Time to Head Home (April 18, 2023)

On all tours going forward I’ll expect clean bus windows; a bucket of umbrellas for just in case; clean, interesting rest stops (think fish bowl in the bathroom and Shun knives for sale); hotel amenities that include sleepwear and hair ties; to-the-minute train service; and sea kelp on the breakfast buffet. I’ll be the first to admit I’m going to miss the heated seats on the fancy toilets here! Underrated on a global scale.

Dan and I were up at 5:30 AM for our ride to the Hiroshima airport at 7:00. We were offered and jumped at the chance to take an earlier flight to Tokyo which lengthened our four-hour layover to a five-hour layer, but we knew it would feel good to be pre-positioned for our flight home. We browsed the high end shops and relaxed in the ANA lounge until time to board. The lounge offered nothing other than small bags of rice crackers to go along with beer on tap, liquor, juice, sodas, coffee and tea.

Our flight went great. I watched A Man Called Otto, Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, the second half of the TV series 1883, and all of season one of The Big Brunch. Throw in a four-hour nap and a couple of meals and it felt like a down day at home.

Because of the magic of the International Dateline we landed on the East Coast at the very same time and on the very same day we left Japan after being in the air for 12.5 straight hours. Immigration, customs, and a cab ride home ended our 26-hour day and our fabulous trip to Hawaii and Japan.


Hiroshima, Japan (April 16-17, 2023)


This morning we traveled along the southern San’yo coast on our way to Hiroshima which is about 250 miles from Kyoto. Our drive took us over roads that are quite simply engineering marvels. They were built through mountainous areas with one tunnel after the next and raised roadways multiple stories above the solid ground below. Hiro showed us two short films: an animated film based on a popular 12th century tale and a short biography of a famous sumo wrestler.

We were in Kurashiki, home to Japan’s finest denim, a piggy bank museum, and crazy-cute masking tape, in time for lunch, an ice cream cone, and free time. It was enjoyable to explore the Bikan district where traditional buildings such as merchant homes and old storehouses have been preserved. The town, known for the white walls of its residences and the willow trees lining the banks of the Kurashiki River, prospered in the 1600s and is thriving today.

We continued on to Hiroshima. On August 6, 1945, during World War II, an American B-29 bomber dropped the world’s first deployed atomic bomb over Hiroshima, a manufacturing center with a population of about 350,000. The explosion killed a quarter of the population instantly and tens of thousands more died over time of severe burns and radiation exposure. Besides the cost in lives, the bomb essentially wiped out the city, so what we’ll see and the places we will visit are all part of a young, redesigned, and reimagined city.

Our day ended with a visit to Hiroshima Castle, originally begun in the late 1500s by the feudal lord as the dominate feature of a castle town built at the mouth of the Ota River. Also called Carp Castle, it was beautifully reconstructed after the war and now sits smack dab in the middle of a very modern city. The castle features an impressive moat and an outside balcony at the top of the keep which offers panoramic views of the city and surrounding area. Yes, we walked up the 117 steps to enjoy the view. The interior has exhibits portraying the history of Hiroshima and the castle.


Our day had a somber beginning with a visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. This memorial, in the center of town, is dedicated to the city’s sad legacy as the first city in the world to suffer a nuclear attack and to the memories of the bomb’s direct and indirect victims. It is home to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum with its extensive collection of artifacts from the time of the bombing and exhibits that chronicle the history of Hiroshima before and after the war. It is the most popular of Hiroshima’s destinations for international visitors as well as school fieldtrips from all over Japan.

Before leaving the park we visited the museum and the haunting and now iconic Atomic Bomb Dome, the skeletal remains of a structure that miraculously survived the August 6 attack. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as a symbol of peace. Near the Dome is a statue dedicated to all the children orphaned, killed, and severely injured on that fateful day. School children lead the effort to collect donations in remembrance of Sadako Sasaki, a girl who suffered from leukemia as a result of the bomb. She folded a thousands cranes in the hopes that this would restore her health. Sadly it did not, but it prompted the folding of countless paper cranes in her honor. Our group left a paper crane that Hiro’s husband had prepared for us.

In the mood for a pick-me-up we were all glad to head to the ferry for the short ride to the island of Miyajima. We explored the small island and visited the Itsukushima Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, situated over the water. First built in 593, it is most famous for its 60 ton, 51 feet tall, cinnabar (orange-red) tori gate. At high tide the tori gate and shrine buildings seem to float on the water. The timing of our visit was perfect because it aligned with a Noh performance at the shrine. We were clueless about the storyline but enjoyed seeing the costume and mask of the main actor as well as the music accompanying his slow, purposeful movements. We strolled along Omotesando Street, the main shopping area, on the hunt for lunch and any little bobble that caught our eye. We were tempted by the local specialty, a sweet pastry shaped like a Japanese maple leaf, but the mystery of what filling was inside scared us off. We had a perfect view of the shrine from the boat as we left the dock. It was beautifully framed by the mountain in the background.

Miyajima is one of the 700+ islands in the Seto Inland Sea. Dan and I talked about being the only foreigners on our overnight cruise through the Inland Sea when we lived here.

Our day ended with a beautiful farewell dinner in the hotel. We said our goodbyes to our fellow travelers (two family groups of seven each plus a couple from Miami) and to Hiroko who we all agreed had done a fabulous job!

… Just a Few More things …

A flame of peace honoring the victims of the nuclear bombing has burned in Hiroshima since 1946.

