Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Monday, April 06, 2015

35. Kobe, Japan (Kyoto)

Kobe, Japan

Welcome to Kobe

Kobe (1.5 million populations), Osaka (2.6 million) and Kyoto (1.4 million) are a conurbation, a very large city without a proper name that includes several large cities. Some say metropolitan area, but a conurbation includes 2 or more metro areas, it does not have a proper 

Welcome to Kobe
name. One really does not know where one city ends or the next city starts. All of it blends together to form a conurbation.

Kobe Harbour

We docked in Kobe, but our excursion was for the next day in Kyoto. Since we arrived only at noon we just took a long walk through Kobe’s Chinatown and along a pedestrian street, closed to traffic. The section Kobe calls Chinatown is a long food street, one restaurant after another with ‘salespeople’ standing at the 
China Town Entrance
restaurant’s entrance, picture menu in hand, enticing walkers-by to eat at their establishment. Competition is fierce; in a 4 or 5 Block Street were hundreds of big and small places to chow down. The street was busy and the prices relatively reasonable. Many school children had their lunch break and the young folks ate mostly at quick stop vendors. I saw many foods I did not recognize. No, I 
A Happy Buddha
did not eat anything because I had just eaten lunch on the ship and I was not hungry. The places we walked past were very clean and appetizing. There was no litter on the sidewalk, no food scraps laying on the floor like we experienced in previous stops. No loose dogs, either.

Very Tempting Dim Sum and Other Goodies

Japan is clean and organized. What I saw reminds me a lot of Germany. People are a bit subdued yet smiling, clean, orderly and smartly dressed. The consumer prices in general are high though. The cup of coffee we had was $2.70 per cup. A nice men’s sweater I saw was priced at $290.-. I passed on those “bargains”. The pedestrian mall (covered street) was very long and shoppers were numerous.


Carol and I were looking for another carry on suitcase but the prices were outrageous. A fancy looking, tough plastic suitcase was offered at about $800 US Dollars in a department store we visited. The store had 8 floors and compared to a U.S. Macy’s. I actually saw people buy suitcases at those prices. We bought a bottle of Riesling (Mosel) for $11.-. In Buffalo, NY the same bottle would have cost $6.-.  Japan is expensive. We went back to the ship after 3 hours of “shopping”.

Shopping in Chinatown

By the way, there are no visible traces of the last earthquake that struck Kobe so severely in June of 1995. Everything is neat, clean and even elegant looking. Life is going on as usual, with a smile. A small section of the city was preserved after the earthquake and made into a museum. The earthquake was devastating. I did not visit this museum to look at pictures of the damage. I was just not in the mental mood for it. Deaths totaled 6000 people on that day. It took Kobe about 10 years to recover from the earthquake when in 2011 it was hit by the infamous tsunami, again destroying large sections and flooding huge areas, especially around the harbor. There are no longer any traces of those disasters. All is very much cleaned up and repaired. It is amazing how neat Japan is, how organized and industrious.

Kobe Beef Restaurant

I did not eat Kobe beef. Some other passengers raved about the tenderness of this meat. I just had a mental picture of how this meat is ‘grown’. You know that the animals are kept in a small stall without being able to move, right? The beef never sees the green grass or even the outside. This living creature grows up with beer massages, with food that is the

Kobe Beef Restaurant But Why Spiderman?
best, with plenty of everything except freedom of movement. The beast grows up fatty and without much muscle. This fatty meat, marbled the experts call it, makes the meat taste so tender and delicious. The taste might be outstanding, but I don't agree with the way it is ‘grown’. I don't eat Foie Gras either, I don't like the way the geese are force fed. Bad enough we eat animals but to mistreat them is a totally different story. I call force feeding geese, tying up beef, or restricting chickens cruel. For eggs, I like to buy the eggs from free roaming chickens. Let the animals have a happy life before we eat them. I know this seems perverse, but knowing the animals have a good life gives me solace. I don't feel so guilty eating meat that way, or eggs.

My Kobe visit was short. Our purpose in landing in Kobe was really to see Kyoto, the old Capitol of Japan. Kyoto is 1 ½ hour bus ride from Kobe. On the way we passed all kinds of factories, one that stands out in my mind is a Sake factory. There are 1500 factories that make Sake in Japan, maybe more, but the one we passed was a very large brewery, and their symbol is a white crane. I have to look up the name; I could not read the sign. It was written in Kanji.
Traditional Clothing With Coats for Warmth

Japan's Capitol has been moved from Kyoto to today's Tokyo. Tokyo’s old name was Edo before it became the new Capitol of Japan.

