Back from quick trip to Japan…..

The New Year is an important time in Japanese culture – Hatsumode, the first visit of the year to the shrine (or temple) – is one of the most important Japanese New Year customs and so the temples in the historic city of Kyoto were BUSY – but so beautiful …..especially under the snow that we were covered/blessed with.


Here you can see ‘fortunes’ (o-mikuji) being selected by shaking out a rod from the metal box and then the associated fortune slip of paper is read and tied to a tree or onto the rows of strings in the shrine grounds. Kagami mochi is a special traditional Japanese decoration for the New Year that we saw everywhere: It is made from two rice cakes (mochi) of different sizes, the smaller placed over the larger one, and a daidai, a Japanese type of bitter orange placed on top. The small orange symbolizes the continuity of the generations and long life, while the mochi symbolizes the past year and the year to come. So, kagami mochi symbolizes the continuity of the family over the years. (Muza-Chan’s Gate to Japan)



Speaking of mochi (glutinous rice pounded into a paste and molded into a shape)..when I lived for 4 months in Japan way back in 1992 I tasted it once and quickly decided that it was a chewy tasteless over-rated ‘food’. However, on this trip I really appreciated it – especially grilled. 



Kinkaku (The Golden Pavilion) Rokuon-ji Temple – picturesque under snow.


At the entrance to Kiyomizu-dera Temple


Men and women dressed in traditional kimonos were spotted all over the city during our stay. So elegant.








This ‘internationally famous rock garden’ from around 1500 at Ryoanji Temple was…well…covered with snow. We were a little surprised by the visitors taking photos.


We stayed in a Ryokan (traditional Inn) for a night and enjoyed a breakfast feast of fish, soup, sake…… all the while dressed in our yukata (cotton gowns).



I love Japanese food, even their ‘fast food’ is delicious. I still can’t read Japanese so it is always a surprise to find out what is in the middle of these onigari …. pickled plum, fish eggs, tuna………


Tsukemono (pickled vegetables) at nishiki market. Pickled daikon is wonderful!







Delicious soba noodles (buckwheat noodles)


We warmed ourselves by the hot grill in this okonomiyaki restaurant as we watched lunch being prepared.







Favorite dish of the trip – quintessentially Japanese – simple yet refined. This clam soup tasted – as our daughter said – like the sea and was enjoyed in a little restaurant that our neighbors back in Shanghai reserved for us.

The Japanese really do eat  by their principal of hara hachihunme (eating until 80% full and not to the brim) and while I strive to do the same, I did have some room (perhaps 25%?) left over to taste some matcha/green tea ice-cream. Yes it was snowing, but it simply had to be done.


Gochiso-sana deshita (it was a real feast)


Although many people had said that we’d be ‘blown away’ by the cleanliness of Japan, what struck us much more was how quiet it was (compared to Shanghai). The importance of ‘wa’ (harmony) and the group being more important than the individual was evident everywhere.


Pedestrian light red, no cars… one moved a muscle to cross until light was green!

Looking at map in the street….we were asked if we needed help (on numerous occasions!)

In restaurant no rowdy clients (except our 2 kids)…..etc


Buttons on toilet – note the ‘flushing sound’ button which….well…made a flushing sound ?!?!?!?


While we were away our daughter turned 7-years old – known as the ‘Age of Reason’. This is an apt description as she has been giving me some pretty reasonable parenting advice recently 😉


I liked this quote that was displayed on the desk of the hotel where we stayed. It fits with my main resolution of this year which is to ‘Help Others – and myself – be Happy’. Yes it is far too broad and not concrete enough….but I’ll work on it….over the next 12 months.

If any of you are needing some kind of nudge to achieve your New Year Resolutions, consider the American internet company that helps people make ‘commitment contracts’ that are ’empirically proven to help users accomplish their goals’. It’s based on putting your money where your mouth is, and your friends or charities will benefit from your ‘ransom’ money if you don’t reach your goals (so at least you can rest in the knowledge that someone will benefit!).

This year I’m wishing you all a pleasant journey on the roller-coaster of life. Roll on 2015!



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