The Tale of Genji

I think I’ve mentioned before that I am currently reading The Tale of Genji. It dates from 11th century Japan, a time and place with different moral values to ours. I’ve just got to the bit where Prince Genji has kidnapped a 10-year old girl mainly because she reminds him of an old flame. The museum dedicated to the book is at Uji, not too far from Kyoto and we spent a couple of interesting hours there.

A sign of things to come, on the pavement

It was a good walk from the station to the Museum on a bright, warm day. The gardens were very pretty too, more Autumnal colours.

Nice colours outside the museum

The exhibits were interesting: some old copies of the book, a wall displaying the story ‘in a nutshell’ and some items dating roughly from the period of the story.

Unfortunately for us, there were very few captions in English, so while we could admire the artistry of the paintings and the crafsmanship of the ox-drawn rickshaw, we didn’t learn much about them. Also: no photos.

We did watch a 30-minute film, in Japanese of course, but there was no way they could do justice to the novel in a mere half an hour. Still, it’s fascinating to see a museum dedicated to just one book.

We walked back through Uju, visiting a shrine and a temple. Are we shrined and templed out yet? Almost!

Ujigami Shrine is, of course, another World Heritage Site.

A gate
Young love by the Uji River
Liesel on the Asagini Bridge

We heard a steady drum beat and thought it sounded like the dragon boat races we used to watch in Kingston. After crossing the Asagin Bridge, we saw two small dragon boats in a short race. It had to be short because if they’d rowed much further, they would have gone over a weir.

Dragon boat
Selfie of the day
These phoenixes have risen

The recommended route around the Byodoin Temple gardens was followed by most people. The golden phoenixes on the roof are relatively newly restored, but the orginals are on display inside. These date from the early 11th century. Older, even, than the Tower of London.

A bridge and its reflection

The local café in Uji was, we agreed, the best we’d found so far. The coffee was delicious, as well as very pretty, and the egg salad sandwich was magnifico.

Coffee of the day

The next café, the following morning, was good too, very nice toast. I do miss decent bread, so it’s nice to find some twice in a row!

Kyoto Tower, near the railway station

We spent some time in old Kyoto, venturing up to the roof garden above the railway station. Then: we were up on the 11th floor watching the cruisers below. No, that’s not it, we were looking for breakfast there but ended up in the aforementioned café instead.

Roof garden and roof gardener with those special shoes
Beware low flying kites
A splash of colour on the roof

It was a short walk to Higashihonganji Temple, the biggest wooden structure in the world, it says. And it is a huge temple. No photos inside which is a shame, but the hall is huge. But it must be very cold in Winter, we thought.

There’s a large rope made from human hair as conventional rope at the time just wasn’t strong enough

A bad hair day: rope made from human hair, 1895

This temple is also famous for its bell, which was rung for us on the hour. The reverberations last as long as the final chord in the Beatles’ A Day in the Life.

A copy of the bell that was rungggggggggggg

We then started walking towards Fushimi Inara Taishi with Google Maps on our phones each giving different directions! Mine seemed to know best, so we followed its route, over the river, towards Inari. It started raining a bit so we caught a train for the last section. But what a shrine that is, well worth a visit. The place is full of foxes and gates.

Lots of gates
One of many foxes
More gates
Another fox
Another pretty garden
Another fox

Foxes and gates: yes, that sounds like it ought to be a board game. I’ll get onto my lawyers rightaway to patent the idea.

A day in

Thunderstorms featured briefly in one weather forecast but they never materialised. In fact, it was a nice day. We spent it indoors, mostly. One of us had a long lie-in while the other watched a couple of TV shows on her phone.

I read my book for a while and spent too long trying to fix a problem on my own phone: one in which email headers are displayed but not the body of the message. Yes, I emptied the cache, yes I turned it off and on again and no, the bug wasn’t fixed.

I did a few hours typing, we went shopping just up the road. Liesel concocted a delicious leek and potato soup.

