Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sankieien Garden Concert

Tuesday was a special day in Sankieien Gardens, Yokohama as this day the community was invited to view the harvest moon. The special event on this night was a concert featuring koto, as played by Hiroko Kodama (my koto instructor) and shakuhachi, as played by Shunzan Shitara.

Imagine sitting within a beautiful Japanese garden, watching the moon rise over a temple spire, and listening to traditional Japanese music, performed outdoors by masters of the art; it was awesome.

Pictures and a 10 minute video follow. Click on pictures for LARGE picture.







HARVEST MOON CONCERT VIDEO(Youtube Video 10 minutes)

Night time Garden Scene

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Shrine To Sea

Today, on another tip from my friend, I became part of the Enoshima "Shrine to Sea" festival. Getting off at the Enoshima train station, I hunted for the festival and, after not finding it, gave up and visited the main Enoshima temple.

While visiting the vast temple complex, which was up a hill and far above the street level, I began to hear the pounding, rythmic sounds, of Japanese drums - I found the festival!

Quickly I descended from the temple and joined the happy frenzy marching through the main street. Immersed in the crowd, I slowly walked behind the shrines(two shrines), as did others, listening to the chanting, the flutes, drums, shimisans, and all other joyous celebration.

Two hours later we arrived near the beach, having paraded for nearly two hours in the unforgiving hot sun. These were moments never to be forgotten. Please see the Youtube video I humbly took of the festival - it only captures a few moments, but they are worth watching.

Click on pictures for LARGER IMAGES.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Koto Concert

Having recently become a student of the ancient Japanese musical instrument called "Koto", I was invited by sensei Hiroko Kodama san to perform in the Yokohama 150th anniversary of the opening of the Port.

Joining six of Hiroko-sans other students in Yokohama's Skip Plaza, we played "Red Shoes", a traditional song of Yokohama. Following our song, we were excused, and the concert transformed into a masterful performance of both traditional and cutting edge music played by true artists: Sensei Kodama-san (Koto), Yutaka Handa-san (flute and soprano sax player), and a drummer playing a special Japanese drum (it makes a popping sound).

When Yutaka began playing a free jazz improvisation accompanied only by the koto, I knew another special moment, never to again occur, was then being created. When he took off the sax mouthpiece and began playing only the mouthpiece, the music went way outside anything I had ever experienced. As his improvisation began to close, it masterfully transitioned back into a traditional Japanese piece.

Most of these special moments will never be captured in a blog, and they certainly aren't captured here since I was more interested in the experience than in trying to record it. Again, my special Japanese friends were the real reason this event became beyond remarkable.

Please see the photos and video below for the few moments I did capture.

Sensai Kodama-san Preparing Koto

Paul Playing Koto (Rehearsing)

Star Quick-Study Koto Player

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Mt Myojingatake5/17

Great mountain.
Great hike.
It was warm.
I was drenched in rain showers.
My cell phone battery was dead at the mountain's summit.
I was dry and muddy at end of hike.
Took the 2 plus hour train rides back looking like a vagabond but feeling great.
Somehow managed to get a sunburn (not too bad).
Hiked from Sengoku, over mountain, to Daiyuzan.

Please see pictures below - click on picture for large image.

Trailside Mountain Flower

Sengaku Temple Garden

View From Myojingatake

Sunday, April 20, 2008


So today, Sunday, I went for another hike in the Hakone area - this time I summited Mt Myoujingatake (1169 meters) while traversing the backcountry between Daiuzan eki and Miyanoshita eki. (eki means train station)

Today the mountain climb included more than simply summiting Mt Myoujingatake. This climb involved route finding that included decisions for which trains and busses to board, which country road to hike to get to the trailhead, then which trail route to take by navigating from a Japanese topo map written in Kanji, and how to get home.

I climbed up one side of the mountain, summited, then hiked down the other side looking for a ride home. I had spotted a small community from the mountain top so I headed down the mountain in that direction. Well ... the town didn't have a train station, but even with my pitifully small Japanese vocabulary, I was able to obtain some guidance from kindly locals and, a bus ride later, and with some small town route finding, I was able to locate a station and get home (whew!).

Oh, I met a crew of Japanese hikers and had a nice chat on the summit. I am finding that with Japanese hikers and small town locals, you really don't need to speak the same language to communicate on a personal level.

Anyway, I took a few pictures on the mountain as you will see below.

Click picture for a LARGER IMAGE.

