I think it nicely captures the wabi-sabi of the Gardens.

I imagine this garden isn’t visited very often, because of its proximity to Ueno Park. Most tourist want to visit the many attractions at Ueno – zoo, museums, etc. I have visited Ueno Park (during Sakura season) and honestly, I enjoyed the quiet and serenity of this park much more. I definitely found my wabi-sabi.

Miyajima Day Trip

Our second day in Hiroshima was spent on Miyajima Island. When Dave and I visited last May, we didn’t have much time to explore the island. We only had time to visit the Itsukushima Shrine and enjoy lunch.

As I planned the Thompson’s visit, I wanted to include time to explore the entire island and see the giant Torii at both high and low tide. We took a couple trains to Miyajimaguchi Station to catch the ferry to the island. Inevitably, with every Julia tour, sooner or later we will hop on the wrong train. It happened yesterday. We got on the street car instead of the subway.

Fortunately, I noticed after the first stop and we exited at the second. While on the crowded streetcar, Chase snapped a selfie. I guess being on the wrong train wasn’t a complete waste.

The rest of the trip to the island was smooth sailing. We found the right trains and boarded the ferry.

We arrived on the island at high tide. As we walked to the Itsukushima Shrine, we stopped for a few tourist photos.

The Torii at high tide is beautiful. The Shrine and Torii both appear to be floating.

After our visit to the Shrine, we began our walk up to Mt. Misen. The walk was enjoyable and we felt lucky to see even more Sakura.

Along the way, we stopped at a nice restaurant for lunch. It was delicious Japanese cuisine.

We continued our walk and came to an area with a few Sakura trees. As the wind blew, the Sakura petals scattered. It was definitely a highlight.

Our favorite part of this little park was the opportunity for refreshments. Including Bears. Yes, please. I would love a Bear!

Up and up we went. No Julia Tour is complete without a hill to climb.

We made it to the Ropeway and took two trams to the overlook.

The view from the lookout was amazing!!

From the lookout point, we started our way down the mountain. It would take about an hour and we wanted to be down in time for low tide around the Torii. We thought walking down would be easy… But, everyone’s legs were shaking by the end.

We made a quick stop at the five-story pagoda as we walked past.

Our timing was perfect for catching the Torii at low tide. It was even more beautiful than I expected.

We made one last stop for ice cream before leaving the island.

We crossed back on the ferry and took a train back to our hotel. We were all pretty tired from a fun day exploring and hiking.

Hiroshima

Monday morning we caught the Keikyu line train to Shinagawa. I know I already mentioned the Keikyu Line and Rilakkuma campaign. I must mention it again because we have enjoyed spotting cute trains and bears. Check out the giant Rilakkuma in Shinagawa Station. So, cute.

From Shinagawa we caught the 10:07 Shinkansen to Hiroshima. Again, I was so excited.

I took a video as we waited for our train.

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The train ride was about four hours. We bought lunch for the trip – bento boxes and Japanese sandwiches.

Plus, kawaii company with the adorable Rilakkuma characters dressed as Keikyu Train Conductors.

Our train arrived four hours later. We caught a taxi to our hotel, dropped our bags and headed to the Hiroshima Peace Park. Our first stop was to see the Atomic Bomb Dome.

We were pleasantly surprised to still see Sakura in bloom. The girls stopped and rang the Peace Bell. As all the tourist ring the bell, the sound brings a calling for peace. It’s beautiful.

Our next stop was at the Cenotaph. The Eternal Flame ignited us with hope for peace.

After visiting the museum, we walked to the fountain. Danny snapped this picture of the girls. To me it symbolizes the power of peace. He has also taken many other pictures I’ve used in sharing their story. I appreciate having an extra shutterbug and an iPhone 8 Plus.

We made our way out of the park and enjoyed more Sakura and tulips.

Yozakura

Wednesday evening, I met Katie and her daughter, Virginia, at the Kanazawa Hakkei train station. We took the train from here to Gumyoji. We wanted to see the Sakura at night with the lanterns. The Japanese term for nighttime Sakura viewing is Yozakura. We arrived around 1730. The lanterns were illuminated at 1800. We took a few dusk pictures while we waited.

Tonight was my turn to tell the flowers how much we appreciated them blooming for us. Katie gave her appreciation on Monday. I’m still giggling.

When the lights came on, we clapped. I felt like there should have been a count down. The lanterns were so beautiful. Oh, Japan. You continue to steal my heart when I’m not expecting it.

The evening was extraordinary and so enjoyable. We sat at a table and Virginia enjoyed her churros and we enjoyed our beers. After our snacks, we walked along the river a little more.

