Farmor Esther and I have been enjoying Ada and Ruby's stay with us this week. The great weather has given us the opportunity to do lots of water related activities. Southworth beach, Long Lake, Jackson Park train ride, the Nelson trampoline and the Southworth kiddie pool. It is amusing to observe the two of us drop back into familiar parenting roles of twenty years ago. There are differences of course, but we do find ourselves defaulting to old routines. These days it's girls rather than boys, but with these two, it is no less active.
Sunday, July 21, 2013
At the end of every summer, one of ouir regrets is usually that we didn't do more hiking. After church today we drove to Chinook Pass and took the short 3.5 mile Naches Loop Trail. It was perfect for the day. Getting a late start, we wanted to get to the alpine meadows before hiking rather than after two hours of hiking through the woods. The wildflowers were just beginning to put on their annual show and the weather was actually warmer than in the valley. We left Enumclaw with 67 degrees and arrived at Chinook summit with 80 degrees. We took the long way home passing through Packwood and Morton.
Friday, July 19, 2013
Our annual pilgrimage to the lavender fields usually occurs a few weeks after the big festival, trying to avoid the crowds. Being used to crowds this year (Tokyo) we decided to go the first of the three festival days. The weather was great and we wanted to reward ourselves after a week of work. The crowds weren't too bad and we visited the arts and crafts fairs as well. Esther found a beautiful necklace and I realized that it was an opportunity for an upcoming birthday gift. We enjoyed a twenty mile bike ride on the Discovery Trail and Esther picked her bundles of lavender.
Thursday, July 11, 2013
Calvin and Bjorn made a breakfast of cabbage and eggs, an improvement over the rice ball on the go. We spent a little time packing up before going on a bike ride in the ICU neighborhood. It was wonderful to see where Calvin does his jogging, eating and shopping. We would have tackled a bigger ride but the 90 degrees and high humidity got to us fast. Our last meal in Japan was at a ramen shop close to campus that Calvin often frequents. After picking up our luggage, Calvin brought us by bus to catch an airporter to Narita. It was hard saying goodbye to Calvin, not really knowing when we will see him next. The bus ride to the airport was very enjoyable as we took surface roads and freeways right through the heart of Tokyo. The elevated freeways helped give a 'lay of the land' to a world we had been roaming in through tunnels for the last several days. A bridge across Tokyo Bay gave us a great view of the city. We had a good flight back to the US, getting lots of sleep over the Pacific. As the trip ends, we feel a great sense of gratitude for the opportunity to have experienced the time with Calvin and Sassa and the great country of Japan.
Tuesday, July 09, 2013
We had to suspend breakfast for several hours as we made our way across Tokyo to the Tsukiji Fish Market. Tsukiji is the largest fish market in the world with every imaginable sea creature for sale. We had to dodge forklifts and couriers as we strolled through the aisles and aisles of styrofoam packaging and sea tanks. The one stipulation Calvin had for the visit to the fish market was to eat raw fish. We squeezed into a tiny restaurant and I actually ate raw tuna and urchins. It was actually pretty good. The urchin was even a little sweet. On our way home we stopped to see the Imperial Grounds. By then the 90 degrees and humidity were getting to us. Some last minute shopping gave us a cool down in the air conditioning. In the evening we were invited to Dan and Caroline Brennan house at TEAM mission house for some BAKED salmon. It was nice to ride bikes home the three miles in the cool of night - our last night in Japan
Monday, July 08, 2013
Another day exploring Tokyo districts. A slower get up and a home cooked breakfast got us out the door a little later. Calvin secured bicycles for all four of us to ride to the train station (one less bus to ride). We met a friend of Bjorn's who works in the Roppongi district. The young men went to lunch and Esther and I found a Starbucks and saw the US embassy. Next it was off to the Shibuya district with it's trendy boutique shops. We really enjoyed the bookstore. After dinner we moved to the Shinjuku district to check out the night life. We also went to the 45th floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building for a view of the city. It is quite impressive with nothing but city as far as you can see. 33 million people in the greater Tokyo/Yokohoma area and most of them are using the public transit system.
Sunday, July 07, 2013
It is estimated that less than 1 percent of Japan is Christian. In our travels so far we have seen very little evidence of Christianity. Maybe one church was spotted each day. Today we were given a glimpse into the Japan church. Most Japanese churches are very small - less than 50 people. Calvin had an important test (Japanese Language Proficiency) that he needed to take today, so we went to Sassa's church which was having a joint service with two other churches. The three Calvary Chapel churches met in a local park. After being picked up by someone from Sassa's church and seeing their facility, we were driven to the park with others from the church. The church supports itself by operating an all day preschool. The joint service was very enjoyable, worshipping with fellow believers from a different culture. The Japanese pastor preached and it was interpreted into English. The church was very welcoming and we met some great people. We ate lunch with them before heading off to Calvin's church. We said good bye to Markus as he left to get back to work Monday in Seattle. Jesus Lifehouse is a progressive Hillsong church in the heart of Tokyo. It is very energetic with a club like atmosphere. It has a strong sense of mission to reach the young urban professional. It was great to experience Calvin's place of worship, even though he couldn't be there. He finished up about the time we did, so we met at Shinjuku Station. Sassa joined us as we enjoyed a tonkatsu dinner, one more culinary experience to add to our trip.
Saturday, July 06, 2013
Today was a shopping day. Calvin brought us to the Ginza district which is pretty much downtown. We were hoping to see an act of kabuki theater, but the line was too long to make it worth it. Instead, we did a lot of shopping. We also went to a very old garden along Tokyo Bay that was used for duck hunting by the Edo shogun. For supper, Calvin took us to the ramen shop where he worked. It was very delicious. We dragged our weary bodies back to Calvin's apartment, just missing the last bus and having to take a taxi.
