Finally, posting here again!




Some of the people at the Conference Dinner

Apologies, and Conference Dinner—A Seafood Feast 

My apologies for being away from this blog for quite a while. Unfortunately, I was ill and in the hospital. I got very good care, and am now recuperating, but it did limit what I could do. I’m hoping that in the next few weeks I will be able to get back to posting more regularly. In the meantime, here are a couple of photos.

At the beginning of our last trip we spent the first 4-5 days at the Nagoya Airport, where the JRS Conference was held (the airport is like a small town in its own right, with a hotel, conference center, plenty of shops and restaurants, and many more within walking distance).


A new seafood creature for us….


..and how to eat them. Mark M shows us


We try our best to do justice to “Waltzing Matilda”

This Joint Ruminant Symposium rotates between Japan, Korea and China, attended by students and academics and professors from different universities/institutions from each country. Plus, the special invited guests, one of whom is Rod, so we are very lucky.

The conference dinner this time was a feast of seafood of different kinds—truly amazing. It’s also a time of great conviviality and interaction. Each country tries to have a small performance of songs typical of that country, which is a lot of fun. It’s a bit harder for the invited guests (from Australia and USA), but we do our best! This year with an interesting rendering of “Waltzing Matilda”!breaded



Talented Sculptor Kan Yasuda


In a pedestrianized shopping street in Sapporo

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKan Yasuda sculptures in Hokkaido

This exhibition and my write-up about it was many years ago now, but I’m re-posting it, partly because we really like his work but also because recently we found one of his works in a most unexpected place: the Canary Islands. I will also write about that, but want this to be like the introduction to this interesting artist.

In Sapporo, we noted that many of his pieces there are either variants on large smooth rocks, or square arches/gateways (often with an object inside them) and wonder if they fit his idea of everyone having a key to another world and that his sculpture could be perceived as an entrance to this world.

A special exhibit of sculptures by Kan Yasuda, called “Touching the City”, was in Sapporo September 3-November 20, 2011.


Outdoors on a rainy day in Sapporo

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEarlier in June he had an exhibition in Turin at Valentino Park, called “Touching the Time”. He has had many solo exhibitions in Italy, Japan and UK.

Kan Yasuda is a native of Hokkaido, born in the city of Bibai in 1945. He earned a master’s degree in sculpture from Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music in 1969. He then moved to Italy in 1970 on a fellowship from the Italian Government, and studied with Professor Pericle Fazzini at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome. Later he set up a studio at Pietrasanta in northern Italy, an area famous for quality marble, where he still mostly lives and works on his marble and bronze masterpieces.

Some of his huge abstract sculptures are a permanent part of the city of Sapporo—in the huge entrance hall of the Sapporo train station, in the park alongside the canal, and in a shopping mall, for example.


Many of Yasuda’s works are either large stones, or….


…squares and arches/gateways

But, during the exhibition months more of his sculptures graced the city and, following the exhibit map, we found many of them. We enjoyed circling round them, while trying to “understand” them. As with most works of art, especially unconventional pieces, there can be many interpretations.

His works have been variously described as contemplative, serene, imbued with Minimalism and Animism, and a Song for Life. Yasuda would also like them to be a bridge builder, a mental bridge between Japan and Europe, between seniors and children, and among people of various backgrounds. People from any of these groups who view his artworks may feel that they are familiar in a way, as the representation is not tied to any particular culture, religion, time or place. At many of the exhibitions people are allowed to touch the pieces with their hands to get a better ‘feeling’ of it. Children, especially, seem to love touching these sculptures. This is encouraged, as Yasuda knows that children usually have little consciousness of the differences between races, religions, or regions of the world.


What fun! Holding up the world!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYasuda understands the cultures both of the east and the west. However, his pieces are not really concerned with any religious philosophy but with mankind in general. He believes that anyone viewing his work can get something from it and that “everyone has a key to another world and his sculpture could be perceived as an entrance to this world.”

