Ikagai – The Thing That Makes You Get Out Of Bed In The Morning

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”If you cannot fly then run, if you cannot run then walk, if you cannot walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” Martin Luther King

I learned about ikagai in Okinawa. Okinawa has the largest population of centagenarians in  the world.  They say it is because of  the diet (seaweed and spam) and ikagai. The literal translation of ikagai is “a reason to get out of bed in the morning.” It is a lifestyle which balances the practical with the spiritual. It is easy to think about it when you are on the beautiful island of Okinawa.

The four elements  of Ikagai are what you’re passionate about, where your skills lie, how you can earn a living and what the world needs. It is the place where all those elements intersect. Discovering your own ikigai is said to bring fulfillment, happiness and a long life.

Finding your  purpose in life can resemble a winding quest, filled with many twists and wrong turns. When I learned about Ikagai, I wanted to dive right in and leap into action. But figuring out your ikagai doesnt happen that quickly. It involves self exploration and deep reflection. Your purpose unfolds and evolves over time.

Ikagai  in some ways, is like a compass. Aligning your actions with the “thing that makes you get out of bed  in the morning”  helps you navigate life’s ups-and-downs. As your career evolves and you’re presented with more opportunities, you can rely on your ikigai to steer you in the right direction.

Remember to evaluate your sense of happiness and purpose at every step along the way. By seeking growth that fits your sense of purpose, you pursue health, happiness and a long life as well.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Countries I Have Been to With The Best Food So Far

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Countries I Have Been To With The Best Food So Far

“I was at this restaurant. The sign said “Breakfast Anytime.”So I ordered French toast n the Renaissance.” Steven Wright

My food experience when I am traveling totally impacts the experience I have  in the country. Sometimes I make trip destinations  based on food. Other times, it is a complete surprise how much I love the food. Here are my favorite countries for food so far.

Japan applies the same precision to their food as they do to their engineering. You can get a lavish multicourse kaiseki meal that presents the seasons in a spread of visual and culinary poetry..

I dream of the sushi bars in Tsukiji market and the tofu restaurants where everything is made from tofu.  You can eat something random in a train station or risk your life and try Fugu (poisonous blowfish – delicious). I love yuzu and green tea desserts. Cold soba noodles is my go to Japanese lunch. 

It is impossible to eat badly in Japan.  This country is officially one of the best culinary destinations in the world. 

Spain has long been characterized by eat, drink, sleep, work a little bit, eat, drink, sleep. They munch on snacks throughout the day (tapas, pinxtos) with intervals of big meals. The food is different from the Mediterranean sea to the Pyrenees. 

Paella, churros and chocolate, gazpacho and anything from the Basque region (pinxto bars to Michelin starred restaurants)  show how much the Spanish love good food.It ranges from the Medieval Jamon Iberica  to the insane molecular gastronomy of Feran Adria and his followers.

The food is timeless and modern.

It’s impossible to write a short list of Turkish food. It is a combination of Central Asian, Middle Eastern and Balkan cuisine and any other conquering nations. It was a big surprise to me that Turkey turned out to be one of my favorite countries to eat in. Turkish food is about the freshest ingredients and technique. There are meze – small dishes that start the meal based on seasons and locale.

Some of my favorite foods are pide (boat shaped flatbread with fillings), pastirma (ancestor of pastrami), borek (small filled pastries),kabob, hummus, eggplant cooked many different ways, any dessert made from semolina, fresh halvah, pomegranate juice, fish cooked with olive oil and lemon, simit (Turkish bagels), ayram (drink made with yogurt ice and salt), fresh cheese ( beyaz peynir) and honey, kofta (meatballs), (mincemeat pizza) and just about anything  I have eaten in Turkey

I’m not even a huge fan of lamb but in Turkey it is delicious.

 The food in Israel is reason enough to visit the country. Israel is a young country, but its food goes back thousands of years. The cuisine is a melting pot of North Africa, Mediterranean, Eastern Europe and its Middle Eastern neighbors.

It is healthy and delicious. There is freshly made hummus with hot pita bread, falafel (made from fava beans or chick peas), tahini, schwarma, kebob, shakshouka, salads, and labneh,(yogurt cheese.)

