Day 496 of Traveling the World, Seoul, South Korea. June 22, 2019.

The sights in the most famous shopping area of Seoul, Myeongdong, are so varied and so fun! The first photo is what most of the streets looked like as we walked past them and looked up and down….they were jammed with shops and local restaurants, often 10 stories of different stores, and people walking, talking, shopping, and eating. It was so vibrant and noisy! Just wonderful.

One of the photos is of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Cathedral. We were surprised to learn that 63 percent of South Koreans are Christian, and 35 percent are Buddhists. All other religions, including Islam and Confucianism, total 2 percent all together. As we have walked around and took bus rides around the city, we saw many, many Christian churches. Speaking of walking around….we have known people who are just paranoid about directions, and afraid of getting lost, even in their own city or county. We walked through these narrow streets today for about 4 hours, with no GPS and no maps, deciding we would just wander and enjoy and figure out how to get back to our bus stop when the time came. So we did, in a country where the alphabet is not one we know or read, and we had a lot of fun just looking and walking. We both had a good sense of which direction to head when we were done for the day, and unerringly crossed streets, found familiar buildings, and got back to the exact spot where we needed to catch the bus….when we had never been on these streets before. You really can do it!

So, in the photos, there are street scenes, some street sculptures, the cathedral, and some goofy characters selling things in the shopping district. We went to a movie, and when we came out, the street outside had been transformed into a pedestrian food fair, so we decided that street food was a better choice than a restaurant. We paid $2-4 for each delight. The first is Korean Egg Bread, with an egg cooked right on top! It was very tasty, slightly sweet, slightly crunchy, but unusual…a Korean favorite, with many stands serving it. The next one is fun…over a foot high, this is a Potato Tornado, a spiral-cut potato that is skewered, deep fried, and rolled in cheese sprinkles. Next is baked cheese on a stick, followed by a wonderful chicken kebab. The last item we tried was the pot stickers, made fresh and grilled in front of us. By now, we were stuffed, so that was it for us. The food pictures after our impromptu dinner are just for fun. You can see the ad for octopus skewer, shell skewer (?), and then they are selling….Self-development. Your guess is as good as ours! After that is skewered squid, but look at their tiny faces…they look like smiling Caribbean Santa Clauses with braided beards, mon! Then there are the corn dogs with what look like measles…that is just diced potatoes in the batter. We also saw battered corn dogs with actual crinkle-cut French fries all over the outside that looked like they had been glued on! The last two photos are ice creams. The first photo is of hand-rolled, hand-packed ice cream cones meant to look like a flower. The one with the outer green “leaf” made of green matcha tea ice cream is the only one completed, but aren’t they beautiful? It seems a shame to eat it. The second is advertised as 32 cm high….13 inches of ice cream that was so pretty! So that was today’s trip into the heart of the most popular Korean area of Seoul. We loved, loved it.

Day 495 of Traveling the World, Seoul, South Korea. June 21, 2019.

What would a trip to South Korea be without a tour of the infamous Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)? Oh, the barbed wire! Oh, the soldiers! Oh, the security! Oh, the bleakness! If not for South Korean soldiers swinging on children’s swings, the day would have been oh, so serious!

The border between South and North Korea is one of the most militarized frontiers in the world, even though it is named “demilitarized.” Running roughly along the famous 38th Parallel, the DMZ is still loaded with land mines…2 million were installed, and only half that number have been removed. Largely due to the land mines, North Koreans today who defect usually try to get to South Korea via their northern border, through China. Interestingly, it was South Korea who built much of the wire fencing due to aggression from the North. Each side is heavily guarded to thwart any attacks.

We actually thought our tour of the DMZ would be to the strip of land often seen, with soldiers from both sides facing each other, and barracks where conferences are held. But that is called the Joint Security Area, and not included in most tours. In fact, we were told South Koreans are not allowed there, so we do wonder who runs those tours! We read an observation that it is so ironic that South Korea’s main tourist attraction is North Korea. Anyway, we got as close to the DMZ as is possible, and saw into North Korea (not surprisingly, their trees, rivers, and mountains looked just like South Korea!). We went to an observatory, saw the Freedom Bridge, and went into the Third Incursion Tunnel, found in 1978. In total, four tunnels were discovered between 1974 and 1990, with the North Koreans claiming they were for coal mining, but they had obviously been dug for military invasion.