Kyoto, the old Imperial Capitol, is a modern city today but there are a few UNESCO buildings hidden inside Kyoto that give an insight into the old Japan. The old feudal Japan, the Japan that was at one time the most exotic place on Earth; the same Japan that locked its doors to Western trade, or at least severely limited contact with the West. The Japan we all know; Shoguns, Ninjas, Geishas, Katana Swords, Emperors, etc. In those times, Kyoto was the Capital. There are still about 1600 old buildings to visit, but we only visited 3 of them. Most of the old buildings are old shrines and/or temples so we did the tourist thing and visited the most impressive buildings only.

Garden of the Golden Pavilion

We started with a relaxing walk at renowned garden, the garden of the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku). Originally built in 1397, the garden houses a very picturesque temple, the Temple of Rokuon-ji. This garden contains the retirement villa of a famous Shogun. The 2nd and 3rd story of the building is covered in pure gold leaf. Sitting near the edge of 

The Golden Pavilion - The Temple of Rokuon-ji
a pond, amid trees the reflection of the temple is visible in the quiet water. It seems like there are 2 buildings sitting on top of each other. A stunning view, rare and very exotic. This garden represents Japan, the way Japan was in the 14th Century. There is no traffic and were it not for the people, it would be  a stunningly beautiful area. The stone garden was created years ago, from

The Stone Garden with Images
Carved on the Stones
stones taken from several provinces. The amount of work and dedication to beauty is mind boggling. I felt a bit rushed here, This garden needs to be visited when there is nobody around. I can see and feel the peacefulness emanating from many small details all created and taken care of with dedication and love of nature. A beautiful place!


The Sanjusangendo Temple
Housing 1001 Bodhisattvas
We visited the Temple of the 1001 Bodhisattvas. No picture-taking was allowed. I can understand why they don't want pictures being taken. The place was filled with visitors. If each one would take a picture you would have pandemonium. The place is just filled with too many people. Carol bought postcards instead.


Postcard of the 1000 Bodhisattvas
Carved From Cypress Wood

I have seen a lot of temples on this trip but nothing beats this
Sanjusangendo Temple. On display are 1000 awe-inspiring standing statues and one single, sitting, large statue of Kannon. Each of the 1000 standing Bodhisattvas is multi-armed (40) and each arm shows 25 different ways to help people (i.e. rope). Carved out of cypress wood, then 
Kannon, Goddess of Mercy
gilded, each 5 ½ foot statue has a slightly different face. The skill of the original Momoyama woodcarvers is impressive. Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy, along with the surrounding Bodhisattvas were carved in the 12th Century. The building is a long hall with 33 alcoves and is the longest wooden building in the world. The whole interior of the building is filled with above mentioned Bodhisattvas. This place deserves a ‘wow’ from me. I was very impressed. Walking through the interior, even though it was very crowded, I found it hard to comprehend that so much work and energy was spent to honor a deity. But then, this is Japan, simple and mysterious.

More Cypress Carvings

Kyudo means the way of the bow (as well as fly, pierce, center) – there are many schools of this archery art form.

A walkway behind the Bodhisattva statues gallery contains some information about life around the time of its construction. A wooden beam is displayed that was used by archers as a target. The beam was at the end of the 120 meter long building and the beam was full of broken off arrows tips. In competition, or to impress their feudal lord, the Samurais used the full length or partial distance of this hall to shoot an arrow into a target no bigger than 10 cm across. The arrows crowded each other on the display I looked at. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to shoot an arrow, over 120 meters, into such a small target. Another ‘wow’! I need to add is that their bows were about 5 feet tall, were asymmetrical and they were shot from a sitting down, cross legged position. ‘Wow’ again!
Japanese Garden

Our lunch was at a historic merchant’s house with an exquisitely decorated and maintained Japanese garden. Small, yet rich in details and thought, the layout, the choice of trees, plants and stones was wonderful. A water fall and a small artificial creek passed through the center of it all. Again, Japanese exquisiteness!
Exquisite Japanese Garden

We had Japanese fare. The food was first class. Delicately arranged, a bit mysterious but filling and plentiful. Some people had their first experience with Chop Sticks and even with Japanese food in general. I don't know about you, but I love the food in Japan. Cooking and serving has developed into and art form of it's own in Japan. I just like it a lot. Did I say the food was good?  It was!  Some people had their first experience with Chop Sticks and even with Japanese food in general. By mutual vote of the other people in our group, the best food they had in a long time.
Exquisite Japanese Lunch

