2009/03/22

Satake-ji

A bit more fall color and history from our last trip to Hitachi-Ohta City...

There is a beautiful old temple not far from Seizan-so called "Satake-ji" or Satakedera. "Ji" and "dera" both mean "temple" and to add to the confusion, they are written with the same kanji character. I've seen Satake-ji written both ways on English websites, so I'm not sure which is correct, but I'll stick with ji.

Anyway, as I wrote of it in 2006, it "is listed as a National Important Cultural Property. In 1177, a local warlord, Satake, donated the land and made the temple the official place for his warriors to pray. The temple burned down in 1543 and took fifteen years to rebuild. That is still the temple building one sees today. In 1590 it was Satake Yoshinobu who unified Hitachi - what is now called Ibaraki Prefecture. No doubt a descendant of the Satake who patronized this temple."

Last time, my camera was improperly set up and all the pictures were out of focus. On this visit I took more pictures and of course, I have a newer camera.



There is a large old ginko tree there which carpets the grounds with golden leaves. Unfortunately, it is a female tree and bears fruit which fall to the ground. For the unwary, the fruit, which has a very unpleasant odor, sticks to the bottom of shoes. So after you visit the temple and get into your car to leave you may soon wonder "what is that awful smell"? Don't look accusingly at the person next to you, just get out and clean off your shoes. ;^)


Satake-ji is the 22nd site on the "Bando Pilgrimage" started by the monk Tokudo in 718, which includes 33 religious sites in the Kanto area dedicated to the Bosatsu Kannon.


The papers that are glued to the temple and gate, which have names written on them, were left by past pilgrims to show that they had visited the site as they traveled along the Bando Pilgrimage. The practice of gluing these papers is no longer allowed, but some people still do follow this pilgrimage which starts in Tokyo and takes them all over the Kanto region.

A statue of Kannon Bosatsu, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, holding a lotus flower and curled lotus leaf.


I like the thatched roof of this temple.


Behind the temple are some old wooden ladders.
A row of statues of Jizo Bosatsu, the Bodhisattva guardian of children, wearing red bibs inscribed with names and prayers.

Though the gate has been rebuilt in the 20th century, the guardian statues are the originals.


They are called "Nio" or kindly kings. A common feature of temple gates throughout the Buddhist world, they are named Kongo (or Ungyo) whose mouth is closed to say "Un" and Misshaku (or Ahgyo) whose mouth his open saying "Ah". They were originally derived from Hindu Divas who became incorporated into Buddhism as protectors against evil.

The garden of the minister's residence is in poor condition, but there is a beautiful red momiji (Japanese maple tree) by the wall surrounding it.

FYI - Satake-ji is just a seven minute taxi ride or 30 minute walk from JR (Japan Rail) Hitachi-Ohta Station.

2009/03/20

Seizan-so

Today was a holiday in Japan - Spring Equinox Day. In Buddhist circles it is called "Ohigan" and at this time graves are visited, decorated with flowers and the scent of incense is in the air. The day and night being equal, it is a symbol of the middle path, and a time of transition from Winter to Spring. The word "higan" (literally, the other side of the river) is the Japanese way of expressing the Sanskrit word "Paramita". The Six Paramitas (generosity, ethics, patience, effort, contemplation, wisdom) are the way that one gains the merit to attain enlightenment. In Pure Land schools, even those who do not attain merit in life are guided, through the Buddha's compasion, from this worldly shore to the "other shore" of the Pure Land - another transition. Like Obon, Ohigan is a time to celebrate one's ancestors and the Buddha's teachings.

So, what better time for a post about fall colors! (Well, that too is a transition).

November is when we usually head toward northern Ibaraki in search of autumnal tints. In 2008, we returned to Seizan-so in Hitachi-Ota City. Seizan-so was the retirement home of Mitsukuni Tokugawa (1628-1700), the Second Duke of Mito who was responsible for “The Great History of Japan” - a chronicle of the emperors of Japan from the first (legendary) Emperor Jimmu, said to have lived from 660 BCE to 585 BCE, to Emperor Gokomatsu who reunified the Northern and Southern Dynasties in 1392. The 397 volume history was written in all Chinese characters (Kanji) and was such an enormous undertaking that it was not completed until 1906 - over 200 years after Mitsukuni's passing and 249 years from the time the project started.


