In our last episode 🙂 we were about to leave Tokyo… Japan was fabulous, but a lot of it is not good drone flying territory. The views were awesome, but you’re not supposed to fly over congested areas (Tokyo??) or historic monuments (Kyoto??). So I caught a few aerial shots of Tokyo and Kyoto and quit before I ended up in a Japanese prison. Or whatever. Notice the guy wearing a (very common) face mask to work.
A Beautiful Centenarian
One major reason for the timing of our return to Denver was a celebration for a dear friend, Lucille, on her 100th birthday! She is such a sweetheart that over 400 people showed up for the party! I think all enjoyed it tremendously, with the possible exception of my little grandson Peter… Here’s the evidence…
Dr. Mike and some of the team with Lucille
100 cupcakes, and at least 10 large cakes! A wonderful celebration for a great lady!
That afternoon some of us volunteered to be locked in a room and not released until we had solved the Cuban Missile Crisis… or a bunch of themed puzzles and riddles to find the key to escape. We made it with 17 minutes to spare!
My clever grandson is learning to play the Ukulele, and doing an amazing job of it! So it was decided to get him a better instrument, from Gary, Ukulele master and head of the Rocky Mountain Ukulele Orchestra. ukuleleorchestra.org
After testing many “ukes” and lots of consideration, a beautiful ukulele was chosen. This is Gary restringing it with better strings. We all learned a lot!
We spent a few days with one of our daughters and her family in Keystone. The weather was very nice, and the spring skiing was… well, spring skiing. The snow was too icy in the morning, perfect a lot of the day, and pretty slushy towards the end of the day. But in spite of less than optimal snow, we had a fabulous time. The scenic beauty would be worth the trip even if you didn’t like the skiing! (But I loved the skiing!!) This little video was made with grandkids in mind – hope you enjoy it too!
Thursday we spent part of the day exploring the beautiful frozen Dillon Reservoir. A shot of my granddaughter sitting on a park bench shows how deep the snow still is!
Part of the fun of this trip has been seeing lots of good friends that we have missed. Brad and Bill didn’t think they would end up in this blog, so – This Pix’s for you, Brad and Bill!
And in the tradition of closing with a sunset, here is the last evening in Keystone.
So Saturday night was our last night in Saipan. We were treated to a nice dinner out by the clinic director and his wife. While we were sad to leave the beautiful beach paradise that is Saipan, we were excited to be headed to our next stop – Japan!
Cherryl and I met in Japan, a few years ago… something like 45! We thought it would be fun to revisit this fantastic place that we love so much. We scheduled about 5 days layover on our trip home… and instantly wished we had more time!
We landed in the “new” airport, Narita. The old airport, Haneda, is still used, I think mostly for domestic flights. We picked up our Rail Pass and a cute little portable Internet provider… about the size of a pack of gum, it lets all our devices connect without using their cell time or getting a new SIM card. In fact, as I type this, we are on Shinkansen, the “Bullet Train”, doing 168MPH! Smooth and quiet. Fantastic! But I’m getting ahead of myself…
We left half our baggage at the airport (We wouldn’t be needing our SCUBA gear!) and caught the Narita Express, which gets you into downtown Tokyo in less than an hour. The view from our 14th floor hotel room was great – the lower third of very tall buildings next to us!
Monday morning we headed out again, after deciding we still had too much stuff with us. (The hotel was happy to hold a bag for us.) So we caught our Shinkansen train for Kyoto. The well over 300 mile trip zooms by at less than 2.5 hours, including a few stops along the way. All seats have more legroom than first class in a plane, and they actually recline enough you could sleep (and half the people do).
Our hotel in Kyoto was built in a large circle, surrounding a garden area. A ways out of town, but walking distance from the subway. We decided it was too late in the day to hit the major tourist spots, so we opted for a traditional Japanese bath house. Several decades ago, most homes had no bath facilities, so a public bath house was used regularly. The Japanese are very clean people, and the evening outing to the bath house was also a great way to chat with your neighbors. Most places have separate men’s/women’s sides. First you get undressed, then you wash thoroughly, sitting on a ridiculously small stool, while pouring small buckets of water all over you. Only when absolutely clean may you enter the large bath areas. There you may have a choice of several temperatures and styles… including one they run an electric current through! I was always taught to avoid crossing electricity with water, but they’ve been doing it here for years. It feels really strange, like all your muscles want to tighten up a bit at once. Some think it’s good for you… I think it’s pretty weird!
