Monday, November 24, 2014

Shodoshima and Kankakei Gorge hike

Last weekend Jeff and I took an overnight trip to Shodoshima island which is in the Seto inland sea.  I had read about a gorge there that is, well... gorgeous!

We got a little bit of a late start and then drove to Okayama and then hopped on the ferry to Shodoshima.  The island is interesting in that it has a public bus system that goes to the Kankakei gorge (which is the islands biggest attraction) but it only runs 4 times a day.  This was really strange to us and we got there to late to see the gorge so we decided to go checkout the olive grove.  Yep, you read that right.  There apparently were 4 places in Japan that they tried growing olives about 100 years ago but the only one that was successful was on Shodoshima so they grow olives and make olive oil.  The setup is really quite pretty and they had some good food for a late lunch.

This is supposed to be a Greek style windmill.  I have no idea if this correct or not since I don't have a lot of knowledge on windmills.

Evening over the sea.

Stairs leading down between the olive trees.

The next day we got up early and caught the morning bus out to the Kankakei gorge.  It has a "ropeway" or a gondola to go up to the top or it has a couple of different hiking trails.  This was nice as we could decide how active we wanted to be based on how I was feeling.  We had originally talked about taking the ropeway up and then walking down but it was a lovely day and I was feeling good so we decided to walk up and go from there.

We were quickly rewarded by a passing troupe of monkeys.  They were polite and didn't get too close but they were clearly used to seeing people.  I was a little worried as I was in the middle of eating a roll (left over from breakfast) when we first spotted them and I was concerned they would be attracted to the food.  I put the roll in my pocket but the monkeys seemed very indifferent.

The came past in a steady stream, mostly along the same paved path that we were walking up.  Some were off to the side of the trail and a couple were traveling up in the trees.

The fall leaves were perfect and the lighting was such that the canopy was glowing as the sun was hitting them.  The pictures really don't capture how stunning it was.

It was a little shy of 2k up to the top of the gorge.  It was pretty steep but it was beautiful.  One of the things that cracked me up (and I wish I would have taken a picture of it) was the signs along the trail that pointed out the viewpoints and even had a laminated picture on display to show people what they should be taking a picture of.  Most of the Japanese hikers were very diligent and took pictures where the signs indicated.  I was a little more rebellious in my photographic habits.

View from the top of the gorge.
 Once we had reached the top we realized that there was actually a road that went all the way to the top, not just a rope way.  There were throngs of people and there was a large building full of food vendors and souvenir stands.  We took advantage of the food sellers and got some gioza (pork filled steamed dumplings) that were delicious!
People at the top.
 After our delightful snack we decided to hike back down instead of taking the ropeway.  I had some crackers in the back pack and some water bottles so it seemed like we might as well continue our hike.  There was a different trail that we could take down than the one we went up so it seemed like a good idea to make a loop out of it.  The second trail ended a bit lower on the gorge than the trail we went up but we thought we might be able to catch a bus where it spit us out.
It was a little less hazy on the other side and the fall colors were amazing.

Natural stone arch.

looking up at the top of the arch.

Temple nestled into the side of the rock wall.

Craggy rocks and fall prettiness.

This was the bottom of our trail.
Our trail spit us out on the main road quite a bit below where we started but still about 6k from town.  I'm not entirely sure who botched this one but we wound up walking back all the way to town.  Overall that put us at about 12 k for the day.  It was a lovely day but a little farther than I really wanted to go.  Once we got back to town we caught a bus, caught the ferry and rolled back to home right around dinner time.  It was a great over night trip!

Just to give you an idea of how far we walked, you can see the town in the center of the picture, we walked back to there.

How to complicate life when living in Japan...Get pregnant!!!

Yep, that's right blog readers, I'm pregnant!  I just finished up week 14 so I have some catching up to do on sharing some of the differences between Japan and the US.  I was pregnant about this time last year in the US when unfortunately at my 12 week checkup the baby no longer had a heart beat so I think I have a decent idea of how the first couple of appointments go US for comparison.

