I am finally over the jet lag from our latest trip to Japan. It took quite a few sleepy days and a couple mostly sleepless nights, but yes, we’re home and we’re sane again. When we left I was wearing sandals… not any more, it’s definitely time to pull out the wellies and the mittens. Thanksgiving has come and gone. I wonder what kind of winter we will have here in the Pacific Northwest.
This trip to Japan was actually the first in a very long time that had sightseeing as a prime component. Normally we are in Japan for business and to see family. We eat a lot of great Japanese food we can’t get at home, Blue Eyes attends a bunch of sales meetings, sometimes we see friends, and then we’re back, in a flash. Roughly 20 hours of flight time and a bunch of trains and subways, and that is a dose of Japan to us. Since we lived there in the mid 80’s, I have been back more than a half dozen times and Blue Eyes has traveled there literally dozens and dozens of times, sometimes traveling to Japan twice a month during the early days of our business. It is like our second home.
This time, however, was all about a one year old’s birthday celebration, and autumn color. I have been dreaming about this trip for years. The thing is, we were actually a little early for fall color. I’ll have to remember that for next time. Even though we weren’t in prime season for some sights, especially in Tokyo, I have never seen so many tourists in Japan. The temple and shrine grounds in Kyoto were literally crawling with out-of-towners. Chinese tours made up a lot of the population. I have not seen that before either.
Sadly enough, in Tokyo, Blue Eyes missed some of the most beautiful weather days, but hey, someone had to pay the price for such a lovely trip.
We all converged on Tokyo over Halloween weekend (not a big holiday in Japan) and settled in to the modern 1800 square foot house we had rented in the Meguro District. Me, Blue Eyes, both our boys and a friend of our younger son, plus my parents. The beds in the house were maxed out, including the futon style beds on the lower level, AND the three children’s beds the big boys crammed themselves into. Jet lag on arrival in Japan is not too bad, especially if a person is able to nap on the plane ride. I cannot sleep on planes, but by the time we arrived, late afternoon, got our bags, procured our J-Rail train passes, caught the Narita Express in to Shinagawa then took taxis to the house, it was nearing 8:00pm. A short three hours later we were all asleep.
Saturday was a day to relax and get settled in to our new neighborhood. Later in the day my brother, GQ, and his wife, brought The Princess (introduced in my blog here A ray of sunshine) by the house. She started daycare a few months ago and it seems she is always sick, poor little girl, but she is a trooper and hardly complains at all. I am going to post a picture of her because I think she is the cutest thing and I know my brother will never see this blog… and if he does, he is in for a lot bigger surprise than seeing his daughter’s face here!
Here is The Princess, in sleepy mode:
Most of our week in Tokyo was dedicated to birthday party festivities. The Sunday and Monday after our arrival, GQ and SIL were off work and we wandered the streets of Tokyo hitting Ginza, Muji Cafeteria, Marunouchi, Hibiya Park, and Monday eve we had a wonderful dinner together as a family celebrating my mother’s 72nd birthday. Tuesday was a gorgeous sunny and warm day in Tokyo, a national holiday as it turned out, and we all gathered at my brother’s favorite little French restaurant for a celebratory lunch in honor of The Princess. This restaurant is special to my brother and his wife as they had their first date there, they had their first dinner as a married couple there over 10 years ago, and they likewise celebrated at this restaurant when they found out they were pregnant. Fine restaurants in Japan generally do not allow children at all unless for a private party, so my brother rented the entire restaurant and 14 of us enjoyed the most exquisite five course meal. The day was beautiful, and Blue Eyes and I were so full, we decided to walk the approximate four miles back to our rental house. The iPhone map app took us on quite the circuitous adventure, however, we had a lot of fun on our journey.
