2007/09/30

Climb Every Mountain - Fiji's Rugby Team Upsets Wales 38-34

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Above: Fiji's winger Vilimoni Delasau is tackled by Wales's prop Duncan Jones during their Rugby Union World Cup Group B match at the La Beaujoire stadium in Nantes, western France. Fiji beat Wales 38-34 in one of the most thrilling World Cup matches of all-time. -AFP photo.

It was Fiji's first win in nine games against Wales and sees them advance to their first quarter-final since 1987.

According to Fiji's captain, Mosese Rauluni, it was the people of Fiji that made the difference. Captain Mosese Rauluni said the team was inspired by messages of support from back home and a story of a village that went to great lengths to watch the game. Because the satellite dish in their remote village did not pick up World Cup broadcasts, the locals settled on a drastic solution. "One of the villages climbed a mountain with a generator because they couldn't get reception," Rauluni said. "The whole village climbed the mountain and took the generator [and the village's sole TV set I might add ~Pb]. That's the sort of thing we're playing for."

Others in remote parts of the country listened the game by radio in the wee hours of the morning.

"We've always had political problems in the past," Fiji coach Ilie Tabua said after his team's victory at the La Beaujoire stadium. "One thing that unites the people there is rugby. They travel mountains just to watch a rugby game. To unite the people is a great thing for us. It will bring us together as a nation."

2007/09/27

Move Over Rodney

Poor Rodney Dangerfield never got any respect. I recently had the opposite problem. You see, this year my birthday fell on a national holiday in Japan- "Respect for the Aged Day". Ouch!
"I tell ya, I get too much respect!"

On the bright side, K took me out to dinner. We went to an Italian restaurant which she discovered when she went there with a group of teachers for a farewell party, a welcoming party, beginning of school party, end of the school year party, let's try another restaurant party, or one of the other myriad dinners that Japanese teachers hold during the year.

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The restaurant, located down a side street on the edge of central Kashima, is a family business and looks like a home from the outside because it is - they live behind the business. Parked close to the entrance is an small old Fiat car. In the front room , next to the kitchen, there is a large tiled oven where pizzas are baked. We ate at a table at a bay window in a larger room in which live music is played some evenings. The food was excellent - a small pizza, salad, spaghetti, and a large fresh prawn. I had a glass of the house red wine.

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Dessert was a wedge of heavy chocolate cake with a poached pear slice in chocolate sauce and a small scoop of vanilla ice cream. I'm not a big chocolate fan, but this was delicious. We finished with coffee. The prices were not bad either.

As with the French restaurant in Kamakura, on this Monday evening we found ourselves the only customers there, and were waited on hand and foot by the owner and his two helpers - his sons perhaps. (I tell ya, I get too much respect.)

The name of the restaurant is a curious one - Trattoria Cinquecento. A trattoria is a kind of restaurant in Italy that is less formal and usually offers take-out. That makes sense, but "Cinquecento" is Italian for 500. Seems an odd name. The clue that solves this mystery is the little Fiat parked outside.

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The car is a Fiat Cinquencento - named for it's little 500cc engine. These cars were very popular in Italy and were produced between 1957 and 1977. Fiat reintroduced an updated Cinquecento recently which has been very well received. (The new version has a peppy 1.2 liter engine and gets 67 mpg. Sorry, you can't buy them in the USA.)

The restaurant owner has two of the old Fiats - the second one is parked behind a hedge. I guess he loves them since he named his business after them.

So, Pandabonium completed another lap around the Sun and landed on "Respect for the Aged Day", but I'm not going to complain too much. It was a good day and a wonderful dinner.

There is a restaurant guide with a listing for Trattori Cinquecento with a map HERE. The owner is a soccer fan, so if you'd like to try it check the schedule for the Kashima Antlers team first - if they have a home game, Cinquecento might be closed.

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2007/09/24

Dîner Français and the First Kamakura Shogun

Fourth in a series that began with Road Trip (Railroad That Is) and continued with Putting On Airs followed by The Pirates of Ashinoko ...

Having left Hakone by train, we arrived at Kamakura station in the early evening. We were having a fast paced trip and while I am perfectly capable of navigating by myself around Japan (I did so for nearly a month once many moons ago) it takes me at least three times as long to buy a ticket, and find the right train or station or exit if I am on my own. K makes it happen much more smoothly, though that puts the burden of reading all the signs and timetables and so forth on her shoulders. I am sure that sometimes she must wonder whether she is my 'SO' (significant other) or my volunteer tour guide. "Better keep carrying the bags", I tell myself, "lest I lose my usefulness".

