A travel agency in Japan offers “solo wedding trips,” with all the romance and none of the man

Bride

 

A travel agency in Japan offers “solo wedding trips,” with all the romance and none of the man.

Mashable: If he liked it then he should’ve put a ring on it — but since he didn’t, there’s no reason you can’t.Or at least, that’s one Japanese travel agency’s message to women.

Cerca Travel, an agency which also offers Kyoto, Japan, food and art tours among other things, launched a “solo wedding trip” earlier this year. For prices starting at £1,706 ($2,645) “per bride,” according to the Kyoto Convention Bureau.

“Are you starting 2015 single and dreaming of your big day, but lacking the all-important ring or groom to get you there? Or is it the case that you simply dream of being dressed in a stunning traditional Japanese kimono but have never had the chance? … Cerca Travel is offering wannabe brides the chance to create the picture perfect Japanese wedding without the need to officially tie the knot.”

Cerca Travel President Yukiko Inoue said she created the package “to encourage women to have positive feelings about themselves.”

It’s a two-day package in Kyoto. The first day involves a dress consultation, and the selection of either a traditional Japanese gown or a white wedding dress.

The second day includes a hair and makeup session, with a photographer capturing the preparation as well as taking glamour shots in the Japanese garden of Shugakuin Kirara Sanso. There’s also an option to hire a Japanese groom for the photos, or a partner to have dinner with the first night. There’s no actual wedding ceremony, just the garb and the photos.

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“Solo wedding trips” in Japan give single women the wedding experience without the marriage.
 

This package boosted my sense of self-esteem,” said Tomoe Sawano, who took a solo wedding trip. “The effect was equal to a more extraordinary experience, such as visiting a World Heritage castle.”

About 30 women have booked the trip since it started in May of this year, according to Kyodo News.

That’s a small sample size, but it says something about who is interested in the trip: About half of the women were currently married, but had not had a wedding. Or, they had one, but were unsatisfied with it.

More Japanese people are living alone now, for various reasons including an aging population, urbanization, waiting to marry and increasing divorce rates, according to the Japan Times. And Japan’s government is concerned about the country’s low marriage rate, which it hopes to address because of a declining population.

All of these things don’t necessary point to a desire to have a wedding without a mate, though.

Instead, the solo wedding package feels like it falls somewhere between a self-care trip and a self-marriage — the former being more common than the latter.

Beautiful 400-year-old garden in Okayama, Japan about to be replaced with condominium complex

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RocketNews 24:

 

Japan loves to devise top three lists, and Okayama City’s Korakuen is held to be one of the country’s three best gardens. Anyone who’s visited will tell you that it’s indeed beautiful, but Korakuen isn’t the city’s only garden, or even its oldest.

Okayama is also where you’ll find Tokoen,a garden with a history that stretches back to the early days of Japan’s feudal Edo era. Tranquil and easily accessed by public transportation, Tokoen would make an ideal spot for history buffs and nature lovers looking for a less crowded, quieter urban oasis than Korakuen.

Sadly, though, after roughly four centuries, Tokoen has closed down, and is soon likely to be demolished and replaced with a condominium complex.

Although the exact year Tokoen was completed is unclear, historians do know that it was initially the private retreat of Ikeda Tadakatsu, the lord whose domain included present-day Okayama City.

 

▼ Ikeda Tadakatsu

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Ikeda’s short life lasted from 1602 to 1632, making Tokoen one of the oldest gardens in Okayama Prefecture, and also several decades older than Korakuen, which was built in 1700.

The garden’s layout is thought to be the work of noted landscaper Kobori Enshu, who designed Tokoen in the kaiyu style, in which visitors are led on a course that winds around the grounds and past a spring-fed pond and tea house. As with many Japanese gardens, it was created with sight lines that ”borrow” aspects from the surrounding scenery, which in Tokoen’s case means affording visitors views of nearby Mt. Misaoyama.

 

▼ Tokoen, bursting with greenery…

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▼ …tinged with autumn crimson…

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▼ …and blanketed in snow.