In recent times, Mitsukuni Tokugawa has been immortalized by the popular NHK period drama "Mito Kōmon", which has been running since 1969. Though based on the real Duke, the adventures of Mito Kōmon are fictitious and can be traced to novels of the early 19th Century. Kōmon is the Japanese pronunciation of Mituskuni's official title which was "Gon-chunagon", the equivalent of second Lord of Imperial Ordinance of China during the Tang Dynasty. This was an honorary titled conferred upon him when he retired. He is generally referred to as Mito Kōmon today with both affection and respect.


The name Seizan-so also has a Chinese origin. The poet Tao Yan-ming (365-427) wrote
"Jinkan Itarutokoro Seizan Ari" which means:

"A green hill fit for one's burial place is to be found anywhere.
Fortune awaits you everywhere.
There is room for us all in the world."

(Well, after all, back in 400 CE the population of the entire world was only about 200 million!)

Seizan-so burned down after the Duke's death in 1700, but was rebuilt about 175 years ago and today is open to the public. We have visited there several times, but last November was the best for viewing the colorful leaves of fall. There is a gift shop and cafeteria at the entrance. A small fee is charged to enter the grounds around the house.

It is a most beautiful and peaceful place to visit. Often we have seen artists sketching and of course lots of photographers trying to capture its essence. The man himself is an interesting figure, if one can tease historical fact from legend. That he created this place, farmed, and worked on the “The Great History of Japan” during the last 10 years of his life tells us much about him. He also seems to have had the common man at heart.

Mitsukuni Tokugawa was interested in herbs and their medicinal uses. He grew many varieties and wrote a pharmacology book about 397 herbs and printed and distributed the book to benefit ordinary people.

He also grew rice, plowing the 5000 sq. meter (about 1.25 acre) paddy himself, and in spite of his high office and relationship to the Shogun (he was his second son) he made sure to pay the same tax as any other rice farmer.







The main path, called "Duke's Alley".







A koi seems to swim among the red maple leaves reflected in this pond. From here, water cascaded down to lower ponds nearer the house. It is easy to let time slip by following the meandering paths and viewing the ponds, waterfalls, and lush vegetation accented with splashes of fall colors.




There are several interesting features in his gardens. One is the shape of the pond (a protion of which is shown above) by his home. He said, "You had better to read the opposite side of a person's thought. If you find his thought to be honest on the opposite side, he is good enough to be a friend." The word for mind or heart is "shin" which is written "心”. The pond is in the shape of 心, but upside down as seen from the house to represent viewing the opposite side.

The Duke's house. The plants at the top of the roof have a purpose - they are irides and act as a hygrometer for the thatched roof. If they start to droop, you will know to sprinkle water on the roof to keep it from being too dry and thus keep it from catching fire.

Behind the house are some Chinese Quince trees which produce a fragrant flower and a fruit from which a remedy for asthma can be extracted.

Path to the house from the back gate lined with violet bamboo.

The rear gate was used by commoners and the Duke's officers. Made of oak and thatched with miscanthus, it is much nicer that the main gate, which is a simple one of bamboo. They say this was an indication of his kindness and tolerance.



A newer tea house is set overlooking a large pond. His body guards lived above this pond to be near the road which approached the property.





Perhaps we'll visit in Spring sometime, as there are plum trees, a trestle of wisteria, and other trees that are lovely when in bloom.

2009/03/16

There Be Leprechauns!



The younger of me two darlin' daughters hopped off the Notre Dame Club of St. Louis float to strike a pose for the Fightin' Irish during the St. Patty's Day parade in St. Louis last Saturday. (The parade was started 40 years ago by a Notre Dame grad)



Leprechauns, castles, good luck and laughter
Lullabies, dreams, and love ever after.
Poems and songs with pipes and drums
A thousand welcomes when anyone comes.

That's the Irish for you!

A Happy St. Patrick's Day to ye, one and all!

2009/03/10

Das Boot!

Bluesette, our BLUE Lido 14 sailboat, has arrived.

After a long voyage, which took her first via truck from the W.D. Schock factory in Corona, California to Long Beach, then in a 20 foot long container on the 294 meter (965 feet) long container ship "SUN RIGHT" up to San Francisco and thence across the Pacific, she arrived in Yokohama - the Tokyo Container Port - last Tuesday.

