Ohanami: Cherry Blossom Viewing

Recently the family and I took a visit to the University of Washington to view the Japanese cherry-blossoms or sakura (桜).  This is a tradition in Japan called ohanami (お花見) which just literally means “flower viewing”.

We missed last year’s viewing due to bad weather,¹ so were happy to view them this year, especially since Little Guy is now old enough to kind of understand.  At the very least, the kids could get some fresh air.  🙂

Here are some photos of our visit:

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My daughter took a few photos too:

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…and she snuck in a photo of me and her little brother:

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Happy Spring, everyone!

P.S. Past ohanami at the UW and in Japan.

Rocking Out in Utsunomiya, Part One

While in Japan this summer, my family and I took a visit to the city of Utsunomiya in Tochigi Prefecture further north to visit my wife’s extended family. My kids enjoy playing with their second-cousins (we treat them as regular cousins for all practical purposes) who come from other parts of the world. It’s like a little family reunion.

My wife’s extended family live pretty far out in the outskirts of Utsunomiya, so we get to see a lot of the countryside and Tochigi Prefecture always has something interesting something to see. I’ve posted about past adventures in Utsunomiya here.

Anyhow, this year we took a visit to a famous rock quarry called Ōyashiryōkan (大谷資料館). The official website is here.  My wife’s extended family still has memories of this place as children when people still mined the rock there. One uncle remembers being strapped to his mom’s back as a child while his mom (my wife’s grandmother) toiled away in quarry helping the workers there. 

The quarry is no longer mined and has since been converted into a museum/concert venue. TV shows are sometimes filmed there too. 

After almost two weeks in stifling summer heat, the breeze coming down the hillside from the cave was a welcome treat:

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The museum is here:

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From the museum you follow down a series of stairs like so:

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To a great big cave:

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The cave is truly massive, and pictures do not do it justice. High overhead you could see the ceiling:

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And many dark hallways leading to other parts of the quarry:

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Some were fenced off, presumably for safety reasons, but the areas we did explore were plenty to explore. You could see the rock walls chiseled in fascinating patterns like these:

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Up close:

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And the temperature inside? A cold, clammy 11°C:

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According to a plaque posted in the quarry, this cave was used in medieval times as a natural refrigerator for storing food stuffs from the community below.  There was even champagne on display too:

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Speaking of rocks, after we left the Ōya Quarry, we went to a nearby temple. I’ll cover that in a later post. 😉

Nighttime Buddha

Dear Readers,

Recently, I visited the local Jodo Shinshu Buddhist temple one night after work for some ministerial training. Usually I dont have a reason to visit the temple in the evening, so this was nice opportunity to see the temple off-hours. I took this photo of the main altar or onaijin (お内陣):

  
This is our altar devoted to Amitabha Buddha: the Buddha of Infinite Light. Amitabha Buddha is the main object of devotion in Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, and Pure Land Buddhism in general.1

Below Amitabha Buddha are four scrolls, which represent the Pure Land Sutras, the particular Buddhist texts most fundamental to our school. The Immeasurable Life Sutra is so long that it requires two scrolls.

It is hard to see in this photo, but to the back and right, behind the hanging light, is a smaller altar devoted to Shinran the founder of our tradition. On the other side, behind the other hanging light, is an altar for Rennyo who was Shinran’s descendant and the “restorer” of Jodo Shinshu.

The temple and its altar have been around for over 100 years, and I think they do a nice job expressing Pure Land Buddhist teachings in a non-verbal way. 

1 There are a lot of ways to interpret who, or what, Amitabha Buddha is. The founder of Jodo Shinshu, Shinran, taught that Amitabha was the Dharma (the teachings of Buddhism) expressed as compassion.

Snail

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This is a photo I took a couple weeks ago on my driveway. We don’t have a lot of snails around my yard, so I was surprised to find this tiny one. It reminds me of a famous haiku by Kobayashi Issa (小林一茶 1763-1827):

蝸牛 Katatsumuri
そろそろ登れ Soro soro nobore
富士の山 Fuji no yama

Which can be translated as:

O snail
Climb Mount Fuji,
But slowly, slowly!

Happy Spring!

Tulip Festival 2015

Hello,

It’s April, and once again the family went to see the famous Tulip Festival in the town of Mount Vernon here in Washington State. We love going to one farm called Tulip Town every year. This year we were fortunate to take some good friends with us, and we all had a great time.

The weather was unusual because it was both cloudy and sunny, which made some unusually beautiful photos. Plus, I followed the advice of a good friend who taught me that good photos are taken from angles that are different from the ones we normally see. That’s your photography tip for the day. 😉

You can see the full collection here, but these are my favorite photos:

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The pictures this year turned out much better than previous years, I think. I was carrying Little Guy in one arm and trying to take photos with the camera phone so it wasn’t easy, but I’m happy with the result.

Anyhow, enjoy! 🌷

Cherry Blossoms at the University of Washington

As mentioned in my last post, the family and I went to see the cherry-blossoms (桜 sakura) at the University of Washington. The UW has a large courtyard called the “Quad”, which contains many trees donated from Japan almost 100 years ago. The trees are pretty large now, and very popular. Many Japanese people and non-Japanese people in Seattle like to visit the UW for ohanami (お花見) which is the annual viewing of cherry-blossoms.