I went for a quick walk myself, not too far, just downstairs, three doors along into the barbershop. It was great to get my hair cut, finally, after failing to do so in Anchorage. Neither the barber nor his wife spoke English, I spoke no Japanese. I think my sign language conveyed the right message: at least, I came away with a decent trim. I wasn’t seriously worried about the cutthroat razor, nor being turned into a pie, since there are no pie shops nearby. I got a free shoulder and neck massage too which I wasn’t expecting but that may be the normal service here.

We listened to radio programmes, mostly music, from BBC 6 Music, Radio 2 and Classic FM. I’m so glad we acquired the bluetooth speaker, it’s so much more pleasant to listen to than the tinny speakers in our phones.

I’m sure there are interesting Japanese radio shows being broadcast too, and I’m sure I’ll investigate them at some point. But for today, we just wanted something familiar from home.

What a nice, relaxing day for both of us.

Dynamic Tokyo

Our organised tour of (some of) the great city of Tokyo began early. But since we’ve been waking up early anyway, it didn’t matter. The bad news was that rain was forecast for much of the day. In the end, we were extraordinarily lucky: dry and sometimes sunny, our day was very enjoyable even if, at the end, we were very tired.

Low clouds – a bit worrying to start with

We picked up the first bus close to Shinjuku Station. This is the busiest station in the known universe, with 3.6 million people coming and going each day through its 200 entrances and exits.

It’s pretty much surrounded by retail opportunities (shops) but the coffee shop wasn’t open that early, not even with that many potential customers.

Caw, what a racket this guy made

We watched the people and especially their shoes. This would have been enough entertainment for the day. Everything from flat, almost ballet, shoes to thigh length boots with stiletto heels. One girl must take her shoes off a night and put them in front of aeroplanes to stop them rolling away.

And if that wasn’t enough fun: the bus seats had these cute little attachments in case we fancied a game of bus basketball en route.

Little basketball hoops

Not cute enough for you? How about this dragon?

Baby dragon on the side of a building

We arrived at the bus station where we met up with our tour party. I’m not saying all Americans are loud but you can pretty much guarantee that in any mixed group of travellers, the loudest speakers will be the Americans. And we had a couple. You probably heard them too.

Hato Bus is named for the white dove of peace and I have to admire the clever logo: a combination of HB and four doves.

Clever Logo Award – prize winner

The first stop on our tour was Tokyo Tower, where we met Hello Kitty and had a view of the city from high up. Again, Mount Fuji eluded us.

Tokyo Tower

Yes, that was my first thought too: it looks like an Eiffel Tower knock-off!

The view showed buildings old and new. We learnt a lot about Japanese history, samurai warriors, the Shoguns, the emperors.

Old buildings and new ones

In fact, our guide, Atsushi, was very funny as well as very informative. He told us what to expect at the tea ceremony. We only had time for the fifteen minute version, not the full four hours, but it was an interesting experience. The little sweet was very sweet and the green tea, by comparison, was quite bitter. And as briefed, we told the the host that the tea was excellent, with lots of bowing.

Two teas, please
The bowl and yes, that is Mount Fuji in the middle

The venue was Happo-en, a popular location for wedding ceremonies. There were at least three taking place today, and we nearly got caught up in a couple of processions. I don’t think we ruined too many wedding photos, though.

Number 1 in a set of surreptitious wedding photos
Number 2 in a set of surreptitious wedding photos
Number 3 in a set of surreptitious wedding photos

The gardens are very peaceful, and the bonsai trees are amazing. They really are little old-looking and gnarly trees, so much moreso than any we’ve seen at home.

Kuromatsu – bonsai at the front, full-size tree behind

Umbrellas are an important accessory here but would you want to take yours inside a building? Lockable umbrella racks are located outside some venues.

A rack for your umbrella, ella, ella

We visited the Chinzanso Hotel for a Japanese style lunch. The meat and vegetables were cooked on on hot plate on the table. My veggie meal was prepared behind the scenes, in the kitchen. We were given an apron to wear, and the waiters (is that the word?) tied them for us. Only the Australian lady needed it when she dribbled her ‘special sauce’.

