Thursday, June 22, 2017

Shai Bar Ilan Tours and Chabd Japan

Shai Bar Ilan is the leader in the field of high quality organized tours for the orthodox traveler, including kosher food, a daily minyan and shmirat Shabbat. From 1980, when Shai Bar Ilan began organizing kosher tours, the world has opened up to thousands of travelers from Israel, USA, Canada, Europe and England.

In addition to visiting the most important places and sights in the area, Shai Bar Ilan tours include a visit to the local Jewish community and its institutions. A professional experienced well-traveled guide leads each tour along with an expert in the field. Religious services and gourmet kosher food are a standard component of each tour.

On Shabbat in cities with a Jewish community, Shai Bar llan travelers are guests of the Jewish community, joining them at the synagogue for the prayer services. Travelers meet with the local Jews and their leaders, so that we can share with them the history of their home together with their connection with Israel.

We ate at Chabad Tokyo and Chabad Kyoto. Our guides, Rona and Aaron Michelson were excellent as was our English speaking group!!

Sakura, Japan 2017

Sakura is the Cherry Blossom Season in Japan. We were there in late March 2017, but the season had barely started and we did not get to see  the abundance of cherry blossoms. We did see a few and they were beautiful. Piladelphia has many cherry blossom trees which were a gift from Japan. I came home and enjoyed those!!

Ryoanji Temple, Kyoto, Japan

Rock Garden
Ryoanji Temple

Pond in Spring

Interior panels in Temple

Interior panels in Temple
Ryoanji Temple is the site of Japan's most famous rock garden, which attracts hundreds of visitors every day. Originally an aristocrat's villa, the site was converted into a Zen temple in 1450 and belongs to the Myoshinji school of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism, whose head temple stands just a kilometer to the south.

As for the history of Ryoanji's famous rock garden, the facts are less certain. The garden's date of construction is unknown and there are a number of speculations regarding its designer. The garden consists of a rectangular plot of pebbles surrounded by low earthen walls, with 15 rocks laid out in small groups on patches of moss. An interesting feature of the garden's design is that from any vantage point at least one of the rocks is always hidden from the viewer.

Along with its origins, the meaning of the garden is unclear. Some believe that the garden represents the common theme of a tiger carrying cubs across a pond or of islands in a sea, while others claim that the garden represents an abstract concept like infinity. Because the garden's meaning has not been made explicit, it is up to each viewer to find the meaning for him/herself. To make this easier, a visit in the early morning is recommended when crowds are usually smaller than later during the day.
Ryoanji's garden is viewed from the Hojo, the head priest's former residence.

Besides the stone garden, the Hojo features some paintings on the sliding doors (fusuma) of its tatami rooms, and a couple of smaller gardens on the rear side of the building. In one of the gardens there is a round stone trough that cleverly incorporates its square water basin into a Zen inscription, which students of kanji  may be able to appreciate.

Ryoanji's temple grounds also include a relatively spacious park area with pond, located below the temple's main buildings. The pond dates back to the time when the site still served as an aristocrat's villa and features a small shire on one of its three little islands that can be accessed over a bridge.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Nishiki Market, Kyoto, Japan


Nishiki Market is a narrow, five block long shopping street lined by more than one hundred shops and restaurants. Known as "Kyoto's Kitchen", this lively retail market specializes in all things food related, like fresh seafood, produce, knives and cookware, and is a great place to find seasonal foods and Kyoto specialties, such as Japanese sweets, pickles, dried seafood and sushi.

Nishiki Market has a pleasant but busy atmosphere that is inviting to those who want to explore the variety of culinary delights that Kyoto is famous for. The stores found throughout the market range in size from small narrow stalls to larger two story shops. Most specialize in a particular type of food, and almost everything sold at the market is locally produced and procured.

Some of the shops freely give out samples or sell sample dishes and skewers meant to be eaten then and there. There are also a few small restaurants and food stands selling ready-made food. A few are sit-down establishments, although some consist of no more than a couple of stools and a bar. They usually specialize in one type of food, and are often attached to a store of the same specialty.
The market has a history of several centuries, and many stores have been operated by the same families for generations. It all started as a fish wholesale district, with the first shop opening around 1310. A larger variety of shops moved in later, and the area changed from a wholesale market to retail. Today it remains an important market for Kyoto and is often packed with locals and tourists alike.

Nijo Castle, Kyoto, Japan

Ninomaru Palace

Karamon Gate

Ninomaru Garden

Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle was built in 1603 as the Kyoto residence of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo Period (1603-1867). His grandson Iemitsu completed the castle's palace buildings 23 years later and further expanded the castle by adding a five story castle keep.

After the Tokugawa Shogunate fell in 1867, Nijo Castle was used as an imperial palace for a while before being donated to the city and opened up to the public as a historic site. Its palace buildings are arguably the best surviving examples of castle palace architecture of Japan's feudal era, and the castle was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.

Nijo Castle can be divided into three areas: the Honmaru (main circle of defense), the Ninomaru (secondary circle of defense) and some gardens that encircle the Honmaru and Ninomaru. The entire castle grounds and the Honmaru are surrounded by stone walls and moats.

