Fukuchiin — stay in a Buddhist temple

Decorative dragon panel


Koyasan in Wakayama Prefecture, home to Shingon Buddhism, boasts more than 50 temples offering shukubo, an overnight stay featuring onsen baths and a traditional vegetarian meal. Fukuchiin, one such temple, lies just a few steps from some of Koyasan’s more famous temple complexes and just a 15-minute walk from Garan, the central temple complex.

Amenities include wifi, onsen baths and private dining rooms, and alcohol is available upon request. The temple includes many artistic treasures. An overnight stay includes an invitation to join the 6 a.m. prayer service.

Entrance to Fukuchiin

Rock garden
Rock garden

Shojin ryori
Shojin ryori


Receiving the benefit of the doubt

Just back from the doc, getting a refill, where the following conversation happened:

You’ve lost a kilogram! That’s good!
Guy Jean
I’ll bet you’re not going out drinking as much these days because of the Coronavirus, right?
Er … right.
A lot of people are drinking out less, and losing weight as a result.
Interesting theory …

Well, we’ve cut down going out a little bit. But it’s not as if we’re not making up for it at home …


[The following conversation happened entirely in Japanese.]

(Grouses at TV)
Guy Jean:
(Grouses something else at TV)
Guy Jean:
You keep saying “Right? Right?” But you don’t understand a thing I’m saying, right?
Guy Jean:

Rat? Or a middle-aged man?

My colleague gave me this hand-written card along with some sweets for the new year. I tossed the card on my desk and there it remained for a couple of days, turned sideways.

I glanced at it one day and made a startling discovery:

Hand-drawn illustrration of Year of the Rat greeting
Mouse, or ojisan?

This was definitely unintentional, as when I pointed it out to her it took her more than a minute to realize what I was talking about. And then she said, “A western ojisan, possibly! Not a Japanese one.”


The twin bridges of Godaido


Godaido was built by Jikaku Daishi in 807 to enshrine the five deities of wisdom, said to be carved by his own hand. The current shrine, reached from the shore by arching red bridges, was built in 1604 by Date Masamune to celebrate his victory at Sekigahara, which brought the civil wars to an end and laid the foundation for the Tokugawa shogunate.

Godaido is the oldest example of Momoyama period architecture in northeastern Japan.

Red arching bridge leading to Godaido


Zuiganji Temple

The Kuri of Zuiganji Temple


Zuiganji Temple, a national treasure, was first established in 828 by legendary priest Jikaku Daishi. Caves for the depositing of funerary ashes were added during the Kamakura Period (1185-1333). The temple took its current form in 1609, when it was restored as a family temple by Date Masamune, the “One-Eyed Dragon of Ōshu” and founder of nearby Sendai.

Pine trees line the approach
Pine trees line the approach

The approach to the temple is lined with the pine trees for which Matsushima is named. The gate to the left is the Onari Genkan — the Emperor’s Gate. Visitors instead pass across the front of the temple and enter via the Kuri, the distinctive temple kitchen to the right.

Temple wall adjacent to the Kuri
Temple wall adjacent to the Kuri

The temple is filled with many elaborate murals on gilt sliding screens, including the famous Peacock panel painted by family retainer Sakuma Shuri. (Photography is forbidden in the interior of the temple.)

Entrance to Hosshin Cave
Entrance to Hosshin Cave

Kamakura-era cinerarium
Kamakura-era cinerarium

Kamakura-era cinerarium
Kamakura-era cinerarium

The temple grounds also include the Seiryuden museum, which houses national and prefectural cultural properties such as the armor of Date Masamune and a large Wakizashi sword commissioned by his son.

Zuiganji Temple

Preferred pronoun: he

Nana has been wanting to buy a Roomba since we moved, and last week she spoke to a salesman at Bic Camera about the various models. She also was interested in the Braava model which automatically mops the floor. (We have all hardwood floors, no carpet.)

The salesman told us the Roombas need 10cm of clearance, so we decided to measure the clearance under our bed and sofa before proceeding.

Yesterday we were preparing to go to Bic again, and I measured the clearance under the bed: 8cm, and not a millimeter more. The sofa is fine at 14cm.

So we talked to the same guy again and he said (despite varying appearance) all the Roomba models are the same height. I confirmed this with the spec sheet and in fact they’re all 9.2cm. Nana told him to let the maker know we wanted a slimmer model. He said that was a popular request, but the spec hasn’t changed on that for the past 15 years.

So we looked at other makers. We thought we might find a Panasonic or Hitachi. They had models on display. We couldn’t find the specs, but they looked about the same size as the Roombas (and I hadn’t brought a tape measure). Then we found one that clearly said it was only 5.7cm high. It was quite a bit cheaper than the Roombas — only one-third the price. Nana asked the salesman about it and he confirmed it’s a Chinese company: Ecovacs.

We looked around a few more minutes, but it was clear this was the only one that would fit under our bed. And we were surprised to discover that it combined the sweeping and mopping functions, so we don’t need two separate machines. For the price we knew we couldn’t expect much, but we decided to take the leap.

