Posts

Zuiganji Temple

The Kuri of Zuiganji Temple

瑞巌寺

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

“Had”

We stopped by the convenience store on the way home tonight to get some instant miso shiru for my lunch tomorrow. While we were waiting in line for the register, Nana pointed out some sort of potato snack in the impulse purchases rack.

Nana:
We have these at home.
Guy Jean:
Nana:
Really? When did that happen?
GJ:

We got another pack …

Lessons learned

I stopped at the supermarket on the way home last night to get cream cheese for my breakfast bagel.

Whenever I’m in a supermarket or convenience store, I’m going to get snacks. Last night it was a packaged cheese assortment and box of sesame crackers, among other things.

Got home and Nana informed me there was, in fact, a whole unopened package of cream cheese in the fridge.

Had dinner, etc.

After Nana went to bed, I opened up the cheese assortment. Ate the whole thing, as well as the entire box of crackers. Libations to match.

Woke up at 4 a.m. in my chair, moved to the bed. Got up on the very last snooze alarm and raced to get ready to work. Did get a bagel and coffee in.

Stomach is lousy as a result of the cheese assortment.

Lesson learned:
Make sure we have enough ice.

A tale of two languages

For more than two decades I’ve been faced on a daily basis with the assumption that a visibly foreign person can’t understand Japanese. That’s only begun to change in the past handful of years, and now — in Tokyo at least — quite frequently people don’t seem surprised that I can understand them and speak with them. (I still get that “日本語上手ですね” reaction which shows they’re a bit surprised. And yes, I always answer, “まだまだ。。。”)

Just in the past two days, I’ve had an amusing variety of reactions. When I was cycling on Saturday I stopped at a convenience store for some carbo loading. I always make sure to respond to the cashier’s greeting so they know I speak Japanese. Sometimes this saves the time taken up by clerks trying to remember whatever they’re supposed to say in English (and is a lot less frustrating to me).

In this case, the clerk spoke to me in Japanese but combined that with large flourishes and gestures. “Would you like me to heat this up for you?” Gesturing to the cheeseburger and to the microwave. She kept it up for the whole transaction. “Do you want that in separate bags?” Lady, I get it already. I was nearly laughing by the time I left the store. (She really wasn’t sure when I told her I didn’t want to try for the lottery prize, though. It’s usually more trouble than it’s worth: a can of milk tea or a cup of yogurt if I win.)

The second instance came on Sunday, when a traffic cop wasn’t happy with the way I crossed an intersection on my bike via the crosswalk. I was wearing a UV-cut mask and bandana, so she may not have known I was a gaijin when she called me out. But as soon as she spoke to me I took the mask off (in part hoping to put her off). But she just kept speaking to me in Japanese (without broad hand gestures) as if taking it for granted I could understand her. While I was a bit annoyed with her for giving me a lecture (there really was no safety issue with what I’d done), I found it refreshing that she assumed I could understand her (which I could). I thanked her for pointing out the error of my ways, and again when she told me to be careful.

The final instance was a couple of hours later, while I was enjoying a lunch of Nana’s world-famous onigiri while sitting on a park bench in Yokohama. An older woman (checks mirror: yes, she was older) asked if I minded if she sat on the same bench. “Please, go ahead.” I got the standard reaction of surprise I speak Japanese, followed by, “I guess you’ve been here a long time.” She stayed and chatted with me for about five minutes. But if my answers diverged in substance from her questions, she didn’t seem to follow me. For example:

Native:
I guess you’ve been here for a long time.
Guy Jean:
Yes, in fact I’ve been here since the start of the Heisei era.
Native:
???
GJ:
You know, Heisei … ?
Native:
???????
GJ:
Yes, I’ve been here for a long time.
Native:
I guessed it.