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While my long narratives may make it seem otherwise, we were only near the end of the second day of the trip. We walked from the station over to Wakamiya-oji, a wide avenue with raised pedestrian walk down the center that is lined with cherry trees, and headed toward our lodgings for the night - a sort of condo/hotel. After a brief respite in the room, we started thinking about what everyone does on such a vacation. Hey! Not that. I am referring of course to DINNER.

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We discussed some options and K lead us toward a Japanese restaurant on Komachi Dori, the next street over. We looked at other places we saw along the way, just in case. When we arrived, it appeared the restaurant had either closed or changed from what she expected (there was a mild disturbance in the "east-west communication continuum" that evening so I'm not sure which), so we circled back and kept looking. We came upon a French restaurant -"Habitue" - for the second time and took a look at the chalkboard on the sidewalk which had a couple of specials that were of interest. The price was more than we usually fork out for dinner, but not huge, and we were in a mood to have something special. Up the stairs to the restaurant on the second floor we were greeted by the owner/chef, and a totally empty restaurant. Well, there were only 16 or so seats, but it was all ours. The owner was working alone for whatever reason and what ensued was most unique experience.

Very cool jazz piano music was coming over the speakers at just the right volume - enough to enjoy it, but without interfering with our conversation. We started with a delicious wholegrain sourdough French bread. Next was a Mozzarella cheese salad with cherry tomatoes and a vinegar and apple jelly dressing. Then came a cold pumpkin soup. Between each dish I could see the chef working through the kitchen door. We each had a glass of Chardonnay with the main dish, which was sea bream, oyster on the half shell, and okra in a wonderful sauce. Dessert was a very light coconut parfait with plum, kiwi, and peaches. We finished with a cup of herbal tea blend - there was a choice of four - that came from Sweden - I forgot to write down the name. Other people showed up while we were dining, but as there was a lack of help, they were told to come back later. We felt very special. And the food? - délicieuse.

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If you recall, the French dinner at Fujiya Hotel in Hakone that we passed on was 30,000 yen for two. The total bill for this evening came to about 8200 yen ($71.00). If you are ever in Kamakura, try this restaurant. Map is HERE.

The next morning, we ate another "convenience store breakfast", checked out and headed for the train station to store our bags. (This was a top priority for me as I was very tired of schlepping our bags around, especially as I have a rotator cuff injury). We had a hard time finding lockers outside Kamakura Station that our luggage would fit into, and were lucky that an older man who works in the tourist industry (bus driver perhaps?) saw us and offered his assistance (Japan is full of helpful souls). Using his uniform, he took us past the gate monitor into the station where we otherwise would have needed a ticket to enter and showed us exactly where the lockers that we needed were located and didn't leave us until we had secured our luggage and answered any questions.

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Wakamiya-oji avenue which leads to the shrine. Note the surfboard tied to a motor scooter on the right.


Then we were off, back up Wakamiya-oji avenue to the historic shrine that marked the beginning of the Kamakura Period - Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine.

The first Shogun in the Kamakura Period (1185-1333), Minamoto no Yoritomo (1147-1199), built Tsurugaoka Hachimangu in 1180 in honor of the guardian diety of the Minamoto clan, Hachiman, and to mark his ascension to supreme Shogun following his defeat of the rival Taira Clan, making Kamakura the defacto capital of Japan for the next 150 years.

The buildings were consumed by fire in 1191 and rebuilt in its present configuration, though some buildings were rebuilt during Tokugawa Shogunate. Originally, the shrine also had Buddhist temples on its 20 acres. At that time, Shinto was seen as a Japanese manifestation of Buddhism and the two religions were practiced together.

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The arched bridge is called "drum bridge" and offer a views of two lotus ponds on either side of the main walkway.


The entrance to the shrine is flanked by lotus ponds (made by Yoritomo's wife) but there were few blossoms to enjoy at this time of year. The ponds are of different size and are called "Genpei". The larger (Gen) represents the the Minamoto clan, the smaller (Pei) represents the Taira clan. The Gen pond has 3 islands. Three in Japanese is "san", which can also mean creativity. The Pei pond has 4 islands. Four in Japanese is "shi", which can also mean death. So the ponds represent creativity to the Minamotos and death to the Tairas!

