drinking bird

Still in Las Vegas

We particularly enjoyed our visit of the Botanic Garden. A surprising number of desert plants bloom, for yuccas to cacti, to many different agaves and others. I liked very much a small tree called Palo Verde, curious because of its green bark

Palo verde bark
It also has abundant yellow blooms

Palo verde blooms

Palo Verde tree
There were many cacti, several in bloom or about to


bright cactus flower

various cacti

There are other plants as well

callistemon or bottle brush

This is an Australian plant, called callistemon, or "bottle brush" because of the shape of the flowers. These are mainly red, though the size of the shrub varies, and looked as though they were dipped in gold. There were also desert bluebells and California poppies.

desert bluebells

California poppies with  sempervivum

In front of these poppies is a mass of peculiar looking sempervivens (hens & chicks).

I will post my last photos later.
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Trip to Las Vegas

I recently spent a week in Las Vegas. Such a lovely change from the cold and rain or snow of Maryland...

One of our first excursions was to visit Red Rock Canyon Park. It reminded me of Arizona, which is of course fairly close.

the rock face
First view of the rocks. A certain number of people were visiting the park, where many hikes are possible. There was a lone climber up on the rock face.
a rock climber

the climber seen from afar
That climber, as a little white dot on the rock face

Stripe effect of the different rock sedimentations

more stripes
Another example.

curious old crater
An ancient crater.

desert vegetation
Desert vegetation.

I really loved the dry climate of Las Vegas. It reminded me of the Mediterranean. Though Las Vegas has the big advantage of having few insects and no mosquitoes! Such a relief after the swarms of mosquitoes and other biting insects of most of the rest of the country. They do have bees, though.

I will post some more later. We had interesting visits to the Botanic Garden and to Lake Las Vegas.
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Cold January!

We have been having a very cold January, with snow, ice, etc. So here are some pictures to show you;

snowy backyard
This is the view of my tiny garden from my bedroom window.

the wood beyond
And this is the wood behind it.

Deer often go through these woods. This morning, I saw some scrounging for vegetation in the snow.

This little fawn was resting, while Mama and a friend checked...

His mother came over, then they all trotted off. I am happy as long as they don't come to feast on my azaleas, as often happens!
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Last day in Tokyo

I had nice sunny weather for most of my stay, and no rain at all. This last day was particularly clear, and I was delighted to be able to see Fuji-san from my hotel window:

Of course it's with a fairly strong telescoping lens... Nevertheless, it was very satisfying to see that elusive mountain from my own window!

I decided to go stroll in Yoyogi park and re-visit the Meiji shrine. I could see them too from my Shinjuku window [Harajuku is only 2 train stations away]. I don't think I have ever seen Harajuku uncrowded, and this was no exception. But the crowds were sparser in the park. However, as I got closer to the shrine, I realized there were a lot of dressed up families, with little girls in fancy kimonos. There were a very few boys in hakama and haori. I think it is harder to get the boys to dress up that way! Fond grandparents were snapping pictures all over. Obviously they were celebrating "Shichi-go-san" [7-5-3] day, a traditional celebration for children of that age. By the time I actually got to the shrine, there were also several wedding processions.

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a gate detail
Detail of a gate, Meiji shrine
meiji shrine
An inner courtyard

a wedding procession
A wedding group
1 wedding

I am always interested by flowers, so I went to look at the chrysanthemum displays, which you always see near shrines in the autumn.
super white
And this spectacular "Fuji" mum:
fuji white
There were several bonsai as well. It must take infinite patience to grow them!

More surprising were a number of carts loaded with vegetables. I suppose they were there because of some Shinto harvest celebration:
great color:
bright c9lors
I wonder if the priests at the shrine get to make soups and salads out of those luscious looking veggies?

That evening, when I went out for dinner, I took the time to admire the Christmas lights display around the Southern Terrace of Shinjuku, right outside my hotel..
lighted trees

more lights

A blue/violet light actually keeps going down those tubes, giving the impression of falling stars.