Trail up to Summit

Mt Myoujingatake
Paul on Summit of Mt Myoujingatake
View From Mountain Summit
View of Mt fuji From Summit

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Tsukiji Temple and Fish Market

Today, Saturday, I traveled to Tokyo's Ginza district, sauntered around the Tsukiji fish market, then entered the Tsukiji Hongwanji temple for a Budhist ceremony (see video below).

The Ginza district was packed with women's clothing high fashion shops and therefore of little interest to me. The nearby temple and fish market were much more interesting as was the music played for the Buddhist ceremony.

The fish market was a crowded maze of alleyways lined with mom-and-pop fish mongers and sushi cafes. Good-natured fish mongers and sushi cafe waiters competed for customers by singing out praises of their own fine products, explaining to everyone passing by why their food was the best. The noise, when combined with smells of fresh fish, seaweed, and cooking oils was pretty overwhelming, and I mean that in a good way.

Well, I couldn't pass up my chance to eat sushi at an authentic market like this one, so I ordered up some sushi at a small conveyor belt sushi cafe. I was served some of the best squid and urchin I have had so far! See Pictures Below and click to ENLARGE.

Tsukiji Fish Market

Tsukiji Hongwanji temple

Buddhist Ceremonial Music Video

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Daiyuzan Saijoji Temples

Today I hiked from the Daiyuzan train station to Daiyuzan Saijoji Temple. I hiked through an old growth Japanese Cedar forest, up through a steep mountain area, to the temple grounds which contained around thirty (30) temples, not just one.

Click HERE for a description of Daiyuzan Saijoji Temple. This was easily the most beautiful and serene temple grounds that I have visited to date; it was beyond comparison.

There is a network of hiking trails nearby and, even though I explored a couple of these trails, I plan to return and hike along many more ridgetops. CLICK TO FOR LARGE IMAGES

While hiking through the cedar forest, here is the first temple I discovered:

You really must have a strong desire to enter the main temple grounds - here are the stairs leading up to the temples (yes, they are very steep).

After climbing the stairs, I walked through this ancient gate and entered the temple grounds.
Cherry trees and waterfalls decorated the inner courtyards.

Here are pictures of the interior and exterior of one of the 30 temples.

Well, that's all I have for the Daiyuzan Saijoji Temples - one of my favorite places in Japan.

Sunday, April 6, 2008


Today (Sunday) I cracked the surface of Ueno, a district in Tokyo. Ueno is one of Tokyo's beating hearts, probably one of it's cultural centers. I could spend a month in and around Ueno and still only experience a small fraction of the cultural riches it offers, - it teems with what seems like millions of people.

Ueno contains what I consider the Smithsonian of Tokyo.

Arriving at Ueno train station, I was struck by the sheer enormity of the station - it was as large as, and as busy as LAX airport. Radiating out from the station is Ueno park, surrounded by museums and art galleries that rival the Smithsonian. Additionally, Ueno Park has the Tokyo zoo.

I visited the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum where, among other things, I saw a special exhibition on loan from the Louvre. This exhibition was pretty special. Nearby the Met was my next stop, the Tokyo zoo, current residence of Ling Ling the panda bear.

My lasting memory of the day however was of the contagious joy and excitement of the Japanese. Wherever I went there was an ever present excitement and high energy atmosphere effusing from the Japanese people, smiling, laughing, crowding in around exhibits and on streets like a mass of humanity pressed together and loving it, as was I.

Oh, and the outdoor, impromptu performing Elvis' concert was unexpected as a dozen Elvis impersonators twisted to some early sixties Elvis tunes.

Anyway, no pictures here, just impressions of another Sunday in Japan.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Cherry Blossoms & Parks

To celebrate Spring today, Saturday, I visted two flower garden parks and a shrine. The gardens were Kanazawa zoological garden and Kurihama Flower World. The shrine was in Kamakura.

So what do I really remember after all that has happened today? Well, I'll tell you.

I remember Godzilla (Kurihama Flower World).

I also remember a Japanese lady smiling "yes" as I asked for her permission to take her picture - she was hard at work hanging seaweed out to dry like so much laundry (Kurimaha near the sea).

I remember proudly climbing aboard my first Japanese bus, taking a seat, then standing up at the next stop to offer it to a weary senior Japanese lady. I remember her surprise at this act of kindness; she was very tired. As she accepted my seat and I stood nearby, backpack swinging from my lowered hand, she insisted on holding the backback on her lap to allow me both hands to keep steady on the bumpy bus ride. I remember, as she later departed the bus, her warm "domo arigato gozaimas" (thank you very much) as she bowed goodbye (Kanazawa Zoological Gardens).

