Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Let the Light Shine in

Ever since we moved to our current house we have been trying to get more natural light into our main living space.  Our view is to the north, so most windows in these spaces face that direction.  In attempt to utilize southern exposure, I have installed an additional window and two skylights.  Esther has wanted to get a glass front door for several years, but it was difficult justifying the disposal of the existing unique door.  This summer we decided to go for it.  We ordered a door June that has glass and a contemporary design.  It was delivered shortly before leaving for Japan, but we decided to wait until we got back.  Yesterday I installed it, and so far we love it.  It does compromise our privacy some, but only our entry area is exposed.  It takes a little getting used to but so far so good.

Friday, August 07, 2015


This being the last full day in Japan we were determined to get the most of it.  Hiroshima and Miyajima were on the definite bucket list for Ellen and Jenny.  Calvin and Sassa took the girls for the day because the marathon day would be too much.  The newlyweds took the girls to the Osaka aquarium.  Calvin and Sassa had not been there yet, so it was something new to them as well.  The highlight for the girls was the penguins and sea otters. Meanwhile, the five of us ventured out without our faithful tour guides.  Sassa gave us a detailed itinerary and Calvin let Bjorn borrow his Japanese iPhone-We were in business.  The hour and a half bullet train ride brought us to our southern destinations.  Miyajima is a postcard island with the iconic Torii Gate standing in the water next to a Shinto shrine stilted in the tidelands.  We took a ferry to the island and were  immediately struck by the abundance of 'foreign' tourists.  Esther was delighted with several oysters snacks, and we waded into the cool water avoiding jellyfish.  After lunch we returned to Hiroshima and Peace Memorial Park.  Ellen and Jenny said that it was well worth the effort and one of their highlights.  Being at the Memorial one day after the seventieth anniversary of the bombing made the experience seem very fresh with residual crowds and the dismantling of the ceremonial pavilion. Putting faces and names to the 140,000 victims of the bombing was very sobering. The Children's Memorial with the millions of cranes choked us all up. We worked up an appetite walking in the afternoon heat to enjoy some much anticipated Okonamiyaki at three floors of mini restaurants that all serve the famous Hiroshima dish.  Chefs grill the dish in front of customers.  We sped walked on full stomachs to the train station and caught an evening bullet train back to Kyoto.  It was a bittersweet evening spending our last night with Calvin and Sassa.

Thursday, August 06, 2015


An early rise got all of us on the train for a morning trip to Nara before Markus and Steph needed to leave for Tokyo.  Nara is the ancient capital city of Japan.  The city preserves the historic hillside and has the peculiar presence of deer in the park areas.  I mean hundreds, maybe thousands of them, roaming the streets and sidewalks.  Needless to say, Ada and Ruby were delighted by the deer. They are extremely tame and will allow people to pet them.  If you dare to feed them, they attack you.  Needless to say there is a distinct odor that permeates the upper city.  There is also a magnificent temple that boasts itself as the largest wooded building in the world.  There is a gigantic iron Buddha incased in the temple.  We quickly made our way back to Kyoto to say goodbye to Markus and Steph.  We decided that we needed to get some shopping done before it was time time to leave Japan, so we spent the rest of the evening shopping and hanging out in our rented house.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Himeji Castle

It was a comfortable night with AC and ample space and some privacy.  A breakfast on the go saw us on a morning train to Himeji sleepiji Castle.  The medieval castle was recently renovated.  It stands above the surrounding landscape and presents a prominent profile.  It is named after a white egret, because of its resemblance of the bird taking flight.  The castle itself is a very impressive timber framed structure six stories high.  We were able to climb through the entire ancient building imagining the centuries of occupants and the events the ancient walls witnessed.  The entire grounds with its gates, moats and shooting holes was for me the most impressive historical site that I have visited in Japan.  In the late afternoon we took a train back to Kyoto and visited the Inari Tori gates.  Thousand orange Tori gates line a 4 kilometer walk to the top of a hill.  Not all of our party hiked to the top, but everyone got their fill of the orange arches. Our final dinner with Markus and Steph before they head for Germany was appropriately take-out curry which was enjoyed in our rented house.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015


We left Kanazawa and Japan's west coast on a morning train to Kyoto.  The heat and humidity cranked up a bit and we had to adjust to the discomfort.  We were able to drop our bags off at the house that we are renting.  After a ramen lunch we were off to the Golden Pavilion the sweltering heat.  The grounds were crowded but the scenery did not disappoint.  We still had time to go to the large temple on the hillside over looking the city.  Orange pagodas and a huge ancient temple with a massive thatched roof nestled against the wooded hillside make this my favorite Japanese temple so far.  We were happy to get acquainted with our rented house: authentic furnishings and woodwork, tatami rooms and plenty of space for the eleven of us. It will be nice to stay in the same place for four nights. A visit to the neighborhood bathhouse where the women were schooled in boathouse manners prepared us for a good night's sleep

Monday, August 03, 2015

Cooling Off in the Japanese Alps

Our host at the small hostel in Kanazawa is very persnickety about every detail of our stay: where to put things, when to shower, how to wash the dishes.  He lives in the hostel and uses the same facilities as the guests.  It is a little uncomfortable, but it gives us plenty of entertainment.  We met Bjorn, Jenny and the girls at the train station where we enjoyed our first Starbucks coffee since being in Japan.  We then took a bus to visit a historic tea house street and give Ada and Ruby some playground time.  The city of Kanazawa is very pleasant; it doesn't have the bustle of Tokyo, yet it is very modern.  In the afternoon we caught a tour bus up to the village of Shirakawago.  This scenic village nestled under lush green mountains features gassho-style architecture.  Crafted centuries ago the framing structure is fastened together with special rope and covered with two foot thick thatch.  The result is a building that can withstand monsoon winds and earthquakes.  We spent three hours exploring this unique village which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Back in Kanazawa we ate dinner and retired to our lodgings.

Sunday, August 02, 2015


Saying goodbye to the Maruyama family was very hard.  We have come to love them dearly and have appreciated their generous hospitality.  We caught a series of trains in the morning and made our way Kanazawa.  Because the hostel we found does not allow children, we separated our party for accommodations and Bjorn and Jenny and the girls are staying in a hotel.  After dropping off our luggage at our respective lodgings, we did some sight seeing in Kanazawa.  Some of us went to a museum which was kid friendly while others went to a Ninja Temple, a ninja barracks disguised as a temple complete with secret passageways and booby traps.  We met up again to visit an ancient garden with ponds, waterfalls and bridges.  Dinner was Shabu Shabu, meat and vegetables self cooked on the table

Living in Art

The youth hostel was hot with no AC but the food was pretty good for a hostel.  We spent the day visiting more art exhibitions and driving through mountain villages.  The scenery is beautiful with lush green rice fields in every semblance of flat land.  We enjoyed a couple of meals at some local restaurants and the ladies got another bathing experience while the men moved luggage around.  Our final evening with Sassa's family was spend in an amazing house called the Shedding House.  It is part of the art festival so guests can only spend the evening hours at the house.  A group of artist took an abandoned historic house that had been modernized.  The workers restored the house to its original condition and then painstakingly carved millions of divots with chisels on all the inside surfaces.  The floor, walls, framing and rafters allThree thousand people contributed their labor, and the project took two years to complete. The result is stunning.  We slept on spread out futons on the carved floor.