Friday, July 05, 2013
A relaxing morning in the House of Light included a home made breakfast with a combination of Japanese and American dishes. It was raining pretty hard but the warm temperature and the huge wrap around veranda made it refreshing. The hostess was a little anxious to see us leave on time as a wedding party was scheduled for that day. While Esther and Sassa took the first trip to the family house in town, the boys and I took a walk through some of the nearby field art. After a short time at the house we went to two museums in town. One was a small kimono manufacturing site with a fabric and figurine gallery. The other one was a large museum with sculpture and conceptual art. My favorite was a dark room with a lighted model train riding a track with objects place next to and around the track. As the train moved the objects projected giant moving shapes on the walls of the room. Sassa's mom treated us to a curry lunch in the museum dining area. While the others went back to the house, Calvin and I went to pick Aki and Tsugumi up from school with Megumi. We were able to tour the school as classes had finished for the day but most of the students were still there at clubs. I was a little surprised at the facilities, expecting them to be filled with technology. Aside from a computer lab, it looked much like a classroom thirty years ago. Just a blackboard for instruction. The teachers all shared a common office room because the class stayed put and the teachers rotated. After saying good bye to Sassa's family, we headed back to Tokyo as our Rail Pass expires tonight. We really enjoyed our time in Tokamachi. Sassa's family were wonderful hosts and such fun to get aquainted with. The valley in which they live is beautiful. I hope that we can return some time and enjoy it some more. As we got off the train in Tokyo there was great commotion and crowds of people waiting for someone important. It wasn't us, it was the Emperor. We joined the crowds and had the unexpected treat of seeing the Emperor as he past by into a private tunnel.
Today was our opportunity to meet Sassa's family. From Osaka we took the bullet train to Tokyo and then another one to the Western slopes of the Japanese Alps. The crossing of the mountains was more like passing through the bottom of them as much of the trip was in tunnels. Sassa's family lives in the Shinano Valley in Nigatta Prefecture. What a contrast from the endless urban sprawl of the Eastern coast! Lush forested mountains tower over a broad river valley filled with rice fields. Small communities dot the landscape. The area is also host to many art displays. The Maruyama family rented an amazing lodge on the mountain side for us to share with them for a night. The lodge is a work of art. It is called the House of Light, and though it features traditional Japanese style, it was designed by American architect James Turrell to celebrate different features of light. Some highlights are a retractable roof that exposes a square dome and a large Japanese bath illuminated by phosphorescent light. We enjoyed a meal of sushi and torijiru soup while getting to know each other through our interpreters, Calvin and Sassa. A soak in the unique bath prepared our bodies for a peaceful sleep.
Wednesday, July 03, 2013
Staying in hostels definitely puts one in close contact with other travelers. Such was our experience in Hiroshima. We picked up a traveling companion for the morning. Adam just finished his two and a half year service with the Peace Corp. in Bulgaria and was doing some travel on his way home to Atlanta. The skies over Hiroshima were the familiar liquid grey of the Pacific Northwest. We took a short train ride and ferry to Miyajima Island and the famous Tori Gate and Shinto shrine. Behind Mt. Fuji, this is the most recognizable site in Japan. We were able to enjoy the sights, eat and do some shopping in the market before a rain squall drenched the area which knocked down a tree over the train tracks and delayed our plans. We spent the afternoon traveling to the metropolis of Osaka. We are staying in a hostel type hotel rather than the Internet hotel that Calvin had planned for us. Our feminine contingent was not so sure. The nightlife of Osaka does not seem to slow down for the weeknight as the streets and bars were filled with young people and workers sharing a drink with friends.
Tuesday, July 02, 2013
Our all inclusive stay at the temple included not only dinner and breakfast but also participation in the morning prayer service and fire ceremony. At 6:30 we were ushered into the temple to kneel on tatami mats and witness the chanting and rituals of Buddhism. The ceremony lasted about 30 minutes which included lots of chanting, gonging and bowing. The fire burning ceremony was in a different building with more chanting and the building of a fire to burn sticks that contained prayers. Another beautiful meal was elegantly presented to us in our 'dining room'. The morning and early afternoon were spent traveling to Hiroshima. We still marveled at the speed and comfort of the Shinkansen (bullet train). We quickly found our hostel which was not far from the train station. The Hiroshima Peace Park is an impressive memorial to a horrific casualty of nuclear war. The iconic A-Bomb Dome is the visual focus of the park which also holds several other memorials and a museum. One of my favorite is Sadako and the thousand cranes. The museum was very informative and it was interesting to get a Japanese perspective of WWII and why it ended. We enjoyed the evening walking the streets of the lively city and eating a bangohan dinner prepared on a teppan grill. Back at the hostel we had the opportunity to connect with people from Bulgaria, Sweden and Austria.
Monday, July 01, 2013
The morning began with a quick rise and off to Osaka to meet Sassa who took an overnight bus to meet us. We then caught a train to the remote mountain town of Koyasan, filled with historic temples and monasteries. It was a very scenic train ride as we moved from urban to rural to mountains. The final leg was a steep cable car. Calvin's planning and reservations once again brought us to a unique experience. We have two large rooms with tatami floor and futons, vegetarian dinner and breakfast. The monks are very young and helpful. After settling in, we went to a ramen shop and then strolled through the gigantic cemetery under giant cedars. The monuments were quite spectacular as well as the Torodo temple. On the other end of town we saw the Kongobuji temple with complimentary tea. The highlight of the evening was the vegetarian meal prepared by the monastery. Everything from seaweed to sesame tofu and far beyond, our palette's experience was enjoyed by all. An evening stroll through the lamplit cemetery ended a special day.