I graduated from the UW, and enjoyed the Quad ever since I was a student. I still have an old photo of my wife when were still dating near those cherry trees, and another photo years later when she was pregnant with our first child. We have had many pleasant memories at that place.

Last year, Little Guy was too young for ohanami, so this year was his first. We were not 100% sure when the blossoms would appear, so we took a chance and visited last weekend (the 6th of March). The weather was fantastic, but not all the trees had bloomed yet. The view was great though:

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and:

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and:

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Here is a photo of the blossoms, close-up:

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Many people were gathered around the trees, taking photos. We also took a few photos, then sat on the lawn for a long time. Little Guy, who is now 17 months old, really enjoyed the warm, soft grass. He crawled around, and even walked a little bit. Here is Little Guy climbing on Daddy:1

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and here he is rolling in the grass with his older sister (now 8 years old):

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Anyhow, it was a great time. I hope you can see cherry blossoms wherever you live too. 🙂

1 He thinks it is funny to slap Daddy’s tummy. ;p

Adventures in New York and New Jersey

Hi Everyone,

If you follow me on Twitter, you might have noticed that I was gone last week on a business trip to New Jersey and New York. The business trip has nothing to do with the blog, and isn’t particularly interesting anyway, but we did have an opportunity to visit New York City and such. So, I wanted to share some photos from our visit to New York.

Hamilton, NJ train station

We took the NJ Transit train from Hamilton, NJ which is a lovely small town that had an old, “colonial American” feel.1 The train ride was OK, and after 1 hour, we arrived in Penn Station:

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And then outside:

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New York is pretty crowded, like downtown Tokyo, so it was a bit overwhelming at first. I’ve been Tokyo many times, so I am used to it there, but this was first my first time in NYC, so I was a bit disoriented.

After we got some work done in the city, we went to the Empire State Building:

The Empire State Building

Outside, a number of vendors were trying to sell us tickets stating that the line was one-and-a-half hours long, but one of my teammates had lived in New York before and knew this was not true. The vendors were very persistent, and annoying though. We ignored them and went inside. Indeed, the line was very short:

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The inside of the building is very pretty though:

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We skipped most of the exhibits (we only had 1 day to visit New York) and went to the top. It was very windy and cold, but gorgeous:

World Trade Center from Empire State Building

The tall building in the background is the World Trade Center.

Seriously though, it was cold:

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Here is a panoramic shot of New York, facing Central Park:

New York skyline from Empire State Building

After all that was done, we took the New York subways toward the World Trade Center:

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The empty tunnels reminded me of Hollywood movies:

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We arrived outside near the new World Trade Center:

The new World Trade Center profile

It’s really, really tall:

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I always wanted to see the 9/11 memorial because I wanted to leave some flowers or say a prayer. Thankfully, the Memorial was right next door inside a very beautiful park. I took a video of the memorial. This is the foundation of one of the original buildings, which is now a fountain:

I said a quick Buddhist prayer for all the people who died when my coworkers (hopefully) were not looking and then we left to get some dinner.

Later that evening, we went to the harbor for a late-night tour. The harbor was dark, and even more cold:

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The boat tour was pretty good. They talked about the history of New York City, made some jokes about the British (which was annoying since my teammate is British and some of the passengers were British tourists) and then we got to see the Statue of Liberty:

Statue of Liberty at night

It was hard to take a photo on a windy, rocking boat at night, but it was nice to see the Statue of Liberty at last.

Another teammate, an avid photographer, took much better photos of the same trip. You can see them here.

You can find the full album of photos I took here.

So what did I think of New York? I’ve been to London, Paris and of course Tokyo and New York was similar, but somehow less friendly.2 It’s big, crowded and has a lot of history so, it was exciting to be there, and I am happy I finally visited the 9/11 Memorial, but I think visiting New York once is enough.

Still, I am glad I was able to go once (my wife went many years ago before we got married) and it was a good experience for the whole team, so it was definitely worth going.

P.S. New Jersey had a lot of good food in general. One time we found a small Thai-food restaurant called Thai House Rock. The menus are made using old LP record albums and the food is made to order and it was delicious. We also found a good deli run by a very nice, old lady at a gas station. The sandwiches were huge and delicious. I’d probably go back to NJ just for the food. 😉

P.P.S. A BBC article by someone who shares the same view about New York Citt.

1 They also had a small Italian restaurant there with a delicious Philly-Cheesesteak Hoagie. I didn’t even know what a hoagie was. In Seattle, we call them “sub sandwiches”. Interesting how the same country can have regional differences like that. :p

2 Paris doesn’t feel friendly either, unless you speak a little French. I knew a few words and phrases and that helped a lot. It helped in Luxembourg too. I was surprised to see a lot of Japanese tourists in Paris. We had a good time overall, especially the Louvre and the Champs Elysees. I would definitely go back but I would like to learn more French first.