Monthly Archives: November 2015

Toei Kyoto Studio Park (Kyoto Day Three)

by Lillian Csernica on November 29, 2015

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Toei Studios is behind quite a diverse selection of entertainment, including Battle Royale, Kamen Rider, and Super Sentai, the origin of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.  In the 1950s, samurai movies were hugely popular, as proven by Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, Seven Samurai,  and Yojimbo, just to name a few.

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I love lion dogs (aka fu dogs or shishi), so I was delighted to encounter this enormous guardian on the way into the park.

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Actors from one of the live stage shows.  At last I’ve learned the secrets of how they anchor those samurai wigs in place.  Aren’t the kimono gorgeous?


This charming lady is Naomi Oishi, an actress in one of the samurai television dramas.  Pat and I had a wonderful time talking to her.


The main reason we went to Toei Studios was to see the Oiran Parade.  Here she is, the Oiran herself, in full magnificent costume.  Look at that wig!  Aside from paintings of Madame de Pompadour, I have never seen a wig that complicated!

Yuriko, the heroine of my Flower Maiden Saga, starts out having been raised to be an oiran.  Tendo, the hero, carries her off before the bad guy can sell Yuriko for political favors.  The bad guy will stop at nothing to find Yuriko and kill Tendo!

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Here I am with the three actors who perform the sword fight demonstration.  The man to my left is いわす とおる, Toru Iwasu.  He plays Hijikata Toshizo, one of the founding members of the Shinsengumi.  There are many movies and TV series about the Shinsengumi.  They were an important part of the Tokugawa Era.  The other two actors are stuntmen who are very good at making the fight choreography look real.

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What would a trip to a Japanese movie studio be without seeing a giant monster?  This is the canal set, where some scenes really are filmed.  Water jets shot up from the two floating logs, and then the monster came bubbling up out of the water.  This was all kinds of fun.  The little kids nearby came running to watch.  I was ready to grab them so they didn’t fall in!


The park also features a Haunted House.  Pat and I are both big fans of ghosts, monsters, and folklore.  I avoid haunted house attractions because they’re usually more gory than scary.  When Pat suggested going through the Haunted House, I had to do it.  After all, Japanese ghosts and monsters are very different from the frights we find in the West.  Once again, we set off on a dangerous mission of research!

First stop: the Haunted Forest.  I knew there was a person in the trees off to my left.  It must have been a woman, to judge from the creepy ululating cry.  That distracted me just enough so I didn’t see the tree until it started to fall on me.  Well, that got the adrenalin pumping.  I’m just going to come right out and admit I was so scared I could hardly make myself keep moving forward.  By the time we got to the room where all the dolls had bleeding eyes, I was ready to run for it.  In that room a guy popped out of a hidden panel.  He’s lucky Pat didn’t whack him!




Toei Kyoto Studio Park is not an amusement park in the sense we Americans understand it, i.e. a lot of carnival rides that will make you want to throw up.  Instead, it’s living history much like the Renaissance Faire.  The actors I spoke to knew their history and were more than happy to pose for photos.  I consider this adventure to be one of the high points of my visit to Kyoto.




Filed under classics, cosplay, fantasy, Fiction, Food, historical fiction, history, Horror, Japan, Kyoto, research, travel, Writing

The Shosei-en Gardens (Kyoto Day Two)

by Lillian Csernica on November 24, 2015

From Top Sight Seeing .Com

The elegant Shosei-en Garden (aka. Kikoku-tei) is located about a short distance east of the Higashi Honjanji temple to which it belongs.

The Garden is originally said to be built on the Heian era site of the Rokujo Kawara-in mansion of Prince Minamoto no Toru, the son of Emperor Saga, in the late 9th century. Later, in 1641, the shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu presented a large parcel of land, which included the garden site, to the Higashi Honganji. In 1643, Sennyo Shonin, the 13th hereditary heir to the Honganji tradition on the Higashi side, commissioned Ishikawa Jozan to create a garden. This marked the beginning of the Shosei-en Garden.

In 1858 and 1864, fires swept the grounds, reducing its structures to ashes. But in 1865 and continuing on into the early years of the Meiji period (1868-1912), the buildings as well as the pond and the magnificent stone wall, were restored to their original condition, as we see them today.

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A lovely family having photos taken in the Gardens.

