10,000 Vermillion Torii Gates

There are 10,000 Torii Gates that take you to the top of a hill overlooking Kyoto, a city that once served as Japan’s capital.  These gates serve as the entrance to the Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社).  The vermillion color (red, originally created from mineral cinnabar) serves to block misfortune and calamity. The gates, donated by companies, organizations, and individuals as an expression of gratitude for prosperity, surround the path of several trails.  There are lanterns that light the tunnels of color, creating a wondrous experience in the early evening.

The Fushimi Inari Shrine is in honor of the Shinto god of rice. “Inari Ōkami (稲荷大神, also Oinari) is the Japanese kami of foxes, of fertility, rice, tea and sake, of agriculture and industry, of general prosperity and worldly success, and one of the principal kami of Shinto. In earlier Japan, Inari was also the patron of swordsmiths and merchants.” (Wikipedia)  What are Kami? I found this site that gives the best definition.  (I liked this site so much I “bookmarked” it on my search engine to use for future ‘exploration’.)

Along the paths, there are many statues of kitsunes (foxes).  People of the Shinto faith may leave offerings of food or objects at these locations as they appeal to the spirits.  A favorite food of the fox is said to be a fried tofu – aburaage.  This article gives a background on the fox and its place in Japanese spirituality and culture.  Understanding the background may make you more aware of the use of the fox in today’s Japanese influenced entertainment.


Walking through the beautiful vermillion gates would be very relaxing to me, but I can’t read Japanese.  The names of the donating businesses and organizations are written on the gates and I have wondered: If I could read Japanese, would I be reading all those gates as I passed through?   When I was in Chile, I found that my mind could relax because I couldn’t read the signs or understand the language. Not being able to understand them made me realize how hard my mind must work all the time to take in the written and audible communication around me.   Would walking past these beautiful gates be like walking past billboards if I understood the language?

It is interesting that the god of rice is also the god of prosperity.  Rice is important to Japan.  It is an important food in the diet and has a long history of cultivation influencing the culture.  Please see this important article that explains the deep effects of rice on the culture of past and present.  Rice is such an important part of the culture that I will spend more time on this subject – tomorrow.










It’s Japan!

Japan, slightly smaller in size than California, is located in East Asia.  Japan is an archipelago (chain of islands).  Over half of the country is mountainous with a large abundance of forests.  I gave you a clue regarding the country by telling you that this country has boundaries with six seas/ bodies of water.  Can you find them?  Four are located on this map.  The Inland Sea is located between the major islands.  The Korean Strait is located between Japan and Korea.  Take a look at your world map to see Korea and Japan.  They are not that far apart; are they?



When we visit Japan I believe our main impression will be the cleanliness of the country and the deep tradition of respect seen within the communities.  The respect can be seen in how people interact with one another and with how they interact with the environment.  I remember watching the country’s early reaction to a disaster and noted the consideration that people had for one another even in one of its more stressful times.  I was impressed with the view of a shelf previously filled with water bottles, still holding several water bottles despite the thirst and needs of the people surrounding the area.  In their culture, it is dishonorable to take the last of something when someone around may need it more.

I found a wonderful site that gives you an idea of the manners needed to visit Japan.  Please take a look at this site.  After reading this –  How would you feel visiting Japan?  Would your habits and manners be good enough for you to feel relaxed around people there or would you be nervous about “messing up” and offending someone?  I think I would be worried about messing up but I bet the people there would be understanding of my good intentions.

Would you know when to take your shoes off and when you can leave them on while visiting in Japan?  Here is an article that explains when you should remove your shoes.  The socks I sent to you are called Tabi socks. Because they have a separation of the big toe from the rest of the toes, you can easily slip them in and out of thongs.

Some areas we visit are very populated and mass transportation is our form of travel.  The trains are known for being on time and reliable but we would probably avoid using the trains during rush hour.  I found it so amazing that there are people paid to “stuff the trains” – pushing everyone on and getting the doors closed.  Watch this youtube showing the workers stuffing the train.  Observe how the people are patient despite the discomfort of the closeness of the crowd.