The oleander was the first thing to bloom after the atomic blast, so it is now the official flower of Hiroshima.

The crane is the Japanese symbol of longevity and happiness.

It is compulsory to attend nine years of formal education.
Most children opt to finish high school though, and 68% go on to university.

Baseball is the number one sport in Japan. The Hiroshima Carp is the home team here.

Nara, Japan (April 15, 2023)

I’ve become fascinated with these high-tech toilets! Yesterday I used one with an auto flush function and the day before the lid lifted when I entered the bathroom stall. Magic I tell you.

This morning we headed 28 miles south to the 8th century imperial capital of Nara, home to eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Nara, with a population of 370,000, is known for calligraphy brushes, India ink, persimmon sushi, pickles made from sake sediment, and tourism. 

First on our list of wows was the Buddhist temple complex Todai-ji Temple, built in 728 to mourn the death of a beloved  crown prince. The centerpiece of the complex is the huge wooden hall known as Great Buddha Hall which houses the world’s largest bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana. It is over 50 feet high and has certainly withstood the test of time since it was cast in 749. The wooden buildings in the shrine complex are also impressive … for their size and the age of the massive trees used in their construction. 

We made a stop at Deer Park to see some of the 1,000+ tame deer roaming freely in the peaceful park. They are considered sacred and have not been eaten even during times of war when the citizenship was starving. 

Nara’s most celebrated shrine is Kasuga Taisha. It was established at the same time as the capital and is dedicated to the deity responsible for the protection of the city. This Shinto shrine’s hallmark features are its 3,000 stone and bronze lanterns, many very old and smothered in moss. Donated by worshippers, they are lit twice a year during lantern festivals, one in early February and one in mid-August. What a stunning sight that must be. We lucked into watching part of a wedding ceremony being held in the sacred inner sanctum. The bride, groom, two officiants, and two sponsors were dressed in formal traditional wedding wear including a covering for the bride’s head and face. 

On the way back to Kyoto, we stopped at Fushimi Inari Shrine, dedicated to Inari, the god of grains. Upward of 10,000 tori gates mark the trails at this 1,200 year old pilgrimage site. These orange and black wooden gates are believed to be the division between the physical and spiritual worlds. Donated by Japanese businesses, families, and individuals, they are believed to bring prosperity. To avoid any confusion about who should be receiving the good luck, the name of the donor is prominently inscribed in black ink on the back of each gate.

We couldn’t help but notice stone statues of foxes, known as kitsune. Some had a key in their mouth (to control access to the granary), others had more than one tail (the more the better), and others wore red scarves (to indicate their allegiance to Inari and to expel demons and illness).

We enjoyed all these sites under gloomy skies and intermittent, persistent rain.

We had time to freshen up, pre-pack, and enjoy a cup of tea in our room before our group dinner at a local restaurant. After dinner we were treated to a dance performance by a beautifully dressed, 16 year old maiko (geisha apprentice). She was one year into her five year apprenticeship. After her performance she answered our questions and posed for pictures. 

…Odds and Ends…

Green tea fields are covered in thin black cloth. We saw some from the bus today. 

Nintendo started in a mom and pop shop in Kyoto. 

What has looked like smog on some days is really yellow sand blowing in from the desert of China. 

I debuted my last top this morning. It compliments the pants I’ve worn for three days and will wear until we fly home. 

Kyoto, Japan (April 13-14, 2023)

Kyoto was the capital of Japan for more than 1,000 years (794 to 1868 AD). It’s a no-brainer that we wouldn’t see it all, but we really crammed a lot in.


As the saying goes, go big or go home, and we did just that by starting our tour with one of Kyoto’s Big three: Nijo Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built in 1603 by the founder of the Tokugawa military dynasty which ruled Japan from 1603 until 1868, it’s known for its beautiful garden and interior handcrafted out of Japanese cypress. Gold leaf and ornately carved transoms were prominent in the public rooms designed to impress enemies as well as friends. The huge complex consists of six connected buildings and is the only fortified palace complex left in Japan. Hiro explained the symbolism of what was painted on the gold-leafed walls. Tigers, peacocks, cherry blossoms, and evergreen trees. Everything was chosen for a reason. The halls leading from one public area to the next were built so that they squeaked with the slightest footfall. No sneaking up on the shogun when he was in town.

Next up: a brief Zen tutorial lead by a Buddhist monk. Once we had the basics down, we were invited to make ourselves comfortable on a cushion on the floor and then we proceeded to meditate for 10 minutes.

Our meditation session was followed by a Japanese tea ceremony. Tea was introduced to Japan in the 8th century by China and was used by priests and the upper class for medicinal purposes mainly. It started catching on with all social classes in the early 1300s and later tea drinking parties became popular. From the basic tea party a more refined version developed with Zen-inspired simplicity and a greater emphasis on spirituality. It is from these gatherings that the ritualized art of preparing and serving tea had its origins in the 1500s. The protocol of a tea ceremony is defined down to exact hand movements, is choreographed, and requires many years of study to master. A full, formal tea ceremony is an hours-long event that starts with a multi-course meal followed by a bowl of thick green tea made from powdered matcha and ends with a bowl of thin green tea. Today the ritualized tea ceremony is practiced as a hobby, is much abbreviated, and is limited to the enjoyment of a bowl of thin tea. All of this was explained to us before we were served a small bowl of matcha, whisked to a frothy brew. It was mildly bitter, so we were offered a sweet cracker to prepare our pallets for the tea.

