Friday, August 5, 2011

There are Dragons

If you should be hanging around in Chinatown in Yokohama at the end of January or the beginning of February (depending on the year) you may encounter dragons!

They approach!

They see you!

There is no way out!

And there are more;

But they are only here to wish you the five happinesses!

and there is music and dance.

So don't be afraid of dragons.


Sunday, July 31, 2011

My Favorite Izakaya; Sakato-ya 坂戸屋

It occurred to me that I did not provide directions to Sakato-ya, so another post would be in order. Plus, I just wanted to post more pictures of my favorite place.

At the end of every year, Shie-chan closes the izakaya for a week. After the New Year holiday she reopens. To celebrate the reopening she wears fine kimonos for the first three days. Here are some pictures from the first week in January, 2011.

My friend Emoto-san tried to get me in trouble with the next photo, but since Shie-chan is a close friend of both my wife and me, it didn't work.

Shie-chan and I - Photo taken by Emoto-san trying to get me in trouble.

As I wrote in my earlier post, she always serves food of the highest quality and the atmosphere is warm and friendly.

The map:

View Larger Map

It is in Wakamatsu-cho, the third door down from the 7-11; to the right (southeast) in the image above. Look for the name Sakato-ya in Japanese - 坂戸屋

The street view:

View Larger Map

More pictures (taken at other times);

Me with some of my friends.

One of the many cool things about izakayas is that you can buy a bottle of your favorite drink and drink what you want, leaving the bottle on the bar until you return. When you return, you just grab your bottle and have a drink. Of course the price is 30% to 100% more than you would pay in a store, but that is not the point. You may identify your bottle by writing your name on it with a paint pen, or by hanging some "bling" on it.

My bottle is the one with Linus on the top.

One more thing, she saved two beautiful pomeranians from certain death by adopting them. They were orphaned from their owners as a result of the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power facility and now live with her. The dog's owners were relocated to emergency housing, but were not permitted to take their dogs. The dogs were put up for adoption, and Shie-chan adopted them.

This is Rachel...

My friend Ina-san with Rachel

and this is Bera (I know, I have trouble telling them apart too);

My friend Imori-san with Bera


Monday, July 4, 2011


As you may have noticed, I have made a few changes here.

One of the reasons that I like Blogger is that, in addition to the programed editing functions (which make it really easy), I can get into the HTML directly and make adjustments there. I have already done this a few times for font and color changes.

All of the photos that I use are edited down from the original size to a width of 640 pixels. That is still larger than the display size. I decided that I wanted you to be able to see larger pictures without having to reopen them in another window or tab. So, I adjusted a few block widths. After that the blogging team (me) went through all of the previous posts and selected "X-Large" in the editing options. If you open the image in another window or tab you can see the 640 pixel wide version. In time I will get most of these in their full size, unedited version in my gallery here. That work is ongoing. I hope that you enjoy the result.

Here is another picture.

This is in the Arrival area in the South Terminal in Terminal 1 at Narita Airport next to a snack stand.

UPDATE: Apple iCloud no longer supports the Photo Gallery, sadly.


Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Kamakura Daibutsu at the Kōtoku-in ( 高徳院 ) Temple

This is probably the single most famous work of art in Japan, the Kamakura Daibutsu at the Kōtoku-in (高徳院) Temple. There are a number of famous Daibutsu ( 大仏 ), I have previously written of the Nihon-ji Daibutsu on Mt. Nokogiri.

Many websites, including the Wikipedia article linked above, say a lot about the height, weight, etc. of this statue. None of that does it justice. It is important to remember that, first of all, many people in Japan are still believers in Buddhism and this site is sacred to them. There is, in fact, a functioning Buddhist monastery which monks work to maintain the site.

The Kōtoku-in Monastery is a temple of the Jōdo-shū (Pure Land or Land of Ultimate Bliss) sect of Buddhaism. The idea is that the believer can attain the Pure Land (of Ultimate Bliss) by recitation of the name of the Amida Buddha.