Buddhism and Shinto would later begin to be separated under the Tokugawa Shogunate and Shinto emphasized. Later still, the radicals who overthrew the Tokugawa shogunate in the Meiji Restoration of 1868 took Fukko (revived) Shinto as their ideology, and this became the new government's state creed. Shinto and Buddhism were separated by decree in 1868 and Buddhist effigies were ordered to be removed from Shinto shrines. So today, there are no Buddhist temples on Shinto shrine grounds.

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The cherry tree lined path leading to the shrine was also built for Minamoto no Yoritomo, or rather his wife, Masako. Yoritomo had two daughters and wanted a son. They made frequent trips to the shrine to pray for a boy, so when Masako became pregnant with their third child in 1182, he had the path constructed to make her walk easier. They did have a son by the way, who became the 2nd Shogun, and the name of the street, Wakamiya-oji means "Young Prince Avenue".

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A ritual dance stage at the base of the 61 steps that lead up to the main buildings.


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To one side, a wall of donated sake


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On a table in front of the worship hall (Haiden) is a box of wooden plaques which one can purchase for 500 yen. The picute of a horse (uma) represents the horses that used to be donated to shrines. On the blank back, one writes a prayer or wish then hangs the ema on a rack provided for that purpose.


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Prayers of donors hung before the Haiden


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Portable shrines used in festivals.


The beautiful vermilion lacquer finish of the building offered a pleasing contrast with the green forests surrounding them.

We exited through a side path and headed up a slope toward our next stop - perhaps the most significant of Kamakura's five great Zen Buddhist temples.

つづく (to be continued)....with "Katsu! How to Make a Zen Vacuum Cleaner"

2007/09/23

Pirating Iguanas?

The Fiji Island Banded Iguana (Brachylophus fasciatus) is an endangered species due to loss of habitat and is protected by an international treaty against trading in endangered animals.

A man has been arrested for stealing three of them from a nature reserve in Fiji in 2002 and smuggling them back to his home in California by hiding them (I'm not making this up) in his prosthetic leg.

Arrr, ye scurvy sea dog, is that an iguana in your peg leg or are ye just happy to see me?

It is believed he was breeding them. During an undercover investigation by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the man told an agent that four years ago he had sold three iguanas for $32,000.

Iguangas found in his home will be placed in breeding programs at zoos in the USA.

If convicted, he could be placed in a human zoo (jail) for up to five years.

Too good fer the likes of 'im - walk the plank, says I!

2007/09/18

A Moon Maiden Takes Flight - Princess Kaguya

Japan's oldest literary work is "The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter", which was written in the late 9th or early 10th century, predating the internationally more famous "Tale of the Genji" by a hundred years or more. That work actually mentions the story and refers to it as the "ancestor of all romances."

It is a story of a man who, while cutting bamboo, finds a tiny baby girl the size of his thumb inside a glowing stalk of bamboo and he and his wife raise her as their own daughter, naming her Kaguya-hime or Princess Kaguya - "radiant night princess". Over the following 20 years, under their loving care, she grows into a beautiful young woman. Kaguya-hime has a secret however, which she keeps from them. She is from the Moon, has been sent to Earth as punishment, and must one day return.

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Princess Kaguya weeping.

I can't do the story justice in this short space, so I encourage anyone interested to track down a translation. I was fortunate to have worked in a bookstore for a time and thanks to a thoughtful co-worker who knew my interest in Japanese culture and alerted me to the one copy of this book that the store received, I obtained it. The book I purchased has both modern Japanese and English translations as well as the original old Japanese, with many beautiful illustrations by the master of "kiri-e" (paper cut art) Masayuki Miyata (1926-1997). I treasure it. But back to our story...

The truth threatens to come out when Kaguya-hime's adoptive parents try to arrange a marriage for her and she sends each of five suitors on what she knows to be impossible tasks to win her hand. All fail.

The situation becomes critical as the Emperor falls in love with her and she with him, and he tries to prevent her departure by sending archers to guard her. But Kaguya-hime's celestial people blind the guards with a strange light. In the end she takes an elixir of immortality, leaving some for the Emperor, dons a cloak of feathers (which relieves her of her emotional attachment to Earth, her parents and the Emperor) and is lifted on a chariot into the heavens to return to the Moon.