Pat and I crossed the street to visit the Gardens.  There’s a 500 yen admission fee that includes a guide full of wonderful photos and information.  Unfortunately for us, it’s only in Japanese.  Still, it had a map so we did figure out what we were looking at in terms of bridges, tea houses, and the main natural features such as the pond.

In the pond we discovered black koi.  A few of them were cruising past the cement curb that borders the pond.  So of course I pulled out my bag of “temple cookies” as I took to calling them.  I still don’t know what those cookies are made of, but oh man, did those koi go nuts!  I asked Pat later and she told me there must have been at least fifty black koi churning up the water pushing each other out of the way to get bits of cookie.

Once again I managed to draw a crowd.  There I stood, talking to the koi in a mixture of English and Japanese, tossing pieces of cookie to different areas of the mob.  One teenage girl and her mother came close enough that I thought it appropriate to offer her a cookie.  With much laughter she broke it up into pieces and tossed it to the happy koi.

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Below you see the smaller of the two bridges in the park.  I’m proud to say I took this photo myself.  It does not come from a professional stock photo site.  (The ducks showed no interest in the cookies, which was probably all for the best.)

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The afternoon was moving on toward twilight, so the sunlight came in at my favorite glorious end-of-the-movie angle.  The small bridge looked so different as the quality of the light changed.

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Shinsetsu-kyo, other side.

Now for the big bridge.  This one took some effort to get to.  I had to cross a small stone bridge, then ascend an uneven stairway made of big blocks of stone.  The wooden steps leading up to the bridge were each a bit of a stretch as well.  I had to wonder how the Palace and temple officials could possibly move around in the Gardens, given how much yardage Heian Era kimono included.  Just keeping their sleeves off the ground would have been a bit of a chore!

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There I am on Kaito-ro, a larger bridge with stone steps and beautiful woodwork.  It looks like part of a temple.

It was here in Shosei-en Gardens that I met an anomaly.  Pat and I came in just behind a group of Japanese men and women who were dressed in business attire.  I got the feeling some of the local folks were showing the sights to people not from Kyoto.  At one point the path narrowed.  The senior gentleman of the group turned and motioned Pat and me to go ahead.  I don’t know if it was due to Pat’s cane, or something simpler such as the group taking their time to admire aspects of the Gardens we non-Japanese probably didn’t notice.  The point is, in Japan the men go first.  I’m sure in these times of international travel and cultural exchange, the gentleman who in effect “held the door” for us was just being polite.  Even so, I appreciated his consideration and thanked him with extra-polite Japanese.  He had a really wonderful smile.


An empty home altar ready to be equipped.

On the walk back to our hotel we passed all the stores selling all the items a righteous Buddhist might need.  I’ve mentioned the stunning variety of prayer beads available.  What really blew my mind were the butsudan, or home altars.  Large or small, plain or ornate, they were really impressive.


A butsudan complete with a figure of Amida and offerings.

And now, for an entirely different type of educational experience.  When we got back to the street with our hotel on it, we stopped in at one of the small restaurants nearby.  Things went along in the usual sequence with getting the menus, figuring out what combinations to try, and placing our orders with the server.  Pat and I never seem to maintain a reasonable level of “normal” for more than about fifteen minutes.  Sure enough, that night it was Pat’s turn to find an all-new way to stir things up.

On our table among the salt, pepper, hot oil, and other unidentifiable condiments, there sat an oval object flat on one side and with a pearly dome on top.  It had four little legs on it, and a hatch where the battery fit inside.  The battery told me this thing did something, but we could not figure out its actual purpose.


This I now know is a “call button.”

And then, as I handed it back to Pat, I must have gripped it harder than I meant to.  This sudden “ting!” came out of nowhere.  Honestly, I had no idea where the sound originated.  In Japan you are surrounded by electronica, so the sound could have come from somebody’s phone or tablet or the overhead music system.

No sooner had the “ting!” sounded than our server appeared at our table.  I swear I never saw her coming, and I sat facing the kitchen.  Now we understood.  One used the device instead of shouting “Sumimasen!” when one wanted the server’s attention.  I tried to apologize.  When that didn’t work, because the server expected us to ask for something, I grabbed the first thought that occurred to me: “Mizu, onegaishimasu.”  In English, that’s “Water, please.”  This caused me some further embarrassment, because not five feet away from me sat a table with a water pitcher and cups so guests could serve themselves.  Whoops.