In the first three photos, you can see some of the many miles of barbed wire we saw, but it is just a fraction of the entire 160-mile length of the border, which is all divided by single or double rows of sharp razor wire and barbed wire. In the third photo, taken from the highway, you can see one of the regular guard towers that appear every few hundred yards. Behind it is the Han River, which is only about 1/3 of a mile wide here, with North Korea on the opposite shore. The river is so shallow that some people tried to walk across to defect, but this whole area is dotted with land mines.

The fourth photo shows the Bridge of Freedom, used by soldiers returning from captivity in North Korea. The photo after that shows North Korea from the Dora Observatory, where free binoculars were available to focus in on buildings, etc. A man next to us pointed out a small guard shack with a North Korean soldier present, exclaiming that it had been a long time since soldiers had been seen in this part of the DMZ.

Following that are a few photos taken from the bus of the road into the restricted zone. You can see that the barricades make vehicles slow down and weave in and out so as to prevent a vehicle speeding straight and accelerating. Our passports were scrutinized before entering this area, which we were required to bring. Also, we were asked not to wear shorts or skimpy outfits, as in the past, North Koreans took photos of this common western dress and used it as propaganda, telling their people, “See? They don’t have enough money there to afford full, regular clothing, like you have.” Ditto for even waving to a North Korean soldier, as they would use that as propaganda: Look how much they like us! They want to live in North Korea!

After that are some of the many South Korean soldiers we encountered, followed by photos of the Third Tunnel. It takes 7 minutes to walk down, down, into the tunnel (and even longer to walk back up, with even the in-shape soldiers gasping for air). Hard hats had to be worn, and even though we were careful, as the ceiling got lower and lower, about 5 feet high, we hit our heads on the ceiling about two dozen times! And just in case, there were gas mask instructions posted on the wall, because who knows what can happen from the other side?

And, always wanting to end on a cheery note, or at least a fun note: the last two photos were taken outside the very-serious incursion tunnel. Meant for posing and photo-taking, they are so silly that they take your mind off politics and all things that threaten good people everywhere. So….smile!

Day 489 of Traveling the World, Tokyo, Japan. June 15, 2019.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Without comment, we present to you….Japan’s Imperial Palace! It is shown in the first two photos. We took a tour of the Palace grounds, and before we went up a small curved driveway that hid it from our view, our guide noted that the Imperial Palace was very simple, but she thought that made it even more beautiful. And we walked up, and saw…the building in the first two photos. After having seen the castles in Nagoya and Osaka, we weren’t quite ready for this view. All the concrete in front of the Palace is a gathering place for the public, about 50 feet deep. Every year on December 23, the Emperor and Empress appear on the balcony to greet the public, which draws tens of thousands of people.

The Palace is in the center of Tokyo, and you can see office buildings in some of the photos of the grounds. Online, the Palace is described as a series of interconnected buildings, one of which looks more like a castle. It was formerly in Kyoto, dismantled, and reconstructed here. That is shown in the fourth photo. We weren’t told that the Palace was several buildings…we were just taken to the building you see in the first two photos and told that was “the Palace.” In the third photo is the Imperial Household Agency, where matters of State take place. It was the first building on our tour, and is adjacent and down the hill from the Palace. Meetings with Heads of State occur here, while banquets and State dinners are held in the Palace.

The fifth photo doesn’t look like much, until we found out that the two half-dome vegetation structures are a cluster of many trees planted close together to form the shape of two turtles, long-lived creatures, symbolizing that same hope for the Emperor. Following that are a few photos from around the grounds, including the “eyeglass” bridge. Under the right circumstances, the arches reflect in the water to create the illusion of a pair of eyeglasses.

The final photo is fun. We are guessing that the woman is employed in child care…she and another woman both were pushing a four-seater cart, each with four children inside, ranging from infants to about 3 years old. They were all getting their sunshine for the day!

Day 485 of Traveling the World, Osaka, Japan. June 11, 2019.

So many cities have their very own castles and palaces, and Osaka is one of them. While it looks a lot like Nagoya Castle from last week’s post, set on a stone foundation and surrounded by a moat, this is, indeed, Osaka Castle. It has had much destruction rained upon it and many iterations of renovation. The castle’s construction was begun in 1583. It was destroyed by lightning, by a civil war, and again in WW II. The current building’s renovation was completed in 1997, but as a museum rather than a castle. It is very pretty, with the moat surrounding it, and can be seen from around Osaka (wherever the skyscrapers don’t interfere!).

