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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...
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Masa Fujiwara

Masa Fujiwara

I visited the home of an artist today, who lives in a traditional wooden merchant house. I had a “Kyoto moment” enjoying the view of their tiny, sun-dappled garden from their living room. Later , I had dinner with my friends Sarah Brayer and Masa Fujiwara last night at their house in north Kyoto. Masa, who had spent a long day guiding happy Esprit clients, foraged in his garden for fresh greens and other vegetables, and then, in about 30 minutes, created this beautifully present, gourmet masterpiece meal. Note the flowers in the basket behind Masa. In addition to being a great chef, he also practices a type of ikebana done for tea ceremony, using native plants, flowers and grasses found in the...
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Tokyo vs. the World – Radiation Reports

Tokyo vs. the World – Radiation Reports...

Graphically presented information is often a lot better than just the numbers.  One of the most difficult situations that the Japanese have been trying to overcome is the perception that the entire country is living in a cloud of radiation (with Godzilla running through the streets we guess).   We were recently forwarded this graph showing the different levels of radiation on a given day in major cities around the world.   Note where Tokyo is falling…   below New York, Hong Kong and Berlin.   I investigated the source of the data, just in case you want to know.  It’s JNTO, the Japanese National Tourist Organization.  And they specifically listed each source for the various cities in a comprehensive list here, including the New York source, which is a streaming detector that you can follow.   You can find the raw data here. So check out this chart, check out the data and perhaps it will help to overcome the perception of the radiation fog and convince you that Godzilla is not running amok in the streets of Tokyo...
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Thank you for Coming – Day 8

Thank you for Coming – Day 8

In Las Vegas, where I live, when we see tourists arriving we say to each other “Thank you for paying our taxes” since LV is a tourist town.  It is designed to cater to tourists and the more there are, the better it is for the economy.  But in Las Vegas, when tourism turns down and visitors stop arriving in droves, they let go of thousands of workers and staff is reduced throughout the industry. Japan is different.   When tourism drops, the Japanese continue with their strong history of full employment and keep on their staff.  They figure out how to make it work; maybe reduce hours a little, maybe reassign duties, maybe catch up on work put off for just these times.   But they don’t fire their staff and they don’t further drive down their economy. So now that Japan has been struck with a devastating blow to their country, their economy, their land and their people, they have also been dealt a blow to their tourism industry as well.   Visitors from abroad have dropped dramatically; hotels in areas of the country totally unaffected by the disasters are empty; restaurants are empty; the nightlife on the tourist streets are empty and the flights are empty. Yet everywhere we go, we hear the happy echo of “Thank you for coming” in the particular sing-song intonation that anyone who has heard it in a Japanese restaurant or shop cannot forget.   The thank you is deep and heartfelt. They thank us for coming.  They thank us for taking care of them.  They thank us for donating toys to relief efforts.  They thank us for sending our military. It’s not a general thank you – it’s a personal thank you that we receive from everyone we talk to, delivered genuinely and with sincere gratitude as if by thanking me they are thanking all the millions of people who have been holding the Japanese in their hearts and prayers. And so I think that perhaps it is time for westerners who are of a heart and mind to travel to Japan, to experience the culture, to reach out and meet this remarkable and resilient people and to see for themselves how a strong and peaceful nation recovers from unimaginable disaster need to start returning to Japan – so they can thank you for...
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Children go to School – Day 7

