Monday, March 30, 2015

More family time

After Friday's trip to Shakuji-koen, Ken's family spent Saturday with Norie's gang at drum-making event.

We all met up again on Sunday at church, then I skipped out of choir practice for a lunch together and window-shopping along Omotesando. (Just looking is about all anyone could afford in that area) We had to check out "Kiddyland", of course, then split up because Norie and I needed to find party hats for Leia's Tuesday party.

Leia got in lots of practice in a "big sister" mode.

I continued to be amazed throughout the week at how skilfully she engaged Ryden and kept him out of mischief and still having fun.

Mondays many parks and public places are closed so we headed off to Inokashira Park where admission is free. The zoo section was closed but we had a nice long birding walk around the pond at the source of the Kanda river,

We were looking for Mandarin Ducks in each pond but all the places they used to reside have become crowded as the city moves ever closer in. We checked out several other ponds on Tuesday and on Wednesday we went to the Tokyo Port Wild Bird Park. The naturalist on duty there said they had had a pair two weeks before but didn't know where they went when they left. Zia got many fine pictures at all the beautiful places and added to her life list.

Tuesday we had a big party at a restaurant in our old neighborhood that the kids were fond of. All the family was together plus Leia's other grandmother, Obachan, (Paul's sister) and one of our "Sons-n-loan" and his bride. We celebrated Leia's 7th birthday and Ichi and Miki's marriage.

Then we had a walk back to the home Ken and Norie grew up in, the Mejiro Garden nearby, then Jiyu Gakuen Myonichikan (built by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1921 when he was in Tokyo building the Imperial Hotel). After that we went to Chinzanso gardens, also well remembered stamping grounds for our children. We pretty well filled the day with lots of walking. Norie brought an old baby stroller that helped with nap time and could carry bags when not occupied otherwise.

Paul asked for my camera so he could download some pictures so I hardly got a glance of those three days of activities. For someone who spends 75% of his time at the computer, he has little understanding of how his settings work because all my pictures were deleted upon download. When he asked for Zia's pictures later, I warned Ken who took over the process.

Thursday and Friday a trip to Nagano was planned. I had no input and was enlisted as the driver.
Nikko went off to a kennel, camping gear that lives in my van was exchanged for travel stuff and we set off according to plan.

Our first stop was Narai-juku, an extremely well preserved post town on the Nakasendo highway midway between Kyoto and Edo.

The town stretched about a kilometer along the river and was a resting place for travelers having crossed the highest pass along the road.

There were watering wells along the street and shrines and temples as well as inns and shops. The area is famous for lacquer-ware a d many shops had a variety of goods for sale.

Ryden had no problem figuring out how the water ladles worked.

Side streets led back to shrine's and temples.

There were graveyards with 200 "Jizos" or Buddhist statues to guard the graves of travelers who had died along the way and having no one to tend their graves.

One very interesting mention of the "Hidden Christians" was made here.
As the Shogunate had banned and persecuted Christians, they had to go underground to survive.

In 1932, at the beginning of the Showa period,

this statue, called "Maria Jizo" was found headless on the hillside behind, It believed to have been made for those clandestine Christians to give prayers in secret.

With the Pope having recently made reference to those
hidden Christians, there seems to be renewed interest by
the Japanese in this aspect of their history.

If you look carefully. you can see the baby in Mary's lap.

He is holding a lotus flower in his hand...

traditional Buddhist image ... but the shape of the flower and leaf forms a cross.

The missing heads and faces may have been smashed... at least they were never found ... but it is interesting that among all the jizos, this has been recognized and placed in a special shrine and given due respect.

The town also featured this wonderful bridge.

The Kiso Ohashi  bridge is built from Kiso Hinoki Cypress and is one of the largest scale arched pier-less bridges.

It is a beautiful piece of wooden construction over 300 years old and, like the buildings in the town, all fitted and assembled without use of nails.

We had lunch in one of the old buildings recommended by a guide who showed us around and pointed out things we might have missed otherwise.

There were lovely inns in the town but the plan was to save money so I was back at the wheel and we went to a pension in the snow at the foot of Mt Ontake.(The one that had erupted half a year earlier, killing a number of climbers ... some not yet found).

 It was a nice quiet place to spend the night (and guess who enjoyed playing in the snow).

We had a quiet dinner prepared by the owners. We woke to a beautiful view of the mountain with it's plume of smoke.

Zia was out early checking out the fauna and got wonderful pictures of birds among the Birches and Larches.

The owner wanted a picture of our group so while he was at it, I asked him to take one with my camera too.

The smoke can be seen coming off the mountain to the left above Paul's head.

