Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Return (Day 12) - The Way of Tea

First some more from yesterday. After Mt Shosha we made our way to the Hyogo Museum of History with its displays of the prefecture’s wares over the millennia.

Himeji castle is reflected in the glass walls of the museum.

Charlie dons a samurai warrior’s helmet.
Charlie dons a samurai warrior's helmet.

Tash won the lottery-draw to be dressed in the junihitoe (12-layered kimono) formerly worn by princesses.

Now to today...

The Way to Tea. We follow the back-streets of Himeji behind the castle to the home of Itsuyo...

Itsuyo Tatsuta has been learning The Way of Tea from her Sensei in Kyoto for almost 30 years. When she heard we were coming back she said she and her Tea students would love to instruct our students in The Way of Tea. The new name for Tea Ceremony is appropriate – it’s a whole field of knowledge applying not just to the ritual itself, but the pottery, the bamboo-craft, the art, the flower-arranging, the poetry and the seasonal aspect of sharing tea and sweets with special guests. We were very honoured to be given the opportunity to be given instruction in the centuries-old traditions of tea and to participate in the making and serving of O-cha. 

Mitchell whisks...
Mitchell whisks...

Alex wipes.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Return (Day 11) Engyoji

Today we caught a No. 8 bus and a ropeway (cablecar) to the Engyoji Temple Complex at Mt Shosha. 8 of the temple buildings and 7 of the Buddhas are classified as "Important Cultural Properties."

The 2km walk from the cablecar station to the top of the mountain is lined with dozens of statues of Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy also known as Boddhisatva. Some of the images are senju-kannon, the thousand-armed incarnation who is capable of helping all.

Ryan rings the giant bronze bell which on New Year is tolled 108 times - one for each of the human failings which Buddha is said to have overcome.

At the top of Mt Shosha we met our monk guide who explained something of Buddhist philosophy.

The Daikodo - the beautiful 15th Century wooden lecture hall in the background - has found fame in contemporary times featuring in The Last Samurai. We had the special privilege of a calligraphy lesson where we traced over sutra -"shakyo"- (thoughts of the Buddha) with sumi-e brush and ink.

Sam, Jack & Shaun concentrating.

My very poor attempt at kanji calligraphy.

Then our monk guide gave us instruction in za-zen (sitting meditation). He explained the "here and now" philosophy and the need to allow thoughts to flow - to "come and go". We all surprised ourselves by sitting relatively still in the ancient darkened hall for about 20 minutes and achieving a feeling of silent calmness. Afterwards our monk demonstrated the "light whack" on Shaun. This is requested by the "whackee" by the prayer gesture to correct posture and avoid sleepiness!

The Return (Day 10) I still call Himeji home...

Coming back to Himeji is like returning home for us. Old friends met us at the JR station and our hotel and joined us for lunch in the bailey in front of Himeji castle

The kind, smiling face of our dear old friend Toshi.

The intricate multiple roofs of Himeji castle.

The students were very interested in the history, design and defences of the 4oo year-old castle, thanks to the knowledge of our 3 guides Toshi-san, Keiko-san and Hata-san. We presented them with Aussie bucket-hats. Oi, oi, oi!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Return (Day 9) Iwakuni

We took a local train to Iwakuni (just inside Yamaguchi prefecture) famous for Kintai-kyo, a picturesque 5-arched wooden bridge built in 1673 and washed away by flood in 1950.

With typical Japanese ingenuity, a perfect replica was erected by 1953, complete with disguised  internal reinforcements.

We crossed the Kintai-kyo Bridge to the old Samurai Quarter and climbed the hill to the reconstructed Iwakuni Castle originally built from 1603 - 8.

Trained monkey performing in the park by the old Samurai Quarter.

The Return (Day 8) Miyajima and Hiroshima

The morning was spent on the beautiful island of Miyajima. Lyn & I managed to get away from the kids long enough to ask a passing Japanese tourist to take a shot of us almost at the foot of the floating torii on a low tide...

