Wabi-Sabi Sole

Finding Beauty with Imperfection

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Illumination Festival

Miki invited Sonia and me to go with her to the Wano Akari x Hyakudome Kaidan Illumination Festival 2018. The Aesthetics of Japanese Illumination is currently being held at the Legendary Hotel Gajoen in the Meguro area of Tokyo. We met on the train Wednesday morning and rode together to Tokyo. I have visited the Hotel Gajoen each year for the Hina Doll Festival. This festival included illuminations from all over Japan. These beautiful lanterns greeted visitors at the entry.

The Illumination Festival was held on the historic 100 stairs portion of the hotel. As you climb the stairs, there are individual rooms where the illumination exhibits are set up. This picture of me on the stairs makes me smile. There is so much “Japan” about it. First, I’m in sock feet and carrying my shoes in the reusable plastic bag I was given at the entry. Second, there are small kokeshi dolls in little beds on the stairs, kawaii!! Third, the stairs are all numbered! I guess it makes inventory easier? Three words that describe Japan: Clean, cute, and organized.

Before we get to the illuminations, let me take a detour and share a few pictures of the kawaii kokeshi dolls. Well, mostly kawaii. A couple were scary.

Now on to the illuminations. The first room held a beautiful painting with many textures and colors. The painting reminded me of sand in a bottle – that changes when you flip it.

Also part of the exhibit where small igloos with kokeshi dolls inside. Their faces were very interesting.

The second room held three magnificent illuminations that filled the entire room. The floor of the exhibit was a shiny black glass. It reflected the light of the illuminations. The structures were made of wood and then covered with paper. It really created a beautiful work of art.

We continued up the stairs to the next exhibit. This exhibit was full of different illuminated sculptures. Some were made of glass and others were made from washi paper.

The next room along the stairs contained my favorite picture. I made up my own story. She is a beer princess being shot out of a cannon. She is sent to save everyone from the impeding tsunami wave. She is encouraging everyone as they run to grab their beers!

Also in the exhibit was a beautiful picture of Mt. Fuji.

Up and up we climbed. The exhibit in the next room incorporated items found in nature and light. I only took a few pictures. There were easily twenty different types of shells and flowers. The lotus flowers hanging from the ceiling were made of paper.

We made it to the very top and were rewarded with an incredible Ikebana exhibit. The arrangement was the size of the entire room. Plus, hanging from the ceiling were Japanese wind chimes. They have a dainty sound and ring summer joy into the air.

A few pictures of us, enjoying our visit!

After our visit, we headed back to Yokohama for sushi lunch. We stopped at a higher end conveyor sushi. I enjoyed tuna of course. But, I could help take a photo of the “slice” of watermelon for ¥350 ($3.50)! Can’t you buy a huge watermelon for that price in the U.S.?

Typhoon Jongdari

We have been anticipating the arrival of Typhoon Jongdari since Monday. The various paths had it hitting close to Yokosuka.

Regardless, of the actual path, we were expecting strong winds and heavy rain by 3:00 pm on Saturday.

The heavy rain actually started around 3:30 pm and is expected to continue through the night.

The storm pulled all the moisture out of the area. As a result, the weather on Friday was delightful. Less humid and lower temperatures. It was a great night for baseball. Dave and I went to the Yokosuka Baystars AAA baseball game Friday night with a group of people from his work.

Red Sox and Cubs represented.

The biggest cheering section of the game! They were hysterical!

This morning, the weather still wasn’t terrible. The humidity had returned and it was a little drizzly. Zushi Beach was deserted. The Beach cabanas were packed up in preparation for the incoming storm.

The storm doesn’t seem to be too bad. We have experienced worse. I think we will weather Typhoon Jongdari just fine!

TeamLab Planets

After the raving success TeamLab Borderless experienced during its recent opening, TeamLab had a grand re-opening of their 2016 TeamLab Planets exhibit. TeamLab Planets is also located in the Odaiba area of Tokyo. Sonia was able to reserve us two tickets for the 10-10:30 entrance slot. We arrived shortly after 10am and waited about 10 minutes to enter.