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After the death of Ikeda, ownership of the garden was transferred to the Niwa samurai family, and Tokoen has remained in private hands since. Although Okayama was bombed in the closing days of World War II, the garden escaped damage, and several of its features, such as the pond and seven-layer granite tower (which itself was constructed during the Kamakura period which lasted from the 12th to 14th centuries), have been left as they were when Tokoen was first opened centuries ago.

 

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Despite remaining in private ownership, for many years the roughly 700-square meter (39,826-square foot) garden was open to the public for a modest 400 yen (US $3.95) admission fee.

Tragedy struck, though, in 2012, when the then-owner of Tokoen passed away. The heirs to the property said they were no longer able to continue operating the garden in its previous capacity, and in May of 2013, entrance to Tokoen became limited to those making advance reservations.

Apparently even this austerity measure was not enough, and on December 3 of the same year, Tokoen closed its gates for good.

 

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Tokoen was never registered as an official cultural property, and as such does not seem to be eligible for any sort of special protection from the local government. With its former owners incapable of serving as caretakers, the land has been sold off to property developers. According to an article published by the local Sanyo Shimbun newspaper, a multi-floor condominium complex will be built on the site.

 

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A quick look at the cramped dimensions of the average Japanese home is enough to make almost anyone long for more modern, spacious, and comfortable housing. Still, the loss of what should have been considered a cultural treasure is a high price to pay for such amenities, especially when it seems like more could have been done to prevent the garden’s loss.

 

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Tokoen is not located in a remote, outlying corner of Okayama City. The city streetcar’s Kadotayashiki Teiryujo stop is right in front of the garden, sitting just 2.7 kilometers (1.7 miles) from Okayama Station and the city center. Nonetheless, little if anything was done to promote Tokoen as a destination for travelers. Most tourism literature makes no mention of it, and even Okayama City’s official website seems to have given no more than a single page to Tokoen, lacking even such basic information as directions for visitors.

We were alerted to this sad tale by a resident of the neighborhood where Tokoen is located. Our source informed us that towards the end of its days, the garden was indeed struggling to draw visitors, who primarily consisted of elderly couples and small groups of amateur photographers and artists.

 

▼ Demolition of Tokoen’s teahouse is already underway, as can be seen in these photos.

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With buildable land always scarce, it’s an unfortunate fact of life in Japan that in order to put up something new, something old often has to be swept away. The area surrounding Tokoen isn’t immune to such changes, as our source reports. “A little over a year ago we got a new grocery store and the nearby school is expanding. Parking lots are being turned into houses and houses are renovating.”

Still, the sale of Tokoen came as a complete surprise. “A few old homes may have been torn down, but nothing like this.” What makes the situation particularly frustrating is the lack of an earnest attempt to engage the community in finding a way to save the garden. “Had they come forward…people could have helped,” the resident laments. “There have been no signs posted or anything, and the city has said nothing.”

▼ This series of photographs shows the continuing dismantling of structures and removal of trees inside Tokoen.

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With the sale completed, it’s likely too late for historical conservationists to do anything to halt the construction project now. An outpouring of support could, possibly, encourage developers to preserve at least a portion of the garden, or at the very least plant the seed of such an idea in the heads of those in charge of future projects.

If nothing more, hopefully all this will serve as a reminder of the dangers of taking things for granted. Almost every town in Japan has its own Tokoen, someplace that’s been part of the local cultural heritage for so long it’s slowly becoming forgotten, even as its need for support grows more and more critical. So whether you’re a resident or a visitor to Japan, next time you’re at what seems like just another shrine, temple, or garden, consider putting a few yen into the collection box or the hand of a local vendor. Otherwise, you just might find a condo there the next time you stop by.

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Japan’s Top 3 Rock “Power Spots”

Meotoiwa rocks

RocketNews 24:

 

The Japanese have long had a fascination with rocks. In fact, rock worship is an integral part of Shinto, Japan’s original religion. Iwakura (sacred rocks) can be found all over Japan. Rocks can be found in any Japanese garden, whether as stepping stones or objects of admiration themselves in dry landscape gardens or Zen rock gardens. One thing is for sure: Rocks are an integral part of the Japanese psyche.

