Japan Visit 1; Part III, Day 3 in the Japanese mountains: Morning Culture

Day 3 in the Japanese mountains: Morning Culture

That morning, as I always love to do when leaving a place, I took a walk through the neighborhood picking twigs and flowers to use for our Ikebana class. 

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Midori went to a special training school teaching how to perform traditional tea ceremony and the flower arranging art, Ikebana.
You can learn and observe these skills as added parts to their tour.
I really wanted to learn a little about the foundation of the art of Ikebana and you can’t have a first visit to Japan without witnessing a tea ceremony!
Midori dressed in the traditional training/teacher style of dress with pants and cotton top;
For the sake of time, she dressed me in a summer cotton kimono made of beautiful fabric and Obi that I adored.
Midori’s grandparents used to run a Kimono shop in Kobe thus I’m sure her collection of Kimonos is gorgeous!

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The process of Ikebana goes like this:
Begin with flower selection-
You shouldn’t choose the plant based on it’s beauty, but on the energy you feel towards the plant and how they relate to the other plants. 
Midori explained the tradition and meaning surrounding Ikeban;
If one stops and gives attention to the beauty of the flowers, it is a failure
The flowers should be seen through, helping to make your gaze pleasant, but not stopping the flow of energy
One should appreciate Ikebana like one gazes at the moon, using the back of the base of your skull to see, not actually seen with your eyes
This way the energy and fengshui is in balance. 
When you feel good about your group, 3-4 plants will do;
Hold up each plant individually
Close your eyes
When you open your eyes, if there is anything out of place that you didn’t see before;
Balance the energy of the plants in space
Do not arrange the flowers to one another, but arrange them how they relate to the open space
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Midori set up our room to be clean and zen, especially honoring the small alcove mantel piece with a samurai scroll.
She explained this area must be kept clean of all other clutter as it represents and entrance into another spiritual world.
It is an area to be respected and honored and not crossed over for mortals.
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There are several different schools of thought when it comes to traditional Japanese practices;
Midori learned more of a soldier style way that was used traditionally for performance for samurai.
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Japan Visit 1; Part III, Kyoto Mountains Day Tour

Day 2 in the Japanese mountains: Experience Tour-Live

We had a leisurely morning to relax and get caught up on some pending items happening back home, before heading out on our tour.
Midori & Kei will customize a tour for you from any of the following options.
The entire day for the personal guided tour is only 6,000yen/pp = about US$60 for the whole experience…a great deal & well worth it!!
We decided to focus on three areas:
1) Temple … with gorgeous autumn colors, tranquility, and historic artifacts
2) Sake Brewery Tour… Watch sake production process and have sake tasting
3) Thatched Roof Village & Indigo Museum
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1) We were very fortunate to experience this temple almost completely by ourselves.
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For lunch we were introduced to one of the local speciality’s; venison at a very cool and great quality restaurant looking across a large field in to the mountains.
I had the venison meatball stew set meal and J had the venison cutlet stewed meal. The flavor was rich, but light, and slightly gamey. It reminded me of a countryside French meal, so nice!!
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2) … the local sake brewery is a small, family-run operation applying different methods to creating refined sake at affordable, excellent quality. 
When we arrived, the process of washing the steamed rice was underway.
After being washed by hand, the rice went to begin the fermentation process.
In the distillery area;
We saw the chemistry specialist working on the right amount of mold and cultures for the process to be balanced just so.
Each brewery has a secret culture recipe that must be maintained in a hot room for replicating the distinct flavor for the different styles of sake.
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The tasting room is full of natural light and cedar wood furniture.
We enjoyed 7 different tastings by our brewery host; a very polite and gracious lady.
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They also have one person only dedicated to beer!
Three different blends include Amber, Weiss and Klosch beer.
Rich in flavor, light and well-balanced, these beers have wine gold medal awards at the Yokohama beer festival two years in a row.
The hardest part was deciding which bottles would accompanying us back to Taipei…in the end we decided on two bottles and a three pack of the assorted beers, which were happily consumed in Osaka a few days later. 
3) With a slight buzz we hopped back into the Land Cruiser to go experience Miyama, a little mountain village where the craft of traditional thatched rood homes has been preserved. 
  IMG_1546 IMG_1547IMG_1543IMG_1544Each thatched roof house must re-made every 20 years at a cost of around US$300,000! Luckily the Japanese government recognizes the importance of keeping these articles of traditional culture alive, thus pays for this reconstruction when needed.
One roof was under repair during our visit;
I could easily picture my Papa sitting to a few hours with libation watching the process with great interest!
The village is very picturesque with residents in each the homes going about their daily lives, a folklore village, and hiking trails can be explored to.
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But, what I was most interested in was the Little Indigo Museum.
The house, the presentation, and the artisan we all uniquely inspiring!
Entrance fee to the museum (which is also the Artisan’s family home) costs 200yen (about US$2).
The artisan, a very learned older man has been perfecting his indigo dying craft for almost 50 years.
30 years ago he purchased the 150-year-old home and converted the traditional kitchen into a natural indigo dying artisan shop.
With vats of dye waiting for the next work, he winds woven cotton on a large tension system to create his signature look.
His look is rendered in the use of many kimonos, household items, and works of art.
The art room presentation has a beautiful feel to it making me want to create!