The photos show a few different angles of the castle, including the moat. And, as you can see, there is even a gold tourist boat that runs through the moat. There was also a train that circled the grounds, for $2 per person, but with all the signage being in Japanese, we couldn’t figure out where the pickup was! There were also many outer buildings up at the castle level, no doubt lookouts and guest houses, as you can see in the one photo. Outside the castle, you can put on armor, for a price, and have your photo taken with samurais and ninjas. The last two photos are our fun cultural glimpses for the day…”Please pay money at the cashier before eat things which you are going to buy!! Thank you!” – and, a very special salon where they don’t cut hair, but…..

Day 483 of Traveling the World, Sagano Bamboo Forest, Arashimaya District, Kyoto, Japan. June 9, 2019.

Ha! We thought we were going to see the major sites in Kyoto today, just 30 minutes away by train. There are two palaces, and temples, shrines, and a famous forest. We would do it all. Again…ha! We were up early, had a fairly quick breakfast, and then began the travel fun! We couldn’t find the correct train line in the train/subway/shopping complex that sprawls underneath our hotel. After a few inquiries and after following several false leads and signs, we were finally bound for Kyoto…except we boarded the slow train, not the Special Rapid train even though we could both swear that it said Special Rapid on the side when it pulled up. So it took awhile. When we got to Kyoto, we had another learning curve, looking for the correct train line, standing in two different queues, and finally were on our way to the Bamboo Forest, another 20 minutes away. Once we got there, we decided to follow the crowds, as the signage to the forest was all in Japanese. Giant mounted maps along the route didn’t show the bamboo forest, at least not in English. So we followed everyone, and there were scores of people walking toward us, which convinced us that we were headed in the right direction, as they were coming from the forest. A good thought, except when the road split, there were equal numbers of people going two different ways. So we asked a vendor, who pointed back all the way we had just walked and said, “10 minutes, then turn left.” We actually, arrogantly, thought she was wrong! But she wasn’t. We had enjoyed walking through the village, though, and every other shop was soft-serve ice cream: both the wildly popular matcha tea flavor, a new-to-us bamboo flavor (!), and vanilla. By the time we got to the forest after walking back from where we were, it was more than 2.5 hours since we had left our hotel, rather than our assumed 50 minutes. So, no other sights were taken in today, just the forest. But what a forest it is!

Sagano Bamboo Forest is on every list of Famous Forests, Top Sights in Japan, and Places to See Before You Die. The grove was created in the 14 century by the Japanese Rinzai Zen Buddhist monk, Muso Soseki, who was a poet and master of garden art. The bamboo species here, Moso Bamboo, originated in China and grows 60 feet in one month! On windy days, it has been said that the forest sounds like gentle wind chimes when the bamboo stalks knock against their neighbors. But today was clear and calm.

So, the first photos, as you can clearly see, are all from a walk through the great, towering, calming bamboo. It is other-worldly. In many ways, it is similar to the experience of walking through Northern California’s Redwood or Sequoia Forests. There is a shared sense of awe and reverence with the other visitors. Also, there are homes around the edges, and small shrines inside the forest, and even a cemetery. You can see a memorial ceremony at the cemetery in one of the photos. After those, you can see one of the many rickshaws in the village with two kimono-clad women riding. It could be a scene from another era, except both women are on their cell phones, and the puller isn’t in any sort of traditional dress. Notice how pretty the women are, though, and how buff the rickshaw puller is! They just run down the street pulling the passengers, and at times are also shouting tour facts and pointing out places. It was interesting to see.

At the end are two (cute) plastic mascots followed by their progeny….the first spawning ice cream creations, the second, baked goods. The Japanese seem to love cartoon and other playful characters, as they are absolutely everywhere. We even saw an older woman traveling on the train today whose luggage had Mickey Mouse all over it! Many young men wear loud prints and even leggings. Women have backpacks, purses, and phone covers with Hello Kitty and cartoon characters. Buildings everywhere display either tv screens or plastic sculptures of cute animals. Along with vending machines, they are everywhere! It is just part of the Japanese landscape.

Day 481 of Traveling the World, Dotonbori, Osaka, Japan. June 7, 2019.