The food tastes so much fresher than anything that I’ve eaten at home.  Israeli breakfast is one of the best things about Israel. It is usually served buffet style with an array of European, Israeli and Mediterranean dishes.- They are the biggest breakfast buffets I have ever seen.

This is the country that gave us pizza and cappuccino. Italy’s simple comfort food  has become the food of every country. Each region has specialties that they are very proud of. The best pizza is found in Naples and Spaghetti Bolognese does come from Bologna.  Parma ham and Parmesan cheese come from Parma. Olive oil is the only real Italian condiment.Wine and coffee vie for being the national drink. Freshness of Ingredients is very important to the Italians.. Dining in Italy is always a delight for your taste buds. 

 Olive Oil is the most Greek of all the Greek food.  A Greek salad is very simple with feta, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and olives. It will never taste the same  way here. I have it every day in Greece and it is always amazing. Greeks do it better. There are many high quality ingredients to choose from in Greece that we don’t seem to be able to recreate here. I have spent a few summers here and figs, honey, olives, lamb, seafood, fava beans, tiropita (cheese pastry), tzatziki  (yogurt dip) Avgolemono soup  (lemon chicken soup) and baklava are always delicious. 

I love seafood and except for Iceland, no one in Europe eats more of it, than the people of Portugal. If you love tuna and sea bass, this is the place. The national dish is bacalhau – dried, salted cod. The Portuguese have been obsessed with it since the early 16th century.  Sardines, mackerel, lobsters, shrimp, oysters and crabs are plentiful. The ‘arroz de marisco” is a delicious seafood rice.

Other national dishes are “cozido à portuguesa,” a thick stew of vegetables with various kinds of meat, “leitão assado” Roast suckling pig and tripe with beans. young Portuguese chefs are making a name for themselves with their more modern approach to the classics.  Pasteis de nata is my favorite dessert – Small custard tarts with cinnamon are found all over Portugal The most original recipe comes from Pastéis de Belém in Lisbon a pastelaria that dates back to 1837. I was lucky enough to go there.

Portuguese cheeses are delicious and should be more well-known and for a small country, they  produce a number of varieties of very good wine. 

Mexico is a go to country for delicious cuisine. There are  moles, tacos, tamales, enchiladas, guacamole, tostadas, flan and Mexican chocolate.

Lime and salt go with everything. 

You will not get bored with the food in this country. It is a fiesta in your mouth. 

Cambodian food is delicious and often overlooked but should not be. Insects are always on the menu in Cambodia. Beef with red tree ants should not be missed.

Tarantula and deep-fried scorpion are not my thing but you see a lot of people eating them. 

Fish amok is a fish mousse with fresh coconut milk, Khmer  spices, turmeric, garlic and ginger,

It is served in a banana leaf and is my favorite lunch with fresh coconut juice served in the coconut.

Khmer beef salad, Khmer noodles,  Khmer curry, fried crab and grilled squid are a must try in Cambodia. There is always rice. Try the pork and rice which is only served for breakfast. 

Street food is the attraction in Thailand. The complex  combination of spices and flavors  can  make your favorite dish be spicy, sour, salty, sweet, chewy, crunchy and slippery. With influences from China, Malaysia, Indonesia, ,Myanmar and a royal culinary tradition, Thai cuisine is the best of many worlds.. Thai coffee with condensed milk and mango with sticky  rice is my favorite dessert. The various curries, soups,  noodle dishes, rice and salads encompass the unique flavors of Thailand.

The food in Viet Nam is insanely good.Traditional Vietnamese food is all about the balance of fresh ingredients, intense flavors, and ease of cooking and preparation.

.Many of the dishes have  a rich history and represent a regional specialty.

The most famous street food is pho which is a bit different in the North and South.  It is rice noodles and slices of beef cooked in   a beef bone broth with complex flavors. It is the most popular food for breakfast and lunch.