We topped off our day with two fun walkabouts. The first was in the 400-year old Nishiki Market, also known as Kyoto’s Kitchen, where we browsed the shops, restaurants, and food stalls known for their specialty items and seasonal goodies.

Geisha are one of the most iconic and exotic symbols of Japan with their elaborate makeup, hairstyles, and exquisite kimonos. Geisha districts, known as hanamachi, were established during the 17th century. Before calling it a day we strolled around Gion, Kyoto’s most famous hanamachi. We learned that a girl hoping to become a geisha in Kyoto must first serve a six-year apprenticeship focused on studying the many skills required for the role: singing, dancing, playing traditional musical instruments, the art of conversation, and the formal hosting skills expected of a geisha. Today’s apprenticeships begin at the age of 15. The very best of these female performance artists / entertainers / hostesses have always been highly paid, received lavish gifts, and entertained the top tier of the business community, generally at teahouses and social events. Unmarried, they are associated with and live in or near their okiya or geisha lodging house. A number of okiya remain today. Walking the narrow streets in the Gion district reminded me of reading Memoirs of a Geisha and watching The Makanai: Cooking for a Maiko House (Netflix). A maiko, by the way, is what apprentices are called.

We finished our day shopping at the upscale Isetan department store followed by dinner in the hotel bar.


Kyoto’s Arashiyama district was our focus today. Our first stop was at the Zen temple of Tenryu-ji, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Originally built in 1339, the temple’s buildings were repeatedly lost in fires and wars over the centuries, so most of what we saw today dates from the relatively recent Meiji Period which you might recall (giggle) ran from 1868-1912. Unlike the temple buildings, Tenryu-ji’s sprawling Zen garden amazingly survived the centuries in its original form. It features a central pond surrounded by rocks, pine trees, and the forested mountains. It is considered to be one of the finest gardens in Kyoto.

In total contrast to Tenryu-ji’s garden, but no less stunning, was our next stop: a bamboo forest. The famous grove of soaring stalks were beautiful in their simplicity. Some say plan your visit on a windy day because the rustle of the stalks and the sight of them swaying back and forth is mesmerizing. We strolled leisurely along the main path amazed by the appeal of something so simple. The grove is a pubic space that is free and open 24 hours a day.

The temple to beat all temples …if you are into gold… is hands down Kinkaku-ji Temple with its Golden Pavilion, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built as the retirement villa by a shogun who stipulated in his will that it become a Zen temple after his death (1408). Each of the three floors of the temple represents a different style of architecture. The first floor was built in a style used for palace buildings from 794 to 1185 and has natural wood pillars and white plaster walls. The second floor was built in the style used in samurai residences, and has its exterior completely covered in gold leaf. The top floor, built in the style of a Chinese Zen hall, is gilded inside as well as outside and is capped with a golden phoenix! This beautiful building has burned down numerous times over the centuries including in 1950 when it was set on fire by a fanatic monk. The present structure dates to 1955.

We did a dive into traditional culture today also. Strong handsome dudes took us all for a rickshaw ride; we dressed in kimono and posed for pictures; and two talented musicians gave us a concert highlighting the shamisen and the koto. The shamisen is a three-string plucked instrument that resembles a guitar or a banjo and the koto is a 74 inch (yep, longer than six feet) wooden instrument with 13 strings that sounded like a harp to me.

Our day was jam packed when you add a delicious lunch and a matcha and vanilla swirl ice cream cone to all the other fun activities and stops. We opted for a drink and snacks in the bar in lieu of a proper dinner and then headed to the room to get organized for tomorrow.

… Oh Really? …

Kyoto is the sixth most populous urban center in Japan.
For centuries, however, it was the largest city in the country and one of the most populous in the entire world.
Few cities in Europe exceeded or matched its 16th century population of half a million.

The first geisha …men, known as taikomochi… appeared in the 13th century.
Women entered the picture in the 18th century.
A number of non-Japanese women from China, Romania, Ukraine, and Peru have become successful geisha. Perhaps the most famous is Liza Dalby, an American anthropologist who moved to Japan in 1975.

Tokyo still has six hanamachi districts.

Starbucks and 7-Eleven have been everywhere we’ve been
plus a few Wendy’s (called Wendy’s First Kitchen), McDonald’s, and one Seattle’s Best.

Takayama and the Bullet Train (April 12, 2023)

No regrets about the bath last night. Very swanky. And very public since I was with no less than nine or ten other bathers at all times. I ran into a son and his mom at the leave-your-slippers-here station. It was clear they were clueless and nervous, so I said “Follow me, let’s figure this out together.” I coached my bath buddy through exactly what I remembered doing 50 years ago and then we got in the soaking pools. Her son was on his own. There was a large soaking pool inside and five smaller ones outside.

My morning meal was a breakfast of champions! A little dish of sweet red beans, a tiny vial of custard, a small dish of fresh fruit, and two divine pastries. I’m learning to choose better as the days go by. I found my bathing buddy in the dining room, so we shared a few laughs (“Hi, this is what I look like with my clothes on.”) and I had a chance to say a proper hello to her son.