The Daibutsu is not far from the ocean. It was cast of Bronze in 1252 and was housed in the Kōtoku-in temple. The temple, having been destroyed by storms and rebuilt twice, in 1334 and 1369,  was washed away in the tsunami of September 20th, 1498. Since then the Daibutsu has been in the open air.

The Daibutsu and the monastery are in Kamakura just a short walk away from the Hase Station of the Enoden Line.

As one approaches the gate, the Buddha looms above.

The Daibutsu 大仏 dominates the grounds. (Yes, this used to be inside of a temple.)

In addition to being a religious site, it is a cultural site for the Japanese as a visit to Independence Hall is to an American. While I was there I was approached by no fewer that 4 groups of elementary school students who wanted to tell me (reading from a script provided by their school) that they are elementary school students studying English. They asked where I am from and wanted to take a picture with me. I presume that the picture is to provide proof to their teacher (I think that they all had the same teacher) that they completed their assignments. Here is a picture with the second group that approached me. This picture was taken by one of the kids from the group.

A side view.

The grounds also have some beautiful, secluded areas. Strange, with all of the crowds surrounding the Daibutsu, that only a few feet away are areas where people don't generally go, yet they are open to the public.

There are also ancient monuments. Here is one.

For ¥20 you can go inside the statue. My pictures there did not turn out well as I am using only a (slightly better quality) pocket camera. Still, here is a shot from inside the statue looking up to where the head is attached. You can see the reenforcing that was installed during repairs to the statue that occurred in 1960.

The following is a plaque that is inside of the statue. It tells of some of the construction techniques used to build it.

The English text on the plaque reads (I have retained the original capitalization):
Construction Techniques Observable in the Inner Hollow of the Kamakura Daibutsu

The Kamakura Daibutsu (Great Buddha of Kamakura) was built in the middle of the Kamakura Period, seven and a half centuries ago. Upon entering the inner hollow of the statue, one can observe the surprisingly sophisticated techniques that were used to create this statue. Due to its immense size, this statue was cast in 30 separate stages. The lattice pattern of the interior walls indicates that a large number of molds were placed on top of each other in layers. In order to securely connect together the separately cast pieces, a completely unique and ingenious method was employed connecting the pieces from the base to the top of the statue. Known as ikurakuri, this method can be broadly divided into three different types (see figure).

In 1960 a program was established by Kotoku-in temple to conduct major repairs of major cultural assets. Fortified plastic ERP was applied to the neck in order to reinforce the neck of the statue, and a stainless steel plate was inserted between the statue and the pedestal on which it rests as a means of protecting the statue against earthquakes.
For someone who loves History, in Kamakura and in much of the rest of Japan something incredible is just around the corner. I did not get an opportunity to visit the many other sites in this area. I did stop by the Hase-dera (see here and here) but did not go in due to the lateness of the hour (they had closed). I truly believed that I would be able to return, and I will, but it will a long time before I am able.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Great East Japan Earthquake Disaster (東日本大震災) of 2011

I was onboard USS George Washington, moored in Yokosuka, when the earthquake occurred. Even floating on the water, we felt strong and sustained shaking. Yokosuka was mostly undamaged, but as you can read on many sources, much of Japan has been devastated. The aftershocks continue. The ground has been shaking almost continually since Friday afternoon.

Japan earthquake: Tsunami hits north-east

I meant for this blog to be a light hearted travel blog, but Japan is a land of earthquakes. Living or traveling in Japan involves living with earthquakes. In the past 5 months I have felt 3 earthquakes of magnitude 5 or greater. Actually more than this graphic shows.

This one is very terrible. As a result of the earthquake tsunamis have caused entire towns to disappear. Four trains full of passengers have disappeared. A cruise ship with 100 passengers onboard has disappeared. There is terrible tragedy and much suffering.

Please pray for those who are suffering.