We had finished breakfast at the inn and packed the car for the last day on the road.

Norie and her father had put together a very ambitious itinerary for our second day and a few other ideas were added at the last minute.
My task was to sit behind the wheel and drive as directed. Luckily my cell phone had been charged overnight and was in the hands of Ken.

Of course we had learned one lesson earlier in the week about the cell phone navigator ...  The voice sent us on a shortcut to avoid traffic pile-up (the end of the month is probably the worst time to be on the road when it comes to traffic)   The "shortcut" took us into a long deep tunnel which was new and unfamiliar to me ... where it immediately lost the signal. After some driving in the bowels of the earth, we came to a choice of three routes and no clue as to where we were expected to go. Luckily, we were in the Tokyo area and I was able to find my way back home but "Shortcut" it was NOT.

Well, this is getting a bit long so I will save the rest of the trip for another post.  (Another part of Japan that was a first for me to visit).

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Time flies when you're having fun!

Ken, Zia, and little Ryden arrived very late Thursday night ... or maybe by then it was Friday morning.

Happily for me, they were able to take a train into town so I didn't have to drive them home from the airport late at night.

When a family of naturalists get together ... what do you suppose we do? Well, we started out near our home turf at Shakuji-koen. The pond here is at the start of the Shakuji river that runs near our home and we thought it might be a good place to check out the local birds.

It has been nearly fifty years since I visited the park and I was surprised to see how developed the area that was once countryside had become. There was a small visitor's information center with a naturalist on duty and we could find out what to look for and where, though the winter had been mild and most of the migrant birds had left.

Ryden had lots of energy to burn off after the long plane ride and he headed for every set of steps going up, every side-hill grade going up, and even up the trees bending over the waters of the pond.
I guess we won't have to worry about his getting up in the world because he is headed there already.

Zia is an amazing photographer, especially when it comes to birds.

As for me ...
well, do you know what this picture is?

It is the shot I took of a cute Little Grebe.

Well, it was there a second ago ...

I think it was playing
now-you-see-it, now-you-don't.

Something that moves a bit slower might be more my style like the great Gray Heron ... but after seeing  Zia's pictures, I think I had better stick to other subjects.

I don't think I was cut out to be a wildlife photographer.

Now this is more like it ...

My kind of "wild life".

Norie and Leia came for dinner and stayed over....

and plans were made for the next day's adventures. (And a list of items to be covered the rest of the week made by Norie and Paul busily off in another corner of the rooma0

Leia and Ryden enjoyed story time.
(I think Ken got to check out the whole shelf of kid's books in a very short time.)

Saturday they went off to Machida with Norie for some kind of drum activity. They came back with home-made drumsticks and lots of experience at beating on drum-like objects. Jet lag didn't seem to be slowing anyone down and they were all ready for a busy week.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Boston snow

Tuesday was a LONG day, filled with Scout Executive Board Meeting, Charter Review and Presentation Meeting. and afternoon Board self assessment. In the evening was a dinner with award presentations and the like. Even though I excused myself before everything was over, it was way past my bedtime by the time I returned home.

Luckily, just before the day, another snowflake arrived, this one from daughter, Marie, in Boston.

Note the lowest one at the bottom.

Well, considering the weather she has had this winter, it is no wonder she could come up with such a lovely pattern.

Certainly having a bit of handwork to do, made the meeting ... if not go faster ... a bit less of a waste of time.

Believe it or not, I can listen and answer questions or make comments even better when my hands are occupied.

Now it is Thursday evening in Tokyo. I am skipping choir practice because in a few hours son, Ken, DIL Zia,and baby Ryden will come through my door for a visit.  Am I ready? You bet, I can hardly wait! Is the house ready? No, and even after days and days of sorting, it is still a big mess. All the cleaning I did last week has been un-done.  It is raining so the laundry is hanging in the house. Well, at least it is clean.

Hopefully the weather will clear up and we can go birding and enjoy the outdoors so we don't have to figure out where we can possibly sit in this place!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Back on track

Back on track?
In more ways than one.

Last night my Cub Scout Pack held our Pinewood derby.

If you wonder what that is, each Cub gets a kit containing a block of wood, four wheels, and four nails.
We also give kits to leaders, parents, and siblings who would like to participate.

The object is to change that block of wood into a car that will race to find the fastest.

In order to assist those who have no tools or knowledge of turning a block into a car, we hold a few "rough-cut" days.
Kids can come with their drawings and we can help them with the basic cuts and supply saws and files and wood tools for them to use. It has been a great way to encourage  kid-made cars, and my take is ... If the dads want to get involved, make their own car and race me.

