Aokigahara Jukai

“Suicide Forest…” Did I hear our tour guide correctly? As we rolled down the highway, closer and closer to Mt. Fuji, I heard these words over the loudspeaker on the bus. I had heard of this place before, but didn’t know where it was located or that it sits near the base of Mt. Fuji. I certainly didn’t know we would be passing by on way to the great mountain. After the tour guide explained the statistics about suicides in the forest and in Japan in general, the bus became noticeably quieter as we peered out the window. While normally, I would have described this forest as a beautiful dark green, lush, full-of-life woodland, I now saw it as a gloomy, menacing, sad place. The name, Aokigahara Jukai, literally means sea of trees.

I said a silent prayer at that moment for the lives of people considering ending their lives in that dark, sad place.. that their hearts would be touched and at least one life saved that day. In Japan, suicide is the leading cause of death for people 15-34 years of age and Japan’s suicide rate is approximately 60% higher than the world average.

I still pray for those considering ending their life in Aokigahara Jukai…or anywhere.

Aokigahara Jukai

The best city in the world

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Since 1995, “Travel & Leisure” magazine has done an annual survey of travelers to find the best city in the world for tourists. And, for the second year in-a-row, Kyoto, Japan has been ranked the world’s best city. Last May, my family and I went there again, (Click here to see my post and photos […]

https://tokyo5.wordpress.com/2015/07/10/the-best-city-in-the-world/

The Fuji View Hotel

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A lunch stop at a hotel was not something I thought I would be writing about. However, a few quick items of interest. The Fuji View Hotel was built in 1936 on the shore of Lake Kawaguchi at the foot of Mt. Fuji. As we pulled up in the bus, I couldn’t help notice that this little gem was tucked away, like a little secret that was to be kept.  We entered the small hotel and we directed to the line, waiting for the lunch buffet.  As we were waiting in line for lunch, one of the hotel employees pointed out a framed picture on the wall. It was an autograph of John Lennon and Yoko Ono when they stayed at the Fuji View hotel in 1978. Being a victim of BeatleMania in the 60’s, I had to get several pictures!

Our lunch was interesting with 2 large buffet lines of all kinds of traditional Japanese food. Since lunch was included in our tour price, it provided an opportunity to sample foods that I might not order in a restaurant. We taste tested many dishes and liked most. With some time to spare we decided to explore. Having been told that there was an observation deck upstairs, we set out to find it. and when we did, we understood the allure of this place. Although it was a cloudy day and so, could not see Fuji, an incredible panoramic view of the lakes area was before us. Observation decks were located at each end of the hotel, so we made sure we saw both. Beautiful area, no matter your vantage point!

Continuing outside, we had time for only a brief visit to the gardens. Cherry blossoms, azaleas, pansies, mums and other flowers were blooming. But in the haziness of the day, I couldn’t help but imagine this beauty on a clear day with Mt. Fuji as a backdrop. I will just have to return!

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Shiraito no Taki

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Only about a 2-hour bus ride away is the magical Mt. Fuji and the beautiful 5-Lakes area that surrounds the mountain. Our itinerary included waterfalls, a singing highway and of course Mt. Fuji itself.

When arriving at our first stop, we got off the bus and made our way along a trail of souvenir stands and vendors selling traditional Japanese food. Following our fellow tourists, we rounded a corner and found a long set of stairs descending into an exquisite canyon of water, rock and sound. Silken threads cascading down 65 feet of rock, in a horseshoe configuration 500 feet wide – these are the incredible Shiraito no Taki (silk thread falls). Poised in the hills at the base of Mt. Fuji, the thin white streams of the waterfall originate from Mt. Fuji’s spring water. After the 65 foot plunge, the cold spring water forms crystal clear pools and then gushes downstream over the rocky riverbed. The delicate beauty of this little canyon made me want to sit on the rocks and stay awhile. But of course, time was limited, so we moved on.

Back up the stairs and around a curve was another waterfall, more traditional, but very nice also. Otodome Falls is a little higher than Shiraito no Taki and the water is one wide single waterfall. The trail led us up beside the falls where we could look straight down from (almost) the top of the falls and see where it crashed into the river below. Very different, but stunning in its own way. Again, time was short…on to our next stop on the itinerary.

Japanese Obon – honor and remembrance

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Sitting on the bank of the Aki River, my friend asked me, “Does the United States have a festival or holiday like this?” Sadly, I answered “no.” We were at the river commemorating the end of the Japanese Obon holiday, celebrated every year in July/August, depending on the region of the country.