My dinner in Kamakura tonight was also memorable. I ate dinner at a smal second floor restaurant near the train station. Seated at a table, I browsed the menu (all in Japanese), looking at the pictures of each meal. I chose the picture of a bowl of beef, seaweed, and egg over rice. The waiter accepted my choice but hesitated - he wanted to be sure that I had no objections to the beef shown in the menu's picture. I said "yes, its OK". He smiled.

OK, so here is the rub. I was served a bowl of raw egg, raw ground beef, seaweed, and three kinds of pickeled vegetables, peppers, and it was all cold as is the custom for this type of dish (I soon learned). Well, believe it or not - it wasn't too bad; I probably wouldn't order this dish again, but - not too bad.

As usual, it's the surprises, the new experiences, and the unplanned human interactions that are most memorable. Oh, and the cherry blossoms were spectacular everwhere I visited.

Well I can't take pictures of emotions and human connections, so you will just have to settle for a little Godzilla, seaweed, and lots of cherry blossoms - see the pictures below (click for LARGE views).

GODZILLA (Kurihama Flower World)

SEAWEED DRYING (Kurihama by the sea)

Kurihama Flower World Park

Cherry Trees in Kamakura

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Snow Monkeys

I took two guided tours this weekend, one to see the Japanese Snow Monkeys and Matsumoto Castle, and one to tour around the Mt Fuji area. was too overcast to see Mount Fuji but I did enjoy several nearby lakes and villages. Near Lake Yamanashi is the Yamanashi Gem Museum which was one of my favorites; the gems displayed were spectacular and rival any I have seen in the Smithsonian.

As for the snow monkeys, they were a very unusual sight - I'll leave the pictures below to tell that story. In an area buried in snow for much of the year, the macaque monkeys live in and around a natural hot springs near Nagano. We hiked 30 minutes through a snowy mountain forrest to find the hot springs and a nearby waterfall. The monkeys were fearless and harmless as they swam in the hotsprings, jumped out into the snow to eat small plants and insects (buried in the snow), and walked between our small group to find their food.

Trip pictures are shown below. Click on a LARGER IMAGE.

Snow Monkeys and Me

Snow Monkeys ot Springs Pool

Snow Monkeys

Waterfall Near Snow Monkey Hotsprings

Matsumoto Castle

Matsumoto Castle

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Gora & Tokyo

Allright - yesterday I bagged two small peaks near Gora, then Sunday I visited the Tokyo book and music district.

Gora and Beyond - Taking the train from Yokosuka to Gora (a long ways away), I was determined to go hiking and get a couple of peaks. I did. From Gora, I hiked up along the road to around Kowakidani, found a trail system, hiked past the Chisuji Falls then up the mountain to the summit of Mt Sangen, then the summit of Mt Takanosu. The peaks were pretty small and the view wasn't very spectacular, but it was fun hiking through tall bamboo reeds and visiting with friendly Japanese hikers.

The main challenge to this hiking was finding the trails. I had no idea where I was headed after getting off of the train in the small town of Gora. I asked around and received directions that I could only vaguley understand since no one spoke English. Finally, I did receive some directions from a young couple also walking along the road and sightseeing. After asking them, I could see they weren' 100% certain of the directions, but I spotted a group that looked like they were going hiking so I followed them and ended up at a trailhead.

It seems like I am always wandering around Japan, not sure of an exact destination, but finding it anyway, and being surpised by chance encounters with friendly Japanese and with events that I could never have planned for.

The next day I visited the Tokyo Ochanomizu book and music district. I counted about 15 guitar stores, all on two blocks, and I visited every one of them. My lasting impression - even the Japanese recognize American guitars as the world's finest - all of the high end acoustic guitars for sale were American. While wandering around Ochanomizu I discovered three large Temple complexes. At one such temple "city" Japanese pauperazzi were swarming around a half dozen scantily clad Japanese models , the models posed inside temple grounds (sorry, no pictures here, I had forgotton my camera).

Check out the hking ipictures below. CLICK ON PICTURE TO GET A LARGE VIEW.

View from Mt Sangen

Bamboo Forrest along trails to Mt Sangen and Mt Takanosu

Summit of Mt Sangen

Summit of Mt Tokanasu

Trail Sign

Trail to Mt Sangen (a few roots in the way)

Bamboo Forest Video