Oh, we had such a wonderful trip! Steve, baby Hazel and I (my mom and sister-in-law bravely held down the homefront with Eliza and Hyrum while we were gone) spent 10 days in beautiful Japan. I could have spent 2 months there and still wouldn't have seen all the amazing historical structures and lovely places. Fortunately Steve is somewhat fluent in Japanese...If I had been by myself I would have been in deep trouble trying to figure out their transit systems! We still managed to get ourselves in a couple of bungles by taking the wrong train or missing the bus (more on that later) but it all worked out.
Little Hazel was an angel, and really seemed to like being on the go with so many new things to see and so many people playing with her and taking her picture. She was treated like a superstar the whole trip, as many people had never seen a caucasian baby before. I think I'll start calling her Kawai (which means cute), because that's what people called her over and over again, in adoring singsong voices with big smiles. It was great fun - we all loved it. She was a real trooper - whenever she got tired she'd just nap in her stroller and woke up happy and smiling again.
I ended up taking about 500 photos. I had a great time being on the lookout for all sorts of subjects, from the obvious tourist shots to close-ups of the many beautifully designed details of the rooftops, cornices, etc. (I "only" have about 100 shots of those types of details). Plenty of exciting inspiration for future creations!
This is in Nara, an ancient city that was the hub of instruction for the Buddhist religion centuries ago. This pond is famous because it has remained the same for hundreds of years, and appears in centuries-old paintings. There were tons of turtles in the shallow waters, and they obviously appreciate their sunbathing haven.
A contemplative and graceful breezeway surrounding a temple in Nara. Aren't the colors gorgeous? This structure was rebuilt sometime in the past 50 years after being destroyed by fire. Actually, almost all the ancient wooden structures have been burned and rebuilt at some point. Some were rebuilt clear back in the 1600's, and are still standing today. The architecture and construction techniques are truly stunning. Can you imagine building a building with wooden beams that have diameters of 4 feet and are at least 100 feet tall? All without any modern machinery or computers. Incredible.
The temple above is the largest wooden structure in the world, if I remember right. And this version is only 2/3 of the original size, as the original was destroyed by fire hundreds of years ago.
The deer in Nara are a famous, protected species and roam free in the park surrounding the giant temple. They are hardly wild, as you can see, and the biscuits in my hand are sold specifically to feed the deer. They are obviously aggressive when they want to be fed, and push, shove and bump to get their food. Fortunately they didn't head butt Hazel. She appreciated that.
A man making green tea mochi, which is a treat made of pounded rice. It's actually a pretty long and labor-intensive process, and two men take turns pounding the mochi with big wooden mallets. As luck would have it, my battery died right as I was about to take a picture of them pounding it, and by the time I switched batteries they were done. Ah, well, at least I have this shot.
I fell in love with all the sculptured trees in Japan. They are groomed and manicured meticulously, as can be seen by the picture at right.
This fierce dragon is guarding the ceremonial washbasin where people wash their hands and mouths before entering the temple. This one was at Kiyomizu Temple.
A peek at the decorative roof tiles...
I loved all the symmetry in the structures, and it repeats in the lanterns and sculptures outside. It invokes a strong sense of peace and comtemplativeness.
A chubby little character on a pedestian crossing sign.
This colorful cutie, we were informed, is not for sale. I found it really interesting that the Japanese people were very conservative in the colors that they wore (everyone wore dark blues, greys, and blacks, with an occasional ivory or pale brownish pink) and yet they love bright colors for their accessories, modern interiors, and of course the vibrant reds and oranges in the ancient temples.
A scary face on an obelisk in Sapporo. I think water is supposed to be coming out of his mouth.
This mannequin was outside a sewing machine shop. It is rigged so that the footpedal is moving up and down, thus appearing as if she's really sewing. Bright music was piped outside, the whole works. A great way to get noticed, for sure!
There were bicycles parked everywhere, on every street. In Tokyo I even saw a parkade dedicated to bicycles that was 6 stories high. The yellow bumpy stripe on the sidewalk is installed in every sidewalk, everywhere. We learned that it is for blind people. Great idea, but it sure made it tricky to push a stroller with ease! Speaking of strollers, I wondered why I almost never saw one...until we were in and out of busses, subways, and trains a million times, going up and down many many flights of stairs and squeezing into extremely crowded train cars. Then it became quite clear to me. I was just glad ours was a little lightweight umbrella stroller, as I could pick it up and carry it up and down stairs by myself with no problem.
A typical street sign. I have made my way through cities in Europe, America and South America without too much difficulty, but the street system in Japan was baffling. I'm sure that once I understood it I would be fine, but since I didn't it made navigation a little tricky. Very few streets in Japan have names. It's all organized by blocks, so if you're standing at the corner and want to follow a certain street to a place you see on the map, it's very hard to find the right street to follow. Fortunately Steve has a great innate sense of direction (being a pilot and all) and he could usually tell in which direction to head. It was also tremendously helpful that he spoke Japanese, as he was able to stop and ask passersby if we were headed in the right direction (I love a man who is not afraid to ask directions). The people were friendly and helpful without exception, and sometimes would even stop what they were doing to accompany us to our desired destination.