Banh Mi is my favorite street food. This sandwich can also be traced back to the French colonial period, even through the roots of the name; Banh is pronounced similarly to the French word for bread, pain.Today the typical Vietnamese banh mi consists of mayonnaise, pate, sliced ham and pork, pickled vegetables, coriander, and hot sauce.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Travel Pinch Me Moments

“You have to travel to see new light, find new hope, renew the mind and revitalize the soul.” Lailah Gifty Akita

It was summer in January on a beach in Napier, New Zealand.  The weather was hot and the sun was setting at 930 PM. The moon was out at the same time.  My new friend pinched the fingers of both her hands together and said, “This is a pinch me moment”.  I had heard of pinch me moments when someone wins an Academy Award or accomplishes a dream but I had never heard of it standing on a beach watching a sunset.  She explained that, “You pinch your fingers to save the moment. When I am sitting in my kitchen in England and I look out the window at the dreary weather, I will remember this moment.” 

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 As I watched the moon that night, it made sense that it is also the small moments that resonate in our minds. They are part of the story making events of our lives. Here are some of my travel pinch me moments. (photo by Cordula Reins)

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Looking out at the balloons in the air over Cappadocia, Turkey.

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Watching the sun set over the Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia

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Rainbow over Iguazu Falls, Missiones, Argentina

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Angor Wat, Cambodia

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Walking on the beach in Varadero, Cuba

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 Sailing on the Mekong Delta, Viet Nam

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Machu Picchu .

Seeing the elephants up close in Kruger National Park, South Africa

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The Tori Gates on Myajima, JapanIMG_1074

The view of the volcano in Santorini, Greece

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Fly safe,

JAZ

Ten Amazing Travel Days

Ten Amazing Travel Days

“It’s a perfect day, drank Sangria in the park, later on when it gets dark, we go home”  Lou Reed

A perfect travel day is when everything falls seamlessly into place. There are days when you experience amazing things because the world is an incredible place. I picked ten of my favorite days

Cappadocia , Turkey

Cappadocia could be among my favorite places in the world.  The dramatic landscape is the result of volcanic eruptions that happened millions of years ago. Wind and water eroded the land leaving these odd surreal land formations, fairy chimneys, caves and underground cities.

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Floating across the sky at sunrise, above the lunar-like, rugged moonscape of Cappadocia in a hot air balloon was one of the most incredible mornings of my life and should be on everyone’s bucket list.

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Dubrovnik and Peljesac Penninsula, Croatia

I had a great time in Croatia with my kids. A particularly beautiful day was spent exploring the Peljesac Peninsula with our tour guide Petar Vlasik http://www.dubrovnikrivieratours.com.  We stopped at a few different wineries for wine tasting. Ston is a fortified city from the middle ages with stone ramparts said to resemble a small great wall of China. Ston is known for their lush oyster beds and salt pans and is a great place to eat the freshest oysters and buy salt.

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That night we attended a really good jazz concert at the Old Rectory Church in Dubrovnik. It was a great family memory.

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Onsets and Ryokans, Japan

Ryokan are Japanese style inns found throughout the country in hot springs resorts. Ryokan are a traditional Japanese experience, incorporating elements such as tatami floors, futon beds, Japanese style baths and local kaiseki ryori (eight course typical Japanese meals with local and seasonal specialties).

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The main activity besides eating is bathing. The geothermal springs located throughout the country( onsens) provide hot mineral-rich water for indoor and outdoor baths. The chemistry, temperature, pressure, buoyancy, sulfa and magnesium of thermal baths have curative properties . The meals show all that is beautiful about Japanese culture. Kaiseki is a multi course meal rooted in the Buddhist idea of simplicity. I have been fortunate to visit a few ryokans in Nikko, Yufuin and Iso Nagaoka. Each one has been special.

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Marajo, Brazil

Marajo is an island in Brazil in the state of Para at the mouth of the Amazon. It is the size of Switzerland and home to many beautiful birds and water buffalo.

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The story goes that a ship laden with goods and water buffalo from India hit a reef and sank off the coast of Marajo. Some of the buffalo escaped the wreck and swam to shore. The buffalo are descendants of this shipwreck though now more have been brought in. There are large herds of domesticated water buffalo on the island. At Fazenda Sanjo you can experience life on a farm in the Amazon. There is piranha fishing, riding and milking buffalo, canoeing and horseback riding through the river with the buffalo. We did the riding with the buffalo. It was definitely the most different thing I have ever seen up close and pretty amazing.