Last night this Red-Eyed Tree Frog followed me home. Can you see the smile on his face?
He is upholding my reputation that my cars are the ones to beat.

I really seem to be running out of new ideas, I have made so many cars over the years. As we were cleaning up after our second rough-cut day. one father said to me that he was looking forward to seeing what I would come up with this year. Gulp..
I was drawing a complete blank! Oh my, time was getting short and I hadn't even come up with an idea.

As I was thinking, I happened to shove my hand into my pocket and it closed around a small stone I had brought home from the Women's Conference a week earlier.

The stone had a story to tell because the speaker had asked me if I could get her some stones. Well, I had a bucket of small stones at home so I picked out about thirty, washed them and dried them and put them in bag which I delivered to her a few weeks before the conference. As a result, she said those were just what she had in mind, and could I give her about that many more. Well, two bags later, she was ready for the conference and I had figured out only that she wanted at least a choice of rocks for each person attending.

Sure enough, on the evening of the opening meeting, she set out two baskets of rocks and had each person go up and chose one. Walking up I was thinking ... do I really need another rock? I just got rid of these. Oh well, I should play along with the game ... so I looked in the baskets to see if any one of those rocks spoke to me. What I noticed was one small smooth rock. Most of them were black volcanic rock but the one that caught my eye had little white freckles and fit perfectly in my fist.
When I returned to my seat and turned the rock over in my hand, there were two eyes a beak and a wing, a small owl looking back at me.

Huh? I had washed and dried those rocks before donating them and never seen that owl. Well. strange as it may seem, the owl is my spirit helper and when it appears or calls, there is always a message.
At the end of the conference, our rocks could be left holding our concerns on the communion table but I had rather bonded with my rock/owl so picked it up and stuck it back in my pocket.

When I held that smooth stone in my hand  that afternoon, it reminded me to Fully Rely On God.....FROG! Well, why not? I googled some frog images and found the pretty one to use. So, that is the story. My friends who are familiar with my owl stories will not be surprised.

My quilting is also back on track as another snowflake has arrived from my daughter in Boston .... and with the amount of snow they have had this winter, she is an expert. It will be fun to add that pretty pattern to the tree skirt.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Four years ago

It was four years ago ... about this time of day ... I was standing on our low wall along the street filling the window cafe (bird feeder) with sunflower seeds. Nikko and I had just returned from shopping and she was waiting at the gate.

Suddenly the metal shutters began to rattle.

That seemed strange because there was no wind blowing. I could hear rattling throughout the neighborhood and Nikko was beginning to panic.

By the time I reached the gate, it was clear we were having an earthquake. I could hear things crashing to the floor in the house and we hurried out into open space to avoid falling walls and such things. The power lines were dancing and it was hard to keep standing.

Along with another neighbor, we waited until the shaking subsided, then I returned home to survey the damage.   Lots of fallen vases and flower pots ... lots of dirt from the pots ... A bit of breakage of nick-knacks. My favorite lucky cat was not so lucky. In fact, the cat collection that lives on the step-tansu with my plants ended up the worst ... maybe because the third floor was shaken the most.Paul had gone to town and took a long roundabout route to return.

Tokyo did not fare so badly compared to Tohoku, though walking through town there are still walls that haven't been repaired. The wall north of our entry has a gap where the blocks were once joined. though the neighbor had the stucco finish re-done.

We had pleas from kids in the states encouraging us to get out of Tokyo but #4 daughter and her daughter were due to arrive that weekend for a visit ... and, after all, where would we go?

This week the newspapers are full of reports of what has been done toward recovery and all that is yet to be done. From time to time there is an after-shock but the spacing has become longer and longer.

Last year a small group from our church choir took part in a dedication ceremony for a church in Tohoku that we helped support. I was also fortunate to be able to teach a quilting class to women in the temporary housing ... and am hoping to return at some point. The Scout troop has also taken part is several service projects. Still,there is a lot needing to be done for those still displaced and in "temporary" housing.

And ... from this week, the Sweet Daphne we planted when #3 daughter was born has begun to bloom.

Though it usually opens by the last day of February, it has taken a bit longer, like her sister's plum.

I might think they are slowing down in their later years, but probably the new house across the lane, blocking out the afternoon sun, has something to do with the timing.

With only two small flowers opened though, the air is full of perfume for passers-by to enjoy. Happy belated birthday, Norie!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

February birthday with a Christmas deadline

My #1 daughter has asked for a Christmas tree skirt as a birthday present. It is a good thing it won't be needed until December rolls around because there was no way to finish up by the middle of February.

