Dramatis persona*

helenhead Helen Chick

I've always wanted a bumper sticker that said "I'm a female, LDS/Mormon, Scout leading, geocaching, piano-playing, bicycling, mathematics educator with a PhD in maths ... and I VOTE"!

I think this makes me a minority group of cardinality 1!

* Since there's only one of me and "personae" is plural (I think), I've gone with dramatis persona.
January 2019
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Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion Temple) and Ryoanji

On my last morning — where, according to one sign, it was 40°C — I managed a couple of excursions before my flight homeward. My first port of call, and priority for the morning, was the Kinkaku-ji Temple (officially called Rokuon-ji), site of the famous golden temple. The highlight of the trip is actually the first vantage point on the edge of the lake, looking across to the gold-coloured pavilion on the other side. It’s a great view … you just have to dodge all the tourists getting in each other’s way trying to take photographs.

As you can see from the photos, the gardens are quite lovely, and provided some welcome shade as I wandered around the area.

I decided I had enough time and energy to visit another nearby site: the Ryoanji Temple, with its famed white pebble and rock “island” Zen garden. This was quite intriguing, but actually less spectacular than I had imagined (the site is only 25m x 10m, and rectangular, despite the misleading curves produced by doing a panorama in the first photo below).

Inside the adjacent building there were murals on the walls.

A curious feature of many of the sites I have visited is the presence of water-filled red fire-buckets, since so many of the structures are made of wood.

The rest of the gardens were beautiful, and the trees gave lovely framed views of the lake, so it was a nice way to end the trip before heading out to the airport and the long trip home.

12 of 12, July 2018

This particular conference, occurring every four years, seems to be very consistent with its dates, since I have a “12 of 12” record dating from Flagstaff, Arizona in 2014 and from Ljulbljana, Slovenia in 2010 (which, scarily, also indicates that I have been “12 of 12”-ing for over 8 years!). Today was a routine conference day, and so you get to see routine conference things … in a Japanese location.

So, to begin: Here is my hotel. Not exactly an architectural masterpiece, but perfectly functional.

The day started off with a plenary keynote address, but I’ve arrived early and so you don’t see the fact that the hall was reasonably full once things got underway.

Lunch is provided at these conferences, and most days we’ve had interesting Japanese lunches in fancy boxes. Today we got Western fusion (not totally successful!).

In the afternoon one of my friends presented a session with a colleague of hers, about young children doing statistical investigations.

My own session was the last paper at the end of the day.

If you’re lucky—and I was—you have people attend your session who are interested in what you are saying, and so you get to have a good conversation afterwards.

I needed some more breakfast cereal for the last couple of days of my visit. Fortunately I managed to figure out that one of these packages would serve as something vaguely resembling breakfast cereal. (I tend to “do my own” breakfast when travelling if it isn’t included in the accommodation cost, as it gets quite expensive eating out).

The cereal was obtained from a supermarket inside this big shopping complex.

It was summer in northern-hemisphere Japan, and it had been hot and humid in Kyoto all week.

In the evening I attended the conference dinner, which involved good company, some geisha dancing and Japanese music/songs, and not enough food (unfortunately).



Most international conferences that I attend usually include a half-day excursion and thus it was that I got to visit Osaka.

The tour gave me the impression that Osaka is really just a very large city. We had a fairly unscenic cruise on the river and about the most exciting thing about this was the fact that the boat’s roof could lower so that it could fit under bridges.


Then we made our way to Abeno Harukas, which, at 300m, is Japan’s tallest building. We got amazing views from the 60thfloor, although the summer’s humid haze gave it a degree of drabness.

The panoramas revealed the extent of the city and you could see the sea as well.

I enjoyed the aerial view of things a little closer.

And then there was the blue cloud creature. Because Japan.

The excursion finished up in a nearby restaurant district where we had a Japanese dining experience seated on the floor at low tables. There was waaaaay too much food (and it felt bad to be unable to eat it all), but it was very nice and a fun experience.

The sun was starting to set as we left, making the lairy lights of the little restaurant district more visible, and then it was dark by the time we had finished the 1 hour trip back to Kyoto.

Not your average spar-and-lashings construction project

One of my regular international travel challenges is to track down the national flag of the country I am visiting so I can get one for my brother Colin’s vexillological collection. This was accomplished via escaping from the conference during the middle of the day, catching the subway north to the Kyoto CBD, and making my way to the address that had been given to me. I managed to find the shop, and, thanks to Google translate on my phone, was able to “tell” the shop people what I was looking for and thus became the proud temporary owner of a large Japanese flag. There are no photos of all of this.

However, not far from the shop, I was intrigued to observe the construction—involving massive timbers and lots of lashing rope—of the wooden framework of a big “carriage”/tower which will be part of a parade and festival that will take place after I’ve left.

For those readers who are Australian Scout leaders, I’m not sure that any of the lashings are actually “Japanese lashings”! It seems unlikely that the thing is going to fall apart.

Apparently the tower ends up on wheels and gets paraded through the streets. There was a model of one such contraption back at the hotel, and although the photo isn’t fantastic it gives a bit of an idea of what the finished product was going to look like.

The Nanzen-ji Buddhist temple complex

I then figured out how to catch the subway, making my way east to the Nanzen-ji Buddhist temple complex. Here there were more impressive wooden buildings and gorgeous gardens.

