Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tokyo

Hi friends,

I realized I have one more Asian themed card that I made before I left and didn't share with you.

So here I am in Tokyo this week.  Tokyo is a fun city.  It is very unique and very Japanese.  So let me share my i-phone dump and tell you a little about how people live and work in Tokyo.

First, I have to start with a conversation about bathroom protocol.  In Japan, there was a habit of women flushing the toilet as they tinkled so the flushing sound would overshadow the tinkling sound.  Well, that was pretty wasteful of water so most of the public toilets have a speaker system in them and when you enter the toilet stall you can press a button to trigger the flushing sound.  Very smart.  So now, you can disguise your tinkle sounds with the flushing sound but be environmentally friendly about it.  I always hit the flushing sound button when I go into a public restroom (like at the office) when I'm not alone in the restroom.  Why?  I feel they may be offended by hearing my tinkle noise so I figure better to follow their protocol than offend them and it's pretty easy to hit the button.  And where else can you hit a button and trigger a speaker system that plays toilet flushing sounds.  ( - :  Oh and one other thing about Japan and bathrooms.  There are never any paper towels or hand dryers in the public restrooms.  Japanese woman all carry a small hand towel (about the size of a washcloth) in their purse and they use their personal towel to dry their hands.  I have learned to bring a washcloth from the hotel when I go to the office or out so I don't have to shake  my hands dry.

Second, let's talk about pantyhose.  In Japan, most working women wear pantyhose or hosiery with their business dresses and skirts.  Many of the young ladies also wear hosiery with their 'going out' dresses or skirts.  And many Japanese women wear skirts or dresses this time of year.  I would say at least 70% of the ladies I saw (during the day and evening) were wearing some type of skirt or dress.  In America, pantyhose are dead.   Only old ladies wear flesh colored hosiery.  I actually feel self conscious wearing pantyhose now and avoid it in all cases.  I noticed that women (all ages) wear hosiery in Europe too.  I read that Kate Middleton wears them and so she is causing a surge in nylon sales in Great Britain.   Maybe the death of pantyhose is only in America and maybe it's because we Americans have gone so casual.  I mean really, if you are wearing slippers and pajamas around town, why would you need pantyhose?  I was glad to see the young and older ladies in Japan wearing the beautiful hosiery that makes their legs look so perfect.


Third, let's talk about Tokyo fashions.   I noticed that most Japanese women are comfortable wearing short skirts and short shorts, often with frilly and lacy details and very feminine and fashionable.  What I didn't see was any Japanese woman wearing a low cut top.  First, the Japanese are not especially large chested, but despite their size, the necklines were almost always modest.  I found this a refreshing alternative to the trends I see in the US where young woman (and a lot of older woman too) think nothing of wearing low cut, cleavage bearing tops.  One of the women from the office said that many young ladies do wear low tops, but I didn't observe it during my 5 day visit there and frankly I think her idea of low cut is no where near as embarrassing as the US version of low cut.

Fourth, let's talk about shopping.  I found the coolest store in Japan completely by mistake. The store is called Uniqlo and it is one of the most popular stores in Japan and expanding to Asia, Europe and the US market.  It offers high quality, low cost, comfortable clothing.  I happened upon a store location in Kyoto and found a fun t-shirt and top for about 15.00 each.   Keep your eye out people... these stores are going to save the Japanese economy and you'll find one in a mall near you in no time.
Fifth - let me tell you about earthquakes.  So of course you all know about the big earthquake that hit Japan last March.  It was really interesting listening to the people from the office describe the events of the day.  One woman said that she felt for the first time in her life "I'm going to die today.'  Thankfully that was not the case, but it was a harrowing experience for these people.  Our companies Japanese office is on the 10th floor of a building with views of Tokyo Bay.  When the earthquake hit they said the earth was shaking for 5 minutes.  At the time they had no emergency plan for earthquakes so they all stopped working (duh) and gathered together.  Books and personal items fell from shelves and after a while the building was evacuated.  After about an hour they allowed people back into the building and they went into a conference room and watched the news on TV.  Many were very frightened and tried to contact family members, but the phone in the office was dead and the cell phones couldn't handle the traffic.  There is a pay phone at the lobby of the building and that worked, so everyone took turns using the payphone to reach their loved ones and confirm they were okay.  The trains didn't work that evening so many people either walked (in their work clothes and shoes) over 2 hours to get home.  Most stayed in the office overnight.  One girl was at an off-site training with strangers.  I felt she had the worst experience because she was in an unfamiliar place with strangers.  I would rather be with people I know in a crisis like that.  Many of the people have an application on their phone now that will sound an alarm when an earthquake of a certain magnitude hits.  While I was in Tokyo I was awoken at 1:30am by the feeling of my bed shaking and then my bed swaying.  Yup, there was a 5.3M earthquake near Tokyo.  When we asked people about it they said 'yes, that happens all the time.'  they said an earthquake like that would happen several times a month and they think nothing of it.  Most people sleep right through one that size.  I am a sound sleeper and it woke me up, so I can't imagine how they can live with the ground moving all the time and not be afraid.

