Friday, November 26, 2010

Mt. Takao - 高尾山 Trail 6 and the Summit

Everyone knows about how the Japanese people love viewing the cherry blossoms in the spring. I have written about the Cherry Blossom Festival at the Naval Base in Yokosuka. Although it is only slightly less a party atmosphere, the autumn viewing of the changing color of maple leaves (and autumn colors in general) is also very popular. One of the great places to do this is on the very popular hiking trails of Mt. Takao. My wife and I did this twice this year.

Mt. Takao Entrance - 高尾山口 (Takaosanguchi)
The Mountain is in the far western edge of Tōkyō (東京) in the town of Hachiōji (八王子市). The Keio Line has a station at the entrance to the mountain. So, the Mountain is not difficult to get to. It is a very popular place for Tōkyō-ites to hike. As a result, during the leaf viewing season the Mountain sees a very large number of hikers.

When you arrive at the entrance you may choose a number of trails to use. You can catch the cable car and ride half-way up the Mountain, then catch Trails 1 - 5 to get around. You may also hike Trail 1 up from the bottom. The most difficult trails are Trail 6 and the Inariyama Trail. These are the most difficult but also the most beautiful for hiking. Trail 6 runs along a creek almost all of the way up and is the most beautiful of all. Trail 6 features not only the creek - complete with waterfall, but Shinto and Buddhist (I think) prayer sites.

Site map at Takaosanguchi
I have way too many pictures to include in one post, so I will just post a few views of Trail 6 with no comment other than the captions. I will save pictures of Trail 1 and the Yakuo-in Temple and Monastery complex as well as the Inariyama Trail for another post.

Trail 6

Trail 6 Entrance

Waterfall and Shinto Shrine near Trail 6

Trail 6

A view through the trees on Trail 6

The Summit

At the Visitor's Center at the Summit

Mt. Fuji seen from Mt. Takao. Shingen came from over there.

A stroll around the summit.

Tōkyō seen from the summit

That is enough for now. I'll post pictures from Trail 1 and the Inariyama Trail in a later post.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Beer in Japan - Part 1

I am going to be optimistic here and assume that there will be many more beer posts. Beer is a hobby of mine. Not only do I enjoy drinking good beer, I brew my own. I am very critical, and enjoy sharing excellent beer with my friends. Some of my brothers and sisters in the Orthodox Church of America (Holy Trinity in Tacoma, Washington) may remember an amber ale that I brewed for a sausage barbecue held by a church group there some time ago.

The beer situation in Japan is not nearly as good as it is here in the U.S., but progress is being made. And you can, of course, get anything in the world in Tokyo or Yokohama.

During my next maintenance project in Japan my boss (several steps above me) and I will be visiting places that serve great beer. If time permits, we will attempt to visit the occasional brewery and maybe a whiskey distillery or two. This boss of mine is an expert in Belgian style ales, a style which I like very much.

We have already started. On March 16th, 2010 we visited Patrasche in Kawasaki City.

The place is beautiful. Upon entry we found the magnificent bar.

Although the staff had no one who spoke English, it was not a problem. In Japan restaurant menus have pictures (even the nice restaurants) and beer is a universal language. Petrasche is serious about beer, as you can see by the lamps on the wall.

The beer list was very long, taking several pages of an extensive menu.

They even have my favorite beer in the world, an excellent Flemish Red Ale.

All in all it was a great visit.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Sea of Japan - Part 3

During the underway we got to see an UNREP (Underway Replenishment).

We took on food, aviation fuel, and other stuff.

Some goods were brought over by helicopter.

Finally, we had to COD off of the Ship immediately or we would be too far away from Okinawa and would have to stay onboard until Singapore. So, off we went after have a nice reception group meeting with the Commanding Officer to include ice water and pastries. That ice water was nice!

So, we caught the next COD flight and off we went.

Arriving at Kadena Air Force Base on Okinawa.

I did not get too many photographs on Okinawa. We were there for 3 - 4 days, but stayed mostly on base for various reasons that I will not get into here. Still, here are the Shiisa.

Shiisa are normally presented in pairs. The one on the left has a closed mouth to keep the good spirits in.

The one on the right has an open mouth to chase away the evil spirits. This is the guardian.

These Shiisa are on guard at the main gate into Kadena AFB.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Sea of Japan - Part 2

I had too many photographs for a single post, so here are some more. These are more about the ship than the aircraft. It is hard to choose which photos to include, I have many that are of interest but I just cannot post them all.

Anyway, my accommodations were good. I was assigned to a two-man stateroom. Ahhhh, the privileges of a little seniority.

My bunk was the one on the top.

Cool things on the Ship include the enormous anchor, which we cannot see because of its location, and the anchor windlass that raises and lowers the anchor. Also cool is the enormous chain

...and the chain covers, decorated with the American and Japanese flags.