Lucky for us, the morning was overcast. The waiting area is also covered and fans had been installed to help visitors deal with the oppressive heat. As we entered the building, we were directed to stand in specific areas. During this period, we were given directions for attending the exhibit. First, we were told we would need to remove both our shoes and socks. (Honestly, in Japan, this doesn’t surprise me anymore.) Second, we were told to place all our belongs in a locker. Third, we were told we would be submerged up to our knees in water during our visit. (Wait, what?) Fourth, we were asked to use the provided smartphone cover to keep your phone dry. We followed all directions, ready to start our visit, and very curious and thoroughly confused by the water part. Until… we entered. We first walked up a long dark hallway. It was only illuminated by small blue squares on the floor. At the end of the hallway, we reached an incline that had water flowing down from a fountain at the top. (I’ll apologize now about my pictures. They are the best because of the lighting and in the beginning I had my phone in the plastic cover.)

After exiting, we were given towels to dry our feet. Only in Japan would they give each person a clean dry towel and have a return towel bin. Notice there are no towels outside of the box! I’m not sure I would want to experience this exhibit anywhere but Japan. The level of cleanliness was A+.

The second room required you to transit across bean bag cushions. It was like walking/crawling across the bead filled neck pillows. The sensory overload was really starting to get to me and make me giggle!

We transitioned through another dark hallway. This one was lined with red lights along the floor.

The next room was very similar to one of the exhibits in TeamLab Borderless. The streaming lights. They hung from the ceiling. The walls, floors and ceiling were all mirrored creating a endless amount of light.

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As we walked through, it was difficult to tell what was real and what was a reflection.

After passing through, we went down another dark passageway and came to perhaps the coolest part. It was a room filled with knee deep liquid. It was cloudy so the light wouldn’t completely scatter. Notice the liquid comes up to almost the knees of the adults in the picture.

On closer inspection, you can see koi!

The light show was pretty mind blowing and a little trippy. We stayed a good 10 minutes in the water room. Taking it all in…

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After the water room, we dried our feet with towels before entering the big color changing balloon room. This exhibit was again similar to the one at TeamLab Borderless.

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The final room was my other favorite. It was a huge room with a dome ceiling and mirrored floor. Across the ceiling, flowers were being projected. They were growing and changing and seemed to be flying past you all at the same time. I imagined I was going through space and instead of planets passing me, there were flowers. In this room, we stretched out on the floor and relaxed.

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Our time in this exhibit was much more structured than TeamLab Borderless. There was clearly a designated path to follow and workers were there to show you the way as required. We only spent about 30 minutes total in the museum. It was about an hour from the time we arrived and stood in line until we left. If I was doing this again, or planning a trip for friends, I would recommend we reserve a morning slot at TeamLab Planets, eat lunch and then visit TeamLab Borderless. It would make for a long day, but it was a long way to travel (1.5 hours one way) just for a 30 minute experience. If the thought of doing both in a day is too daunting, you could easily spend the night in Odaiba and shop in the down time. If I had to choose one over the other… hmmm. That would be tough. Probably TeamLab Borderless. More for your money (they both cost ¥2400 or $22.00). Although, I did love the crazy pool room of TeamLab Planets… either way, you won’t be disappointed.

TeamLab Borderless

TeamLab Borderless in Tokyo opened in June. Even before the opening, it generated a lot of press coverage. I had several wabisabisole readers share articles with me encouraging me to add it to my list of places to visit. Tickets were selling fast! Fortunately, I was able to purchase two tickets for Sonia and I to visit on Monday 7/23/18. The exhibit is about 1.5 hours away in the Odaiba area of Tokyo. We originally agreed to meet early and arrive at the opening. However, Sunday night I received an email encouraging us to arrive closer to 3pm due to the crowds at opening causing a wait time of 60-90 minutes to enter. We adjusted our plans and arrived around three o’clock. We were easily able to find the building and were promptly admitted to the exhibit. With the heat, we were happy we didn’t have to wait outside to enter!! Prior to entering, information was shared on the PA system in Japanese. Simultaneously, a worker held cards written in English. My favorite card was the one warning us “you will get lost.” Yes, indeed we did!

Here is an explanation of Borderless.

Basically, it is an interactive art museum that incorporates light, projection, body movement, and nature. Needless to say, my mind was blown several times throughout our visit. I will definitely add this to the next Julia tour itinerary.