The emperor writes a sorrowful poem that translates as: "What use is it, this elixir of immortality, to one who floats in tears because he cannot meet her again?"

He gives the jar of elixir and the poem to a messenger and commands him to take them to the summit of a great mountain in Suruga and burn them together. His men, accompanied by soldiers did as he requested and to this day the mountain is called by the name that means immortal - "Fuji".

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Fast forward one millennium...

On Saturday morning, JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) launched a rocket carrying a spacecraft called SELENE (SELenological and ENgineering Explorer) which is now on its way to the Moon. "Selene" is also, of course, the name of the Greek goddess of the Moon.

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The spacecraft represents the most intensive exploration effort of the Moon since the Apollo missions of the 1960's and 70's. SELENE has fourteen different kinds of sensors and carries two small satellites with it. From a polar orbit, one will map the moon's magnetic fields, the other will provide a continuous relay of data between SELENE and Earth. SELENE will be orbiting just 60 miles above the surface and will map the entire Moon with radar and high definition television images in addition to recording the Moon's gravitational field. We should be treated to some spectacular images of the Earthrise in high definition TV as well. It is hoped that the information gathered will allow scientists to learn something that Apollo did not - the mysteries of the origins and evolution of our neighbor. At the same time, the observation equipment installed on the orbiting satellite will observe plasma, the electromagnetic field and high-energy particles - information critical to any future long term manned Lunar missions.

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SELENE has been nicknamed KAGUYA and is referred to by that name within JAXA and in press reports in honor of the ancient tale of the bamboo cutter's daughter. Once again Kaguya-hima has risen into the heavens on a chariot and is going home - to the Moon.

TRIVIA - The story refers to the smoke from the fire of the poem and elixir as being visible to this day. This reference is what dates the story to around the beginning of the 10th century as the last time smoke was visible from Mt. Fuji was in 905. The book I own is "The tale of the Bamboo Cutter" by Yasunari Kawabata.

2007/09/14

The Pirates of Ashinoko

Continued from Road Trip (Railroad That Is) AND Putting On Airs

When we left off, K and Pandabonium were on the way back to the Fujiya hotel for dinner and a rest after a long day...

Fujiya French cuisine

We weren't actually going to have dinner at the hotel. They are famous for their French cuisine, but the dinners there cost ¥15000 per person (US$131.00) - oh, you want wine with that? A bottle of wine will run you anywhere from ¥4000 to ¥10000 ($35 to $87).

Fujiya Japanese dinner

They also have a Japanese restaurant which is quite beautiful and naturally offers exceptional food, but the prices likewise will slim down even a hefty wallet.

"Putting on airs" is fun, but actually paying for it isn't. Not quite what we had in mind anyway, so we walked around the little town of Miyanoshita to find more simple and affordable fare.

We wanted to try a tempura restaurant, but for some reason it was closed, so we settled for Italian. Our expectations for Italian food has been forever jaded by our favorite local restaurant - Wordsworth. The food this night was OK, but the seasonings and flavorings were too strong in each of our pasta dishes. We couldn't complain too much as the tab was a small fraction of the prices at the hotel.

During dinner we heard rumblings of thunder and on the way back to the hotel I happened to glance up a the sky just as a bolt of cloud-to-cloud lightning flashed over the entire length of the valley. Whoa.

K turned the TV on to get a weather report. We had read of cloudy weather being predicted for our trip, but tried to brush it off and hope the cold front would blow on by and leave us clear skies for viewing Fuji-san. For our first day, it had been nice, but we wouldn't be in a location to see the mountain until our second day. The gathering storm clouds seemed ominous, and the weather report was bad news. The cold front had run smack into a warm front coming up from the south creating a stationary front right over Hakone! As can happen under those conditions, the cold air acted like a wedge under the warm air, lifting it up and creating thunderstorms. It was unclear whether the ropeways (aerial trams) and lake boats we planned to take the next day would even be operating. It began to rain.

In the morning we borrowed a couple of umbrellas from the hotel and took a stroll through their beautiful and extensive Japanese gardens.