The afternoon was spent at Hiroshima's Peace Park and Peace Museum. 140,000 deaths is an almost meaningless statistic - until you read the names and stories of the individuals who were affected. This is a watch which stopped at the time of the world's first atomic explosion designed to kill civilians on the morning of August 6th, 1945.

The sandals of the now-famous Sadako, who died of leukemia while trying to complete her 1,000 paper cranes.

We were all pretty depressed after spending the afternoon at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, so it was nice when an 80+ local gentleman ("Tachibana-san") introduced himself and welcomed us to Hiroshima. He had escaped the A- bomb as he'd been conscripted to mainland China in 1945.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Return (Day 7)- Kyoto-Okayama-Kurashiki-Hiroshima

Charlie snaps Japanese tourists.
Canal, Kurashiki.

Jack & Shaun trying to catch freshwater shrimp in the canal.

Turtles sunning themselves.
Ivy Square, Kurashiki.

View of the courtyard, Ohara Art Museum, Kurashiki.

The kids like the Shinkansen!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Return (Day 6)

The Tachibana teachers organised a day for our students at Mimaki, a typical Kyoto Elementary School. Here we are trying to teach them 'Home Among the Gum Trees'!

Cleaning time. Ahh, the memories...

After the students returned to their host families, Keiko - one of the Tachibana High teachers - kindly led us on a tour of the Gekkeikan saka-gura (sake brewery.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Return (Day 5) Nara

Leah, Alex & Tash pose in front of the tallest of the pagodas at Kofuku-ji. The 5-storey wooden structure was constructed in 1426.

Couldn't get the name of this one. Can anyone help? Apparently you rub any injured part of your body and the corresponding part on the statue and it's all better.

The Daibutsu-den Hall within the Todai-ji complex is the biggest wooden building in the world. It was rebuilt in 1709 at a mere two thirds of its original size. The Daibutsu (Great Buddha) within is cast from 437 tonnes of bronze and 130kg of gold.

Behind the giant Buddha, cut into the base of a  supporting pillar, is a square hole reputedly the same size as the Great Buddha's nostril. It's said that the person who can fit through the hole will become enlightened. This kid is yet to be enlightened.

Made it! She will be enlightened...

No trip to Kyoto would be complete without a visit to the nearby Nara, Japan's capital 1300 years ago!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Return (Day 4)

Reflection of Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) in its surrounding pond.

The Woodcroft kids' host buddies join us for a group shot at the main gate of Nijo-jo.

Genki Sean, Jack, Charlie & Ryan goofing around outside the entrance to Nijo Palace.

Today we took our students to Kinkakuji ("The Golden Pavilion") and Niji-jo (The Nijo Castle)

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Return (day 3)

At night Yoko showed us part of old Gion we hadn't visited before , the original Tea House and pleasure district where the art of geisha originated.

After a small donation to the temple, Kelly soaks her paper in water to reveal her Good Fortune...

Kimone no Michi. ("The Path of Tree Roots") over the pass.

Lunch on a stream...

The route over Mt Kurama.

View from Kurama-dera.

Great views on the way up to Kibune...

Tengu and big-nosed- gaijin...

Lunch at Kibune.

A free day for the students today to spend with their host families around Kyoto, so a "rest" day for us, too! It was a public holiday today - part of "Silver Week" - so we didn't rest! We met up with our old friend Yoko from Himeji, took a bus & train to Kibune-Guchi, then hiked to Kibune where we had a fantastic traditional Japanese lunch on a platform over a mountain stream. Then we walked up Mt Kurama, visited Kurama-dera Temple and then down thousands of stone steps to the town of Kurama in the valley on the other side of the mountain. It was a beautiful autumn day - too early for many coloured leaves yet - warm enough for hiking but not too hot.
Then it was back to old Gion with its tea-houses and old geiko (geisha) district, okonomiyaki and beer for dinner and back to the hotel exhausted.
Thanks for a wonderful day, Yoko!