We took our meals in Wardroom 3

...with the officers. The junior enlisted mess decks are not quite so nice, although we ate exactly the same food.

While we were in the Republic of Korea (South Korea) we had many visitors from Busan. These included military and political VIPs (including extremely senior people) as well as local citizens. Everyone seemed to have a good time and enjoyed their visits. Hundreds of smiling faces were everywhere.

During the port call the hangar deck was decorated with the 13 starred flag.

It normally looks more like this...

As I have mentioned elsewhere, we were there during the military exercises that took place in the Sea of Japan (that irritated Kim Jong Il so much).

In this picture, the ship in front (to my left) is of the ROK Navy and the one behind (to my right) is of the U.S. Navy.

That's all for now. I will do one more Sea of Japan post to include some pictures in Okinawa.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Sea of Japan - Part 1

The Wandering Gaijin returned home to the USA in the middle of May and was just getting settled into a new, temporary assignment when the order came - Go to the USS George Washington at sea and help fix her. The sea was the Sea of Japan. What we were fixing I will not say.

This is what makes working for the US Navy an adventure. After arriving in Yokosuka and reporting to the PSNS Detachment I settled into my hotel room at the Mercure and went to visit the fabulous Shie at Sakato-ya. The next day at lunch I got into a van and was taken to Atsugi Naval Air Station. After waiting around for a couple of hours I was placed aboard a Grumman C-2 Greyhound and flown out to the Ship. This is called a COD - Carrier Onboard Delivery.

This is how we landed;

The idea is that, using a tailhook installed under the aircraft, we catch one of those wires on the deck to stop the plane. If we fail to do that, we will not stop in time. So, we hit the deck at full power so that we can continue off in case we miss a wire. There is no surviving going into the water off of the end of the flight deck in front of the Ship.

We got off in a similar manner. The aircraft is attached to a catapult and it launched off of the flight deck, reaching flight speed in approx. 2 second. This is an intense experience.

It is very loud on the flight deck. This next picture is of me on Vulture's Row on the 09 level. The flight deck is the 04 level, so I am 5 stories above the flight deck. Double hearing protection is required. That is the Navigation Bridge behind me. That is where they drive the Ship.

BTW: The water here is the most beautiful blue sea water I have ever seen. I was all that I could do to prevent myself from diving into it to escape the heat and humidity.

USS George Washington carries four flavors of F-18, EA-6B's, E-2C's, and helicopters. For details, read about Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5. This command includes VRC-30 - the outfit that owns the previously mentioned C-2A Greyhound that flew us out to the Ship.

An EA-6B launch;

And two recoveries, an F-18 and an EA-6B, shot from the 010 level.

No other nation of the planet can do these things. I count it as a huge privilege to have been able to record these.

That's all for now. Part two is coming.


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Kannonzaki Park - 観音崎公園

Kannonzaki Park in Yokosuka near Uraga is a wonderful place to walk and enjoy the woods, beach, rocky cliffs, old lighthouse, and the preserved footprints of Godzilla left there the first time he came ashore from Tokyo Bay. I don't have much to write about it so enjoy some pictures.

This shot was taken from the top of Kannonzaki Lighthouse.

Godzilla (Gojira or ゴジラ) first came ashore from the depths of Tokyo Bay here at Kannonzaki Park. His footprints have been preserved. (yeah, they got the scale wrong.)

The beach at the Park.

The first appearance of the War Memorial from the path on the hillside below. The white structure is reminiscent of the sail of a ship at sea.

Also at the site is a sculpture of sailors adrift at sea. It is emotionally very powerful. Emperor Showa visited this site. There is a stone in the gardens that commemorates that visit.

(Video not taken by the Wandering Gaijin)


Sunday, May 30, 2010

Setsubun - 節分

One of the most fun things that I did while living in Yokosuka ( 横須賀 ) was participate in the Setsubun  ( 節分 ) festival at the local Shinto shrine. Shie-chan (see side bar) invited me to participate during one of my many sessions at her business. She was running the sake booth at the festival. While this is an observance of the change in season, it is not a national holiday. It is simply a festival that the Japanese hold on the day before spring.

Setsubun ( 節分 ) is the day before the first day of a new season. It is usually observed only for the transition to Spring. During the change in season, red and blue monsters become apparent and have to be chased away. This is done by throwing roasted soy beans at them. People will, in their homes, throw beans and shout "Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi" ( おにはそと! ふくはうち! ), "Monsters out! Luck in!"

