2010/12/25

Please Don't Go

For you Christmas travelers out there, here's a tune by long time Japanese pop star Seiko Matsuda titled "Please Don't Go" from her 1987 album "Snow Garden".

It starts with Christmas tunes in the background as a taxi pulls up to a railroad station - goes to the sound of high heels walking then running for the train, whistle blowing, the locomotive chugging to life.... The music is at first soothing strings, but gradually it shifts into a jazz swing with clarinet. Seiko finally starts singing just after the 3 minute mark. The music takes on a Latin rhythm turning into a tango. Amazingly complex for a "pop" tune. The voices in the intro, including railroad announcements, are in English, the song itself, other than "please don't go", in Japanese.

I hope you enjoy it. Happy holidays.

2010/12/24

A Traditional Japanese Pasta Christmas Dinner

Well, it's our tradition anyway.

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Each year we have Christmas dinner at one of our favorite restaurants - "Wordsworth" which is named after the poet. We used to lunch there fairly often before we started sailing and eating at Mama's.

Wordsworth is an Italian style seafood and pasta restaurant. For a few days at Christmas time, they offer special set meals for dinner - reservations only.
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Kimie drank Perrie water with ume juice and an ume fruit in the glass (ume is Japanese plum, which is more like an apricot if you ask me, and is primarily used for making ume liqueur).


The meal began with Bagna Calda, a hot dip composed of hot olive oil, garlic and anchovy, along with raw vegetables to be dipped into it. Then came uncured ham with tomato and mozzarella cheese. Kimie had foie gras while I enjoyed stuffed horned turban shell. After that there was a prawn salad, and before the main course, a frothy cup of soybean soup.

For the main course, Kimie had pasta with squid. I chose pasta in cream sauce with spinach and oysters topped with salmon roe.

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Dessert - a wine glass with chestnut puree on coconut ice cream, and a long straw-like cookie. Finally, biscotti and gateau au chocolat with coffee or tea.

Another excellent experience at Wordsworth. I wonder what they will dream up for next year? Daffodils?

If you are still hungry for food pictures, you can read about our 2008 Christmas dinner, which featured different dishes, here: Le Delizie Gastronomici Della Festa

Happy Holidays

2010/12/21

Joy!

Friends. A wish for you all in two parts.

The opening ceremony of the 1998 World Olympics, Nagano, Japan. Beethoven Ode to Joy with Seiji Ozawa conducting the ... well... the whole world.



O Joy, bright spark of divinity,
Daughter of Elysium,
Fire-inspired we tread
Thy sanctuary.
Thy magic power re-unites
All that custom has divided,
All men become brothers
Under the sway of thy gentle wings.
Pacem in Terrace

It's not too late. If you want it.

Best wishes to all on this Winter Solstice and throughout the New Year
with love, from
Kimie and Pandabonium


*Seiji Ozawa, my all time favorite conductor, after a year's hiatus fighting esophageal cancer, raised his baton once again in Carnegie Hall on December 16th.

2010/11/17

My New House

Pandabonium bought me a new house! It was kit and he put it together for me last month. He had to do some work on some of the parts that weren't cut right at the factory, and use different hardware in places, but what do expect from a dog house kit made in China?

I like it! It is bigger than my old house and has a bigger deck too. Yet, it isn't too big for me. You know, a dog house has to be small enough for the dog in question to be able to maintain a healthy body temperature. Too big a house is a problem. This one seems just right for me.



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Kimie also bought new blankets for me (not shown) - with Disney characters on them. They are very soft and comfy. Along with my winter bed warmer, they make me a happy doggy.

So, I've got my new house, my heater, new blankets, and my toys. Life couldn't be sweeter.

My house even has a dog-bone sign over the door with my name on it!


2010/09/16

Slacking Off




Sorry for the delay in following up with the story of our trip to Wakayama. Contrary to the above cartoon, things are fine here. I'll have another post up Monday regarding Koyasan, by which time I'll have yet another trip to report about while still having more installments to share about Wakayama. Idle bloggers are the Devil's workshop, eh?

2010/08/13

Saizen-in

continued from "Peekaboo Fuji-san"

Of the 117 temples in Koyasan, 53 offer lodgings to visitors. These are called "shukubo" and may include two meals a day and morning sutra chanting. Food is strictly vegetarian. This way of cooking is called Shōjin Ryori, and was brought to Japan with Buddhism. Much more than just vegetarian cooking, it literally means to cook in a way that leads one to enlightenment.


