吹禅 – Lohan Shaolin Shakuhachi


Lohan Shorin Shakuhachi

 
My two-year of formal shakuhachi study was last month. I have yet to make my annual anniversary pilgrimage. It is coming though. I did have a small one of sorts. Rather unplanned.
 
I finished learning my second traditional Shakuhachi song this week. Golden week here in Japan. It was a struggle for me. The first two days I spent in pain and a numb mouth from dental work. Which was just hours before my scheduled Skype Lesson. I believe I already said this on my last post. So I will not again, if not, just imagine, numb mouth shakuhachi class. Next two-day a cold! Anyway, I persevered. My fellow Zen path follower was kind enough to teach me the song I needed to do a day with a Komuso upcoming later this month. I am grateful for the help to make the trip possible. Now I need practice! 
 
So any-who, I decided on Friday the weather was great, I was feeling almost 100% normal…for me. I make the choice to go out, get some practice in, some fresh air, some exercise. One of the things, that stuck me holding the shakuhachi was its feel as a weapon, having a martial art background. I read that some of the old Komuso, being former samurai also felt the connection with the shakuhachi as a weapon and they at time used it as such. With that in mind I had been thinking about training with it with a different mind-set. In my shaolin studies, we have a short staff “form” or kata as it is called in Japanese. This lends itself well to use of the shakuhachi as a a short staff. However, i was thinking more in terms of sword. I have a Tai Chi sword form I am re-learning, this I felt would be perfect for use with a shakuhachi instead of blade. In Japan I can not freely go out and practice with my swords as in the states. So I use a cane, or a collapsible sword or cheap meal. Both work , but lack a feel, which I am sure is a mental thing. I decided, practicing with a shakuhachi would give the practice a different feel, something unique. A different feeling than with a sword, but also different from a fake sword. That would be part of my practice for today. Physical, mental, spiritual, audio. Formless and form. I could also Practice Kali with the shakuhachi. But really unnecessary due to the nature of Kali. Also the limits of a two-part Shakuhachi. None of the training is really suitable for a two piece shakuhachi, however the Tai Chi jhian form is the least of being chanced harmful to the shakuhachi.

So I have my plan. Go to the temple grounds near our home. This is my favorite temple in the area, Chokei-ji. The grounds over look the area . I can see to the Osaka Bay from over by the large Bell, which is next to the grave yard. The place is usually quiet. I can practice some of the faces of Chan, in peace. Movement, stillness, sound, as well as take a few photos. Practice my photographic art. I wonder sometime from something LZ said if people think I like posting pictures of myself on FB. Really I have started being able to separate myself as the model and as me. The model is just there, because I need a subject or as part of the subject really more a prop. My photos are more about the shot than about me, or a graphic to support the story.

Off I set on the bike heading for the temple grounds. It is about a 10-15 min bike ride to the grounds. Then there is a climb of 100 steps to reach the main ground. It is said that a wish is granted after climbing the 100 steps at the main entrance. I also feel a charge going up the steps , then passing through the entrance gate with the two spirit guards on the sides. I am guessing the entrance is very very old from the looks of it.

 
I make the upward passage to the entrance, I bow and enter. Today I am being extra respectful as I have a motive from coming. I go to the main temple and to the incense burner and forever candle. I light a stick of incense I brought with me. I pass my Shakuhachi through the smoke of the incense after a small thanks of gratitude for the use of the grounds. Next to the altar and bell. I made an offering , bowed, small prayer. Now I felt I could do my practice, after giving respect to the spirits.
 
I went over to the large bell and changed my clothes. There I took few shoots, and practiced Tai Chi, hand and sword sets. Then I walked around a bit and took some more shots I thought would be interesting and fun. There were some that thought would be great, but I did not want to walk on certain parts of a pagoda, it did not seem proper. I was made more aware of that when I visited the Kyudojo in Kamakura and I was stopped from walking on an area near a prayer spot. This was also in my mind from watching the visitors there today. The pagodas had some meaning as they prayed at them. So I figured the best way is to avoid possible lost of face. I grabbed a few shots from here and there , changing my on some planned shots.
 
