Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Fascinating Midsummer Night in Nara

Nara Toka-e (奈良燈花会; the candle festival) is an annual event held at Nara Park for ten days from August 5th to 14th. 20,000 candles at several venues gently adorn an ancient capital of Japan 1300 years ago. They are lit up by volunteers one by one to pray for people’s happiness by candlelight. .

 After going to the concert, my husband and I strolled around the Nara Park to enjoy Tokae.

Candlelights set on the green grass and around the pond were suitable to surroundings, making a soothing, peaceful ambience.

looking down at Sarusawa-ike Pond

Candles were lined along the bridge leading to the pavilion. The reflection in the water turned the pond to a heavenly place. Can you see some people paddling ?  

Ukimido pavilion with hexagonal roof made of cypress bark over Sagi-ike Pond

                     Let light stream forth into the minds of men.

              Let light descend on earth (from The Great Invocation)


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Last Sakura at Yoshino

Well Sakura, cherry blossoms, are giving way to fresh leaves around here now but to conclude this year's Sakura groupie I went to Mt.Yoshino, Nara. 
In season, they started blooming from lower areas called Shimo-senbon, then moving up to Naka-senbon ( middle areas) and to Kami-senbon (upper ones) , finally up to the inner areas called Oku-senbon. Senbon means 1000 trees, so totally there should be 4000 but actually there is said to be around 30,000 now.


                          seen from Hanayagura (花矢倉)at Kami-senbon

The cherry tree legend at Mt.Yoshino started when En-no-Ozunu, a founder of Shugendō religion, engraved the image of Zaōgongen, a kind of deity, on a cherry tree when he attained enlightenment after a 1000 day- ascetic- training in the mountain in the latter half of 7th century.

 Since then worshippers have offered and planted cherry trees.

Many of Sakura here are Shiroyama-zakura or Oriental Cherry. The flowers bloom at the same time as a bit reddish new leaves appear so you can tell from Somei-yoshino, whose flowers bloom first.


I have been here several times in spring, in summer and in autumn. There are so many historical figures related to this place but I’d like to say a bit about two of them today.

First, Minamoto-no-Yoshitsune. Last year when I visited Yoshimizu Shrine, I saw these kimonos related to Shizuka-Gozen, Yoshitsune’s lover, on display. This was the place where they hid themselves from a party of pursuers. She danced the last dance for Yoshitsune on their painful parting here (1185), then he left her and continued running away.

Yoshitsune (1159-1189) was expelled by his brother, Yoritomo and ended up killing himself at the age of 31. With this tragic life and death despite his great accomplishment in the battle against  the Taira clan, he has been favored by many Japanese who sympathized his misfortune and unfulfilled potentiality. "Hangan-biiki" came from him that means to sympathize and support the weaker side who has enough ability. As is often the case with the popular personalities in the history, there are many other stories about him, however, this mentality has been familiar to many Japanese people.

Secondly, speaking of Sakura of Yoshino, we can’t forget the well- known poet, Saigyo(1118-1190) . He was once an Imperial Palace Guard (北面の武士)for the retired Emperor, which was assigned to young warriors who were excellent both in literary and military arts and good looking as well. However, he became a Buddhist monk, for reasons unknown, at age 23. He travelled a lot, making soul-searching journeys and one of his favorite places was Yoshino. He loved Sakura very much and wrote many poems about them.



吉野山 こぞのしをりの道かへて まだ見ぬかたの 花をたづねむ

“I’ll forget the trail I marked out on Mount Yoshino last year, so go searching for blossoms in directions I’ve never been before”   ( translated by Watson Burton)


Before Saigyo’s time, Sakura blossoms in the mountain were objects to be admired in their imagination and written in the poem but Saigyo is said to be the first to go and see in the mountain and appreciate Sakura at first hand.

