Tuesday, December 12, 2017

All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey

The Shinto religion or way of life in Japan honors the divine in all its entities. The word for spirits or gods or essences is "kami". Kami can be manifested in all of nature, places, and even people. I suspect that it is because of that belief that there is so much reverence for nature and the world here in Japan as its people recognize the divine in almost everything and everyone around them. There is even a word in Japanese for a forest bath - shinrinyoku - taking a walk in the forest for its restorative benefits. This is also noticeable in the way that the Japanese celebrate the changing of the seasons, including the falling of the leaves, and the blossoming of the flowers. In one year here, I feel more aware of which months feature which blooms than I ever did in D.C., except for cherry blossoms. Here, one garden may have cherry blossoms in April, but another has wisteria in May, or irises in June. They advertise and host festivals around these events and celebrate their beauty.

The changing and falling leaves in autumn is no exception. In the Tokyo area, the most dramatic leaf changes are in early December and many parks host what some Americans refer to as "leaf peeping."

One of the best places for viewing autumn colors is at the Imperial Palace, which opens up one of its streets only two weeks a year - once for cherry blossoms and once for fall leaves. Until this December, the street had actually been closed for maintenance for the last 18 months, so it was even more of an exceptional treat for a friend, her two kids, and I to go check it out!

Suwa-no-chaya Tea House

Gingko Tree

On Saturday, Blake and went for more autumn color viewing at Sankeien Garden in Yokohama.  We've been trying to go here for all sorts of blooms or events all year, but for whatever reason had to keep changing our plans. Not only are there amazing leaves and other flora, but several historical buildings from throughout Japan have been moved here for historical preservation. We are so glad we finally made it!

Old Tenzuiji Juto Oido protecting hall - 1592 - longevity tower, kind of gravetsone

Choshukaku - 1623

Choshukaku - 1623

Choshukaku - 1623

Shunsoro tea arbor -  possibly 16th century

Three-storied pagoda of Old Tomyoji - 735 - Oldest pagoda in the Kanto region

Hatsujenaya teahouse

My favorite view of the autumn colors is right outside our dining room. This hill is beautiful all year round, but its at its best in the fall.
From a few weeks ago - it probably hit its peak a few days later

Friday, December 8, 2017

Down in the forest we'll sing a chorus

Blake and I enjoy hiking. We don't go as often as we might like, but we've been on some good ones. Having Malcolm has helped encourage us to get out as well. We took time during a vacation to Palmyra, New York, to hike around because Malcolm needed a walk and were rewarded with a lovely, secluded morning hike around a pond in upstate New York. I don't think we saw anyone else on the trail that day. We have found old Civil War battlefields and family graveyards in Virginia. And I took Blake to a family favorite on our first trip home to meet the family in Utah - Battlecreek Falls.

Of all those hikes, the hike we took to Takatoriyama Park here in Zushi this last weekend was probably one of our favorite hikes to date. Ultimately, we ended up hiking close to 8 miles and climbed to 139 meters (456 feet) elevation at the summit. It may not sound like a lot to the serious hiker, but we live at about 6 meters (20 feet) above sea level and my Fitbit recorded me climbing 120 floors with all the ups and downs we trekked throughout the day. One floor is equivalent to about 10 feet in elevation rise, so we climbed 1,200 feet overall on Saturday.
Jimmuji Temple

Jizo at Jimmuji Temple

The views of the Miura Peninsula from Mount Takatori are fabulous, and you can see Mount Fuji on a clearer day than we had. Yes, all that uphill was hard at times, but we all managed. We especially liked a rock scramble section. Malcolm slipped a little at the start and seemed a bit nervous to continue, but with some encouragement he did great! In other sections of the hike, he was hopping from boulder to boulder like a little mountain goat, impressing us with his enthusiasm. 
Standing proud after completing the rock scramble on the way up

The bottom arrow reads - haikingucosu - Hiking Course! Reading Katakana is like playing Mad Gab. Sometimes you have to say it several times to actually understand what you're actually saying.

The end goal of our hike was a Buddha carved into the mountain. It's only about 60 years old, but still really interesting. We almost didn't make it this far, but Blake spotted it from the summit's observation deck, and that was encouraging. 
From the summit observation tower, the Buddha is in the quarry off to the left

Overlooking Yokosuka

The whole family!
As Blake says, for a rescue dog from West Virginia, Malcolm sure has come a long way!

Because it's Japan, there were vending machines at the summit, near the climbing walls that were once part of a quarry, and squatty potties. We took a Coca-Cola break before heading back down the mountain, which went a whole lot faster than the way up.
All the climbers we saw that day probably were somewhere between 45-75 years old - not the young person's hobby as it is in the States. This lifelong mobility is definitely one of our goals too!

Heading back down the rock scramble

We will definitely make this hike again. We hear good things about how it looks in the spring!