SUN RIGHT

We were contacted by Japan Trust, which runs the container port here, the day before the "SUN RIGHT" arrived and told we needed a customs broker. Understandably, Customs will not deal with individuals and one must hire a licensed broker that knows the ropes to take charge of whatever is being imported and "walk" it through the customs maze. K found a list of brokers on the internet tubes and selected three. We got bids and chose a broker who could get us through customs and also truck the boat to our home. The latter requirement was necessary as the trailer is built to California standards and may need additional lights to be licensed in Japan. Much easier to work on licensing matters and possible rewiring with the trailer sitting in our yard, than having to try to jump through those hoops while it is still on the dock. (I learned this lesson through an article by a fellow sailor who imported a boat on a trailer and had to do it the 'hard way'). We also had no desire to tow the boat ourselves all the way from Yokohama Port to home.

The nail biting began when the driver called and left a message to say he couldn't find us. K was at a school graduation ceremony and I could not communicate with the driver. I called K's cellular phone and left a message. Happily, she was able to rush home and on the way actually saw the truck with the boat and was able to tell the driver where we were located!

Minutes later, K, truck, and boat turned up. Good thing the Lido isn't any bigger, as it just fit on the 4 ton truck and the truck itself just barely fit in our driveway - even pushing into our pomogranite bush. In fact, to back in, the driver maneuvered the truck with amazing skill to within only a few centimeters of our wall and a wall across the street.


The truck had its own crane and the driver set everything up and started to lift the boat. Uh-oh! It soon became apparent that the forward end was heavier than anticipated. Visions of the boat and trailer sliding bow first out of the sling to a tragic crash on the ground flashed through my head, but the driver saw it too, put the boat back down on the truck and we adjusted the slings.



Right after I took this picture, I ran over to steady the boat as the driver ever so slowly and gently set Bluesette down on terra firma.

She was heavily wrapped in foam sheeting, shrink-wrap, and tape . The mast and boom were wrapped as well and covered with heavy cardboard tubes. Somewhere under it all was our boat.


Momo wasn't sure what to think of it all. Her reaction, after the initial shock, was something like, "you aren't going to leave that there blocking my view are you?" After some initial sniffing, she stayed on her bench and "supervised" as I unwrapped the boat.


About three and a half hours later, I had Bluesette completely unwrapped and the mast and boom stowed. My muscles feel it now. Going to feel it more in the morning, I'm sure. All that packaging worked though - the boat and all appertenances are in perfect condition.



K and I pushed the boat and trailer into its parking space next to our garage and covered it to protect it from the elements. Another day, I'll set up the mast, boom and rigging and raise the sails - both to make rigging adjustments and to familiarize myself with it all. After all, it's been a lot years since I've sailed a Lido, and this is a much newer model with several refinements.


There is still much to do in addition to the above mentioned adjustments. We need to get the trailer through an inspection to be licensed for Japan's roads. We also need to buy personal floatation devices and other safety gear, and (uhg) wax the hull. But all of that can be done in due time. It's a while yet before the weather will warrant her first launch. Right now we're just thrilled that she's finally home!

2009/03/01

A Child's Mind's Eye

~ The illustrations of Ken Kuroi...

Not long after our trip to Hiroshima last August, we headed to Kita-Ibaraki City in the far north (kita) of the prefecture. We had been there before during Golden Week in 2006, when we visited the birth home of noted children's poet Ujo Noguchi, and the cliff side home of artist and author Okakura Tenshin. Those men lived a century ago, but this day we were seeking the work of a modern day artist - Ken Kuroi.

Kuroi, born in 1947, is an illustrator who is famous in Japan as his work appears in some 150 children's books, some of which are now being translated to English and are available in America (much to the delight of my granddaughters). He has illustrated some of the works of Nankichi Niimi (1913-1943) (sometimes referred to as the Hans Christrian Anderson of Japan), such as "Buying Mittens", and "Gon the Little Fox". The Tenshin Memorial Museum of Art was putting on an extensive exhibit of Ken Kuroi's work.


K drove us as far as Mito City where we caught a train for Kita-Ibaraki - Otsuko Station to be exact, as it is in Izura-Kaigan, a coastal town, where the museum is located. The train was much faster than driving and far more relaxing. Though it only travels at a top speed of about 80 kph (50 mph), it only makes a handful of stops and there are, of course, no traffic or stop lights. At Otsuko station, we boarded the city's little 20 passenger bus, which, in addition to offering a low fare of only ¥100 (at the time less than a dollar), let us enjoy sharing the ride with some of the local old folks and seeing a bit of the small town before arriving, after only a few minutes, at the museum.