At the entrance you are submerged into darkness. The only light is from the art. But, there is art everywhere and it’s being projected in every direction. The projections would change and literally seem to grow, like nature.

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There are so many different rooms with unique projections that change continuously. It is definitely easy to get turned around or lost because everything is constantly changing. No worries though, there are plenty of workers walking around who will happily point you in the right direction.

The upstairs is dedicated to the Athletic Forest. This part of the exhibit is geared towards using your body to interact with the exhibits. The floors were uneven and covered with projections.

Animal projections moved across the floor. If you stomp on the projection, it will explode into paint splatters. This was one of my favorites. I was running, stomping, and laughing like a kid.

I tried to video it… but, it was the one that got away!

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Also in this area was a huge helium float exhibit. The balloons floated up and fans in the ceiling pushed them down. The lights of the balloons changed constantly.

There was also a swinging ladder climb – in the dark!

If you needed a break from all the activity, you could sit and color your very own creature. Your creature would then be uploaded and come to life on the walls!

It was easy to see how everyone could easily spend hours wandering through. One room had an interactive projection wall. Each time you touched the kanji, it would change into something. Here is a short clip. I’ve already been touching the figures for about a minute to create the colorful background (it was black to start). Here is a short clip of my mind being blown by butterflies!

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We returned back to the main level and went to the other highlighted exhibit. The illumination room. The lamps once again were constantly changing colors. The entire room was mirrored; creating a Borderless continuation of light.

Sonia and I both really enjoyed the experience. There are even more exhibits than what I shared with you. Some were just too difficult to capture because of the lighting. Let me wrap up with one last little spot of zen in the middle of a hectic exhibit.

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Something New

My Friday English class is at a Community Center in Kamakura. Dave and I visit Kamakura frequently on weekends. Plus, Kamakura is a highlight on every Julia Tour. Until today, I thought I “knew” Kamakura. Turns out, I’ve been missing a beautiful Temple and scenic passageway to get to my Friday English class. Hidden in plain sight.

Let me backup and start from the beginning. In case you haven’t heard, the 2020 Olympics will be held in Tokyo. There is already concern that many foreigners while want to visit Kamakura and the Great Buddha while attending the Olympics. The local government is encouraging residents to become familiar with giving directions. One of my students requested that I assist them in learning how to give directions. So, at class today, Sensei asked me to give step by step directions from when I get off the train at Kamakura Station to arriving at our classroom. My directions went something like this:

1. Exit the train and walk down the stairs.

2. At the bottom of the stairs, turn right.

3. Continue straight, walk up a few stairs and then exit the station.

4. Walk straight across the street using the crosswalk.

5. Walk one block and then turn right.

For reference, this is the turn right intersection. My students became very confused. I assumed they wanted me to cross the street and then walk right. But, I explained it’s hot so I walk in the shade, one block, and turn left, crossing the street at the next signal (by the KFC).

There was a lot of chatter and laughter in Japanese after my explanation. They asked why don’t I walk through the Temple. Temple? I don’t know? Which Temple? We will take you after class. Ok!

I continued with my directions.

6. After crossing the street, walk down the street, following the green path.

7. The Community Center is at the end of the road.

8. To your left is the entrance.

9. Walk through the courtyard.

10. Take the second door on your right.

11. Walk up the stairs and the classroom is he first door on your right.

Interestingly, phrases like “walk down the street” and “on your left” or “on your right” are very confusing when learning the language. But, we eventually made it through. At the end of class, as promised, three of my students walked with me to show me the passageway through the Temple. It was beautiful and shaded! Just when I thought I knew my way around Kamakura, I learned something new!! This is the view from the street.

After entering, you walk along a lovely little path.

Check out the Lotus starting to sprout. They should be blooming in the next couple of weeks.

Here is the entrance from the other end.

I have been teaching this Friday English class for over 18 Months now. I can’t believe I’ve missed this picturesque Temple and garden! Now I’m really excited for fall!! Imagine how beautiful the leaves will be when they start to change colors!

Summertime

Meanwhile back in Japan, the rainy season ended a couple weeks early and right behind it came summer. Summer arrived without hesitation and with plenty of heat and humidity. According to this cute graphic from weaternpacificweather.com, it’s hot (almost) everywhere in Japan right now.