Can you believe that the city of Osaka instituted urban planning… 1621?? To be precise, that is 398 years ago! Oh, my! (US colleges only started offering Urban Planning degrees in the 20th century.) The Dotonbori District was only 12 years old at the time, having been founded by a man named Doton who built a canal (bori) to connect two branches of the Yokobori River. The Tokugawa Shogunate decided that Dotonbori would be designated the Entertainment District in Osaka. And so, many kabuki and bunraku theaters were established here, as well as numerous places with food, food, food! The word most associated with Dotonbori is Kuidaore, meaning “to ruin oneself by extravagance in food.” Osaka is pretty much acknowledged as the Foodie Capital of Japan for this reason.

So….all these crazy photos with “things” on buildings and lights everywhere! We won’t describe each photo…let them just wash over you. It is pretty wild. Many of the photos show quite famous images. Look for these:

There is the beloved Glico Man, 80 years old and still running, which has become one of the unofficial logos of the city. It has been featured in many movies set in Japan…the other day, we watched the movie Black Rain, with Michael Douglas and Andy Garcia. Filmed in Osaka, the action occurred in most of the places we walked this week and showed the Glico Man in several scenes. The second most-famous logo of Osaka is the Kuidaore Clown, playing his drum, who will be 70 years old next year. Then there are the ramen dragon restaurants, the fugu blowfish hanging lantern (yes, the possibly lethal fish), the Kani Doraku’s crab restaurant, the Daruma snarling man. An interesting note about Daruma: the restaurant specializes in deep-fried meat and vegetables on skewers. However, individual dipping sauce is not provided. Rather, there is a large communal sauce pot with a strict rule: no double-dipping! You get one dunk only. The locals understand this very well, and dipping again for them is taboo, but we wonder how many tourists double-dip mindlessly?

We don’t know what the others are, as there aren’t always English translations, but they were fun and they were attached to the outside of buildings, so we photographed them. We just love the capricious men gracing the front of the Plate Dotonbori Hotel Gloria, as they are so cute. We love the lighted crab leg structure (note that crab legs are offered for 4,980 yen…almost $50 US), the happy Japanese family, Crabman (not Spider-Man) climbing up to the clamshell to claim a pearl, and the pedestrian walkway photos with all the signs and lights. The later it got, the more certain we were that every person staying in every hotel in the city was in Dotonbori last night!

The photo of the two young women are two more interviewers! They were promoting travel to Nagano, where the Winter Olympics were held in 1998. Asking us where we were from, we burst out laughing and said, “Wait’ll you hear this!” They were suitably excited to hear that we just travel. They were among the nicest, sweetest people we have met in Japan! The last three photos are left for your puzzlement, and ours. We have no idea what the giant foods displayed on the buildings are. The fish in the styrofoam cooler was a skeleton stripped of its meat, all laid out perfectly, with the full head lying at the top. Normally the head has the most delectable parts for eating and for making soup, so we don’t know why the head was left intact. A mystery in the Entertainment District, the very exciting, very busy, very alive Dotonbori.

Day 478 of Traveling the World, Osaka, Japan. June 4, 2019.

Osaka is about 300 miles south of Tokyo on the island of Honshu, Japan’s main island. Its name means “large hill” and dates back to the year 1496. The west side of Osaka is open to Osaka Bay, and the city has many bridges, rivers, and canals that empty into the bay. In fact, by 1925, Osaka had 1,629 bridges! Many of the city’s canals have gradually been filled in, so today there are “only” 872 bridges.

We haven’t yet gone to any major tourist spots or attractions, as we just arrived yesterday afternoon, but we took a walk around the neighborhood today and stopped in a few stores, finding photo opportunities galore. The first is just an archway near some office buildings, but we liked the ribbons dancing in the morning breeze. The next two photos are of a walkway/wall just across from the ribbons, covered in vines and flowers. We thought it very unusual, especially with its peepholes to what lies beyond.

After those photos are some street art and what looks like an entrance gate to a shrine. It was all in Japanese, so we weren’t sure if this was a private home or an institution, but it sure was pretty. Next came the yellow-hatted children, looking like tiny construction workers from afar! We waved to try to get them to smile for the camera, but it was hot, and most of them just weren’t having it. There are two photos from the small park we walked through, then we hit the grocery store! The two photos are from the bakery. The first is clearly a version of a Monte Cristo sandwich called a Croque Monsieur, a grilled or deep-fried sandwich with meat and cheese inside. We have been using the app Google Translate to enter phrases in either English or Japanese to communicate at times. The app also allows us to point the camera at foreign text, and using the phone’s camera, it will translate the text as you look at an item! Mike calls it the Translator app, while Jan calls it the Magic Camera. Anyway….back to the Monte Cristo sandwich. Let’s just say, the app works fine sometimes, and not well at other times. When we pointed it to the Japanese card with the price and description, it translated the text as Lasagna Wind Clock Monsieur. Whaaaaat? Instead of Croque Monsieur, we have a Clock Monsieur, but Lasagna Wind leaves us scratching our heads. For the next photo, which appeared to us to be a strawberry and banana sandwich on white bread (???), it translated the text as Strawberry Banana with Cream. So, it works, sort of, sometimes, and at others, it is a massive failure. It could be due to local dialects, though. We are not sure.