Children go to School – Day 7

The Japanese play it safe a lot.   It’s one of the things that makes travel here so refreshing.   The streets are safe from most crime, the building codes are strict, the food is clean and carefully marked, the people are polite and there is a general social cohesion.  That means there are a lot of things about Japan that the occasional visitor may not notice – especially when the visitor is a member of the media looking for “news”. This comes to mind since there had been some reporting about Japan that, as a somewhat frequent visitor, I found disingenuous at best.  For instance, there were some reports that the people of Tokyo were wearing cloth face masks due to fear of radiation.  The Japanese have been wearing face masks for decades – to protect both themselves and others from germs, dust, pollen, etc.  One of our guide wears one all spring due to allergies.  In a society where blowing your nose is frowned upon, a face mask is a way of dealing with all sorts of physical discomfort while still keeping with the Japanese tendency to put the good of the group over the individual. Another example is that they are supposedly only “now” labeling food with its place of origin due to fears about food from Fukashima prefecture.   I remember being in Japan last year and seeing a very large apology posted in a department store because they had advertised chickens on sale as being from one prefecture when a few that they sold came from some other prefecture.  Food origination information is NOT a new phenomenon in Japan – it’s part of how they work and think.   Food quality is highly valued and each area has specialties.  These are displayed proudly and are used as reference points – one buys abalone from this place and turnips from that place. So with all that concern for safety and hygiene as practically inbred into the culture, it brings to mind a question about the children.   If you think that Japanese are vigilant about their personal health and safety, it’s nothing compared to the health and safety efforts they take for their children.   Little hard hats immediately available in case of earthquakes, regular drills, special foods and vitamins, and on and on.   So with all this concern, it got me thinking – how are the people of Japan protecting their children from the disasters that have just befallen the country? Well, it seems from a casual observation over the past 7 days that they are going about their business as usual.   During our touring we saw many large groups of school kids – in a range of ages and at a range of sights and events.   Unlike in the US, where it seems there are far fewer field trips and, when they occur, the kids all take a bus to a nearby farm and are back for lunch – the Japanese seem to travel quite long distances in groups from a young age.   We saw lots of kids on field trips on public transportation – whole classes of children, of all ages, in their uniforms or cute matching hats, accompanied by their teachers, patiently sitting on the station floors, lined up for 1/2 hour before their train departs, filing onto the trains and into their seats.  And this wasn’t just subway trains; it was Shinkansen trains across half the country.   And it wasn’t 16-year olds – we saw...
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Zoned Out – Day 6

Zoned Out – Day 6

Today in Kyoto we had cloudy humid weather, light traffic around town and a radiation reading of — oh, wait, Kyoto isn’t even in the “zone”.   Every day in the Japan Times, on the second page I think, there is a map of about 1/2 of Japan with concentric circles radiating out (ha!) from Fukushima.  Today’s reading for Tokyo was .064 microseiverts per hour.   Today’s reading for Sendai was .074.   Today’s reading for Nagano was .041.    Today’s reading for Shizuoka was .040.   And that’s as far west as the circles go – they don’t go past Shizuoka (about 95 miles from Tokyo) to Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, Ise, Naoshima Island, Hiroshima, Miyajima and basically, over half of Japan to the west of Shizuoka.    The readings themselves, for the parts of Japan that are shown, with one obvious exception, are apparently the same or lower than many parts of the US; certainly lower than Mexico City and probably Denver, which have altitude. So instead of spending our days outside the zone, we spent today zoned out… at the Kamo Odori.   I would love to post a picture of this too, but cameras and videos are strictly forbidden.  So all I have is a picture of the curtain which I took before the performance started.   The Kamo Odori is one of several dance performance series put on by maiko (apprentice geisha); this one in May.   The other one is the Miyako Odori, which is in April.  If you’re in Kyoto during these months you can go to one of the shows. There were two parts to this event for us – the most hysterical part was the “tea ceremony” that preceded the show.   Our tickets included the “tea ceremony” – there is a reason I put it in quotes a lot.   This was the fastest tea ceremony ever – we laughed the entire time.   We were ushered onto an elevator, up the elevator to the fourth floor of the theatre building, into a room with about 5 long bench-like tables with small stools lined up in front of them.  In the front of the room sat a young maiko (I guess), perfectly made up with tea implements around and a second one doing something (don’t recall what, no time to observe).   The ushers pointed to us to sit down, one attendant went down the table placing a piece of paper, a small ceramic dish and a mochi with red bean paste inside on it.  Then out came another attendant and dropped a bowl of whisked tea in front of each person.   Then all the people around us either wolfed down the sweet or pocketed it, gulped down the tea, wrapped the dish in the paper and stood up and rushed out of the room.   We were just trying to figure out what to DO and the next group of people were rushed in and seated.   In the meantime, an attendant was scurrying along picking up the empty tea bowls – I’m sure I upset the plan when I didn’t finish my tea.  David ate the rest of my mochi…    All the while, the young ladies at the front sat motionless in some odd living still-life of a tea ceremony. After we were shooed out of the “tea room” they sent us down a flight of stairs, past the first shop of souvenirs.  Then down another flight of stairs, past another shop, this time with food souvenirs.  Then through a big...