Tuesday — we leave tonight!

Yesterday was another big day! Nearly 22,000 steps! A record at almost 10 miles. I think the rock and stone pathways, the sheer volume of stair climbing, both in train stations and at temple sites, and of course the accumulation of 2 and 1/2 weeks of daily mega-walking, has been really tough on our bodies. Worth every step but wow are we both tired and sore. For me it’s my feet, for John it’s his back. We figured out ibuprofen in Japanese (we had run out of our own!) and bought some last night thank god!


That, plus learning how to warm up a sake bottle in the hot water heater! John’s brilliant idea! Hahaha!


And John was a total Mr. Wonderful best boyfriend ever to get me ice by sneaking into the kitchen in the basement of the hotel! And I figured out that the cold water straight out of the tap was cold enough to soak my sore feet in by sitting on the side of the tub!!! Just a few traveling tips for you from our experiences!

This morning after breakfast, John took off early on his own to see the Silver Pavilion (he missed it when I went alone when he was too sick). Glad he’s getting the chance. As for me, plans to visit used kimono shops came to a halt when I researched and found they didn’t open till 11. Just a bit too late… Besides, I have zero room in my luggage. I’d have to literally buy another suitcase! And I’ve already visited a few of these stores and purchased great things last time I was here, so I decided to pass.

Instead, I enjoyed a restful morning of organizing and packing, making sure everything fit; (it did, sort of, with an extra packed full carry on, but who knows about the weight limits….?) [later edit: I forgot…traveling with John means no weight or baggage limits — he has “premiere status” So right now writing this we’re at the fancy star alliance Asuka lounge!] I also had a cryptic conversation with the front desk in (only) Japanese (the English speaking clerk was not around…) about late check out. Tricky, but I think for an extra 1000円 we can stay an extra hour. Normal check out is 11am. Special complimentary check out is 12noon. Extra hour — pay extra 1000. Ok with us. Our flight is not till 6pm but it’s from Osaka Kansai Airport, the far away one (1 and ½ hour train ride to get there).  Leaving here by 1pm will allow plenty of time for a bus to the train station, the slow walking with all our luggage to the ticket booth and the train, etc. Ugh, a very long travel day ahead.

I also stretched and did what I call “bed yoga.” When the hotel room is too small and there is zero floor space, yogis like me have to be very creative! I knew that these sore legs needed stretching before the long flight. So that 1000円 was well worth the extra hour to stay in and  stretch out.

I’m all showered and packed so when John returns it’s his turn. Then it’s out for a quick lunch, or buy something at the station, and off we go. No doubt I’ll have some last photos to post before our take off.

Easy quick bus trip to make getting to station simpler with all our bags. Then, lunch found in Kyoto train station to take with:

That’s some kind of fancy bread John got. Mine is Matcha (green tea) bread with pine nuts! Notice the egg salad sandwich, this time from 7-11 — against Anthony Bourdain’s advice of the best egg salad being at Lawson’s convenience store!!) John has had at least one egg salad sandwich daily — he has been a huge Bourdain fan since the beginning!

Our lunch boxes were great! Salmon, rice, pickled vegis, tofu, seaweed, shrimp tempura, sweet egg, pickled radish 😍👌 Even a boxed lunch like that is quite affordable at a big train station (under $10)!

Train ride to Osaka Kansai Airport was fast and comfortable. It goes through downtown so you get a bit of a view, along with countryside and water. Not great pics as the train moves fast. I missed taking photos of so many backyard gardens! I just wasn’t quick enough! Huge rows of cabbages and winter peas, daikon, carrots, kumquat and persimmon trees in full fruit!

We’re at the nice Asuka lounge waiting for our flight. John travels a lot to keep his premium status up just for these perks! Also premium speedy line to check in, no baggage limits, etc. Nice!! He’s been known to fly to Singapore and back (without even leaving the airport) just for the miles and status! The crazy thing is, he’s not the only one to do this. He says the planes are filled with flyers doing “mileage runs!”

A few last thoughts… I will miss Japan, again. I’ll miss the food, the language, the toilets! So many little things! The cleanliness, politeness, the beauty of nature and small things. But I’m a bit homesick too, so it’s bittersweet to leave. I miss my pups, home, my own bed. It will be good to be home. Until next time, Japan.

Thanks for reading and following our trip! It’s been fun to write this blog, just like the last one in 2012 — in fact that blog was what got me into the whole “writing” phase of my life. Some of you know I’ve written a memoir I’m now trying to get published! Writing while traveling and posting photos helps me remember everything I’ve seen and experienced here in beautiful Japan. I’ve loved reading your comments too! I’ll be home soon! Matane! またね!



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Monday: Nara and Uji

Today we got up as early as we could — had a rushed breakfast so we could catch the train to Nara early. Coincidentally, we walked out the door of our hotel and just at that moment (7:00am!)  ran into the same pair of Pekingese we’d met yesterday! They recognized us and lunged forward for cuddles and kisses!! I guess they live in the neighborhood!  So cute!!!!


We did OK, caught a semi express train, arriving at Nara before 9am. The deer greet you almost immediately out of the station. Don’t worry about going to the famous “deer park.” Just buy the deer cookies for 150 円 and they will find you! They are everywhere, and while most are very gentle, some are more agressive than others, and they can cause trouble, stopping traffic and butting their heads against your leg begging for more food.



Our first stop was the Big Buddha at Todaiji Shrine and the Museum right next door. It’s worth it to do both. Don’t skip the museum. There’s also a slight price break when you buy a ticket for both at once. The Buddha is very impressive; it is the world’s largest bronze Buddha. Now housed in a huge wooden structure, it’s beginning’s date back to 728. Read lots more history here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tōdai-ji


At the museum we used the English language audio guides for an extra 500 円. It’s worth it. The exhibit is not huge but gives one a good background and history, showing sculptures and artifacts from various stages, eras and archaeological digs after the fires that brought previous structures down. It has a fascinating, long history.

We sat at the lovely tea room afterwards for a rest and regroup. I had a really delicious green tea and a special regional baked sweet with apricot and pine nuts inside. John had cappuccino!