We end with two fun photos….the gigantic green spitting bear, sitting calmly in a water feature outside an office complex (how fun to have your window face Mr. Green!). The second just invited passersby to “Rent me!” – although derision and laughter would be your fate for the day!

Day 473 of Traveling the World, Nagoya, Japan. May 30, 2019.

Kinshachi. Golden dolphins. A symbol of the feudal lord’s authority, it is the first thing you see in the first photo of Nagoya Castle, IF you run your eye down the photo from top to bottom. The third photo is a close-up replica of the dolphin, but it sure doesn’t look dolphinish to us. What happened to the sweet, playful Flipper face? Oh, well…we guess lords had to look fierce and bellicose, not like happy pacifists. The castle is the iconic building associated with Nagoya, and it is seen everywhere as the City’s unofficial logo. Unfortunately, the inside of the castle closed earlier this month for reconstruction work, but we were able to tour the grounds and the gardens. Isn’t it magnificent?

Construction on the castle began in 1610, during the Odo Period. Many additions and modifications were made over the centuries. The Southwest Turret, built to protect the castle and seen in the front of the fourth photo, was destroyed in the 1891 Great Nobi Earthquake. The castle’s dolphins, keeps, turrets, Honmaru Palace, and other buildings were destroyed in the 1945 World War II aerial bombardments of Japan, and most have been refurbished or replaced.

The fifth photo is of Honmaru Palace, recently rebuilt according to original and traditional construction techniques. It has been open to the public for about a year. It originally was the primary residence of the feudal lords. The following photo is of Kiyomasa’s Pulling Stone. Born in Nagoya, he was tasked with getting the enormous stone foundation wall and moat built for the castle, which you can see in the fourth photo, as well. The foundation wall curves at the top, giving it a graceful look as well as strength. He gave directions from the stone that the statue stands upon, and is credited for getting all of the huge boulders in place, and the wall built, in just 6 months, a remarkable accomplishment for the early 17th century.

After that are various photos from around the grounds….some pretty Japanese artwork, the moat (which was rather impressive and deep, although dry), a man in traditional feudal dress available for photos, and the tranquil gardens. It was a gorgeous day here in Japan, and the grounds very busy with tourists. In cherry blossom time it is even nicer, but we missed the blooming season by a few weeks.

The final photo is from our morning breakfast buffet…yes, breakfast! We are unaware of the “American West Coast Trend” that the sign touts, but they sure are cute and colorful. Many children enjoyed them at the end of breakfast, and, maybe, possibly, a few adults as well, including traveling Americans!

Day 467 of Traveling the World, Tokyo, Japan. May 24, 2019.

With a purposeful grimace and a terrible sound he pulls the spitting high-tension wires down! Helpless people on subway trains scream, bug-eyed, as he looks in on them. He picks up a bus and he throws it back down as he wades through the buildings toward the center of town. OH, NO! They say he’s got to go…Go, go, GODZILLA! OH, NO! There goes Tokyo….Go, go, GODZILLA! ~ Blue Oyster Cult, 1977 ~

It is inevitable…Tokyo HAD to have some sort of tribute to its most famous monster, born in 1954….Godzilla. And we found the site on Google Maps, of all places. Not far from our hotel, there is a place marker on the map that says, “Godzilla Head.” We had to track it down. It is on the 8th floor of the Gracery Hotel, and the first photo is up close and personal, out on the lobby’s terrace, while the second was taken down on the street. If you look at the front left of the third photo, you will see a very serious guard. We said to him, “Is it really your job to guard Godzilla all day long??” He broke into a big grin and nodded vigorously. There was also a mini-museum, with all the Godzilla posters ever and some smaller statues, and, of course, items for sale. What a treasure!