And again:

Native:
You like onigiri, huh?
GJ:
Yes. They’re really good when I’m biking. Lots of energy. My partner made these fresh for me this morning.
Native:
???
GJ:
Yes, I love onigiri!
Native:
I bet your wife’s Japanese, right? I knew it when I saw those onigiri!

Dear reader, I had specifically said 「パートナー」(partner) …

Rikugien Illumination 2019

Shidarezakura (weeping cherry tree)

六義園

The illuminated cherry blossoms draw huge crowds to Rikugien every year with their photographically challenging beauty. This year, Nana had an idea to beat the crowds at this 16th Century garden dedicated to the six forms of Chinese poetry: arrive before dusk, enjoy the park and wait for dark.

It was a good idea except for the cold. The temperature never got very high yesterday, and it had fallen to about 8C when we arrived at the park at 4 p.m. Together with the lack of blue skies, it made for a pretty dreary afternoon.

Shidarezakura (weeping cherry tree)
Shidarezakura (weeping cherry tree)

The big draw for the illumination is the park’s famous shidarezakura, or weeping cherry tree (prunus pendula). This giant, planted shortly after the end of the Pacific War, is more than 70 years old and stands at 15m tall. Its branches span more than 20m across the garden.

This year, in the cold and waning light, the tree looked a bit sorry. The blossoms had yet to fully fill out, but the green leaves were already emerging. We took a few snaps and discussed the sorry state of the tree before hurrying on to see the rest of the park.

Tazu-no-hashi
Tazu-no-hashi

Rikugien is famous for far more than its cherry trees, including 88 stations based on scenes from Japanese poetry, several scenic bridges and tea houses, and two hills representing the male and female deities which gave birth to Japan.

Sakura at Rikugien
Sakura at Rikugien

There are several other cherry trees in the park, including another that’s taller than 15m at the opposite end of the park from the shidarezakura, near the site of Tsutsuji-chaya (tea house). By the time we’d reached this point, Nana and I were well and truly chilled and decided to have something hot to drink while we waited another hour for dusk to fall and the illumination to begin. We escaped the lure of the famous tea house and opted for warm sake and then electric kombucha and ryokucha at a simple pavilion.

As we sipped our hot drinks and nibbled on simple snacks, the approaching twilight brought more and more clients to the pavilion. We noted visitors of varying nationalities and tongues, all of whom were welcomed by the friendly staff even when they had to order via miming. Nana had just observed that no one was ordering draft beer on account of the cold weather when one younger Japanese man ordered and received a large chilled mug of frothy. Meanwhile, looking out the side of the pavilion to the benches under the open skies, I saw a young girl eating a matcha ice cream. Brrr!

Illuminated shidarezakura
Illuminated shidarezakura

At the stroke of six we decided we’d waited long enough. The lights were on and the crowds were growing thicker. Warmed by our drinks, we hurried back to the shidarezakura and found it transformed by the illumination. After getting a few snaps here we returned to the other giant on the far side of the park and found it bathed in light alternating from white to pink and then violet.

Sakura frocked out in colors
Sakura frocked out in colors

Rikugien is well worth the visit for the illumination in the spring or the maple colors in the fall, but be prepared for large crowds and a long wait to get in during these popular seasons.

Rikugien Illumination 2019

Nakameguro Sakura

Cherry blossoms in Nakameguro

中目黒

We visited Nakameguro on a weekday afternoon, hoping to avoid the crowds. Unfortunately, it seems at least 6 million other people had the same idea, and we were trapped in the midst of a jostling, multilingual crowd from the moment we got off the train at Nakameguro Station until we’d finished the visit and were pushing back onto another train to leave.

Cherry trees arch over Meguro river
Cherry trees arch over Meguro river

It was still early in the season, and the blossoms were only about half full. Still, in places the blossoms were packed so tightly it was like walking through a pale pink cloud. The only thing missing, as Nana voiced repeatedly, was blue skies.

Sakura and lanterns recede into the distance
Sakura and lanterns recede into the distance

Nakameguro Sakura