I picked a spot overlooking the main grounds and had lunch among the rocks. I was not sure if I should be eating there so I kept a low profile. Afterwards, I played the Shakuhachi songs I felt fit the place. One was the new song I am learning. My Sensei said when I go to visit temples, the amount that I have learned is proper and enough to pay as a “gift”, offering. I also played the new song I was just taught. I did not play long but what I felt was enough. Then just sat for a bit before making ready to go home.
 
This day was the first I had ever seen any of the temple staff. A couple were out doing gardening, another couple went in and out of the housing area. I watched them closely to see if I was doing something wrong. I was pretty much ignored the whole time.
After I had finished my audio shakuhachi practice and was packing my stuff. I did not think I was playing that loud, or noticeably. I thought I was pretty on the “under”. Someone came out of the housing area, a woman, on her way to someplace else. She looked over at me directly and did a small bow. I did not notice at first, she did it again, I returned the bow, she left.

World Naked gardening day

NNGD…

 
It is said that working in dirt, feeling it, helps cure depression. I can see how that would happen. There is a certain feeling that comes from working with clay, doing ceramics, bring something to life from dirt. Gardening is bring something to life from dirt. I call it the God complex, they have I am sure other names. Anywho, yeah, doing gardening is therapeutic, very Zen active mediation kind of thing, Kyudo, Tai Chi, shakuhachi, kind of Meditation. Other faces of Chan. I heard one of my Chan Shifu recently say that, along with every day life is Chan, Chan is everyday life.
 
So my Chan gardening meditation project, spring session has started. I thought it would be a one day project but it has turned into three. It is a good golden week project. I will be working with reduced hours for a while, so on another level it is good to be planting food. Helps to eat fresh, save money, eat healthy. I do not have enough space to really be serious about growing. However herbs, tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, teas, can be grown easy and enough to be worth the effort as harvested.
 
It took me travels to three places for soil, food, misc. It was a large undertaking.
I am putting more effort into the garden this year. Last year was weak, very weak. The first year was better. This year I am adding more organic fertilizer, but of a different type. We’ll see if that makes a difference. I am also setting up a computer sheet, showing what was planted where, and what date. I will not rely on guessing what was growing. I tried labels, but they come off, get wet, something. This is a better idea…so far.
This time I have a chart with pictures as well. This way I can recall the seed. Don’t know if I can find these again, i got them from a place in northern Ca called the seed bank. It is an old bank changed to a retail seed store. I have my oldest in contact still friend living in the same town, so there is a chance of a repurchase. God be willing and the creek don’t rise.
 
I finished up the planting yesterday. It was a three day task. The downer of two of those day was my trip to the dentist. First time in many years. I need work. 😦 Three shots on day one! My mouth was a wreak trying to take a Shakuhachi class afterward. I also ended up chew my cheek flesh a bit, when eating and not being able to feel. It made the evening not too pleasant.
 
On the third day a cold struck ! Maybe from the dentist…the chill change in the weather, stress from being in the chair, holding on for dear life. Actually, I started thinking about Kyudo, if I can remain relaxed while this guy is digging in my mouth, I can easy stay relaxed when at Shinsa. Although, being relaxed at shinsa is not my issue, hitting is….I digress
 
So yeah the third day. I heard that May 2nd is World Naked Gardening day. I thought, wow, perfect timing. As I am finishing up today. So I joined in the celebration. I took a couple of photos, because you know the saying, if there is no pictures, it never happened.
 
So the first picture, I could not find my tripod, so I took it while holding the camera.
 
 
I was called away afterward so I could not get back to working until after the dentist, and my shakuhachi class via skype from Chicago. That is kind of different iznnit! Lesson from Chicago on a Japanese instrument, while I am in Japan. I am learning one certain song that is why. I need this in order to get the Komuso experience …coming soon. Oops , digression, the picture, yeah, so I got back out to finish up, I found my trip so I was able to get a full shot, it was a little dark though. Oh, well…
 

I am looking for a good harvest this year. I have some ideas in place that I have been thinking on from the last couple of plantings. The practice is evolving.
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Sliver


Silver…
I have been back with the Silver steady now for several months. Silver is what we of the Silver Center call the place. The Silver Center refers to the workers are all of retirement age, you know Silver haired.
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At one time I may have been the youngest, I think that has changed. Still I am treated like the muscle of my group when we are out. It is kind of funny to me. However less funny as my back hurts. I practice mindful lifting when I am working my pitch fork.
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Still some places are brutal like when working on the side of a hill, maintain footing, stepping on fresh cut bamboo stumps and move a bunch of dead and cut grass and bush. This time of year there is a break from the struggle, in that the weather is cool and there are no mosquitoes!! That is a blessing to be grateful for, also the temps do not have one swimming in sweat.