This morning offered us a chance to see more of Takayama. With its wealth of museums, galleries, and impressive temples, it is often called Little Kyoto. Our walking tour included the remarkably preserved Edo-period merchants’ shops and houses in the Sanno-machi Historic District. We popped in and out of the upscale stores that many of the old houses are used for today. We visited the morning market along the Miya River with farmers and craftsmen offering choices ranging from vegetables to clothing and hand carvings.

Besides being known for its meticulously preserved Old Town, Takayama is also well known for a festival held twice a year, in the spring and in the fall. The festivals date back to the latter half of the 16th century and have as their centerpiece intricately designed wooden floats (yatai). Intricate being the key concept. Takayama Yatai Kaikan Exhibition Hall displays four of eleven floats at a time. They are changed three times a year to show visitors like us the entire collection. Some of the floats date back to the seventeenth century and, as you can well image, require extra special care. A ginormous, gorgeous portable Shinto shrine is also on exhibit. It is used in the festivals too, and at 2.5 tons (!) is the largest one in Japan. Around 80 bearers are needed to carry it. We enjoyed our visit to this exhibition hall and were dazzled by how elaborate and well preserved the floats are.

A beautiful Shinto shrine as well as a hall exhibiting detailed miniatures of famous old buildings is in the same area as the floats and very much worth a visit.

After a quick lunch (tempura for me and a sandwich and fries for Dan) we drove to Nagoya and boarded the bullet train to Kyoto, founded in the 8th century. Once in Kyoto, Hiro offered us a quick tour of the train station which is like no other I’ve ever seen. It’s modern architecturally and houses a couple dozen small restaurants, a shopping mall, theatre, amphitheater, and it offers panoramic views of the city and Kyoto’s iconic tower which is right across the street. It is even a popular wedding venue.

No public bath in our center city hotel, so I had to settle for a plain ole fashioned shower tonight.

… Betcha Didn’t Know …

The Edo period:1603-1867

Tokugawa Shogunate: the military government of Japan during the Edo period.

Ittobori, traditional wood carvings, are a local craft.
The best ones are carved from yew and come with a certificate of authenticity.

Although not as well known as Wagyu or Kobe beef, the locals in Takayama swear by Hida beef.

Sarubobo means baby monkey, but around here it refers to a red doll without a face.
It’s a good luck charm, especially when a grandmother gives it to her grandchildren, that does not resemble a monkey. 
Watch out Jack, Bryce, and Evy!

Takayama, Japan (April 11, 2023)

Our day started by exploring the historic village of Ogimachi in this mountain region famous for its, of all things, farm houses. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, the village is home to several dozen well preserved gassho-zukuri farmhouses, some of which are more than 250 years old. The farmhouses were designed to withstand the harsh winters (think seven feet of snow) while providing a place to work and live. Their steeply pitched, thickly thatched roofs are responsible for their name which translates to ‘praying hands.’ Many of the farmhouses are now restaurants, museums, and B&Bs. We toured multi-storied Kanda house and learned about the silkworm industry that was carried out upstairs and the gunpowder industry in the basement. Both were cash producing sidelines for this farming family.

Our next stop offered a total contrast to the seemingly simple country life of Ogimachi: Takayama Jinya, a branch office of the Edo government from 1692-1868. A National historic site, this complex of buildings is the only one (there used to be 60+) of its kind still existing in Japan. We strolled from room to room and saw the court, conference room, offices, guests rooms, rice storehouse (taxes were paid in rice), bathroom, living room of the head official, and on and on. It’s now a museum dedicated to life under the Tokugawa Shogunate. The ornateness of the trim or lack of trim altogether on the tatami was pointed out to us and it was explained that the rank of the people working or living in a space was indicated in this way. No trim whatsoever = servant or low ranking. Trim of a single color with no design = a mid-level worker. And trim with a design woven in = someone influential spends time in the space.

My favorite meal in terms of food (versus artistic presentation) was lunch today. I found everything on my plate wonderful from the cold, grilled fish to the hot bites of local steak to the pickles to the rice to the salad and sweet little red beans. The only thing missing was dessert, but Hiro surprised us with a small, delicious cake once we were back on the bus.

With full stomachs we were off to explore the intricacies of brewing the national beverage, sake. This wine is made by fermenting rice that has been polished to remove some of the bran. Despite the name Japanese rice wine, sake is produced by a brewing process more akin to that of beer except for two difference. The conversion from starch to sugar and then from sugar to alcohol occurs simultaneously and the alcohol content in sake is considerably higher. We enjoyed three samples, my favorite being the one flavored with the local citrus.

We are staying at a beautiful mountain resort tonight. Determined not to make last night’s mistake, I plan to head to the hot bath decked out in my yukata and slippers in about 10 minutes.

… On a Personal Note …

Each of our experiences bring back such fond memories of Dan’s parents and his sister, Deb.
They lived in Japan one of the three years we were here.
We took a few trips together, stayed in traditional inns, bathed in communal baths, slept on the floor, saw lots of interesting sites, and ate delicious as well as strange-to-us food. It’s where Deb and I got acquainted and became fast friends.

Our besties were our neighbors, Mary Kay and Gary, who were always up for an adventure, shared meal, party, or trip.
Cormorant fishing … Hong Kong … Toba.

We had a chance to visit our bowling partners, Ann and John, when we were in the Northwest last year. Going through their scrapbooks brought back memories of some embarrassing outfits, many homemade, as well as fun adventures like the Fertility Festival. Ann and I taught English as a second language with another Ann who was not home (darn) when we were in the Northwest.

