Monday, April 27, 2015

Around Senso-Ji Temple

Today I finish my segment on Tokyo with a tour of the famous Senso-Ji Temple . . . well. . . sort of.

Before my trip, I had highlighted the paragraph in my Lonely Planet Guidebook about this sacred place.  The writers called it "Asakusa's raison d-etre."  I was thrilled our city tour would stop here.  I so wanted to see the golden statue of Kannon and the two ferocious deities, Fujin and Raijin.  I can't say for certain I saw any of them.  As I followed the tour guide holding up her big red flag, there were so many people at the temple that I couldn't see a damn thing, let alone hear what she was saying.

And so I left.
I found a more quiet, a more enchanting world in the garden and the side streets around the temple.  I decided then and there to leave the tour.

I've been thinking about this ever since my return home.  Earlier that morning, I and many, many fellow tourists had been pushed into an elevator at the Tokyo Tower.  We could barely breathe.  My nose was touching another woman's.  She looked me and said, "Tell me again why we travel?"  I laughed at the time, but I've been thinking a lot about her question.

Travel connects me to the world like nothing else.  I feel more at home in an airport or a hotel or a foreign city street than I do in my own home town.  I feel like I belong.  That I matter.  After all, I made a huge effort to get here.  I almost always feel welcomed.  And soon I will be standing among ancient ruins, beautiful art and architecture, a sacred temple or a cave decorated with petroglyphs,   Soon I will be a witness to the best of man's endeavors.

  I honor these creators by seeking out their existence. The same is true when I stand on the edge of a canyon or at the base of a waterfall.  I am one with Mother Earth.  I am in awe of her wonder.  This is the magic I seek--that feeling that there is no place else I'd rather be.

It is truly addictive.

  As I finish this piece, my thoughts are already on future trips:  A long road trip through the Pacific Northwest this summer.  And a two-week trip to Egypt in the fall.  My travel buddy and I, however, are going independent.  It is quality over quantity.  I may not see everything I highlight, but I will see so much more.  Group tours are no longer an option.  I cannot do justice to the very things I seek when I am surrounded by mobs of people or crammed into a bus.
 I didn't see much at the Senso-Ji Temple, but what I saw will stay with me forever.  Like that baby's first glimpse of a koi.  The ground carpeted with cherry blossoms.  The giant paper lantern swaying in the breeze.

And this, too, is why I travel.

Thursday, April 23, 2015


Plastic food and anime creatures
add luster to brick paved streets.
Am I really in Tokyo?
It is so quiet.

Windows reflect a concrete world in the morning light.
The cherry blossoms hide the rush hour madness
Disorienting me.

I follow a lone man through an orange tunnel
to the Sanna Hie Shrine.
Parents and grandparents hold a newborn babe
and beckon me to put away my camera.

I am on sacred ground
Witness to a Shinto baptism.
No longer lost
But a privileged guest in a foreign land.

I retrieve my camera when I see a sign:
Closed in the event of a major earthquake.
It dangles from a busy overpass
Surrounding a fragile world.
The world of Akasaka.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Jet Lag Drag

Jet Lag.  The bane of every long distance traveler.  The internet is saturated with how to cope with it.  Travel magazines publish strategies on a monthly basis.  So I apologize for adding yet another post to the pot.  My solution to this problem is so simple it sounds childish:  Don't fight it.  Sleep when your body wants to sleep.

It means, of course, your days and nights might be reversed for awhile, but that is so much more preferable than walking around like a zombie and not really seeing what you came here to see.   Allow yourself three days before starting that whirlwind tour.  Trust me, you'll be refreshed and happy.

I had this epiphany during my crazy one-week trip to Tokyo.  After my city tour that first day, I took a nap upon returning to my hotel.  It was 3 p.m.  I woke up in a pitch-black room, fully dressed, six hours later.  Oh, no.  What had I done?  It was now 9 p.m. and I was wide awake.  But, miracle of miracles, I had slept for a solid six hours.  I felt revitalized.