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There are two sure ways to offend the rain gods. One is to wash your car. The other is to go on a trip without an umbrella. So when we visited the local convenience store to pick up a quick breakfast of rice balls and yogurt, we also picked up a couple of collapsible umbrellas in hopes the gods would be appeased. They were not so quick to forgive and the rain turned into a deluge as we trudged back to the hotel.

I was feeling the need for a coffee fix. We decided to enjoy a cup of espresso in the hotel - ¥700 a shot ($6.10). Ah well, it came with a lovely view of the garden. By then it was getting to be 9 o'clock and K, worried about weather, felt anxious to get going. We checked out and headed for the station. Now that we carried our own umbrellas the rain stopped. And of course, as you might guess, we never needed an umbrella again for the remainder of the trip.

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There is also a really good clickable map of Hakone HERE)

We caught the Hakone-Tozan train and took it to the last stop at Gora. There we put the suitcase in a locker, but I made the mistake of not doing the same with the backpack. That decision would weigh upon me (heh, heh) the rest of the day. At Gora (still using our free passes) we boarded the Sounzan cable car, which took us to, well, Sounzan, where we transfered to the Hakone Ropeway.

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Sounzan Cable Car

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As the ropeway rose up the mountainside it offered a beautiful view of the valley behind us. Along this route one can see Fuji-san when the weather cooperates. Not today. Nearing the highest point, we entered IFR conditions, and the world turned white around us. The cars passing going the other direction were eerily empty and I told K that the "Crawling Eye" (aka "The Trollenberg Terror") must be waiting to eat us at the next station. She wasn't buying it. Not even pretending to. Sigh. (She doesn't believe in the Kitaura lake monster either.)


The next station was at the top of the ridge and we stayed on the same tram as it was moved to the next set of cables. The clouds broke at the ridge and we could see a bit more, but not the elusive Fuji-san.

At the next station we changed to a different set of trams entirely. Close to the station was a resort next to some sulfur fumaroles - not sure why one would want to spend their vacation smelling sulfur, but in Japan mineral spas all lie about promote the curative properties of the unique mix of elements in their waters. I'm sure they must claim really extraordinary things to sell sulfur mineral water baths.

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We were soon dangling over a scene from Dante's Inferno. Indeed, this area used to be called Oojigoku ("hell") until a visit by Emperor Meiji. It was not good to have the Emperor visit a place called hell, so they changed the name to Oowakudani ("Grand Hell") just before his visit. Happily the odor of sulfide only briefly entered the tram.

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A few minutes later we heard drums. As it grew louder we also heard shouts then band music. We were moving past a large gymnasium building where high school bands were rehearsing in some kind of music camp. What a great location for such an experience for the kids.

Lake Ashi (Ashinoko) was coming into view, one of its many cruise boats sailing along in the distance. The lake was formed in the caldera of Hakone some 400 thousand years ago. It isn't big - about 20 km (12.4 miles) in circumference, but quite beautiful because of the surrounding mountains with lush forests, and it is full of fish such as pond smelt, trout, and black bass.

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The "free pass" is good on the boats too. The four boats are replicas of pirate boats. “Vasa” is (loosely) modeled after the ship Vasa built by King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden in the first half of the 17th century. “Royal” is modeled on the 17th-century French warship Soleil Royal. The “Victoria” is modeled on a British warship from the 17th century, HMS Sovereign of the Seas, and “Frontier,” is a replica Mississippi river boat. The boats each have a few life size statues of pirates on board. Like I've said - one big Disneyland. "Yo-ho yo-ho a pirate's life for me." Avast! Belay that bellowing, ye scurvy dogs, and get aloft.

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Vasa - not exactly an inspiring name since the original ship was top heavy and overturned and sank within one nautical mile of the start of her maiden voyage.

We had lunch at a nice cafeteria overlooking the lake. I had fried lake smelt, which was pretty tasty. We then boarded the Vasa to cruise to the other (south) end of the lake. By this time, some clouds were drifting down to within a few meters of the lake's surface, and we realized that the chances of seeing Fuji-san this trip were between slim and none.

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Arrr... there she be, the Royal, listing to starboard and taking on water says I.

The trip to the other end of the lake takes 30 minutes or so. Along the way, one can enjoy the view of the west side of the lake with its wooded mountain slopes, and the east side, dotted with lakeside resorts and a ropeway that ascends Mt. Komagatake. There are two stops at the south end - Hakone and Motohakone. We got off at Hakone and walked to the Hakone Checkpoint Exhibition.