We also find that these unconventional works of art don’t necessarily “represent” a particular thing, but rather stimulate the imagination. Some of them seem weightless, as part of the work does not touch the ground at its base. They are often stones that have no obvious front or back, or even right and left. The different surfaces change with the rays of sunlight and shadows, the light moving slowly over the various angles to vary the appearance of the object. Some of his forms look like doors and passages, but we can’t tell which is inside and which outside. The placement of these sculptures is very important, so that the viewers can actually walk all around them and view them from all angles.



The other side of the above square/gateway

Yasuda designed many of his pieces to be displayed outdoors (although many are also now permanently indoors), and they are quite at home in nature.

Fascinating, and I just wish I could read the Japanese descriptions! A Japanese friend tells me that Yasuda names all his pieces, usually with very special individual names, often using complex, less common, kanji.


Japan’s “Other” Temple Route


Selfie of Kazu and Viv at Temple 4


Statue of traditional pilgrim at Temple 5

Japan’s “Other” Temple Route on Chita Peninsula

(Please note: this article has a lot of photos, so please be patient and scroll through them all. And enjoy!)

In Japan, the most famous Temple Pilgrimage Route is on the island of Shikoku. There are 88 temples associated with the Buddhist monk Kukai, born 774. Pilgrims (called henro), who wear white clothing and special conical hats and use a walking stick, have been undertaking the journey for a long time, for ascetic, pious or tourism reasons. Traditionally the pilgrimage to all the temples is done on foot, but nowadays many modern pilgrims use cars, buses, taxis, bicycles or motorbikes. It is not necessary to complete the pilgrimage all at once, nor to visit the temples in order: someone we know said his grandfather had done the whole pilgrimage and split it in to 4 trips. The whole course is about 1,200 km (750 miles).

There is an imitation, or smaller version, of this pilgrimage on one of the two peninsulas near Nagoya, in Aichi prefecture. It’s on the Chita Peninsula (the one that has the Nagoya Chubu Centrair International Airport just off it on its artificial island).


A Guardian at the entrance gate to Temple 21


Selfie at Temple 5

The starting point (temple #1, Sougenji Temple) is at the northern part of the Chita peninsula not far from Zengo station. The 88-temples route in Chita-Shikoku was planned in 1809, relatively recently compared to the “real” pilgrimage. It is not well known and hard to find information about it. But, luckily for me a Japanese friend, Kazu, who teaches at a university in Nagoya, came to meet me at Centrair Airport (where we were staying, for Rod’s JRS conference). He planned that we would try to visit a few of the temples on the route and had mapped out some that were reasonably close to the airport.

This route is similar in concept to the famous Shikoku route, but not as pretty (as far as I


At Temple 88, telling the story of the monk who proclaimed this route

can tell from pictures) nor as walkable in many places, as this peninsula is rather built-up. There is some agriculture, with crops like vegetables, fruits, grapes, rice paddies, small hills and patches of woodland, but there are far more factories, industrial areas and small towns. Buildings are a mix of modern and old-style with black-tiles roofs and curved eaves.

But, it was still fun to track down some of these temples, all of which have signs proudly announcing what number temple it is. To do this temple route you definitely need a car and a Japanese driver, as not much is sign-posted in English.

As with the Shikoku Temple Route, a famous scholar-monk proclaimed this route of 88 temples, and we found a banner about him at Temple # 88. People can get a booklet of coupons that you leave at each temple In a special box as you visit. Some of the temples also have stamps, like a route passport. If people complete the whole circuit, it’s a total of 194 km.


If you walk the whole Chita Temple Route it is 194 km


Temple 88


Temple 88

I asked why there are 88 temples, and it seems most likely because 88 is the number of human wishes/needs according to Buddhist belief. In addition, 8 is a favored number and double 8 is even better.

We started at Temple #88, En-tsu-ji temple, which is 1,200 years old. Its main purpose is to show that a God/Buddha protects the lower part of the body. It’s a very small temple, set in a quiet grove of trees, and is a lovely peaceful place. You can’t get into the temple—just look from the outside—and there was no-one else there.