So now for the i-phone dump:

This is Tokyo tower.  You can pay to go to the top and get a great view of the city.  They just built a new, taller tower called sky tower that is on the other side of the city.   I loved this view of the tower just in front of a mid-city temple.
 Here are two adorable Japanese children walking.  It looks like their mothers are behind and they are walking to pre-school.  The school children in Japan go to school Mon-Saturday and many students in jr high spend time in the evenings going to cram school.  Like Asia, the students don't automatically go to the local high school.  They take exams and they get accepted at the best (or not so best) high schools in the city.  It is very competitive.
 Here is a picture of the skyline of a city temple.  This temple was right smack in the middle of the city.  It was a beautiful sanctuary of green in the city, kind of how a park would be for us.
 Most Tokyo people seem to wear black and white.  Men and woman alike were usually seen wearing a white blouse or shirt with a black suit.  Most travel to work on a train, either the JR line (Japan Railways), the subway or the mono-rail.  Here is a crowd coming out of the train station walking toward the office buildings.
 So this is a photo of the lobby of the inter-continental hotel.  this is a beautiful, old fashion hotel.  No wi-fi, no work out room, but a player piano in the lobby and lots of bowing japanese bell hops tripping over themselves to open a door or press an elevator button.
 So on Tuesday, we had only a short time for lunch so we went to this 'Japanese Fast Food restaurant.'  It was very cool.  Everything was some kind of rice bowl.  Rice at the bottom and some type of meat or vegetables on top.  The cool thing about this was you didn't order at the counter.  You sat at the table, pressed a button and a server came and took your order.  The food came right up and you went to the counter with your bill and payed.  You only ordered at the counter if you wanted it to go.  And it was cheap.  My lunch as 380 yen which is around $5.00.
 So on Wednesday when I went for my morning run, I stumbled upon a HUGE market.  I could tell I stumbled upon something because I came around a bend in the road and there were lots of trucks, workers and tourists all crowding the sidewalk.  Then I went further and the smell of fresh fish hit me.  I've heard about the famous fish market in Tokyo.  I think this may have been it.  It was 6:45 and the market was pretty much finished for the morning.  I was right next to the water so I'm sure that the food was coming in from the ships.
 It was very big and very industrial.
 Here are a group of European tourists viewing the map.
 Here is the map showing where the different food types were for sale.  All the blue in the picture is fish, but they also seemed to have a lot of produce also.  Many small trucks were hauling boxes of produce.  I guess many restaurants come to the market to buy their food at a reasonable price for quality products.
 So on my jog, I was primarily in quieter areas but at one point I found myself on this footbridge going over the water.  Below is a photo of the massive road structures in Tokyo.  It really looks like something out of Disney's tomorrow land.  there are monorail lines, roads, bike paths, everything.  And it's all very neat and orderly.

 Here is the view of Tokyo Bay and the Rainbow Bridge from the office conference room.  It is very beautiful.
 So here I am at the Korean Barbeque restaurant for lunch.  The food arrives raw and in the middle of the table there is a grill.  You put your meat on the grill and cook it.
 Here are a few of the ladies from the Tokyo office.
 Here is my meat on the grill.
 Each table had a control. You could call your waiter or increase the heat on the grill.
 The subways in Tokyo are very crowded.  Here is a view into one of the subway cars around 6:30pm.   It was packed and this is very typical.
I heard that one of the men from our Japan office once got pushed out of the train before his station.  It was a major stop and so many people were exiting that he had no choice but to go with the flow and exit.  He had to wait for another train to come and board it to get to his station. Now this was a big man - 6 feet tall and over 200 pounds.  It was amazing to me that the train could be so crowded that he couldn't stand his ground on his spot.  I can't imagine doing that every day, but many people do.
Here is a view of Tokyo Bay and the rainbow bridge at night from my hotel room.

