Miyajima: UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site

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Nadia on the Shishiwa Overlook

The Itsukushima shrine on Miyajima Island is one of 18 United Nations Cultural Heritage sites in Japan. The Shinto shrine has an unusual Torii (gate) in the tidal bay that draws hundreds of tourists daily. Besides the gate and temple, the island is dramatically beautiful with sharply rising green hills and rocky outcrops. There are also breathtaking views of the islands of the Seto Inland Sea. After the Atomic Bomb Dome / Peace Park, it is the attraction to see in Hiroshima.

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Oliver giving his best “Blue Steel”

It was a super hot day with temperatures close to 100 F. In my previous visits, we usually hike to the summit of Mount Misen, the highest point on the island, but instead took the cable car up to the top. The views did not disappoint, but we were ready to cool down after walking around at the top station.

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Ocean under the Torii as the tide is going out

We stopped for ice cold Summer I.P.A. on tap at the Miyajima Brewery and they really hit the spot. Before leaving the island, we had to try the Hiroshima-style okonomiyakiThe four-hour drive back to Osaka went well. We recovered this weekend. It has been nice to have my uncle visit in this last week of summer holidays.

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Miyajima Brewery 

Japanese Whisky

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Nadia & Jack sample some of Suntory’s best whiskeys

I am not a big drinker but I do love the science behind fermentation and distillation. We visited the Suntory Yamazaki Whisky distillery in Kyoto on Wednesday. I recommend the tasting tour if you enjoy whiskey. Note that in Scotland and Japan, whisky is spelled without an “e” and in Ireland and America, we add the “e”.

Whiskey comes from barley and after fermentation and distillation, it is a clear liquid. The distinctive color of whiskey comes from tannins in the storage barrels. The longer it stays in the barrel, the darker the color. Turning barley, water and yeast into whiskey only take a week, but aging in barrels can take up to 30 years.

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whiskey library

The elusive Yamazaki 18 Whisky was not available for sale. It is the crown jewel whiskey in the Suntory range of whiskeys. We hope to find a bottle for my uncle someday.

I particularly liked the whiskey library on the premises. The researchers at the distillery try different methods and blends to come up with better tasting products. They also sample other whiskeys from around the world. Visitors can buy these test whiskeys and they come in really cool bottles.

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Babe Ruth visited the brewery in 1931

After lunch in a restaurant near the distillery, we went to a sake museum in Kyoto. After navigating the narrow streets of the city, we eventually arrived at the museum. Sake takes more processing than beer and wine and there were informative displays going through each step. The highlight was a sign that commemorated Babe Ruth’s visit to the brewery.

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Visit to Hiroshima

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Jack & I with the kids in front of the Atomic Bomb Dome

Hiroshima is one of my favorite cities in Japan. It is the perfect size for a city, about 1 million people. Osaka, the city I live in, is a bit too big, but our suburb of Minoh is really nice. Hiroshima also is beautiful, surrounded by mountains and it has wider streets than most Japanese cities. This is my fourth visit to the city, twice for school business and twice with my family. Because of the history here, the beauty and the proximity to Osaka, it is an easy place to take guests and give them a taste of a different part of Japan. My uncle is visiting this week, our last of summer holidays, so we took drove the 4 hours from Osaka to Hiroshima this morning.

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Flowers to mark the anniversary August 6, 1945 

71 years ago Monday, US forces dropped “Little Boy” above what is now the Peace Memorial Park. Going through the museum is always emotional for me. Reading the stories and seeing the photos of the children killed by the blast is tough, especially as a father. Not only the 140,000 people dead is a tragedy, but the families of the 140,000 that survived. As I’ve written in the past, every world leader should come and visit the memorial. Hopefully, it will make them consider more the human toll behind ordering bombings. Today is the anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing, a city I hope to visit before leaving Japan and one that does not get recognized enough for what it suffered.

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It was so pleasant in the late afternoon sitting along the Motoyasu River that we spent several hours, just watching the river under the trees. That is one good thing to come from the nuclear bomb, a beautiful green park in the center of the city. Our relaxation came to an abrupt end when an unnamed member of our family (perhaps my spouse) dropped my iPhone 8+ into the river. Oliver climbed down the embankment and retrieved it in about a foot of water. We learned that the iPhone 8 is water resistant and when dropped in water for under 30 minutes and less than 1 meter, it should be OK, which so far, my phone has been fine.

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We are staying in an Air BnB apartment near the park. Nadia and I went for a drink at a local sports bar and watched the extra innings of the first place Hiroshima Carp against the Chunichi Dragons. The patrons were totally into the game and it was fun to watch the outcome of a replay challenge of a close play at first base.

 

Bike Ride to Minogawa Reservoir

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Minogawa Reservoir

I am absolutely loving cycling through the Minoh Quasi National Park this summer. This morning I completed a 30 kilometer (18 mile) loop through Minoh and Ikeda. The highlight was the beauty of the Minogawa (Minoh River) reservoir. Using Strava, a cycling and running tracking app, you can see exactly how far you rode, your speed and the elevation profile. It feels like the Tour de France. I wish they had this when I was younger!

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It was very hot and humid today with temperatures in the high 90s. On the way back down the mountain, I got some gorgeous views of Ikeda and the Shin Inagawa Bridge.