Then we had a long hike to the next temple, Kasuga-Taisha, but we were entertained the entire way by the deer. I don’t know which is the most fun: watching the deer, feeding the deer, or watching the people watching, filming, and feeding the deer. It’s all great. Some are very calm, others head butt you in the butt asking for more. Some want to be petted, others not so much. Family groups lue down together peacefully sleeping. Young one’s still have spots and no horns. The city cuts their horns for the safety of the humans. I can see why, as I was butting in the butt several times. Because the deer antics, you hardly notice the long uphill climb to Kasuga-Taisha.



This temple was another incredible beauty, but I think I must be exhausted, or just burnt out by seeing so much in so few days here. Don’t get me wrong, it was gorgeous, and the setting, in the forest basically, was rural, fantastic, but I think I’m full, sated, and any more beauty might just be too much. Quite honestly, I think the deer were the main attraction, the reason to visit. Everyone there, even the ones a bit afraid of the deer, we’re having a great time being with these wonderful creatures!

And don’t let me forget to mention how funny it was that all the tourist trinkets were of deer! Blow up deer, deer cookies, deer tassels for your phone! Everything deer!

And here are some other interesting random shots of stuff we saw coming and going:

We still had one more destination today, Uji. We have to find our way back to a different station, the JR station. We came to Nara via the Kintetsu line to have a faster train. To return to Kyoto via Uji we must depart via the JR line. If you do this trip to Nara and Uji in one day like we did, be sure to check this out, or else you’ll have transfers, too much walking out of your way, disappointment, or all of the above!!

On our way to the station we found a hip, modern, Italian style cafe for lunch: pizza, salad, chicken cacciatore! It was a little weird to eat Italian food in Japan but oddly refreshing to have something so different! Espresso was my dessert and a long sit down rest for the feet in a warm spot was heavenly!

The JR line was slow, a local. John slept, I watched him sleep (!) 💤 💤💤💤 We’ve already walked 15k steps, 6.4 miles! I think we’ll take a bus to and from Byodoin Temple to save a mile or so of walking! In any case this is our last big sightseeing day.

But, we decided to walk afterall!! The warm ride, the espresso (and ibuprofen!) had revived us. Uji is a cute little town, artsy, a tea capital. Byodoin Temple is gorgeous, and even though we were tired, not very interested in yet another temple, and we resisted the idea of another museum ( it’s not just included in the entry fee, you’re actually forced through by the way the route goes), it was a lovely temple and a beautifully modern museum exhibition. Not too long and really informative. We were happy we got here, loved the whole experience,  our last temple visit of the trip.


Afterwards, from the sublime to the ridiculous, we spotted the most beautiful Starbucks I’d ever seen. John had a latte. I just rested and wrote a bit. We thought this building would make a great house: tall ceilings, simple garden, long dining table, lots of wood, bamboo and glass, big kitchen. Bedroom in the back.

I was saving my caffeine quota for a bit of tea on the way back to the station. If Uji is known for its tea, I wanted to sample some! And sure enough we came across numerous tea sellers on our walk back to Uji Station. It was close to 5:00 though, and everything was soon closing shop. I managed to get a tasting and a quick purchase of a decent green tea to take home.

Still full from our italian lunch, but planning ahead tonight so we don’t just have instant soups again for dinner, we’ll stop at our market for the usual (our last) dinner: sashimi, sushi, seaweed salad — at bargain — after 6pm — prices!

…and then our last night in Japan. Exhausted but happy! Will either of us have energy in the morning for one more outing? John missed the Silver Pavilion due to illness, and I haven’t gotten to a used kimono store yet. We may take seperate trips in the morning for our very last moments before the train to Osaka airport and our flights. We’ll see….







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Sunday Temples

Today we saw two major temples: Tofukuji and Kiyomizu-dera. Leaving our hotel around 10 after another hearty breakfast, we walked across the river and south just a bit to catch the Keian line subway just one stop. Quick, cheap and easy. About a ten minute walk to the entrance of Tofukuji.

Of course, before even boarding the train we had our first cute dog (かわいいいぬ!!) encounter— 2 pekinese. I’ve got the whole conversation down to a science now: “cute dogs! Can I please take a picture? Back at home I have 2 ShihTzu dogs. Here look at my picture of them.” I can do this all in Japanese and it creates instant friendship and fun with every dog person I meet! I can also ask the dog’s name, breed, and age!! Most importantly I understand the answers and then get complimented on my japanese at which point I say, “no it’s not good, I only know a little.” This goes really well because I repeat it at least ten times a day!!

Tofukuji has two incredible gardens. The first we came to is full of maple trees, today in various stages of leafless to full out peak of golds, reds and yellows; walkways of wooden rooftops and stone paths; several buildings, and one lovely raked stone/sand part:

It may be hard to notice in these last few photos, but there’s a checkerboard pattern in the sand that interlocks. I’m sure it’s raked daily.

The second garden was equally beautiful but in a totally different way: a rock garden, like the famous Ryoanji, and the platforms completely surround the building on all 4 sides—which is unusual. They must be walked barefooted. It was in the 40s and windy and partly cloudy out so we were pretty cold while seeing this. Notice the swirling patterns of sand and fine rocks. There’s also one spot they leave open to view inside the temple.



In between the two gardens there were plenty of other aspects to view:

The trek to the next temple was a bit longer, requiring about a ten minute walk to the bus, a 20 minute ride, and another 10 minute walk. When you’re walking 10-20,000 steps a day, these things count!! Also, it’s winter! It’s cold and damp, windy and possible rain — and it’s a cold rain. One constantly yearns for a heated, sit down bus ride more than you’d imagine!!

Kiyomizudera temple is high up on a hillside. You see one building and think that’s it. But no, there’s another, and another, and you think you’ve reached the top when there’s even more! A few more cute dog sightings of course!

There was plenty of shopping on the way up the steep road leading to this bright orange temple. It ranged from gift shop shlock to upscale gallery level. Something for everyone.

John is always looking at cool or ordinary — doesn’t matter — motorcycles, and the garages or parking spaces used to store them. (He owns 8, some are unusual collectors items. He knows every make, model, and year that we happen upon here in Japan.) He is a bit of a collector.

Once we got to the first part of the temple, we started to appreciate how high up we were, how different this temple was from others we’ve seen, and how it seemed to be a really big destination, not just for the huge and plentiful tour buses of Chinese tourists, but for Japanese as well. We saw many couples dressed in traditional kimono — women in the typical colorful outfits and big flowery obi bows, men in darker, black or grey kimono, wide obi and over kimono in a contrasting dark color. Many had on mala prayer beads as well, and carried the small black and white print bags (purses). Was this a courtship/dating ritual to come dressed traditionally on a Sunday? Or was it just aan everyday part of life? I don’t know.

