Last day in Japan – visiting Osaka

After an early start this morning, I made it to my hotel about 10.00 am and left my luggage behind and obtained a map to be able to get around. I decided to walk to Osaka Castle – it didn’t look too far away!

Stopped for coffee and cake before I set out because breakfast had been at 6.30 so I was puckish. Walked up the street towards the castle until I arrived at what was supposed to be a famous shopping street. I did see a man in his shop making tatami mats which was interesting.

0 - making tatami mats 0 - tatami mat samples

He has the block of inner fibre and then he lays the matting over it before moving it to the machine that you can see for applying the tapes that are on reels.

On my walk, I passed a lot of bikes and took a few photos of bikes lined up and then cloned bikes.

0 - bicycles all lined up 0 - more bike clones

Then I saw this bike storage which I thought was great

0 - bike storage

When I finally arrived at Osaka Castle, I had a very interesting visit.

0 - osaka castle

They are celebrating the 400th anniversary of the battle between the Tokugawa shogunate and the Toyotomi clan. There was a large exhibition with screens, scrolls and books that depicted the battle. There was also an exhibition about the ronin who were the outlawed samurai.

The views from the top of the castle were great.

0 - view from castle 2 0 - view from castle

As I walked around the side of the castle, I saw a group pruning the trees.

0 - pruning trees at the castle

There was a garden in the grounds but since it was just a green lawn and they wanted 300 yen to enter, I didn’t bother. There was however, this wonderful plum grove. This must be spectacular in spring.

0 - plum grove at castle

On my walk back to catch a subway back to my hotel, I took a couple of pictures of the autumn colour which is looking great in Osaka. The bright yellow trees are ginkgo trees

0 - autumn colour 0 - ginkgo trees in full colour

Subway to the hotel was straightforward and then I had a quiet night in with a sandwich I had bought.

This has been a wonderful trip to Japan and even though I have been here before, I would love to come again.

Visiting the Toho Bead Factory

For the beading people, today was the highlight to visit the Toho Bead Factory. I was very interested in seeing how they made the beads and the visit was fascinating.

A bus arrived at 9 am with the CEO and a couple of other people from Toho Beads to take us to the factory which is about 45 minutes from the centre of Hiroshima. When we arrived the manager was waiting for us and led us to a room where they explained what we were going to see.

Then the tour started by showing us the barrels of glass waiting to be recycled. If any glass rod or bead fails their quality control, it is recycled so that the glass can be used again. In this way they end up with very little waste.

0 - glass to be recycled

The next stop on the tour was to see the smelting kilns (or whatever they are called in glass blowing). In addition to the ones we saw, they have some other industrial sized kilns.

0 - retrieving molten glass from kiln 0 - molten glass from kiln

We were taken up to see where they mixed the glass mixture but could not take photos because the formula is a secret. They use silica sand from Australia because of the purity.
The molten class is then put into a machine that extrudes it into a tube – it was fascinating and we could only take a picture of the tubing coming down a long channel, cooling until it is cut into rods about 24 inches in length.

0 - extruded tube moving along track 0 - rods of extruded tubes

The diameter of the tube is checked and if it is not the right size the tubing is rejected and returned for recycling. They are then passed to another process where the external diameter is checked. In the picture, the rods are being shaken in a tube that has specific diameter holes in the bottom. If the tubes go through the hole, they go on. All the others are rejected and returned for recycling.

0 - checking diameter of tubes 0 - measures for checking diameter

Once they are sorted, the rods are passed to the cutting room. This was another room we could not photograph but they have automated cutting machines and manual cutting machines for the other beads.

When they have been cut, the beads have sharp edges so they are heated with charcoal powder to smooth off the edges. The powder prevents the beads sticking together.

0 - beads that have been heated with charcoal 0 - beads after heating

Once they come out, they are washed in large tubs and dried

0 - beads being washed

The beads can now be finished which may be an additional heating process, coating with gold or silver or other dyes and then re-heated. In this picture, the beads are being coated in a tumbler but they may be put into a mesh bag and dyed before being finished

0 - beads being coated for finishing

The finishing can take a coated bead and give it a crystal lustre.

0 - gold beads coated before heating 0 - gold beads after being heated

There is one more quality control process where the beads go over a small mesh and any small beads fall out, and then a mesh the right size so any large beads drop off the end.

0 - beads being checked

0 - final washing

Once finished, they are washed, dried and then they are checked against the standard which is stored in a tube. Here is the manager holding the standard tubes.

0 - factory manager with standard colours

The finished beads are stored in these containers that hold 20kg before being packed for customers.

