Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Last Supper, All Good Things Come To An End

Bistro Damontei, owned by Cathy Toma's twin sister's brother-in-law (Darren)
 After a day of leisurely exploring Kyoto and visiting the Monkey Park, the choir met at 3:15 pm and we all crammed into a single bus to head out for our last organized event.

Cathy Toma's twin sister's brother-in-law is the owner and head chef of this totally cool Bistro called Bistro Damontei, so we reserved his restaurant for our end of tour celebration.  The food was fabulous.  It felt like we were visiting someone's home.  We had an absolutely great time. It was the perfect ending to a spectacularly successful tour of Japan.  With that, everyone said a fond sayonara and traveled home the following day.

Tall Guys demonstrating where the doorway cuts them off
Making Chicken Yakitori in the yard at Bistro Damontai

This sign was prominently displayed on the wall at the Bistro Damontei

Exploring Kyoto and Monkey Park

Today a quite a few people opted to Explore Kyoto, while the rest of the group went to the  Iwatayama Monkey Park.  In all of Japan there are so many amazing Shrines and Temples that you can hardly believe it, but it is especially true in Kyoto.  For those who took the exploring Kyoto option, many took what is called the "Philosopher's Walk".  It was a picture perfect sunny day with a nice breeze, not humid and not too hot.  Just what we ordered.

It was a perfect last day in Japan.

During the walk we saw some Great Blue Herons, or some type of crane.  First we saw one and went slightly crazy because it was so beautiful.  Then we saw a second one.  Then, all of a sudden, they started interacting with each other in either a fight or a mating dance.  I was lucky enough to catch it on video.

Iwatayama Monkey Park

The organized event of the day was a visit to the Iwatamaya Monkey.  This park is unusual in that the monkeys run free.  The park is on Mt Arashiyama, on the same side of the Oi River as the train station. It is inhabited by a troop of over 170 Japanese macaque monkey.  While the monkeys are human-fed (even tourists have a chance to feed them), they are still wild, so visitors are advised not to stare at or touch the monkeys.


Saturday, June 3, 2017

Dave and Marty Part of School Study at Inari Shrine

Dave and Marty Shearer were wandering around the Inari Shrine and inadvertently became part of a School Study.  Here is how Dave described it:

We were part of a school project at Inari shrine. These students interviewed Marty and me with scripted questions. I guess they needed English speakers. They had a guard take pictures of us. And we gave them our ISing cards, so maybe they'll visit our website and tour blog.

Japanese Highway Superb Rest Stops (Service Areas)

We have had some great times at the rest stops, or service areas, as they call them, along Japan's highways.  Most people make the restroom their first stop.  They are super clean with plenty of stalls at all times--no waiting.  You can see if the toilet is in use by green and red lights outside the stall, much like parking places at the Portland Airport.  The sinks are well stocked with soap, and lots of the super fast hand drying blowers.  Then there are all sorts of great shops and restaurants reasonably priced and fast.  You can even figure out how to flush the toilets.

Kyoto - visited two major Shrines today - Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine and Kiyomizu-dera Temple

The first Shrine we visited after arriving in Kyoto was the Fushimi Inari Shrine.  Think thousands of vermilion (orange) torii gates which straddle a network of trails behind its main building.  It is a photographer's paradise.  The gates create a magic tunnel, and then you see all these women wearing beautiful kimonos and men in traditional garb walking through the tunnels, and you just have to stop and take pictures.  The street scene around the temple is amazing, with lots of street vendors selling all sorts of street foods that we had not seen elsewhere.  It was very crowded with people enjoying themselves munching on street food.

Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine

The trails lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 meters and belongs to the shrine grounds.  This shrine, dedicated to the god of rice and sake in the 8th century, also features dozens of statues of foxes.  The fox is seen as the messenger of the god of grain foods, Inari, and the stone foxes are often known by the same name.  The keys often depicted in the fox mouths are keys to granaries.  This shrine is the central location for some 40,000 Inari shrines throughout the entirety of Japan.

Great Street Vendor Scene

Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Kiyoumizu Temple is located on Mount Otowa with a commanding view of the entire city of Kyoto. Officially known as Otowa-san Kiyomizu-dera, it is an independent Buddhist temple in eastern Kyoto. Many Japanese people visit dressed in their traditional garb.  We saw kimono rental stores as we drove up to the temple.  We walked the route that went around the circumference of the temple. The place was crawling with people, but despite that it was an incredibly beautiful place with beautiful views, birds singing, peaceful waters, clean air to breath and green everywhere.  Japan is an amazingly beautiful place.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Leaving Ogaki - Stop at Yoro Park

We said a tearful goodbye to our wonderful sponsors in Ogaki early this morning.