We lost count of how many orange temples there were! Maybe eight? It’s all a blur! Also, I knew there was a water feature somewhere — the name of the temple has the word for water (みず) — mizu — in it, but where was the water?? The largest Hall was under construction so maybe we were missing out. This was a mystery for me until the very end. This main hall had a gorgeous wooden floor with the knots left as is, creating a slightly bumpy but beautiful surface. It also had a temple to enter if you took your shoes off. No cameras allowed, but knowing that I left my video going to record the chanting. I know, very wrong of me… but I’m a musician. I want to hear that music again and again! There was also a large bowl that visitors are invited to hit — it had a great sound you could heat from all over the grounds.


Up at the highest point it was clear enough  facing south to see Osaka! Really amazing views!

Oh sorry for some duplicate photos… I’m writing this blog on my iPhone and sometimes logistics are difficult!

The way down was steep! When we reached bottom (well, we “thought” we had reached “bottom”) the (mizu) water mystery was solved. Water flows down and ends in a three part trickle that people wait in a long line to get close up to, touch, wash their hands in, ladle the water over the side.

Around the bend from there was a beautiful pond, small trickle waterfall and a water bird (egret? Heron? ) who was posing for everyone. Plenty more shopping and food choices once we reached the road down (there are two roads— one up, one down, generally parallel to each other).




We reached the street level and were famished but there didn’t be seem to be any reasonably priced sit down spots right there. Choices were either stand or walk street food, or too pricey sit down. Standing in the cold trying to decide what to do next, the express bus to the station showed up. Split second decision, we got on, had warm seats and were back to Kyoto tower in 10 minutes. We had scoped out Kyoto towers basement food court “Sando” the other day so we knew there were great choices there. Decided on soba soup with tempura! I impressed the wait staff by understanding and repeating back “pay now, 15 minutes food ready!” We got seats, took turns to the restroom and were happy campers.

This was a late lunch, around 3. We fully expected to get back to the hotel for a short rest and then go out again for another outing. We’d even bought the bus day pass for 600 円 thinking we’d save money… but our walk home was bitter cold. From the north there were deep dark storm clouds and a wind that cut right thru our down coats! On the walk home I took these photos of the exact same things I took pics of the last time I was in Kyoto! The neighborhood of the 2012 world shakuhachi festival!


I also noticed Mickey and Minnie — again! They are everywhere!


When we got back to the hotel, we were exhausted. It had been a big day with lots of walking again.  We took a nap, and when we got up it was sunset.

It seemed hopeless. We weren’t going back out into that icy cold. I made the decision to wash my hair. Big decision because my long thick curly hair takes a lot of hours to dry and a dryer doesn’t work unless I want a huge Afro! Anyways, it was a rest night for us, instant miso and mushroom soups for a light dinner, a bit of warm sake, and Japanese game shows on TV! Tomorrow, it’s a big day, as we’re gettin’ out of town, off to Nara and Uji.










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Saturday: epic sightseeing day!

John survived yesterday’s short outing well enough and is feeling ok for more today! Yay! His health is on the mend! And…. although it’s colder today, it’s clear and sunny!!

First stop was the Kyoto Traditional Crafts Museum— free and a beautiful exhibit. We highly recommend!  No photos allowed but here are a few I lifted from the brochure. It is a great overview of all traditional crafts : wood, textiles, musical instruments, fans, everything!! There are videos of workmanship and a few people doing live demonstrations of their art: weaving, inlaid jewelry, candle painting.

The exhibit takes a good hour. Not huge but very informative and beautiful. Both of us have interest and experience in doing some of these arts— not specific to the Japanese way, but in general —(ceramics, printmaking, dying, weaving and other textiles), so it was wonderful for us to see a little of everything!

Our next destination was to head south towards Chion-in Temple, but just across the street from the museum was a really hip looking bookstore. Books are like crack to John so in we went and browsed for awhile. Directly after the bookstore we stumbled into a crafts fair just near Heian Jingumae Shrine and the big famous red/orange gate.

We were in heaven at the crafts fair. John got a beautiful, incrediblly thin ceramic cup for his sister. We saw lots of ceramics, porcelain, textiles, woodwork, clothing, everything!.

We saw a whistle maker, who carved whistles out of various woods. He was demonstrating what the little whistles could do, which was considerable since they only had one finger hole! He was a virtuoso, doing bends, flutter tongue, you name it. John said, “ok pick one out— I’m buyin!” So I chose a pale wood, stripped of bark, Japanese cedar.


After the purchase, the man said, “let’s play, I’ll teach you a song!” So he shows me “Do a deer, a female deer,,,” and I join in, surprising him that I could do it right on the spot. John got it on video!!! Really fun playing with this guy!

We strolled away from the crafts fair, into a high end shoppping block or two, tried on some hats, figured we were ready for lunch, looked around… you can kindof tell when a place is geared for foreigners: they have English menus plastered outside, there are no locals eating there… we wanted better. We saw an older Japanese couple ducking as they exited a place that you could barely tell was a restaurant. Noodle place, we just knew it. Went in, menu looked simple and perfect: choice of soba or udon, choice of tempura or other delights. The chef and kitchen within view, maybe 4 tables, seats 12-15 at most. Cheap, delicious.

Now we were finally on our way to Chion-in. On the way there, we saw many other beautiful shrines, trees in full fall reds, and of course, dogs!


Ah that last video was actually back at the crafts fair but couldn’t resist including the poodle trio parade here!!

We weren’t sure exactly where the temple was or how far away, but as usual, once you’re there, you know you’re there, without a doubt! Yes, lots of stairs, big ones.

We wandered through the complex of buildings and shrines. The main, largest one was under construction so you hear some noise in the background of this next video. I wasn’t sure if I was allowed into the shrine where a ceremony was taking place but I wanted to hear the chanting and gongs so I figured it out and just stood by the shoji screens. Lousy camera work. Please be patient and listen:

After this temple visit we walked and walked, found Gion corner, the geisha hangout. Just busy and touristy to my mind…and then a bit more north, 2 very interesting easy-west parallel running streets by small canals: Furumonzen and Shinmonzen. Quiet, some residential, some high end galleries of traditional and very expensive art! Really a treat!

