Monday, December 8, 2014

Nara, Japan

It's about time I get back to blogging about our trip to Japan. With Osaka as "home base" we took the Shinkansen to Kyoto then loaded a tour bus and traveled an hour or so to get to Nara. Our half-day tour began at Todai-ji (Eastern Great Temple Complex). This area (Nara Koen) is known for it's 1,200 or so tame deer that roam the area freely.
It's pretty crazy and fascinating at the same time. Our tour guide showed us how the deer have been taught to bow before receiving any food from visitors.
Eventually we pulled ourselves away from the deer and ventured further into the temple complex.
This 16-petal flower is a symbol of the Emperor.
This structure houses a 53-foot bronze statue of Buddha.
A gold-leafed wooden disciple sits beside him
while four menacing guardians stand in each corner of the temple.
A curious activity within the great hall is for tourists to crawl through a hole in a pillar that is the exact size of one of the Buddha's nostrils. It definitely gives perspective to the size of the great statue. (Blurry photo, but you get the idea.)
As we exited the temple these school children approached us and asked if we had the time. I proceeded to pull out my phone and tell them the time, but they seemed confused and repeated the question. Eventually, we figured out that they were asking if I had time--time to answer a few questions. Of course I obliged. They asked me where I was from, what food I liked best in Japan, etc. It was a sweet interaction. They then asked if they could take my picture, and of course, I took one of them.
Our next stop of the morning was Kasuga Taisha (a Shinto Shrine).
This shrine is famous for the more than 2,000 stone lanterns that line its pathways. They were gorgeous.
I'm extremely grateful to be able to travel with Brian every once in a while and explore such places in the world.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Birthday in Chile

Travis (Elder Woodfield) is 19 years old today and for the first time in his life, he isn't celebrating with his family. Instead he is serving and teaching the people in Boca Sur, Chile as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He's been in Chile for six weeks now. I love seeing his smiling face in the photos he sends home.
Travis and his companion, Elder L, with President and Sister Bluth
A P-day (Preparation Day) barbecue
Travis' Zone taken before transfers last Monday
Happy Birthday, Elder Woodfield! We love you!!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Osaka, Japan

Brian's conferences were in Osaka so after two nights in Tokyo we took the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Osaka. These high-speed trains are actually really cool--such a smooth ride and so fast!
While Brian was working I was brave and adventurous. Map in hand I took off to find Osaka-Jo or the Osaka Castle which was an hour walk from our hotel.
(Inui Turret)
The view of Osaka from the top of the castle was impressive. Notice the gold fish. Fish were placed on the roofs of wooden structures because they symbolize living water. It was believed that the fish would work as a good luck charm to stave off fire.
After my tour of the castle and museum I bought a steamed pork bun and ate it in the shade.
While I was savoring my pork bun, Brian had bought a Bento Box during his conference lunch break. Ooh, these are fun--all kinds of interesting Japanese delicacies to try.
Eating at restaurants was tricky. Most establishments we went to did not have English menus. The best way to choose our meal was to point to the plastic replicas of each menu item inside the restaurant's display case. This "fake food" was everywhere. I couldn't resist taking a photo of this case of desserts outside a bakery. It's all plastic!
The food in Japan was delicious--lots of seafood of course. Brian was more daring that I was, but I did branch out a little. I wish I had photos of all our meals. The tempura was fantastic and I always love rice and noodles. By the end of our trip I even had chopsticks figured out.
I grabbed a bag of rice crackers as a snack one day. All of them were fish-flavored, but that was OK. However, I couldn't handle the whole dried fish I found at the bottom of the bag. Brian enjoyed it though!
The presentation of this fish dish at the conference banquet made quite an impact.
Osaka was home base for a few more nights as we took day trips to Nara and Kyoto. Those posts are up next.
(Osaka Sunrise)


Friday, October 24, 2014

Tokyo

Last month Brian had back to back conferences in Japan and we decided that I would tag along this time to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary.
Salt Lake City to Seattle then a 9 1/2 hour flight to Tokyo's Narita airport followed by an hour-long bus ride to our destination left me utterly exhausted. Our hotel felt like heaven when we arrived.
(view of Tokyo from our hotel room)
We only had one day to explore Tokyo so we decided to book a "panoramic" bus tour of the city. Our guide was full of interesting factoids.

  • 127 million people live in Japan--half the population of the United States. Yet, they live in an area the size of California.
  • 26% of the population is 65 or older and there are 5300 centenarians in Japan.
  • The two oldest people in the world live in Japan--a woman who is 117 and a man who is 112.
  • "4" is an unlucky number. It symbolizes death. There is no fourth floor in hospitals in Japan.
  • The Tokyo tower is similar in design to the Eiffel Tower but proudly stands 9 m taller.
The first stop of our tour was the Meiji Shinto Shrine. A simplistic explanation of the difference between Shintoism and Buddhism offered by our tour guide is that Shintoists worship nature while Buddhists worship idols. 
(barrels of sake wrapped in straw)
A Torii gate stands at the entrance to Shinto shrines. This "pi"-shaped structure symbolizes purification or passing from the secular world into a spiritual world.
Another important ritual before entering the shrine involves cleansing the hands and mouth. Grab the ladle (below) with your right hand and pour it over your left hand. Next, grab the ladle with your left hand and pour it over your right hand. Lastly, ladle water into a cupped hand and rinse our your mouth being sure to spit the water out.
Our second stop of the tour was the Imperial Palace East Garden.
I liked seeing an actual moat and the more than 400 year-old rock wall that surrounds the Imperial Palace.
The final stop of the morning was Senso-Ji--one of the most popular Buddhist Temples in Japan. We were surrounded by people and incense and red and gold.
On our way to lunch we passed Tokyo's famous Kabuki Theater.
We lunched at a restaurant overlooking Tokyo Bay then took a harbor cruise under the iconic Rainbow Bridge.
We ended our day at Tokyo's Statue of Liberty. That was certainly a surprise.