願わくは花の下にて春死なむ そのきさらぎの望月のころ
“Let me die in spring under the blossoming trees, let it be around that full moon of Kisaragi month” (translated by Watson Burton)
This “Kisaragi”means February but in the new calendar it is around the end of March; Gautama Buddha was supposed to have died on Kisaragi 15. Though this poem wrote many years before Saigyo’s death, the fact he actually passed away just as he wished and yet just one day later than Buddha’s  surprised and amazed people in those days.

“Please offer Sakura flowers if there would be someone mourn for me”

taken last May
Here is a humble cottage where he is believed to have stayed for a while
at Okusenbon, where it is enclosed with forest. There are high summits and ridges and eroded V-shaped valleys leading to Kumano, Wakayama, so called Ōmine-okugake Route (大峯奥駆道)
; one of pilgrimage routes as well as Shugendo practitioners training route.
Yoshitsune's another hideout was 20 minutes' walk down from here. 

Sakura trees at Okusenbon are not many, besides, I heard they were not blooming yet, so I didn’t visit it this time.  I imagine how he would see and admire Sakura.


Sakura here are truly gentle and lovely.

On the way back, I saw this cloud. Looks like a dragon?


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

I Am In The Pink

Tsukigase Bairin (月ケ瀬梅林、Japanese apricot or Ume forest) in Nara is now in full bloom.

Nabari River ( around here it’s called Satsuki  River) formed V-shaped valley. With the construction of the dam, mountain streams were buried underwater, still the river and Ume trees  sloping down to it  make a scenic view!

This Bairin has a long history and was designated as one of the Scenic Beauty Spots in 1922.

In the time of prime in Edo Period (1603-1867), there were supposed to be 100,000 ume trees there for producing smoked ume called Ubai (鳥梅), which were used as dyes.


However, with the synthetic dyes becoming available, demand of ubai dropped sharply. The village shifted its production from ubai to edible ume. Currently only one house has held that tradition.

                      ume trees lining along the river

The fountain in the river shoots high at a certain time. I hear it is illuminated at night during ume festival.

I have visited it several times before but I have never been lucky enough to see such a full bloom like this. When I opened the door of our car, the air filled with sweet scent of blossoms came into it.

I knew about plum pox virus from Rurousha’s blog; it has spread to 10 prefectures nationwide with some famous ume blossom spots and the only way to manage the disease is to destroy all infected trees. I am worried about the spots here but so far no virus has been reported.


Sho seemed to be curious and enjoying the touch of the field  for the first time.

It is expected to be warmer this week. The cherry-blossom front is starting to go up from southern part of this country. I am "in the pink" for the time being.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014


I like March. It’s not February anymore and not April yet. The temperature is still unstable; some day is spring-like warm and some day winter-like cold. However, I think there is something exciting and hopeful about March. I was born in March.

Last week in February, my husband invited me to go for a drive to Shirahama in Wakayama, a three-hour-drive from my house.
Spring comes earlier there and the paper said “ume”; the Japanese apricot, trees were in full bloom at Minabe apricot trees farm field (南部梅林)
First I wanted to see the ocean at this Senjyōjiki(千畳敷;1000-mat-spreadingIt is a widely spreading sandstone formation sloping into the Pacific Ocean. It has been formed by erosion taking place through surging ocean since time immemorial.



  It looks like  huge remains.


Sandstones are soft enough to make it easy to carve so there are lots of scribbles on it by thoughtless visitors (not visible in this picture, though).

Merciless and destructive sometimes, still so powerful and merciful and benevolent the ocean is.

Then we headed for ume viewing. I  had noticed many ume trees flowering here and there on entering Wakayama. Seen from afar, it looked like translucent veils were hanging all over, but taken a closer look they were lovely snow-white.

as busy as a bee!

They have been cultivated for a harvest, whose origin dates back to Meiji Era (1868-1912). Wakayama now produces 60% of gross ume production in Japan, whose products are  famous for  their top quality called Nankou-ume (南高梅). 