Our choice of shukubo - based on location, small size, reviews, and history - was Saizen-in. The temple is right across the road from the Danjo Garan. Garan is a word that comes from the Sanskrit "smaghrama" which means a quiet place for monks to gather. It was here that Kobo Daishi first built a temple complex in the 9th century which has served as a focal point for study, training, and rituals of Shingon monks ever since.

Our room, on the second floor of a new wing, had a lovely view of the temple courtyard and the great stupa called Konpon Daito - a key building in the Danjo Garan.

On our first evening we were taken to another private room on the ground floor to be served dinner. The room had a view of the main garden of Saizen-in, which was designed by the famous landscape architect, Shigemori Mirei (1896–1975) .

Tea room which is part of Matsushita's rooms

After dinner we were shown the rooms donated by the founder of Panasonic - Konosuke Matsushita (1894 – 1989). The room also faces the rock garden. Matsuhita wrote his last of 44 books there. Due to his old age and frail condition at the time, the book was dictated.


In Japanese style lodgings, while one is out for dinner, the room is transformed for sleeping. One little detail I did not know about was the bell inside the Danjo Garan -


This bell, cast in 1547 is located about 175 meters (575 feet) from our room. It is rung at 9 PM, 11 PM, and 4 AM. Maybe other times as well, but those were the hours I noticed! We were told it is used primarily for the nearby high school (they wake up at 4 am?). It is struck at 20 second intervals to allow the sound to fully dissipate each time. It did disturb my sleep the first night (11 PM equals 23 strikes), but not the second night. The tone is quite beautiful, which is of little consolation when you are awakened in the middle of the night. I'm sure there is a deep lesson in there somewhere, but it eludes me.


Early each morning, guests go to the hondo - gathering place of the temple - and sit before the altar as three monks perform sutra chanting. After thirty minutes or so, the head monk gives a talk to the guests. In our case, the first day he told the story of Kobo Daishi and the founding of Koyasan. On the second, it was about Saizen-in.

One of the more interesting bits of the history of Saizen-in to me was that Shinran Shonin (1173-1263), a monk of the "Pureland" tradition and long time resident of Ibaraki (and of whom I have written previously ) stayed at Saizen-in. He built a shelter there and carved an image of Amida Buddha, and referred to the place as Amida-in. The statue is still there. After services, the head monk took me to the altar adjacent to the main one which is dedicated to Shinran Shonin and features an image of him.

After morning sutra chanting, we would return to our room (around 7:30 am) to find breakfast being served.


On the first morning, after breakfast, we were taken to see the other garden designed by Shigemori Mirei. It is the back of the temple complex and features a koi pond with lotus plants.

Oh, the wonderful food. Prepared mindfully and hopefully eaten mindfully - appreciating deeply everything and everyone involved in making the meal possible and this time and place.

We had timed out trip to be ahead of the Obon rush, and so our time in Koyasan was very peaceful. In fact, there were only about a dozen guests at Saizen-in the first night, and on the second night we were the sole guests!



An intriguing discovery - looking up from our window at the roof gables, I notices a HF radio antenna. Could the monks be using short wave radio? Is this a new path to enlightenment? I neglected to ask, but later discovered a web page about the station - call sign JH3GAH - but it seems the last update was two years ago, so not sure if it is still operating.

Saizen-in was a wonderful place to stay and is an excellent location from which to explore Koyasan. We will surely stay there again.

What (else) we found in Koyasan, coming up in the next post.

つづく (to be continued)

2010/08/11

Peekaboo Fuji-san

Last week we took a trip to Wakayama Prefecture which I'll be blogging about in this and coming posts. Our first destination was Koyasan, a mountain village founded in 819 by the Buddhist Monk Kukai (now referred to as Kōbō-Daishi by followers), who brought the Shingon sect of Buddhism from China to Japan. At one time, there were over 900 temples there. Today there are still over 100 temples, and it is a very active place for religious studies, pilgrimages, and tourists interested in Japanese history, religions, and natural beauty. About half the temples offer accommodations to visitors.

Koyasan is located at the north end of the Kii Mountains. For its natural spendor and historical significance as an area long traveled by pilgrims, the entire area was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.

To get there, we took the Nozomi Super Express train from Tokyo to Osaka.


Nozomi 700 series trains in Tokyo Station. Earlier cab design (the Duck) on the right; latest design (the Eagle) on the left. The aerodynamics of the Eagle squeezes an additional 30 kph out of the Nozomi, allowing it to hit 300 kph (186 mph) on some sections of the Shinkansen line. The main limit to speed is noise, so near cities, the trains are a bit slower.

As I have written before, taking into consideration the time required to get to and from airports, check in, security screening, and waiting for baggage, the trains are often faster than the airlines. And there's one leaving every ten minutes, so forget the scheduling hassles.