 Below is a photo of the cool way they offer coffee in the hotel room.  There is a packet with this self brew coffee.  It is a tiny filter with the coffee beans inside. You have a hot water dispenser and you add the water to the filter and you have decent instant coffee. It was pretty good.
Well, that is the end of my Tokyo post.  I realize it was very long.  I head home on Thursday and I'm looking forward to going home, even though it's been a great trip.  Thanks for coming along with me and reading about my experiences.  Have a great day and stop by my blog again Friday for a card post and maybe some post Tokyo stories.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Other interesting things about Kyoto

So today's post is my iphone dump from Kyoto Japan for all non-Temple related things. Before I get to the i-phone dump, let me give you 5 things that surprised me in Kyoto.

1) Kyoto is a HUGE city.  I don't know why I didn't realize it was so big before I went.  It has a population of 1.5 million people.  That is more than twice the size of Washington DC.

2) It is wicked hot in Kyoto.  I had no idea.  It was about 80 degrees on the day I was there and very humid.   I got a pretty bad sunburn on my arms.  Silly me.  Why wasn't I prepared???

3) Kyoto has the largest train station I've ever been in.  It is 238,000 square meters which is 58 acres.  To give you a comparison, this train station is the size of all the shopping in Disney's Lake Buena Vista area.  I thought Grand Central Station was big.  Grand Central Station is 194,259 square meters.  Wow.  I had no idea, until I stepped off the bullet train and was hit with an extraordinary overwhelming feeling... and everything was in Japanese.  But I survived!  There was pretty good signage with English.  Can you imagine a train station 15 stories high!!! Holy Cannoli.

4) Kyoto has a whole lot of temples, roughly 2,000 temples and shrines.  And some of these temples are gynormous.  I've seen temples before but never temples so large. The ancient temples in Kyoto were multi-level, multi-building structures..  Talk about gorgeous.  Many of them have ornate details with a simplistic architecture.

5) Kyoto is a huge tourist destination.  Okay, I did know that, but what I did not expect (and found kind of charming) was that most of the tourists are high school kids.  They were there in droves.....and all wearing a neat and tidy uniform.    Kyoto receives over 30 million tourists annually.  Washington DC receives about 17 million tourists a year.  Again, I had no idea and that meant the city was full of walking tourists and large tour buses.  It made bicycling around the city pretty interesting.  Oh and remember that in Japan they drive on the other side of the road.  I had to keep my wits about me all the time, just to stay alive.

Okay, how about an iphone dump....

So first, here is the bullet train.  I was on-board the Nomoni express. It was expensive - about $300.00 to go from Tokyo - Kyoto, but it was fast, efficient and quite comfortable.  It took 2 hours 20 minutes.  The countryside that we passed was very industrial.  I saw lots of signage for companies I know:   Wacoal, Panasonic, Nissan, Sharp, Toyota, Sony oh and Nestle too.   Where there wasn't a factory, there was housing and rice fields.  There wasn't any part of the ride where I saw just green.  Everything was developed.

We passed Mount Fuji on the ride.  Yup, it looked big.


And here I am in Kyoto station.   There were thousands of kids like these.  All dressed in their matching uniforms.  They were adorable.
Here I am at the market.  The school kids were having a blast looking at the items for sale and buying sweets.  I'm sure it's no surprise that even in Japan they sell soft ice cream at places like this.  Yup, soft ice cream is universal.
Here is a view of the streets.  It had a carnival feel to it.... vendors, food, entertainment, tourists.  Except none of the tourists were American.  I spotted a few European tourists, but mostly they were Japanese or Chinese.   I felt like saying 'we're not in Kansas anymore' but realized no-one would get the reference.
So here I am at the store called 'LOFT.'  This can probably best compare to Target in the US.  They sell everything - at discount prices.  Since this is a city store instead of being one big box building, it is several floors high.  I found a few new copic markers.  Are you surprised???