I'll start with the crazy lady at the hiking club.  Go back all the way to September and there is a post on the Japanese hiking club.  A couple of days before Jeff and I took this hike, I took a home pregnancy test that very clearly said that I was not pregnant.  I didn't think anything of it and continued on as normal.  Jeff and I did the hike as documented in the blog but I omitted a story.  There was one slightly crazy lady on the hike.  She was a nice crazy lady and she spoke good English but she had a strange way of talking like a stream of consciousness.  As an example, she asked where in America I was from.  I said Idaho.  She said "Ah!  Idaho.  Idaho potato.  I like potatoes.  I like to cook them in a pan with butter.  My son like potatoes he likes them in Japanese curry all cut up with carrots and meat.  I like potatoes more than sweet potatoes.  Sweet potatoes are no good in curry but they are good..."  And this continued on for about 40 minutes without a break just rolling from one subject to the next.

Why is this story part of the pregnancy blog, you are probably asking right about now?  Well, when we stopped for lunch and crazy lady got quiet, really quiet.  She looked at Jeff and then at me.  Then she very clearly said "You don't have a baby yet?  Don't worry you will soon." and then walked away.  It struck both Jeff and I as very odd and the way it happened it sort of gave me goose bumps and I normally just blow stuff like this off.  Jeff and I talked about it later that evening and it struck us both as really odd and a little creepy.  That night the dreams started.  Both Jeff and I had very vivid dreams that I was pregnant.  This had never happened before (or since for that matter) and went on for a couple of days.  At this point I decided to take another home pregnancy test, only this one was positive.

So we now had one negative and one positive tests and decided to get a doctor appointment as a tie breaker.  The way our insurance works here, we call them to set up appointments with new doctors.  So we explained what we needed the appointment for and that we needed a doctor that spoke English.  They said that they had many options in Tokyo, which is like telling someone in San Francisco they have to go to LA to get a doctor appointment.  After another phone call or two they found us "the only doctor that speaks English in Hiroshima".  They came back a day later and said that doctor was no longer practicing in Hiroshima but they found "the only other doctor that speaks English in Hiroshima".  So, I met with the guy in Hiroshima who spoke fantastic English and confirmed that I was in fact, pregnant.  He suggested I set up an appointment for the following week because at that point the baby should have a heart beat that the ultrasound can pick up and then I can "register the pregnancy with the city office".  I'll pick up at this point in a future blog.  This part is pretty different from the American system and fairly interesting.

Stay tuned!  And for those of you who are really not all that interested in the prego blogs, I'll still be having plenty of other types of stories, adventures and pretty pictures.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Kyoto day 5

Our last morning in Kyoto, we packed up all of our bags and checked out of the hotel.  Again, they agreed
to hold our bags for us until we left the city which made things much easier.  

We started the morning with a massage.  Jeff has had shoulder problems since he had a mountain bike crash last march and my neck and shoulders have been angry with me.  The first massage was so good it just seemed like a fantastic way to finish up a vacation.

After getting turned in to relaxed puddles we had to muster up a little energy and headed off to the train to go to the Fushimi Inari Shrine.  This shrine is at the top of one of the hills surrounding Kyoto but the the routes up are covered in torii gates.  It is estimated that there are over 10,000 torii gates at Fushimi Inari.  The original shrine was build in 711.

The bottom of the walk was very crowded (reminded me a little of the bottom of Fuji but much easier walking) but thinned out pretty quickly the higher we went.  Jeff and I went to the top (but had a soft ice cream on the way down).  It's around 4 km each way.  There is a great viewpoint of the city at the half way point but sadly there is no view from the top.  It was a nice walk and it felt good do a little hike.  It was a lot of stairs.

These are the smaller densely spaced gates near the bottom of the hill.

As you get a little higher up, the gates get bigger but the spacing is a little wider.  You can also see that these gates are a little older as the vermilion paint has faded a bit.

The view of Kyoto from the half way point.