By Wednesday, Blue eyes was off on his long day of work in Kyoto and the rest of us had a very late start to Kamakura. Even though I have visited Tokyo many times, I had never been to the city of Kamakura. “Kamakura was once considered the capital of Japan as it was the seat of the Shogunate and the Regency during the Kamakura Period.” (Wikipedia) It is a natural fortress as it is surrounded on three sides by hills and one side by water, it is located approximately 30 miles out of Tokyo towards the southwest on the Sagami Bay, and is a very popular tourist destination as there is a beach, and numerous significant and beautiful temples and shrines. Because our time was limited, we decided we must see the Daibutsu, The Great Buddha, and we only had time for one shrine and Hasedera was closest. We were not disappointed. Next time I will return with Blue Eyes and we will see more, but I can say we all enjoyed our afternoon in Kamakura. We took the little old Enoden Line train to Hase Station and walked to Hasedera (Hase Temple).
On the walls above and along the steps leading to the 30 foot wooden statue of Kannon (the goddess of mercy), and as seen on the terraced wall above in the photo, are small Jizo statues. Jizo is the guardian diety of children. The statues represent souls of miscarried, stillborn or aborted children. More than 50,000 Jizo statues have been offered here since World War II. The current Jizo, about a thousand of them, will remain for only about a year and then will be burned or buried to make room for more. Parents come to Hasedera and purchase these Jizo in the hopes that the diety will protect and watch over their children.
Inside the building above stands the 30 foot tall carved wooden statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy. No photos are allowed. It is one of the largest wooden statues in Japan and is made from camphor wood and gilded in gold. It has 11 heads, each head representing a different phase in the search for enlightenment.
According to legend, there were two large Kannon statues carved out of one huge camphor tree in 721. One was enshrined in Hasedera in Nara (Yamato Province) and the other was set out to sea to find the place with which it had a karmic connection. The statue washed ashore near Kamakura in 736 and this temple was built around it. (Wikipedia)
After leaving Hasedera, we walked about 10 minutes up the road to the Great Buddha, Daibutsu, an outdoor bronze statue of Amida Buddha. This statue is one of the most famous icons of Japan and I cannot believe I had never been to see it.
The statue weighs 267,000 pounds and is about 44 feet high. By the time we left the buddha, it was getting dark and we headed home.
The next day was The Princess’s actual first birthday and we headed off to Yoyogi Park where she was able to feed ponies at the pony park. Who knew there was such a thing in the middle of Tokyo?
From the pony park, we walked over to Meiji jingu, a famous shrine in the middle of Yoyogi park in the middle of bustling Tokyo.
There is a traditional rite of passage in Japan held annually called Shichi-Go-San (Seven-Five-Three) and dates to the Heian Period for nobility and the Meiji period for commoners. It is when three and seven year old girls and three and five year old boys celebrate childhood growth and well being. They wear traditional kimono style clothing and visit the shrine. Often the mother, and sometimes the father, dress in traditional clothing as well. In the picture above of the mother and daughter, they had a professional photographer along to capture the day.
Our second Saturday in Tokyo was solely dedicated to The Princess’s birthday party celebration. Her Japanese grandparents brought Cristal Champagne for everyone to enjoy. We feasted on goodies from Dean & Deluca (yeah, of course GQ caters through Dean & Deluca?!?) delicious Japanese birthday cake and the princess got to topple around (for about 60 seconds) wearing a 4.5 pound piece of mochi (Sweet Japanese Rice Cake) on her little back. For gosh sakes the girl weighs less than 16 pounds. Say what? I know.
“By carrying out this odd (and brief) ritual, good-intended parents wish for their precious child (all through his or her life) to be blessed with health, food and Enman (円満). 円満 represents perfection, harmony, peace, smoothness, completeness, satisfaction as well as integrity.” (blackcabbit.wordpress.com)
The Princess did a stellar job of carrying her mochi pack and no doubt all her parent’s wishes for her will come true.
Saturday night after the festivities were over, we wandered over to a famous Tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) restaurant in our neighborhood. The whole place was like a throw back to the 1940’s. I think some of the guys had been working there that long too. I don’t normally eat fried, but this place is a legend, so I indulged and didn’t feel too bad afterwards.
Saturday had been rainy, but we didn’t much care because we spent most of the day inside partying. Sunday was even more miserably wet, so Blue Eyes and I decided to go to a craft museum and that was cool. As the day wore on, however, I started having some tummy problems. I sent the boys off for Sukiyaki dinner on Sunday night and I stayed back at the house.
