Treasures of Japan

2013 Treasures of Japan with South Korea Field Report

Kim Saunders|July 1, 2013|Field Report

Monday, May 6, 2013 - Osaka, Honshu, Japan / Kyoto: Upon arriving at Kansai Airport Osaka, we transferred to Kyoto where we checked in to the elegant Kyoto Hotel Okura.

Tuesday, May 7 - Kyoto: Founded in the 8th century, Kyoto was the capital of Japan and the Emperors’ residence for more than one thousand years. Our wonderful guides—Cheikosan, Mineko-san, and Akiko-san, who would be with us throughout our time in Japan—began our tour at the ancient Kiyomizu-dera Temple. Located on a dramatic hillside, the temple enjoys spectacular views of Kyoto. It was first built in 798AD but the present buildings date from 1633. The temple is very popular with local and foreign visitors who purchase good luck charms and drink the waters of Otowa-no-taki, the sacred waterfall.

Our next stop was the beautiful 12th-century Sanjusangen-do Temple housing the Thousand-Armed Kannon, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy. The temple name refers to the 33 bays between the pillars that house the immense collection of statues. We also saw the massive scarlet-colored steel Torii that marks the entrance to the complex, the largest in Japan.

After an authentic lunch of Japanese kaiseki, haute cuisine consisting of the finest ingredients and prepared to exquisite perfection, those who wanted to see more of Kyoto stopped at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Nijo Castle. Strategically surrounded by walls and a moat, one of the unique features is a nightingale floor which squeaks when anyone walks over it, thus alerting the shogun’s bodyguards, hidden in concealed chambers throughout the castle. The interior of the castle has beautifully carved and gilded panels and a very impressive series of gates.

In the evening the Kyoto Hotel Okura hosted our delicious welcome dinner. Those who had spent several days in Kyoto on the pre-extension with our Cruise Director, Lynda Murphy, were able to meet up formally with the rest of the group and Expedition Leader Mark Brazil introduced us to the rest of the staff before we headed off to bed.

Wednesday, May 8 - Kyoto / Kobe / Embark Clipper Odyssey: It was time to bid farewell to Kyoto and continue with our journey to Kobe, via Japan’s famed Shinkansen, the bullet train. Our first stop was the cable car at Mount Rokko which provided spectacular views over Kobe’s commercial and residential areas, as well as the harbor which have all been completely rebuilt since the earthquake of 1995.

Lunch was a teppanyaki, grilled in front of us, of the famed kobe beef. Afterwards we proceeded to the Hakutsuru (White Crane) Sake Brewery and Museum to learn about the sake-making process. Naturally, this involved sampling not only sake but some plum wine and yuzu, or citrus, liqueur. Our final stop was at the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake Memorial and Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institution. The institution is dedicated to understanding what happens during an earthquake and how the population can be prepared to minimize loss of life. A late afternoon transfer to the Clipper Odyssey gave everyone the opportunity to unpack and settle in before the mandatory lifeboat drill and introductions to the ship.

Thursday & Friday, May 9 & 10 - Uno-Ko / Okayama / Kurashiki / Naoshima Island: Beautiful blue skies and sunshine greeted us as we arrived at the port of Uno-Ko, Tamono City on the first of our two days here. We soon split into groups with half visiting Okayama and Kurashiki one day and Naoshima on the other.

Located in Okayama is one of Japan’s top three must-see gardens, the Koraku-en garden. At 28 acres, the garden was designed for strolling and its name means ‘the garden for taking pleasure later.’ The grounds are home to several exquisite red-crowned Japanese cranes, a very important symbol of longevity. Our morning drive continued though manicured farm landscape to the town of Kurashiki, a picturesque historic village of rice warehouses set along moats and canals fringed with weeping willows, which is now famous for arts and crafts. The first stop was the Ohashi-Ke, Ohashi House, a charming example of an 18th-century Japanese merchant’s house.

