Archive for April, 2010

Great Post on Leslie Avon Miller’s Blog-Getting Clear of your Inner Critic

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

Mt Fuji (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

I am back from my fabulous trip to Japan.  I had a lovely day getting myself mentally and physically back on this continent:  loads of laundry, grocery shopping, walking my dogs, seeing what’s coming up in my garden and spending some time reconnecting with my husband. 

I checked the blogs I read tonight and came across two really lovely posts from Leslie Avon Miller’s  blog  “Create Your Best Life Coaching”  Her post is about getting back in touch with our power and our dreams.  after just having spent the last ten days taking some risks and fulfilling some dreams of my own, I especially appreciated this.  Check it out here and a really good short video here

Big in Japan-A Visit to Nara on My Last Day Here

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

Whew!  This has been an action packed trip.  As much as I’ve loved it, I’m ready to head home.  I will definitely get myself back to Japan for another visit.  what a great country.  

For my finale, I went to the original capitol of Japan, the city of Nara.  I actually went with a (mostly) English speaking guide for this leg of the journey and didn’t have to make up explanations for things like I did the rest of the trip 🙂 

First of all, people in Nara consider deer messengers from the gods.  They are sacred.  To that end, they roam all over town and people feed them and pet them.  The whole town has a deer theme, sort of like the foxes at the Inari Shrine.   They are actually so used to people feeding them, that they can get rude about it.  I saw one nip a school girl in the butt and had more than a few head butt me for food.  They do this begging ritual that’s pretty funny.  They will nod their heads at you to get you to give them food.  Here’s a picture my guide took of me being mobbed by them.  BTW, they are microdeer.  They are about half the size of our deer. 

Deer Mob! (C) by Tracy McCabe Stewart


They're Everywhere! They're Everywhere! (C) by Tracy McCabe Stewart


 My guide then took me to this pond; which looks like no great shakes, but it is the site where the Emperor’s lover though she had lost the love of the Emperor (he’d found another woman)  So she drowns herself in this pond-which is only about 2 feet deep, by the way.  They appease her spirit by having a parade every year, electing a woman to represent her and cruising around this little pond in a long boat.  They have ashrine (of course) right by the pond, where people put prayers about love gone wrong.  I wish I could have seen all that! 

Drowning Pond (C) by Tracy McCabe Stewart


We spent the rest of the tour in the Todai-ji , Buddhist Temple complex: Home of the Giant Buddha-Okay that’s not how they refer to it.  All these temple/shrine complexes have numerous buildings for various different rituals-sometimes only used a few times a year.  All the buildings were beautiful, but I won’t show all that many pictures of them because, unlike all the other places I’ve been……. 


 As you pass through the first Torii gate that marks the boundary into the sacred space, all of the set up is for purification.  You can stop at these shrines and cleanse with water or leave a prayer, etc.  All of it is meant for the “other” world to drop away. 

Path up to the shrine (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart


They used to light these lanterns every night.  Now, only twice a year. 

One of the fountains for purification (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart


 another fountain: 

More fountains (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart


yet another, aren’t they beautiful? 

Are We Pure Yet? (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart


I could show you a zillion more of these!  Anyway, 

Here’s the main attraction-The Great Hall.  This place is GINORMOUS!  It’s 18 meters high and pretty much all it houses is Buddha and a couple of pals: 

I forget what this guy was called, but Buddha cast him out for some reason or another.  Anyway, it doesn’t stop people from believing that he will heal their bodies.  Your supposed to touch the corresponding part on him that is afflicted on you.  I think anyone can only reach his knees, and that’s why the Japanese can sit like they do! 

Creepy Healing Guy (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart


and the big guy himself: 

Buddha! (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart


I know you can’t really get the scale of this.  He is 50 feet tall.  Each one of his hair curls is a meter across.  That’s bigger hair than I have!  His hand is as tall as I am.  He is way cool.  

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t really understand the whole many faces of Buddha thing, but Buddha is flanked by these other Buddha guys.  Sorry to all Buddhists for the butchering of their religion.  Here’s one of the other guys. 