0 - finished beads

It was a wonderful tour and I learnt such a lot about beads with a real understanding of the complexity of making the beads.   There are 10,000 different types of beads made at this factory and their quality control is great.   By the final shaking process, the waste was minimal.   I now need to look up who supplies Toho beads in the UK because they do not have a UK distributor but do have a European one.  It is possible that UK suppliers buy from the US.    For Toho their market in China is very large, mainly for clothing and the US market for craft beads is huge.   Indonesia and the Far East is a growing market for clothing and Northern Europe for crafting.    It was a wonderful day – the rest of which is in my other blog.

Last day in Hiroshima

I have written a blog about the tour of the Toho bead factory and will publish it when I have checked it is ok to do so. This is about the rest of the day.

Toho Beads are a Japanese company with a global market and they make 10,000 different types of beads/colours so we were privileged to be able to take a tour around the factory and also look at their museums of glass and beads as well as cooking our own lunch

This is the entrance to the factory, where we arrive after a 45 minute drive from the hotel.

0 - entrance to Toho Beads

When we arrived, we started with the tour (separate blog) and then we made lunch. Lunch was okinomiyaki which is based on a pancake batter of flour and water cooked on a hot griddle and while it is cooking, you add a flavouring, shredded cabbage, some crunchy stuff, spring onions and bean sprouts. Then you lay on bacon and the rest of the batter and turn is over. While it is cooking, you heat through noodles with a soya sauce based sauce (it has more flavouring than soya sauce). When this is hot and the bacon/batter are cooked, you put the pancake on top of the noodles and then cook an egg on the griddle – sort of fried/omelet. When cooked, the whole lot goes on top of the egg and it is all turned over and served.

0 - making lunch 0 - lunch

It was very tasty and very, very filling!

Once we had recovered from lunch, we had 1.5 hours to buy beads, visit the museums and generally look around. It turned out that they are normally closed on Tuesdays but they opened for our visit which was wonderful because we had the place to ourselves.

I bought lots of beads now that I can braid with beads! I also bought the Seed Bead Bible which looks fascinating because it has lots and lots of information in it.

The museum of glass was very interesting and some of the contemporary glass was just stunning. I also enjoyed the bead museum with beads from all over the world as well as the Toho Bead challenge which is items made from Toho beads. There was a wonderful arrangement of flowers in a vase, all made from beads but looked real from a distance and the most exquisite peacock. It was amazing.

They have a theme park at the factory and you can try blowing glass, making beads and doing stained glass as well as a castle full of mirrors.  They also have weddings there and they have redone the courtyard with the circles with hearts.  Here they are just finishing one off

0 - love hearts 0 - centrepiece 0 - fixing the final heart

We left at 3.00 and had an easy journey back to the hotel so Phil and I went off to take a look at Hiroshima castle. The castle was destroyed by the atomic bomb so it has been rebuilt since then as a replica. I was pleasantly surprised when we arrived at the grounds because there was a chrysanthemum show on, it was another treat. These bonsai chrysanthemums were incredible because they must be a number of years old and have the most wonderful shapes.

0 - bonsai crysanthemums

These chrysanthemums with huge heads were also amazing.

0 - crysanthemum show

We then went into the castle and climbed to the top to see the views of Hiroshima.

0 - Hiroshima castle

When we got to the top, there was a crow making a very loud noise and I just managed to catch it on the camera.0 - crow on tiles

Here is a picture of the view over Hiroshima in the evening light.

0 - view over Hiroshima

We managed to get back to the hotel in time to change for dinner which was a buffet for the whole group. It worked very well and we had the chance to say goodbye to everyone because some of us were leaving very early.

It has been a great trip with a wonderful group of people – it will take a bit of time to recover although I have one more day in Osaka.

Visiting the Hiroshima Peace Park and Museum

On our return from Miyajima, we walked through the Peace Park to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

0 - view from peace park

While we were looking at this memorial, we were asked by some children to take part in a questionnaire they had because they were practicing their English. This young girl was asking me questions about what I thought about the Peace Park, whether I agreed with war and then to write what I thought about Peace. It was interesting and difficult to respond to in simple words. The school had come from Nara to Hiroshima on a day’s outing and they were all wearing yellow caps.

0 - student from Nara

It was a very moving display about the day the atomic bomb hit Hiroshima and the extent of the devastation. They have clothes from teenage children who were working on building demolition and were injured but died that week. It was very well done. What I had not realised was how early the Peace Park was built. It was built in 1954 and has a number of memorials as well as the museum. I thought this one was stunning.

0 - peace park memorial

At the opposite end of the park to the museum, is the Children’s Peace Memorial based on the true story of Sudako Susaki. Sudako survived the bomb as a 2 year old and grew up as a healthy child and then developed leukemia. When she got ill she had heard that if you made 1,000 origami cranes, your wish would come true and her wish was to get better. The memorial shows Sudako and has a crane under the bell.