Kaga, Japan (April 10, 2023)

We woke up pumped to take Japan’s famous bullet train, or shinkansen. With a top speed of 200 miles per hour, it is renown for punctuality, comfort, and its flawless safety record. Before boarding the train for our two and a half hour ride, we shopped for a carry on lunch at a labyrinth of gourmet shops.

We headed to Kanazawa, former home to the second most powerful and culture-loving feudal clan. With that distinction it’s easy to understand why it rivaled Kyoto and Edo in terms of cultural achievement. Like Kyoto, the city avoided major destruction from air raids during World War II and fires from centuries before that. Consequently its winding cobblestone streets, samurai residences, geisha houses, and lavish gardens have survived in pretty good condition. We walked the narrow lanes and enjoyed the ambience of this quaint neighborhood. Some homes remain private residences and others are now used as restaurants and boutiques.

We strolled through Kenroku-en Garden which used to be the outer garden of the local castle. What we enjoyed today is thanks to the efforts of gardeners who have worked on it for nearly two centuries. It was open to the public in 1871 and is classified as one of Japan’s three most beautiful landscape gardens. Chinese theory says there are six essential attributes of a perfect landscape garden: spaciousness, seclusion, artificiality, antiquity, abundant water, and broad views. That being the case this garden hits it out of the park. A sophisticated water system constructed in 1632 diverts water from a distant river to feed the streams and ponds. Each season brings new color to the landscape. We hit the tail end of the cherry blossoms.

The castle grounds are near the garden. The castle is long gone but the enormous barracks and the wall next to the moat are still intact and have been kept in wonderful shape. We strolled around and admired how well maintained the remaining structures are.

Our last stop was at a gold leaf company. A reproduction of a gold leaf-covered suit of armor greeted us at the door. A samurai of days gone by actually wore one like it which had to give the enemy the advantage of knowing right where he was at all times. We learned about the labor intensive process of producing gold leaf and the importance of the paper layered between each leaf before we watched a man pounding gold leaf and a lady cutting it to size. We were offered the opportunity to apply gold leaf to a set of black laquor chopsticks before heading to the snack shop for ice cream with a sheet of golf leaf on top!

We are sleeping in a traditional inn (ryokan) tonight! Although they have existed since the eighth century, ryokan are no longer common in large cities because of the expense of operating them. So lucky us to be in an area where this experience is still available. Guest rooms are typically constructed with tatami flooring, sliding doors, and a small entryway large enough to remove shoes and put on slippers before walking on the mat floors. Almost all ryokan feature common bathing areas which are usually segregated by gender. Guests are provided with a yukata, an unlined cotton summer kimono, to wear after their bath. We didn’t have time for a bath before we ate, but everyone in the tour group wore their yukata to dinner.

We luxuriated in a full course kaiseki dinner here at the ryokan. This cuisine elevates farm-to-table dining to a whole new level! Seasonal food meets art meets presentation. Kaiseki features a set course meal chosen by the chef to highlight the season of the year. Japanese kaiseki dining is considered the epitome of formal dining and is characterized by a calm atmosphere, subdued lighting, and elegant tableware. New to this whole concept, we were wowed! Our meal had 12 courses, some room temperature and some served hot. Each person had two small hot pots, one with rice and one for sukiyaki. It was hands down the most beautiful dinner I’ve ever had.

We were both tired from our long, full day, so we passed on luxuriating in the hot bath. No sooner had we turned out the lights than I regretted that decision.

… City Trivia …

Kanazawa is the #1 producer of gold leaf in Japan.
It is used extensively in decorating temples, shrines, folk crafts, and even food.

Kanazawa is the ice cream capital of Japan.

Instead of plows and shovels, Kanazawa uses a system of warm-water sprinklers to keep roads and sidewalks clear.

Buffalo, New York is Kanazawa’s sister city.
A bronze statue of a buffalo was given to Kanazawa and is now in Sister Cities Park.

Tokyo, Japan (April 7-9, 2023)

Amazingly Japan did not open to international trade until 1853. Tokyo, then a small fishing village called Edo, slowly morphed into a major trading hub with the West and is now the most populated urban area in the world. In spite of its population density, the crime-rate is very low. The city boasts the most Michelin-starred restaurants in the world as well as a hotel and a restaurant staffed by robots. The Shibuya (pedestrian) Crossing, known as the incredible scramble, is the busiest intersection in the world with 7 crossings that accommodate up to 2,500 people at a time. There’s obviously no end of things to see and do, and we four were excited to see what Gate1 had in mind for us in this ancient meets state-of-the-art city.


Our first stop this morning was at the serene Meiji Jingu, a relatively new (1920) Shinto shrine nestled in a 170-acre artificial forest right downtown. It honors Emperor Meiji, the 122nd emperor of Japan, and his empress, honored here for their successful efforts in ending Japan’s long isolation and ushering a very reluctant population into the modern era. No small task.

We approached through the peaceful forest, planted 100 years ago by 100,000 volunteers. Our route took us past a wall of beautifully painted sake barrels and a wall of unpainted French wine barrels, nods to the emperor’s love of western wine as well as the traditions of his country. We walked through three huge wooden tori gates before arriving at the wooden structures nestled in the trees. Hiroko, our tour manager, explained the appropriate way to approach the main entrance of the temple (drop a coin into the appropriate box, slowly bow twice, slowly clap twice, say a small prayer, bow once). She pointed out the area at the base of a sacred tree where people hang messages they’ve written on small blocks of wood and she explained the thick twisted rope on each sacred tree near the shrine. The shrine is an unexpected, peaceful retreat in a city of 13 million.