Enjoying Lunch

Nijo Castle

Another UNESCO site we visited after lunch was the Nijo Castle. Immense walls, and moats with beautiful gates protected the interior structures. A ‘Nightingale’ floor protected the living space of the Shogun who lived here in the 17th Century. One cannot walk on the flooring of the palace without
Entry Gate to the Nijo Castle
making a sound. The noise of someone (Ninja?) walking inside the building would wake up the guards or the Shogun himself. The squeak of the wooden floor boards was unavoidable. The year 1603, the year this palace was built, must have been a murderous time to need to install such precautions. The castle itself, the interior rooms in the style of the times, was fairly empty. Highly stylized wall
Moat Surrounding the Nijo Castle
drawings were the only decoration for each room but those were delicate and some even gold covered. The rooms had no furniture. Only mats and seating cushions covered the floors. The wooden parts used in the building itself were exquisite, the style severely reserved and understated. Japanese elegance! The clothing the people wore however, showed their rank and wealth and was very
Very Thick Walls Surrounding the Castle
elaborate. The buildings were mostly used for administrative purposes. Feudal lords came to petition the Shogun or brought gifts.

Wall Painting of the Shogun
Concubines served the Shogun. He had many of them. No other man or feudal lord was allowed to see his concubines. The women lived as if living in a harem. The power struggle in this highly macho oriented society was devastating. Everyone feared for their life. The aspiring made the power holders their target. Only the strongest survived. Strongest meant the most cunning, the most devious,
Shogun Doll
the brightest. While physical strength was needed, loyalty and foresight, knowing when to bow and when to kill was of outmost importance too. It was a brutal time for most of the 17th century. Yet, the art that was created at the time was sublime and original and beautiful. Symbolic meanings, decorative subtleties all added to an exquisite, exotic lifestyle very different from Europe. No wonder the few Westerners that came to visit were taken aback by what they saw and experienced. I am still awed by it today.

There was competition between the Emperor and the Shogun in those days in Japan. The Shogun was the head of all the feudal lords; he was the top military man, so to speak. He was in charge of all of Japan, or so it seemed. The Emperor seemed like a pure figure-head but don't go by what you see in Japan. Behind the face you look at, lies the deep rooted belief of a superior race. The emperor was (is?) a descendant of the Sun; he is a God in Japan. I offer as proof the fact that today in 2015, there are no Shoguns in Japan, but there is still an Emperor. So who won in the end? The Emperor of Japan is a most powerful figure, even today. Very quiet, very understated he never-the-less, still pulls the strings. The shogun seemed to give back power to the Emperor at some time but did he really? Japan is intriguing. Evidence surfaced lately that during and after WWII Emperor Hirohito pulled a lot of secretive strings. The power struggle between the Military and the Royal house seems to not die down.
Paintings of Geishas

Geishas; an image of Japan without those highly skilled entertainers is hard to imagine. A Geisha in training is called Meiko. True Geishas are refined artists, schooled in the high arts of Japanese culture. One might think of an entertainer in the Western style, singer, instrument player, dancer, emcee, etc. then replace the singing, dancing, instrument playing, etc. with the Japanese equivalent and voila, you come close to a Geisha.
Geisha Dolls

Except; the true Geisha has severe restrictions. Geishas can not be married nor be a prostitute. They dedicate their life to the arts. This severe lifestyle is voluntary. The pursuit of perfection drives them on. It is a single-minded approach to life: perfect oneself in the Art of Entertainment. Excel in life by constantly improving the way you display flowers, do Origami, sing, play the Shamisen or be a great conversationalist, etc.

Geishas are ranked by a complicated system. The ranking system is led by the Grand Dowagers in Kyoto. Gion Kobu, Pontocho and Kamishichiken are the highest ranks. Gion Kobu is the highest rank. "There is currently no western equivalent for a geisha - they are truly the most impeccable form of Japanese art." – Kenneth Chapeon, The Floating World
An Impressive Drumming Performance

Remember that Japan was and is not based on Judea/Christian principals. The moral standards, so common to the West, are not really applicable in Japan, especially when it comes to sex, death or other ways of life. Deeply rooted in the Japanese psyche are the Shinto ways (the belief in nature and ancestor worship). The Bushido (ways and laws of the Samurai such as never give up, fight to the death and be an honorable person), while not officially sanctioned, is very much alive.
Ever-changing Light Display

Lights on a Ferris Wheel

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