Other Buddha Guy (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart


and then there are these guards that judge who is ready for enlightenment.  They look a bit heavy handed for Buddhism, but there you go.  This one is crushing demons with his feet.  BTW, they are about 30 feet tall.  this whole place was a demonstration of BIG.  See the demons under his feet? 

 I forget what else he’s doing, but he has a pagoda in his hand: 

Other Guard Guy (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart


The lighting was too bad to get the other one.

Tomorrow I am back to Chicago.  The blog may get a bit boring after all this adventure.

Big in Japan: Shogun! and the Botanic Gardens

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

The weather was absolutely dreadful today.  It rained buckets all day.  I decided to postpone my excursion to Nara until tomorrow and go to Nijo Castle today.  Building on this castle was started in 1601 and completed in 1626.  Various parts were destroyed over the years, but it’s been restored. 

The fortress is much more functional than most:  low ceilings to inhibit swordplay, squeaky or “nightingale” floors to warn of intruders, moats and high, high walls around the fortress.  There were screens that the body guards would hide behind as well; all very ninja.  On top of all the security, the place was set up to reinforce social hierarchy.  Certain ranks of people were received in certain rooms, etc.  and the paintings in the room had a clear message to the visitors who might find themselves there.  It all makes me want to watch that horrible TV series, “Shogun” again and read all those great books by James Clavell that it was based on.

As I travel through this country, I am astounded at the detail work that went into these historical structures.  The whole of it is always beautiful, but I’ll catch a lovely detail:  the rivet work on a door or the tile work on a roof that make me slow down and pay more attention.  

The gardens have absolutely blown me away as well.  They are so extensively planned and maintained.  The view from every angle is planned out meticulously.  I saw so many plants that were supported with bamboo.  The gardener had a vision of how s/he wanted this plant to look in 50 years. 

The goals in my garden are to have my plants live through my Great Dane running through them for another year. 

As an aside, I have been trying to take a good picture of koi ever since I’ve gotten here.  They have them in EVERY garden I’ve visited and they are as bis as Golden Retreivers.  They are almost scary.  Every picture I have taken of them stinks,but I have posted the best one.  You cannot really tell the ginormousness of these creatures from it.

As usual, no pictures inside-too bad because there were some really lovely painted screens and painted ceilings.  I took pictures of the outsides of the buildings and grounds.  Yes, that is rain that you see and occaisonally, the tip of my umbrella.  There were endless school kids around.  They are in most of the pictures.

Blingy Front Entrance (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

Outer Gates (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

The Main Residence (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

I couldn’t read the description on this one, but it looks like a bell to me!

Big Shogun Bell (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

Main Hall (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

Shogun Garden (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

Island Garden (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

More Beautiful Gardenness (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

Roof Detail (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

and here are a few shots fromt the Botanic Gardens I went to my first day in Kyoto.  They  were truly lovely, but not too much in bloom yet:

Another Gorgeous Japanese Garden (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

Fabu Garden Shot (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

and, finally the Giant koi:

Giant Koi! (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

Weather permitting I will spend my last day here touring Nara.  I get to feed miniature deer!

Big in Japan-Toji Temple and Flea Market

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

I ventured out to the monthly flea market held at Toji temple.  I didn’t really take pictures of the flea market; too weird in that close quarters with people.  It was pretty darn big, though.  Rows and rows of people selling everything from used kimono and pottery to plants, to food.  I had a blast and bought two plainer kimono for $12.  Flea markets are one of the only places in Japan where haggling is acceptable.

I did go visit the temple and garden, which was really gorgeous.  I even managed to see the monks at prayer, which was pretty special, too.  The temple consists of numerous buildings and they go pray at each of them.  I couldn’t take pictures of the temple interiors; these are active places of worship.  They had some really spectacular Buddhas in them.  Here are pictures of the exteriors.  I ADORE the Japanese architecture:

Five Tiered Pagoda (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

Garden Lantern (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

Garden Pond (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

Turtle Mania! (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

Another of the Shrine Buildings (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

Architecture close up (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

Another Architecture Close up (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

Monks going to Prayer (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

That’s the flea market behind the monks.

Big in Japan: Spiritual Stairmaster at the Fushimi-Inari Shrine

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Boy, did I ever get my exercise today.  I spent the morning at a flea market at the Toji shrine  (pictures later) and then hopped a train to the fushimi-inari shrine.  The shrine is dedicated to the gods of rice and sake (gotta love that).  It consists of endless paths lined with torii gates and endless individual shrines with foxes (inari). 