We live in the Kanto area and are expected to experience temperatures greater than 30 degrees Celsius. That converts to roughly 86 degrees Fahrenheit. I know that doesn’t seem terrible. But, please remember how humid it is this time of year. According to my weather app, at 13:00 the heat index was soaring up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

This was the fourth straight day “black flag” conditions. Today, the black flag condition was set at 10:00.

Unfortunately, looking at the long range forecast, there is no relief in sight.

Dave and I have been getting out early for our run each morning. We leave the house by 4:15 am and slog our way around our 5 mile loop. My pace is a lot slower than normal and I depend on Coach Dave to keep me going. Coach Dave incorporates more walk breaks for me and motivates me to “run” a little bit more than the day before. I’m hoping I’ll be better acclimated in the next couple of weeks. Or not and in that case, Summer won’t last forever!

The good news? There is an outdoor pool on our base. It’s about a 10 minute walk from our house. I have been swimming laps for about an hour each day. My h2audio headphones keep my shuffle dry and I can listen to music or podcasts to keep me entertained. It’s been nice to get back in the pool and it helps to beat the heat for a little bit!

I’ve employed one more strategy to beat the summertime heat. Besides my essentials at Costco, I made a silly spontaneous purchase at today. I bought an inflatable pool for our side yard. I see pool lounging in my future this weekend. Might be the best ¥2898 ($25.00) I spend this summer!

Maryland

I spent the second half of my trip to the U.S. in Maryland. I made sure to eat as many/much crab cakes, crab dip, crab rolls, crab soup, and crab pretzels as possible. I think I filled up on enough Maryland crab for at least six months!

Over a long weekend, two of my very close friends, Roxanne and Sue, from VB came to MD to visit. We met Sue at the airport and on our way back to Bel Air, we stopped at Fort McHenry. Fort McHenry is where Francis Scott Key was inspired during the War of 1812 to write the Star Spangled Banner. The fort is located in the Locust Point section of Baltimore. The views of were beautiful. Plus, we were able to participate in raising the humongous American flag.

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We rendezvoused with Roxanne and began our Bel Air Pub/Brewery crawl. The crawl was infused with food, beer, friends, and Maryland trivia. Starting with a stop at the Black Eyed Suzie’s (Maryland State Flower).

From there, we walked our way around the quaint town of Bel Air, stopping for tourist pictures with several hearts. The hearts are significant to Bel Air because Bel Air is the “heart” of Harford County.

The following day, we went to visit Ladew Topiary Garden. The garden ranks among the top five topiary gardens in the country. The wildflower meadow was filled with Black Eyed Susan’s. I was a little confused when we first passed the Torii. Then I realized we were at the Japanese garden. Notice the topiary Buddha. He kindof looks like a Grinch / Buddha. A great example of wabisabi. The imperfections are beautiful.

She’s a fox!

The garden still had several plants blooming. The garden was divided into distinct rooms that flowed from one to the next. We enjoyed a lovely humid day.

Check out the large chess pieces in this garden room. It might have been my second favorite after the Buddha.

The last day of their visit, we took a short road trip to Annapolis. It was an absolutely picture perfect day. The weather was delightful. We ate lunch and walked around downtown Annapolis and around the Naval Academy. It was fun to share memories and experiences with my friends and Mom! Seems like a lifetime ago!!

After Sue and Roxanne returned to VB, I had a few more days to relax and enjoy time with my Mom. We made great use of our time together. We walked the Ma & Pa Nature Trail, did a little shopping, and ran errands. Plus, my Mom had the great idea for each of us to paint a piece of pottery to commemorate our Bermuda trip. I’ll look forward to seeing our finished products after they are glazed.

It really was a wonderful trip. Spending time on holiday with my Mom in Bermuda was another trip of a lifetime. Relaxing in Bel Air and visiting with friends was perfect. I left the U.S. with my happiness bucket full. My bucket flowed over when I returned home and Dave welcomed me with a happy bouquet of flowers.

I am truly fortunate to have so much love and happiness in my life. That includes everyone reading this! Kanpai! Cheers!

