Thursday, August 17, 2017

Horsin' Around!

Silly me, I was about to make a post about some things we did with Moppy over the weekend and I forgot I still had one more post to do from Grandma's house!

One of our favorite things about Grandma's house are the horses. Grandma has four horses: Chance (who is the one with Moppy in the photos above), Charm, Chase, and Tala.

Here is Moppy petting Chase. Can you tell he likes that? He's an old horse who can't really be ridden anymore, but everyone loves him.

Moppy is watching Audrey get ready for a riding lesson with Grandma. Audrey is riding Tala.

Audrey actually came to Grandma's house a few days earlier for a special "horse camp" with Grandma. She got all kinds of lessons about horses, and learned about how to take care of them and how to ride them. As you can tell from the smile on her face, she LOVES riding! I love riding too- I even competed in horseback riding when I was in college!

See that black mask on Tala's face? It's a fly mask- it helps keep those buzzing flies away from her face. Sometimes I wish I had a fly mask when I'm outside!

Here are Chance, Charm, and Chase hanging out in their stalls in the barn. Most of the time they are out in the field grazing, but they had just finished breakfast and were waiting to go out. See how each horse has their own fan to keep them cool? Grandma takes excellent care of her horses.

And her horses love her, too! Here's Tala giving Grandma some love. Grandma just finished giving Tala a quick bath to cool her down after the riding lesson. That green thing in her hand is a special tool used to squeegee the water off the horse. If a horse gets too wet and isn't dried properly, they can catch a cold!

The little girls had a chance to ride, too. Here is Christine riding Charm. Charm is also getting old, but she is still up for giving some pony rides. Here's a fun fact: Charm's full name is "Charm My Heart", and she is actually the granddaughter of the famous racehorse, Secretariat! They even made a movie about him!

Also, Charm and I were pregnant at the same time. I was pregnant with Christine, and Charm was pregnant with her foal, Bear.

Here's Charlotte after her ride on Charm. I think Charm enjoys giving the little ones rides. :-)

This is a picture that Grandma has in her house, and we told Moppy that she can be a Virginian by adoption. She was very happy about that. She seems to like Virginia!

Moppy relaxes in a rocking chair on Grandma's front porch. There's nothing like a relaxing summer day on a farm in Virginia! 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Tag's First Temple Visit!

Konnichiwa, Tyson, Audrey, Charlotte, and Christine!

Today, we would like to talk about religions in Japan. Most Japanese do not actively believe in any religion. However, Buddhism has a very strong influence in our daily lives.

During August, we have a big holiday season called obon. It is an annual Buddhist event to commemorate our ancestors and is observed from August 13th to August 15th. It is believed that our ancestors' spirits return to this world during obon, and there are many festivals throughout Japan to celebrate it. With another national holiday and weekends, it can be a long holiday season, and many people also go back and visit their families during obon like you do on Thanksgiving in the US.

On the first day of our obon holiday season this year, we decided to visit Todaiji Temple in Nara (red dot in the map below)!

Todaiji Temple is one of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

In 7th century Japan, there were many natural disasters, rebellions, and epidemics. Emperor Shomu decided to govern the country with help from gods, and he promoted the construction of provincial temples all over Japan, and Todaiji Temple was officially appointed as the head of all those temples in 752. Nara was the capital of Japan when Todaiji Temple was built.

Ancient Japanese believed that deer are messengers of gods so they were treasured and protected. To this day, there are many deer walking around Nara Park!

Yuki loves animals, so he was very excited to see all those deer walking around Nara Park!

At Nandaimon Gate:

When you stand under Nandaimon Gate, you see 2 big guardian statues, Agyou on your right and Ungyou on your left watching over the temple. They are 8.4m (27ft 6.7in) tall! Their faces look very scary... but Yuki thought their posing was rather funny!

After Nandaimon Gate, there is yet another gate called Chumon Gate.

And behind this Chumon Gate, there is finally Daibutsuden (Great Buddha Hall) that houses Great Buddha! This Great Buddha Hall is said to be the largest wooden building in the world!

At the entrance to Great Buddha Hall, people were offering incense. When Yuki's mom was small, Yuki's Grandma told her that the smoke of incense will make her smarter. However, when she did some reading on Todaiji Temple before we visited this time, she read that the smoke of incense is supposed to make you clean before you go in front of Buddha.

And finally inside Great Buddha Hall is Daibutsu of Nara, which is the biggest bronze Buddha statue in the world at about 15m (49ft 2.6in)!

Emperor Shomu expected citizens to make many offerings including bronze and rice to make Great Buddha, so citizens suffered a lot in order to build this Great Buddha and the country almost went bankrupt. It is said that 2,600,000 people (1/3 of the population at the time) helped making this Buddha, taking 9 years!

There was a golden statue on each side of Buddha. So, there were one Great Buddha and 2 small golden Buddhas...

This hole on the pillar is the same size as the nostril of Great Buddha, and it is believed that if you go through it, you will stay healthy and free from any harm all your life. We also read that it is believed that if you could go through this hole on the pillar, you are guaranteed a place in heaven!?!? Yuki's mom went through this hole when she was little, and this day, Yuki and Tag went through it, too!

Nara Park was very big, and there were many other temples and shrines besides Todaiji Temple! It was like one big hiking trail in the forest with so many beautiful historical sights to see! We enjoyed it very much and wished we had one more day to explore!