Next time: Toei Kyoto Studio Park, where I met the Shinsengumi!


Filed under Food, Goals, history, Humor, Japan, Kyoto, nature, research, travel, Writing

Dear Mr. East (Kyoto Day Two)

by Lillian Csernica on November 22, 2015



Higashi Hongaji, the Eastern Temple of the Primal Vow, and its gardens across the street from the temple complex kept Pat and me enthralled during our second day in the magnificent city that is Kyoto.  There is also Nishi Hongaji, the Western Temple of the Primal Vow.  The two temples have been awarded affectionate nicknames by the local Japanese.  For Higashi Hongaji, that is “Ohigashisan,” or Dear Mr. East.


We walked down one of the main streets to reach the temple complex.  Both our hotel and the temple were in central Kyoto, but that still meant we walked at least six to eight blocks to get there.  (We had not yet considered, much less mastered, the subway options.)  Major construction work on one of the buildings made a massive amount of noise.  That has to be hard on people who come to the temple to pray and meditate.

Photos really don’t do justice to the main temple.  The pillars are so big my arms could reach only halfway around them.




Down in the basement of the temple was a large amphitheater .  Pat and I watched an audiovisual presentation on a big screen about the history of the temple and its modern day events.  My Japanese is nowhere near good enough for me to follow the commentary, so I now have a lot more questions about the specifics of worship in Shin Buddhism.  I did learn a lot.  For example, I had no idea Buddhist services include choirs.  There were dozens of people chanting “Namu Amida Butsu” (Adoration for Amida Buddha).

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The Visitors Center. We couldn’t tell if the sign was an official pointer or just a polite suggestion.

The Visitor Center reminded me of the Department of Motor Vehicles here in the U.S. because there were four numbered “windows.”  I have no idea what the sign over each window said, but it’s safe to assume each window dealt with a particular purpose one might have for coming to the temple.

It was here that I attempted to do some serious research.  For one of my Kyoto-related writing projects, I need to know how a monk would address the Abbot of Kiyomizudera.  After a good fifteen minutes of trying to convey this question to a very nice young man named Toshiko who wore one of those black scholar’s robes like the men at Bukko-ji, I was struck by the realization that I was asking the wrong person the wrong question.  At Higashi Hongaji, there aren’t any monks.  Therefore there is no abbot.  My question was meaningless in the context of this particular sect of Buddhism.


Lesson to the gaijin: I watch too many movies.  I thought the monks of Zen Buddhism were what all Buddhist monks must be like, and I thought every temple must have monks.  Wrong!

Out of gratitude for Toshiko doing his best to help me figure out the answer, which he did, I gave him one of the “souvenirs of California” I brought with me.  It was a small pewter turtle with “patience” stamped on its belly.  (In Japanese, patience is “nintai.”  The poor fellow certainly had a lot of it!)  Toshiko asked me to wait a moment, then he dashed off.  He came rushing back to give me a bookmark.  On it was a photo of Higashi Hongaji, along with a magnifier for easier reading.  This is another excellent example of how wonderful the Japanese really are.  Gift-giving is a very important part of Japanese culture, with all its own protocols and nuances.


In the gift shop we found lots of incense, an amazing variety of prayer beads, and those colored stoles.  I was on the look-out for shrine tokens, the ones for long life, good fortune, etc.  Higashi Hongaji has temple charms, but they’re the kind meant to dangle from one’s cell phone.  That’s OK.  They’re quite pretty and I did buy one.

The gift shop includes an area with padded benches and vending machines.  Pat and I took a rest break there.  The ladies who worked in the shop were quite helpful, answering questions about the temple and even asking us about our trip.

We left the temple complex via a walkway across the narrow moat.  As I crossed the walkway, I looked down to see a koi as long as my hand and forearm put together!  That meant it had to be at least a hundred years old.  The koi was a solid shade of deep gold.  What’s more, three black koi swam with it.  My fairy tale-packed imagination promptly thought of them as a prince and his three ninja bodyguards.


I rushed back into the gift shop and bought a bag of cookies.  I don’t know what made those cookies special, but there they were.  When I came back to the walkway the koi were still there, looking up at us humans with that air of placid expectation.  I took out a cookie and broke off a small piece, then tossed it to the golden koi, who promptly ate it.  The black koi got their share as well.