Magsx2 has pictures and video

A note about the nuclear power facility at Fukushima, it is a boiling water reactor. A chernobyl is not possible in this design. That is not to say that it cannot become a very serious situation. Allahpundit, who is knowledgable about this stuff, has a running blog on it. The short version, nobody really knows anything.

The Google Crisis Response page has continually updated news and Twitter updates. They also provide a means of donating to the Japanese Red Cross.

UPDATE: When I wrote this post the earthquake had not been known by any particular name. It is now known by many, particularly in the West as the 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake, and by most in Japan as the Eastern Japan Great Earthquake Disaster" (Higashi Nihon Daishinsai) (東日本大震災), so I have changed the title of this post accordingly.

As I post this update on July 6th, almost 4 months after the earthquake, a huge number of people are still homeless and the toll of the dead continues to rise. Please pray for them.

UPDATE 2: Here is a collection of video. Some of this is heartbreaking.
Japan tsunami videos: Footage you have to see to believe.

Friday, February 4, 2011


Earthquakes in Japan are common, but this one was bigger that usual. And, sitting in my apartment 12 stories above the ground, scary. Earthquakes are among the strangest experiences you can have.



Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Japanese Statues and Sculpture - Jizō Bosatsu

Of course this is a topic that would require a book many hundreds of pages long to cover. I can, at least, offer a few pictures.

Some of the pictures that I took on Mt. Takao were of Jizō Bosatsu. From the linked article;
One of the most beloved of all Japanese divinities, Jizō works to ease the suffering and shorten the sentence of those serving time in hell, to deliver the faithful into Amida’s western paradise (where inhabitants are no longer trapped in the six states of desire and karmic rebirth), and to answer the prayers of the living for health, success, children, and all manner of petitions. In modern Japan, Jizō is a savior par excellence, a friend to all, never frightening even to children, and his/her many manifestations -- often cute and cartoon-like in contemporary times -- incorporate Taoist, Buddhist, and Shintō elements.

Jizō is a Bodhisattva (Jp. Bosatsu), one who achieves enlightenment but postpones Buddhahood until all can be saved. Jizō is often translated as Womb of the Earth, for JI 地 means earth, while ZŌ 蔵 means womb. But ZŌ can also be translated with equal correctness as “store house” or “repository of treasure” -- thus Jizō is often translated as Earth Store or Earth Treasury. Jizō embodies supreme spiritual optimism, compassion, and universal salvation, all hallmarks of Mahayana Buddhism.

This one is at the bottom of Mt. Takao at the entrance to the Mountain.

This one is at the summit of the Mountain.

A closer view.

Be sure to read the links from the list of the various forms of Jizō. It is very interesting. There is a lot of history here.

Jizō are a great source of comfort for people, especially parents who have lost their children, or had sick children healed.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Mt. Takao: Yakuo-in Temple

On Mt. Takao is the Takaosan Yakuoin Temple. Built in 744 by Gyoki Bosatsu under the direction of Emperor Shōmu, it has an amazing history and is the home to thousands of ancient documents.

Emperor Shōmu is also behind the construction of the Nihon-ji Daibutsu. The Temple is dedicated to Yakushi Nyorai, the Medicine Buddha. The Daibutsu (大仏) at the Nihon-ji Temple and Monastery complex on Mt. Nokogiri is a statue of the Medicine Buddha. Note the medicine bowl in his hands.

Detail of the Stone Buddha on Mt. Nokogiri
On our way down from the summit of Mt. Takao we came to our first encounter with the Temple complex.

Okunoin Fudou-do Hall
The Okunoin Fudou-do was originally called the Goma-do and was located near the Main Hall, but was moved to its present location at the upper-rear edge of the Temple property.

The Main Hall
During the hiking season there are large crowds visiting the Temple and buying souvenirs (omiyage - お土産 ).

The Monastery. Visitors cannot enter this area.

The Izuna Gongen-do Hall
The Temple has an official web site in Japanese and English. Go there are read about the history of the Temple. You can also read about the various festivals held there and the etiquette to be practiced there.