The shrine at the top

Stone (cold?) fox.  There were stone foxes of various sizes all over the mountain.  They all held something in their mouths.  They are regarded as messengers and are often found at Inari shrines.

In this picture you can see the carvings on the gates.  These are generally the name or the company that donated the torii gate.  The size of the gate is determined by the size of the donation.
After our lovely walk we headed back to the train station, ate a late lunch, grabbed our bags and headed back to Higashi-Hiroshima.  It was a really nice trip.  There was a ton of things to see and do in the Kyoto area.  We were there for such a short time that we barely scratched the surface.  I can see why Kyoto is such a popular destination for people to visit.

Kyoto Day 4

After the previous day's laziness we decided to get up early and get moving.  We headed towards some lesser traveled temples again.  The day started out with a train ride and then a walk through a bamboo forest.  There were quite a few people at the beginning of the walk but they thinned out rather quickly.  We came across a pond there there was a heron that seemed content to pose while I took his picture.

We went to Gioji Temple at the recommendation from our friends the previous night at dinner.  It was great.  It was off the beaten path and beautiful.   Unfortunately, my lack of knowledge on my new camera showed with these pictures and I'm not really happy with the lighting on them.  It was dim and green and serene and many of the pictures feel over exposed for me.  Here's what I got that I feel best captures this place.

Fallen leaves on the moss.  Everything was covered with different types of mosses.  They had pots off to the side showing all the different varieties of moss, I think there were about a dozen.  

The maple trees over the mossy ground.

A small fountain.

A little old lady sweeping the leaves off of the moss.
 I apologize now for my indulgence in my love of fall leaves.

 We then headed off to Diakakuji Temple.  It was a very pleasant surprise.  We knew nothing about it prior to going but it was free admission with our ticket from Gioji so we decided to make the trek and check it out.  It was a huge complex of buildings that were linked together with covered wooden walkways.  The whole thing was shoes off.  The floors were perfectly smooth, not sock snares.  The complex was used as a vacation home for some of the emperors of Japan back when the capital was Kyoto.  The best part was the nightingale floor.  Some of you might have read some sort of historical fiction or book with ninjas in it that talks about a room or a building with nightingale floors.  They are wooden floors that are designed to make noise when walked on.  They make a small squeak or chirp.  Jeff and I waited until no one was around then took turns trying to be ninja and walk on the floors without making any noise.  Both of us managed to walk a little quieter with practice but neither of us succeeded in silence.  It was a ton of fun!

This is from our walk between temples.  It was pretty farm land.

Rooms connected by covered wooden flooring.

This long hallway is where we tried to walk quietly.  We both decided that we probably shouldn't try to change our profession to Ninja.
After exploring the inside, we got our shoes back and took a walk around the lake behind the temple and some bamboo groves.

Across the lake back towards the temple.

Bamboo.  These are about 4-6 inches across at the base.

Jeff with the bamboo curving over the path above him.
We then headed back to the train and went towards Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion.  This was one of those places that pretty much everyone sees when they go to Kyoto.  I expected large crowds but not to be overly impressed.  I was wrong, well, half wrong.  It was crowded but it really was stunning.  I think we hit the lighting just right and lucked out but the temple seemed to almost glow.  It is gold leaf that has been lacquered over.  I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Another heron that was feeling photogenic.
Wow!  What a day.  Sorry for the long blog, it's making me tired just remembering it all.  We headed back to our hotel, got cleaned up and went out to dinner.  We found a tiny Italian place that was great.  It actually tasted like Italian food not Japanese food with some tomatoes.  This is from our walk to dinner.  

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Kyoto Day 3

It was raining in the morning and the forecast was wet all day so we decided to pamper ourselves a little bit and get massages.  Both Jeff and I have been having a hard time adjusting to Japanese beds.  They are very firm and not good for anything other than sleeping on your back, which neither Jeff or I do.  The massages were great (so good we decided to book another one for Tuesday morning).