So it’s no wonder that sacred rocks are popular among the Japanese as power spots. By harnessing the energy of these rocks, the Japanese are rediscovering their roots and the power of nature. But before we tell you about the three top rock power spots in Japan, we investigate how these monoliths and boulders gained their rock star status. Our rockin’ reporter uncovers the history and folklore of iwakura in Japan and gives suggestions on how to access the power of these rocks!

Rocks have always had a place in the everyday lives of the Japanese. Look around anywhere in Japan and you’ll see:

Stone steps leading up to shrines,

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stone lanterns,

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and stone deities,

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many of which are hundreds of years old.

 

The Seto Inland Sea area is known for its rock, both natural and mined. Where I live, on Shiraishi Island, the name shiraishi means “white rock,” and refers to its huge granite reserves, some of which manifests itself  in some pretty frightening ways:

 

▼Below this rock is, believe it or not, a road.

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As a result of the ubiquitous outcroppings, and perhaps as a way to tame it, rock mining has been a part of the fabric of this small Seto Inland Sea community for over 100 years.

You can find many relics of Japan’s past here:

 

▼A grinding stone for grinding buckwheat to make soba noodles.

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▼Every house on the island still has a mochi-pounding rice vessel, called an usu, for hammering out rice cakes

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People continue to use many rock implements even today.

 

▼These rocks were used as weights for fishing nets

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▼They’re still used to hold things down.

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▼That old grinding wheel is used these days to coax bonsai to grow in favored directions.

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And mined rock is still used for more modern applications. Polished rock surfaces, for example, make great maintenance-free signs–as long as you never want to move them.

 

▼This one says Seto Inland Sea National Park, Shiraishi Island Beach

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 ▼They also make great tablets for displaying tanka poems

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Monoliths fit the Japanese vertical writing system perfectly.

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Large rocks make impressive weather-proof information boards for national heritage sites. This one explains the Shiraishi Bon Dance, a national intangible cultural property.

 

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But why stop there?

 

▼Granite picnic tables have been installed along the hiking course on the island

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This is what happens when you live among stone masons!

 

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While wood has traditionally been used for Japanese housing, stone has been the material of choice for more permanent structures such as ports and some modern shrines.

 

▼Kompira Shrine for fishermen

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The original Shiraishi Port was constructed with rock in the Edo Period (1603 -1868) and is over 400 years old. But this newer pier was built in the Meiji Era (1868 – 1912).

 

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▼The stone still looks new

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▼The fishermen tied up their boats to the pier and climbed up these stone stairs.

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▼They even used rock bollards to tie their boats up to.

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Rock has always been important in the lives of the communities living in the Seto Inland Sea. Before they started mining the natural resource, they used it for worship. Such evidence can be found everywhere on the island.

 

▼In the lower left area of this rock is an 800-year-old magaibutsu stone carving of the deity Fudo-myo-o which is believed to protect the port.

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▼ The okuno-in of Kairyuji Temple is located under a huge overhanging rock.

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If you don’t know how to get to the temple, no problem. Ancient stone markers will show you the way from the port all the way up to the temple.

 

▼A hand with an index finger pointing in the proper direction to the temple.

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Shiraishi Island is full of large boulders. And everywhere there is a rock, there is sure to be a stone deity to worship nearby…

 

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either underneath the rock…

 

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…or sometimes on top of it.

 

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No rock is left unworshipped.

 

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Most major rocks have names. Rocks that are exposed to the rays of both the rising and setting sun are said to hold a special spiritual energy. Their power can last forever, as long as the area is well preserved and clean.

 

▼This boulder is named “Bikuni”

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▼The boulder sticking up out of the top of the small island to the right is “Mei-ishi.” But it only gets the rays of the setting sun.

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Having such a close relationship with nature, it’s not surprising that the Japanese people felt rocks were sacred.