This is a typical display of plastic food outside a restaurant. Pretty much all the restaurants had at least a portion of their menu on display. I was pretty impressed by its realism. How would you like to be a plastic food artist?
Speaking of food, the markets where they sold food and desserts were so beautiful! I have no idea what half these ingredients are, but they sure are pretty. I would have taken more pictures here, but for some reason one of the ladies who worked there told me to stop taking pictures. "No camera!" she said. So that was the end of that.
The desserts, especially, were artfully displayed and most were sold in diminuitive, individually packaged portions.
I'm not sure what these glossy treasures were, but they simply glowed with golden luminousity! They each have a little golden tag inserted into the embellishment on top. P.S. I got permission to take this picture. :-)
The fruit on display at left is not at a museum, but at an upscale department store. These babies are priced like art, though - each cantaloupe is $120. People buy them to give as gifts or a get-well present for someone who is sick.
Okay, one more food shot. Remember the guy with the green tea mochi? These are mochi balls (although obviously not green tea ones) and no, they don't have warts. We actually couldn't figure out what was on these mochi balls, but they sure look interesting. They'd be great to pass out on Halloween, don't you think?
This was the funnest store! It's like an indoor carnival for youngsters, and I just love the way it was decorated. A dream destination for little kiddos, to be sure.
We all live in a yellow minicar...
This is the typical size of about 80% of the vehicles in Japan. Even their minivans and SUVs are miniaturized versions of what we have here in the USA. I'm sure they get much better gas mileage, no? When gas is approaching $4 a gallon like it is here in Hawaii, having a little auto like that is increasingly appealing...although not enough to get rid of my beloved Honda Odyssey (American size). I love that van.
In Otaru there was a handicrafts store that, in addition to jewelry, glass works, and a surprisingly huge inventory of Christmas decorations and trees all decked out (we learned that the Japanese like to celebrate the gift-giving and commercial aspects of Christmas...apparently regardless of the season), had a gorgeous collection of chandeliers all bedecked with flowers. I didn't even bother trying to find out how much they were (I'm sure they were beyond my budget) but they sure were beautiful. The store was right by the canal on the "tourist trap" street in Otaru, if any of you travelers want to go check it out.
This repurposed building is now a bakery selling really interesting goods like cakes that are baked, layer by layer, on big rolls and then cut into cross-sections to sell. The cross-sections look like tree rings - it was really interesting.
They also sold all sorts of crunchy goodies with unique, savory flavors that you'd never find in the US. Aside from the throngs of people pushing their way in and out of the shop, it was a real fun place to visit. We learned that May is tourist month for Japan, so not only were there huge groups from Taiwan, Hong Kong,and Korea, but all the schoolkids were out on trips as well. They all looked so neat and tidy in their matching uniforms.
I just had to include this picture. Have you ever seen such a pimped out van?! And in Japan, no less. Not only is it huge, but the Japanese people generally prefer to blend in rather than stand out. The owner of this vehicle obviously does not share that sentiment.
More everyday scenes. These girls were on their way to visit a temple in Kyoto.
I was instantly charmed by this outdoor arrangement in red...I think they are mailboxes. I'm kicking myself that I didn't notice my reflection in the window behind when I was taking this picture. Someday I'll learn how to use photoshop and reduce the prominence of that reflection.
I lied. The breads in Japan were so tasty, and these panda bear cookies were too cute.
We were able to see a kimono fashion show at Nishijin Textile Co. in Kyoto. What a treat that was. The kimonos were incredibly detailed and just stunning, and the ladies who modelled them were so graceful.
This is called the Golden Temple, although it's not really a temple at all. It is, however, covered in gold leaf. A very dramatic, picturesque place. Fortunately I am pretty tall and was able to get this shot by holding my trusty little camera above my head (and the heads of all the other tourists).
Even the gutters in Japan are artistic! I really like the triangular shaped stones in this gutter on the grounds of Nijo Castle, former Imperial Headquarters before they moved it to Tokyo (the headquarters, not the castle).
The grounds at Nijo Castle were so beautiful, so tranquil and well-planned. there were little stone bridges and peaceful ponds throughout the garden.
And here we are, at the end of our trip, back in Tokyo at the current Imperial Palace. I was extremely disappointed to learn that they are closed on Fridays and Mondays (we left for home on Friday and only had a few hours in Tokyo) because I'm sure the grounds are exceptional, but at least I got a shot of this little guard station from across the moat. I guess we should have done our travel homework a little better, eh? We walked to a nearby modern art museum, but discovered that it, too, was closed in preparation for an upcoming exhibit. (sigh)
Tokyo is such a huge, HUGE place that we weren't able to just hop on the nearest bus (or even the nearest taxi, since it costs an arm and a leg to go more than a few blocks in those) to get to somewhere else exciting and still make it to the airport in time. It was rush hour, too, so traffic was going at a crawl. Ah, well. We were pretty saturated at that point, so we just made our way back to the station and headed for home. Maybe I'll get to come back someday and see more of beautiful Japan another time. It was a marvelous trip.