Obon is a Buddhist holiday centered around honoring one’s ancestors. The belief is that the spirit of return for a brief period of time and are welcomed by bon odori dancing, guided home by lanterns hung outside family homes. During this time, graves are visited and food offerings provided to temples. The celebrations conclude during festivals where illuminated lanterns are floated down a river to guide the spirits back to their spiritual home.

Our friends, Mao and Kuro invited us to attend a lantern festival in a nearby city. We arrived around sunset, finding the river and following the winding, cool waters to the location of the festival. On the way to the location, we stopped to ask directions and were warned to watch out for snakes – yikes! I didn’t know if the local snakes were poisonous, but I definitely had a flashback to Louisiana and water moccasins!  However, no snakes were spotted!

We found the location where families had spread their ground cloths and were sitting comfortably enjoying food, conversation and fun. Some were wading or playing in the cool river water waiting for the lanterns to begin appearing. We found our spot and didn’t have to wait long. As darkness descended we saw the first lantern floating towards us from behind the reeds. On the lanterns were Kanji characters, red on some sides and black on other sides. Occasionally we would see lanterns that were attached- 2, 3 or 4 together, I’m sure symbolizing a family. As I sat on the river bank, watching the soft glow of the lanterns floating by, I thought about my ancestors, especially my mother and father, and picked out one lantern for each of them.

Many times during the day/week/month/year, I think of the loved ones I have lost – parents, in-laws, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, friends, etc., etc. But I am not sure that is enough. I want to do more than remember – I want to honor them. Something special…

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The Simple Life

I don’t have designer shoes or expensive dresses, but my sentimental possessions would be hard to part with…

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My job right now, my income, is selling my excess possessions on eBay. These possessions amounted to nothing but unnecessary waste and a frivolous endeavor. When Alex and I got to my parents house and I started going through all my things, I was sentimental towards all these possessions that held memories, clothes that I loved because they were made of the finest materials, silks, and leathers. The kicker is, I didn’t even know these things still existed until I found then back at my parents house. I had completely forgotten about my designer collections that had previously consumed me. I had hundreds of dresses, shirts, belts, shoes. Unnecessary excess. I had 89 pairs of shoes. And they weren’t just crappy flip flops or Target shoes. No, I had FRYE boots, Ralph Lauren heels, Chanel heels, 5 pairs of cowboy boots…  I had a Ralph Lauren dress that retailed for well over $8,000…

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Thursday Tips: Love Yourself Today

LEARN TO LOVE FOOD

watermelon heartWe take care of each other. We build each other up with kind, encouraging words. We tell those we love to do nice things for themselves and we do nice things for them to make them feel special and show we care. Which is wonderful in our relationships, and it’s also wonderful because it means we know how to be loving in our relationship with ourselves, too.

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The “Downward Dog” Blues

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It wasn’t pretty, certainly not easy and definitely not successful – except for the fact that I did survive my first-ever yoga class.  I felt like my experience was part of an “I Love Lucy” episode, but there was no “Ethyl” there to share in the comedy.

I went to class with my sweet friend, Eriko, who was encouraging and supportive.  She had shared her first experiences with me, which helped me stick it out as long as I did.  I especially liked the first 5 minutes – breathing – I can say that I was 100% successful at that part.  Most of the rest of the time, I was hopeless.  There were a few poses that I could at least approximate, but either my arms were shaking trying to support my upper body or my aged, out-of-shape, totally inflexible body just couldn’t comply with the instructions.  One pose, the “downward dog” was repeated over and over.  Have you ever seen the “downward dog” pose?  By the time I maneuvered my non-compliant body into the formidable pose, the instructor told us to “jump so that your feet are next to your hands…what???”  If a thousand hungry alligators were nipping at my heels, I would just have to be alligator dinner because there is absolutely no way my body can do that.

About 40 minutes into class I felt so nauseated I had to leave.  Of course, adhering to yoga etiquette, I quietly picked up my water bottle and towel and exited the room.  I would have left, but my shoes, purse, etc were all inside the room, not to mention my friend Eriko.  About 15 minutes later Eriko came out and convinced me to come back in—for the cool down/massage part of class.  I was still feeling a bit queasy, but went in and quietly assumed the lay-down-on-the-mat and breathe position (my favorite).  Then the instructor came around and quietly did a little head, neck and shoulder massage/adjustment covering her hands with a wonderfully scented towel-one towel per person.

The class concluded and I had an opportunity to talk with the instructor, who encouraged me, thought I did ok for my first time (do they say that to everyone?) and gave me some tips.  She also showed me a pose (maybe now my second favorite pose) for carpal tunnel.  She also gave me a strategy for avoiding the nausea – eating!

Will I go back?  Maybe, but I will never, ever like the downward dog!