A Travellerspoint blog

December 2009

Northern Winter Wonderland

Happy 2010 to everyone.

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Posted by dikansu 06:40 Comments (3)

And a Happy Christmas to all our readers.

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Leash Fen, near Baslow, Derbyshire. 22/12/09

We’ve been back from Japan for 3 weeks now. The original intention was for me to go off to India for 2 weeks on the final leg of my sabbatical. Plans were changed because Sue’s Mum, who had been in hospital with chest problems, wasn’t recovering very well back at home. Instead, we decided to rent a lovely cosy cottage in the Peak District of Derbyshire close to her parents. I am pleased to say she is much better and we are enjoying wonderful winter landscapes, literally on our doorstep.

As we haven’t been at home, we haven’t written any Christmas cards this year so please accept this instead. We are staying with my parents for Christmas then meeting up with some Dutch friends we haven’t seen for years in Tewkesbury on the way back to Dorset for the New Year.

The sabbattical has been a wonderful experience. We’ve been to some amazing places, enjoyed travelling by train and boat where possible and had time to think about the meaning of life and everything. But most of all, it has been the people we have met or stayed with that have made it so great. And there’s still so much more of the world, and its people, left to explore ….

Merry Christmas to everyone and a happy 2010.

Love, dikansu.

Posted by dikansu 12:35 Comments (1)

Tokyo - take 2

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Kanako & Mariko

From Kamakura, we headed back to Tokyo again for our last weekend in Japan. It had been a fantastic journey but it wasn’t over yet. As well as a chance to explore more of the many sights of the city, we had made contact with Kanako, a friend of a friend, who was to show us some of the food, arts and craft shops we wouldn’t otherwise have found. In the evening, she took us with her friend, Mariko, to a wonderful restaurant in the Tokyo suburbs run by a fantastically camp cook who was also a professor in agriculture. He was very attentive to all his customers and great fun even if we didn’t know what he was talking about half of the time.

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For our final night in the country, we had been invited to a private Japanese tea ceremony. We were very privileged to be the guests, along with Yugo and Nabuko, of another Japanese neurologist who I had met several times before at MND conferences. Dr Ogino’s family had devoted much time and effort in making a traditional interior in the upper floor of a modern restaurant building - another example of melding the new together with the old. No effort (and no doubt expense) was spared in commissioning traditional craftsmen from Kyoto to recreate the environment in which the Japanese have enacted tea ceremonies for centuries. Dr Ogino’s sister and brother, both dressed in exquisite traditional costume, explained and performed the ceremony which is very structured and full of spiritual significance for both the hosts and guests. The utensils used to make the tea are beautifully crafted. The green tea leaves are ground by hand in a traditional stone grinder. A measured amount is then transferred by carved wooden spatula into an infuser which is heated by an under-floor charcoal fire. The tea is served in a handle-less ceramic cup which is passed around the guests. Having received it, you turn the cup through 45 degrees, then another 45 degrees before imbibing the contents. Whilst all of this might seem a bit excessive to requirements compared with your average brew of PG tips, the historical and cultural significance was fascinating to learn about. One of the underlying principles behind the ceremony is that everyone present, whether a host or guest, is of equal status and this creates a feeling of unity which binds society together, regardless of traditional hierarchies. As before, we were very privileged to experience something so different to our own culture.

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They start 'em young over here

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Not all Japanese doctors look like this

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Even the signs are the epitome of politeness

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Since coming back from Japan, we have realised how relatively few people from our part of the world have ever considered travelling there to visit. Other countries in south-east Asia, such as Thailand, Vietnam, etc. seem to be more on peoples’ radar compared to Japan. Maybe old predjuces from the 2nd World War are to blame but modern Japan is completely different from most peoples’ expectations and absolutely fascinating. If you get the chance, go! The sights, culture, politeness and hospitality are never-to-be forgotten. We certainly won’t. We’ll be back there again sometime, I'm sure.