Local Shinto shrines will also have public bean throwing where members who have donated to the local shrine will stand in front of a crowd on a stage or platform and throw beans at them. People who catch the beans will have good luck. At the shrine that I attended this happened at several scheduled times during the day. There are (at least at the shrine I went to) booths where you can buy snacks, coffee, or sake as well as gifts or souvenirs (omiyage - お土産 ). In between the scheduled times for throwing beans there was apparently performance of taiko music on the stage. I arrived too late to hear that. has a culture lesson from 2006 about 節分 that you may find informative (the audio is free). This year (2010) the festival was on February 3rd.

The people at the shrine were very welcoming and made me feel at home. My wife escorted me both to help me with the language and for her own amusement.

After removing our shoes and donning slippers we entered a dining/meeting room to await our turn in the shrine where the requisite prayers and etc are performed. Being in the waiting run in a Shinto shrine was very like it would be in any Christian church. Anyone active in a Christian church would have recognized the atmosphere immediately.

We were offered tea or sake while we waited and donned the ceremonial garb. Then off to the shrine for prayers. I observed the prayers, but did not pray for a couple of reasons, but found it very interesting. Following the prayers we were each given a wooden box with envelopes of dried beans and went off to a stage to throw them.

I tried to step to the back, but the shrine members all stepped aside and insisted that I take a position in front.

This was fun. Immediately in front of the stage were a number of kids who were trying desperately to catch some beans, but we were throwing them over their heads to people farther away, so I started throwing beans close in for them.

This was an extraordinary amount of fun and good for the community. After I returned to the meeting/waiting room a member of the Yokosuka City Council came up to me and shook my hand, thanking me profusely for participating in their festival. We (my wife and I) were enthusiastically welcomed into their community.

Setsubun will be a regular event for me from now on.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Nihon-ji Daibutsu aka The Stone Buddha

Japan has a number of Daibutsu (大仏) in various places. One of the oldest is the Nihon-ji Daibutsu in Chiba Prefecture, across Uraga Channel (at the mouth of Tokyo Bay) from Yokosuka. Those of us who come from Puget Sound Naval Shipyard refer to it as "The Stone Buddha".

To get there from Tokyo (or Yokosuka) you can take the train to Kurihama. Either the Keikyu Line or the JR Line will do. From there you can catch the bus to the ferry terminal or walk. If you choose to walk, follow the canal to the sea and then turn right. You will find the ferry terminal, you can't miss it.

On the way you will pass by the the Monument in Commemoration of the Landing of Commodore Perry, who landed there at Kurihama Kaigan (Kurihama Beach) on July 8th, 1853.

From the ferry I believe that there are two ways to get to the Daibutsu, but I only know one if them. After crossing Uraga Channel on the ferry from Kurihama in Yokosuka, you arrive in Kanaya in Chiba Prefecture. After a short walk, you catch the gondola that will take you up most of the way to the top of Mt. Nokogiri (Sawtooth Mountain) where you begin the hike to the Daibutsu.

At the top of the ride is a booth where people can buy a fortune on a slip of paper and then tie it to a tree on the path there. I believe this to be a fertility thing for couples - note the large black penis in the booth. It seems that the Japanese do not have quite the same hang-ups about sex that we Americans do (that is not to say that they are immodest).

Walking the paths there are a number of things to see. There are four items of major historical interest. The first is the Kenkon-Zan Nihon-ji, the Nihon Temple on Mt. Nokogiri. It was founded approximately 1300 years ago by Imperial order of Emperor Shōmu and Empress Kōmyō back in the days when the Emperor really had political power and ran the country. A handout that you get when you enter the grounds points out that the Emperor gave the Temple an Imperial tablet inscribed by his own hand and about 18½ tons of gold. the Empress gave a scroll that she embroidered by her own hand with 33 images of the Buddha Kwan-yin and ten bolts of damask and brocade.

There are also the 1500 stone figures of Tokai Arhats carved between 1779 and 1798.

Many of these had the heads knocked off during an anti-Buddhist revolt during the Meiji era and are only now being repaired. It is said that no two of them have the same face and that everyone could have found the one that has his own face before they were damaged. Now your face may be on one of the ones that had the head knocked off.

Another amazing site is the Kannon Bosatsu aka the Hyaku Shaku Kannon. This was carved during the later 20th century. It is in a large chamber that is so acoustically perfect that if you stand at the feet of the Kannon and speak in a normal tone of voice, or even a loud whisper, you can be easily heard through the whole area. How I would love to play a string quartet recital there!

The 大仏 is in an open park like area and dominates magnificently.

This is one of the largest Buddhas in Japan and the world and I think that it was once the largest Buddha in Japan. It is in any case the largest stone carved Buddha in Japan being 31.05 meters (101.9 feet) high. It is magnificent.

The surrounding park is a lovely place to picnic or just rest and watch the hawks and other birds while enjoying the Buddha and some other notable sights which I will leave you to discover.