delete
A Thankful Nation

A Thankful Nation

Here’s a lovely video of the natural graciousness and gratitude of the Japanese as they are continuing to recover from last year’s earthquake.   It’s hard to believe it’s been almost 10 months, but this video shows the hope that has come out of the...
delete
Autumn in Kyoto

Autumn in Kyoto

We are often asked to recommend the best dates to see cherry blossoms and fall colors. and indeed, there is ample “factual” information available on the Internet on the subject.  However, nature doesn’t always co-operate with published schedules. This fall, for example, the peak of the maple colors is at least 2 weeks “late”. The hot summer is much talked about as the reason.   Whatever.  Kyoto is beautiful in any season, and one brilliant red tree at Kokedera (also known as Saihoji, the Moss Temple) today was thrilling...
delete
Falling Backwards into Love – Day 2

Falling Backwards into Love – Day 2...

I fell back in love with Japan yesterday – on the 20 minute ride from Nagoya to Gifu, sitting backwards… Perhaps it’s the same way that you fall in love again with a spouse or a child when you almost lose them or they are going through great challenges.  Their vulnerabilities seem more tender—their idiosyncrasies seem more dear. On my last couple of trips to Japan I’d been feeling a little bit of the “I’ve seen this before” or “ok, it’s another temple”.   The delightful tile roof houses and the ubiquitous rice fields had lost their charm.  What was quintessentially Japanese was seeming less special now.   My love for the people and the arts remained strong, but the country itself has begun to seem mundane or unremarkable. Then, this morning, en route to Takayama, I stopped typing up the “Day 1” blog (see above) and looked out the window…  and I fell in love with Japan again.  In the way that touches deep into the heard and reminds you that the outward symbols are really a reflection of the inner spirit. As we pulled out of the city, each place I saw reflected an element of the inner spirit of Japan: The carefully pruned trees (topiary, actually) around the manufacturing plant, adding a touch of beauty to the mundane in a way that the Japanese do.  There is no apology for the fact that it’s a large brewery with truck bays and loading docks.  Just a simple statement that “we’d like to make our environment as beautiful as possible because of who we are, as a people”. The miniscule “farms” that abut so many of the homes – each patch with early spring shoots that make me wonder if it is only for the family, or do they sell the crop or is it partly to keep in touch with their farming roots, even in the developed areas around the city.   And the farming is so deeply rooted that the devastation to the north, in a farming area, cuts more deeply to each individual and into the soul of the country. The beautiful blue tiled roofs – which I STILL have never found out if there is something special about the “meaning” of the blue tile or if it may be the owners just love the color blue that is so prevalent in the indigo of Japan.  They seemed so cheerful now, and so comforting in their ordinariness. The train changing yard we pass through reminds me of the wonderfully efficient Japanese train system that is just a joy to ride and so relaxing for a visitor but which forms the arteries and lifeblood of the country through its connectedness. I see a scaffolded building and reflect on how they TOTALLY cover the building under some sort of fabric, sometimes even decorated (here is a picture of the current scaffolding over Himeji Castle), like a great screen.  This gives me the impression of preparing for a celebration – that when the building is done there will be a great reveal – to see the finished product of grace and beauty, rather than watching it being constructed.   And how like the geisha – who, behind the screens create a thing of beauty before going out into the night – complete. Riding backwards on the train gave me a chance to reflect on what I saw rather than what I was about to see.  It gave me a chance to touch...
delete
Travel to Beloved Japan

Travel to Beloved Japan

Right now we have been receiving outpourings of support for all of our colleagues and friends throughout Japan.  There are challenges to be faced in the north with the devastation from the earthquake, tsunami and reactor situation.  In the south, the Japanese are activity supporting their beleaguered friends and families to the north.   While travel to Japan in normal times is an opportunity to experience a culture first hand, we find comfort in knowing that the world is having an opportunity to see the Japan we know and love from afar right now.  The amazing resiliency and steadfastness of the Japanese cannot be underestimated.   They are already moving into an incredibly high level of societal support.   The people throughout the country are reducing their power usage to free up resources for those in need.   They are seeking out the help needed in areas where they do not have expertise and they are working within their well-formed systems to take care of each situation as it arises.    Each individual knows, at a deep level, how he or she can contribute to the needs at hand and takes action – whether it is by going about their jobs, waiting patiently in situations that would frustrate a westerner in short order or by gently bowing to the reality of what has occurred. The purpose of this blog has always been to bring forward the opportunities that travel to Japan affords for those willing to let go of their preconceptions and reach out to find out more about this unique culture.    We know that the people of Japan will recover and we are proud that we are able to contribute to them by encouraging you to visit, to learn and to encounter what is so special about the Land of the Rising...
delete
One Shot Photography

One Shot Photography

Sometimes you don’t need to take lots of shots to get the right one; sometimes it just works the first time…   Such was our day at the Great Buddha in Kamakura (Daibutsu), a place we finally got to on our last trip.  This photo was the first shot and was taken just inside the gate on an incredible fall day…
delete
Springtime in Matsumoto

Springtime in Matsumoto

We did manage to have a taste of spring weather and the cherry blossoms during a recent trip to Japan. One of the ways that the Japanese celebrate the cherry blossoms is by lighting up their gardens and famous places during this time. We caught the last night of the “light-up” at Matsumoto castle, where the entire castle is surrounded by rows of cherry trees and also freshly budding weeping willows (or something like a weeping willow). Matsumoto castle is one of the 12 “original” castles in Japan and it’s quite nice. We visited inside the next day, including a climb to the top for those who are agile enough to take on the many sets of steep stairs. This is a beautiful castle which is kept in excellent shape. The location is a little unusual, in that it was not build specifically to defend a strategic position – it’s in the low lands and, as one of the last castles built, it was more for governing than war. The most notable difference this makes is the lack of high walls. The castle sits rather low, and, in fact, is barely visible across town from the 10th story of our hotel (we had to ask where it was and we could only see the very top when it was pointed out between some tall buildings). This is quite different from some of the other famous castles (Himeji, Kumamoto) that we’d been to, where the defensive position was a key consideration in the castles placement and construction. The definition of “original” also is a little oblique, since all castles have are made of materials that require regular replacement and renovation. We’ve never been able to get a clear definition of what makes a castle an original vs. a reconstruction. Whatever its provenance, though, the castle is beautiful on a cool spring night as the cherry blossoms finish off their short...