Temples of Nikko, Japan

Temples of Nikko, Japan

“The peace within and flowing from sacred spaces and architecture places is clothed in forgiveness, renunciation, and reconciliation.” Norris Brock Johnson

Nikko is a traditional religious center with Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. The oldest buildings date back 1200 years.

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All the major shrines and temples are located within the Nikko National Park and classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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The first buildings were constructed on the slopes of the sacred Nikko mountains by a Buddhist monk in the 8th century. The buildings are also closely associated with prominent chapters of Japanese history.

There is a very high level of achievement between the architecture and the natural beautiful setting.

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The Toshogu Shrine is the main temple complex in Nikko. It was built for the great Shogun, Tokugawa Leyasu (1543-1616). (The shogun that James Clavell’s novel was based on)

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To create a worthy shrine for the shogun, 15,000 craftsman worked for two years, using 2.5 million sheets of gold leaf. The enshrinement of Leyasu’s spirit is reenacted twice each year in the Procession of the Thousand Warriors.

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The temples get a lot of attention because of the very impressive wood carvings. Unlike most Shinto shrines, characterized by minimalist architecture that blends into its surroundings, Toshogu is a full of color, gold and carvings, with birds, flowers, dancing maidens, and sages following one another around the buildings.

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Some visitors find the shrine inspiring and beautiful; others are repelled by the gaudiness. I must have been in a wood carving kind of mood because I thought they were spectacular.

The is one of the eight panels of well-known carvings of the three see-no-evil, speak-no-evil, hear-no-evil monkeys. They can be seen on the Sacred Stable where a white imperial horse is kept (a gift from New Zealand).

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A few steps from that, the Youmeimon Gate has over 300 carvings of mythical beasts, such as dragons, giraffes, and lions, and Chinese sages.

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Toshugo has a lot of Buddhist elements as well such as the five-story pagoda in the entryway.

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The temples of Nikko exist as part of the beautiful landscape they inhabit.

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The mountainous landscape, forests, trees, lake, fall colors, waterfalls and natural beauty of the area around Nikko, makes it a really special temple complex to visit.

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yo I sorano tabi o,

JAZ

 

 

 

 

Sushi At Tsukiji (Tokyo)

Sushi at Tsukiji (Tokyo)

“Heaven has no taste. And not one single sushi restaurant,” I said. A look of pain crossed the angel’s suddenly very serious face.” Terry Pratchett

I’ve eaten great food before. But all raw fish aficionados should make a pilgrimage to Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo in their lifetime. The best and freshest fish are known to come from the Tsukiji Fish Market. (squid and red snapper)

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The sushi bars that surround the market are the epicenter of sushi culture.

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The lines for the best ones start at 5am when they start serving. They usually close around 12. The restaurants outside the market can stay open for twenty four hours. The sushi restaurants are small, crowded and sometimes the chefs take something right out of the tank in front of you and prepare it. I think it was still moving.

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o-toro (fattiest of the fatty tuna) was the best tuna I’ve ever had. The whole piece melts in your mouth. You don’t even need to chew. It tasted fresh and rich in flavor with gorgeous color and marbling.

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I’ve never had uni that was this amazing. I’ve never even liked uni before. Sea urchin at a lesser degree of freshness tends to be overly mushy, taste a bit rank and looks like it’s covered in a sort of mucus. This was the best I’ve ever tasted.

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Eating sushi in Tsukiji was a near spiritual experience for me and I’m sure it would be for anyone that loves sushi. (o-toro and anago)

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I don’t know where it could be fresher and better. (fresh clam soup)

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It is always hard to start eating sushi again after leaving Japan. Thanks for a memorable lunch Hiro.

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yo I sorano tabi o,

JAZ

Agent Orange – The Legacy Of War In Viet Nam

Agent Orange  – The Legacy Of War In Viet Nam

“Vietnam was a country where America was trying to make people stop being communists by dropping things on them from airplanes.” Kurt Vonnegut

Agent Orange was one of the herbicides used against the Viet Cong by the Americans in 1961-1971. It was given its name from the color of the orange-striped barrels in which it was shipped. Agent Orange contains a very toxic dioxin compound. At the time there was an absence of any humanitarian laws about herbicides. The UN adopted a law in 1978 that prevents the use of herbicides that have long-lasting toxic effects on a case by case basis.