After our photo tribute to Godzilla, you will see some Tokyo street photos, including one of the longest street names we have seen! The three teenagers pictured were quite a treat for us. They wanted to know if they could ask a few questions and interview us. Once we established that they weren’t trying to sell us a timeshare…or anything else….we agreed to talk to them. They inquired whether they could film us, and we agreed. As far as we could ascertain it was a project for school. They smiled the whole time as we told them where we were from (at least, most recently, which drew big gasps and wide eyes), what we thought of Japan, how we liked the people and culture, and did we have any questions. We think they were supposed to be asking us, to practice their English, but they showed us their survey and let us read the questions. The second flurry of excitement on their end came when we offered them our card with our website and then told them we would put them on it! We took a few photos of them with us, as well, and we looked back as they walked away with their “treasure” of our interview. They were hugging each other and patting themselves on the back! It was enormously satisfying because they were so happy to have completed their assignment, and they found the one homeless couple in all of Tokyo for their report!

Following them are a few photos of Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, a truly peaceful Japanese Garden near a very busy rail and shopping center. It was so green and calm, with lakes and bridges and pretty flowers. There was a Tea House, but we didn’t go in because you had to buy a ticket for green tea in a vending machine before you entered! And when we peeked in, it was just a large empty room with benches. Not what we had in mind, so much.

The last photo is just for fun…Godzilla for sale, but looks who’s whacking him in the nose! But….he could be yours for just $23 US!

Day 465 of Traveling the World, Tokyo, Japan. May 22, 2019.

Senso-ji Temple is the oldest in Tokyo, first founded in 645 AD and rebuilt several times, the last being after it was bombed in World War II. A Buddhist temple, it is the most-visited religious site in the world, with over 30 million visitors per year. People come to visit dressed ceremonially in kimonos and traditional dress, as you can see in the first two photos. It is the only place in the city where we saw kimonos being worn, although we saw many for sale. There was a note on one kimono on the sidewalk that it was polyester, for $28 US, but you needed to go inside to see the real silk kimonos. These lovely people were more than happy to pose for us when we requested a photo.

So, we thought we were at the temple, and took photos of the structure in the third photo. But this is just the Kaminarimon, or Thunder Gate, offering entrance to the temple. It is adorned with a red lantern and statues of four gods. Next is the Five-Storied Pagoda, the second-highest in Japan, which houses some of Buddha’s ashes on the top floor, which were given to Tokyo by the government of Sri Lanka as a symbol of friendship with Japan.

After that, at last, is the Senso-ji Temple. A large incense burner is at the front, with a vendor selling bundles of incense for people to burn for their own intentions. Following is a photo of the gold interior of the temple, but it was not open today to the public. After that is a photo of the Chozuya, the purification fountain that is found at all Shinto and Buddhist shrines. There are specific instructions for washing your hands, and you can see that the plaque warns not to drink from the ladle. It is proper to pour water into your hand, swish it in your mouth, and spit it onto the rocks (not back into the fountain). Many people were doing this, mostly locals. The foreigners watched.

The next photos are of Nakamise Shopping Street, which has existed for centuries as the lead-up to the temple. You can buy anything here, mostly snacks and souvenirs. We loved the brightly colored ice cream cones and their flavors/names! You can also buy masks, ice cream burgers (we assume someone looked up the translation for an ice cream sandwich, and the word burger came up….great idea!), vinegar juice…all sorts of enticing sounding delights! There is the pizza and pasta joint that advertised that it has English speaking staffs, but apparently they aren’t the ones who wrote the sign!

Also, take your trash home! We saw gorgeous pink peonies that looked like fragile paper….so very pretty, we had to photograph them. And, all of you guys who are reading…the last photo gives you your perfect pick-up line…or does it? Wait…..Duh.

Day 463 of Traveling the World, Tokyo, Japan. May 20, 2019.

Japan is the 97th country we have been to….only 131 more to go!….depending on whose list of countries you use, that is. After the sheer calm and quiet of our idyllic beach in Bali, Tokyo is exactly the opposite. It is busy, crowded, expensive, avant garde, contemporary….much like any other metropolitan area. It reminds us a lot of New York City. Tokyo has been the Japanese capital since 1869, and today is the world’s 11th most expensive city. In our experience so far in traveling the world, it seems to be the most expensive city, but we do believe statistics, so we suppose we need to discover the first ten most expensive cities!