Ginkaku-ji is commonly called the Temple of the Silver Pavilion. Build in the late 1400’s, it was the life work of a Shogun to be his retirement home. It has one of the most beautiful moss gardens in Japan. The original plan was to cover the building with silver, like the Gold Pavilion is in gold (more on that in a minute), but that never happened. It has always been called the Silver Pavilion anyway. (I always planned on buying Hearst Castle, but it’s never happened. Think they will call it McArthur Castle anyway?)
Getting there fairly early was a great thing – not crowded, and plenty of time to savor the fantastic gardens.
No, this isn’t a monument to a chicken… that’s a Phoenix!
Lots of flowers in front of shops.
We saw lots of gals in Kimonos, and some guys in their Yukatas as well.
We trekked from Kyoto to Osaka, (13 minutes on Shinkansen) to try and find the school where we taught and first met. We found the SDA Osaka Center on the map, and were very proud of our ability to navigate the subway system all the way there. Except the building was not the same one we taught in… They moved from the old building years ago. The new one is beautiful, and includes the church and a language school, as did the old one. The receptionist at the school said her mother worked in the school when we were there – turns out we’d known her! She pointed out the location of the old building, but when we got there, we found a totally different structure; I’m sure the old one was torn down.
Travel by public transportation is fun and efficient in Japan, but involves more stairs than I can describe. We walked our feet off! When we finally finished the day’s adventures, our Apple gear said we’d done over 18,000 steps and 11.8 miles! (That doesn’t include the previous day’s experiment… Walking the length of the train at 168mph got me 3 miles of walking!) Turns out we’d walk like that every day! We travelled by Shinkansen, express trains, local trains, subways, busses and even the Tokyo Monorail.
Below is a non-crowded train. Subways have seats along the sides instead of in rows.
There is no way to show how many people are on the move in the railways/subways, but here is my short attempt…
This was my favorite temple decades ago. Created in 778 AD, it is a stunning wooden structure built into the side of a mountain, with a deck jutting out into space.
This is what I remembered and was looking forward to seeing:
But unfortunately, it is now being restored… so this is what we saw:
Scaffolding over the whole structure! Sigh… we could still go inside, and see the fascinating pattern of wooden beams and beautiful lanterns from inside.
Below is a set of fountains, where people treat the water as if it has special powers. When I was first here, people would drink from water they’d catch from the fountain in long handled wooden dippers. Today they have metal dippers that they can supposedly sanitize with an ultraviolet light between uses, and most didn’t drink but just got their hands in it or maybe splashed it on their faces.
There are pagodas on either side of the entrance…
Prayers can be written on paper, and tied onto special racks, or maybe even printed on a wooden card and hung up.
It used to be common to leave food for the images, and of course they would need a bib. We saw more bibs than food. Just getting ready for the feast to come!
By far the most visitors were Japanese.
Known as the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, it was also built as a Shogun’s home, complete with fabulous gardens and Gold Leaf over much of the structure. The original was built in 1397. In 1950 it burned down, thanks to a careless monk. Rebuilt in 1955, it is covered with even thicker gold leaf than it was originally.
Lots of girls in pretty Kimonos…
Everywhere are cute little shops with cute little ladies selling…
Japan is all about clean!
Streets, shops, homes, parks, even public bathrooms are very clean. In the temple pavilions there were people sweeping the moss!
High Tech Toilets
In the old days, Japanese toilets were all the “Squat Pots”; just a ceramic slot in the tile floor that you squatted over and did whatever you came in there to do. But they have not only adopted the western style toilet, but modernized it dramatically! Heated seats, auto flushing, and soft closing lids.oSome will shoot jets of water to wash you and heated air to dry you off. I’m told there are some available that will do urinalysis too… but we didn’t meet any of those in our hotels.
They are everywhere… I was amused by “During Cleaning” on a non-accessible train door, and “Mildly Air-Conditioned Car”… until I walked the length of one train and noticed one car (the one we got on) was defiantly hotter than all the others. I guess some like it hot…
Subway tickets are magnetic and you place them in the gate, it opens, and spits your ticket out the other side in a split second. For the rail passes we had to show our passes to a staff person… and I guess here the staff is stuffed!
People apparently go to the grocery store meet section to meat other non-vegetarian people…
The food is beautifully presented, unless you are at a buffet and have to do it yourself. One hotel had an included breakfast, served at an Italian restaurant. So the first time I’ve had spaghetti, scrambled eggs and rice for breakfast!
