I’m writing this on Wednesday, Oct. 8, around 7 PM (+13 hours EST) as we sail away from Shanghai after 2 wonderful days, all of which you’ ll have to wait and hear about in a day or two, as I have to finish Japan. Had to stop half way through, it’s now Thursday, Oct. 9, OK HERE GOES:
Our first official tour of the cruise was long (10 hours) but very interesting and could not have been better organized and guided (typical Japanese). The Japanese lady who guided the tour lived in England, was married in Switzerland, and currently lives in Kyoto. Kyoto was an hour and a half bus ride from Kobe and during that time our guide explained the history of Kyoto. Kyoto was the seat of power/government for Japan hundreds of years (I believe from about 700 AD until 1867) and what is left is several beautiful castles, shrines, and temples in a very thriving city. Our tour started with a visit to Nijo Castle, the castle of the Shoguns, built between 1603 and 1626 and includes many beautiful buildings and gardens within the grounds. It was one of the Shoguns castles when the Shogun government was in power until 1867 when Yoshinobu, the fifteenth Tokugowa Shogun returned sovereignty to the Emperor. I should explain that during the Shogun rule, the structure was; at the top the Emperor was only a figure head, he had no power – next was the Shogun who had all the power – and below him were the Feudal Lords who each had their territories covering all of Japan. As I said the Emperor regained power from the Shogun in 1867, but today he has gone back to the status of figure head, the country being ruled by a legislature branch similar to England.
If you want to follow my commentary in the photo album below, the first photo is Susy getting on the bus in the morning. the girl holding the 3 sign is the ships photographer, the girl between her and Susy is the "Japanese" guide (but only speaks Japanese), and the next lady holding the papers is the English speaking Japanese guide I told you about. The next photo shows the gate to the Nijo Castle grounds and the next photo shows the main building of the Castle where the Shogun lived and worked when he was in residence.
Our next stop was the Rokuon-Ji Temple, a Zen Buddhist temple, which again has grounds with beautiful gardens and the famous "Golden Pavilion" which is shown in the next photo. The second and third floors of this temple are covered in 22 karat gold-leaf on Japanese lacquer. The next photo shows Susy pulling a bell rope. The tradition is (and Susy did the whole thing) you throw some money into the plate (which you can see in front of Susy), then you ring the bell, to wake up the Buddha Gods (I guess they sleep a lot), then you pray to them.
Our next stop was lunch and here I show you the large dining room we ate in at a large downtown hotel. The painting on the wall was gigantic and beautiful. Going out we ran into a traditional Japanese wedding reception and I got a picture of a typical Japanese family at the reception.
After lunch we stopped at a Shinto Shrine called the Heian Jingu Shrine. The next photo shows the main gate or entry to the shrines grounds and through the gate you can see the main shrine building. The grounds, as with all these castles, temples, and shrines was covered with beautiful gardens, ponds (full of Japanese gold fish) and bridges across the ponds. The next photo shows a bridge which may appear familiar to you because it is where the final sequence of shots were taken in the movie "Memoirs of a Geisha".
At this point I want to stop and share with you a little Japanese culture which our guide explained. Ninety percent of the Japanese people are of the Shinto religion, while eighty five percent are Buddhist. This means that 85% of the Japanese people have two religions, some more. They have no problem with this, but what is very interesting is the influence the Shinto religion has on the Japanese culture. The Japanese believe that to please the Shinto Gods they have to be clean. This reflects in their way of life and explains their cleanliness, however, when your guide shows you toilets, she clarifies if they are Japanese style (no paper) or western style (for tourist, with paper). I forgot to ask how they justify the cleanliness with the toilet practices, so we’ll have to save that for next time. Our guide pointed out that a typical Japanese might first be taken to a Buddhist temple when they are born because the Shinto Gods would not be happy with them at that time (blood at birth).. Next they might, and many do, get married in a Christian church. Finally, they die and the funeral is held in the Shinto shrine, because they believe the Shinto Gods will give them the best afterlife. For those of you who know the interactions of the Japanese and religions better then what I recall from the Guide, please let me know and I’ll post your comments, so we can all be enlightened.
Getting back to the day, the last photo you will see is the one of 3 Japanese girls in the traditional kimonos. Every Japanese women/girl has at least two or three kimonos, one for funerals (black) with the family crest on it, one formal kimono for special occasions, and others depending on how traditional the family is and their place in the society. Kimonos are needed less and less as the Japanese youth move toward the Western world and cast off the traditional dress and customs.
We finally ended up in a five story handicraft center, as with every good tour, so we tourist can spent our American Dollars (although they’re not worth much any more). Susy and I are usually in agreement that buying "dust catchers" is not the best use of our money, so it doesn’t take us long to go through these places.
As I am posting this Blog, we have spent two days in Shanghai, our first stop in China. What a city – BUT THAT’S IN THE NEXT BLOG – Stay tuned, I’m getting way behind because there is just not enough Lab time (time on the computer) to roll this stuff out.
Love to All,
Gary (alias Gagu)
Illene – Susy did cut her hair just before we left, so yes it is shorter. Tell Bob not to worry, even with a tennis court on the ship, I have no time to play, so when I return he’ll probably take me 6-0.
Carole – Welcome, Susy loves your thin comment. She’s still the same, she says, because even though we get a lot of courses with each meal, they’re small.
Leonor – Susy got your email and pictures. Keep tuned in to the blog, I’m behind but I keep you informed. So far we are both fine and enjoying the cruise.