We found a restaurant that served Dim Sum which is a favorite of both Jeff and I and a huge treat.  We can't get it in Boise or in Hagashi-hiroshima so to find it was a real treat.  If you are unfamiliar with Dim Sum it is actually Chinese dumplings.  Some are steamed and some are fried.  They have different things inside of them such as pork, shrimp or vegetables and they are delicious!

After stuffing ourselves, we decided to do a little shopping.  I thought Kyoto might be a good place to find some presents to take home to friends and family.  We had a nice day, stayed mostly out of the rain and picked up a couple of things that we were looking for.

We met some friends for dinner (yep, we had friends from Hiroshima vacationing in Kyoto the same weekend as us) at a Mexican food restaurant and it was so good!  It tasted like home.  Some things are really hard to get in Japan and good Mexican food is at the top of the list.  The chef spent 20 years in the US in southern California and that is where he learned to cook.  His English was great and we had a great time with our friends.  It was a good day.  Sorry for the lack of pictures.  I didn't even carry the camera with me.  It was just too wet.

Kyoto Day 2

We decided to get up early and beat the Saturday morning tourist crowds. Japan is not really an early morning country so it's pretty easy.  Our hotel had a continental breakfast that was an interesting mix of western and Japanese foods.  There were breakfast pastries, eggs, fresh fruit, yogurt, curry, rice, soup, salad and noodles.

A quick walk to the train station, a change to the subway and we got to Daigo-ji Temple.  This is one that I had seen pictures of and really wanted to see.  it was an added bonus that the fall leaves were starting to turn on the Japanese maples (my favorite type of tree).  I totally love fall leaves.  I apologize in advance for the abundance of fall leaf pictures on this trip.

Looking at one of the temple buildings through fall leaves.

The big pagoda

This is what I really wanted to see.  So beautiful!  

The bridge over to the shrine.

The other side of the bridge

Just one more picture cause it's worth looking at again!  This one you can see the hills in the background.
 This was a great stop.  It's a little off the beaten path and with our earlier arrival it was very quiet and not many people here.  This was one of my favorite spots in Kyoto.

Next we went to Byodo-in Temple.  A quick subway ride and a train and we were there.  This is a very large temple and was much more popular.  I tried to keep the droves of people out of the pictures but it was a little bit of a challenge.

This is a huge structure, there was also a museum on the grounds that showed how they restored it.  It was very interesting to see the pictures but unfortunately most of the captions were only in Japanese.

We then went back to Kyoto and took a short break in the hotel before heading out to see the To-ji pagoda lit up.  I saw some pictures of it at night and it was really pretty.  When we got to the temple we were told that the grounds closed at 5:30.  No problem, sunset is around 5:00.  As we are waiting for the lights to come on, we were reading a pamphlet we were given with information about the pagoda.  It is the tallest pagoda in Japan and it has burnt down and been rebuilt 4 times!!!  I couldn't help but think of this from Monty Python and the Holy Grail "When I first came here, this was all swamp. Everyone said I was daft to build a castle on a swamp, but I built in all the same, just to show them. It sank into the swamp. So I built a second one. That sank into the swamp. So I built a third. That burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp. But the fourth one stayed up. And that's what you're going to get, Lad, the strongest castle in all of England." 

The grounds were really quite pretty and we kept waiting for the lights to get turned on but sadly we were asked to leave before they were turned on.  At 5:32 the lights turned on and I could see the very top of the pagoda lit up but the rest was blocked by the fence and trees.  Bleh!  I was a little irritated since I specifically wanted to see it with the lights on.  Why kick people out and then turn on the lights?  Oh well.  Here are the pictures I took while waiting.

Pretty reflecting pool in front of pagoda.

Huge pagoda!  Now equip with a lightning rod to try to avoid future fires.
 After getting kicked out of the temple, we went walking to find dinner.  I was hoping for something light after the previous nights fried gut bomb.  We found a place that had large salads and that was good for me.  Jeff had some steak and the normal Japanese fixings.  We were pretty tired by the time we got back to the hotel and slept well.
View from pedestrian bridge when walking to find dinner.