Friday, March 30, 2012

Hikone

We traveled to Hikone recently for a day trip. It is about an hour north east of Kyoto on the other side of Lake Biwa. We saw some amazing snow-capped mountains on the train ride up there.  Hikone is the home of one of the best preserved Medieval castles in Japan. We took a nice walk over to the castle from the train station, spent about two hours walking through the castle and the grounds surrounding it, then we had dinner and went home.

We started in a museum on the castle grounds showing all sorts of medieval samurai armor, Noh costumes, swords, and documents. The cherry blossoms are coming out and this garden was beautiful.

These are the steps heading up to the castle



Here is a view of the castle and another almost blooming cherry tree

Inside the castle, looking up, this is the ceiling 

N in the hallway on the top floor

The staircases in the castle were very steep!! 




Here is a good view of the exterior wall of the castle. 

The whole castle is surrounded by two moats and tall walls. 


After the castle we went to a garden next door; the garden was started by one of the old family members who lived in the castle (a Samurai family). Here is a lantern on the grounds

I love the traditional Japanese gardens with the trees and islands and bridges. So beautiful.

It was bright! But we were there.

Wendy always manages to take the most beautiful and interesting pictures. So pretty.


One last view of the castle from the garden.

We finished the day in an appropriate fashion. Japanese food and beer.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

new washer-dryer

We just got a brand new washer-dryer combo unit installed in our apartment. The man who came to haul away the old unit and install the new one was wearing a suit and tie and white gloves. I'm trying to reconcile that image with the image I have in my head of the man who would come to install the washer at home.  Not the same outfit.

One problem, we don't know how to use it.  We are currently washing clothes.... we think.

We might have to get someone to come over to teach us which buttons to push...

Monday, March 26, 2012

Uji and Byoudouin

The kids are on end-of-year break (they change grades starting on April 6 and they both passed!) so we are doing some sightseeing.  Over the weekend we took the Keihan line down to Uji, which is just southeast of Kyoto. We walked along the river along an old tourist path towards Byoudouin temple. Uji is famous for its tea, and there are many shops selling tea, tea candies, tea accessories, tea mochi, etc.  We stopped for lunch; M has started eating more Japanese food, and here is proof!

The temple has one of the oldest structures we have seen in Japan. The main hall (Phoenix hall) was built in 1053 and is still standing. It can be seen on the 10 yen coin. Here is a page about it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Byōdō-in. Someone took our photo; proof all four of us were together.
it really is an amazing structure, and it is set in a beautiful garden landscape. The cherry blossoms are just starting to bloom; it is going to be beautiful here in a few weeks!


It was VERY cold; we weren't expecting it to be as cold as it was.  On the way back we stopped in one tea store and it has been in the same family for 14 generations. They have a museum upstairs. They were the royal tea suppliers to Kyoto apparently. The current owner was very friendly and showed us all around his shop. There were several grinders making matcha, and lots of tea for sale. We bought a matcha whisk, sencha (a type of green tea) and another type of roasted tea that Wendy likes.  After the teashop, we bought a few types of candies and cookies and "ginger juice" which is a very strong ginger honey that you make tea out of.  Then we hopped back on the train and went home.  Very beautiful!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Kyoto steam train museum!

The kids didn't have school today (it is the end of the school year, tomorrow is the last day of school for about 2 weeks!) so we went to the train museum in southwest Kyoto. It took us a while to get to Kyoto station on the Keihan railway and then the Tozai subway and then the Karasuma subway line. We figure, if we're going to a train museum, we can take a train there.  When we got to Kyoto station, we ate lunch (onigiri and bread/pastries from a bakery) and then walked about 3/4 mile along the JR train tracks (we saw lots of trains and shinkansen rolling by).  The train museum has a steam train you can ride (but we missed the time by about 5-10 minutes so we'll have to go back) and about 15 old steam engines. Apparently 5 or 6 of them are in working order.  You can walk in to the cabs of about 5 of the engines and turn valves and pull things.  Pretty neat.  The main museum has some videos (one in English) and a coal shovel you can practice using, and another train to sit in.  Here are some pictures and movies of the kids running the train.