Posted by dikansu 13:07 Comments (2)

Kamakura

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Kamakura is another previous capital of Japan with many wonderful temples and shrines. We met up again with Denis and Yoko who live there. As well as showing us around, they booked us into wonderful accomodation which included the best traditional baths complex we had come across in Japan. Before the days when houses had their own washing facilities, public baths were around every corner in Japan. The tradition lives on in some modern hotels and is very civilised and relaxing. You enter the complex and strip off to the buff. (The baths are gender-specific.) It would be unheard of to join the communal baths before having a rigourous wash first, so you sit on a stool and begin by pouring a basin of warm water over your head and then thoroughly soaping yourself down. Be careful at his point not to draw attention to yourself by slipping off the now soapy stool. Shower the soap off and you are ready to enter the hot tub(s) to luxuriate. These are similar to the communal baths we used to have after rugby matches but much warmer and less muddy. The complex in Kamakura had a huge window looking out onto a beautiful Japanese garden with waterfalls and fountains. The inside walls of the pool complex were made of stone and there were several artificial waterfalls which you could stand under to get a good pummeling. It made a good facimile of the outdoor thermal pools which exist in various parts of this volcanic country. Sorry - no photographs. My lens fogged up ...


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After 3 hours in the hot pool, Albert & Gladys Emmanuelle just wanted to retreat into themselves

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Can't think what this reminds me of

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Could that be Penelope Pitstop? No ... wrong colour car

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Lovely Denis & Yoko were our guides again

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Makes a change from a burger

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"Sorry luv - can't go sarf of the river this time of night ..."

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Posted by dikansu 08:15 Comments (1)

Knowing Mie, knowing you ...

The main reason we chose Japan as one of our targets for my sabbatical was the invitation to visit Yugo Narita in Mie. I first met Yugo, a consultant neurologist, during the Motor Neurone Disease Annual Symposium in Yokohama 3 years ago. We have kept in touch ever since and I was interested in learning more about his work as well as seeing more of his beautiful country. He and his wife, Nabuko, had been to our home briefly last year and we also looked forward to seeing their daughter, Yoko, who had also been to visit Dorchester and the hospice to further her interest in palliative care nursing.
Mie is on a peninsula which juts out into the Pacific about 5 hours south of Tokyo by train. Compared to the strip of industrial coastline on the mainland, Mie is relatively rural. Ranges of wooded mountains rise up steeply from the sea. Much of the interior is relatively inaccessible with networks of roads using viaducts and tunnels to cut through the land.

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Mie University Hospital

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If you look carefully, you can see the Pacific Ocean from Yugo's office

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Nurses staions are the same the world over

Yugo and his family live in the city of Ise. His place of work is the University Hospital in the provincial capital, Tsu.
He took us to see his office in the School of Nursing and the neurological wards in the hospital next door. As well as his clinical duties, Yugo has responsibilities for medical and nursing education. We met with members of his department including the lead nurse and pharmacologist in palliative care - very progressive appointments for a provincial neurology department.

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In the grounds of the University, there was a garden in memory of those animals and humans who had donated their bodies over the years to medical research. The inscription in Japanese on the memorial stone reads “The Foundation of Scientific Progress.“
The other feature I noticed was that, on retirement, senior members of the university had a pre-humus memorial stone placed in the grounds alongside a tree of their choice. I am thinking of suggesting the same where I work. My personal choice of tree would be the monkey-puzzle variety.

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During our visit to Mie, we were taken on a wonderful walk along an ancient pilgrim route. Paving stones, first laid down in the 10th century, led up a steep route through beautiful woods to a spectacular viewing point looking out over the Pacific Ocean. Along with other walkers, we picnicked in the sunshine at the top. It was easy to imagine in these unspoilt natural surroundings the thousands of pilgrims who had travelled the same route over centuries gone by.

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Ise has one of the most famous shrines in Japan which all Japanese try to visit at least once in their lifetimes. In another remarkable example of Japanese culture, we learnt that, every 20 years, the shrine is completely dismantled and a new one constructed nearby in its place. This is so that the skills used are not lost to successive generations. We walked across the beautiful new wooden bridge which had been consecrated only a week previously, replacing the one built 20 years before.

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Yoko (aka Penelope Pitstop) and her Mini Cooper

On our final night in Mie, we had a lovely evening in the company of Yugo, Nabuko and their 3 daughters at home. Much sake was imbibed and stories exchanged. As we have experienced elsewhere, such generous hospitality from people in their own country is a great privilege.

Posted by dikansu 00:33 Comments (1)

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