The Tenshin Memorial Museum of Art is set on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, with a stunning view of the Izura coastline with its rugged sandstone cliffs interrupted by coves and sandy beaches.



A small library of children's books was made available just ahead of the exhibit. We stopped to take a look at some of them. The exhibit itself consisted of individual works, each framed separately, depicting the story books. Kuroi's technique looks as if he used some kind of spraying to apply paint - an air brush perhaps - but he does not. A display in a glass case along with a video presentation described his method step by step. He takes colored pencils and rubs them on paper until all that is left is the colored powder. He then mixes the powder with various thinners to make his own paint. He uses several kinds of brushes to apply the colors, and often incorporates paper stencils he makes to create repeated patterns, such as clouds or ocean waves. The effect is soft, glowing, warm, and unique. One does not have to be a child to be spellbound by his paintings. Kuroi also took a canoe trip down the Mississippi and wrote an illustrated book about it.

Cover of a book about Kuroi's work.

After viewing the art we bought some books and some other Kuroi items, stopped briefly at the souvenir shop and then thought about lunch.

The museum restaurant menu was a bit of a disappointment, with only Western offerings - sandwiches, pasta, and curries. We decided to try our friend's ryokan instead and got into a taxi to go there. When the driver heard our destination, he laughed and told us to get out of his cab! The ryokan, it turned out, was only a few hundred meters by foot path from the museum. He pointed the way. It was a lovely walk.


The restaurant, Tsubaki (camellia), is part of the building of Itsuura Kanko Hotel. It sits on the edge of a cliff above the ocean with a beautiful view of the same cove shared by the home of Tenshin. We chose a table near the window to enjoy the view. The area is well known for its excellent seafood and our lunch was delicious.



Pandabonium had ocean perch



K had sea urchin.


Our friend, who is the ryokan's Okami (general manager), surprised us with a visit at our table wearing her work clothes - a kimono - gave us towel kits and invited us to use the natural hot spring baths which are on the fifth floor and also overlook the sea. Unfortunately, we didn't have time for that. Good excuse to come back and spend a few days there.

After lunch, we walked down to Tenshin's house. Along the way is the grave of Okakura Tenshin. He died of influenza at the age of 51. In a farewell poem he asked that a plover bring him a flower and let the plover's chirping sounds be his epitaph. He wanted to "be buried deep in the fallen leaves under a full moon of 120,000 years and have the pines shade those who mourn him".


Burial site of Okakura Tenshin

The grounds of his home are now preserved as a park run by the Izura Institute of Art and Culture. A century ago, Tenshin had a large school for artists here. What an inspiring location. There is a small museum with some of his works and a wooden boat which he designed and built himself. A path leads from the house down to a red hexagonal gazebo - "Rokkakudo" - right over the water.




Rokkakudo


The ryokan, Itsuura Kanko, is in the background.

Why is this guy wearing a Hawaiian shirt?

Black tailed gull - pondering dinner perhaps.

We decided to take a taxi back to the train station. Along the way, the driver would wave to his friends, then turn to tell us who they were. Such things engender warm, small town feelings that are endearing about rural Japan.

Unlike our last trip, K did not have to drive in traffic for nearly four hours to get home, but could relax on the train for an hour or so back to Mito and just drive the last hour. Actually, we could have taken a train to within a couple of kilometers of home, but it was just easier for her to drive between home and Mito City and not have to make the extra rail connections each way.

Our faithful Momo, the Wonder Dog, had guarded the homestead well, and gave us a royal tail-wagging welcome in anticipation of her dinner.

Kita-Ibaraki is an out of the way place, but very much worth the trip for its natural beauty (there are inland mountains and forests too, rich cultural and artistic history, home town atmosphere, and excellent spas and hotels. It's one more reason I am happy to have landed in this prefecture. If you have the chance to visit there, do so.

I hope that the many books illustrated by Ken Kuroi continue to be translated into English and other languages. His art is worthy of world attention and most importantly expresses the stories in the way, I think, that the mind's eye of a child sees them.