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Edinburgh, Scotland

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is a summer theatre festival that includes cutting edge theatre, interesting comedians, and everything else. It is a festival where anyone can perform and my daughter’s high school took advantage of that and had a three-week summer program in Edinburgh. My son and I went to see her perform. It was my first time at the Edinburgh Fringe. Being a theatre person, I loved every minute of it and have been back a few times.

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My son worked there the following summer. The Royal Mile is the definitive part of the fringe. This road is packed full of street entertainment, groups doing excerpts from their shows (mainly musicals) and lots, lots and lots of acts trying to flyer you to get you to see their shows. There’s not really any equivalent to this anywhere else. Theatre goes on all day and all night. We had a blast.

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Cartagena, Colombia

The heat in Cartagena gives it a sleepy feeling which kind of makes it okay to sit on the wall, browse through shops and street vendors, buy fresh fruit from a woman carrying it on her head and not go to a museum.

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La Boquilla is a poor fishing village twenty minutes outside of Cartegena. It is a peninsula at the end of a beach with the Caribbean Sea on one side and a lake with mangroves on the other. The guide takes you on an old canoe through mangrove tunnels with flocks of birds and fishermen fishing for crabs ,shrimp and small fish.

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After the canoe they pull out a fresh coconut and make a hole for a straw with a machete. I walk for a long time on the beach with my feet in the Caribbean Sea. I have lunch on the beach of fresh fish, plantains and coconut rice.

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Gabriel Garcia Marquez became a writer in Cartegena. His novel Love in The Time Of Cholera Is set here. It is one of my favorites. I see Fermina riding in the horse and carriages and Florentino wandering everywhere in despair. You can see how much of Cartegena is in his books.

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Hoi An, Viet Nam

Hoi An is one of the most charming cities in Viet Nam .Hoi An’s Old Quarter is lined with two-story old Chinese buildings that now house shops with elaborately carved wooden facades and moss-covered tile roofs.

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The food market reminds visitors of another era when it was filled with goods from all over the Asia. (mangos, rambuchan, snake wine) Hoi An is a place where you can get clothes and shoes made at a reasonable price as long as you have a picture. It is also one of the best eating cities in Viet Nam and known for cooking classes and especially delicious food.

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After spending the day in the hustle and bustle of the busy streets of Hoi An, i head back to the Nam Hai all-villa resort on quiet Hoi An Beach. The contemporary architecture is welcoming and eye-catching as feng shui mingles with strong modern lines.

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The Spa at the Nam Hai is truly something wonderful. Composed of 8 villas, floating around a lotus pond, it is the ideal location for a relaxing massage, steam shower and herbal tea! The people who work there are most helpful and always want to practice their English.

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Venice, Italy

Every corner you turn in Venice ,you walk deeper into some real-life watercolor painting that a camera can never do justice. It’s like no place else I’ve ever been.

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It’s  a maze of canals and small streets, whimsical bridges, and colorful buildings. And as with all mazes, you should prepare to find yourself lost a time or two. I was there with my kids and a friend,  It was during the Art Biennale in the summer.

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We got to see incredible modern art from all over the world in the morning and explore the city in the afternoon.

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An important Venetian holiday is held on the third week in July. It is the Feast of the Redentore commemorating the end of the plague that killed fifty thousand people including Titian. The fireworks display is so extensive and significant that the re-election of the mayor is contingent on their quality (sort of like us picking a governor based on his movies) I have to add that they were the most incredible fireworks of our lives –I hope that mayor got re-elected.

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Buenos Aires, Argentina

It started in Tigre, a port a half hour from Buenos Aires. We sailed through the different rivers of the Delta Del Parana.

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At lunchtime, we went to Tres Esquinas in Barranca, a working class barrio in Buenos Aires for steak and empanadas. I love outdoor markets but the Sunday antiques market in Plaza Dorrego  in San Telmo is a phenomenon. The antiques are around the plaza but the shopping continues with arts and crafts vendors for many blocks. It is curbside capitalism at its finest.