Not a Roomba

The moment we got home I unboxed the thing. “Do they have instructions in English?” Nana asked. I pointed to the quick set-up guide: it’s all diagrams and iconese. Within a couple of minutes the robot was scuttling around our flat, quieter than we’d expected, and Nana had immediately decided it was a “he.” “Where is he now?” she’d ask. And when he got tangled up in anything, she’d say, “He has to learn to do that.”

(I’m not sure how much learning capability this cheap model has, but we were joking about its giving all our information to the Chinese.)

Nana would take to following him around the flat, worrying where he was from minute to minute and going to watch as, for example, he was busy pushing all our shoes around in the entrance foyer. “That’s more entertaining to you than the TV, eh?” I asked her. (I’d include a video of her following the thing around, but she’d have my head for it.)

Robot vacuum stuck on the pedestal
Easily fooled

Things that he gets caught on or confused by:

  • The table pedestal
  • The chair legs, unless we push them close to the pedestal
  • The window blinds
  • Electrical cords
  • The bath mat
  • Papers or other bric-à-brac on the floor (as in my den)

I’m sure we’ll discover more to add to the list.

After leaving him to charge up all night, we’ve set him going again this morning. We’ve left the bedroom door open, but so far he’s ignoring the allure.

X-T3: The Unboxening

Fujifilm X-t3 with zoom lens and accessories

Nana reminded me recently that the consumption tax rate will increase in October from 8% to 10%. “Is there anything you’ve been waiting to buy? You should get it before then.” Well. Carpe, as they say, diem. We talked about the TV and the vacuum cleaner, and then I mentioned that I’ve been waiting to buy a camera. She has heard me mention this from time to time, and I’ve just been putting it off in recent months because I spent so much on a bike tour of England and Scotland.

That conversation was a couple of weeks ago. Meanwhile, the TV has been on the Fritz, coming and going. Mostly it works OK but occasionally it blanks out. When this happens I remind Nana of the tax increase. Today I seized the bull by the horns and said we’re going to Bic Camera. She agreed, but I overheard her talking on the phone with her mother about it and she has seen right through me.

Anyway, we got to Bic in the late afternoon, after stopping to get shinkansen tickets for next month’s Tour de Tohoko. I was following Nana and didn’t realize we went right by the TVs on our way to the cameras. Bic Camera has scaled back the camera department recently (go figure), and so after a couple of minutes looking around in vain for what I wanted, she asked a worker and he guided us right to the spot.

I already knew what I wanted but I wasn’t seeing it on the display. With a little looking around I found a price tag listing the camera and lens combo, but again, there were none on display. Nana noticed the tag and expressed some astonishment at the price.

A saleswoman came along, a Fujifilm employee, and she pointed out the special offers and rebates available. I could get 10% points (usually 1%), or if I wanted the five-year extended warranty, then I would only receive 5% on points. An easy choice, since there’s no money out of my pocket. There’s also a cash rebate through the end of the month on the camera and lens combo amounting to almost $200. Then she guided me through all the discounts I could get on the add-ons since I was buying everything at once: the memory card and neutral filter, mostly. She came with us to the checkout and when I presented a credit card, she talked the cashier into letting me keep most of the points. (There’s apparently a hit to your points if you pay by credit card. Not a bad way for a retailer to deal with the fact they have to pay a percentage on credit card sales.)

Bic Camera shopping bag
Wotcha got inna bag, dad?

So with the camera in the bag, I guided Nana back to the TV floor. She looked around for a couple of minutes. A 60-inch 4K Japanese brand TV can be had for considerably less than what I had just dropped on the camera. Nonetheless, after a quick look around during which she spent more time looking at wall mounts than at televisions, Nana declared that our current TV was still working. Well, OK. I know by now how to recognize when I’m removing sand from a beach with tweezers. We left the store and went to dinner.

Fujifilm camera box
The box

Fujifilm X-T3
The naked camera

Unboxing the Fujifilm X-t3 and accessories
All the bits n bobs

Language choice on camera screen
English please

Fujifilm X-t3 with zoom lens and accessories
Ready to roll

It took a minute to pair the camera with the app on my phone. It took considerably longer to attach the strap to the triangular loops on the camera body, and I ended up using a screwdriver to complete the job. But with that done, I was ready to hit the mean streets of Shinjuku in search of first light — the first images with my new camera.

Ladies on the sidewalk in kimono
On the fly

Sometimes a shot walks right by before you recognize it for what it is. The camera turned on in a second and I was able to capture a fleeting image on the fly.

Tokyo Metropolitan Goverment building with Olympic illumination
Tokyo Metropolitan Goverment building with Olympic illumination

My goal for the evening was Tocho — the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building. It’s been illuminated the past few weeks in honor of next year’s Olympic Games, but I haven’t been able to get a good picture of it. I shot off several and my new toy was up to the task.

Tokyo Government Building and police box
Tocho and koban
Nishi Shinjuku Park House Tower
The ol’ homestead