I had only seen Mt. Fuji once from the Shinkansen, and that was over twenty years ago. It is often shrouded in clouds. So, this trip I was hoping to be lucky. Well, Fuji-san was indeed shrouded in clouds, but came out to play a game of peek-a-boo as we sped past.



At this time of year there is no snow atop the mountain, but it was an impressive sight none the less. Thank you for making an appearance, Fuji-san!

We got off the Shinkansen at Shin-Osaka station, took a short subway ride and a little wallk to reach Namba station. From there, the Nankai Koya line would take us up to the base of Koyasan.



The ride takes about an hour and a half and goes from near sea level to an elevation of about 600 meters, at Gokurakubashi station (literally "Pure Land bridge" a religious reference to the Buddhist paradise).

The ride is quite scenic, especially as you climb into the mountains, and the train has big windows so you need't miss anything. If you take this train, do try to get seats on the right hand side as this will give you the best of the scenery. Luckily, our train had few passengers, so we were able to switch sides at will. Still, photography proved tricky due to greenery close to the tracks, the reflections on the windows, and speed of the train. So, perhaps, just sit back and enjoy the view.



At the end of the line, you switch to the Koya Cable Car, a funicular train which opened in 1930 that takes you the rest of the way up the mountain - another 200 meters - in about five minutes. It's a steep climb at angle of 30°. The mother of the little girl in the cable car image was just in front of us. She motioned to her daughter to hang on tight. How unusual in Japan to see a parent allow their child to have such an exciting experience on their own without being overprotective (aka "helicopter mom").

From there, it's short bus ride into the town, where this story really begins....

つづく (to be continued)

next: Saizen-in

2010/07/29

What's the Drill?

At last, Kimie and I are done with the dentist for a while. Each of us had some problems needing care, so early this year we went to our local dentist together. Funny thing about it was that our dentists are a husband and wife team - Dr. and Dr. Hitomi. Kimie needed to have a wisdom tooth removed and another tooth filled. I had two teeth with old fillings which had cracked open and needed root canals and crowns.

So for some months, we've gone to the dentists' office together every couple of weeks to have the work done, never really knowing which of the husband and wife team would be working on us on a given day.

Happily, Japan's "pinko-commie" single payer health insurance (as some Americans might see it) paid the bulk of the cost. Whatever. We're happy.

Now, we're done. Finished. Over. Until our next check up. So, in celebration of that, I give you Allan Sherman's "The Painless Dentist" song.


And if you'd like more Allan Sherman, be sure to visit Sweet-Bluesette.

2010/07/26

Shave Ice and Kyudo


The morning after our sail, we awoke to the sight of long fishing boats crossing the lake to check nets. The yacht harbor is closed on Tuesdays, so this would be a day for a different sort of adventure than sailing.

miso soup, nori seaweed, salmon, egg, bean sprouts and ham on the little stove, banana and orange slice, raw egg, pickled veggies, natto (fermented soy beans), rice, and salad.


After breakfast Kimie drove us to Kasama Inari, the third largest Inari Shinto Shrine in Japan. Inari is the kami (god) of fertility and agriculture which is said to reside in the mountains in winter and in the rice fields during growing season. Worship of Inari spread during the Edo era. The shrines dedicated to Inari have many statues of kitsune - pure white foxes that act as Inari's messengers. Kasama Inari was founded in 651.

The town of Kasama still has an old feel to it with narrow streets, low rise buildings and shops fronting the shrine.


main entrance to the shrine

purification fountain used to rinse one's hands and mouth before entering the shrine

main gate

East gate - 1814

main building or "Haiden"

behind the main building is the "Honden" which is where an object of worship is kept. This one dates to about 1854-1861


The sun was merciless and after viewing the grounds and buildings, we decided to cool off with a treat.

A press squeezes out long thin strips of cold jelly made from tengusa seaweed. Vinegar dressing, green tea powder, and horseradish are added. The result is called tokoroten, and has been a summer treat in Japan for over 1300 years.


Kimie cools off with a peach flavored shave ice.


It was getting close to lunch time, so we headed for JA Pocket Farm DokiDoki - a farmers market and restaurant operated by the Ibaraki farmers association. The "Restaurant in the Woods that serves Home Food" is a favorite of ours, as the food is all local, fresh, and of high quality. Martin gave this 5 stars last time he visited. He wrote, "What I really liked was the friendly atmosphere and the focus on local, Ibaraki-made ingredients. All dishes in the different stations had memos explaining what the dish contained, and many also the name and photo of the farmer and the chef who had created the food."