Let’s Begin Again

Konnichiwa! I am safely back in Japan after a wonderful holiday in Maryland visiting my Mom. We spent half of my visit in Maryland and the other half in Bermuda. In Bermuda, we spent three nights at an air b&b in Warwick. While here, we had a chance to explore the pink sand beaches, Hamilton, and Dockyard. The beaches were definitely a highlight.

The city of Hamilton had so many picturesque spots. We enjoyed walking around and exploring the city.

A popular sight throughout Bermuda is the moongate. Walking through the gate is considered to bring good luck and happiness. We walked through as many as we could!

The second half of our trip we spent three nights at an air b&b in St. George’s. We had a chance to explore even more beaches.

We experienced several rain showers and rainbows. One morning we were caught in a torrential downpour when we were about 20 minutes away from our air b&b. We had a good laugh several times throughout our trek back in the rain and later as well. I’m sure we will remember that walk for a long time! Fortunately, we were able to se several rainbows as a result of all the showers. The wabi-sabi of a rain shower is a rainbow.

Also while visiting St. George’s, we took a tour of the Crystal Caves. The Crystal Caves were discovered in 1907. The limestone Caves were full of stalactites and stalagmites.

We really had a great week. Bermuda is a beautiful island with so many beaches and quaint areas. Here are a few more tourist pictures. Please enjoy!

I’m realizing this blog post is getting rather lengthy and full of photos. So, let me leave you with our happy memories of our Bermuda trip. Tomorrow, I’ll share our adventures in Bel Air.

Summer Vacation

I’m flying to the U.S. this evening. My ultimate destination is Baltimore. I’m going to spend a few weeks in MD visiting my Mom. During my visit we are going to take a trip to Bermuda. I’ve planned out some sightseeing and beach hopping for our week.

Also, during the trip, a couple of my favorite friends from VB will visit me in MD. (Sorry, you couldn’t move sooner, Sara!) Besides seeing loved ones, here are a few things I’m excited about to see / experience in America. In no particular order:

1. American Air Conditioning

2. Shopping

3. Maryland Crabs

It’s going to be a great visit. As I’ve mentioned before, when I travel out of Japan, I can’t promise I’ll have connectivity. I have to rely on wifi. I’ll post when I can and be sure to share our adventures when I return. Thanks for reading! Happy Summer!

Japanese Hanko

Sonia met me in Kamakura after my English on Friday afternoon. We had an appointment at a Kamakura Hanko to make our own personal Japanese Hanko.

A Japanese Hanko is a personalized stamp used instead of a signature. Just like your signature, the Hanko is hand drawn and includes at least part of your name in kanji. Each Hanko is original, like a signature, and then registered with the city for official authenticity.

The first step for designing your personalized Hanko is selecting the kanji that represents your name. I used the drawing Miki made for me last year when she had my name engraved on my sushi knife.

Sonia selected her kanji from the book the store provided.

The owner of the store printed the kanji for us and then we drew (traced) it on a piece of paper.

Tracing was trickier than you might think. Especially, after the owner took out the super fancy calligraphy pens. I clearly had no clue how to use the pens. He gave me a quick lesson after he watched me use it like a paintbrush!

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We left our masterpieces at the store to be engraved on our Hanko stamper. We both selected the cute kokeshi dolls for our stampers.

We had a couple hours to wait for our Hanko to be carved. We made good use of our time.

We returned to the shop a couple hours later to collect our Hanko.

There was a little bit of a “lost in translation” moment when we were picking up our Hanko. We both thought we selected this kokeshi stamp with a stand.

We liked the stand the kokeshi was placed in because it made a nice souvenir and conversation piece. The other option is keeping the Hanko in a case. In my opinion, a case would just get lost in a draw.

Well, to our surprise and disappointment, the kokeshi stamp we selected was the larger stamp (more official) and did not come with a stand. It came with a case. Sigh.

We attempted to explain we wanted the stand. There was a lot of back and forth and promises to make phone calls to the manufacturer of the kokeshi stamp to inquire about having a stand specially made for the larger sized kokeshi stamp. All we can do is just wait and see. And keep our fingers crossed. Despite not having the stand, I do love my personalized Hanko. And even as frustrated as I was, I couldn’t help but laugh. Even after almost two years of living in Japan, I still have “lost in translation” moments.

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