That one with the Buddha and the motorcycle was funny: I said “oh look over there! I’d like to take that beauty in the window home with me!” John says, “Yeah nice bike even though it is just a Honda!” So funny!

From there we were headed towards Nishiki Food market but first came to the river, past over it on the bridge, and walked thru Pontocho— pedestrian only area, very pretty canal, lots of fancy bars and restaurants!

In need of a sit down snack, we saw a Takoyaki stand! That’s the great street food I learned about in my Japanese class party! Little balls of batter filled with a piece of octopus (or vegis) and topped with your choice of sauce, spring onions, cheese, whatever! It was delicious and gave us a bit of rest for our tired feet!

Also on the way to Nishiki, we found ourselves inside the Teramachi and the Shin-kyogoku Shopping arcades, that run north-south, perpendicular to Nishiki. These long covered arcades would take days to really shop and see it all. Every possible kind of store is here, and on a Saturday late afternoon it was crazy packed with holiday shoppers!

Finally arriving at Nishiki we were bombarded (in the greatest of ways) by the crowded narrow alley, the array of foods, the free samples, and the sheer abundance and variety of flavors, textures and smells. If you’re a foodie like we are, an adventurous eater like we are, with a love of Japanese food, this is a must see! It really capped off our huge day of sightseeing splendidly!!

Snoopy at Nishiki!

I especially like that last pic. So funny because literally Everyone is eating while walking!!!

When we were done with Nishiki we were Done! It had been an epic day! Bus back to our neighborhood, take out dinner at the market. This time it included sake! And the evening was spent eating, drinking, planning tomorrow’s adventures, and as for me, icing my tired feet!!!

Only two more full days of Kyoto! Then we leave on Tuesday night. Already getting a bit sad that our Japan trip is coming to an end!




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Friday: Ginkakuji, Kinkakuji, Philosopher’s path, and Lawson’s egg salad sandwiches (homage to Bourdain)

Up early, did some laundry (free at this great hotel!) while having another delicious breakfast. John is still sick. Lots of coughing, maybe less feverish. Perhaps he can get out for a short trip this afternoon.

I headed out on my own to Ginkakuji, the Silver Pavilion, by bus. My plan was to  walk back on the Philosopher’s path to other temples and shrines along the way.

I have been brought to tears by intense beauty twice in Japan, both in Kyoto. The first time was in 2012 on my trip to Mt Kurama (Barbara Face— remember?). The second time was today at Ginkakuji. The buildings themselves are ancient and beautiful of course, the small shrines are delicate and spiritual. But it’s the natural setting, shaped and polished in every detail by caring, loving gardeners and landscape artists, that gets to me on a deep emotional level.

Today was cloudy but the sun was trying to shine through. The setting was so gorgeous, with a light breeze that gently aided the small amber leaves as they floated to the mossy earth. Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion) is not big and flashy like some of the other shrines and temples. It’s small, not silver, and is set in a valley of well kept pathways and stone and gardens next to the steep hill adjacent to it. Another special feature are the gravel  gardens that are raked each day in geometric formations.

Lots of bridges with bamboo and stone. Fall colors were still pretty much at peak, I think… I love how the workers use simple quiet tools: hand made brooms and hand saws.



I took 100+ photos of this small area, but can only post so much. Hope it gives an impression of how beautiful it was. As I left the area, I did some gift shopping and had a small lunch of meat and vegi dumplings. Then I found the Philosopher’s Path, a narrow rock and earth path by a narrow canal.


There’s some kind of temple or shrine every 50 yards it seemed, lots of art, and crafts galleries, private homes, and cafes. One could spend many days in this area exploring. Do you see the sign at that restaurant: “welcome dogs!” I saw several dogs and their humans along the path. And don’t forget the group of junior high school girls who interviewed me in English for a class project. I gave them California picture postcards as gifts- they were surprised and ecstatic!

The philosopher’s path goes for maybe a mile. I didn’t stop at every shrine but did take a closer look at Otoya jinga shrine:

In addition to those huge sake bottles, and many stone creatures overlooking the shrines, look who else I found there!!


I walked all the way to Nanzenji. I recognized it from 2012 when a group of us did a fun photo shoot there all dressed as shakuhachi Komuso in full costume and tengai basket hats! It was even more impressive with autumn leaves surrounding it.

By now my feet were feeling the long walk, so I searched for a bus back to the hotel. Found John there still resting, eating cup of noodle soup, but willing to try an outing, as he’d been cooped up in bed for two days! After I had a little rest, charged my phone, and had some instant miso and green tea for strength, we headed out for the Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji) in an opposite part of town. It had gotten colder, and via a few mishaps, we got a later start than we had intended. Worried we’d arrive too late, past closing, we thought to turn back but decided to persevere. Online reports of exact closing times were contradictory. There might be a chance. We arrived at 4:55 and thought it closed at 5, and that it was hopeless. Tried sneaking in the exit! No go. Found the entrance. We were 50 yards or so away and the guards started yelling to us: “come on, hurry! You can make it! 2 minutes till closing! You’ll have 20 minutes inside the gates to see the Golden Pavilion!!!” So we sprinted to the ticket booth and got in with mere seconds to spare! There’s not too much area to cover, just the flashy gold pavilion, but it was dusk, and quickly getting dark. It was beautiful.


With deep gongs ringing in the distance, the guards were ushering us out! We were the last to exit, closing the place down!

After leaving, we made a quick stop at Lawson’s (convenience store- ”konbini”) for an egg salad sandwich (Anthony Bourdain’s favorite hangover remedy!), and we were back on an express bus to the station — and grateful for the overheated seats! The new lights were up accompanied by a medley of Christmas music and Sakura!

Happy to be back in our neighborhood we ended up at the local grocery store to get take out: our usual: sushi for John, sashimi for me, seaweed salad and a few vegetable tempura to share. Instant miso. Heaven!


John survived the outing, he’ll probably be well enough to do a bit more tomorrow. It’s supposed to be bitter cold, so maybe a few museums. Let the next adventure begin! But first — sleep. And in case you’re wondering, how much walking today?








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Thursday/Kyoto, buses, rain, Kabuki!