Temple 88


Temple 86

Next we went to Kannon-ji temple, # 86. It dates from the Edo era and a scholar called Hosoi studied here. Bigger than the previous one, it’s on a slight wooded hill with houses on the one side. The main hall is lovely dark wood, and the other buildings behind it (study and meeting rooms) in a pretty lighter wood.




Temple 86




Temple 5

We moved on to Temple # 5, the Ji-zo-zi temple, which is close by. It’s a very attractive complex, with statues, some trees but a more open feel generally, raked gravel and special big stones. It has a number of statues holding small children and is dedicated to helping pregnancy and childbirth.




Temple 5 is a bigger complex


Statue at Temple 5 shows caring for children


Beautiful door of Main Hall at Temple 5


Entrance gate to Temple 4

Temple # 4, the En-mei-ji (en-mei means long life) temple, is bigger than the ones we’d seen so far, and has a number of other small shrines and buildings besides the main hall. The complex is fairly open, with some trees, shrubs and many chrysanthemums in pots, along pretty paved pathways. It dates from the Kamakura era and is about 600 years old. Interesting is that it’s connected to the famous En Ryaku-ji temple complex on Mount Hiei in the Kyoto area, which was started in the early 800s. It apparently has a number of treasures, notably embroidered works, but we didn’t see any of those.


Temple 4


Number at Temple 21


Entrance gate to Temple 21

The final temple we visited that afternoon was #21, the Jo-raku-ji Temple, the biggest of all that we saw today—a huge complex of many buildings, founded around 1484. It is based on the Nishiyama Jodo sect of Buddhism. It is right in the middle of an urban area, surrounded by a wall. It was hard to find parking and the entrance, but once inside we could feel the peace, even though there were a number of visitors, and the gardeners were busy trimming trees and shrubs, especially the pine trees. Most of the buildings are in wood, but there is also a smaller red shrine and gate.




Small temple at Temple 21


Altar in small temple, temple 21


Main Hall, Temple 21


Temple 21


Jizo at Temple 4

Thank you Kazu for a lovely informative afternoon.

All of the temples, big and small, had many stone statues of heads and torsos with red bibs or red caps, or sometimes white bibs and caps. Some were painted partially red. They are usually grouped, often in a row, but we also saw just one or two together. Sometimes there are flower pots in front too, which makes for a pretty scene. These rows of miniature statues are called jizo. Jizo are tiny guardians, protectors of travelers, women and especially children. I will try to write more about them at a later time.

Thanks to Kazu for this extra information: After babies no  longer need drool bibs, the parents take the bibs to the temple and put them on the Jizo. This is to pray for the growth of their kids. Parents typically put red drool bibs as red means honesty and a pure heart in Buddhism.



Temple 5



Temple 21


Temple 86


Temple 88


Thanks also to Kazu for sending the maps and explanations about the temples (in Japanese).

See below.




map_hollow grounds








I found one blog with some entries about walking part of this

From Dragons to Pigs


baggage2And…Pigs in the airport too

Last post I wrote about Dragons in the airport, well now we find pigs!

When we arrived in Nagoya’s Centrair Airport we noticed some colorful pigs atop the baggage carousel. What were they, we wondered? Any why were they there? Don’t think we’ve ever seen something like that at a baggage carrousel before.


restaurantWell, it turns out that one of the many restaurants in the airport is turning 70 years old now, and this is one way of advertising! Fun, and certainly eye-catching.

They specialize in various pork dishes apparently. We didn’t eat there, but did pass by.


Dragons in the Airport

dragonWe started off our last trip to Japan in the Centrair Airport of Nagoya, as the JRS conference Rod was attending was held at a conference hall in the airport and we stayed at Centrair Airport Hotel.

In Centrair Airport we came across two large dragons and wondered at first if they were to celebrate the Year of the Dragon. But no. Both of them are linked to this part of Japan in special ways.

The main island of Japan is Honshu, which is divided into three broad areas: Northern, dragonmapCentral and Western Honshu. Nagoya—and its airport—is in the south west part of Central Honshu. Also in Central Honshu are Tokyo, Yokohama and Mount Fuji.