For a complete change of pace we went next to the Tsukiji Fish Market. Opened in 1935, it eventually became the largest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world. It kept that distinction until 2018 when the inner market, famous for its 3:00 AM wholesale tuna auctions, relocated. The outer market remains, however, and that is where we spent some time this morning. It is a mixture of wholesale and retail shops that sell kitchen tools, restaurant supplies, groceries, and seafood. As you can imagine it is an ideal location for restaurants, especially seafood restaurants. Our biggest surprise were the white strawberries going for $1.30 each.

Wouldn’t ya know it, we had to make our own lunch! Kinda. After strolling around the market we enjoyed a demonstration led by a professional sushi chef. He ran us through the art of creating sushi and sashimi and then we ate our little creations. Sandy and I gave all but one of our five pieces away, but Dan and Alan thoroughly enjoyed the treats. Once the dishes were cleared away, we were each brought a tray with more food: miso soup, tempura, sashimi, salad, and a savory custard.

After a couple hours of downtime at the hotel, Hiro (short for Hiroko) offered an optional walking tour around our neighborhood of Shinjuku. My favorite parts were the old, narrow alleyways that have been preserved just as they were years ago with their five-seat bars and restaurants. Patrons have to sit shoulder to shoulder. Once the person the furtherest in wants out, everyone must get up to allow this exit to transpire. In total contrast to the neighborhood’s nod to the old are the 3D space ship and larger than life 3D calico cat (3D glasses not required) as well as all the bright lights and countless billboards.


We jumped on our bus this morning and drove about 50 miles south to Hakone, the most famous National Park in Japan. Along the way we made a stop at a museum devoted to textile artist Kubota Itchiku (1917-2003) who spent his entire adult life reverse engineering and then mastering the labor-intensive silk dyeing technique used to decorate elaborate kimono during the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries. The thought of it makes my head spin. The art museum highlights Itchiku’s kimono creations that depict themes of nature, the cosmos, and the seasons. A bit mind boggling is his unfinished masterpiece, Symphony of Light, a huge work comprised of 80 kimono that together form of a picture of Mount Fuji. The pyramid shaped museum, situated in wooded hills, is supported by 16 wooden beams that are 1,000 years old! It is surrounded by the Itchiku-designed gardens and buildings made of coral and limestone from Okinawa.

With heads dazed and amazed by Itchiku’s talent and determination, we continued along the scenic rural road to Hakone. Once there we rode a gondola on the Hakone Ropeway to the Owakudani Valley’s volcanic zone which is an area around a crater created during the last eruption of Mount Hakone 3,000 years ago. Much of the area is still an active volcanic zone as evidenced by the sulfurous fumes, hot springs, and hot rivers. Eggs cooked in the hot pools have shells blackened by the sulfur. With the promise of prolonging lives by seven years or more they are a popular item in the gift shops. We were each given one as a gift from Hiro.

Next up: a relaxing cruise around peaceful Lake Ashinoko. This beautiful crater lake, surrounded by mountains smothered in trees, was formed in the caldera of Mount Hakone. The lake’s shores are mostly undeveloped adding to its allure. We were hoping for a clear day because the location is ideal for great views of Japan’s iconic Mount Fuji, also known as Fujisan, which stands proudly above the rest at 12,000+ feet. Although clouds drifted in and out we had great views of this famous volcano, still snowcapped, that Dan and I climbed 50 years ago.

To finish our circle trip we took the train, the romancecar actually, back to Tokyo. Dan and I picked up sandwiches and chips at the station, so we ate our dinner during the pleasant ride to Shinjuku station. The train attendant, neatly dressed in her uniform, bowed as she entered and exited our train car.

We rallied for the bus ride to Hakone before 8:00 this morning and did not get back to our room until after 7:00 tonight, so it was a full, fun day. I woke up at 3:30 this morning (jet lag) and Dan is still not feeling up to snuff, so we made it an early night.

Today (Easter Sunday)

As long as we’re in town, why not pop by the Imperial Palace. Right? The current palace is built on the former Edo Castle grounds and is surrounded by a moat and large stone walls. It includes residences for the current imperial family. Dropping by is not encouraged although we did get to see the lovely Nijubashi Bridge that stretches over the inner moat of the palace. It is used as a main entrance to the inner palace grounds and is only open to the public twice a year, today not being one of those days. The east garden is open to the public, so that is what we enjoyed this morning. The azaleas and flowers were in full bloom and beautiful; the stone walls along the moat were more than impressive; and the large traditional garden with its hybrid koi known by their extra large delicate tails was peaceful and pretty.

Next up: Tokyo National Museum, the oldest national museum in Japan. It has a comprehensive collection of Asian art and cultural objects but is focused on ancient and medieval Japanese art and Asian art along the Silk Road. Our focus today was on the permanent displays of traditional Japanese art and artifacts of all kinds ranging from silk screens to kimonos to samurai armor to delicately carved netsuke to swords, saddles, and statues.