The fruit is mainly made into “Umeboshi”; pickled ume,
and used as a preserved food.
I like umeboshi low in salt, it's healthy and tasty. A rice ball with it buried inside is very simple but helpful especialy in such a case of emergency.




weeping ume tree planted on the sidewalk

Coming March 11th marks the third anniversary since the great East Japan Earthquake. We tend to be off guard for a disaster with the passage of time. Many people in the heavily stricken region in Fukushima are still struggling. March is also the time to remember and share the feeling and brace myself again.


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A New Breakthrough

Today is the beginning of spring by the old calendar. Ironically temperature dropped sharply today from spring-like warm weather yesterday.

While I have been away from blogging, I missed the chance to send season’s greetings to my dear blog friends. Excuse me for my long silence but let me explain the problem I have now to use the internet.


To make a long story short, carelessly and ignorantly it was not until I had the internet access trouble even after I bought a new computer last November that my new pocket Wi-Fi (actually I changed the provider to e-mobile) had bandwidth control. That meant there was a limit on the amount of the packets on a network I could use at a time; Practically I was not able to connect to the internet as much as I wanted. Cancelling the contract and returning to the previous provider was one option but on second thoughts, they say nothing happens that might not be necessary. In fact, I would often find myself losing track of time when using internet before. I took it as food for thought and decided to leave it the way as was till this two-year contract was over. 


It’s true this limited use of internet has discouraged me from visiting the blogs I love and blogging myself. However, I’m getting used to how to use internet keeping it within its limit. I’d like to catch up with the blogs I missed little by little, one at a time.



Well, I wrote about Haruko Obokata,30 and her seemingly revolutionary finding of pluripotent cell  called a stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP)cell here.
I was simply amazed by the achievement and admired the young hopeful, however as you might know, the research is now being under investigation. The involved reseachers of the finding are considering withdrawing the papers  in Nature, saying " redo our research and republish articles that nobody can find fault with".  
I really hope so. Anyway I will withdraw my admiration till then.

I hope he will develop some potential power inside of him someday

Saturday, November 9, 2013

A Trip to Oirase

The day before yesterday was the first day of winter by the old calendar, still we have relatively warm days. Autumn tints are getting beautiful around my neighborhood. I am wondering how autumn colors are now at Oirase Stream(奥入瀬渓流)…

Oirase Stream was always on my place-to-go list and my dream came true last month at last.

The stream flows from Lake Towada; the large caldera lake situated in the northern part of Tōhoku region.

Lake Towada

The upper passage of the stream draining this lake is famous for scenic sights as long as 14km long with over a dozen waterfalls cascading down into the stream.



This is Choushi Ōtaki (銚子大滝、Great Sake or Japanese wine Bottle Fall)  situated upper most part of the stream. It was spectacular.  Some sake lover might have associated the fall with the mouth of sake bottle, from which sake pours forth out of the bottle; the lake.




orangish red seed of Komayumi (小真弓; euonymus alatus)  Its vivid color among unfledged autumn leaves drew my attention.



Wet fallen leaves under my rain boots on the trail were easy on my knees and eyes. Hotel lent us all necessary outfits from rainboots, umbrellas to raincoats.  Of course I prefer fair day but rain is not that bad. Leaves and trees looked glossy and lustrous because of rain. Changing colors was just beginning.


Stream turns rapid currents, dashing against rocks and swirls and then it flows in a steady continuous stream.

Rich water continuously flowing has brought and nurtured new growths on the fallen trees or even on the rocks and has formed what they are now after many years..


A lounge at the hotel with a big fireplace made by Taro Okamoto
Leaves outside should be ablaze with autumn colors by now

at night

This trip was something special for us three sisters and our spouses.
We came up with this plan to get relaxed and appreciate what we had done to help each other to take care of our aged parents. Each spouse’s cooperation was a great help. Fourteen months later than Mother’s passing away, those taking care days were put an end with an unexpected death of Father in February this year.  These past five years were the time we reunited and strengthened the bond of sisterhood and brothers-in-law hood.  How I was grateful that I had sisters and brothers-in-law as well to share the difficult times with. Now we realize it is the greatest asset our parents left us.

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