Originally, people offered prayers to the rock which acted as a vehicle of communication between the people and the kami (gods). These days, however, Shrine buildings have been erected to designate Shinto shrines. In his book, “The Essence of Shinto: Japan’s Spiritual Heart,” Motohisa Yamakage says the purpose of a shrine is “to create a pervasive sense of reverence and awe and so enable us to access the spiritual dimension.”

 

▼This shrine wouldn’t have been built here had it not been for the presence of these sacred rocks.

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And surely this well would not have been considered sacred had it not been located under a large rock:

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▼The Meotoiwa rocks, connected by a shimenawa rope, celebrate the union in marriage of man and woman. The male rock is on the left.

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Shinto priests are especially adept at telling if a kami is present in a rock. You can make a judgement yourself by touching a rock to see if you can feel its energy. You will find there are some rocks where almost everyone can feel its energy, and others where only some people can feel it. Women are said to be especially sensitive to feeling the power of rocks. Rock on ladies!

I wondered what the top rock power spots in Japan were. To find out, I interviewed Shinto expert John Dougill, who lives in Kyoto, a veritable kingdom of power spots. He writes a blog called Green Shinto and has written several books on Japan. John also traveled the length of Japan visiting sacred sites from Okinawa to Hokkaido to write his book “Japan’s World Heritage Sites.”

I asked if John would share with RocketNews24 readers what he considers the top three rock power spots in Japan. It didn’t take him long to come up with this list! 

 

1) Kamikura Shrine at Shingu, Wakayama

Kamikura Jinja is part of Kumano Hayatama Taisha Grand Shrine in Shingu (Wakayama Prefecture), a World Heritage Site. People come here to worship the Kamikura rock as a god. As you can see, this shrine is located under a large boulder onto which the kamiare believed to have descended from Heaven.

The shrine now guards and protects the town of Shingu below it. 

 

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The best way to feel the energy of this rock is to enter it.

 

▼A power spot practitioner meditates and plays a flute inside the Kamikura rock
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2) Seifa Utaki, Okinawan Nature Shrine (World Heritage Site)

 

▼The rock altar at Seifa Utaki

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▼This sacred rock opening leads into the most holy area of Seifa Utaki. Offerings are prepared here.

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▼This triangular opening leads to the place where prayers are made.

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 3) Koshikiiwa Shrine in Nishinomiya (Hyogo Prefecture)

 

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▼ This megalith is 10 meters tall with a circumference of 40 meters.

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The Koshikiiwa rock promotes pregnancy and protects childbirth, so many couples visit the rock to pray to it and feel its energy. The tradition is to walk around the rock in a clockwise direction.

So now you have all the tools you need to go out and start harnessing the power of sacred rocks. You’ll be in good company too, as the Japanese power-spot craze has taken the country by storm. 

Link

Portland’s stunning Japanese gardens…

Memolition:

Amid rainy evenings and vast expanses of trees in Portland, Oregon, lies a beautiful 5.5-acre space known as Portland’s Japanese gardens. Considered the most authentic Japanese gardens outside of Japan, these gardens attract thousands of visitors each year from all over the world. The park, which has existed for nearly 50 years, contains five different Japanese gardens: the Flat Garden, Strolling Pond Garden, the Natural Garden, the Tea Garden and the Sand and Stone Garden.

With a climate similar to central Japan, Portland presented itself as the perfect place for landscape architect Takuma Tono to design and construct an authentic Japanese garden. In 1967, the Japanese Gardens first opened to the public. Traditionally, Japanese gardens are intended to connect the viewer with nature and to provide feelings of tranquility, peace and harmony. Designers like Tono create Japanese gardens asymmetrically to accurately reflect nature’s aesthetic.

The five gardens consist of stone, water and plants, as well as a number of secondary features like pagodas, water basins and bridges. Designers envisioned that each garden would be utilized for a distinct purpose. For instance, the Tea Garden is meant to be a place for quiet reflection, so it contains picturesque pathways that represent journies. In the Sand and Stone Garden, however, the focus is on blank space, and so the landscape is open, empty and lacks much of the foliage seen in other gardens.

Check out this link:

Portland’s stunning Japanese gardens…

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