This is a poster with a futuristic dental theme, but I have no idea what they are selling.
I just thought this was fun – the old guy in a suit, with his mask on, riding a bike, swerved over to say Hi and chat with the cab driver…
Ok, not all the food is displayed beautifully… The cream puffs seem to be barfing green tea or vanilla filling, and the breadsticks look… well, unusual. (But the vanilla cream puffs were great!)
The Grotto is maybe the most famous spot in Saipan. A deep hole in the volcanic rock, with a steep 110 step staircase down to the water level. Here the water surges, with several caves opening to the sea. Everyone has to see this place, crowd onto the rock in the middle of the opening, and take pictures of themselves and their fancy outfits. Divers seem to think exploring the caves underwater is more than exciting, it’s almost a right of passage.
Tanks in the water
Beach Road runs along a lot of the western coast. This is the beach where the Americans landed when taking the island from the Japanese in WWII. On June 15, 1944, hundreds of amphibious vehicles and tanks were launched on the edge of the reef, and then they drove over a relatively shallow reef to the shore. A few didn’t make it, and are still there. We swam out to a couple of tanks, proving their amphibiosity by staying in the water for 27,301 days as of today. (exactly 3 months shy of 75 years)
On the eastern shore of the island is Tank Beach. I’m not sure why it’s called that, because there are no tanks there, like there are on the western shore. The beach is beautiful, the waves severe, and even now you can see the evidence of war.
The Black Ninja
While we were on the path along Beach Road, flying the drone and trying to shoot pictures of terns, a young man, all in black, stopped his northward trek and motioned that he’d like me to take his picture with his phone. I think he was Japanese, but he only communicated by gestures. I said he was all in black, and I mean it… Black clothes, hat, backpack, and face mask! He struck a funny pose, I suppose like a Ninja shooting pistols, had me take a few, then he moved to a spot 20 feet away and started over. So I took a few more… then he moved again and wanted more! All this time I have my drone hovering 40 feet above us just waiting for me, and I’m very nervous not paying attention to it. Very bizarre. So when I landed the drone, we caught up with him and indicated I wanted pictures of him. This is what he gave me:
Imperial Pacific Resort Hotel and Casino
We decided we had to step inside the extravagant unfinished mostly bankrupt casino. Very glitzy, mostly empty. Most folks here call it a joke or an eyesore.
Soaring over Saipan
Here is a little “Overview” of Saipan… From above the tallest mountain in the world, Mt Tapochau… (If you include from the base of the Mariana’s Trench this mountain is over 36,000 feet tall! And we climbed it!! If Mt Everest were placed at the bottom of the trench, it would have over a mile of water covering it!)
The video shows some other sights around the island, like the city of Garapan with its partially finished casino, Bird Island, and a nice shot of what looks like a beautiful yacht. The yacht belongs to the bankrupting casino, and the Mega Typhoon Yutu last fall tore her from her dock and dumped her in the middle of a coral reef. Rumor has it she has a big hole in her hull, and is just sitting on the shallow bottom until someone (with lots of money) can figure out how to get her off the reef.
A New Day
Saipan is “Where America’s Day Begins”, and here is a shot of that beginning this morning…
My favorite thing about Saipan is the beautiful white birds that fly around me while I am walking on the path by the beach. They are nearly see-thru when the sun is on them and I am looking up at them flying by. The front edge of the wing has bones I feel like I can see, while the rest is beautiful shiny white feathers. They have very black eyes and the rest of the bird is very white.
The wings are swept back like a fighter plane, thin, aerodynamic, fast looking.
There are often groups of 3 or 4 flashing around the trees or above the ocean. At different angles they disappear and reappear in silver flashes.
A friend in Tinian said he likes these birds, he called them fish birds, because when he goes out fishing he watches where they are and finds schools of fish there.
These terns are related to Fairy Terns in New Zealand, but those have dark heads sometimes.Maybe these are Saipan Fairy Terns.
When Bruce and I went out to get pictures of these birds he flew the drone. The Fairy Terns did NOT like the drone at a specific altitude. Down low near the ground was ok, up high, like 300 ft, was ok. But about tree top level was not ok. I read that they lay their eggs in the crook of the tree – no nest. And they protect their young vigorously. When the drone was at that altitude 15 or 20 birds would suddenly appear flying around the drone and dive bombing it!
Here is a link to an article about these Terns. CNMI stands for Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands. It is the islands north of Guam.