I dug out my box of Christmas fabrics and though I have quite a few, there was not enough variety to place them all side-by-side.

I have made several tablecloths for my round dining room table using this pattern but decided to turn it into a star by adding blue diamonds.

As I was appliqueing the large snowflake, I thought it might be fun to have other family members contribute to the project by cutting and sending me their own versions of flakes.

These three flakes were cut by Leia.

They were cut from pastel origami paper and after I had them traced and cut out on the white fabric, I began to think they might have been interesting if added in those colors.

At any rate, this is progress and I still have a few months to go. Well... more than a few.

I have also developed a great respect for all those who create Molas.

The thin lines were actually just long cuts in the paper and even with a tiny needle turn, a challenge to sew.   Now I await more contributions from family members.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Enjoying the "River Gallery"

Friday morning some members of my Friday group, met at Nakai train station, only four stops away from my home station, for a treat I have been missing for years!

I have to admit that I didn't know something this interesting was taking place in the sleepy little village nearby.

At "Some no Komichi" the whole town becomes a gallery for three days. The Myoshi River and Nakai shopping streets display dyeing works that have been passed down in this area since the Edo period.

Along with the main dyeing centers of Japan, in Kanazawa and Kyoto, Tokyo has also been favored with pure water from the Myoshoji River, essential for washing cloth.

Although the kimono business has been shrinking, the craftsmen have continued their business in this area and kept the traditional hand-dying techniques of Yuzen, Kata-zome, Edo-komon, Shibori, and others alive to today

We crossed the river many times and it was hard to resist taking just one more picture of the 'tan mono' rolls of cloth strung along the river.

These pieces will be cut and sewed into kimono.

As one walked the streets up and down along the river, the many small shops were a gallery of countless "noren", these hanging curtains used in doorways.

I understand that many homes rented out space for shops and displays.

I guess you could tell how popular the exhibit was by counting the shoes in front of the step.
A few of those in my group were wishing by the end that they had worn shoes a bit easier to step in and out of.

Though shops hang out noren to let customers know they are open, ordinary homes use these too to partition rooms where they can pass easily without doors ... kitchens and hallways for example.

Here is another very decorative noren in another style.....

and someone wrestling with their shoes for perhaps the tenth time in the morning....

There were exhibits of work and demonstrations of the various techniques used to decorate cloth.

There were even places where, for a price, one could try their hand at decorating the cloth in one manner or another.

This exhibition had items for sale and lovely examples hanging on the walls.

This hanging of a lotus plant had an explanation in English,

"The Lotus symbolizes the past, present, and future.
The past is the seed,
The present is the flower,
and the future is the bud.

The dragonfly is considered a valiant creature on the side of victory."

Maybe the people in charge of the exhibit should volunteer to help with the Tokyo Dome show to make it more international-friendly.
It was nice to be able to read the additional information.

This dyed piece with a young boy riding a carp was charming and colorful in itself but the English explanation may have been informative to those who are not familiar with symbols of "Boy's Day".

Before leaving at the end of the day, I paid a visit with two other group members to the Hayashi Fumiko Memorial Hall, where we enjoyed viewing the beautiful Japanese home and gardens of this famous writer and her painter husband.

Note the noren hanging just beyond the door to the garden gate.

This house also hosted an exhibit of shibori dyed cloth.

I particularly liked this indigo-dyed kimono.

We studied this pattern for quite some time trying to figure out how it had been done so perfectly.

The garden was large and peaceful with flowers beginning to celebrate the coming spring.

I told an elderly volunteer who was guiding people through the villa that I thought even I could become a writer, or perhaps a poet sitting in this beautiful place and looking at the wonderful garden.

He grabbed my shoulders and said, "Come here with me", and led me to a spot....

He had me bend down to the level of the table, saying this is the room where Hayashi-san wrote her books ... the table holds her writing tools and beyond is the garden ... not so quiet at that time because of visitors enjoying the garden paths.... but that zabuton does look very inviting.

As we made out way back through town to the train station ,,,

more colorful dyes fabric hung along the river.

These look to have been done by students of some school and one had children's hand prints along the strip in an assortment of bright colors along with the name of the school.

And ... along the other side of the river ...

Teruteru bozu ...

A figure that is hung in the hope that the weather the following day will be fair.

Often if the wish comes true, a face might be painted on the figure.

Yes, Saturday the weather was also fair.

I don't know if they reeled in those figures and hung new ones or not ...
But Today ... the final day of the festival began with rain that has become worse as the day progressed.
It was lucky for our group that we picked the best time for our visit and I could see all these interesting things right on my door step.