Mature Life Features

Cecil Scaglione, Editor

Archive for the ‘Asia/Pacific’ Category

Kyoto Echos Samurai Swordplay

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   Samurai and ninja

11Kyoto04A

Story and photo by

Sandy Katz

Mature Life Features

KYOTO, Japan — However difficult it is to envision today, legendary samurai warriors once waged bloody battles on the streets of this former Japanese capital. In the museum of Kyoto, you can see painted scrolls depicting courageous sword fights and bands of costumed  crusaders proudly parading through the city’s Sanjo-dori district displaying, for all to
heed, the freshly severed heads of traitors.

The history of this nation’s seventh-largest city stretches back more than a thousand years as a renaissance city, spiritual center and battlefield. Most of the temples and landmarks have survived unscathed to present visitors a rare insight into Japanese  culture.

The Hollywood film, The Last Samurai starring Tom Cruise, was  filmed here. It focuses attention on this near-mythical hero whose prime duty was to give faithful service to his feudal lord. The origin of the term samurai is closely linked to a word meaning “to serve” and the samurai a code of conduct drawn from Confucianism, Shintoism and Buddhism came to be known as the way of the warrior.

Confucianism requires the samurai “to show absolute loyalty to the lord, (and) toward oppressed to show benevolence and exercise justice.” From Buddhism, the samurai learned the lesson that life is impermanent, enabling him to face death with serenity. Shintoism provided him with patriotic belief in the divine status of both the emperor and Japan, the abode of the gods.

A true samurai had endless endurance, exhibited total self-control, spoke only the truth, and displayed no emotion. Since his honor was his life, disgrace and shame were to be avoided above all else, and all insults were to be avenged. Ritual suicide was an accepted means of avoiding dishonor. One reason for this was the requirement that a samurai should never surrender but always go down fighting. Thus, as depicted in The Last Samurai, if wounded and having lost the battle, the only way to retain his honor is by sacrificing himself.

Whether at war or during peacetime, a samurai would try to find peace within himself through meditation, seeking out tranquility in his private garden or his tea house or in other serenity-producing pastimes.

The tea ceremony, with its strict rules for preparing and serving the beverage to a guest, was one such pastime. The task required great calm and concentration.The ritual’s elements of respect, purity, and tranquility were clearly apparent as our tea master prepared the hot water and then ceremonially made the beverage from green, finely powdered tea
served in small ceramic bowls. One sweet treat accompanied the tea.

Sipping is done in a prescribed manner. One turns the bowl just so while making little bows of thanks.

At Kyoto Studio Park Toe Movie Land, we met our samurai. Lee Murayama, an actor in the Last Samurai, dressed in the costume he wears in Japanese films and television shows. This studio is the only theme park in Japan where visitors can observe the filming of period dramas.

Chief among the activities visitors to Kyoto pursue is exploring the grounds of some of the city’s 1,600 temples and 400 shrines. One of the most interesting of the former was Chion-In Temple. Our priest guide, whose children live in the United States, pointed out that the shrine’s attractions tend toward the oversize. Its Sanmon Gate is the biggest in Japan, the huge Hoki hall can seat 3,000, and the bronze bell requires the muscle power of 17 monks to ring it.

Spring in Kyoto is celebrated with a dramatic ceremony called Setsubun. At Kitano-Tenmangu Shrine, men in demon masks run about the stage as cast members throw soybeans at them and shout, “Demons out, good luck in!,” symbolizing Japanese people chasing demons from their homes. Following the show, the cast hurls peanuts into the audience for people to toss them out from their own homes and giggling children scamper about gathering up the peanuts.

Our last night was spent in the Tawaraya of Kyoto, a 19-room ryokan (traditional Japanese country inn) that’s a Japanese wonderland of winding passageways, magical sliding doors, and private gardens.  It’s steps away from the bustling city streets and close to the Nishiki open-air market district. For nearly 300 years its guests have slept on futon bedding on floor mats and been served by smiling maidservants in neat kimonos. A samurai would have liked it — a place of serenity within urban chaos.

Mature Life Features, Copyright 2004

Written by Cecil Scaglione

April 8, 2013 at 12:05 am

Timeless Melbourne Keeps Up With the Times

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By Tom Morrow

Mature Life Features

MELBOURNE —- A visit to Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, is more than just a jaunt 600 miles south from its big brother, Sydney. It’s a leap back to the mid-20th-century of electric-powered trolley cars and a Victorian England ambience emanating from government buildings and churches that trumpet the town’s history from amidst its gleaming new high-rise complexes.

An age-old tradition in Melbourne is meeting with friends at the copper-domed Flinders Street Station for a day of shopping and dining. This Victorian/Edwardian-designed structure built in 1910 is the most popular gathering place in this city of 4 million. All of the city’s suburban and cross-country trains flow into this terminal overlooking the Yarra River that runs north-south through the city. The Victoria state government launched a $1 million international design competition that closes Aug. 1, 2012, to refresh and rejuvenate this iconic hub.

Melbourne is the capital of the state of Victoria and is to Sydney what San Francisco is to Los Angeles. Like the City by the Bay, it offers just about any type of cuisine to satisfy both gourmet and gourmand. You’ll seldom meet a stranger here. Nearly everyone is eager to visit with visitors and ask if they’re enjoying the city and country. Melbourne offers everything you can buy in Sydney at lower prices. A new downtown showpiece is the sprawling riverside Crown Entertainment Complex, which includes a large casino, luxury hotel, restaurants, and shopping center with such luxury labels as Gucci, Prada, and Versace.