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Upstairs he showcases his mainly European collection of clothing and 18th-19th century textile prices he has collected over the years.
Having traveled extensively himself….-san has a great command of English, having shown in many exhibitions around the world and translating the book…

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The first floor entrance is a small retail space of handwoven items by his wife, and hand dyed creations.
I wanted to buy everything, but limited myself to two silk pouches and two cotton coasters.
You can visit The Little Indigo Museum website: http://shindo-shindigo.com/
Or, even better, make a personal visit yourself!!
It was dark by the time we left the thatched village with the temperature becoming chilly.
We drove back to Midori and Kei’s home for an evening potluck!
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Together we cooked with 4 of Midori’s friends.
Jason made chicken, wild mushroom, and veggie stir fry;
I made a semi-sweet bell pepper, onion, and ginger dish;
The retired Paichinko professional player made hot pot;
The two friends with little 10-month old fun baby made sweet potato tempura.
It was a great cultural sharing experience full of laughter and full bellies!
20141112_235414We slept VERY well that night!


Japan Visit 1; Part III, Kyoto Deep Mountainous Area Experience

Part III
Kyoto Deep Mountainous Area Experience
Morning chill out with Masa & Jacqueline
Train to Tokyo station for Shinkansen travel to Kyoto!!
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Kyoto station, gorgeous open station entrance with cool sculptures
Jump on free WiFi while waiting for bus
Day 1 in the Japanese mountains: Discovery
After riding the local bus through Kyoto northeast city, after the University;
Gorgeous ride through the fall landscape of northeast Kyoto to Keihoku-Shuzancho, Ukyo Ward.
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Upon our arrival, we discovered Kei was away in Tokyo working on a translation project. As a translator and editor, he periodically travels around Japan with international visitors. Though we were hoping to meet Kei, the lovely and intelligent Midori was a formidable hostess.
Midori picked us up from the bus station in her big Land Cruiser;
First we went shopping at the local market with fresh vegetables picked from the surrounding area; Kyoto area is very famous for large radishes.
Other options included wild boar and venison pre-prepared dishes,or dine in the market restaurant.
There are local artisanal crafts and organic household products for sale, a lot of them made from the cedar wood the area is famous for.
Very Big Sur meets Whole Foods feeling!

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Hosts Midori & Kei have a lovely house with traditional tatami rooms.

The atmosphere is very comfortable, local, and very friendly.
Midori & Kei moved from ether respective Kobe & Tokyo home towns to contribute to the Ukyo Ward mountain area in order to benefit the local industry by increasing tourism.
We collected items for cooking together;
That evening the three of us had a lovely hot pot meal and lengthy discussion of personal and world affairs.
It was relaxing, stimulating, and a great cultural experience.
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This area primarily survives off of the cedar wood industry, where all of the timber used to furnish Kyoto’s multitude of temples and shrines comes from. As the price for wood becomes lower and lower, the local industry that has been strong for centuries has began to suffer. Competition among the private companies makes it difficult for the local people to collaborate on community projects to build awareness and drive for tourists to visit the area. Thus outsiders from all around Japan have settled in the area over the recent years to enrich the community with their skills and expertise.
For a young couple like Midori & Kei, this represents a great opportunity to be successful in their unique skill sets while providing a tranquil, beautiful slow-paced area to call home.
We discussed the adventures we would have the following day, depending on what the locals were up to.
Book a stay and tour with Midori and Kei via Airbnb:


Japan Visit 1; Part II; Tokyo Day Tour

Part II
Tokyo day tour-all day GOOOO!!
Breakfast with Masa & Jacqueline
Home made bread & rice with Furakake!


Thank you Masa for being an awesome tour guide to see the sites of Tokyo.