This really was proper Japanese fare. My soup bowl was small, with tofu and vegetables. Then a bowl of rice, some salad items and more vegetables. All served with a certain amount of ceremony.

At this hotel, we encountered more weddings! And we saw a couple of young ladies wearing fabulous costumes and they were happy to pose for us, arigato.

Cute kimono, and very polite
Also very polite and friendly
Sacred Tree over 500 years old

After lunch, even I managed to stay awake for the ride to the Imperial Palace gardens. We were greeted by this Samurai warrior, who would give Stirling Castle’s Robert the Bruce a run for his money!

Samurai warrior

In another first, I purchased a hot can of coffee from a vending machine. Yes, hot, almost too hot too handle. It was alright, too sweet if anything. We’re hoping to find vending machines selling items other than drinks (or cigarettes): after all, that is what Japan’s famous for!

We were taken along the Expressway to Tokyo Port.

Beautiful boat on the river

Unfortunately, our cruise along the Sumida river was not aborad this delightful looking vessel. Instead, we spent about 40 minutes down below and inside a normal, common or garden river cruise boat. Oh well. We lost count of the number of bridges we sailed under, with no two alike.

We walked along Nakomise Street with, apparently, 90 shops, mostly selling food items that we couldn’t identify. But we did try a couple of snacks. The deep fried, hot rice cake was surprisingly crunchy after beinmg dipped in soy sauce. The sweet bean paste filled cakes were different, but we probably didn’t need five for just the two of us.

We wandered around the Senso-ji Buddhist Temple in Asakusa but couldn’t really appreciate the peace with so many thousands of people around.

Our old friend, rickshaw
Buddhist Temple
Pagoda next to the Temple

The bus took us back to Tokyo Station from where we took the train back to Shinjuku and our hotel. We were glad we’d booked the extra night here, we were ridiculously tired. We were meant to be carted about all day on buses and boats and yet somehow, we still managed to walk over eight miles. That’s OK for me, not so good for Liesel with her piriformis isssues.

We found a fast food restaurant where we had Japanese curry for supper. It was quick, it was tasty and only a five-minute walk back to our room.

Kon’nichiwa, Tōkyō

The flight from Seattle to Beijing was delayed due to mechanical problems. This meant we had more time to pass at SeaTac and less time at Beijing, which in turn meant that we definitely wouldn’t have time to leave the airport and go sight-seeing in China for a short while. On the plane, we sat next to a kiwi lady who had lived in Beijing for several years and she told us about the smog. You can fly around the country in clear air then, suddenly, as you approach the capital, you hit a wall of brown.

The plane didn’t have plastic shutters over the windows: instead, they could be darkened to keep the light out. We were flying pretty much towards the west, but we lost the opportunity for good sunset photos.

That really is the Sun, through tinted windows

To paraphrase a David Bowie lyric: Where the heck did Wednesday go? We left Anchorage early Tuesday and would arrive in Tokyo very early Thursday morning. The day between was a very short period of time and the worst thing is, this will totally ruin my Fitbit statistics. How can I possibly walk 10,000 steps in one day when the day in question is just a couple of hours long and spent mainly inside the body of an aeroplane? I know, I know, this is even less significant than a first-world problem.

Crossing the International Dateline in this direction has had another unanticipated side effect. Liesel and I are now ahead of UK time rather than behind. This will take some getting used to. And to add even more confusion, British Summer Time ends this coming weekend.

Entertainment on this long flight was a multimedia experience. I listened to two (out of ten) episodes of a dramatised radio version of War and Peace. I read significant sections from the two books I currently have on the go (*).

I watched Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and it convinced me that this series of movies should perhaps become extinct. A nice surprise to see the old Detectorist Toby Jones in it though.

And, best of all, at last, I watched Hidden Figures, about the ‘colored computers’ who worked for NASA in the early 1960s, really talented mathematicians and engineers that happened to be black and female at a time when segregation was the norm. (A couple more years of Trump and we’ll be back there.)

Liesel watched Solo: A Star Wars Story and some episodes of The Big Bang Theory as well as some documentaries about Japanese wildlife.