So on the papertrey forum someone suggested buying old used books in a foreign language to use for card making.  I found this fun little used book store and bought 4 books for 200 yen (that comes out to about 2.50.)  I was happy with that purchase.  I just hope I can find room in my luggage for these treasures.
So below is a typical street scene in Kyoto.  Pretty greenery with bright colored flags and lanterns.
During the evening on Saturday night, I went to a show that was sponsored by the Kyoto cultural arts dept.  It was kind of cheesy but very entertaining.  It had several parts.  There was a formal tea ceremony, a puppet show, the Geisha dance, a comedy skit and a traditional music performance.  The puppet show photo didn't come out well, but notice how it was 3 puppeteers wearing black who made the geisha girl move.
And here are the real live Geisha girls dancing.  They had the most interesting 'far away look' in their eyes.  They were very elegant and formal.

Here is a photo of a similar puppet up close.  It really was amazing how life-like she became under the masterful hands of the puppeteers.
When I first saw Japanese women wearing Kimono's I thought they were Geisha's.  But then I realized that many Japanese women wear a Kimono for an event or for fun.  I think you needed the fancy hair, white face make-up and other special things to make you a geisha.  I saw lots of woman in Kimono's but only 1 or 2 Geishas.  Everything I know about Geisha's I learned from the book 'Memoirs of a Geisha.'  I hope the book is accurate...They had stores in Kyoto that were called 'Geisha experience centers.'  For about 8500 YEN (95.00 dollars) you could be made over as a geisha and wear the rented kimono for a day.  All I could think of is some young husband fulfilling some childhood fantasy having his wife made up like a geisha.  It's probably also something women like too - kind of like being made into a princess for a day.  I saw one young lady come out of one of the places and she was having a hard time walking in the narrow long skirt and slippers. Isn't that little bear in a kimono cute?  I am still looking for a souvenir of 'hello kitty' in a kimono.  If all else fails, I hope to find it at the airport.  I love Kimono clad girls.

So look how cool this is.  Baseball in Japan.  these young boys were playing a game on Sunday morning.  I just love a culture that appreciates (and plays) baseball.

So of course I have to tell you all about the food in Kyoto.  For dinner Saturday night, I followed the recommendation of the hotel and tried Tempura at this little family run Japanese diner.  In Japan, they eat on these low tables with mats on the benches.   I sat cross legged and left my shoes under the wood platform.
 The cute little condiments at my table.  The tempura is batter dipped and fried foods.  Usually it's a variety of vegetables and fish.   It was yummy.
For breakfast I headed to this coffee shop.  they had pancakes on the menu and they were pretty good.

And of course, every tourist town has a Starbucks.  I enjoyed a Green Tea Frappachino.  I know, not very adventurous but I love me a good frappachino.
 Oh, and below is a photo of this AWESOME bike I rented.  I knew that many of the temples I wanted to see were spread out in the mountain areas outside the city.  I knew it was too far to walk and the subway system didn't seem optimal for visiting them either so when I heard that you could rent a bike I decided to try that.  What an awesome thing.  The bike I rented was incredible.  It was an electric Panasonic bike.  It wasn't a scooter, it didn't propel itself, but when I pedaled, I got this added boost. Think of it like peddling on a bicycle built for two and letting your partner do the heavy work.  Since Kyoto was hilly, I REALLY appreciated that boost going up those hills.  I also appreciated the boost since I was on that darn bike from 9am till 2pm.  If it wasn't electric, I don't think I would have survived, since I'm not much of a biker.

This trusty fellow served me well.
Well, that pretty much wraps up my Kyoto experience.  Thanks so much for following along with me on my trip.  Sunday evening I headed back to Tokyo and it's back to work, work, work for Mon-Wed, then home on Thursday.

If you ever get a chance to visit Japan - Go.  and be sure to find time to visit the wonderful ancient city of Kyoto.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Temples in Kyoto

So Kyoto is the ancient city of Japan that has been successful in preserving it's heritage through many wars and the development of the city into an industrial center for Japan.

