Friday, August 29, 2014

Summer Retreat


It was hot or rainy this summer here. To escape from summer heat and above all to enjoy family reunion, my husband planned to take a trip to our favorite destination; Shinshu, Nagano Prefecture.
Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is a very popular tourist attraction. I had wanted to go there.

The thing I was worried was how the weather would be during the trip because it had been very unstable in most part of the country.

When we left the hotel for the highland in the early morning because the weather forecast said it was likely to rain in the afternoon, we saw thick mists covering the mountain ranges.  The weather makes or breaks the pleasure of Alpine views. Poor visibility due to a bad weather could spoil this holiday…
 
However, Lady Luck was with us.
When we came out of  Kurobe Dam station(1470 meter above sea level) after a 16-minute trolly bus ride through the tunnel followed by climbing up 200 stairs, to my joy, a clear grand view came into my eyes.

  

Kurobe Lake




 
Kurobe Dam(1450m) discharges more than 10 tons of water per second from the gate every day from late June to mid October.

 




After a while, sunshine in the morning made a rainbow over clouds of spray.
 

We walked over the dam to Kurobeko(黒部湖)station to take a cable car to kurobedaira(黒部平)





Mount. Tateyama Range (3015m), a part of Northern Japan Alps, with mists rising up was clearly seen from there. 




It seems ages since my family took a trip altogether last time. This time a 17-month-old Sho joined. It made his grandpa all the happier. Sho is his pride and joy!

at the obsevation deck at Kurobe Dam


Can you see a square framed grayish structure in the mid right of this picture? 



That is Daikanbo(大観峰 2316m) station on the side of the Tateyamas, where a ropeway carries us tourists up to. The 1.7km long ropeway connecting Kurobedaira (黒部平1828m) station with Daikanbo station has no single support towers between the two to protect surrounding mountain scenery.



 
This photo was taken on the way back 

Kurobe Lake seen from higher observation deck


At Daikanbo we again changed from a ropeway to a trolly bus running through the tunnel crossing just below the Tateyamas to the other side of it. That was our destination: Murodo(室堂2450m), the highest point of the route. This whole route directly connects Nagano Prefecture with neighboring Toyama Prefecture, however, we left our car at the hotel so we had to return from there.

The scenery before us was beyond my wildest dreams. 













Mikuriga-ike Pond; caldera lake
Mikuri means “the kitchen for the deity”. They say the dishes for an offering to the deity of Mount.Tateyama were made here by using this water.
As you can see from the picture, this place offers accommodation facilities such as Japan's highest situated hotel or lodges or camp grounds.





There are a variety of hiking trails leading to the summit of the mountain(3015m). You can enjoy leisure walk as well. With little Sho with us, we took one hour walk around the Mikurigaike Pond. A patch of snow still remains.  










I recognized a volcanic activity by a sulfurous odor in the air near Hell Valley (地獄谷)
 




Through telephoto lens, hikers looked like a procession of ants on the ridge line.



 


"Here's looking at you, kid" 
 

It was a perfect day. Among others, I was happy to share the joy with my family


Nagano Prefecture via Wikipedia

 

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 ?  

 





 
 
                     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.











Shizuka-Gozen
 
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.



仏には桜の花をたてまつれわが後の世を人とぶらはば
“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

March


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.

Wakayama
 
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