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The goal was to destroy rural forested land and nearby crops depriving guerrillas of food and cover and clearing sensitive military areas. ,The program was also a part of a general policy which aimed to destroy the ability of peasants to support themselves in the countryside, forcing them to flee to the U.S. dominated cities, depriving the guerrillas of their rural support base.

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The campaign destroyed 5 million acres of land and mangrove forests and millions of acres of crops. It was later discovered nearly all the food they had destroyed was not being produced for guerrillas; it was only being grown to support the local civilian population. This contributed to widespread famine, leaving hundreds of thousands of people malnourished or starving.

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Three million Vietnamese including their children have suffered illnesses as a result of being exposed to Agent Orange. Multiple health problems include, cleft palate, mental disabilities, hernias, extra fingers and toes, cancer, diabetes, birth defects, and genetic diseases. High levels of the toxic dioxin compound are found in the soil around the American military bases where they were stored and will continue to cause illness for the Vietnamese people.

Screen Shot 2014-11-26 at 12.16.28 AMFor the past 52 years, the Vietnamese people have attempted to discuss this legacy of war by trying to get the United States and the chemical companies to accept responsibility for using such dangerous chemicals on civilian populations. The United States says the figures and testing are unreliable and have yet to accept any financial responsibility for the victims.

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The Vietnamese have established “peace villages”, which each host between 50 and 100 victims, giving them medical and psychological help. U.S. veterans of the war and sympathetic people have supported these programs in Vietnam. An international group of veterans from the U.S. and its allies during the Vietnam War working with their former enemy — veterans from the Viet Nam Veterans Association — established the Viet Nam Friendship Village[1 outside of Hanoi.

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We stopped in a place outside Hanoi where victims of Agent Orange wove artwork. As Americans and human beings, we need to support these places when we travel.

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Though my family was always against the Viet Nam War, I feel the guilt of an American. I came from a country who fought for many years in Viet Nam. I guess they thought they were doing something good, but they weren’t fighting for their country and trying to protect their villages and children so after a while they left. I don’t really understand anymore why we had been there at all.

Di du lịch một cách an toàn,

JAZ

 

 

Wet Towels In Asia

Wet Towels In Asia

“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” Mary Anne Radmache

Japan is a country of specific etiquette. Correct manners are very important to the Japanese. It’s very easy to embarrass yourself in Japan as an American. I started my Asia trip in Japan and as is their custom I began each meal with the wet towel. Japan is a society of cleanliness. It is a culture of bath houses and onsens. You have never seen so many people brushing their teeth and gargling (Japanese are obsessed with gargling as a cure for everything) in public restrooms. They carry handkerchiefs in case there is nothing to dry their hands with in a public restroom.

The towel is called an o-shibori. A typical o-shibori, made of cloth, is dampened with water and wrung. It is then placed on the dining table for customers to wipe their hands before or during the meal. The o-shibori is often rolled or folded and given to the customer on a tray. Even if a tray is not used, it is usually rolled up into a long, thin shape. Cold ones are used in summer and hot ones are used in winter.

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Airlines, also give out disposable towels containing a sterilizing agent such as alcohol or chlorine dioxide. Traveling on different Asian Airlines, the smell wafts through the plane as everyone rips open their towels as soon as they are given them.

The custom continued in restaurants and airlines in Thailand, Viet Nam and Cambodia. It is interesting because these are countries with unclean water and questionable sanitation. There is something civilized about the understanding between the patron and the restaurant that your hands must be clean before you eat.

I wondered why we did not have that concept in America. Do they just assume our hands are clean? Do they not care?

I like the towel. For me it means to stop and focus on what we are doing now. We are about to do something important. We are about to have a meal.

Fly safe,

JAZ

 

How to Make A Pearl In Viet Nam

How To Make A Pearl In Viet Nam

“Quotations are sometimes valuable pearls but original thoughts can be priceless treasures”  unknown

Ancient Chinese literature refer to pearls as originating in the brain of a dragon and being so lustrous as to be visible from a thousand yards. In Ha Long Bay, the Bay Of Descending Dragons is The Ha Long Bay Pearl Farm.