0 - memorial to sadako 0 - inside the memorial statue

People still make paper cranes as a sign of peace. In our group, Carol and Robyn made lots of cranes for us that we left at the memorial.  Strings of cranes are created and left on memorials. These are behind the Children’s memorial

0 - strings of cranes

Across the river from the park, is the A-dome which is the last remaining building from 1945 as a reminder of the damage that was done.

0 - original building retained

I also thought that this little memorial was very moving. It was just next to the dock where our ferry left and shows strings of cranes on the memorial.

0 - memorial to Peace

Exploring Miyajima

Todays adventure was a trip to the island of Miyajima, travelling by high speed ferry. As we walked along the road to the ferry dock, we discovered a line of ‘cherry trees’ that turn out to be plastic and look as if they light up!

0 - plastic cherry trees

The boat left from a dock near the Peace Park (I’ll write a separate blog about that). We could see the A-dome as we left – this building ruin is the only building left from when the atomic bomb was dropped. Every other building was demolished and the city rebuilt. You can just see it in the distance with the round dome, under the mountain.

0 - Hiroshima in the morning

When we arrived at Miyajima, the key feature is the Tori gate that sits in the water and, at high tide, it looks as if it floats. Unfortunately, we were there at low tide.

0 - tori gate

There is also a shrine that we walked around and there was some kind of ceremony relating to food with priests carrying food from the back of the shrine to the side. On the way around, I saw all these sake barrels stacked up.

0 - barrels of sake in temple

I left the group after the shrine because I wanted to go to the top of Mt Misen and then walk down. Since we only had a few hours, I wanted to make sure I had time. On the way to the ropeway (ie cable car), I passed this lady cooking oysters. These are farmed just off the islands.

0 -  cooking oysters

On the cable car, I was sitting opposite two Japanese girls who were great fun, particularly, the younger one.

0 - riding the cable car

We had to change cable cars at the half way point but the views from the top of the cable car were stunning

0 - view from top of cable car

From the top of the cable car, there was a 30 minute walk down a slope and then back up again to get to the summit of Mt Misen.  Just before the summit there is an archway formed by the rocks called Kuguri-iwa (Duck under Rock).

0 - holy stone to summit

It was worth the walk and the view from the observatory at the top was stunning because it was a pretty clear day with sunshine.

0 - view from summit 4 0 - view from summit 3

I then started the long walk down. It should take about an hour but actually took me 1.5 hours although I was stopping to take lots of photos. The path was largely steps so it was fairly slow since the steps were steep and uneven. I passed a number of people who were walking up the path to the summit and I had considered this but realised I did not have enough time. That would have been true because I only got back down to the Daishoin temple 30 minutes before we were meeting and I spent 10 minutes looking around the temple.

On the way down, I was expecting to see a waterfall. What I saw instead was the remains of a large landslide where the valley has now been dammed to control the flow.

0 - damming the landslide 0 - water going down the valley

The flow of water is controlled and although there was very little when I was visiting, I can imagine in Spring, it must flow vigorously.

After walking for 2.5 km down steps, I finally arrived at the Daishoin temple which was stunning.  My photos do not do justice because I was using my phone as a camera and it isn’t great at landscapes!

0 - Daishion temple 2

I was able to walk up into the temple where they had Buddhist prayers on rollers on the banisters – I saw these in Tibet but there they were much larger.

0 - prayer columns on banister 0 - ringing the bell

There was also a young boy ringing the bell in the temple

I walked back into the town, stopped at a coffee shop and picked up a coffee and cake for my lunch before walking to the ferry meeting place. I arrived 1 minute before we were due to meet and was the third person there! I sat down and had lunch before catching the ferry back.

Once back, we went to the Peace Park and I’ll write the blog on that later.

Exploring Nara

We had half a day today to explore Nara so we set off at 9.00 to walk to the Kasuga Taisha shrine and we planned to take the back streets to get there. The first thing we cam across was a vegetable store with beautiful fruit and veg including these persimmons.

blog - persimmons Blog - vegetable store

We continued walking towards the shrine and came across a lovely channel in the street

blog - channel

We turned up a little back street and came across a lady who was just setting up her stall to sell food. She had some little balls of rice and stuff and some things wrapped in what looked like a pancake so we stopped to take a look and buy something and Joanne asked the way to the Shrine. The lady running the stall insisted on taking us to the shrine which was about 1.5 km away! She took us through the woods and then past a number of small shrines one of which was the shrine for the god of the arts so we had to pray to that one!

blog - shrine for the god of Arts

We then continued and found that the shrine is surrounded by roads containing lanterns. This is just one example of the many stone lanterns, many with moss on the tops.

blog - path to the temple of lanterns

When we arrived at the shrine, we were side tracked by all the Japanese children who were dressed up for a ceremony – we are not sure what the significance was but they were lovely. Here is a Japanese family posing for photos with a little boy and a tiny baby being held by the grandmother.

