Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Bo-Taoshi (Pole Pull-down) written by Allan

Last week I went to the Japan National Defense Academy with four of my Japanese friends.
This is Tom Takagi and his wife, Naoko. Tom works with me at the base.

This is Hiroko and her son, Hugo. Hiroko works in the Public Health Department too.
Liz was unable to to join me. She had an appointment to meet with two new students.

This is the only military academy in Japan and is located very close to the Yokosuka Naval Base. I went by train and met my friends at 10 a.m. When I got off the train, there were so many people waiting for the bus or taxi, we decided to walk about 20 minutes uphill. Great exercise!

When we got to the Academy, which is only open to the public this one weekend every year, the cadets were standing in formation on the parade ground.

Following the opening ceremony, we had lunch and watched some marching and formation flying while waiting for the big event - Bo-Taoshi.

Let me explain this simple game. The idea is to pull the pole down, or at least to a certain degree.

There are 150 men on each team. Seventy-five men defend their team's pole, while seventy-five try to pull the opponents pole down.

It's a simple game that I think would work well in the U.S. When the gun goes off, the seventy-five man offensive attacks the free standing pole held up and defended by the seventy-five man defense.

Easy, but wow, what ensues is a spectacle. We each chose a team, with Tom's team (green) winning.

What a wild time. I intend to go again next year.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Yokoso Nihon - Welcome to Japan

The D.O.D. does some good stuff for its military and civilian employees. When the Elies visited us recently, the airport shuttle was pure heaven. We took a bus from the airport to the base with no stops. Once on base, you're on your own.
For other travel, I introduced Joe and Vicki to the train system. It's about as simple as it could be, which is still tricky at times. Their first full day in Japan, we took a bus and train to town to a restaurant that serves Japanese home-style cooking.

Allan joined us for lunch, and after a stop to buy some yen, we toured the 568 acres that is Yokosuka Naval base. These three submarines are part of the Japanese Defense Force. The base has both Japanese and U.S. ships and workers.

We stopped by to meet the gang at Allan's office, the checked out the U.S.S. Blue Ridge, flagship of the 7th Fleet. It's currently in dry dock and painted a very drab burgundy. Allan told me it's the primer color. I knew that, I saw Operation Petticoat!

While Allan worked the next day, I took Vicki and Joe on a short tour of Tokyo.
What is it about a fish market that's so appealing? I give up, but people find it very interesting, so here we are at Tsukiji, looking at slimy, stinky ugly sea creatures. Look at this stuff! It's not very appetizing.

Does this picture look like Joe and Vicki are in Japan (or China)? I'm glad you think so, 'cause that's exactly what we were going for.
We escaped by train to Ginza, then walked to the Imperial Palace in a drizzle. I've learned alot about Japan over the last 14 months, but some things defy explanation. I couldn't tell the Elies why a man was out in the rain, doing Tai Chi, on the sidewalk in front of the palace.

Already wet, we cabbed it to the Senso-Ji, a seven hundred year old Buddhist temple where Vicki purchased a fortune.
Here's how it works. You pay 100 yen, pour a long stick out of a hole in the top of this box. Then match the Chinese characters on the stick to a drawer, pull out your fortune and hope for the best. If you see 'bad fortune' at the top don't read any further, but tie it to the available pole and walk away. Vicki kept hers.
Allan took Friday off for our three days in Kyoto. We took the Shinkansen (bullet train) and arrived with enough time to visit 3 important sites.

This is a view from the bullet train. I like that twisted building. Normally you can see Mt. Fuji, but we were on the wrong side of the train going to Kyoto and there was too much fog during the ride back. That's too bad, because it really is a tourist attraction.

We stopped at tourist infomation in the train station and got a map and step-by-step instructions to get to our three destinations, complete with travel times by bus.
We went to the Golden Palace. Since Brian and I made this stop in March, you've seen photos of this in the blog, but Vicki took this pretty good shot of Allan and me.
Here we are walking one of the trails in the palace gardens.

After Kinkakuji (Golden Palace), we took a walk through Gion, a traditionally built and maintained area within Kyoto. I believe Kyoto itself is a fairly traditional Japanese city, definitely more so than Tokyo.

On our way to Kiyomisu, we came across this young Maiko. She's a Geisha trainee. There were three walking together very slowly. It's very feminine movement, plus the shoes make it difficult to move too fast.