During the Edo period (1603 to 1868), the Shogunate ran the country though about 300 Daimyo (regional feudal rulers) with the Shogun in Edo (now Tokyo). To keep the Daimyo in line, their families were required to live in Edo. The Daimyo themselves would spend one year in Edo and the next in their local province. Traveling to or from Edo required biometric national i.d. cards authorizing documents, and checkpoints were set up and manned by soldiers and bureaucrats to check the papers of travelers and imprison and punish anyone who ran afoul of the travel restrictions. The Hakone Checkpoint was important in its day due to its location along the Tokaido - the main road between Kyoto and Edo.
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Lighting a fire in the kitchen.

Originally built in 1619, today there is a complete reconstruction of the checkpoint buildings on the site. Completed earlier this year, it features period furnishings and life-sized clay figures of bureaucrats, soldiers and even horses, so one can see how they lived and went about their jobs.

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Old style rain gear hanging in the kitchen entry.

They had some rather nasty looking specialized weapons for torture and punishment of "evil doers". I won't detail how they dealt with people caught trying to travel without permission. Suffice it to say, it wasn't with kindness or mercy. It was rather gruesome. (Alberto Gonzales would have felt right at home.)

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Hakone Checkpoint from Above

Travelers were stopped at gates at each end of the checkpoint. The road between was flanked by the offices on one side and the soldier's barracks on the other.
From a hilltop where a lookout post stands, (up a lot of long tall stone steps with that bloody backpack on) one gets a beautiful view of the, huff, puff, area.

A little further on there is a museum with original artifacts (such as some of the tools used for their "enhanced interrogation" of prisoners) and actual travel documents of the period. Travel papers for women looked different from those of a Samurai which in turn were different from those for a monk. As we emerged from the museum, some people were talking excitedly and pointing in the direction of Mt. Fuji. Could it be? Peeking out from behind a veil of clouds, the reclusive mountain was at last visible to us - at least a part of it!

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The mountain at the end of the lake is Mt. Marudake (I think). The top of Fuji-san is visible just to the right of Marudake's peak.

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Fuji-san played peek-a-boo with us, and disappeared anytime we tried to put one of us in the picture.

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We made it back to the dock just in time to board the next pirate ship - the Victoria this time, which would make the short trip to Motohakone and then back up to the north end of the lake. Most people do a circle route of Hakone and board a bus at the south end of the lake which takes them back to where they started the day, but K wanted every chance she could get to see Mt. Fuji.

K was unaware of the Motohakone stop and was convinced I had gotten us on the wrong boat and that we would have to wait a long time for another. She was ready to make me walk the plank or "kiss the gunner's daughter" and take 20 lashes from the cat o' nine tails, but lucky for me, I had been correct, and the boat only stopped at Motohakone long enough to disgorge a large tour group (of lily-livered land lubbers), and we were on our way again on a much less crowded boat. Raise the Jolly Roger!

From the bay of Motohakone, one gets a nice view of the torii of Hakone shrine. If you look closely in the picture below (much easier in the enlarged version), you can see Fuji-san sitting on the treetops above the torii.

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Behind the shrine, Mt. Komagatake rises to an elevation of 1357 meters (4,452 feet). A ropeway can take you from the lake to its summit, where another shrine was established about 2,400 years ago. The site offers spectacular views in every direction. Another reason to return to Hakone.

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We got a few more glimpses of Mr. Fuji while cruising back north. Considering how bad the weather had been in the morning, I think we were lucky. I've read many a blog post or travel article in which the writer never got to see anything of the mountain.

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We retraced our route. While the weather had improved, we still did not get a view of Fuji-san from the ropeway. Then it was back to Gora to pick up the other (ugh) bag, take the Hakone-Tozan line all the way back down the mountain and catch another train toward Kamakura.

つづく (to be continued)....in Dîner Français and the First Kamakura Shogun

2007/09/13

Peace Day Tokyo September 15, 2007

A peaceful tip of the hat to Martin at Kurashi - News From Japan.

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WORLD PEACE NOW




It isn't a ‘clash of civilizations’. It’s politics. It's about resources and who controls them. This clash is not inevitable, and we don't want it.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the key symbol of the rift between Islam and the West. It's time to step up and take the initiative. Add your voice to the AVAAZ.org petiton.