video

video

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Kodai-ji

The kids and I went to Kodai-ji Temple today. It is one of the southernmost temples in the really sprawling temple complex that stretches south and east from Gion. This one backs up into the mountains and has a huge bamboo grove. But the reason we went is because of the spring dragon art in the zen rock garden. I just happened to stumble through this temple earlier this week when a colleague (Hi, Pat) came through town, and I knew the kids would really like the dragon.  It was overcast and sprinkling but it was really beautiful. There are some really nice screen paintings of dragons and tigers in this temple.

Here we are towards the entrance with a nice tree blossoming in the background. It won't be long until the cherry blossoms are out!

This is the dragon, "swimming" through the zen rock garden. Its spines and 'backbone' are made out of roof tiles. It submerges below the 'waves' in a few places.

way off in the distance on the right is the tail with "tail spikes"

this is the head from behind; we couldn't get any closer as the temple (to the right in the pictures) was closed for some special ceremony.

After the dragon we walked through a second building ...

... next to a pretty pond ...

and then over a bridge and up a lot of steps to some buildings at the top.

This building was the most decorated I've seen in all of Japan. Normally the ends of the wood are just painted white but this one had all sorts of reds and blues and greens, very bright! Really amazing. The inside had a decorated ceiling with a dragon, and lots of gold (or brass?)


We went further up and saw these stone lanterns and some gravestones (?)

We then walked down through a bamboo grove (the bamboo was often 4-6 inches in diameter!) and saw these beautiful flowers around.


We then walked back to the bus and were rewarded with this great view of a temple in the distance. Kyoto is really such a beautiful city. So amazing.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Here's what we've been drinking lately

Part 1 in a continued exploration of beverages, both alcoholic and non.  
This beer gives me "Rich Taste" in a "Relaxing time."  It also comes in the fancy blue can so it's easier to find on the store shelves.  This beer has more flavor than most and currently it's my favorite Japanese Beer.  The Kirin in the gold can is also pretty good.

This is fortified apricot wine and it is very good. Very very good. Plus, it "enriches my precious time" which can't be bad, right?  

We have also been drinking several varieties of plum wine but they usually come in cardboard milk cartony things.  And, of course, thanks to S, I have been drinking my daily matcha latte Maxim packet. Even N is hooked now.  M prefers the cappuccino packets.  The whole family is caffeinated by 7:15 am every morning.  

In a somewhat related vein, I was really craving burritos so went up to Qanat today and bought avocados, tomatoes, taco seasoning mix, ground beef, and CHEDDAR CHEESE. We had some tortillas ($10 for 15) leftover from going to the western food store, so I whipped up some guacamole and we had pretty good burritos and quesadillas for dinner tonight. YUM.  That hit the spot.  I was really craving mexican food.

Adios!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Kyoto marathon :(

Well, I got very sick and was flat on my back most of the weekend and missed the race. I am quite disappointed but life goes on. The good news is, I am feeling much better now, and as an added bonus, my legs aren't sore from running 26 miles 2 days ago. So, I'm trying to look on the bright side.

We have had a light dusting of snow the last two mornings. The snow is already melted this morning at 9:15, but it sure was pretty to wake up too.  The Japanese school year ends in march; The kids have less than 2 weeks left of first and 4th grades. (Yes, for those of you paying attention, they have been in first and 4th grade for a long time now, but they do school by age here.)  They get about 2 weeks off and then will begin 2nd and 5th grade.  The last day of school is just before N's birthday, we will spend a few weeks enjoying ourselves, and will be returning to the US on August 5th. We leave Osaka at about noon and will arrive in SF at about 11am. So we will finally get that day back we lost last summer.

Spring is in the air, even with the snow. We have had a few absolutely gorgeous days here, and its supposed to be in the high 50s or low 60s this weekend.