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La Confiteria Ideal did not start as a tango hall but as  a pastry café in 1912. In the nineties it became a tango hall. Its faded glamour was a perfect background for the faded glamour of the tango dancers I saw that day. Dance has been a big part of my life. Andres Miguel my tour guide is a tango dancer.  tango@culturacercana.com.ar  Everything we did that day was related to tango  –  a boat on a river, good food and shopping, a milonga and always tango stories. He was the perfect tour guide for me and gave me a gift of the perfect day.

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Krueger National Park, South Africa

My daughter and my new son-in-law  were married on a safari In South Africa with sixty-five of their closest friends and family. A game park in Africa is an unlikely wedding destination. (We Love Pictures)

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You know that word that we Americans overuse for everything – awesome? i didn’t expect to have the feeling of humbleness and awe I had when seeing the African animals in the wild up close. There are moments of joy in your life. Watching your daughter get married to the right guy   in the peace and beauty of the African Bush is a distinctive moment of happiness. Watching your son officiate the wedding with intelligence, humor, kindness, sensitivity and even a bit of spirituality  (albeit in the form of animals)  makes it perfect.

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Fly safe,
JAZ

Kinugawa Onsen, Nikko, Japan

Kinugawa Onsen, Nikko, Japan

“Without new experiences, something inside of us sleeps.” Frank Herbert

Being naked with friends and strangers is a traditional practice in Japan. Being American, I’m a little uptight about that. But having been to Japan a few times, I have gotten a lot more comfortable with it.

Staying at a ryokan (Japanese style inn) in an onsen town in Japan is my most favorite thing to do now. I have been lucky enough to do it a few times. I’ve written an earlier blog explaining ryokans and onsens so I’m not going to do it again. Feel free to read that one. https://travelwellflysafe.com/2013/06/11/onsen-and-ryokan-in-japan/

Water is very important in Japanese culture and religion. There are many hot springs in Japan and you are probably never more than an hour’s drive away from one.They are found in remote mountains, on beaches, in major cities, on the edges of cliffs, on the tops of hotels, on river banks and just about anywhere.

This time we stayed in Kinugawa onsen. It is a Hot Springs resort in the city of Nikko two hours from Tokyo by train. It is located on the Kinugawa River where there are many onsen hotels.

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Of course we needed lunch. Yuba (skin of the tofu)  is very popular in Nikko. At one time there were many vegetarian Buddhist priests here and there are still many Yuba restaurants.

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We had soba with yuba. Yuba can be cooked in many  different ways. These were heavy yuba -like matzoh balls –  very filling.

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We stayed at the Kanaya Ryokan Hotel and it was wonderful.  They have indoor bathing and showers for people like me who can’t bathe outside in the cold. The rooms are spacious and lovely.  The food was delicious as well.  http://www.kanayahotel.co.jp/english/index.html

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The bathing areas are constructed of stone, built with fragrant woods and decorated with Japanese ceramics. Everyone was Japanese.

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The main thing at a ryokan are the kaiseki meals. (food photos -Reiko Hirai)

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They consist of six to fifteen different foods.

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They go from appetizers, sashimi, side dishes, simmered, sauced, pickled, seasonal, local, marinated, grilled, steamed, hot pot, rice , miso soup and dessert.

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Kaiseki meals are one with nature and represent shapes and things found in nature. (persimmons, persimmon ice cream)

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The food is always prepared and decorated in a seasonal and visually beautiful way.

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There is always way too much and it is all about mindfulness and being focused on each course.

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The first day I ordered American breakfast and got kaiseki American breakfast. It was smoked meats, cooked meat, steamed meat, sausages, bacon,  salads, pickled vegetables, soup, yogurt, raw eggs, cooked eggs and croissants. The next day I had  the Japanese breakfast which is what they do best.  It is a lot of food as well but mostly fish. The boiling waters and steam of hot springs can be used for cooking. Onsen tamago which are eggs boiled in hot spring are often served.

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I went hiking around the Kinugawa River on the crisp fall mornings.

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The colors were amazing.

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Healing with hot springs has a long history in Japan. Samurai healed their wounds and relaxed in springs after battles.The thing about onsens is it feels good when you just sit there. The water is warm, the air is cold and everything is really quiet. It is a place to make some good decisions about your life.

Yo I sorano tabi o,

JAZ

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