After another delicious Japanese kaiseki-style lunch, it was time to visit the Ohara Museum of Art, which boasts an exceptional collection of both modern and contemporary art from Japan and the West. The remaining time was spent exploring the myriad of art and craft shops, or other museums in the area.

Naoshima Island, known locally as Art Island, is located in the Seto Inland Sea and is famed for its modern art museums, architecture, and sculptures. It is extremely popular with domestic tourists, who enjoy being surrounded by green grass, trees, and beaches, hiking around the island and escaping the frenetic city life. They also visited Benesse House, part hotel, part museum and art gallery, and the Chichu Art Museum, established in 2004 as a site to rethink the relationship between nature and people. The Ie (or House) Project is an art project underway in Naoshima’s Honmura district. The project takes empty houses scattered throughout the residential areas and turns the spaces themselves into works of art, weaving in the history and memories of the period when the houses were homes.

Saturday, May 11 - Miyajima / Hiroshima: The stunningly impressive floating red Torii gate to Itsukushima-Jinja, is one of the most popular and photographed sights in Japan. Fortunately, the very thick fog that beset our Zodiac transfer to Miyajima Island cleared during the morning; the lingering mist shrouding the hillside above the shrine gave it a very ethereal quality. Miyajima Island, or Itsukushima, is a tranquil forested island, surrounded by oyster farms, set in the Seto Inland Sea. The Itsukushima shrine was built in 593AD to honor three female deities, and the shrine and gate are now designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Mark led a hike in search of the local avifauna while others had time to browse the shops of Miyajima sampling fresh local kaki (oysters), and the local maple-leaf shaped cakes stuffed with a variety of fillings, ranging from cheese to bean paste. Another unique pastime in Miiyajima is fending off the friendly deer who love to eat paper or anything they can acquire. All too soon it was time to board the Zodiacs for transfer to the ship and lunch.

Any visit to Hiroshima must include the Peace Memorial Park, Peace Clock Tower, Peace Bell, Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound, the Cenotaph containing the names of all the known victims of the bomb, and the eternal Flame of Peace. It was exceptionally moving to witness so many Japanese school groups visiting the Peace Park, assembling to pay their respects and lay flowers at the cenotaph in memory of the victims and to pray for world peace. Before dinner Ron Wixman rolled out the lecture series with his illuminating and contemplative presentation on Religion and Cultures of East Asia—Shintoism and Buddhism.

Sunday, May 12 - Uwajima, Shikoku Island: Our day began with a very animated drum and dance welcome from the Senior Citizen’s Committee of Uwajima. With an average age of 80 years young, their energy put us all to shame! Their Taiko drum performance was followed with an Ushi Oni dance. Ushi Oni, literally Beef Goblin or Bull Demon is a local traditional talisman with a bull’s body and a demon head which drives away evil. Bull fighting is held in January, April, July, and August and there is a huge annual Ushi Oni festival in July.

Japan’s gardens are characteristically categorized into Paradise Gardens, Dry-Landscaped Gardens, Stroll Gardens, and Tea Gardens. In all Japanese gardens very careful attention is paid to the seasons in their design and layout. The beautifully landscaped Tensha-en garden was constructed in 1866 as a strolling garden, and also has a Tea Room. We next visited the Matsumoto Pearl Farm on Uwajima, a traditional family-run business. It is especially famed for its pink pearls, produced by using red coral as the irritant to simulate the production of the pearl within the oyster.

Our lecture series continued with Michael Saunders condensing over 2,000 years of Japanese history in Samurai, Shoguns, and the Rising Sun, and Harvard Museum of Natural History representative, Andrew Shedlock, presented a fascinating insight into Japanese Science, Molecular Medicine, and Conservation Biology. We ate dinner under the stars before heading off to bed.

Monday, May 13 - Oita, Kyushu Island / Nakatsu: Today we disembarked in Oita and made our way north by coach to the port of Nakatsu where the ship had re-positioned. The drive across Kyushu was stunning, filled with a plethora of cypress covered mountains and deep valleys. Our first stop south of Oita was to see the Usuki Stone Buddhas, some carved into the side of the rock faces and others sculpted from freestanding volcanic rocks. Who carved the images and why, remains a mystery.