 
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Anyway the guys, my fellow workers are the backbone of Japan. Blue collar workers, down to earth folks. Different from the Kyudo people or the Yachting people. Although to me they are the same. Just people doing different stuff. I have notice their attitude towards me changed somewhat.
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Fortunately not in a bad, way. I was a curiosity before, now it is more like I am one of them. I am sure before me many had not spoken with a gaijin much less one of my hue. Several joke and kid around with me more, some who said nothing or little, now speak, sometime jokingly. It is interesting the noted change, at least I notice. I still stay off to myself during breaks and stuff, because I do not want to have to struggle with understanding, and I am usually a loner anyway. A sociable loner. The language thing though is really my weak spot, I need to develop that more this year. That holds me back from being all that I can be.
 
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Sometimes I think what a long strange trip it been to get here from my early life beginnings, in Philly and Virginia. Then there was the West Coast life, so very different. A Southern and Northern version. Now in Japan hanging with the locals a city employee manual laborer. Laughing and sweating together. Some of the guys I really like and the work bonds us.

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I have developed calluses at this late age, and my back hurts. However I look at it as continued training and practice. I ride my bike a lot but I do not do much lifting and muscle work, so this is good training. I can be very lazy about strength training, which is important at my age.

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So the Silver is a double blessing to be grateful about. The even though small money helps us have a life other than basic food and paying rent. Kyudo is costly even without buying stuff, there is transportation and dojo use fees. There is also my Shakuhachi lessons. Not really a lot but still it all adds up, even living a simple life as we do.

Mindfulness training

 

Back to muscle work

 
It had been a while since I had been working for the silver center doing landscape work. They had not called, which was really ok with me, but now things had slowed down with the boating and money was get tighter. LZ called to find out what was up with no calls from them. They said they thought I was busy so did not bother. Hmmm, well whatever. She told them I had time, they said they still needed help and to pick the days I wanted to work. So I am back to the labor job, on Monday and Weds. I figured that was good. Two days a week and a break in between the days. It is good, at least I can depend on them for work for this time of year still at least until year-end. I no longer have any trust in the Yacht company. More on that later.
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Monday and Weds I work for them, the Silver center, Tues I do Kyudo, Friday I work at the boat yard. Thursday I can choice to do nothing or something. Plus I have flexibility to switch as needed. Cool. This is a good time of the year to do this outside work. Much cooler. This summer was brutal so I am glad I missed out.
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Everyone was pleasant when I came in to work. A few of the old guys I like came over to talk a bit. They said I lost weight, etc, etc. One change I noticed is before I would be the only one doing warmup stretching when I got there. Now they have group warm ups in the morning before going out. One guy I noticed was not really putting any effort into the warm ups. I teased him about it afterward. He laughed and said some things I did not understand , but I got the drift.
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As before I am the guy on the rake detail. It is fine I am used to it now. Although I have developed calluses on my hand even through the gloves. I am bummed about that. What is really funny is as I am the youngest, I am the muscle guy for lifting. Little me, I am put on the parts that need some strength to do, loading the truck, pulling a load of grass and such up a hill to the truck. It is kind of funny. I look at it as training, some physical work is good, more so at my age, it is a good thing.
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So any way, it is simple work no hidden agendas, I am sure there is some ego thing involved, because people are people and there is the “sempai” thing with the Japanese, meaning the new guy vs the seniors. I am somewhat beyond that being a Gaijin, it is not so much in my face. I get a pass, sort of. But I see it with others.
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Anyway, it is a good Zen practice, being in the moment, dealing with only the task at hand. Still my mind wanders and I am constantly bringing it back to rack the leaves, pulls the rope, lift the branches, load the truck, not interesting , not fun, just is work, paid work, and Motion Zen training. Sort of like walking meditation…being fully present in what you are doing.