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View of Ikeda City and the Inagawa River

Cycling is so enjoyable and refreshing for me. I wish I could go every day!

Swimming in the Sea of Japan

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Swimming at Sunset 

With a typhoon coming later this weekend, we took advantage of the final day of sunshine and headed north to Kotohiki Beach on the Tango Peninsula. Spending a day outdoors at the beach is so much better than staying at home in these days of ubiquitous personal digital devices. It was so nice to have the family playing together and the kids enjoying nature. The water was a perfect temperature and 5+ hours at the beach goes by quickly.

The Sea of Japan is an interesting body of water. Like the Mediterranean, it is mostly enclosed by Japan, the Korean peninsula and Russia with narrow straits on the north and south. The Tango Peninsula makes a good place to keep an eye on (radar) North Korea and the Japan Self-Defense force and US military have a “sub-base” there. The dishes are located on the top of a mountain near the tip of the peninsula. We saw some US soldiers swimming at the beach the last time we went.

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Like the Persian/Arabian Gulf, there is a naming dispute. The Japanese call is the Sea of Japan and that is the most accepted name. However, the Koreans call it the East Sea. Biologically, the Sea of Japan has a higher oxygen content that the Pacific Ocean and fisheries are a major piece of the economy.

As you can see by the sign below not everyone approves of the military bases on the peninsula. We saw this sign near the exit of the expressway as we were driving to the beach.

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We ignored the geopolitics of the region and had another fantastic day. The coast is so beautiful and the small towns on the peninsula are quaint and laid-back. It is one of Nadia’s favorite places in Japan.

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Cooling off at Lake Biwa

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Climate change has been on my mind this summer here in Japan. Japan is known for hot, humid summers but this year, the government declared a national emergency because of extended temperatures in Tokyo over 40C (104F). 65 people have died, over half being elderly. Typhoon Jongdari or in the Japanese numbering system, 2018-#12 is predicted to pass directly into Osaka this Sunday evening (see map below) ending the heat wave.

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Courtesy of Japan Meteorological Agency (my dates added) 

Weather and climate are complex systems and causes of heat waves are from a variety of factors. However, the frequency, duration and higher temperatures that the earth is experiencing are definitely caused in a large part by climate change. The Economist’s excellent science podcast, Babbage has a short piece with a climate scientist that explains the role climate change is having on world heat waves.

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My family did what a lot of people are doing in Japan this summer – head to the beach! That is a nice thing about living on an island, the ocean is never far away. However, yesterday, we visited Lake Biwa, the largest freshwater lake in Japan. It is located in the adjacent prefecture of Shiga. We drove 1 hour and 30 minutes to arrive on Omi-Maiko beach, the most scenic public beach on the lake. Lake Biwa is huge, although not as big as the Great Lakes of my home in Michigan. It has 146 miles (235 km) of shoreline, with a maximum width of 14 miles (23 km) and maximum length of 40 miles (64 km). It is an ancient lake, scientists estimating 4 million years old. It gets its name from the shape, which resembles a biwa, a traditional Japanese instrument. I think it looks like a loon.

We had a delightful, refreshing day at Omi-Maiko beach. Large black pine trees (Pinus thunbergii) provide shade over the beach consisting of a pebble/sand mix. We found a quiet spot on the long beach. We spent the day snorkeling for “treasure” and found a pair of swim goggles, a fake gold watch among mostly glass, plastic and old fishing lures. We had a home run competition, using rocks and a plastic bat. This time we packed tables and chairs which was much more comfortable than our last visit to the beach.

It was our first time swimming in the lake. We did several snow-hiking and ski trips in the Hira Mountains that overlook Omi-Maiko beach last winter, so it was nice to see them in the summer. An interesting observation about Japanese culture. They do not value waterfront the same as Americans and so the lake is not surrounded by private property, which is nice for a change. We will be heading back to the Kotohiki beach today for one more day of water before the typhoon arrives this weekend.

 

The Beauty of the Tango Peninsula

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Kotohiki Beach, Kyoto Prefecture

Although it is not promoted with international tourists, the Tango Peninsula is one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen in Japan. It juts out like a thumb into the Sea of Japan. It is 146 kilometers by car (2-hour drive) from our suburb of Minoh. We spent an idyllic summer day at Kotohiki Beach on Saturday. With some beaches in Japan, especially during the “swim season” it can get crowded, but Kotohiki had relatively little people and lots of golden sand and turquoise water for everyone to enjoy. We rented a tent, brought the cooler, blanket and books and had a delightful afternoon of swimming, playing Uno, snacking and exploring the tidal pools formed on some of the rocky sections of the shore. As you can see by the pictures, it compares favorably to any beach I have been to.

 

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Lots of dramatic views along the highway 178

I love spending the day outdoors. Being close to nature recharges my soul and being able to share the experience with my family is pure bliss for me. It took some nudging to get the kids out of the house in the morning of course, but as usual, once they are there they have a great day.

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Camp Kralovec

We are experiencing a heat wave with temperatures in the 90s daily and humidity over 50%. I love the hot weather and am not really bothered by it. I feel worse in the winter in cold weather. I love summer!

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