Our scenic drive continued west to Yufuin, dominated by the volcano Mt. Yufudake. Here we had the choice of an onsen hot spring experience or to explore Yufuin’s Folk Art village before enjoying a sumptuous nine-course Kaiseki lunch. We went on to Usa Shrine, head of the Tendai Shinto sect, dedicated to Hachiman-ookami, the god of war and the reincarnate of Emperor Oojin. The entrance to the shrine has very imposing vermillion Torii gates. Inside the grounds, up a steep stone staircase is the most famous site, the Usa Jingu, a shrine dedicated to ancient Japanese deities.

Our final stop was the exceptional Oita Prefectural Museum of History, set within the Usa Fudoki no Oka, a historical park which contains the Kawabe Takamori burial mound ruins. There are six key-hole shaped burial mounds and one square, believed to contain the remains of chiefs of the local ruling families who governed the Usa plains between the 3rd and 6th centuries. At the center of the museum stands a life-size reconstruction of Fukiji Temple's main hall as it would have looked when it was first constructed over 800 years ago. The museum also showcases replicas of the Usuki Stone Buddhas and the Kumano Magaibutsu Stone Buddhas.

Tuesday, May 14 - Hagi, Honshu: Our day began with an official welcome speech and ceremony from Hagi’s mayor and a folk dance. Hagi developed as a castle city in the early 17th century and was home to the Mori clan feudal lord, his retainers, and merchants.

Hagi is renowned for its pottery and we visited the famed Nosaka Kiln to meet Mr. Nosaka, and to learn about the making of hagi-yaki ceramics. Mr. Nosaka is considered a significant cultural asset in Japan and his ceramic work is much sought after and very collectable. While some browsed in his showroom, the rest of us were entertained with tea and candied spring orange peel, a local delicacy in Hagi.

Upon arriving in old Hagi we walked through the historic streets among the merchants and Samurai houses. A wander through the immaculate gardens at the back of the house completed the experience. Next we visited the Tokoji Temple, one of the Mori feudal clan family temples founded in 1691. Its buildings boast a number of important cultural properties of Japan and its construction is clearly influenced by Chinese style. Behind the main temple are the tombs of five Mori lords and more than 500 stone lanterns dedicated by the Mori vassals to honor their feudal lord. They rest mystically amidst a bamboo and maple forest in front of the Mori clan mausoleum.

After lunch aboard, we had the opportunity to explore Hagi further in sunshine, many of us visiting ceramic workshops and sampling the locally made natsu mikan, summer orange ice cream.

Our lecture series continued with Rich Pagen’s fascinating look at Blue-Fin Tuna and Giant Salamanders: Wildlife and Humans Sharing Japan’s Ancient Landscape. Mayumi Kanamura gave us a wonderfully informed insight into Kimono: Japanese Clothing and Style, followed with a demonstration showing the complexity of donning and wearing Kimono. Mayumi-san’s record for donning her kimono alone is 12 minutes!

Our evening kicked off with a cocktail party on the pool deck as we sailed off into the sunset leaving beautiful Hagi behind.

Wednesday, May 15 - Matsue: Our morning visit took us through tranquil countryside to the Abe Eishiro Memorial Hall in Yakumomura Village. Abe Eishiro is one of Japan’s national treasures; his family is famous for making exquisite wahshi, handmade paper. During our visit we were able to learn about the history and importance of papermaking in Japan, observe it being made by a master craftsman, and try our own hand at paper-making.

Lunch was a delicious barbeqeue followed by a visit to Matsue Castle, one of only 12 remaining original castles that remain today out of over 5,000 in Japan. Outside Japanese visitors sat on tatami mats drinking green tea, and contemplating the castle and whether to dress in samurai robes for photographs. Built in 1611, the castle is undoubtedly yet another treasure of Japan.