Did I mention that Kiyomizu is at the highest point in Kyoto? And there are no vehicles up there. You climb for about 30 minutes, longer if you shop at the bottom, but I saved the shopping for the trip down. Who wants to carry souvenirs up a hill?

The country is filled with temples and shrines, though there are considerably more temples, meaning there are more Buddhists.
Here Vicki is waving some incense smoke on herself. I don't know why, she sure looked silly.
Just kidding, everyone does it. It cleanses your soul, gives good luck or wards off evil spirits, something like that. Anyway, who couldn't use a little extra good luck?
Vicki couldn't resist this monk. They stand like a statue, with a tiny bowl in one hand. This is the most face I've seen on a monk who was collecting. The hat is usually tilted down more.

Back at the bottom, after some browsing, we came across these Japanese girls in kimono, and knew we needed a photo with Joe.
He spent some time every day pointing out pretty girls, and about every fifth one that we passed got the nod from Joe. Allan was happy to look, but just for corroboration.

The oldest city in Japan is Nara, about 40 minutes from Kyoto by train. The oldest wooden structure in Japan is the Todai-ji (temple) in Nara.
That's where we were headed when we were waylaid by at least one hundred deer wandering the streets and doing what can only be called panhandling. They are looking for handouts, and there at the left is a vendor selling cookies. The deer are your best friends if you have cookies.

The town seem to be pretty proud of their deer as you see by the manhole cover below. In Yokosuka, we have things like trumpets and ships. It's a port town, but the public art is very musical in theme.

With the deer for company, we walked about 2 km. to the temple, and look at the size of it. Inside was one large area with no division.
There is a big Buddha and some wooden statuary, mostly warriors, samurai and a few female deities.

Up close, some of it looked worn, but it's in great shape for it's age. The trip took the better part of a day, since we petted and fed the deer and stopped for lunch, Japanese style Italian. Then a quick stop in a shoe store that had black boots in the window.

See what I mean? They aren't just friendly, they're like your family pet. People can't resist them.

Japanese students take alot of field trips. They are pretty regular visitors to historic sites. And of course they are in uniform. These girls could be from any city in Japan. I do like that they don't worry about wearing somthing as cool as their friends.

We had Sunday breakfast at the train station. It's not strange, most train stations have food, and this one was like a mall, plenty of choices for shopping and eating.

Okay, I'll give you one guess where we went after breakfast. Sanjusangendo, right! We saw it Japanese style, stocking feet, and we weren't able to take photographs inside, temple.

The temple was crowded, but fairly quiet. There are 1001 wooden statues of female Buddhist deities. I'm not sure some of them weren't duplicates. I don't know exactly how many deities there are, but 1001 seems excessive.

About 1/2 way through, we came on a Buddhist wedding, very traditional by the look of it. There were 8 monks. The head monk wore a black costume, and four others were wearing green and orange kimono.

I hate not getting photos of great stuff like that but, alas I don't want to be and ugly American. On to the Nijo Castle, shown here with the Elies and their local guide. It is a shogun castle with lots of acreage, which shows that he was a very important man (lots of property).

That's it for Kyoto. We hit the bullet train for home. We're all starting to drag a little. It's been a busy week, which is why Joe went on strike.

He stayed home on Monday, and Vicki and I went to the base to teach English. We had lunch after class with a few of the students at the Officers' Club. Everyone finds a local food item that they favor. Vicki likes yakisoba, a noodle dish.

The next day, we went to Hase. The sole attraction (other than ice cream stands and a few touristy shops) is this giant Buddha. He is pretty impressive, over seven hundred years old and about 40 feet tall.

Then off to Kamakura, which was once the capital of Japan, but is now a cute shopping town. It has one very large shrine with lots of steps. Remember shrines are Shinto, temples are Buddhist (and Jewish of course).

With one full day left, Vicki took advantage of the shops and picked up some souvenirs.

There are usually sake casks by a shrine, but here you get that plus chrysanthemums and kimono. A real Japanese site.

That night was the all American dinner-and-a-movie at base. We saw Secretariat.

We're winding down and it's the last full day for Vicki and Joe. Allan got off early, so we waited and went to Yokohama for dinner and a stroll in Chinatown. Chinatown looks the same wherever you go.

Vicki couldn't resist some of the shopping there, and I bought a few Chinese perfume bottles. They have scenes painted on the inside, and I love them.

On November 4th, the Elies left from the base on the Narita Shuttle. I hope they had a good time in Japan.