Visitors to Nijo Castle enter the castle grounds through a large gate in the east. English audio guides are available for rent (500 yen) at a kiosk just inside the gate. Venturing further into the castle will bring you to the Chinese style Karamon Gate, the entrance to the Ninomaru (secondary circle of defense), where the castle's main attraction, the Ninomaru Palace is located.

The Ninomaru Palace served as the residence and office of the shogun during his visits to Kyoto. Surviving in its original form, the palace consists of multiple separate buildings that are connected with each other by corridors with so called nightingale floors, as they squeak when stepped upon as a security measure against intruders. The palace rooms are tatami mat covered and feature elegantly decorated ceilings and beautifully painted sliding doors (fusuma).

The tour route passes by multiple waiting and audience rooms. Only the highest ranked visitors were allowed all the way into the main audience room where theshogun would sit on an elevated floor, flanked by bodyguards hidden in closets. Lower ranked visitors would be allowed only as far as the adjoining rooms without direct view of the shogun. The innermost rooms consisted of offices and living chambers, the latter of which were only accessible to the shogun and his female attendants.
Outside of the Ninomaru Palace extends the Ninomaru Garden, a traditional Japanese landscape
garden with a large pond, ornamental stones and manicured pine trees.

Todaiji Temple, Nara, Japan

Tōdai-ji is a Buddhist temple complex that was once one of the powerful Seven Great Temples, located in the city of Nara, Japan. Its Great Buddha Hall houses the world's largest bronze statue of the Buddha. The temple also serves as the Japanese headquarters of the Kegon school of Buddhism. The temple is a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site as one of the  "Historic monuments of ancient Nara," together with seven other sites including temples, shrines and places in the city of Nara. Deer, regarded as messengers of the gods in the Shinto religion, roam the grounds freely.

Its a very popular site with lots of visitors, but everyone is polite and quiet.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Mazda Assembly Line- Japan

We visited a Mazda assembly line and selected the cars we would choose!

Miyashima Island, Japan

On ferry to Miyashima Island in Hiroshima Prefecture

Itsukushima Shinto Temple floating Torii gate

Wedding party

Guests at the wedding

We took a ferry to Miyashima Island which is near Hiroshima and walked along the water to a big Shinto Temple. Outside the Temple was a wedding party taking pictures and we took some too. Lovely kimonos!!

Kurashiki Bikan, Japan

During the Edo period (1603-1867), Kurashiki was an important point along the distribution route of Japan's most important commodity, rice. Large quantities of rice from the surrounding area were brought into Kurashiki and intermediately stored there in storehouses before being shipped to Osaka and Edo. Because of the city's importance in the rice trade, Kurashiki was put under direct control of the shogun, and the city was even named after its many storehouses (kura).

Canals were built to allow boats and barges to navigate between the city's storehouses and the nearby port. A central section of the city's former canal system has been preserved in the Bikan Historical Quarter. The weeping willow trees that line the canal and the stone bridges that cross over the water make for a picturesque scene.

Along the canal, there are many of the original storehouses that were so central to the city's identity. Recognizable by their white walls and black tiles, the former storehouses have been converted into cafes, boutiques, souvenir shops and a number of museums:

Monday, June 5, 2017

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, Japan

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum is a museum located in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, in central Hiroshima, Japan, dedicated to documenting the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in World War II.

The museum was established in August 1955 with the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Hall (now the International Conference Center Hiroshima). It is the most popular of Hiroshima's destinations for school field-trips from all over Japan and for international visitors. 53 million people had visited the museum from its opening in 1955 through 2005, averaging over one million visitors per year.

The Peace Memorial Museum collects and displays belongings left by the victims, photos, and other materials that convey the horror of that event, supplemented by exhibits that describe Hiroshima before and after the bombings and others that present the current status of the nuclear age. Each of the items displayed embodies the grief, anger, or pain of real people. Having now recovered from the A-bomb calamity, Hiroshima's deepest wish is the elimination of all nuclear weapons and the realization of a genuinely peaceful international community.

It is a moving and well-done museum collection.

Hiroshima, Japan

Hiroshima is the capital of Hiroshima Prefecture and the largest city in the  region of western Honshu - the largest island of Japan. The city's name means "Broad Island" in Japanese. Hiroshima gained city status on April 1, 1889. On April 1, 1980, Hiroshima became a designated city. As of August 2016, the city had an estimated population of 1,196,274.

Hiroshima is best known as the first city in history to be targeted by a nuclear weapon when the US Air Force dropped a nuclear bomb on the city (and later on Nagasaki) at 8:15 a.m. on August 6, 1945, near the end of World War 2.

Pictured above is the only building that survived the bomb which is now the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. There is a very moving museum about the effects of the bomb on the population. Let's hope no one ever drops a nuclear weapon anywhere.