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Until the early 1900’s, natural pearls were accessible to only the rich and famous. It was during this time that Japanese researchers discovered the techniques that could be used to cause oysters to create pearls “on demand.” Oysters create pearls as a defense mechanism. If an irritant, such as sand get inside the oyster shell, they secrete a substance around it which forms a pearl. The Japanese  discovered that if you surgically insert an irritant directly into the body of the oyster this will produce a perfect pearl.

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The man who finally joined the various technical processes with smart business sense and worldwide marketing, was Kokichi Mikimoto. He is credited with almost single-handedly having created the cultured pearl industry.

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Today pearls are affordable and available to all. Cultured pearls share the same properties as natural pearls. The only difference is a little bit of encouragement by man.  (Shopping – Halongpearl.com.vn)

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Di du lịch một cách an toàn,

JAZ

Folded Money In Unstable Countries

Folded Money In Unstable Countries

“No, not rich. I am a poor man with money, which is not the same thing.” Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I knew that when I went to Myanmar a few years ago that their bank only accepts foreign currency that is new, crisp, not torn and not folded and preferably in hundred-dollar bill denominations. I knew it and I forgot it. I went to the bank and got the sparkling new hundred-dollar bills. When I was packing, I promptly folded my crisp new hundred-dollar bills in half and put them in my passport case. This resulted in a black market money exchange, up a four flight betel nut stained stairway (which looks like dried blood),  to an apartment of someone who my non-English speaking driver knew.

I was not prepared in that way for Cambodia or new military controlled Thailand.

You can pay everything in dollars in Cambodia. But not if they are a bit torn or folded. Everyone examines your money the way an art dealer looks for a forgery. A barely visible ink dot, a half-millimeter tear, even a crease that has weakened the fibers, is enough to get your bill rejected. Many are rejected. Smaller bills like ones and fives could not be marked but did not have to be wrinkle free. Euros don’t seem to show the wear and tear that dollars do so you might consider using them.

In Thailand, they turned down a one dollar bill that I had just gotten as change in Cambodia. “It is too old, “ they said. Some countries wont accept any money minted before 2006.

The best thing when traveling to third world countries with unstable governments is to go to the bank and get crisp new bills before you go and don’t fold them.

Apparently, the more unstable and corrupt the government, the newer and cleaner, your dollars need to be. You wont have any problem with changing your rumpled money in Europe.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Ha Long Bay, The Bay Of Descending Dragons, Viet Nam

Ha Long Bay, The Bay Of Descending Dragons, Viet Nam

“Heroes take journeys, confront dragons, and discover the treasure of their true selves.” Carol Pearson

Ha Long Bay is considered to be the most beautiful vista in Vietnam. It consists of 1,969 islands and islets situated in the Gulf of Tonkin.

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This area is known for its spectacular seascape of limestone pillars. Ha Long Bay has been recognized as a World Natural Heritage Site by UNESCO.

The literal meaning of “Ha Long” is “Bay of Descending Dragons”. A local legend says that a family of dragons was sent to defend the land long ago when the Vietnamese were fighting the Chinese invaders. The dragons thought it was so beautiful that they decided to stay upon what is now Ha Long Bay.

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It houses a great diversity of ecosystems including coral reefs, freshwater swamp forests, mangrove forest, small freshwater lakes, and sandy beaches.

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The islands feature beautiful grottos and caves with interesting stone formations and hidden ponds.

The way to see Ha Long Bay is on a Vietnamese boat or junk. There are many options to choose from in all price ranges. I think one night is good but you can do more as well and explore many caves and beaches.

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I was on the Paradise boat. ( http://www.paradisevietnam.com). It had good food, a relaxed atmosphere, a helpful friendly staff, tai chi, cooking lesson and luckily good weather for the boat to go out. ( captain, manager – very helpful)

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Our first stop was exploring Amazing or Surprising Cave. I can’t remember the name. It was amazingly surprising.

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The next day we took small boats or kayaks to explore some of the smaller areas.

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There were monkeys.

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I was the only American on the boat and I got to experience this amazing place with people from Taiwan, England, Korea, Brazil and Australia. Not everyone spoke English but we were all having the same connected interaction at the same time in this beautiful place. Travel, experiences, education and knowledge always make the world seem smaller.

Di du lịch một cách an toàn

JAZ