These are called ema (picture horse). Ancient people would donate horses, which were considered holy and were the symbol of power, to shrines to have their prayers heard. However, since most people could not donate horses, they started offering horses made from wood and cray. That eventually turned into wooden plaques that shrines would sell for a small fee, on which people would write their prayers or wishes.

This is called chozuya. They have one at every shrine so you can purify yourself before approaching the main shrine. There is a certain way to do this. First, you bow lightly in front of chozuya. Then, you hold the water ladle with your right hand and get water in the water ladle. Then, you wash your left hand. Then, you hold the water ladle with your left hand and wash your right hand. Then, hold the water ladle with your right hand again and pour water in your left palm and wash your mouth with the water in your left palm. Finally, you hold the ladle up so the remaining water will wash the ladle and you put it back on chozuya. Phew...! So much to do, huh!

Lanterns were placed throughout Nara park in preparation for obon festival when we visited. We decided to come home before it became dark, because we were getting very tired and also our kitties were waiting for us at home. So, we did not get to see those lanterns being lit...

After Todaiji Temple was built, the power of Buddhism became very strong in Japan, and it even started to interfere greatly with politics. So, they eventually decided to move the capital from Nara to Nagaoka in 784.

After our trip to Todaiji Temple in Nara, we visited Itsukushima Shrine in Hiroshima. In our next post, we want to talk about Shinto, another religion beside Buddhism that has a big influence in Japanese culture. So, stay tuned for our next post!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

A Trip to Grandma's Part II: Harpers Ferry

The day after the Air & Space Museum, we decided we wanted to spend more time outdoors because the weather was beautiful, so we headed over to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, a small town that's also a national park about 30 minutes from Grandma & Grandpa's house.

We arrived at the park visitors center and then rode a shuttle bus down to the town. It was a nice ride with beautiful views.

Harpers Ferry is a unique place- it's a town at the convergence of two rivers, the Shenandoah and the Potomac. It's also right near the borders of 3 different states: Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland. Bet you didn't know Moppy would get to see that many states on her American adventure!

Before I tell you more about Harpers Ferry, however, I'll take a moment to tell you about a fun activity we've been doing this summer- rocking! What is rocking? It's pretty simple- you get some smooth rocks, you paint them with whatever designs you want, and then you leave them places for people to find. When they find them, they can choose to leave them, keep them or re-hide them somewhere else. People also usually take photos of the rocks to post to the social media pages for the different local rocking groups.

We didn't go to Harpers Ferry expecting to find rocks- not all locations do it- but when we got there, we found lots! We were so excited!

These were just a few of our favorites. Maybe when Moppy comes home she can help you start a rocking group in Japan! It's great fun and it's a good way to use your creativity, show kindness to others, spend time with your family, and get exercise as you go rock hunting.

Back to Harpers Ferry! Do you know what kind of hat Moppy is wearing? Here's a hint: North vs. South; Union vs. Confederate... these were the two sides who fought in the U.S. Civil War which lasted from 1861 to 1865. It's a big part of our nation's history, and Harpers Ferry had a tough time during that war because it changed hands EIGHT times during the war! This was most likely because of its strategic location: it was on a supply line, and it was the location of an armory where weapons were made.

Since we're from Richmond- a Confederate city- we thought Moppy should fight for the South, so she's wearing a gray soldier's cap.

This is the beautiful church high up on a hill overlooking the river.

Here's another view of the church from further up the hill above it. We hiked up the hill so we could check out the view from Jefferson Rock, where Thomas Jefferson, one of America's founding fathers, said "This scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic." Maybe across the Pacific too? ;-) 

The view is certainly different now than it was in Jefferson's day, but still very beautiful.

Moppy loved it up there!

The kids and Moppy posed with Grandma.

On the way back down I snapped a photo of this cool ruin of another church. Can you see the railroad bridge across the river in the background?

We stopped to get a photo of the kids and Moppy in front of the church.

Then Moppy got thrown in prison! That mischievous little monster!

Just kidding- she was really just checking out one of these root cellars.

Many of the buildings in the town have little exhibits with items from the Civil War. Here is Moppy with a cannonball. I certainly wouldn't want to see that flying through the air!

Another interesting thing about Harpers Ferry is that it is part of the Appalachian Trail, a hiking trail that is over 2,000 miles long and goes all the way from the state of Maine in the north down to Georgia in the south- and through every state in between! Every year many people make the trek from one state to the other, camping out along the way. As someone who loves hiking, it's something I've always wanted to try, especially if you get to see such beautiful places like Harpers Ferry along the way. Do you have any really long hiking trails like that in Japan?

After exploring the town, we got some ice cream and then made our way across the railroad bridge- but don't worry, they have half of it designed just for pedestrians so there's no risk of getting run over by a train!

When we got to the other side, we found some large rocks down by the river and sat down to take a rest. Looks like Moppy and Audrey are both tuckered out!

This was a sign with an aerial photograph of Harpers Ferry and it shows the different parts of the town, like Jefferson's Rock (near the top) and the church.

This was just a beautiful area down by the river. So peaceful!

And here's one last view looking up one of the streets in the town. We had a wonderful day there, and just like the Air & Space museum, there was more to see than we had time for! So we are looking forward to returning for another visit to see even more.

We hope you enjoyed our day in Harpers Ferry! Stay tuned for one more look at the fun we had visiting Grandma...