There was also an unexpected brick aqueduct. I found a cache here (although I needed the photo hint as my phone GPS isn’t the most accurate and there were lots of muggles and possible hiding places).

The existence of another cache got me heading up into the forest away from the crowds, following a path running alongside a stream past small shrines to a waterfall that is used for ceremonial washing (I think).

There was also a cemetery, and once back in the more landscaped areas, a “wishing stone”.

By the time I got back to my hotel it was 4pm and I thought I’d better have some lunch (fortunately I’d had a big breakfast and I had been drinking water to keep myself hydrated on what has been a very hot and muggy day).

Nijo Castle

On my second free day I decided to visit Nijo Castle.

This amazing place was the seat of the feudal shogun government from the early 1600s The main palace building itself is an impressive massive timber structure. We had to remove our shoes in order to walk around the interior of this building (and taking photos was not permitted), but it was quite remarkable in its simple grandeur and mural-covered walls.

The buildings are set in impressively landscaped gardens (and it seems odd to describe the trees as like full-size bonsai, but that’s what crossed my mind). I think I need a lake and boulders for my own humble abode!

There are actually two moats around the complex, and the place is further defended by giant carp in the green waters (which I didn’t capture well photographically).

In short a most impressive area, and well worth the visit.

Fushimi-Inari Taisha (Shrine)

After attending a mathematics education conference in Auckland (my regular annual conference involving mostly Australians and New Zealanders) I headed off to Japan for the four-yearly international statistics education conference. This was my first real visit to Japan (overnighting at an airport hotel en route to somewhere else hardly counts) and, fortuitously, the conference was being held in Kyoto, one of Japan’s most historic and beautiful cities. I had a couple of days free before the conference began, and, after an inauspicious start (exacerbated by the bad weather that had been affecting Kyoto and the surrounding area), in which I was sold a ticket for a train that wasn’t running, I managed to get to the Fushimi-Inari shrine.

This is a very famous destination in Kyoto, so the place was full of tourists despite the rainy weather. I made my way past the larger buildings to the torii, which are pillared arches/gates that go over the path in such profusion that they create a red-orange tunnel; these are the iconic features of the Fushimi-Inari shrine. The hordes of tourists made getting good photos challenging but I managed a few that give the illusion that I had the place to myself.

The full route, which goes to the top of a mountain, was closed because of the inclement weather, and so I decided to do another lap of the torii to try for some additional photos.

This time I took a detour, along a rough track that headed up through a bamboo forest and past another shrine. This area had fewer people, and the bamboo forest, which is harvested, was quite beautiful.

As I was leaving I passed by an amazing collection of origami cranes.

From here, I’d thought I would go and do some work in my hotel room, but the cleaning staff were there, and this fortuitous event led me to have an enjoyable, spontaneous afternoon. I headed off, initially in search of a nearby cache that I found, and then decided to head south to visit the To-ji temple site with its lovely gardens and famous five-storey pagoda (the tallest in Japan).

From here I headed north in search of another cache, but since it got me in the vicinity of the Kyoto Aquarium I decided to go in and spent an enjoyable couple of hours or so viewing the exhibits, including African penguins (a new species for me), ethereal jellyfish, and cute garden eels which pop up out of and back into the sand almost like a cross between a snake-charmed cobra and a meerkat (if my description is useless, just see if you can google some footage and you’ll see what I mean).

In the evening I met up with some of my conference-attending friends and we had the amusing experience of trying to figure out what we were ordering for dinner, generally with successful outcomes, fortunately!

Putangirua Pinnacles

A bit of a drive to the south-east of Wellington takes you beyond Lake Ferry and to the start of a track to the Putangirua Pinnacles.

We took the scenic route, which involved a lovely walk through the bush before reaching a lookout that gave us an overview of this amazing geomorphological feature. The conglomerate rock has been dramatically eroded by water, to create some spectacular pinnacles and canyons. 

To give you a sense of scale, if you look very closely at the centre left of the following photo you can see a white dot with a small black vertical mark to its north-east. Now check the enlargement of this in the following photo, and you get an idea of the size of the pinnacles.

This sign seemed ironic although indubitably accurate.

We continued into the main river bed itself and explored some of the canyons. Apparently parts of the area were used for the “Paths of the Dead” sequence in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Some of the side canyons are quite narrow and the area is very active geomorphologically. My brother David tried to take us to a section he’d explored earlier in the year but it had changed dramatically following recent rains.

We also contributed to some of the erosion, as the rocks were not always stable beneath our feet.

It is a spectacular area, and, although the winter sun and resulting contrast shadows made for tricky photography, it was well worth the visit.

Matariki 2018

With one of my mid-year conferences occurring in New Zealand, it seemed like a good opportunity to visit whanau/family in Wellington and so I took a detour to see my brother and sister-in-law and their children for a couple of days. After visiting Te Papa (the museum on the waterfront) I went for a walk from my brother’s place up a nearby hill for a view (Wellington does hills very well; me, less so).

Then, in the evening, we celebrated Matariki, the Maori new year. There was a festival down on the waterfront, with dancing and lights and food and marshmallow toasting, and it was a fun night.

Moods of the Mountain #99

8 am on a cool but sunny winter’s morning, with a Bridgewater Jerry flowing down the river.

The full “Moods of the Mountain” collection is here.