Going back to Calli – Sonoma/Napa

Wine Country

My first day in Sonoma did not go as planned. That was to go to DMV renew my drivers lic. Then go to the seed bank for, yeah thats right seeds. Then go to my sissy’s place for the night. I did not make it to my Sissy’s the other stuff did not happen, I found the seed bank but no time to go, I did not find the DMV untIl my “sister” took me that evening on our way out to dinner.

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We went to an Italian place. The salad was excellent the pizza was way too salty. I wrote it off to the combos use where all salty. Still I thought it was extreme as did my Sis. So the rest of that evening we stayed up and chatted and did old hippie stuff.
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The next day I was up and at it early. I went to DMV, I went fairly early, still there was already a long line. I joined and took a deep breath. Once I was in and got my papers done, then I sat as I had no appointment. I had a lunch date planned in Napa for noon. Some 20 miles in another county, Napa, I was in Sonoma at the time. So I wait and wait. I am thinking I will leave at 11:45 having waited since. 9:30. Just as I was considering walking. I was called, yatta! 
 
I went up, paid my fee and was told that was it other than the eyes test. I was expecting to have to take the written test , Yatta. I was asked if I wore glasses, I said no, even though I had gotten some in Japan. I figured I may pass without them, I will try first before using them. I first I could not focus, and started off wrong, she switched me to another section doing one eye at at time. I went through the, pretty fast, missing one. She let me slide!! yatta! I wrapped it up with a new photo taken. Then I hit the road for Napa.
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With much much effort and waiting I finally hooked up with my friend. She is a friend from on line who is a friend of Friends and she did Kyudo. We have connected n line some three years ago almost. We met for lunch at a little Greek deli.
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The food was excellent! Greek was on my list of foods to eat while in the States List…so it was perfect. We left there and went to a marketplace where she works. There we had cheese and wine. One of the things she trained in is cheese and pairing, with stuff. We had a small sample plate of cheese and a few condiments as well as some samples of snack items she is making. All of it was yummy! We eat and talked until I had to hit the road again.
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My next stop which was near where we were, and also in Napa was a former students house. He was one of my first students when i started in Northern Ca. He has come and gone , come and gone with his class attendance, but we remained in touch. A short visit with him before once again one the road.
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This time back to Sonoma, in the mountains. It was a long and winding road finding my way to the Sonoma Mountain Zen Center. I was to meet a Kyudo Sempai, the one who gave me my first Yumi. He is also a Bass player and a Buddhist. In fact is part of the Sonoma Zen Center.
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I choose to meet there because it is some what on my way back to my Sister’s and we, Sempai and I have history at the Zen Center having taken week long seminar in Zen and Kyudo there.
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It was a good meeting connecting with him. We arrived at the same time. I had made a wrong move and missed my turn, as I was turning around, I saw a car that looked like his. I could not look inside, but I had that sense it was him. He said the same when he saw the car following him. We also while walking the grounds came upon a resident who knew us both. We chatted with her for a time before leaving. I was expected back at my Sisters for dinner. I was late but not to bad, and it was expected since I am packing a lot in.
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The next day was my run into Alameda our last residence area…
 

Virginia


Virgina

Virgina, was the main section, #2 of the trip. Here we go to see my mother in the nursing home. I am not going to say much on that because it is personal stuff and no concern to most. So, Just a bit. I asked my Mum if she knew who we were ( she has Alzheimer/Dementia ) , when my brother and I went. She surprised me and said yes. Big shocks as she usually does not know anyone. Also the next day we had a small conversation, she was not all there but there was a couple of times she was shockingly aware of what I was saying and about who/whom.

 
After seeing my Mum on the first day we went to see my Uncle, my Father’s brother, the last of my father’s generation. Uncle Fred is 88 , a year younger than my Mum, but he is still sharp alert and getting around on his own. It was a short visit with him as we had to travel more that evening.
 