The path goes up forever.  I mean seriously, it’s all the way up the mountain.  After an hour of walking up, I was pretty much over being spiritually enlightened  and was working on crabby and sweaty.  This was furthered by little Japanese men leaving me in their dust. 

I tried to find a way back down but managed to go off road and end up in a subdivision.  So much for finding a shortcut back; I had to backtrack the whole route.  Anyway, the shrines and the gates are absolutely marvelous.  They are absolutely endless.  Hundreds of gates and shrines, literally.  I took a zillion pictures of everything.  Here’s a few I liked  most:

Torii Gates Galore! (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

Inari or Foxes with Grain in their Mouths

A Lane of Lanterns Leading up to the Torii Gates (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

Torii Gates on the Way Up (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

Shrine of some sort (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

Another Shrine (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

Gates on the Way Down (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

Elaborate shrine (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

Inari (fox) Shrine (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

A Really Elaborate Inari Shrine (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

 I am going to Nara tomorrow to see shrines (what else) and pet little deer.

Big in Japan-Tracking the Elusive Inoshishi

Monday, April 19th, 2010

My daughter and I were walking around Kobe today and we spotted some wild boar or inoshishi in the riverbed.  Ugly little spuds, aren’t they-despite the cute name. 



Inoshishi posing

Big in Japan-A trip to Itchiku Kubota’s Kimono Museum

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

More Falls (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

Hi all,

While Ashley and I were up around Mt. Fuji, we went to see Itchiku Kubota’s astounding kimono.  Fueled by Japanese fast food these things I call rice balls:

Behold, the Japanese Rice Ball Thingie. Yum!

I sure wish I could post pictures of the actual work, but no photos were allowed in the exhibit.  I did take lots of pictures of his lovely gardens and have posted them below.  There are more lovely photos of his gardens here.

Itchiku was inspired by a piece of 17th century textiles (tsujikahana)  and vowed he would figure out how it was created and reproduce the technique.  He did that and then some; creating an amazing body of work called the “Symphony of Light”.  Read more about it here.  Much of the series was inspired by the incredible sunsets he saw while he was a prisoner of war held in Siberia.  He talks about how the sunsets gave him something to live for.   He died before the series’ completion, but his apprentices still carry out his work today.  Here’s a link to a 3 minute video of his work.  It has lovely footage of the kimono and a few scenes of his museum, which is a work of art in itself. 

Each kimono represents a year’s work by numerous people.  I have many books of his work, including Kimono as Art which has exquisite photos of his work.  even with all these books, I was surprised at how textural his kimono are.  There is actually very little stitching on them.  All of the work is painstakingly created through the dye process.  when the kimono fabris is untied after many, many dyeings, many of the folds are left in place as texture on the piece.  All of the kimono stand alone as works of art, as well as being part of a larger landscape.

I know many artists who have a “big picture” feel to their work and many who excel at detail.  I have seen very few who have had to be so good at both.  He is the only living artist to ever be shown at the Smithsonian.  I had more than a few tears in my eye looking at this work and hearing about his life.   What an amazing artist.

Anyway, here are some shots of his lovely gardens:

Entry Gates to the Garden (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

Detail of Entry Gate (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

Garden Path (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

Falls (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

Garden Pond (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

Funky Garden Seating (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

Garden Falls in front of the museum (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

Monkeys were on the loose! We only saw a tail.

Another Beautiful Gate (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

on another note, the train station had these creepy fairies guarding it.  No explanation anywhere:

Creepy train station fairies (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

and a close up:

Creepy Fairy Close Up (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

Off to Kyoto tomorrow!

Big in Japan Day 2-The Slog to Mt. Fuji

Saturday, April 17th, 2010

Remember that movie “Romancing the Stone” that starred Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner?  It was probably out some time in the 80’s.  Anyway, Kathleen Turner’s character goes to Columbia to try to save her sister.  She is trying to get to Cartegena, and has been steered to the wrong bus, it crashes and people are leaving the bus to go on with their lives.  She is left standing in the middle of nowhere with a gigantic suitcase.   She asks Michael Douglas how to get to Cartgena.  He replies, “Angel, you are hell and gone from Cartgena”. 