Yesterday was primarily a travel day: 5 hours total of shuttle and trains, and about an hour and a half of transfers, ticket buying, a few snacks, and walking! Tiring, but the last part, on the bullet train, was very relaxing. We had great food picked up at the Shinagawa Shinkansen station to eat on board, and the seats were comfy with lots of space, plugs to charge our phones, and beverage service. All we really had time and energy for, after getting to our hotel and getting settled, was take out sashimi, sushi, and seaweed salad from a great supermarket down the street. We didn’t see much of the neighborhood.

Today (Thursday) it is supposed to rain hard ALL day, starting slowly at 9am and getting really bad by 1 thru 9pm! We’re hoping to catch a bus tour that does a loop to watch from a dry place and get a broad lay of the land. This was actually suggested by a friend who lived here for 15 years! Not so touristy, more practical. I’m also looking into Kabuki tickets. Some seats are…somewhat affordable. Maybe. We’ll see …..

The front of our hotel:

I didn’t take pictures, but breakfast here is great, if a bit odd in how Japanese present an “American” breakfast: scrambled eggs, plain yogurt (thank god not the sugary stuff!),  salad (this makes me so happy!!), espresso! (Even happier), teriyaki meat cakes, (sort of flat meatballs), and… assorted sweet pastries, toast, butter, jam and juices that I stay away from.

After breakfast, John realized that his little cold had really hit him hard, poor baby. Fever even. And it’s predicted to be the only big rain day for the days we’re here. So, he’s going to rest and stay in. I discovered a 3 part interlocking bus system that gets to all major temples, neighborhoods and sights. Great lay of the land overview! 230円 each loop, but… a day bus pass is 600円。。。that’s a “loophole!” to save a few 円!haha if I’m making puns it means I’m really tired 😜Here are the routes I took, connecting #100, to #102, then #101. I didn’t get off the bus to look at anything. It was just a scouting trip for tomorrow when the weather should be clear and hopefully John will be better.


Here are a few things I saw from the buses:


That funky second to last video was of the temple near where I stayed in 2012. Familiar neighborhood! The world shakuhachi festival was housed at a dormitory across the street from that huge temple, and many of us walked there each morning for our morning Robuki! Great memories!

After reaching the station I stopped by the market for lunch supplies and some miso soup for John.


These were a couple of interesting (maybe ordinary but still beautiful) moments on my walk back to the hotel.

Poor John’s been sleeping off and on for hours, definitely feverish. I force fed him miso, emergenC, mucinex, Tylenol, and Oscillococcinum. Luckily, I travel with an entire pharmacy in tow. I’ve also got several types of antibiotics with me, and allergy medications just in case. We ate lunch, did a little hopeful planning for tomorrow with maps spread out all over the bed, but if he’s not well enough, I’ll be going alone. Tonight, soon, I’ll go to the kabuki theatre Minami-za to try to get a ticket. Dicey. Could be very expensive. Could be cheap and standing room for one act only. Could be a no go. Just no way for me to plan or predict: just gotta show up! It’s only a 15 minute walk or bus ride away so no loss if it doesn’t pan out.


John’s asleep again, so I’ll quietly get dressed and leave in a little while.

💤 Shhhh 💤💤💤💤💤💤💤💤💤 Shhh

When I left the rain was peaking. Huge puddles, splashed from traffic, cold. I wondered and doubted myself… worth it to go? Uncertainty almost made me turn back, but, I persevered! Found the bus, it got me within a 4 minute walk across the canal, across the river. Now a huge crowd letting out from the gorgeous theatre, from the earlier show!


I knew I was in the right place but didn’t know where the box office was. It was a mob, it was pouring, there was total pandemonium. But everyone was in a good mood! They had either just seen the show, or were about to. If you’re a Kabuki lover, it’s special event. People dress up, get off work early. It’s like showing up to the Opera. Many women were in full on kimonos and I truly do not know how they managed to look so beautiful in that rainstorm and stay dry and gorgeous! I wore black, with a nice pashmina, and a very japanese black/white dress my former student Reiko gave me awhile back, and also a beautiful pearl and beaded necklace her mother just gave me last week. For living out of a suitcase I did my best! I managed to walk in a room where everyone already had a ticket. Clearly not knowing what I was doing, an employee took me by the hand and led me to the line back outside. I had no idea if this was a line for tickets or if you already had one. No worries. When I got closer someone asked if I had one, I said no, and they led me by the hand to the box office. Ever helpful, the clerks said yes of course we have tickets left to sell! Luckily there were a few barely affordable ones, I chose third balcony on the side. I made a rush to buy my boxed dinner and drink so that during the big intermission I could stay at my seat to eat, as is customary. At my row of seats we all had to stand up and lean over when the actors exited or entered on the hanamichi (花道, “flower path”), the walkway which extends into the audience, but that was kindof fun! The woman sitting next to me was in full on kimono, about my age, looking beautiful. She was bubbly and outgoing so right away we exchanged a few words during breaks. She helped me learn the names of the plays, explained a few things (although I did spring for the English audio guide and program!). Turns out she’s a Koto player, not a professional, but advanced enough to play Haru no Umi and Rokudan! It was really fun sitting next to her. Afterwards I gave her my card and a small gift. Maybe she’ll write to me. I hope so!

The plays were all great. Some tragic, with cut off heads, suicides, murder. Others were comedies with the funniest twists of mistaken identities and confused or boasting thieves! I loved the primarily dance ones with musicians appearing on stage (shamisen, singers, shinobue, Taiko).  And I really loved the costumes, so colorful and almost avant-garde in their wild contrasts of nearly clashing designs and prints. The sets, masks and props were beautiful too. The revolving stage was used a few times, and I also loved the actors in black who are supposed to go unseen—they’re there changing the actor’s costumes right in front of us in an almost magical way! One time some props and costumes were flown off with wires somehow, and a few times curtains were dropped onto people who got covered with them and exited like big long caterpillars. There were a few amazing gymnastic tricks with ropes that were superb. Five hours is a long time to sit and watch a show, even with three intermissions, but it was great fun and I’m so glad I went. Here are some pics of the theater in between shows (no pics allowed during!), my box dinner, the schedule as shown by my new Koto playing friend, and the outside theatre scene as well. Enjoy!! And good night!