One of the most ridiculous things is that the flight from Seattle to Beijing took us right over Anchorage. So we needn’t have got up so early, after all! Flying in Russian airspace was a first: but not having window seats, we saw less of Russia than Sarah Palin does from her bathroom window in Wasilla.

The cabin was sprayed with something that didn’t smell nice. But other than that, and the duration, I think we liked Hainan Airways. The cabin crew were really nice, and my new best friend is the Chinese girl who looked after me and my vegetarian needs.

We landed at Beijing, taxied for another couple of hundred miles and we still had to disembark in the middle of the runway and take a bus back to the terminal.

I think we would recommend Hainan Airlines

We found the gate for our outbound flight to Tokyo and made our home there for a couple of hours. Coffee and a muffin were had. Of course. And I learnt that the ¥ symbol is used for Chinese yuan as well as Japanese yen. Who knew?

We suddenly realised people were preparing to board the flight and, being British, we had to join the queue. No nonsense about gold members and business class going on first, one queue for everyone, this is China. But what a shame that again Liesel and I were separated by a few rows.

I was hoping to sleep but that didn’t really work out. These cabin crew members very friendly and helpful too.

こんにちは、東京

We landed in Tokyo about 00:25 Thursday, and were delighted at how warm it felt. We were dead tired, but being this warm in the middle of the night certainly lifts the spirits!

We found our hotel at the terminal, and were in bed within an hour. Even after a quick shower, the room was still too warm (!) to sleep in, until the fan kicked in.

Breaking news: in a first, I used the bidet for its intended purpose. It would have been nice if I’d been warned it was coming, but ooh, what a surprise. (Better than a hand coming out to wipe my bum, I suppose.) I’m not convinced, but it was an interesting experience.

We woke at a reasonable time, showered and checked out. The Pocket Wifi had been delivered as arranged so we should have access to wifi wherever we go in Japan. We are now both back on our UK phone numbers, albeit, if we use them, we’ll certainly pay for the privilege.

We bought tickets for the bus to Shinjuku Station. It was a very warm, bright sunny day and I think this alone made it easier for us to cope with the last tendrils of tiredness.

Tokyo wouldn’t be a proper city without water

It was a ten minute walk from the station to out next hotel, The Gramercy. Also known as The Godzilla Hotel.

Godzilla on the 8th floor of our hotel
Stoned Godzilla

We dumped our stuff and despite the temptation to lie down and go back to sleep, we went for a walk in the local area, to acclimatise and to find something to eat.

Fewer local people than anticipated were walking around wearing surgical masks and I’ve been too polite (too scared) to take a photo of them.

Lunch for me was jalapeño cheese toast and Liesel had scrambled eggs and pancakes with a sausage and other meat products. Typical Japanese fare.

We found apples on sale and we bought one. It’s huge, we’ll share it. I hope we can find some proper apple-sized apples next time.

The biggest apple in the world – and we ate it

We walked in a big loop back to The Gracery Hotel and then realised we walked around the less interesting parts of Shinjuku.

This young lady was cleaning the windows for her clients, a pair of moray eels, we think, maybe.

Window cleaning
Blue fishes

We always like random sculptures and this little chap blowing his own trumpet while riding a snail caught our eye.

Boy on a snail – I wish we knew the story

Riding a bicycle on the pavement seems to be accepted here, much moreso than at home. They go quite fast too, especially the old grannies. Younger, fitter people have found a brilliant way to carry two children around.

Child on the back, another on the front, marvellous

We went for a quick walk in the evening. It was dark at 5.30, very sudden and unexpectedly. Shinjuku is very busy, lots of bright lights, clubs, even English-style pubs. There are a couple of places that we’d like to visit, when we’re more fully awake and that need booking in advance.

Robot outside the Robot Restaurant

For supper, I had a pizza and Liesel had risotto. Typical Japanese fare.

We saw Godzilla from a distance too, not so scary that way!

Our Godzilla from street level

Looking at and taking photos of car number plates was an Alaska-based, temporary hobby. But when I saw two cars parked next to each other with mine and my sister’s birthdays, well, out came the camera, of course.