The symbol/icon for this whole area of Central Honshu is a dragon. This area is known as Shoryudo, or the “area of the rising dragon”. Central Honshu in general is the country’s top tourist destination as it has a huge variety of tourist attractions with its natural beauty, culture and history, advanced industrial technology, hot spring resorts and wonderful food. So, many places such as airports, and train stations welcome visitors with a “Shoryudo” dragon and hope that the rising dragon brings them good fortune on their visit here.


Can you imagine this dragon is made of paper?

The second dragon is special as it is made of Echizen-washi. Washi is Japanese hand-molded paper made from fibers of plants, such as kozo (paper mulberry tree), mitsumata shrub (Edgeworthia chrysantha), gampi tree (Diplomorpha sikokiana), hemp, or bamboo, a technique that has been in use since ancient times.

Echizen-washi is the paper from an area in Fukui Prefecture in the north west part of Central Honshu, centered around a town called Echizen City. About 70 factories engaged in paper-making throughout the year are clustered in this valley, each factory mainly a family business, many still using handmade techniques. It is unusual for paper-making to continue through the year, as in most other parts of the country it only took place in winter when people were not working on the rice harvest. But, legend has it that in this area a woman called “Kawa-kami Gozen” (upriver princess) appeared to the people here about 1500 years ago and showed them how to make paper with natural plants because they had no rice fields to make a living.


whitefaceEchizen-washi was cited in a text from AD 774 and, from the 14th century, it was used officially by court nobles and samurai, Today it is still an honored Japanese handcraft.

Whatever the story about the origin of Echizen-washi, this is certainly an impressive dragon to welcome visitors.

Halloween Has Arrived in Japan



shopJapan is a land of contrasts in many ways. For example, modern buildings, bright neon lights flashing, and huge colorful-gaudy ads almost side by side with quiet and serenity in temple courtyards, simple raked sand in Zen gardens, and delicate ikebana flower arrangements.

Japanese people are very aware of the seasons and have special foods, events, and decorations to mark the changing seasons. They also love bright and cute ads and decorations, with idealized cartoon characters or animals, so the Halloween concept fits right into this, with its bright orange and typical icons that arrive at the end of autumn, as do the beautiful changing colored leaves.


rusksWhen we were in Japan in September and October 2010, and again in 2011, we were surprised to see quite a lot of Halloween-type ads and store decorations pop up in late October—all the typical and traditional ones we see in the USA, such as witches, brooms, plastic pumpkins, skeletons, and ghosts. We saw them mostly in big department stores, like Daimaru and Esta, and as a theme and color scheme for boxes of gorgeous chocolates or cookies, or elaborately-decorated cakes. But at that time our friends and the students told us that the holiday as a whole was not popular or common and that in fact most don’t really know the meaning of Halloween.



However, this year (2017) in October we saw way more evidence of Halloween—in the big stores, in coffee shops, in flower shops, in bakeries, in hotel lobbies, at the airports even. Most are bright and cheerful, some cute, and a few a little incongruous—for example, a model witch with a big blue breast next to a pumpkin with a religious quote written on it!



checkinThere are much bigger displays of Halloween items with banners, often linked to the autumn colors and the autumn theme. We also saw many real—not plastic—pumpkins, some beautifully carved.

Our Japanese friends tell us that kids don’t do much with Halloween yet, that it’s more for students and young adults who like to dress up and party. For example, in Nagano on October 3ist (actual Halloween day) we saw a young woman in a long party dress posing for photos by lying on the road in between traffic light changes! It was quite cold and she was bare-shouldered.


kidmenuSo, it seems that Halloween beckons in Japan, and I wonder how long it will be before Japanese kids dress up as princesses and goblins and run around asking for “trick or treat”? Some of the shops at Nagoya Centrair Airport were offering a kind of trick-or-treat, so maybe the seed is sown?!


Our Most Recent Trip to Japan


Conference dinner

October-November 2017

We have been to Japan a number of times over the years and have enjoyed each visit tremendously. Over the next (many) months I plan to start documenting all the various trips and adventures, but for now I will focus on our most recent trip, in October-November 2017.

