Monday, January 14, 2013

Mt. Nokogiri

At the Mount Nokogiri Daibutsu

It has become a bit of a tradition to go to Mt. Nokogiri (Nokogiri: a Japanese saw) in January.

Hyakushaku Kannon
The first year we did it, Ian was 4 months old, Dougie was 3 and Stefan 5.  This year, Ian was the three-year old that got to hoof it to/from the ferry, up/down the ropeway and navigate the 300+ stairs (one-way).  He got a lift for some of the stairs

but mainly just took a hand.

No matter the relation (Daddy), the age (Matthew) or how full it was (Wes with Emi).  Dougie followed suit  ;)

Eileen, John Henry and Matthew joined us this year (Dave, Mikaela & Alex went on the June trip).  One of the fun things about traditions is that there are guarantees.  One of the guarantees of the the Nokogiri trip is the HansonSmiths.  They are back in Japan and we are super excited!  The year that Dougie was the 3-year old, Emi (now 2+) was a baby and Eaton was the 2-year old.  Our boys have talked regularly about them while they were gone - one of the common themes was: "I can't wait for Mr. Wes to spin us!"  John Henry helped out this year as FIVE boys (and one sweet Emi!) were begging - and Wes was starting to turn a bit green...

Now that Stefan is getting heavy/tall enough that his toes are dragging, he figured he should "help out".  After a failed attempt (no lift off - thankfully) to spin Eaton, Stefan just took him for a piggy-back ride.  Must admit that my heart swelled up.  It was a glimpse of him passing out of young-boyhood and into another phase.  Often those hurdles are met with awkwardness and, often times, tears or breakdowns. This passage was made, however, with grace and kindness - and a whole lot of smiles and laughter!  Once the ride was over, they played Hide-and-Seek.  Whereas Stefan did not find Eaton, Ian sure did!

Here I was told (by my son - not Eaton) not to take their picture - Stefan might find them!  (Sorry boys, you are not in the Witness Protection Program - I am taking your picture!)

They finally popped up and Ian started hollering, "Stefan!  Stefan!  We're over here!!!"  Way to be subtle...

There is a little shrine where PILES of these "little Buddhas" (as described by the kids - they are not...  They are actually little Jizo statues).  The Jizo most often represent unborn children (as the protector of children, expectant mothers...).  They can also represent a wish.  I just had it explained that this particular shrine was for World Peace.  Each Jizo is placed there with a wish for World Peace.  It is really quite beautiful to see the pile of these 5 cm statues that is 2 feet deep and maybe 10 feet in circumference.  One was hung from the overhanging tree branch.

We enjoy this tradition for traditions sake.  We enjoy it for the experience.  We enjoy it for the company!  It is great to have the HansonSmiths back - I have thoroughly enjoyed catching up with Carlyn.  It really does not feel like more than a vacation's time has passed.  It was a lot of fun to have (part of) the Paluszeks along!  They are always good company :)

Eileen was commenting on the fact that something is always in bloom on the walking path.  This was spawned by the hillside COVERED in winter blooming camellias.  On the way back up though, a bit of spring was popping through.  The Japanese have it figured out - something IS always blooming...

The weather has always treated us well.  This year was much windier than years gone by (and it really got that ferry a-rockin'!).  But, the sky was blue!

 Amongst the stairs and the weather worn caves and crevices, statues of arhats (those that have reached nirvana) are grouped and nestled.

If you are not careful, you will hit your head on one...

The overhanging lookout (Jigoku Nozoki) is said to be a look into Hell.  I have to say, that from our perspective, the view is quite lovely!  Maybe this guy looked out one too many times...

(Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face!)

This park was created to encompass the carvings and statues from the Nihon-ji (Buddhist Temple).  Nihon-ji was established in 725 AD, has been left to ruins and restored a number of times through its long history.  The Daibutsu, the Kannon and the arhats were carved, paths and walls made.  The path from the ropeway to the park entrance, via the carving of the Kannon, is "unimproved".  The first year we went, that railing on the overhanging lookout to Hell was just a chain...  So, improvements have, in fact, been made!  Once inside the park, the steps are new and square, the railings are polished and available.  But the walls are still old and the lichen is unaware of age and history, casting a beautiful green pallor over an overly stone-like scape.  Stefan (a texture seeker) was fascinated by the feeling of the plants - not at all soggy, like he expected!

One improvement that was a very pleasant surprise - NEW ROPEWAY CARS!!!  Out with the cancer-infected, 1960-somehting, poorly ventilated rust-bucket and in with a shiny new red car (rode on the way up) and a shiny new yellow car (rode on the way down)!

