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.
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.
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).
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 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).