Unfortunately I flew back home the next day...
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Nagoya, Inuyama castle

I stayed briefly in Nagoya, and took advantage of it to go visit Inuyama Castle. It is about 30 minutes from the city by train, then there is a 15-20 minutes walk through the town of the same name. The terrain is flat, and the walk was easy. However, I was told it would be interesting because of the old buildings and their shops, and I was disappointed. There are indeed older houses, but hardly any shops were open, it was a pretty dull walk. I did see a lovely camellia shrub along the way, though:

camellia along the way
After going through the town, I arrived at the base of the castle. Because of the presence there of a small Inari shrine, there is a red torii at the beginning of the walk up:

the start of the road
The road is not too steep, but it is paved with river stones that are very hard on the feet.

the road behind me
The road behind, and the rest ahead:
the end in sight
Finally, the castle:

the castle

Unfortunately, it is undergoing repairs. So part of it is hidden, and there is scaffolding around the donjon. This castle is one of the oldest in Japan, however, the donjon was not completed till the early 1600s. It is built in a rather old style, I am told. I found the stairs hard to use, because very steep. In fact they are practically ladders. If you are bothered by heights, as I am, they are not enjoyable! The interior is unfortunately poorly lit, so one has trouble seeing things on the lower levels. I am afraid I didn't enjoy it as much as some other small castles like Uwajima. Here is a model which gives a fair idea of its aspect:


After you come down, you have the option of getting souvenirs or your fortune at the Imari shrine:

with its inevitable red toriis:

red toriis

The next day, I returned to Tokyo and its Christmas illuminations!
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Shinnyo-do, November 18th, 2013

This was my last day in Kyoto, and I chose to go visit Shinnyo-do. While founded in 992, this temple was destroyed during the Onin war [1467-77], rebuilt in 1482, and after various vicissitudes, finally settled here in 1693. I understand parts were rebuilt during the Edo period. It isn't much visited, except on November 15th when a famous statue of Buddha is displayed, and of course during November for the maples.

From Kyoto Station, the easiest way to Shinnyo-do is to take bus No.5. It lets you off about 5 minutes from the temple. Coming from the bus stop, there is an inconspicuous wall opening with a flight of stairs, the "higashi-sando" [east entrance]. This is the quickest way in, rather than going around to the large "omotae-sando" [main entrance].
higashi sando

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First glimpse:
first glimpse
A close-up of these leaves
The strolling garden. You can get a glimpse of the pagoda behind the trees.
gingkos and maples in front of the pagoda
From the strolling garden you can walk into the graveyard. Near the entrance were some tombs decorated with fresh flowers.
flowered tpmbs
The gardens and the main hall are of free access. The main hall is quite large and imposing, with the usual decorations, and ornate lamps. Then for 500¥, have access to the other rooms and attached buildings. Among various treasures are some interesting fusumas [painted screens]:

You also get to see the side gardens. Here is a modern one:
inner shinnyo
One last look at the trees:
I found Shinnyo-do a very pleasant visit. The place was not crowded, and it is quite large, which encourages strolling and lingering.

The air was clear and cool, and as I looked out my window that evening there was a pleasant view of Kyoto hills:
sunset over the hills of Kyoto

The next days I traveled to Nagoya, with the intent of visiting Inuyama castle. This will be for my next post.
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The sub temples of Daitokuji

Daitokuji, founded 1319,  is a large walled ensemble of Zen temples, almost two dozen of them, of varying dates. Aya-san and I visited four of the more important ones. There are restrictions on taking photos in most of them. It was in fact, quite frustrating to visit those lovely old places and not be able to take pictures.

Aya-san surprised me by wearing a beautiful kimono, whereas she usually comes in western clothes. Here she is at Oubai-in. This temple was founded by Oda Nobunaga in 1562, and built by Hideyoshi, to serve as a memorial for Nobunaga's father, Oda Nobuhide. It is only open in April and November.


Aya 2
The photograph doesn't do justice to the damask type fabric. Truly elegant!

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The start of the visit.

Unfortunately, after this we were sternly warned no photos were to be taken, and that it meant with a cell phone or other tool as well. I did manage to find a photo of one small side garden, taken 3 years ago. Maybe they were less restrictive then:
ouba-in dry garden
[credit :Gramercy Cafe]

We went on from to Daisen-in, founded in 1509. The buildings are the original ones. It's an important Zen temple, despite its small size. We met an old monk, selling booklets and printed maxims. Upon hearing I was of French origin, he started reciting in French one of his maxims, a rather unexpected performance. He was Ozeki Soen, born in 1932, the abbot of Daisen-in. I gathered that he likes for visitors to buy his maxims, either in Japanese or translated. His photograph is on the booklets of the temple, raking gravel in one of the gardens. He was a cheerful, friendly man, not the austere monk one might imagine.