I opened the curtains to my room and spent the rest of the night reading, doing crosswords, ordering a very late night supper and watching the lights of Tokyo come on (and then off).  The international New York Times arrived at my door at five.  I made coffee and read the paper.  I was first in line at the breakfast buffet when it opened at six.

The next night, I fell asleep at 5 p.m.  The third night, 7 p.m. and finally the last two days I was in sync.  But during the day I had a great time.  I was full of energy and enjoyed my visit.  If I had been younger or a little braver, I might have gone out and enjoyed the Tokyo night life, but with these incredible views from my window, I felt no need to do so.  I had beat the Jet Lag Drag.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Bronze People

Art in Public Places

These wonderful life size bronzes are found in downtown Santa Barbara.  I've always loved these sculptures because they are so playful.  I've witnessed many a tourist sitting on Benjamin's lap so I couldn't resist doing the same this morning.  My travel buddy and I had brunch nearby and I wore one of the outfits I purchased in Tokyo last month.

  I can't help but grin whenever I think about my shopping adventure over there.  An older woman who could not speak English helped me pick this particular top out.  She saw immediately that I was drawn to the more abstract pieces and as soon as I was in the dressing room, she knocked on the door and handed me several more--this lovely black and cream pleated tunic among them.  I felt such gratitude.  When I fumbled with getting the exact amount of yen out of my wallet, she was very patient and awarded me with a big smile after I successfully retrieved the correct amount.  She smiled even more when I bowed upon leaving.


J. Seward Johnson, Jr. is the American artist who sculpted these bronze people.  He is known for this trompe l'oeil painted technique and uses real people for his castings.  (Except Good Old Benjamin, of course!)  Besides Santa Barbara, his statues can be found in Sydney, Australia and Portland, Oregon.

As soon as we were about to leave, three tourists walked by and immediately whipped out their cell phones to take pictures.  I don't know where they were from, but Japan was a very strong guess.  I found myself nodding to them and they nodded back.  For one brief moment, our worlds crossed.  We were acknowledging a mutual love for travel, for art and for the pleasure both bring into our lives.

Linking up with Patti and friends at Visible Monday.  It's good to be back!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Mimi Steps into Spring

Despite the drought, my roses are in full bloom.  The first wave of flowers in Spring is something to celebrate no matter where you live.  In Japan.  In California.  Canada.  France or Poland.  It is a glorious time of year,

I wear dresses more in the Spring and Summer, and I have been picking up some real beauties at local consignment shops.  Mimi is wearing a light weight Max Azria.  I fell in love with the details:  The colorful buckle in the back and the row of tiny buttons in the front.

The bag is from Vietnam and the hat is from Panama.

Today, Mimi and I step into Spring
with renewed hope
and the promise of good things to come.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Samurai's Garden

I had breakfast with this view every morning while I was in Tokyo.  This garden, in fact, became my secret sanctuary.  Its serenity calmed my nerves.  Its beauty reinforced the reason I came here:  To witness, first hand, Japanese culture and art.


Its history dates back to the early Edo period when a famous samurai lord, Kiyomusa Kato (1562-1611) bought the property and landscaped the grounds.  Subsequent owners continued to preserve the garden, ending with Yonetaro Otani in 1964.  He built a hotel here in anticipation of the thousands of visitors who were planning to fly to Tokyo for the Olympics.

Another famous owner of the garden was Naosuke Ii who was a Tairo or Chief Minister in the mid-1800's and credited for signing the first treaty of commerce with the United States, which ended 300 years of isolation.

As I edit my travel pictures, I realize I took more photographs of these pocket gardens in Tokyo than I did of the city streets.  These gardens are all over the city, although the one at the New Otani Hotel is one of the most famous.  Even if you don't stay here, a visit should definitely be a priority.

 I look down from my room on the 34th floor and spot little gardens all over the city--behind large apartment buildings and on roof tops.  There are also many gardens linking busy city streets.  They seem to serve as pedestrian short-cuts and I, too, begin to take them on a daily basis.  I meet mothers with strollers.  Old men with newspapers.  Students cramming for exams.  And then there are many people like me, who sit for awhile on a bench and daydream.  We nod at each other, acknowledging  the garden's beauty and our need to absorb its quiet strength.