We headed further south into Virginia, my cousin, a school supervisor had sent me a Skype message. I had replied back but got no answer. My brother and I had to drive by my cousin’s house on the way to my mother’s property. I saw some people in the yard and it turns out to be my Cuz and his wife. We were all shocked at the timing which worked out well. He was off and in town that week, they were going the next day On a vacation to Florida. He was just home to do some yard work and such. They usually stay in South Carolina were they work. So anther connection came together for my fast lane tour to America. Chatting with my cuz was fun, he, his wife and I all went to high school together for a time.
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One of the things I found out was there was an earthquake there which shocked everyone. Yeah, it is a changing world on many levels.
After a while we moved on. We went by our family land and I also stop at my mother’s parents gravesite. Something I do every time I am there. We had problems locating one of the properties as it had been grown over by pine trees and such. 
 
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However after a time I figured it out. From there we went to another piece of land. This is the one with a house on it I helped. Built when I was a child, and almost died in the process , almost having the tractor I was driving almost flip over on me. As it turns out there was someone living in the house, we had mot been aware of this.
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My Uncle, my mother’s remaining brother, had not been in touch with us concerning the place. It was the daughter of his girl friend living there. Not a problem, actually good since someone was there taking care of the property.
This also was lucky as we wanted to get in touch with my Uncle, my mother’s brother but had been unable to. She took care of that and got us hooked up. We drove over to his girl friend’s house and met him.
 
There was another cousin on the list of people I wanted to see however, time was running out. Therefore I skipped the last visit. We returned to my father’s brother’s place and encounter a cousin I had not seen in many many years. Then we went again to the nursing home to visit our mother. This was sad and joyful…I said my goodbye.
 
The next day I spent just hanging out at my brother’s. Sleeping, teaching my brother how to meditate, organizing for the next section of the trip, introducing my brother to ZatoIchi and also getting the real story on my sister’s behavior concerning my mother estates.

The trip was joyful and sad…

Next up going back to Calli

 

La Migra


La migra

 
If you do not speak Spanish, you may have no idea what this is means. La Migra. I posted at La migra on my Facebook page, my wife says, why do you post things that make no sense. They do , I said, if you understand, just because you do not, does not invalidate my words.
 
So what is La Migra, you say. This is what Mexican say when talking about Immigration: police, dept., office…
 
I had to go to immigration a couple of weeks more or less ago. My visa was running out. This time I could apply for a new visa extension also a permanent resident status. I thought I had it already, but no, one can not get permanent resident status right away, I had/have a spousal visa. The “gaijin” card. The “green card” of Japan. Much much easier and cheaper to apply for than the US card. It cost me hundreds of dollars and all kind of investigation question to get one for LZ. The “Gaijin”card will cost about $80.00, once!
 
The process was pretty simple for dealing with a government. Now I am the waiting mode. However the Migra visit was only part of the story for the day. I had spoken with a Shakuhachi acquaintance about a flea market near me. It was being held at a temple in Downtown Osaka. The Buddhist temple is listed as the oldest Buddhist temple in Japan. It was sort of on the way to “La Migra”. I figured how to stop by on the way to immigration. 
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I found the place without too much problem. I had to ask a few people but I made it. The place was big. Later I found out much much bigger than I thought. I was in a rush when I arrived so did not have much time to look around. What saw was impressive. Cool stuff , a lot of cool old stuff. I love cool old stuff!!!
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When I first entered, I was stopped by a Monk who spoke English for a chat. Longer than I wanted, but had some interesting things to say. I had to comments however as I was in a rush I did not want to engage him too much. He started speaking to me as if I knew nothing of Buddhism, then when I checked that, he raised the level but still like a beginner. I smiled and nodded. I found it interesting that he spoke of his begging as his job. He had lived in the states, he owned a house in Japan, and wanted to return to the states. Too bad I did not have the time to really chat. Some things I could have debated with him on. Buddhist are the only group who are, have been non violent (something like that) peaceful, there is no God, No Buddha, a couple of other statements which I have since forgotten.
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Anyway, I did a quick walk through of the grounds, then went to immigration. After getting done with them I went back to the flea market. Sadly it was over. People where closing up.
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I did however get to see the full size of the grounds and market area/size. I was impressed. This is a monthly event, same dates every month. I will be returning in Aug, since I am traveling most of July. Even LZ wants to attend. It also turns out I know someone who live just across the street from the temple. So it may turn out to be a nice meetup next time.