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旅館 (りょかん) ryokan

Tuesday afternoon we arrived at a ryokan (a Japanese traditional inn) in the mountains above Chichibu. I stayed here on my last trip but circumstances were a bit different! I was traveling by bicycle  (じてんしゃ) and I was almost finished visiting all 34 temples (おてら) in the traditional Buddhist pilgrimage in Chichibu. Two of the farthest away temples were too far for me to get to by bicycle in one day so for practical reasons I spent the night at this ryokan (called Ryu zan Paku) to break up the trip. But also I wanted to have a true ryokan experience. This trip I wanted to return again and bring John along to also have the experience of traditional Japan. Sensei helped us by calling the ryokan and arranging a shuttle bus to pick us up at the Chichibu train station. It was about a 20 minute car ride into the mountains— in 2012, on bicycle, it took me several hours of steep climbing!!

This is not at all a touristy foreigner destination, although I’m sure some  foreigners visit. It’s definitely something Japanese do themselves for holiday, or a relaxing weekend, or even like we’d think to go to a spa for a few days with friends to get away from it all. Here, on the side of a vending machine is the name of this ryokan! There is a dragon theme, as a dragon statue is outside also!


Here is a cute sign telling practical information about the place and the view from our window through shoji screens.


Through our window, not a great photo of the little dragon statue:


The entry sign:


The rooms are tatami mat rooms, measured by the amount of tatami mats that fit. Tatami are a standard size, always twice as long as they are wide. Our room is an 8 tatami mat room. At a ryokan, dinner and breakfast are included, and so is the onsen, traditional hot baths, oftentimes from hot springs directly from the mountain. When we arrived they showed us around and explained everything. Most I already knew and/or understood, but if you don’t know any Japanese, they have pre translated handouts that help!  They asked what time we wanted dinner, I said 6. They explained when and where breakfast was. All this I could manage well with my elementary Japanese! Yay! Once settled in our room we enjoyed complimentary  tea and sweets, changed into our cotton robes called yucata (ゆぁた) for comfort and lounging and also for going to and from the onsen, which we did almost immediately! No photos allowed in the onsen of course, but I’ve been to several and this one is particularly nice with inside and outside possibilities. The outside is especially beautiful with big flat rock and gravel pathways, some small maple trees at their peak colors and gorgeous wooden walls and roof for privacy and cover from rain. It overlooks distant hills and mountains.

At a ryokan, dinner is brought to your room at the time you ask, and it is a multi course feast: soba, rice (ごはん), sashimi, soup, pickled vegetables, and several other dishes I can’t explain, as well as two delicious deserts. As usual, John had beer, I had sake. I was proud that I was able to say in Japanese: “I’m allergic to eggplant. Is there any eggplant here?” Thankfully there was not!

The picture below on the left is the main tray with almost all the courses. This is my tray. John had a duplicate tray across from me. This is all served on huge trays on low tables. We sat on the floor on just pillows, or, floor “chairs” are provided, with backs on them if needed for more support. Then, the picture on the right is a shared tray: two sobas stacked, two bowls of rice, and duplicates of the deserts.


Nirvana!!! Delicious!! Remember, we’d already spent over an hour soaking in the hot tubs (heavenly!), gotten into comfy yukata (if chilly, just add the over jacket made of a heavier fabric), and now sake, beer, and a long delicious meal! The best! During dinner a light rain started outside, but we were warm and full in our room, so who cares?


After eating, eventually, someone showed up to clear it all away and ask, “futon now?” Yes please. So two women came in and set up the beautifully arranged futons and perfect pretty comforters.


Upon arrival, we were told about the evening entertainment: a shuttle bus would take guests to a high look out point to see the city lights below. I’d done it last time, it was now really rainy and cloudy so visibility would not be good, and John was feeling a bit under the weather… so we were planning on staying in. When it got to be the departure time, numerous announcements came across the PA! And then, the phone in our room rang! I knew it’d be them asking, are you coming?? I answered: “もしもし!” (Hello!) I assumed they asked, “Are you coming on the field trip?” But I really didn’t know what they said. I answered in Japanese, “no, Thank you, excuse me, I’m sleeping. Thank you very much…” And they said “Ah ok, I understand,  thank you, excuse me, etc” Great conversation! My limited vocabulary and guessing on context got the job done!

Now it really started raining hard, we relaxed, spent time reading, doing nothing but digesting the meal and meditating. Really very pleasant…

Once again, ..here are the twinkling lights outside our shoji screen and more sounds of rain, what we fell asleep to as soon as we crawled onto the yummy futons underneath soft fluffy down comforters…


I woke early the next morning and quietly left the room, letting John get the sleep he needed to feel better as he’s nursing a small headcold. I got the indoor onsen all to myself at 5:30! The outdoor onsen opened at 6:00 and I had that all to myself for quite some time. My aching body needed lots of onsen! I alternated between the hot water and icy cold shower over and over and I felt the relaxation deeply and thoroughly! We’ve been averaging 10,000 to 20,000 steps a day and both of us are feeling it! Onsen heals all and this was great timing for us both to rest and reflect. This alone time also gave me a moment of breathing, reminiscing, feeling Japan in my bones, in my core. Also, reflection on the recent lessons and conversations with Kakizakai sensei and planning what’s next for me musically. My reverie floated along while the sun rose thru the red maple leaves. A real Japan moment.

A few moments later I was joined by a jovial Japanese woman about my age who immediately engaged me in conversation. Turns out she knows a little English, a little Spanish! I don’t speak Spanish, but I studied a bit of Italian at one time so I’ve got a few similar words. We had a great conversation about California, baseball, children, dogs, food, the seasons… all in what we both called “Japenglishespaniole!!!” Hahaha! We had a lot of fun together!

Anyway, eventually I made it back upstairs, John was waking up and we got ourselves into action for breakfast, served in the restaurant. It was similar to dinner, somewhat more modest, but just as delicious! It included Nattou, (なっとう), fermented soybeans, a delicacy many westerners don’t like but I love! Fish, seaweed, rice, miso, egg and ham you fry yourself, dumplings, tea, and, really great coffee! Here’s a photo of the entire spread.  This is both of our trays, you can just make out in upper right the stone fryer for the do it yourself egg and ham.


The woman I’d met in the onsen earlier arrived and yelled, “ah my good friend!!” And gave me a huge hug! Laughs all around. She introduced her husband (fluent in Spanish) to John, who can speak a bit of Spanish, and now we’re all laughing and sharing our new term “Japenglishespaniole!” Really fun.