The earliest high priest designed one of the small dry gardens there, with one stone figuring an island, and another, well chosen, representing a ship.
[credit: Gramercy Cafe]

from another angle
from another angle
Here is another:
The tall rocks at the rear represent mountains with waterfalls.

This temple also houses the earliest known example of tokonoma [alcove].

We went on to visit Koto-in.
the way to Koto-in
we encountered some gentians
gentian blooming, on the way to Zuiho-in
and a bit of color:
small side garden

a bit of color, Koto-in
A gnarly maple
gnarly maple, Koto-in
No photos inside either. We pushed on towards Zuiho-in, built in 1535
a walkway
And, surprise, they didn't object to photos!
First, the impressive larger dry landscape, with angry waves:
the waves at Zuiho-in
and a side garden
side garden, Zuiho-in
It had others, but I thought these gave a good idea of the place. Curiously, while the buildings at Zuiho-in are ancient, these dry gardens are in fact modern, being laid out in 1961.

My last visit before leaving Kyoto was to Shinnyo-do, in Higashiyama, an altogether different atmosphere than these discreet Zen temples. Photos coming up!

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Shoren-in is a Buddhist shrine near Higashiyama subway station, not far from Chion-in temple. It was first built in the 13th century, and for a long time closely connected to the imperial family,of which its high priests were members. It has some very old trees, amongst which centuries old camphor trees. It is largely ignored by visitors and tour buses, which makes it a wonderfully peaceful place to visit. As you approach, there is a small building to the right, with a couple of superb old trees.

a closer look at those roots!

There are some nice paintings on doors and elsewhere:
door painting

painted screen

You can view the garden from the rooms, in particular the Kachoden drawing room:
But it's most pleasant to retrieve one's shoes and go strolling.
looking down the hill

garden glimpse

small bamboo grove

stone bridge

camellia sassanqua

in between buldings

To me, this was a most satisfying visit. This temple really deserves to be seen, but of course, the peace and quiet are one of its charms!

The following day, I visited several subtemples of Daitokuji. I had the privilege of seeing them withe my good Kyoto friend Aya. I will be posting those pictures soon!
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Kyoto: Eikando

The first shrine I went to on this visit was Eikando. Unfortunately, it is quite well known, and there were a lot of visitors, including large number of Koreans, and even some Chinese tourists. It is a Buddhist temple, founded in the 11th century, starting from the villa of a Heian noble, who gave it to a priest. There are several buildings, connected by wooden corridors. Here is the first:

From there one has a choice of paths, so, at random, here are some of the views:
a bridge
and viewed from the other side:

the other end of the bridge

A riot of reds
red tracery
The Tahoto pagoda is famous, here is a glimpse of it:
Tahoto pagoda glimpse
A green part of the garden:
stele and mossy rock
And one last view of the pond:

The only problem was the number of people, which kept increasing. I was glad I had arrived relatively early. When I left, a whole busload was arriving!

The next day, I went to Shoren-in, which was almost deserted. Such a pleasant contrast! I will put up the pictures soon.
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Haruna Jinja

Haruna Jinja was first built in 586. Obviously the shrines have been repaired, modified, and probably at least partially rebuilt at times. But the consensus is on the great age of the place. Despite it being mid November and a weekday, there was a fair number of people visiting. It is about an hour from Takasaki station by bus. You climb a road from the bus stop, and come upon the ancient monumental gate:

the gate

After that, you start climbing: Haruna Jinja, in the Shinto tradition, is up in the mountain. The road, though, is not hard, and you do not encounter stairs till close to the end. It is quite nice to walk through the forest. There are in particular some giant cedar trees near the shrine.
the road up
There is the occasional Buddha to encourage you
smiling buddha
or Kannon:
Then you get to the stairs:
small shrine on the way up
More stairs
more stairs
Then you get to the main buildings:
Main shrine, Haruna jinja
another shrine, Haruna
small shrine, with rocks and grotto
And finally the main one:
the last stairs...
My favorite statue [looks like a tengu, doesn't he?]
Most of the leaves had fallen, but there remained one flaming maple:
Haruna flaming tree

It was an enjoyable excursion. I then returned to Tagasaki. I left the next day, escaping the cold of Gunma for the [relative] warmth of Kansai in Kyoto.

Please come visit again, I will soon post my pictures of Kyoto!