Our last site in Tokyo was Asakusa Kannon Temple. Completed in 645, it is the city’s oldest temple. The approach takes visitors through the outer gate which is a 38-feet-tall Buddhist structure that features a massive paper lantern weighing a whopping 1,500 pounds painted in vivid red-and-black tones. From there the faithful walk along a centuries-old shopping street that is about 200 yards long where opportunities abound to buy souvenirs and snacks. The casual stroll ends at the second gate which is two stories tall and leads straight to the main hall and, to the left, a five-storied pagoda. The beautiful, warm day coupled with the fact that it was Sunday brought out massive crowds, but it was none the less a worthy stop.

Before calling it a day we had a short, fun calligraphy lesson in a private home. Talk about being our of our element.

Dinner tonight was at a local restaurant.

… It’s a Fact Jack ...

A top of the line kimono can cost over $10,000, no small investment, not counting the undergarments, obi, socks, and sandals.
We saw lots of women dressed in kimonos at the Asakusa Temple today, but Hiro told us the kimonos would have been rented for the day. She also said that no doubt the women had gone to what is called a beauty parlor for assistance is getting dressed.

Mt Fuji is an active volcano that last erupted in 1707.

There are sushi conveyor belt restaurants here.
A slow moving belt moves along in front of diners who just reach up and take what they want.

$1.00 = ¥132 (yen)

They drive on the left here.

Japan consists of 6,852 islands. We will do all our exploring on the southern part of Honshu.

Time to Move On (April 4-6, 2023)

Time to head to the Land of the Rising Sun, home to Sumo wrestling; baked potato, hot chili, and corn Kit Cats; cherry blossoms; anime; kimonos; crazy-expensive fruit (think $200 heart-shaped watermelon); sushi; haiku; and a vending machines for absolutely everything (think hot pizza, underwear, eggs, ties, sake shots, t-shirts, bear meat). Dan and I lived here for three years in the early 1970s and were really looking forward to experiencing it again after all this time.

We had time for a quick snack in the All Nippon (ANA) lounge before boarding our plane. Of course a stop in the restroom was called for if for no other reason than to sit on one of the heated, bidet toilets! Luxury.

Our flight passed quickly. We all treated it like a down day. I finished my book, watched two movies (The Fabelmans and This Beautiful Fantastic), ate two meals, and slept through one movie (Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams). The service on ANA was wonderful. We took off before noon on the 4th, flew eight hours, and miraculously landed at Japan’s Narita Airport at 3:15 PM on the 5th. The 19 hour time change is thanks to that little troublemaker: the International Dateline.

There was a long line at immigration, but customs was a breeze. The ride from the airport to Keio Plaza Hotel took a solid hour and a half in good traffic. We were checked in and trying to navigate room service by 6:30 with the hope of staying awake for a couple more hours. Our compact room has a tub with shower and a fancy toilet with a heated seat.

We arrived a day ahead of the rest of our Gate1 Discovery tour group intentionally, in part to make sure we know what day it is and in part to get slightly ahead of more jet lag.


Sandy and Alan met us at the buffet breakfast where we sampled from the large selection of both international and local favorites. With nothing pressing, we enjoyed a leisurely meal. Our goals for today, besides staying awake and not getting lost, were to find an ATM and peruse a department store. We were successful on both counts. We spent so much time in the Keio Department Store that we eventually made it up to the restaurant floor where we enjoyed our first Japanese meal which we successfully tackled with chopsticks.

Our tour group of 20 had their Covid vaccination cards verified (required) before our meet and greet at 6:30. Then dinner before calling it a day. Dan and Alan have caught what Sandy and I are slowly recovering from, so they were ready for bed.

… The Devil is in the Detals …

The International Dateline, established in 1884, is an imaginary line between the North and South Poles.
It arbitrarily demarcates each day from the next and passes through the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Travelers moving east across the line set their calendars back one whole day, and those traveling west set theirs a day ahead.

The bow is still an important form of greeting in Japan. Lower bows indicate more respect.

In business since 578, Kongo Gumi, builders of temples and shrines, is the oldest operating business in the world.

Japan is home to roughly 10% of the active volcanos in the world and is very earthquake prone.

80% of the country is mountainous.

Three free days in Honolulu, Oahu (April 1-3, 2023)

Free is a bit of a misnomer since we had all three days planned before we left home. We are not the kind to leave anything to chance. We went from the ship to the Hale Koa Hotel, a home away from home for US military members and their families. After checking in we took a nice walk, had lunch, and then got organized for our brief stay in the city.

Our attraction for the day: Iolani Palace, the only official royal residence in the United States. Chew on that for a moment. Meticulously restored to its former grandeur, the palace is a throwback to a time when their majesties, King Kalakaua and his sister and successor, Queen Liliuokalani, walked the grand halls. Built in 1882 by King Kalakaua, Iolani Palace was the home of Hawaii’s last reigning monarchs and also served as the residence of the kingdom’s political and social life until the overthrow of the monarchy in 1893. The palace, registered as a National Historic Landmark in 1962, was built a couple blocks from the water, but thanks to land reclamation the water is no longer within sight.

We had a crackerjack guide who did a great job of explaining what a prominent place the Kingdom of Hawaii played on the world stage. The first ruling monarch to attend a state dinner at the White House, hosted by President and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant in December 1874, was King Kalakaua, After a face-to-face with Thomas Edison it was decided that the palace should be electrified and, as a matter of fact, was four years ahead of the White House in doing so. All bedrooms were built en suite and there was a telephone! King Kalakaua was the first monarch to circumnavigate the globe (1881).