We went back to our room to organize, pack and rest more. We had an hour before catching the shuttle back to Chichibu station. And onward from there towards our next destination, Kyoto. When it was time to go, the owner insisted on taking our photo:


Here’s a little local mountain color on our ride back to Chichibu:




Our trip back to Tokyo via Ikebukuro was uneventful, but then we had a bit of delay with a confusion of tickets, etc.  We still managed to get to Shinagawa station for the Shinkansen in time for a 1:30 train. Well done! And here it comes, the Nozomi — thefastest bullet train:


I tried a few pics from the train, but wasn’t very successful, because, you know, it moves too fast!


That’s a view of our car. We sprung for the Green car, pretty much like first class. The ride was smooth and fast and very comfy. Unfortunately, it was cloudy and so there was no view of Mt. Fuji. I’d seen it last time and was hoping John would get the view, but not this time. In fact it felt sad, like, “I went all this way to see Fuji san and all I got was this water bottle!?!?”


Departing the Shinkansen, we walked to our hotel in about 15-20 minutes. Not bad. Nice hotel. Our bigs bags arrived no problem. Here are some views from our 6th floor room! We’ve got a great view of Kyoto Tower lit up in colors but the windows with screens built in make it difficult to do it justice!

We are here for six nights! Lots to see and do and adventures to be had. Rain predicted tomorrow, so maybe indoor stuff, or a bus tour, or, if we’re lucky, Kabuki! We shall see. For now, it’s dinner time!










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Last day at the Chichibu trailer

Today we leave the trailer. I have a bittersweet feeling, as I really love this place. On the exterior it’s just a funky 40 year old trailer parked on the edge of town next to an empty lot and a car mechanic! But it’s so much more for me personally. The time I spent here in 2012 is etched in my mind as a serious solitary retreat of lots of shakuhachi practice— where I really began to push and polish my playing and begin to play well. It was also a time of spiritual reckoning, a turning point of what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. To return here almost 7 years later has been equally moving and eye opening. It’s a cozy special home where anything and everything could happen. And, I loved sharing it with John. He fit right in and embraced trailer life quite easily. I know this is not our last visit to Chichibu!

This morning, sensei came by to grab our large bags— he arranged for us to send them by courier to our Kyoto hotel. A common practice in Japan, this makes the travel day much nicer, to only have light small luggage with you on your train rides. Today we shopped for fish at Belc market to add to our lunch soup. And we stopped by where Haruka’s float was being disassembled. Got to see the wearhouse and another room where the tapestry quilts were being folded and stored in special ways. All the happi coats were hanging out to dry after being washed, and the obis were being ironed.



I love seeing in action the philosophy of “many hands make easy/fast work.” It’s a Japanese phenomenon that I wish other cultures would adopt more often. Children are taught at a young age to chip in with chores and cleaning at school. There are no janitors. The kids wash the floors and toilets and take care of the trash and recycling. Communal effort and pride of community working together.

On our way to Belc today I saw some great gardens and had a whole conversation with one homeowner about the fertilizer he was using: a certain type of yellow flowers!

We’re all packed up now and have put the trailer back to how we found it— clean and orderly. Leaving behind my thrift store snow boots— I barely needed them and don’t really have room in my bags anymore! Always nice to leave behind something here for next time or for someone to borrow. We used some tea and soy sauce but left behind dried soba noodles and butter!

Soon we’ll lovk up and walk to the station to catch a shuttle bus to the ryokan! A traditional inn in the mountains: regional foods served in your tatami mat room.  And, onsen!! Natural hot springs in a gorgeous setting! Can’t wait!!! We’re tnere for just one night before returning by shuttle to Chichibu station, red arrow back to Tokyo, bullet train to Kyoto where our next adventures begin!

Stay tuned for photos and description of the ryokan!




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MATSURI! Part Two.

After seeing a few floats do their incredible turning maneuver we headed back towards home but had a few adventures on the way. We came upon the float that had been used for the kabuki performance. It was being disassembled and being turned back into a moveable float. All pieces fit together without any nails or screws. It’s a woodworkers dream! Off to the side were the organizers of this float. Dressed in the most colorful outfits, they gestured for us to come over (for what we didn’t know!). They handed us cups of sake! Oh yeah we’ll accept! Kanpai! Now we’re talking and laughing with them and everyone agrees we must take some group photos!

We saw Haruka watching the float being transformed and went with our sake cups to chat with him…


He was excited we got sake and reminded us that this was “his” float! Not HIS float. But the float he is a part of. His float was the one used for kabuki! He explained that it was a great honor for their float to be the kabuki one this year! While we were chatting, the man who helped us locate Haruka that first night came by and joked with us, “oh my best good friends, how’ve you been?! Enjoying matsuri??” Very jovial guy. Maybe he started drinking sake even earlier than us! So he had his shinobue with him and showed me, proudly, he made this one, it’s special for the matsuri, he’ll play it tonight when the floats make their final, fanciest run through the town. So I asked if I could try it. I made a good sound and played a few riffs of trills and bends. His eyes go wide, startled, like, “wow you can play shinobue????!!!” I explain, no not really. I play western flute, am a teacher and also play shakuhachi. I’m just now learning Shinobue. “So please, sensei,” I said, suddenly polite, “can you give me a lesson?” Understand, we’re all a bit tipsy, it’s festival day, we’re all joking and messing with each other. So he took the shinobue and explained a few things: “don’t play too smooth legato like. Play more short cut off endings like this…” and demonstrated. Then handing it back to me, I imitated as precisely as I could. Again, he’s stunned I can do it! He said, “ah I’m a good teacher!!” And I didn’t lose a beat saying, “ah I’m a good student!” Huge laughing from everyone!!!

After our afternoon adventures, we returned to the trailer for a rest, a little nap, snacks, and tea. We knew it’d be a big night: out walking or standing in the cold. We needed to rest.

Sensei invited us to dinner at his house and then afterwards to take us around with his “locals” knowledge of best places to view the floats and fireworks. Dinner was fun! Emi was there, Sherry (Taiwanese interpreter friend), and two more friends of the family (all 20-somethings). We had delicious potatoe dumplings with miso sauce, roasted ginkgo berries, and a hearty soup of udon, chicken and vegetables. Beer. John and I took turns sitting with the 20-somethings at the sunken heated table (kotatsu). So cozy! We talked about music, parties, drinking, and eventually Burningman. Emi and the friends all want to go and had heard of it before. So we answered all their questions and had fun showing pictures of our camp, art cars, the desert, etc.