Mick and Pauline’s birthdays

The good news is that as we’re walking round a city rather than hiking trails in bear country, and it’s warm, I was able to wear my sandals today for the first time in several weeks. So, watch out for the return of tan lines on my feet.

(*) I am currently reading:

  • A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Stories in our Genes by Adam Rutherford (in which I learned that I am descended from William the Conqueror).
  • The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu (I thought I should read some Japanese literature and this is probably the very first novel, written in the early 11th century and first published in the 16th).

Bear Trouble

It was a long walk to the nearest Post Office, mainly due to the fact that I didn’t check before I left the house. So I ended up walking three sides of a long thin rectangle rather than along the fourth, short side.

Actual Sunflowers (and yes, that dog did bark at me)
This is where boots grow

Not that I’m complaining about long walks. I also spent some time looking for 100% cotton socks in a couple of department stores. I don’t think they exist in Anchorage and yes, I should have ordered them from eBay a few weeks ago.

Arty farty photo of the day, taken in downtown Anchorage:

One building reflected in another

A couple of people have commented on my addiction to Kaladi Brothers Coffee shops. Yes, I’ve been a few times, it’s very nice coffee, thanks. But it’s a bit much when even the phone comments on the frequency of my visits:

My phone knows my habits

One night after finally persuading the boys to get ready for bed, Asa came out and said it might be a good idea to practice his cello. Liesel and I looked at each other and said, yes of course, dear, 9.30pm is the ideal time to play a loud musical instrument while your young brother’s trying to get to sleep. (We didn’t say that.)

It’s Hallowe’en season and there are some scary sights around town. This chap is just down the road form us:

Ooh, spooky!

We took Asa and Gideon out to buy costumes and I can confirm, they look just as scary with their outfits as they do without! We went to a Chinese restaurant as Gideon wanted Mongolian beef. Mongolian beef but without the green stuff, which we learnt was onions. In his excitement, he knocked a large glass of water, with ice, off the table.

Thursday was Alaska Day, a day off work for Leslie, so she and Liesel went shopping. I had a massage and walked back home. Asa went to a school dance, but didn’t stay too long because it was boring: all the boys chatting on one side of the room and all the girls on the other. Some things don’t change with the passing years. Asa and Gid stayed with their grandparents: there was no school the following day, so Liesel and I were able to tidy up Jodi and Aaron’s house in peace.

On Tuesday, a black bear had demolished part of the fence in Mom and Dad’s back garden. No photos, but the neighbours heard the sound and saw the bear not going over the fence, not going under the fence, but pushing the fence over and going through the gap. By Friday, the fence had been repaired. In England, we’d still be waiting for a man to come round and look at it it and then wait several weeks for the actual repair.

On Friday night, Asa had a sleepover with a friend. The rest of us stayed at Mom and Dad’s: by this time Liesel and I had tidied the boys’ house and done all the laundry.

It was interesting living ‘downtown’ for a week, but it was a lot noisier than being close to Kincaid Park. Apart from the nearby airport, of course.

So here we are. It’s our final weekend in Alaska. The snow continues to settle further and further down the mountains. I think we’ll be flying out of Anchorage before it lands on us, but I don’t think the city will be free of snow for too much longer.

Chugach mountains with the ever descending termination line

We’re confidant it will be warmer in Japan and we’re looking forward to being in a totally different cultural setting for a few weeks. Our only contact in Tokyo hasn’t responded, so we’ll be on our own. Our main concerns are getting by without speaking more than a couple of words of Japanese and in my case, keeping to a vegetarian diet. It’ll be an adventure but it is a little scary, especially compared with the last few months here in Anchorage, in the bosom of friends and family! I think that’s the first time I’ve used the word ‘bosom’ in this blog.

Apropos of nothing at all, here is the car number plate of the day:

Blymee o’Riley

Crabs

A few more-relaxed days while Asa and Gideon are at school. We’re into our final week here in Anchorage and so we have been planning our trip to Japan. We? A million thanks to Liesel who has been so much more pro-active in this respect.

I walked around the neighbourhood a couple of times, even though it was drizzling slightly.