The rest of the pictures were taken by Katie. Her iPhone 7 out performed my iPhone 6 with respect to night pictures. Thank you, Katie, for sharing your pictures. I’ll look forward to upgrading my phone when we return to the U.S.

Even after four straight days of Sakura chasing, I’m still impressed and amazed with their beauty. I hope you’re not growing tired of them either!

Kombucha 101

One thing I’ve learned from my English students about the secret to a long life is to keep learning – it keeps your mind sharp. That’s why at 60+ years old, a couple are in their 80s, they are learning how to improve their English conversion. They were my inspiration to attend a Kombucha 101 brewing class in Tokyo.

Sonia found the course online through Best Living Japan and invited me to go with her. Sure! Why not? And by the way, what’s Kombucha?

Directly translated in Japanese, kombu means seaweed and cha means tea. However, that is definitely not kombucha. Kombucha is a detoxifier and a probiotic.

The drink has become very popular in the U.S. over the past few years. When prepared correctly, kombucha is a healthy and delicious beverage. It is said to improve your energy and intestinal health.

The drink is made using sweetened tea that has been fermented by a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY). The SCOBY looks pretty gross. Here our sensei was cutting pieces of SCOBY into each of our starter teas.

I was a bit intimidated as I watched and listened to our sensei walk us through the process of preparing the kombucha.

The first phase requires you to brew the sweetened tea and add the starter tea and SCOBY. They are put together in a large glass container, covered with a cloth, and left to ferment for 7-10 days.

The second phase is when the fruit juice is added to the fermented tea. The fruit adds flavor and carbonation. The tea from phase one is strained, the SCOBY removed, and about two cups of tea are reserved as starter tea for the next batch. For each jar of tea, 10-20% is fruit juice and 80-90% is fermented tea. The jars are sealed and allowed to sit at room temperature for 2-4 days. After that time, the kombucha can be refrigerated and enjoyed within the next 7 days.

As part of the class, each student was given a jar with starter tea and a piece of SCOBY. This would allow us to make our own initial batch.

On the way home from Tokyo, Sonia and I stopped in Yokohama at the Daiso. We needed larger glass containers for the fermenting process and elastic to keep the towel covering the jar in place. I had plenty of sugar and oolong tea to make my sweetened tea.

After brewing my tea, I let it set until it cooled. I didn’t want to scald my SCOBY. Once the tea was cool, I mixed them into my new glass pitcher. I added my cover and will check back in 7-10 days.

I’m genuinely curious as to how this will work out. I think I’m going to make strawberry flavored kombucha for my first batch. The strawberries will add desirable sweetness and adequate carbonation. Perhaps, I will be more bold if the kombucha does indeed taste delicious. The two glasses we tried in class today were very good. She offered us guava and peach. A couple of my friends in America have told me about their brewing successes. If you have any tips to share, please let me know! I’ll keep you updated on my progress as the kombucha brews. Kanpie! Here’s to intestinal health.

PS. The other two things to a long life include taking a walk everyday and eating sushi.

Tokyo Tourists

Dave received an invitation to the Kanto Plain Seabee Ball. The ball was held on March 10, 2018 at the New Sanno Hotel in Tokyo. We decided to enjoy the weekend in Tokyo. Unfortunately, the New Sanno was full for the weekend. Instead, I booked us a room at the New Prince Hotel in Shinagawa. We arrived Friday afternoon and checked into our hotel. The room was on the club level. Being in the club level granted us permission to use the Club Lounge. Besides the amazing view, the Club Lounge provided breakfast, snacks, and alcohol beverages after 5:00 pm. We were happy we decided to make a stop for happy hour on Friday. Because who doesn’t love free snacks and beer with a great city view!

We spent the rest of the evening exploring the area around Shinagawa Station. You just never know what or who you will see in Japan!

The place where we stopped for dinner had a true local flare. Like tiny sardines in my grilled rice ball and the homemade Japanese pickles served with our beer.

When I attempted to order a second beer, some how I managed to order two – of different sizes. Clearly, there was a bit lost in translation. Fortunately, Dave helped me drink the extra beer. Team D for the win!

Saturday before the ball, we took the train to Shibuya to walk around and shop. It’s always fun to be tourists in Shibuya Crossing.

This cute puppy was outside a coffee shop. He was there with his owner for several hours. We passed him on both Saturday and Sunday morning. Kawaii!

The Seabee Ball on Saturday night was a blast. I had the chance to wear my favorite gown and Dave looked extremely dapper in his mess dress. I love fancy date night.

No ball in Japan is complete without a sake barrel to open.

And traditional music performance.

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We took a group picture of all those who represented SRF. Not too bad of a turn out and everyone looked amazing.

The rest of the evening included dinner, speeches, and dancing. Lots of dancing and so much fun! Kanpie!

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