I must say, my anxieties were somewhat quelled by this!  Only to be replaced by the rockin' ride we had on the ferry coming back.  Whoah-boy!  Those swells really got us moving!  But all was good - and our day was well spent!

Sunday, January 13, 2013


Whoah!  Where has the time gone?!?  It is now 2013, Year of the Snake, or, Hebidoshi (in Japanese).

Happy New Year!!!

Plenty has happened since my folks left, and I really hope to backlog that AND my parents visit.  I am making it a rainy day priority!  But, for now, I will just catch you up on today...

Here in Japan, they make these HUGE bonfires with the various New Years decorations and good luck charms (so that bad luck is not brought on to them for keeping them - we apparently are doomed!).  There were some flyers that said the Kurihama bonfire was happening at 10:30 today.  Knowing the stack is a near explosive pile of tinder and it does not last long, we got there early.  10:00 right on the nose.  The Japanese are always right on time...  this was at 10:03

Maybe the flyer meant it would be OVER at 10:30?

Below is the bonfire just down the beach.  Eric was talking with a man that told him it was an entirely different community down there.  NOT Kurihama...  I had taken a stroll down there while he was chit-chatting as I was looking for the wanderer...

Yes.  It was definitely a different community.  It is the first time I have felt out of place while we have been in Japan.  I know we ARE out of place, but I have never gotten the "vibe" that I was in the wrong place.  Well, I did here...  We wondered if it had anything to do with it being near the prison (built on the waterfront, btw...)

While I was gone, the Prodigal Son had returned...

In the meantime, we had partaken of the customary Oshiruko (お汁粉), or Red Bean Soup.

Oshiruko is a traditional soup made of azuki beans (sweet red beans) mashed with sugar and blocks of gooey mochi.  "Gross" you say?  Nope!  Super tasty AND it is said that it will ward off any colds for the next year.  I am counting on it!

They were serving tea cups full of sake.  By the time Eric and/or I warmed to the idea of having one, they had stopped serving it.  Next time I will just take one, regardless!

Strings of pink and white mochi were hanging between bamboo poles.  Once the fire was smoldering, the lines were draped over and the mochi toasted (like a marshmallow).  It was then eaten, although I do not know its significance.  Health/wealth/luck/prosperity no doubt!

The mochi symbolized happiness (red/pink) and purity (white).

Dougie missed out on the Oshiruko (and was none too happy about it - had a good cry over it!  Lesson learned?!?).  Somehow Stefan acquired some of the toasted mochi (dropped in the sand?!?) and 
and he generously (???) gave it to Dougie.  It was a little ashy...

Douglas tossed to the "Ocean Gods".  Even they rejected it - notice it washed up on the shore?!?

The fire got picked through, items not fully burned were prodded, pine boughs were added to the top where the needles sizzled, popped and singed off.  The "sticks" were then sent home with people (aka: Stefan - the Raven of children).  We have no idea what the significance was, but it clearly has some meaning.  Ultimately, his got "left" at the train station as I had to remind him to "watch the tip/don't poke anyone in the eye!" just once too many...

Kite flying is a tradition at the New Year.  We have to regularly remind Stefan that he cannot just go and ask people if he can fly their kites...

Perhaps Eric needed a reminder too?!?

People also fish.  All the time.  Anywhere.  With these ginormous rods.  It kind of makes you want to throw a line out too...

Maybe it is just an excuse to sit down.  And smoke...

Ian was checking out the collection of little rowboats - and basically thought the rope was just the most hilarious thing that he had come across.  I am just now noticing he is no longer carrying the bag of treats a man had given him earlier.  I sure hope some other kid nabbed it and is enjoying it!

We took advantage of being in Kurihama and went to one of our favorite Ramen haunts.

The shop has two tables in addition to their counter.  The tables (cable spool reels - Mom, just like our kitchen table, only shorter!!!) are on the sidewalk.  The shop "expands" by hanging heavy clear plastic down from their awning and putting in space heaters!  It more than doubles their seating...

I ordered two gyoza and two Miso Ramens -  upgrading one to a large (to split amongst the boys).  This is all done in Nihongo (Japanese) - in Kanji - on a ticket machine.  I thought I was really something else.  And then...  TWO of these mixing bowl sized ramens came to the table.  HUGE!!!  I think the lady really thought I was indeed "something" and just gave us two larges figuring I had no idea what I was doing (true).  We did not finish either one, but we sure did enjoy the ramen after a good bonfire!