Korakeun Gardens- Japan

The Koishikawa  Korakuen Garden was designed in 1626, by Tokudaiji Sahyoe, for Yorifusa, a member of the Tokugawa family. The garden has a large lake with a planned stroll along which one can see representations of famous landscape scenes from China and Japan. An island in the lake has a temple dedicated to Benzaiten, an Indian goddess associated with good luck. A Full-Moon Bridge has half its circle from the stonework and the other half from its reflection in the water. A green hill represents Mount Atago. The garden reached its modern form in 1863.

Hemeiji Castle- Japan

Hemeiji Castle
Hemeiji Castle is a hilltop Japanese castle complex located in the city of Himeiji, Japan. The castle is regarded as the finest surviving example of prototypical Japanese castle architecture, comprising a network of 83 buildings with advanced defensive systems from the feudal The castle is frequently known as "White Egret Castle" or "White Heron Castle"  because of its brilliant white exterior and supposed resemblance to a bird taking flight.

Himeiji Castle dates to 1333. It is the largest and most visited castle in Japan, and it was registered in 1993 as one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country.The area within the middle moat of the castle complex is a designated Special Historic Site and five structures of the castle are also designated National Treasures. Hemeiji Castle is considered one of Japan's three premier castles. In order to preserve the castle buildings, it underwent restoration work for several years and reopened to the public on March 27, 2015.The works also removed decades of dirt and grime, restoring the formerly grey roof to its original brilliant white color.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Bullet Train in Japan

The Japanese Bullet Train
Japan’s high speed bullet trains, also known as Shinkansen trains, offer visitors an experience like no other with speeds reaching up to 320 km/hr! The main Shinkansen lines with bullet trains include Tokaido, Sanyo, Tohoku, Joetsu, Nagano and Kyushu. Popular routes include Tokyo to Osaka and Tokyo to Nagano with frequent and punctual departures. Hop on and off the rails in cities like Kyoto, Nagoya and Yokohama along the way!

We used it several times. Lots of pressure to get on and off in a hurry. Only stay in the station for two minutes. And there are lots of travelers so very scary that you will be left behind. of course, it did not happen!

Kinkakuji Temple, Kyoto, Japan

Kinkakuji  (Golden Pavilion) is a Zen Temple in northern Kyoto whose top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf. Formally known as Rokuonji, the temple was the retirement villa of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu , and according to his will it became a Zen temple of the Rinzai sect after his death in 1408. Kinkakuji was the inspiration for the similarly named Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion) built by Yoshimitsu's grandson, Ashikaga Yoshimasa, on the other side of the city a few decades later.

Kinkakuji is an impressive structure built overlooking a large pond, and is the only building left of Yoshimitsu's former retirement complex. It has burned down numerous times throughout its history including twice during the Onin War, a civil war that destroyed much of Kyoto; and once again more recently in 1950 when it was set on fire by a fanatic monk. The present structure was rebuilt in 1955.

Kinkakuji was built to echo the extravagant Kitayama culture that developed in the wealthy aristocratic circles of Kyoto during Yoshimitsu's times. Each floor represents a different style of architecture.

Matsumoto Castle

Matsumoto Castle

Matsumoto Castle  is one of Japan's premier historic castles and its oldest castle.  The building is also known as the "Crow Castle"  due to its black exterior. It was the seat of the Matsumoto domain. It is located in the city of Matsumoto,  and is within easy reach of Tokyo by road or rail.

The keep, which was completed in the late sixteenth century, maintains its original wooden interiors and external stonework. It is listed as a national treasure of Japan.

Matsumoto Castle is a flatland castle  because it is not built on a hilltop or amid rivers, but on a plain. Its complete defenses would have included an extensive system of inter-connecting walls, moats and gatehouse.

Very steep climb up the stairs.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Sugihara Museum- Honor a Hero

Chiune Sugihara
Seal Sugihara used on visas

Picture of him in Sugihara Museum

Chiune "Sempo" Sugihara (January 1900 – 31 July 1986) was a Japanese diplomat who served as Vice-Consul for the Empire of Japan in Lithuania. During World War 2, he helped between 10,000 and 40,000 Jews leave the country by issuing transit visas so that they could travel to Japanese territory , risking his career and his family's lives. The Jews who escaped were refugees from German-occupied Western Poland or Soviet -occupied Eastern Poland, as well as residents of Lithuania. In 1985, Israel named him to the Righteous Among the Nations for his actions, the only Japanese national to be so honored.

Sugihara had told the refugees to call him "Sempo", the Sino-Japanese reading of the characters in his given name, discovering it was much easier for Western people to pronounce.

In 1999, as a result of the joint effort of the intellectuals and the businessmen from Lithuania and Belgium – prof. Egidijus Aleksandravičius, politician and businessman Ramūnas Garbaravičius and businessman Freddie Opsomer, the public institution "The Sugihara Foundation – Diplomats for Life" was established.

The initiators of the foundation were seeking to unite the intellectual efforts and available funds in order to properly commemorate the name of the Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara.

The name of Sugihara along with the name of the Dutch consul Jan Zwartendijk as well as the other diplomats who were not afraid to save thousands of lives of the European Jews, reminds the present generations about the threats hiding inside the human nature, and sets a good example of kindness and righteousness.