To start with here’s a brief summary of what we did and where we went. There are a lot of photos, so please scroll through and enjoy.

First, we went to Nagoya where Rod attended a JRS meeting (Joint Rumen Symposium—with Japan, Korea and China), held at the Centrair Airport—a surprisingly good venue or a scientific meeting. On one of the conference days, a long-time Japanese friend, Kazu Yoshizaki, who teaches at a university n Nagoya, came to take me out for an afternoon. We visited a few of the temples on the 88-temple trail on the Chita Peninsula.


Viv at Temple 88


Viv and Kazu

After the meeting, a good friend Naoki Fukuma (aka Max) guided us around the area north of Nagoya for a few days. We went by train to Takayama, where we visited the Hida Folk Village, stayed at a traditional Japanese Inn, and had great traditional meals.


Rod and Viv on old street in Takayama


Max and Rod—dinner in Takayama


Rod and Max at Hida Folk Village

Max then hired a car to drive us to Kanazawa. On the way we stopped at the mountain town of Shirakawago for a soba lunch and to visit the Gassho Folklore Park.


Observation point in Shirakawago

The drive from Shirakawago to Kanazawa was truly amazing—along what’s called the White Road. A curving mountain road that swoops and dives along forested hills covered in glorious autumn colors and ribboned with more waterfalls than we’ve ever seen in one place!


Stunning scenery

Kanazawa has the famous Kenrokuen Garden and the Kanazawa Castle, which we really enjoyed.


An old fountain in Kenrokuen Garden


One of the huge castle gates at Kanazawa Castle


Rod near one defensive wall with Kanazawa Castle in background


Viv and Yutaka enjoy a glass of Chardonnay at St Coursair Winery

Then Max put us on a shinkansen train to Nagano and he returned to Hokkaido. The next few days in Nagano we were guided by another Japanese scientist, Yutaka Uyeno, who was happy to share the special places around here. The main sight is the Zenkoji Temple, perhaps the most famous in Japan. He also took us to lunch at St. Coursair Winery, which had a surprisingly good Chardonnay. This was followed by a walk up to Naena waterfall, also in hills decked in autumn colors.


Rod and Yutaka at Zenkoji Temple


At Zenkoji Temple


Naena Falls and autumn colors

Yutaka very kindly drove us back to the airport in Nagoya to catch the plane to Hokkaido, where Max met us again.

We spent the next few days in Obihiro with Max, and visited his university there and met his lab.


Max’s office at Obihiro University

He drove us around the surrounding countryside, in the area called Tokachi, the bread basket of Japan. It was fun to see all the different types of crops being harvested, noticeably sugar beets and burdock. One day we could also visit the Sugar Beet Museum in Obihiro.


Harvesting sugar beets in Tokachi


A huge mound of sugar beets

Max also took us to Lake Shikaribetsu, formed long ago by volcanic activity, and to a Hokkaido winery called Tokachi Wine Castle.


Lake Shikaribetsu


Max’s car—he’s just bought hot coffee in tins from a vending machine


Tokachi Wine Castle

A new and different event for us was to attend one of the special horse-racing events there, called Banei Horse Racing. Every meal, every day there was a wonderful feast.


At the Race Track in Obihiro


A special place for soba noodles in Tokachi


Genghis Khan lunch in Tokachi

Lastly we caught a train from Obihiro to Sapporo for the last few days. One day another good friend, Satoshi Koike, and his wife took us to Lake Shikotsu and the Chitose Aquarium, where we learned a lot about salmon. Dinner was at a Yakiniku (roasted meats) restaurant, a first for us.


Satoshi and Chikako at Shikotsu Lake


Rod with bear at Shikotsu Lake Visitor Center


Chitose Aquarium


The lab party begins

On the final day Rod and I gave a presentation to the students in the lab of Satoshi and Dr. Kobayashi, followed by a great lab party.

Then the long trek home! Thanks to all for a wonderful time.


Lab members at the party