I became aware of a Japanese lady standing next to me.  She was all excited about the koi, practically bouncing up and down.  I know a kindred spirit when I meet one, so I broke off another piece of cookie and offered it to her with a polite, “Dozo.”  That made her really happy.  I didn’t understand why until she looked down at the golden koi and began to speak.  I do not know what she said, but the formal way she called out and then tossed the bit of cookie to the koi made it seem like an important ritual.  The black koi backed off and the golden koi ate the cookie.  This made the Japanese lady even happier.  Something about the koi accepting her offering meant a lot to her.  With a big smile, the lady put her hands together in a wai and bowed to me.  I gave her a big smile in return.  I don’t know exactly what happened there, but I am positive it was something good.

Next up: More adventures on Day Two as we visit the Shosei-en Gardens!




Filed under bad movies, charity, fairy tales, Fiction, Food, history, Humor, Japan, Kyoto, legend, nature, research, travel, Writing

And now…. Kyoto!

by Lillian Csernica on November 19, 2015

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Kiyomizudera, the Pure Water Temple

Yes indeed, between hospital stays I managed to run off to Kyoto, Japan for a week.  Two of those days were spent in transit, but I did manage to do quite a bit in the five days I had to explore one of the most amazing cities on our planet.  What made it even better was doing the exploring with my best friend, Patricia H. MacEwen.

It took one car, three planes, a bus, and a taxi to get us from my house to our hotel in Kyoto.  I have many stories to tell about what happened to us in transit, both on the way to Kyoto and especially on the way home.  I’m going to save those for a later post.

Day One: As we roamed the streets of Kyoto, in search of the nearest Citibank branch and the local post office, we were lucky enough to come across a few of the local Shinto shrines.  Most of them were in honor of O-Jizo-sama, the god of children.


The first such shrine we found was on one of the major streets, tucked into a niche next to a big bank building.  Most of the time we came across the shrines in what to us were side streets or back alleys.

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A shrine to Inari, god of rice, which equals wealth.

It was quite impressive to see this shrine,  complete with hand-washing station and the bell to ring.  The shrine was spotless, well cared for, and clearly maintained with great respect and affection.

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A map of the original Bukkoji temple complex

Pat discovered Bukko-ji Temple.  This is one of the lesser known temples in Kyoto.  The government is working to generate more interest in it, and I hope the project is successful.  The temple complex is smaller than some, but even so it possesses that unearthly peace you find only in sacred places.

I have come to learn that my idea of Buddhist monks is based largely on Zen monks.  There are at least five different Buddhist sects alive and well in Kyoto.  Not all of them have monks in the sense that I recognize.  This got more than a little confusing because some Buddhist men who work at the temples will wear a garment that looks like a black scholar’s gown.  They also wear stoles which come in different colors.  I asked about those, and if I understood the explanation correctly, the stoles indicate one’s home temple.  (When we visited Higashi Honganji, there was an older gentleman in a three piece suit wearing a pale green stole of fine workmanship.  The stole is what one wears when one visits a temple, much like as an Orthodox woman I cover my head and I do not wear pants when I go to church.)

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This is where you purify your hands before entering the temple. The dragon is a rather intimidating presence!

Pat figured that we must have hiked a good three miles that first day.  What an adventure!  Yes, we did find Citibank. Neither of us had a Japanese bank account, so there wasn’t much they could do for us there.  That’s why we went looking for the post office.  As we knew from our adventures in Yokohama during Nippon 2007, the ATMs which will accept foreign debit cards are found in the post office.  Unfortunately, by the time we found the local post office, we were thwarted in our efforts.

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Yes, this is sideways.  I find it rather fitting because our plans had gone sideways.  See that little door on the left?  In that tiny alcove we found the ATM.  In a strange example of serendipity, when we went back the next day during business hours, the person in there using the ATM was an actual monk.  Monks need cash too, but the sight still caused me a moment’s cognitive dissonance.

We’d been doing pretty well reading the map and navigating in the right directions, but as the afternoon wore on and our joints started to complain, we found ourselves getting a bit turned around.  My Japanese is good enough to ask for help and figure out what I’m told in reply, so we made some progress.  Somebody Up There took pity on us and sent us an angel in the form of a young lady named Manami.  She appeared at my elbow and asked if we needed help, and once we explained where we were trying to go, she led both me and Pat down the street for at least two blocks and pointed us in the right direction.  I tell you, the Japanese are more than just polite.  They’re really nice, really kind people.