Kyoto has over 2,000 temples in the city and they range in size from itty bitty to super enormous.  Of course, I visited the super enormous ones and let me tell you, they were impressive.  As with most things like this (think Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, pictures don't do it justice, but pictures is what I have so here we go.

First, we'll start with a little one.  This little temple was at the hotel.  There was a sweet little walking path up a hill and at the top was this adorable little shrine/temple.

 As best I can tell, a worshiper would first wash their hands and mouth and then approach the temple and pull the rope.  I don't know if that is to awaken the god or what, but many temples had these ropes.

This next temple was much bigger.  This was beautiful with the sloping roof lines and bright red/white colors.


This temple included many buildings.  This building below was for worshiping and no photo's were allowed inside.
 This too is another building within the temple complex.  Often there would be 6 buildings with one 'main' building.


 The courtyard spaces were big and gravel filled.   This is at 9am in the morning Sunday.  I bet later in the day this was filled with people.
So now onto my favorite temple.  This one was set high on the hill and I had to bike up a steep/narrow road, then walk many, many steps to get to it.  But once at the top, the view was spectacular.


 There were little statues throughout the complex and water elements also.
 It was very crowded and they were selling charms and other trinkets for worship.  Several young ladies were walking around in Kimonos and all the school groups had on uniforms.
 The worshipers would buy special tokens or coins and toss them in the various boxes.  I think they said a prayer or made a wish as they tossed the token in.
 These appear to be written prayers tied next to the shrine.
 More school groups in the courtyard of the temple area.
 I have no idea what these are, but they were everywhere in the temples.
 Here is an incense burner.   The incense had a wonderful fragrance that filled the area.  I believe people could buy an incense stick and place it in this burning pot.
 More crowds and you can see the incense rising.
 Another beautiful outbuilding.  You can see the skyline in the background giving some indication about how high above the city we were.
This was a common sight.  Here is a photo of one of many Japanese tour guides.  They all had on spiffy uniforms and a flag to help their school group identify the tour.  She stopped at each building or space and provided info.  Since it was in Japanese I couldn't eavesdrop...
 Gorgeous....
 Gorgeous times two...
And next was a very sacred and historic temple.  This next one was mostly indoors with no photos allowed.
 First to go into this building we removed our shoes.  Inside were 1001 deities exactly the same and about a dozen other deities in front and lastly one large deity in the middle.  There were many serious worshipers here on their knees in front of the deities and a solemn quiet was in the building.  It was dark inside with all the deities made of dark wood.  the building was large and it took a while to walk past all 1001 of the deities.

 This temple was in the heart  of the city so in the background were hotels and office buildings.  There was a beautiful pond in the temple area with flowers and pretty rocks.  It had a very peaceful, serene atmosphere.


Lastly, I saw a whole bunch of rock idols with aprons on.  I read somewhere that women who wanted to protect their children from harm would put a woman's apron on the deity to indicate that he should be 'motherly' toward her children and protect them.  It really was sweet to see all the different places where these idols had aprons on.






Aren't they sweet?  I could see how enticing the idea of giving food or a charm to an idol if it would keep my child from harm.  No wonder there were thousands of them.

So, I've shown you all these temples and deities.  Now a little more detail about the actual religion for these.

I did a quick Wikipedia search on religion in Japan to try to understand what these temples and shrines represent.  According to Wikipedia most Japanese do not conform to one specific religion but practice forms of Shinto which is the Japanese indigenous religion.  About 85% of the population practice some form of Shinto.  Unlike the Judeo-Christian religions, Shinto does not require the same admission of faith, but instead just asks people to participate in certain aspects of it.  This religion has a respect for nature and for sacred sites.  These sites were set up to worship the sun, rock formations, trees and even sounds.  Most of the sites have both Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. 

As I close let me say this 'As for me and my house - we will serve the Lord.'   My devotion and faith in Jesus Christ is as strong as ever and as I observed these monuments to gods I was so thankful for the forgiveness of sin that my God Jesus offers me and the peace that I have because of that.  It was also encouraging for me to realize that the Gospel of Jesus is available to the people of Japan so that if they are not finding satisfaction and contentment with their religion, Christianity is available to them.

Thanks for stopping by today.  Have a great day.