Balance


Balance is life,

 
One thing that Kyudo, Tai Chi Chuan, and Chan/Zen have in common is balance. Harmony of life, living, eating, etc. nature is balance. Living well, is balance. 
 
 
 
I went to Kyudo yesterday, it was a fairly good day. I did not do great, but I did ok. I started out good, slipped some, then again good, still by the end of the day, I had shown some improvement. Looking at my score tracking record, there has been improvement, slow steady over all. Some days somewhat sucky, but they balance out. So overall I felt good about my practice. What had been bumming me out of late, is not so much the thought of not passing the Shina, but that I was not Improving. I will pass the shinsa at some point as long as I keep improving. For some time I felt like I was stalled, even back sliding. Now I see some improvement I am ok with whatever happens, I will do my best. 
 
Yesterday, today and tomorrow, I am free to practice or do whatever. As I said yesterday I went in to the dojo, practice some 3-4 hrs. I even got in a trial Resha run in a Shinsa setting with my sempais. I only had one correction which was my step back after my first shep was too large.
I changed my string for the Shinsa. I am using a hybrid now, that is a new direction for me. We’ll see how that works out. I also found out the reason many of the seniors are in training mode is the big event in Kyoto in April. Not only is there a Tai Kai but advance level Shinsa as well. Now to figure out which day to go. If I can get a cheap enough ticket I will go two times, once to watch the Hanshi’s shoot, then for my sempais.
 
So today, I had given some thought to going in again to the dojo and putting my nose to the grindstone. I have been thinking about TaiJi principle as of late and Kyudo, as one can tell from my last post. Part of that Philosophy is yielding to overcome, relaxing under pressure. Like one must do when in Kai, so I decided not to go to the dojo. I would get in some balance. After my morning Chan Ding ( ZaZen) I went and work in my garden, weeding, cutting, a little replanting, feeding, cleaning. Getting some things ready for spring planting. It was a good choice. Reconnecting with the earth, re-grounding with the earth element, physically, mentally, Spiritually. 
 
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Afterward, I went over to the Shinto grounds for some Taiji and Fu practice. After a round of TaiJi, and Hsing-i, I felt much much better. I threw in a bit of Mantis for good measure. Ahhh. I felt like my old self. I returned home. 
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I had sent up Makiwara shooting stand before I left. So my next thing was to get in a few rounds of working on my draw and basics without the pressure of a mato. Excellent choice for the day. LZ is off out of town with her sister. So I have the peace of the place to myself, internet Jazz with dinner. Some Shakuhachi practice and a little reading later on then to bed.
 
Tomorrow in to the dojo early for a half day or more of practice. Then I am scheduled for working the two following days. Next week I have only one day of work, which is doing some gardening for the sailing school owner. After that it is a week of intense Kyudo training
 
 
…Yosh.

Onomichi, Hiroshima


Hiroshima….

 
A while back, a couple of months, we took a trip to Hiroshima, via bullet train, regular train, shuttle, and ferry to reach a very nice hotel LZ had found. Great view ! Great Food ! Spoke Spanish, Tagalo, English and Japanese with some of the staff. This is the photo blog for that, it took me a while to get it together. Sorry to my three readers.
LZ has a new p/t hobby/job, doing reviews on hotels and resorts for a magazine so we will get to visit some different places, for free! Cool or what!
 

Kyoto: The Fall of Autumn

LZ did the planning for a short trip to Kyoto, This was for me to have my first and her’s Kyoto autumn leave viewing.

She was told that this day we were arriving was perfect. The leaves were not quite at their peak and this late the crowds were few in size.

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It was a weather pleasant day, The crowds were so so, large for a countryside dweller these days. The trees were nice, but I could tell they were past their peak. I mentioned it to LZ after awhile, not as a big deal just an observance. It took her a while to notice, then arrived, yes the info was not quite correct. Still it was a nice viewing.

The highlight of the viewing was going to a nearby Shrine for a night viewing of Autumn trees on their grounds under lighting. That was very cool, even though we got rushed a bit since it was near/past closing.

So this is my first Photo Blog of sorts. I have one of Hiroshima but have not sorted it as yet. mada mada. Click the link for photoblog >>>>>> Kyoto Autumn waning