Saturday, July 9, 2011

Konichiwa (hello) from Japan

Greetings from Tokyo, the capital of Japan. We arrived in Tokyo after the big 9.0 earthquake but we were there for the 7.2 one. In fact, there were several small (4.0 to 5.0) earthquakes everyday while we were in Japan. There is a web site called “Latest Earthquakes in the World – Past 7 Days” that we would often check. We were surprised how many quakes there are worldwide. Japan has built their buildings to withstand most earthquakes. We would feel them but mostly is was a shutter with nothing knocked over. In the recent big earthquake it was the tsunami, a huge wave, that caused the greatest problem.

People were very glad to see us because most of the tourists stayed away and it was one of their most important tourists’ season – cherry blossom time. Tokyo was beautiful will thousands of cherry trees in full bloom.

The United States and Japan have an interesting cherry tree relationship. In 1912 the Japanese government sent about 3,000 cherry trees as a gift of friendship to Washington where Cherry Blossom Time is a big deal, too. Much of Japan was destroyed by the bombings during World War II including the cherry trees. So, the United States sent cuttings from the ones in Washington to Japan to replace the destroyed ones. And, in the 1960s, more were sent to replace trees destroyed in a flood.

Each day we enjoyed walking around one of the parks. We like to visit parks. In Ueno Park we watched people feed the birds, ride pedal boats on the pond and enjoying a picnic under the trees. We visited a beautiful pagoda and the Shitamachi Museum. The museum is small but showed what the villages looked like years ago when many people lived in Shop Houses. In the front was a shop and behind the shop was the living area. We liked the candy shop but the coppersmith was also interesting. We like to see how people lived long ago.

Tokyo and all of Japan is extremely modern with high speed “bullet” trains so we were surprised to see some of the ladies dressed in kimonos, the traditional dress of Japan. One day we were in another park and saw a couple dressed in their wedding attire having their pictures taken. People are very polite and respectful in Japan so we bowed slightly (bowing to show respect is very important in Japan) and asked if we could take their picture. They agreed and we bowed again and said, “Arigato” (thank you).

We visited one of the most important temple complexes in Narita, just outside of Tokyo. It was founded in AD 949 and there were many beautiful and colorful Buddhist temples. In the biggest temple they have ceremonies throughout the day where they burn wooden offerings and say prayers. We think a lot of people were praying for the people who died in the tsunami and earthquake.

One night we went to a traditional theatrical Japanese theatrical performance. It is called Kabuki. The actors are all men. They even play the female parts. We were glad we rented headphones. The narration explained everything and it was very interesting. Even some of the Japanese had headphones because the actors sometimes used an old form of the language. The show lasted four hours but there were three different performances. After the first presentation most people took out their dinner that they had preordered and ate it. We wished we had done that. They have wonderful takeout prepared meals in lacquer ware boxes with compartments. They are called bento boxes. One day on a tour we had a bento box lunch. It was great. We always learn so much when we travel but we have so much more to learn.