We would still be going in circles through the Taipei Subway if it wasn’t for you!

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First Stop: Yasukini Shrine

Gorgeous day to visit this politically volatile shrine that honors soldiers who gave their lives for Japan.

Jason has been thinking about this Shrine for 15 years, finally gets to visit!
Very tranquil space, despite the international debate that clouds the perception of this “war” shrine
Checking out war memorabilia, & restored plane Zero

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Soba noodles lunch with Tempura shrimp & duck soup soba
Walking around Asakusa Temple tourist street
Balking at way overly priced, poor quality Kimonos
Buying great postcards from traditional block print artworks
Quick temple visit;
Then on the way to kitchen street!!
Mission: find different sake cups with special personality

Sake collection mugs, here we come!!

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Next stop: Cruising the high-end shopping streets seeking out the latest trends.
Train to high-end shopping street, Omote-Sando to hip, young cultural Harajuku area for window & trend gawking
Bought a gorgeous angora blended black hat in an antique-stylized hat specialty shop. Have been looking for a hat like this forever!!


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Walk to the busiest intersection in Japan, check out the night scene

Awesome dinner in Shibuya
Crazy, yummy good time over Yakatori
Great tofu-kimchi-chicken-mung bean mixed dish
More meat sticks, beers, and sake!!


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Awesome day!!

Japan, Visit I; Part I, Tokyo Old Friends & Enoshima Island

I have chosen the appropriate title for this post as this will definitely the fist of many visits to the amazing country that is Japan.

Mt. Fuji from the Shinkansen. Awesome day for a bullet ride.
Mt. Fuji from the Shinkansen. Awesome day for a bullet ride.

Japan, Nov 2014

Part I
Tokyo Area Weekend
Sat, Nov 8
Neighborhood home stay west of Tokyo, Masa & Jacqueline; Arigato!!
Yakitori grilling dinner, gift giving, and memory sharing
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Sun, Nov 9

Enoshima day trip
Local bus to train station
Walk/Run across bridge to Enoshima Island
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Go Asuna!!
Enter through shopping street to the shrine
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Hike around island to perched restaurant with excellent view
Lunch of sashimi & mixed egg, vegetables & rice, yummy!!
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Girls light dinner and early to bed for school night
Masa, Jason and Me; out to a Yakatori dinner; beer & snacks
Snacks included whale, meatball-chickent meat collection on a stick,  Mentaiko, grilled rice ball
Good Times!!
Weekend #1, Success!!
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Taiwanese Baseball Game, Opening Day!

Tonight we were invited by my co-worker Kevin who is a big baseball fan and a player himself. We have been wanting to attend a baseball game in Taiwan for the past year, but never got around to it. Until today, and it was well worth it. Thank you Kevin!

The stadium is about 1/4 of the size of an MLB stadium, but has enough lively entertainment going on to feel big and exciting. The whole ambiance was more like a college game, constant chanting and banging of hollow plastic batons together all choreographed  by the ‘cheer coach.’ The cheering was very specific to encouraging the players, feeling like a European soccer game. We were also in competition with the other side of the stadium, who represented fans of the rival team. There was even handing out of balloons that were all sent off whistling together.

Since this was the opening day and this year is the 25th year of national baseball in Taiwan, there was a special opening show. It consisted of dancing troops showing off their synchronized moves in a fun spirit of dance competition. Then, the air force did a spectacular formation presentation that even included some juggling of their bayonets!

All together an awesome time that made the 4 hour game go by quickly!IMG_8262

Kevin is decked out in his old favorite team’s jersey, the Dragons. His cousin joined us for the game.
The cheering coach standing up down in front flanked by model cheerleaders.

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Yilan Eastern Coast Voyage

The Yilan area is definitely getting to be one of my favorite places for a get away.

This trip I discovered a direct bus that in an hour drops you off in downtown hot spring town, Jiaoxi. Place your feet in the odorless free springs and enjoy chili ice cream from the Chili Hunters amazing array.

A walk to the local train and a few stops up north, you are on the black sand beach of Waiao. A surfing town with nothing to do but stare at the waves and enjoy the great company of the Rising Sun Inn or other little B&Bs on the small boardwalk.IMG_8169 IMG_8167 20140302_164150 IMG_817420140301_183210 20140301_183204 20140301_183125 20140301_182939 IMG_816620140301_145115 20140301_140519 20140301_140525 20140301_140314 IMG_8165 IMG_8164 IMG_8163 20140301_121339