Monday my parents moved to a hotel as they were staying in Tokyo to spend a few more days with my brother and his family. Our older son needed to fly back to Brooklyn for work, and the rest of us took the Shinkansen to Kyoto for three nights. The first day I wasn’t feeling great, but managed to make it out sightseeing. We headed out to a place I am very familiar with, Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion.
Kinkakuji was built in 1397 to serve as a retirement villa for Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, as part of his estate then known as Kitayama. The Golden Pavilion, or Kinkaku, is a three-story building on the grounds of the temple. The top two stories of the pavilion are covered with pure gold leaf. The pavilion functions as a shariden, housing relics of the Buddha. On the roof is a golden fenghuang or “Chinese phoenix.” (japaneseincense.com)
Burning incense for purification of the surroundings and to welcome in the buddhas, etc…
As we left Kinkakuji I was starting to feel a bit more under the weather, stomach problems, a bit of a fever, a little chilly even though it was very temperate. Our son had found a beautiful looking spot for autumn leaf color on the outskirts of Kyoto at a temple named Ruriko-in. The temple grounds are only open to the public for a very short period of time in November each year and although he did find it on trip advisor, it is supposedly a fairly well kept secret to the Japanese. I really wanted to go, so we headed there immediately.
As it turns out, most of my best pictures actually had us in them. But I think you can get the idea of how gorgeous it is at this temple.
I could feel myself fading fast, so Blue Eyes and I headed straight back to the hotel while the boys headed off to more adventures.
On our way back up to our room, I HAD to stop at the Pierre Hermé store in the lobby of our hotel to purchase an Ispahan delicacy to try.
TOTALLY CAROLINE has been telling me about these concoctions, exclusively Pierre Hermé (created by him), since she found out we had a Pierre Hermé Patisserie in our hotel. The croissants are what she recommended, and they are filled with rose almond paste, raspberry and litchi compote, topped with a rosewater glaze and a sprinkling of dried raspberry pieces. They are as divine as TC made them out to be.
We had this as a snack, and I was doing okay, so we later ordered in a room service dinner. I couldn’t eat much of it and I really paid the price for eating anything at all. I was up and in the bathroom all night with a horrible stomach bug.
The next morning I was not feeling much better and so I sent Blue Eyes off to find some Immodium so the whole day was not wasted. Usually I am better at remembering to bring a stash of medications with me on International trips for emergencies just like these. This time, I forgot. Blue Eyes, with the help of the concierge, was able to find something that we think was Immodium. I took some, and then I took some more. By mid afternoon, and no food consumption for approximately 18 hours, I felt good enough for one final excursion of the trip, Kiyomizu-dera, one of my favorite spots in Kyoto.
Located halfway up Otowa Mountain in the eastern part of Kyoto City, Kiyomizu-dera is a historic temple that was established in 778, even before Kyoto became the capital of Japan. Since its foundation, the temple has burned down many times. Most of the current buildings were rebuilt by the third Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu in the early Edo period (1631 to 1633). The Main Hall (Hondo) of the temple is designated as a national treasure. (kiyomizudera.or.jp)
By the time we headed out, it was dusk and there were still hundreds and hundreds of people enjoying the sights and the restaurants and the shopping all around Kiyomizu. We stopped at one shop and I purchased a little vase for our future beach house.
I made it back to the hotel fine, and ordered a bowl of rice for dinner. I was once again up all night in the bathroom. Fortunately, by the time we left the hotel the next morning at 10:00am, caught a taxi to Kyoto Station, caught a Shinkansen to Shinagawa Station, caught a Narita Express to the airport, and spent 8 hours on a plane back home, I was doing pretty okay.
It did take days to recuperate and conquer the jet lag, but I feel good now.
We will return to Japan next year, maybe for Hanami (Cherry Blossom Season), and the trip will include shopping for our beach house. I have also, once again, caught the Japan sightseeing bug. There are so many more fun parks, and castles, and shrines, and temples to see. Plus, there is that little Princess…