If we had the time I’d love to go to the museum that has the queen’s cape made of feathers. We saw it in a picture which did not do it justice I’m sure. Our guide explained that two (only) feathers were taken from zillions of wild birds (who were released to live another day) and made into a piece of wearable art. We did see the gown designed with peacock feathers that Queen Kapi’olani commissioned for Queen Victoria’s Grand Jubilee in 1887. On Queen Kapi’olani’s trip home she popped in on President Cleveland. I clearly underestimated the global reach of these fashion forward leaders.

Sidebar: Dan and I got engaged 54 years ago today.


Before leavening home we arranged for a privately guided, full-day tour of Pearl Harbor, the number one visitor destination in Oahu. The sites around the harbor commemorate the events of the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Against formidable odds, the Japanese Imperial Navy ordered an armada that included 414 planes aboard six aircraft carriers be set to sea with strict orders not to communicate with one another. The six carriers rendezvoused at a predetermined time in an area 230 miles north of Oahu. At 6:00 a.m. Sunday, the first wave of Japanese planes lifted off from the carriers, followed by a second wave an hour later. This surprise attack killed over 2,400 Americans, sank twelve U.S. ships, and instantly cemented the entry of the United States into World Wat II.

Our first stop was at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial. There are two films that layout the details of December 7 and two small museums that augment the films. The centerpiece of the park is the USS Arizona. We had tickets for the 9:30 boat ride to the memorial which was built above a small section of the sunken battleship. The centerpiece of the memorial is the shrine room which amounts to a huge wall that lists all the men who died on board that fateful day. Listed separately are the names of survivors who later chose to have their remains brought to the site so that National Park Service divers could place their urns within the barrette that once held gun turret four. The memorial is treated as a burial ground, so guests are asked to silence phones and remain quiet and respectful at all times.

Adjacent to the National Memorial is the USS Bowfin, a fleet attack submarine that conducted nine war patrols in the Pacific between 1943 and 1945. Each patrol lasted about two months and required the Bowfin to patrol a designated region of ocean for Japanese ships or boats. We walked on top of the sub and then went down into its belly. Talk about Tight Quarters! Bunks were anywhere one could be squeezed in, including next to torpedoes. Everything was in miniature to include showers too small to turn around in. Water was in short supply, so the men did not shave making for some scruffy looking dudes at the end of two months. Before leaving the park we saw a submarine rescue chamber and a Japanese manned torpedo with room enough for one kamikaze.

Our last stop of the day was on Ford Island where we stopped briefly at the USS Utah and the USS Oklahoma Memorials. Both battleships were total looses. We spent much longer at the Battleship Missouri Memorial. This ship’s connection to WWII was totally different than the others referenced in the harbor since it was not even officially commissioned until June, 1944. She served honorably in the Pacific and was later designated the surrender ship. We saw where the ceremony took place on September 2, 1945 while it was anchored in Tokyo Bay. We explored the maze of rooms below deck, which were huge compared to those of the Bowfin and learned about the one kamikaze pilot that grazed the side of the ship. We saw the spot where the American sailors on board gave him an honorable burial at sea recognizing that he was bravely serving his country at the time of his death just like they were bravely serving theirs.

It was a long, full, brain-busting day that Dan and I decided to polish off with a stroll down to see the statue of Duke Paoa Kahinu Mokoe Hulikohola Kahanamoku, an old school (think late 1800s) waterman who became an Olympic swimmer known for popularizing the sport of surfing. I had watched Waterman before the trip, so seeing his statue on Waikiki Beach was of interest.

Sandy is not feeling so great, so she and Alan did not tag along.


Today was a long, fun day too. We went to the tour bus pick-up spot at 9:30 this morning and the bus dropped us back at the hotel 13 hours later. We were pooped but very satisfied with the day we spent at the Polynesian Culture Center (the PCC), a nonprofit Epcot Center-esque educational park. It’s no small undertaking to explore the rich heritage of six Polynesian Islands in a 42-acres park, plus attend a luau and a stage production, but we gave it our best shot.

The Center has six separate villages, each dedicated to an individual island: Fiji, Tonga, Tahiti, Hawaii, Aotearoa (New Zealand), and Samoa with a shoutout to Easter Island. Each park has a show highlighting traditional music (nose flute anyone?) and dance plus games, crafts, and skills that we were welcome to participate in. We watched in awe as two guys scurried up and down coconut trees. The centerpiece of the luau was a large roasted pig, head and feet attached. The show that ended the day was a true spectacle with something like 100 people participating….all in native costumes. Add water falls, flaming-baton tossing hunks, a volcano, pretty women, live music, sword play, and beautiful vocals. Then wrap that around a circle of life storyline. It was the highlight of the day for me. That and the comedian/artist who MCd the show in the Samoa park.

… For Trivia Lovers …

More birds have become extinct in Hawaii than in any other part of the world.

The fish with the longest Hawaiian name is the lauwiliwilinukunukuʻoiʻoi.

Hawaii was made a United States territory in 1900 and the 50th state in 1959.
By a legislative act in the same year, Hawaii became officially known as the Aloha State.

Hawaii does not participate in daylight savings.

Hawaiians have the longest life expectancy in the U.S.

The first Polynesian to play in the NFL was Al Lolotai, a Samoan, who played for the Washington Redskins in 1945.
The PCC has a small Polynesian Football Hall of Fame.