2007/09/07

Putting On Airs

continued from Road Trip (Railroad that is)...

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After checking into the Fujiya Hotel we upacked and took a few moments to catch our breath. I should have taken a picture of one of the staff girls, like the one who took our picture, in thier snappy uniforms with pill box hats. (Call for Philip Morris?). But no time, it was off to the Hakone Open-Air Museum. Catching the Hakone Tozan train at Miyanoshita station, we had a short ride to the next stop, Chokoku-no-mori.

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As I wrote in a previous post, sometimes it seems Japan is one big Disneyland. With Swiss built trains and aerial trams no less. Cue the accordion music.

The Hakone Open-Air Museum is a short walk from the station. Remembering to show our "freepass" we get the discounted entrance price and find ourselves in a rather amazing park full of bronze statuary. I had read about this place in books and heard about it from an aunt and uncle who visited some years ago, but it is really a very different thing to actually walk through it in person. What a wonderful venue for displaying these massive works of art. Most obvious on entering the grounds is "Man and Pegasus" by Swedish-American Carl Milles. It is thrust into the sky on a tall pedestal making appear to be soaring through the clouds.

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Nearby, Rodin's Balzac stands in a stoic pose against the mountains.

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Just below, four statues by Emile Antoine Bourdelle -"The Eloquence", "The Force", "The Victory" and "The Liberty" dwarf visitors, yet in turn are dwarfed by the surrounding mountains.

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Henry Moore's abstract forms leisurely occupy space on a lawn, with nothing to distract from them. This museum owns 26 of the English master sculptor's works and rotates them, displaying several at a time. Moore famously proclaimed that "sculpture is an art of the open air".

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Henry Moore's 'Reclining Figure' 1969-70


We had good weather the first day and the views from the museum were inspiring.

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With 100 sculptures on exhibit on over 17 acres of land, one can spend a lot of time here to see it all. So even though this post is full of photos, it is a small fraction of what is there. I've put some additional pictures in a slide show at the end.

As we went on, and on, things became curiouser and curiouser.

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K waves as Pandabonium snaps a reflective shot.

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Some sculptures are beautiful and tender...

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some perhaps clever...

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others amusing (or confusing - the hares are boxing on a cross) ...

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and then there are those which remind us of certain friends....

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Near a building housing a gallery of modern paintings as well as souvenir and snack shop, stands a tower of stained glass called Symphonic Sculpture (1975) by French artist Gabriel Loire.

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A sign says something about the symphony which brings joy, and inside, the stained glass tower is quite beautiful.

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But to view it all, one must climb the spiral staircase at the center. I don't like heights much. I'm not so bad as Jimmy Stewart in "Vertigo", but if I'm going to be high up, I want to be seated in a plane. The safety bars rise over one's own height, but no matter, it's the view down that counts with me...

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On top of the tower, the wind was blasting. That part of the symphony experience brought me little joy. There was however one thing visible from up there that was quite a relief.

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It was a trough of flowing hot spring water called "Hot Foot" - a foot spa for weary walkers.

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For 100 yen (about 87 cents) one could buy a small towel, find a spot to sit and enjoy the relaxing waters. Citron bobbed about adding color and a bit of fragrance.

Refreshed, we walked through a gallery of small sculpture and paintings, and headed for the Picasso exhibit. Hakone Open-Air Museum purchased a large collection of plates from one of Picasso's daughters, Maya, as well as oil paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, gold objects, silver compotes, gemmail glass art, and tapestries. I'm not a big fan of his (I lean toward the impressionists before him) but it was interesting to see anyway, and I especially liked the photographs of him at work in his studio.

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Another great museum in Hakone which we'd like to take in someday is the Pola. The impressionist works we saw in February of last year (post: Second Impressions) were borrowed from there. But for the short time we had, a visit to Hakone Open-Air Museum was obviously a must and we like to visit there again too.

By the time we left the Picasso Pavillion, it was almost closing time. Besides, footbath spa or no, we were feeling a bit like this -

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So it was back to the hotel for dinner and a well deserved rest. The next day we hoped to see Fuji-san. We had enjoyed good weather this day - better than we had expected - but things appeared to be changing...uh-oh...

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つづく (to be continued).... in "The Pirates of Ashinoko"