blog - japanese family after ceremony blog - baby with grandma

There were also lots of other delightful children so we didn’t take any photos of the shrine!

blog - 2 children

We then walked on towards the large Todaiji temple and passed a group of girl guides asking us to taste their wares. They were raising money for Unicef and selling chocolate coated bananas so we had to try those! Here are the girls asking us to help out.

blog - japanese guides

We walked on to the Todaiji Temple which houses a huge Buddha. I didn’t take any photos because I took lots in 2011 and also in 2003 but it is still impressive. Here are a couple of photos from 2011

blog - Todaiji temple blog - great buddha

In the park there are many deer and when we were near the girl guides, one deer came up and snatched a bunch of papers from Phil and started eating them! We were so busy rescuing the paper that no-one took a photo of the incident but this very happy deer ate nearly a page and then came back for more and was chasing Phil to get is from him. Here is one picture of a baby deer and others resting.

blog - deer in the park

These deer are everywhere in the park and just wander around freely. You can buy deer food for them and they will also eat other scraps so I guess they are a bit of a nuisance but since they have been here for 1000 years, no-one can do anything about it and they are a huge tourist attraction.

We had to be back at 1.50 to get the train so we were getting a little pushed for time but still wanted to go to the Nigatsudo and Sangatsudo Halls which are spectacular and also have lots of lanterns. So we quickly walked up to them and had a spectacular view back over Nara

blog - lantern temple blog - view from the temple

By the time we left this temple it was starting to look like rain and we had a garden to fit in before we went back. A few of the group decided to go back and four of us went on to the garden.

It was a strolling garden with a beautiful pond. As we started to walk around, it started to rain and I did not have a jacket or an umbrella.

blog - Japanese garden

Karen lent me her jacket to put over my head and shoulders because she is a lot smaller than I am. We walked around the garden avoiding one heavy shower by standing under a tree and then we headed back to the hotel. Half way back, the heavens opened and it started to rain very heavily so we got pretty wet. We got back to the hotel and retrieved our luggage at 1.50! Mind you, we were soaked by then but when we walked out of the hotel 5 minutes later to walk to the station it had stopped raining.

We caught a train to Kyoto and then the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Hiroshima. At Hiroshima, we bought our tickets for the travel home and took a taxi to the hotel. This evening we had an excellent Italian pizza cooked in a wood fired oven. We could not get the right money until we realized they had added the bill up wrongly so the manager brought out his abacus to check! We were right and it wouldn’t matter except they had made the bill about £50 more than it should have been! Despite that, it was an excellent meal.

Visiting Iga City

We left Kyoto today for the second part of the tour. First stop was Iga City which is the home of kumihimo braiding and home to the Ninjas. Our first stop was the museum of the Ueno Tenjin festival held on 24th October every year. There are 9 floats and 3 are shown at any one time in the museum.

Blog - float for procession

We saw a video of the parade with the men carrying the flags for the gods at the front, then come 100 demons followed by the floats carrying people playing music. The exhibits are behind glass and tricky to photograph

Blog - offering to the gods Blog - demons

From here we walked to the Ninja museum in the rain. Umbrellas were provided by our hosts and after seeing around the Ninja house and finding out the Ninja secrets, we had a display of the Ninja arts.

Blog - Ninjas fighting

There was one demonstration of the use of a kumihimo rope with balls in the end and although most of the commentary was in Japanese, we all laughed when the guy holding the rope said – what are you thinking when the opponent catches the rope? ‘Oh shit’

This is the ‘Oh shit’ moment and then the finished article!

Blog - oh shit Blog - caught

It was a bit kitchy but very well done and we all had a laugh. We then had a go at throwing the spikes before going off to visit the workshop of the kumihimo master and head of the Ninjas. This is a photo of him working at the takadai.

Blog - oyuban braiding

I spent a long time watching him braid because it is so beautiful and his braiding is so even – I guess he has been doing it a long time. I thought about buying one of his obijime braids. In the picture, it was the second on the right but it was 33,000 yen – about £250 pounds. It was beautiful but I will just have to keep braiding.

Blog - obijime braids

Once we had finished at his workshop, we went for lunch at a restaurant that serves Iga beef which is supposed to be the best in the world – better than Kobe beef. We had a great lunch although we did have to sit on the floor which was interesting because I don’t normally spend an hour sitting on the floor and I definitely could not do it cross legged or kneeling!

After lunch we went to the kumihimo museum and store which we visited in 2007 and I enjoyed but did not buy this time. And then it was on to Nara where we were staying for the night. After checking in, we went for a walk and saw the five storey pagoda all lit up

Tomorrow we have time to visit the big temple and a couple of gardens before taking the train to Hiroshima.