No idea what inspired this bike rack design

We watched Star Wars on TV, Chapter 4, ie, the first one made but later enhanced with more special effects. I particularly enjoyed the ‘ding’ sound when the startrooper bangs his head on the door frame, definitely not in the initial release.

We had lunch with Amrit and her husband Siri. He’s a retired teacher and has spent a year demolishing a house and recycling anything that could be reused.

Liesel, Amrit, Siri

We ran a few administrative errands in town under cover of battle grey clouds. In fact, I was reminded of chilly, grey, cloudy November days at home. In food news, we had grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. I think those two statements might be related.

Pizza: we each customised our own pizza. We? I am indebted to Liesel who made mine perfectly!

In wildlife news, I saw some crabs in Sagaya, a nearby supermarket with, by luck, a Kaladi coffee bar.

They’ve got crabs

In sailing news, here are some yachts correctly sailing with the wind.

The boats on the post go round and round…

And in gardening news, this is a great idea and a great pun!

Garden of Weedin’
One bed per gardener
How to make a boring fence look attractive

Socktober

A very lazy morning: I ate breakfast while messing up a Sudoku puzzle. In the afternoon, I walked to the coffee shop and back, enjoying the sunshine but not so much the cold. It’s borderline right now: too cold without a jacket, too warm with it.

Jewel Lake branch

It’s Socktober: a campaign to donate socks to homeless people. Elsewhere it’s Inktober, a challenge for artists all around the world to draw an ink picture every day and post it online. And it’s Stoptober, the campaign in England to help people give up smoking. But I like Socktober as a word…

Socktober

After dinner, we went to Aaron and Jodi’s. They were packing for their trip to New Orleans. Asa and Gideon went to bed after we watched a couple of episodes of Flight of the Conchords on TV.

Gideon likes to go to Campfire, the big breakfast party at school. Which is fine, except that it starts at half past seven. Far too early for civilised people. Liesel drove him while I stayed behind to look after Asa, who then walked to school on his own.

Liesel had another physio appointment and we walked there as it’s not too far from the house. We took the dog, Zipper with us, and while Liesel was being treated, Zipper and I found the coastal trail. Zipper pulled a lot and sniffed everything. I didn’t.

Someone had a placard in their front yard which I thought was quite sad.

The caption speaks for itself

After meeting up with Liesel again, we walked home via a baker slash coffee shop that we’d been to before: Fire Island: On the way, we passed dear old Star, the reindeer. Not the same Star that was here before, apparently. Like the good Doctor, Star regenerates every few years.

Star the Reindeer

It’s a pity he, she or it has to be behind such a dense fence though, with just a small area of dirty perspex to look through.

Ain’t nobody gonna get outta here

But we did like this park bench, seemingly inspired by Vincent van Gogh.

Front porch bench project

At Fire Island, we had a second, late breakfast.

In the evening, we took Gideon to play Futsal. He and his team wear the red shirts of England, hooray! It’s an indoor version of soccer, similar to 5-a-side football that I was no good at, at school. The indoor court is probably about the same size as a basketball court. The ball is smaller and less bouncy than a soccer ball and the goals are smaller too. But there are still five players on a team.

Klaus and Leslie met us there to look after the boys while Liesel and I went out for a Thai meal with Bob and Margot. Bob was Liesel’s boss in Anchorage until I dragged her kicking and screaming away to London. It was good to see them again, and Liesel and Bob caught up on news of many old acquaintances.

Bob and Liesel

We collected our charges from their Opa and Oma. I read Gid the first chapter of The Wolf Book after which he pretended to be asleep.

Here’s the first of today’s bonus pictures:

Registration number of the beast

My Dad had a Vauxhall Viva with the number THO666H, and you can imagine what teenage me and my sister thought of that! It was seen on TV once. No, not as a getaway vehicle on Crimewatch. More innocently, in the car park at Epsom races.

And here is the optical illusion of the day. I’ve seen it posted several times on Twitter and Facebook recently, so here it is, just so you know what you’re missing.

You want it to stop, but it won’t ….