K had Monday off so we took it out to run some errands in Kamisu City, stopped for lunch at our favorite haunt (Wordsworth - I had pasta with urchin, scallops, and asparagus that was soooo good, but which will, no doubt, contribute to my expanding waistline), and then headed north to Naka City, north of Mito, our prefectural capital. The destination this day was Shizu Shrine (no Momo, it's Shizu, not Shih Tzu) and neighboring Shizumine Furusato Park which has some 370 cherry trees.
Together with Shizu Pond, which is across the road from the entrance to the shrine (and frankly isn't much to crow about), these sights are on the list of Ibaraki's 100 best. Sometime I'll have to check off the Ibaraki 100 sights we've visited. The day had started off pretty sunny, with just scattered clouds, but by the time we reached Naka City, it was mostly cloudy.
While the cherry blossoms of many trees in Japan are long gone, the trees at Shizumine Park, while past the peak, still had lots. Why? Because most of the trees there are yaezakura - a late blooming variety with multiple layered blossoms.
K parked in a lot across from the shrine. Happily, the parking lot was nearly empty. The Insight has a rear camera and when one selects reverse the view behind the car is shown on the navigation screen on the dashboard along with grid overlay lines to make backing into a parking space a snap. (Reminds me of the '2001: A Space Odyssey' shuttle docking sequence at the orbiting space station.)
The shrine's first sets of steps aren't at all daunting, but that view is deceptive. At the top, one is greeted by - of course - many, many more steps. (Pant, wheeze - man, I need more exercise.) As we climbed the steps, a hawk was calling from high above in the ancient cedars, perhaps laughing at me.
Shizu Shrine was once one of the three most important in Eastern Japan - the other two being Kashima Jingu and Katori Jingu - as the Mito clan which ruled the area were its patrons. The buildings were consumed by fire in 1841 and rebuilt.
Inside, one can see the large round mirror in the honden (main hall). Mirrors are a common object of worship in Shinto shrines. This one is on a partition of clear glass, allowing one to see much more of the interior space than visitors do at most other shrines.
The park next to the shrine is fairly new, with many water features, a large round stage, and playground in addition to paths among the cherry trees. Admission is free (though parking will cost you ¥500 ~$5.00).
There were food vendors along the main path and we shared some fried sweet potato strips - sort of like French fries, but they leave the skin on and roll them in sugar - too much for our taste. I much prefer a plain baked one, which are often sold as a snack in Japan.
The trees are lighted at night and there were several of these bamboo lanterns about, which are topped with shoji paper decorated with leaves. Wouldn't they look nice lining a walkway?
It was a long drive home. Coming back took about an hour and a half or so, but the Insight proved to be very comfortable, and quiet. The seats have good back support. What about fuel efficiency, you ask? Well, K was learning to follow the lighting cues of the Insight. In "Eco mode" (which tells the computer to control the variable transmission accordingly and activates a special display system), when you drive efficiently, the background to the speedometer glows green. If you are too quick with the gas it turns blue-green, and if you really step on it, it turns blue. The computer keeps track and rewards you for being easy on the gas and smooth on the brakes with a display of leaves - the more leaves, the better you've done. Actually, this would be a good system to have any car, not just hybrids, to encourage less polluting, more fuel efficient driving habits. [By the way, my view is that NO car is "environmentally friendly" - that's just marketing spin. Some cars are just less environmetally-UNfriendly than others. The less we rely on cars, the better.] I jokied with K that in future models, instead of color changes, they should give drivers who use too much gas an electrical shock. ;^)
The estimates that the EPA assigned this car in the USA (40 city/ 43 highway) are WAY out of wack with reality. That might be realistic if you drive mindlessly with the eco mode off. Several professional tests by car magazine editors have shown rates in the mid 60s in terms of miles per gallon, and new owners are experiencing not much less than that under real world conditions.
We put a little over 180 kilometers (112 miles) on the car Monday and finished with an average fuel use of 24.1 kilometers per liter. That's 56.7 miles per gallon. Not too shabby for the first time out. We went about twice as far on a liter of gas than we would have in the older car. Way to go, K!
~~~For a cool interactive demo showing how the ECO Assist system works and the results of three types of drivers - aggressive, hypermiler, and average - visit this Honda page: ECO Assist Demo