Having been greeted in the morning by Sakaiminato’s famous goblins, we completed our day with a stroll along the Mizuki Shigeru Road to try and understand the bronze statues which line the pavements. The statues feature characters from Mizuki Manga comic stories which in turn suggest that people in the world should cooperate and live in peace with each other.

We then bid farewell to our wonderful JTB hosts and guides, Cheiko-san, Mineko-san, and Akiko-san, who had so enhanced our experience and understanding of Japan and Japanese culture. Having completed immigration we embarked to an Ice Cream Social with entertainment by Jimmy Shibata who can do the most amazing things with loaches. The Sakai-Ko high school band sent us off to the sounds of Spanish flamenco as we drank our champagne and said sayonara to Japan.

Thursday, May 16 - Ulsan, South Korea: At last, a morning at sea! Kim Saunders introduced us to Korea in a lecture entitled, A Man Can Live Without a Wife But Not Without Kimchi. Then, Ron put our entire journey in context with his immensely comprehensive presentation on Confucianism and Development in East Asia.

Our first afternoon in Korea was marked by bitterly cold wind, fog, and rain. Such a contrast to the blue skies and balmy temperatures we had been enjoying in Japan. We boarded coaches with our Korean team of guides and set off for Gyeongju, the ancient capital of the Silla Dynasty. Known as ‘the museum without walls,’ Gyeongju has several areas designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, one of which is the beautiful Bulguksa Temple. Highlights include the white cloud and blue cloud bridges, the Pagoda of Buddha, the Pagoda of Many Treasures, the gilt bronze seated Amitahba Buddha, and the gilt bronze seated Vaircana Buddha.

The Seokguram Grotto Shrine is one of Asia’s finest, and features a wonderful granite dome. Bodhisattvas and guardian deities surround the serene central statue which sits in the Bhumispara mudra, calling the earth to witness. As May 17 is Buddha’s birthday, and a national holiday in Korea, both Bulguksa Temple and the Seokguram grotto were bedecked in multi-colored lanterns, donated by those wishing to make merit and acknowledge the day.

This evening was the captain’s farewell dinner, reminding us that our journey aboard the Clipper Odyssey was drawing to a close. Following dinner we were treated to an outstanding performance of Gugak, Korean traditional music. This consisted of a saenghwang solo played on a wind instrument with 17 bamboo pipes; a trio showcasing a gayageum, similar to a zither; a haegeum, which resembles a fiddle; a danso, or bamboo flute; and a janggu, or drum. What a feast for the eyes and ears.

Friday, May 17 - Gyeongju: The Gyeongju National Museum showcases one thousand years of cultural heritage in the form of National Treasures, retrieved from Silla’s royal tombs and Tumuli park. Highlights in the archaeology hall include the Cheonmachong Gold Crown and the stoneware warrior riding horseback. There are numerous stone sculptures in the grounds of the museum, as well as the Emile Bell, or Divine Bell of King Seongdeok, the largest copper bell in Asia.

The weather was beautiful as we continued our sightseeing, passing the Cheomsongdae Silla astronomical observatory, and on to the Daeneungwon, Tumuli park to visit Chonmachong, the tomb of the heavenly horse.

Following lunch aboard the ship, we all assembled for the group photo and the hardy few who were prepared to delay packing headed south to Oegosan Onggi Village. The largest producer of onggi earthenware in Korea, this village was established by artisans and potters from all over the country to practice and preserve the tradition of the craft. The Onggi Cultural Center showcases the history and culture of onggi products including a 6.5-foot high onggi pot created by eight potters for the Guinness Book of World Records in 2011. We were also fortunate enough to meet some of the professional potters and watch them create kimchi pots first-hand.

Before dinner we enjoyed Rich Pagen’s marvelous summation of our adventures in his slideshow, Japan and Korea, a Photographic Journey, followed by the crew of the Clipper Odyssey saying a fond and final farewell to Zegrahm Expeditions.

Saturday, May 18 - Busan / Disembark / Tokyo / USA: Overnight, the ship repositioned to Busan and we disembarked to return home or continue to new adventures.

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