On the corner just down the street from our hotel was a McDonald’s.  Call me a Philistine if you like, but after doing so much exploring on foot and absorbing so much really amazing culture, I needed the simplicity of a cheeseburger, fries, and a Coke.  At this McDonald’s you ordered downstairs, took your drink and a number, then went up a flight of stairs to the seating area on the second floor.  I’ve seen this design when I was at a McDonald’s in Amsterdam.


Pat and I settled in to enjoy our comfort food while we watched our temporary neighborhood shift from its busy day to the more carefree tone of a Friday night.


Our home away from home in Kyoto.  I highly recommend Citadines.

Here’s our room:



With a 7-11 right across the street and a subway station entrance practically outside the hotel’s front door, we had one of the easiest, most convenient vacation locations I’ve ever enjoyed.

Next up: The marvels of Higashi Hongaji!




Filed under Food, frustration, Goals, history, Humor, Japan, Kyoto, memoirs, nature, research, romance, travel, Writing

The 777 Challenge

by Lillian Csernica on November 17, 2015


Michael and I are home again.  Michael is in good shape.  Our stay lasted only 10 days this time.  Now I really really never want to see that hospital again.  Lovely people there, but I don’t want Michael to need their services again.  Given that his Baclofen pump was removed and he seems to be better off without it, I do not anticipate him ever returning.

I am badly in need of some fun, so I’m going to swipe an idea from my dear fellow blogger @jazzfeathers over at This Old Shelter:

The 777 challenge requires you go to Page 7 of your work-in-progress, scroll down to Line 7 and share the next 7 sentences in a blog post. Once you have done this, you can tag 7 other bloggers to do the same with their work-in-progress.


These lines come from Garden of Lies, my current work-in-progress which is almost complete.  It’s the second novel in The Flower Maiden Saga.  The first novel is in the hands of my agent.

These were the lesser virtues that supported the four great virtues of Confucian ethics. Tendo repeated these thoughts to himself over and over again while he endured the same boredom and inactivity he’d suffered in the counting house where he’d worked before his exile. He was a man now, a husband and a diplomat. He could not afford the reckless energy of his younger days. It had to be mastered just like a wild horse, its strength harnessed, its temper bridled.

No, Tendo did not consider himself a violent man. However, if Hinomura continued to keep him working so hard he could only dash home for a bath and fresh clothing, Tendo might very well kill something.

Poor Tendo.  A warrior chained to a desk is not a happy man.  On the way home from work that night, he gets attacked by three assassins, so I give him an opportunity for some stress relief samurai-style.


Now for the 7 writers I must tag in order to share the fun!

Pat MacEwen @ Fae Forensics

Setsu Uzume @ Katana Pen

Juliette Wade @ TalkToYoUniverse


T.E. MacArthur @ The Volcano Lady’s Blog

Melanie Spiller @ Coloratura Consulting

M. Todd Gallowglass









Filed under Uncategorized

Routine Chaos

by Lillian Csernica on November 5, 2015

Michael and I are back in the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland.  On Monday Michael’s R.N. noticed some swelling around his Baclofen pump.  By evening a redness had developed.  I called the surgeon, who told us to come to his Oakland office by 8 a.m. the following morning.  We did, and Dr. Sun made space in his surgery schedule for Michael.  That was a very good thing, because by then the pump area had gone all hot, red, and shiny.  That meant infection.

Both the Baclofen pump and the catheter leading to Michael’s spinal column have been removed.  The infection is being treated with antibiotics.  Another problem is figuring out just how much Baclofen Michael must now receive via his G tube.  That means Michael has to deal with at least some degree of Baclofen withdrawal, which is very unpleasant.

So Michael is back in the PICU.  On the plus side, many of the R.N.s are familiar with him thanks to our spending most of the summer here.  The social workers got me a room in the Family House right away, so I have somewhere comfortable to eat, sleep, and shower.  I’m just happy we got Michael to the doctor in time.  The last thing Michael needs is to become septic.  That led to organ failure last time, so we cannot risk having that happen again.

Keep us in your prayers, folks.  It’s just one day at a time until we’re out of here.


Filed under Baclofen pump, doctors, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, PICU