Then on to Yoro Park, where some of us climbed a steep trail to get to Yoro Falls.  Some of us went to an area where you could reverse your destiny.

Final Concert Ogaki

We had our final concert in the beautiful Performing Arts Center in Ogaki.  It was glorious.  We felt quite victorious.  It was a very emotional experience.

We sang:
  • Salmo 150
  • Noche de Lluvia
  • Beneath the Wave
  • Ain't No Grave Can Hold Me Down
  • Evening Prayer

Then the audience stood up to sing with us and we were joined by the Children's Choir and other singers and jointly sang:
  • Ue Wo Muite Aruko
  • Hana wa Saku
After the concert we were enthusiastically greeted by all, especially our Japanese friends.  We were treated like rock stars.

Mission Accomplished.

Japanese Culture Workshop and Tea Ceremony

The Tea Ceremony at the Japanese Culture Center in Ogaki was one of the stand out events of the trip.

The woman pictured on the left apprenticed for 5 years to become a tea ceremony master.  She has been doing tea ceremonies for 50 years.  She will turn 70 this year.  I tell you this to give you an idea of how important this ceremony is to the Japanese culture and how involved it is.

It was amazing how much time and care they took to share this ceremony with us.  There were four women and one man who prepared and served the tea.

The servers would appear at the door on their knees, then slide in on their knees, sliding themselves forward with their arms.

Before the tea was served they came around with two platters of sweet treats.  They gave each participant a piece of paper to put their treats on.  Each person took one sweet treat from each platter. Participants were encouraged to eat their sweet treats while they waited for the tea.

Once the tea was ready each cup was brought in separately and served to each participant.  The person presenting the tea positioned themselves in front of the person being served the tea.  Before handing the tea over to the recipient the server, holding the tea in the right hand and supporting the tea cup underneath in the left hand, would turn the tea twice to the right.  The server and recipient would both bow to each other, then the recipient would take the tea in right hand, supporting the cup underneath with the left hand, then turn the cup twice to the right once more before drinking it.

They were very gracious taking our questions and taking ample time to answer them.

We felt very honored to have the privilege of participating in this event.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Ogaki Welcomes iSing

The day began with iSing dignitaries having an important meeting with Ogaki city dignitaries to honor the "friendly city" relationship between Beaverton and Ogaki.  Our esteemed president, James Wood, gave a short speech that was very well received.  It perfectly sums up why we are here.  Here is the speech:

I am very grateful to be here with you.  Thank you for the warm reception and your gracious hospitality.  It is an honor to be here with you today.

There are many differences between Beaverton and Ogaki, and between Japan and America: language, culture, food and so much more.  But in our differences we find the truth: We are the same.  We speak different languages but have the same humanity.  We have differenct customs but have the same connection to our past.  We eat different foods, but share the same nourishment.  Our differences are very shallow, but our similarities go deep.  Every culture, every people, through all of history speaks the same language of music, and through music we can move past our shallow differences to the great depth of our shared language, culture and food that is song.

Thank you for sharing your differences with us so we can see how much we are all truly the same!

Domo Arigato Gozaimasu

James Wood 

Later that evening Ogaki gave iSing an incredible welcome party.  This one was not as formal as the one in Gotemba.  The singers wore their blue iSing shirts.  We were seated at tables that combined choir members with our Ogaki friends.  With a little help with our favorite translation apps we succeeded in making friends with our Japanese counter parts.  A beautiful spread of delicious food was once again presented.  The major difference with this party is iSing was not the entertainment.  They brought in an incredible 16 member music group called the Ogaki Guitar Mandolin club.  They played about 4 pieces.  

Susan Sauter and Yvonne Yang provided the rest of the entertainment.  Yvonne played two amazing Scott Joplin serenades and she accompanied Susan on "Oblivion" and one other piece.

It was a wonderful and warm exchange.  We were so grateful for the love and care the amazing people of Ogaki gave us.  They treated us like royalty.

Amazing Food

Did we mention the food was AMAZING?

Typical gathering of friends on tour for a casual meal

This was an incredible group lunch in Ogaki
This was billed as a typical boxed lunch in Japan

Bistro Meal

Tempura Dinner with Eeel Rice in Narita