While half of the Australian population of 20 million live in the Sydney and Melbourne metropolitan areas, there is an abundance of wild life and open spaces. The best place to see most of the fauna native to this continent is the Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary 35 miles northeast of Melbourne. You can drive there, but beware of a traffic twist besides having to adjust to the left side of the road. There are toll roads in the freeway system but no toll booths. Maneuvering your way through this system even gives residents rashes so check online and with your rental-car agency to see about prepaid passes and other methods of payment.

Much of Australia is still what early America was like several decades ago — rugged with non-paved roads. Guide books caution about passing Outback “road trains.” These are huge trucks pulling three and four trailers. That’s how remote regions of the nation get their supplies.

It might take a while to learn about their games, which are mainly Old World — cricket, soccer and rugby. They also play and watch basketball, baseball, and football — they call it “gridiron” — but the national passion each fall and winter is Australian Rules Football. It’s a cross between rugby and soccer with just enough gridiron tossed in to create an exciting contact sport the locals call “Footy.”

Mature Life Features, Copyright 2003

Written by Cecil Scaglione

July 14, 2012 at 12:05 am

Big Island Memorializes Liberated Queen

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By Igor Lobanov

Mature Life Features

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hale o Keawe temple at Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Park on the BigIsland once was the home of the Hawaiian aristocracy.

— Big Island Visitors Bureau photo

HAWAI’I —- It wasn’t your average royal-family spat. It required a renowned English mariner to navigate the emotional shoals to resolve it.

  Queen Kaahumanu, a liberated woman for day, was adored by her people and was the first King Kamehameha’s favorite among his 21 wives. But her independent ways were a source of conflict with the warrior monarch.

One day, she ran away. She eluded her pursuers and, accompanied by her dog,  swam four miles across Kealakekua Bay to what is now Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park. Hawaiian custom prescribed that those who violated kapu (the ancient code of law) and made it to this lava-tipped intrusion into the sea some 20 miles south of Kailua-Kona were safe from harm. Priests provided ritualistic purification, allowing the law-breaker to return home.

Still fearful, Kaahumanu hid behind a large stone that still stands along the short nature trial and was discovered when her dog barked, but she refused to leave her hiding place.

The king opted for diplomacy in the person of Capt. George Vancouver, the British explorer who happened to be visiting. Persuasion carried the day. The queen emerged and was reunited with her husband.
The year was 1792, and King Kamehameha (The Great) was  warring with powerful chieftains throughout the Hawaiian chain. In the next decade, he would unite the islands into a kingdom that would launch Polynesian Hawaii’s golden age and endure till the dawn of the 20th century.

His reign initiated a family dynasty spanning 80 years with five successive Kamehameha sovereigns. Those who followed included the popular Merrie Monarch, King David Kalakau, whose devotion to preserving nature, music, and dance ranged from sponsoring free nightly theatrical performances in front of his palace in Honolulu to reviving the revered hula, the story-telling dance condemned by straight-laced missionaries.
King Kamehameha I restored the  Ahu’ena Heiau, an ancient temple to the god of prosperity, Lono. It remains on the grounds of the King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel in Kailua-Kona. Visitors can view the carved idols along its outer walls but the interior, still considered sacred, is open only to Hawaiians. The colorful early-June parade through town commemorating Kamehameha’s birthday ends here.
Other remnants of ancient Hawaii include the ancient fish ponds and petroglyphs on the grounds of the Mauna Lani Resort to the north in the Kohala district.
To fully grasp the Big Island’s startling range of natural beauty, consider a self-drive tour of at least two or three days for the 200-plus-mile circuit. From the Kona International Airport, it’s a 10-minute drive to the tourist center of Kailua-Kona, with its historic buildings and white-sand beaches. Continuing south, you pass through small settlements and  the stark lava landscape at the bottom of the island.

The route rises to north almost imperceptibly to 4,000 feet above sea level and the entrance to the island’s premier attraction: Volcanoes National Park. Give yourself several hours to view the home of Pele, goddess of fire, and the ongoing interaction between molten lava the island’s vegetation, wildlife, and human habitation.
Then it’s downhill to the rainy windward side and Hilo, the island’s administrative center. Better known as a “natural greenhouse,” Hilo’s verdancy marks the gateway to the Hamakua Coast, a north-shore region with towering waterfalls, lush rainforests, and gentle communities whose lifestyle differs sharply from the resort-oriented sunny west coast. Waipio Valley, a bit of Eden extending inland, is home to a few farms. It’s accessible only by locally available four-wheel vehicles or on horseback.

As you roll around the northern end of the Kohala Coast, you run into a string of fine accommodations. First in line is Laurence Rockefeller’s legendary Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. Perhaps you’ll arrive in time for dinner on the terrace at dusk, and be as lucky as we were to see a crescent moon hanging over the evening star. Later, we strolled to a nearby rocky point to watch manta rays surface seeking dinner among fish drawn to the illuminated waters.

Mature Life Features, Copyright 2003

Written by Cecil Scaglione

September 22, 2011 at 12:05 am