After dinner everyone was ready for the main events of the matsuri. We bundled up. The rain had stopped but this meant it was even colder! Once out on the street Emi and the other young ones went on their own to a more crowded area. Sensei led us to the best viewing spots to watch the floats as they made the turn off the main road. On the way we had a good tour of the scene with shoppping opportunities and food stalls.

There are 6 floats, each from a different neighborhood, each with their own distinctive colorful sets of outfits, each with their own crew of several hundred people (some are taiko Players, shinobue players. Some are the ones who pull/push the ropes. Some are the manager/money guys. Some have special jobs like clapping wooden clappers/blowing whistles to signal changes. Others are the ones who go under the float to dangerously and quickly position the wooden spindle. Others are special guests, honerees. Or just friends of the crew.) it’s a big parade of people for each float.

The main float event is to stand and watch each one make the turn by the tipping/spinning process we’d seen during the day. We watched this process for the first four floats, about an hour and a half. One float is smaller, one much bigger, the others average sized. Sensei told us that the huge one has a story: they spent too much money making it the biggest and ran out of funds to do the colorful decorations and carvings! So it’s just wood  and some gold. Different and unique from the others.


I have sooo many photos and videos of the floats making their turn, it’s a bit hard to keep them all sorted out. I think this was the big boy float tipping and getting into place to make the turn. In the next two videos you can see (and hear) what happens during the turn. As my sensei explained, the higher pitched music goes on and on while they are adjusting the float to be able to turn. There is a trap door on the roof that guys can climb down to the ground and back up. When it’s all clear to move again, one guy gives the ok signal. This is a simple explanation— it’s a bit more complex. The point is, the music changes. When the float moves, you heat a lower booming drum (O daiko). When the float stops to be spun, you hear higher music (ko-daiko— or in the US we fall it shime, the small drum). The high music also includes kane the small metal gong like instrument, and, while shinobue plays throughout, you can hear it better with the higher drum than when the low drum plays. (Although in this particular clip the shinobue player is taking a break I guess!)  Just a balance thing. For my Taiko friends who play yatai, this is part of the very interesting origins of the song, and it’s traditional, more improvised pacing!!!

….and btw any loud booms you hear in background are not gunshots! Those were  fireworks which went on, off and on, all day and night, with the more constant show later on for an entire hour. More on that later..

Here another good one as they tip the float, good shinobue:

Here’s sensei (in tan jacket) filming the float his son Haruka is inside of, playing Taiko!


Here’s a very short clip of Haruka’s group float. The guys waving lanterns in the front are specially chosen each year— its a once in a lifetime thing. The guy on the top right side is a well known comedian, famous TV personality who comes from Chichibu. This was his year! He really hammed it up and got the crowd going crazy!

After seeing four floats do their thing, sensei gave us a choice: watch the last two, to start walking to the best viewing spot for seeing the fireworks. We’d had enough of the floats so off we went, at a lightning fast past, to beat the crowd, thru every secret alley and back way short cut only a local would know! We ended up on the other side of the train station where a main road had been closed to traffic and the public could walk around to find the most open viewing places. The fireworks were being set off past the hills leading to  the huge park where I had seen the spring flower matsuri in 2012, so I knew the area… bursts of amazing fireworks came and went. Each one was maybe 5-10 minutes long, with way more intensity than a 20 second “finale” on New Year’s Eve or 4th of July show in the states.  In between each burst there was a short pause. It went on pretty much non stop for an hour! We’d read that this matsuri launches about 7000 fireworks in total! It was epic. Videos and photos we took do not do it justice, but here are a few…


When the show was over we said goodnight to sensei and crawled back to our trailer where we could still hear the last few random fireworks. We heard Taiko throughout the night, as Huruka’s group’s float made their way to their huge storage warehouse just around the corner from us.


















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MATSURI! Part One.

Matsuri started today with loud cannon/firework booms at 6am! Really shook the trailer. The morning was cold and cloudy and threatened to rain, but like the Rose Parade in Los Angeles, it never rains for this festival so no one was worried! I got up early and practiced because my lesson with sensei was at 9am! We had a good lesson and lots of great conversation about music, shakuhachi, and his teacher’s interactions with the composer Takemitsu. As I left sensei’s house it was raining a bit. Back at the trailer I made another great soup for our lunch. After eating we saw the rain had stopped so we ventured out to see matsuri events.

Each year one of the 6 floats temporarily converts to a stage and the local kabuki group performs. They alternate thru the years so each float gets a chance. We stood and watched for awhile, but kabuki is very long so most people observe for a bit and then mill around eating, drinking and talking. We bumped into sensei, his son Haruka, daughter Emi and a Taiwanese friend. One photo below is with Haruka!


After kabuki we strolled to WaPlus for a coffee and down the street a little more for our sweet bean fish waffles! The floats were out on display and in various states of moving or being turned around. I loved the carved wood panels and quilted (in 3D bass relief) tapestries depicting water creatures (turtles, fish, prawns, octopuses), dragons, cranes, sea birds and what looked like fu dogs or lions…3D17E053-483C-4355-A2AB-4286B85925FEE5195231-F680-4E04-8E10-D6C88DB26DE463D0E5D2-53E8-453B-AD18-C40734DCF46C3B5E8AB5-A4AE-4048-BC18-A0F00DA38924CA1051F8-59CA-46E4-8D3C-B04B778414BBFC3F3A7D-8F71-4465-8BC0-BC5A8342BC9B5497B9C4-C5F8-4382-BF15-9F40D907D1A73EBB9FBA-4424-4863-A822-BE7B91B4F97E

In just this short block or two we saw two  floats being turned around— an amazing engineering feat with a lot of communal effort and man power. They take two 15 foot long 8 inch square beams and wedge them to lift one end. Then place a wooden spindle below. Then lower that side. Now one set of wheels are off the ground. They repeat on the other side. Then spin the whole thing (which weighs about 20,000 pounds!) It was nice to see this during the day— it was less crowded and we could get close up. I’ll post more photos and stories tomorrow! Along with how the rest of the night went (Spoiler alert: great food, new friends and old, a shinobue lesson, sake, and lots of fireworks!) Enjoy the videos below:

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