The MORI Digital Arts Museum has become one of the premiere destinations in Tokyo. Located toward the edge of the city on Tokyo Bay, in a large warehouse complex, the museum is a series of dark rooms lit up only by projections on the wall, and objects (such as lanterns and giant balloons) lit up by ever-changing colored lights. It may be hard for readers to understand what they are seeing, but look at each photo as if you are standing still, which of course we were. There are lots of mirrors to make the images even more confusing, and many of the floors are reflective, so lights are shining from them, as well. Most of the projections moved across the walls, like a parade. The first three photos are from the installation called the Forest of Resonating Light. We had to wait in a 45-minute line to enter, as only about 25 people at a time were allowed in, unlike the other rooms. Interestingly, as we looked from the outside through a window into the actual room, the lights inside were only, ever, a shade of orange. Once inside and taking pictures, we experienced what you see…many different colors. In the third photo, you can see the two people in the center taking photos, and you can also see their reflection in the floor. The lights are doing the exact same thing…reflecting like crazy.

The next three photos were a “parade” of rabbits and frogs, walking along, following a wheeled cart. When you got close to them, they turned and looked at you, pointing their fingers! After that are two photos of a special carpet…a lizard and a frog, hopping around. If you stepped on any of the animals, they squirmed out from under your shoe and ran away! But then, of course, they reappeared just to tease you again. Then there is the Balloon Room. Balloons were hanging from the ceiling and were tethered to the floor, in a mirrored room of course, so that you could walk through and get lost in the middle of them as they changed colors. All of the rest of the museum photos are in the Flower Garden, a number of interconnected rooms that change patterns and colors. Some areas had irregular ramps to walk up to get closer to the wall and ceiling. Quite challenging for old people in the dark, but the kids loved it. There was even an area where the children could slide down a lighted area, but it was inside a dark room. Overall, a great place to spend an afternoon. The museum was jammed, and at $30 US per adult, they are doing quite a brisk business.

The photos after that are from our day’s shopping trip to the Ginza, Tokyo’s version of Rodeo Drive or Fifth Avenue. Every designer brand we could think of had not only a store there, but entire buildings. We saw at least four Giorgio Armani stores! There was also a normal street that would normally have traffic, but traffic was prohibited and it became a temporary pedestrian walkway, but we don’t know why. There were even people lying down in the middle of the road, taking pictures in glee that there were no vehicles.

The last three photos are unusual. We each only own one pair of shoes, so we are not shoe addicts, but these were so unusual. First is Miss Petite with the heaviest mega-shoes we have ever seen. Second is a pair of canvas shoes that look like they are made for a Two-Toed Monster. And the last photo defies even us. As you can see, it looks like a tennis shoe that a high-top has plummeted into, creating two heels and a boot. Whaaaat!??


Day 456 of Traveling the World, Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia. May 13, 2019.

Over the weekend, we had one of the most special days in all of our travels so far. Our wonderful driver, Agus, who took us to Ubud and all the places we noted yesterday, invited us to his newborn baby’s Tutug Kambuhan ceremony. This Bali Hindu tradition occurs when the baby is 42 days old, and is a purification ceremony for both mother and child.

We arrived at the family “compound” just before 5:00 pm. Many generations ago, families built a wall around their living area with an entrance that looks like a temple. Inside is a large courtyard with several homes, usually the parents’ home surrounded by homes given to their married children. One small structure is a communal kitchen and eating area. In the middle is a type of hut that is used for drying rice. Agus told us that if Indonesians don’t have rice every day, they feel that something is off, just not right.

Agus’ wife’s name is Miles (MEE-liss). She is a beautiful 26-year-old woman, and most of the time she was cuddling the baby, Kirana, looking at her lovingly, and taking care of her every need. She let us hold her, and Kirana was one happy baby, very contented. There were about 20-30 people there, including both sets of grandparents, extended family members, and bunches of excited children, running around and playing like children everywhere. We had bought some toys for the couple’s two older children so that they didn’t feel left out, but we didn’t know there would be so many kids there. Luckily, we bought a beach bucket filled with shovels and molds to make animals and castles out of sand, so everybody had something to play with. We thought everything would be scattered around the courtyard, but were astounded about an hour later to see the bucket filled with each and every item! Agus told us the next day that he took the older boys, Rakrian and Tirta, to the beach to play with the beach toys.