I kept having flashes of that scene while Ashley and I tried to get from Kobe to the Five Lakes Region around Mt. Fuji.  Change the country and that’s us, complete with Ginormo, the giant suitcase.   Our directions from the travel agent were to take a bullet train to a specific station and transfer to another train line to get to Mt. Fuji.  We got through the first leg and found that the train line to Mt. Fuji didn’t come within 30 miles of the station we were currently standing in.  Thank God that kid of mine speaks Japanese.  After numerous exchanges with train personnel, she located a bus we could take to get to our hotel.

We didn’t have enough cash for the bus, so wandered around for a while trying to find an ATM that took foreigh credit cards.  We finally found a 7-11 with a machine that we figured out after about 10 tries.  At this time, we decided it must be cocktail hour and added booze to our supply list.

This is Ginormo.  I have been hauling this 50 pound suitcase up and down stairs all day.  Don’t ever let people talk you into “bringing a few things over for them”

Ginormo, the Giant Suitcase

Anyway, 2 hours on a bus later we get to our hotel.  we have dinner and are too tired to even drink the booze we bought.  We do try on the Yukata that are provided in all Japanese hotel rooms.  Aren’t we cute?

The tired Yukata twins (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

They have had a freak snowstorm and when I look out my window in the morning, I see this:

Snowy Day 2 (C) Tracy McCabe Stewart

and this:

More Snowy Day (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

and this:

More snow (C) Tracy McCabe Stewart

We are totally unprepared for snow.  Ashley has a pair of girly, city shoes and I have only packed a jean jacket.

Ashley's Girly Shoes

Thankfully, it all pretty much melted that morning and it turned out just fine.  I got to see these beautiful gardens in snow and see the cherry blossoms when it had thawed.  I missed most of the cherry blossoms at the lower altitude, but this area is up about 2000 feet and they were still here in all of there glory.

Cherry blossoms in the hotel garden (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

a close up:

Cheery Blossom close up (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

The hotel is on Lake Komoguchi, in the middle of a National Park and they had an observatory at the top of the hotel with wonderful views: 

View from the observation floor of the hotel

Out the other side of the hotel is a spectacular view of My. Fuji.  At the end of the day, When the clouds cleared a bit,  I managed to get a picture of the top:

Top of Mt. Fuji (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

and a bit broader a view:

Mt. Fuji (c) Tracy McCabe Stewart

We went to see the exquisite kimono of Itciku Kubota later that day.  They didn’t allow photos in the museum, but I got lots of shots of the gardens.  I’ll try to post them as soon as I can.

Mission Big in Japan (Very) Early Day 2-You’re not in Kansas Anymore

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

Okay, I have given up on trying to sleep tonight.  It’s 3am local time.  I thought I would organize my things for the day and ran across this in the drawers, which completely made my day.  I’d expect the Gideons to have left a bible, which they did, but I didn’t know the Buddhists were into evangelism 🙂

Buddhist Evangelism

Big in Japan-Day1

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

Well, I made it safe and sound to my hotel in Kobe.  I am pretty frazzled from the trip, but things actually went fairly smoothly. 

I took the train from Osaka airport to Kobe.  Very dense housing, everything a bit grey from pollution, very urban.  Unlike the States; relatively few cars, tons of people riding their bikes and tons of bike storage, and every residence had a balcony with an elaborate clothes line system.   There were these little pockets of green:  ornamental gardens, parks and small agricultural plots.  I did see some ball fields with children playing in them right next to what looked like a sort of shanty town-numerous homeless people living in the park.  The makeshift shelters looked like they’d been there a while.

As we got closer to Kobe, the trains got incredibly crowded.  Thank God I am a giant.  I think my claustrophobia would have really kicked in if I didn’t have my own air space!

 I only have the energy for one picture today.  This is the view from my hotel room down to the street in Kobe:

Kobe view

Tomorrow I get to see my daughter (whoohoo!).  She will take me to see her school and then we head up to the Five Lakes region near Mt. Fuji.  I should have gorgeous pictures while staying up there.