Then it was on the road again, following the eastern edge of Japan's second largest lake, Kasumigaura, through Itako City and along the Tonegawa river to Katori Jingu in Chiba Prefecture, the ancient Shinto Shrine that we visited last year for sakura viewing (posted as Katori Jingu Sakura).

Katori Jingu, with its forest of ancient cedars, was much cooler than Kasama Inari and we enjoyed wandering the paths.




This anchor belonged to the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force training ship, Katori, which was built in 1970 and was named after the shrine. In 1995, it was replaced by the Kashima - named for the related shrine in our town. (The Kashima is now in Baltimore, by the way, with two other Japanese ships and the crews will pay a visit to the Arlington National Cemetery.)


Martin stumbled upon their Kyudo Dojo. Kimie made an inquiry, and we were welcomed in to watch them practice. In Kyudo (the way of the bow), the targets are just 36 cm (14 inches) in diameter and placed at a distance of 28 meters (92 feet). They were most gracious in making us comfortable, serving us drinks, and explaining various aspects of how Kyudo is done. For more about Kyudo visit Zen's Sakai 1 - if by land.





A cool drink, the quiet pace of Kyudo, and the songs of cicadas made for a relaxing end to the day's adventures.

2010/07/24

Two Plus Two

Bluesette had guests this week, sailing with four aboard for the first time. I was interested to see how that would work out. I made sure we kept our weight toward the front of the cockpit and was happy to find that she sailed just fine.

Beautiful day on the lake with Mt. Tsukuba clearly visible some 38 km (23 miles) in the distance.


The weather was good, if hot (32°C or 90°F), and winds were a comfortable 5 knots - enough to move us along, but not so much as to make weight distribution for balance much of an issue.

First stop, of course, was for lunch at Mama's Kitchen. Three of us had pasta with nasu (eggplant) and horenso (spinach) with a spicy sauce that was just right, while Kimie satisfied her carinvore urges with a stir fry pork dish and some sausages.





Then it was on to the harbor and a full afternoon of sailing.

Martin has been sailing with us before - back in November when it was raining cats and dogs.


Our other guest was camera shy, but Martin grabbed my new Olympus μ 8010 and took several shots of Kimie and I and the scenery while I was busy at the tiller. With four in the boat, I would change sides when we came about, while everyone else stayed put. If the wind picked up while Kimie was on the lee side, she would just crouch by the centerboard trunk to help balance the boat. It worked out fine.

Look! Up in the sky. It's a bird, it's a plane, it's.... a wind vane.







After sailing, we checked into the hotel on the lake, Ikoinomura Hinuma, to relax in their bubbling onsen spa and enjoy an excellent dinner.



Our Japanese style rooms overlooked the lake.

Sunset on Hinuma - fishermen standing in the lake

2010/07/19

Icebow?


This picture of cirrus clouds over Yokohama is from Yomiyuri Online (newspaper). Cirrus are made up of ice crystals, and with the sunlight hitting at just the right angle, the crystals act like prisms giving off this colorful display of the spectrum.

2010/07/11

Grazing In The Grass

by Momo the Wonder Dog


When it gets hot around here, I usually hang out under my bench on the patio. Sometimes I'd dig a hole in the shade of the pomegranate tree, but Pandabonium and Kimie would always scold me for doing that. It wasn't good for the tree and I was always getting dirty.

Well, no more. They went out and bought some grass sod and put it down on either side of our front walk, right in front of the patio and some of it is under the pomegranate tree. It's just a few square meters, but plenty for me. Like almost everyone around here, we don't have a lawn. Most folks just grow vegetables and fruit trees or maybe decorative trees, but no lawns.



I really like my little patches of grass. It feels so soft and cool. I don't get dirty nor do my toys and I can lay there and watch the birds, and the bugs, and the whole world go by. Or just snooze.
This week, they're going to plant flowers along the edge.


While I do nibble on the grass by the side of the road - "michikusa" - during my walks, I don't really graze on my grass. But how nice it is to just relax on the grass. Here's The Friends of Distinction with Hugh Masekela's song "Grazing In The Grass":


Can you dig it? No! No more digging!


the Wonder Dog

2010/07/05

The Froth of July

The Mayflower's destination was Virginia, but the boat landed at Plymouth, Massachusetts. A passenger's journal for Dec. 19, 1620, explains: "We could not now take time for further search or consideration; our victuals being much spent, especially our beer ..."*
Figures.

Thanks to the foresight of the Founding Fathers and the bravery of the revolutionaries, American citizens today aren't required to wear hats like these:
Happy Independence Day, America. Be safe out there.
*from Time Magazine 1977 http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,945768,00.html#ixzz0shgCwRK0