On to the ceremony! As you can see in the photos, the Hindu pemangku, whom Agus and Miles called their “pastor” so that we would understand his role, was dressed in white. He chanted all of the prayers in Sanskrit, and everyone present admitted that they did not understand his words, but they understood that he was praying for them and Kirana. It was so interesting to watch. Like a Christian Baptism, he sprinkled her with water, but did so about 50 times, usually with a plumeria flower but also with a hard-boiled egg, woven bamboo fronds, or leaves. Many times, he broke off a piece of white or red string, and these were tied around her wrist, around her toes, or gently placed on her head. The parents got some of everything the baby did, as well! At one point, uncooked rice was thrown on all of their heads. Several times, incense was burned and everyone fanned the smoke toward Kirana to bless her. To her credit, Kirana never cried or fussed, but calmly accepted 45 minutes of all of this attention, things placed on her, and water sprinkled. During most of it, the pastor rang a bell for long periods of time. This didn’t affect her, either. She was great.

When Agus acted as our driver, he wore a t-shirt and jeans, but for this Hindu ceremony, he dressed in festive ceremonial garb. His head covering, which resembles a turban, is called an udeng. The sarong around his waist is called a kamen. The women all wore bright sashes around their waists called a selendang. Everyone was either barefoot or wearing flip-flops…..except us! We weren’t up on our Balinese ceremonial dress. Neither did we wear sarongs or sashes or head coverings…but everyone was very gracious and eager to welcome us and smile at us….huge smiles!

For the second half of the ceremony, we moved to an altar area with the bale agung… baskets of fruit, flowers, coconut leaves, woven fronds. More chanting in Sanskrit. More sprinkling. More bell ringing. But for this part, the father disappeared…maybe because it was the mother/daughter purification part? We are unclear on the meaning. We did film a little of this part. Note the bell and the roosters crowing!

After the ceremony and all of that praying, chanting, sprinkling, ringing, and purifying, it was time to eat! The last photo is of Agus’ brother-in-law, who did the grilling. We were treated to a feast of fish, chicken, rice, curried eggs, sautéed greens, watermelon, and a salsa-type condiment called sambal matah, which Mike has every morning for breakfast. It is a dish of mostly finely-diced hot chilies…way too spicy for Jan, but perfect for Mike with his fish and chicken. After dinner we talked a bit (Miles works in food service at the Ritz-Carlton, and her English is excellent), we played with the older children, chased them around the courtyard, and enjoyed being part of a family for a few hours. We thanked them profusely for being kind enough to invite us to witness this unique Hindu ceremony. It was certainly a highlight of our travels up until now.

Day 455 of Traveling the World, Kemenuh, Tegalalang, and Rural Ubud, Bali, Indonesia. May 12, 2019.

So many ways to make money in tourist spots! The first four photos are from the Tegenungan waterfall in Kemenuh, Bali. Notice the cute frames on two of the photos? They are meant for someone to sit in them, and then deposit 10,000 rupiahs into a small locked box for doing so (about 70 cents). There are many frames and signs like this around the most popular attractions. Some people actually hiked all the way to the bottom to walk in the pool and climb aside the waterfall, but it was too long a trek for us, as we had several other places we wanted to see.

The following three photos are of the Tegalalang Rice Terraces. Once again, you can climb all the way down the mountain and walk among them, but guess what? The only way back is to climb back UP the mountain, and just like with the waterfall, we had other places to go! If you look at the sign that says, I ♥️ Bali, there is a yellow collection box on the left side of the platform, requesting 5,000 rupiahs….only 35 cents to take a photo! It is all on an honor system, of course, but each box was filled with donations.

After that….here comes the Elephant Cave! Known as Goa Gajah, the cave complex was built in the 11th century and contains Hindu and Buddhist imagery, but it was only rediscovered by Dutch archaeologists in 1923. The fountains and bathing pool weren’t unearthed until 1954, and contain statues of seven women holding water jugs with water flowing from them (one was destroyed in an earthquake), which depict the seven holy rivers of India. We both had to don sarongs around our waists to enter, down a long series of steps. As you can see, of the two figures on either side of the actual entrance to the cave, only one survived more or less intact from the 11th century. Inside were some small altars, like the one shown. There was a whole class of children touring the site, and once I asked if I could take their picture, they became quite animated, broke into smiles, and waved at the camera.

The last photo is….special. We wonder how many times per year it is actually used! It was adjacent to restrooms that advertised, “Toilet….2,000 rupiah” (14 cents). BUT then we saw signs that said, “GOOD Toilet…20,000 rupiah,” or $1.40 US. We did not check them out to compare the differences. But, quite pricey, for what it is! Tourism certainly commands hefty tariffs on those essential services….