Japan’s national flower is the cherry blossom.  The trees bloom around April and people come from all over the world to see the beautiful display.  The USA has a famous cherry blossom festival as well, in Washington DC. The beautiful displays of color are the result of an initial gift of three thousand trees by Japan in 1912.  They represent the friendly relationship between the two countries. Like family members, our countries have had periods when this relationship was not as good but peace and time have given us the benefit of this bond.

We will explore fascinating sights, sounds, and tastes of Japan in the coming weeks.  Enjoy learning about another wonderful country!



Iconic Landmarks of Sydney

Australia seems to be one of the first countries to celebrate the New Year.  I can recall watching their fireworks on the last day of 1999 around 9 am of my New Year’s eve.  It was a big deal, turning the clock to the year 2000 and we watched the countries from around the world marking that moment.  Watch the event as it was recorded.  The back drop of that site is the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

The Sydney Opera House is a distinctive landmark as well.  You will see it often in your lifetime when Australia marks a significant moment in time.  I actually remember when it was completed (1973) and it made quite a big impact with its unusual design.  The roof contains large white shell shaped sails providing a dramatic representation of the Sydney Harbour and city.




Animals of Australia

When I think of Australia I immediately think of the kangaroo. The kangaroo, a marsupial is originally from Australia. Marsupials have pouches.  The baby kangaroo or joey is born but is super tiny and moves into the mother’s pouch where it grabs hold of a teat.  It is not strong enough to suck so the mother pumps the milk down its throat until it is strong enough to suckle and swallow.  The joey stays in this pouch all the time at first and then begins to get out for short periods to exercise its legs at around 4 months old.  It will go in and out of the pouch for another three months. Here is a video from Smarter Everyday about kangaroo pouches. (I love Smarter Everyday and encourage you to check them out sometime).


Another really interesting animal in Australia is the platypus. Like a superhero, the platypus can change in significant ways to adapt as needed to different environments. It has webbed feet for swimming that can retract to reveal feet with nails that can move it quickly across land.  It has a snout that looks like a duck bill that is used like a radar to locate food on the bottom of the lake. The males retain spurs on their hind legs after birth that are venomous and are usually used in battle with other males during reproduction season. It is one of two types of mammals that actually lay eggs.  The females seal themselves in burrows near the water’s edge and lay their eggs. After only 10 days the eggs hatch and like the kangaroo the babies are very tiny, about the size of a bean.  The mother nurses her young for several months until they are big enough to swim.


The Koala comes from Australia as well. People often incorrectly call them Koala bears but they aren’t bears.  They are marsupials like kangaroos. The baby, or joey is born the size of a jelly bean and lives in a pouch living off milk and substance from the mother’s intestine called pap. This pap is needed to digest the eucalyptus leaves that the koala lives on. The eucalyptus leaves are not rich in nutrients and the koala needs to sleep a lot to conserve energy and allow for the needed energy to digest the harsh food. They are nocturnal (active primarily at night).  They don’t live close to one another and have their own ranges or areas of control. The males have a scent gland that they rub on tree limbs to mark their territories.  Koala2

There are several more types of animals the are indigenous to Australia but one of the animals living there now in great numbers isn’t and it’s causing a big problem. Camels were brought to the continent in the 19th century for transport and heavy work but with invention they were no longer as needed. Now there are over a million feral (wild) camels that roam Australia. They are causing damage to the land and taking up resources of the indigenous creatures. Australia is working to reduce the number of camels and as you would imagine, there is not full agreement in how that should be done. Here is a site dedicated to documenting the camel problem.

Australia is full of animals and eighty percent are indigenous to the country.  Take a look at where the country is and you can see why.  There are some really interesting looking animals and they are fun to study.  Some of the lovely sites I found that you may wish to check out:  This blog post by Luke Plunkett and  Australia animals with pictures.


Land Down Under in the Land Down Under

There is a town in Australia where people live underground, well about half the people do. They live underground because the surface above ground is just so hot. They live in this inhospitable area because they benefit from the mining of opals. This town is called Coober Pedy (meaning “white man in a hole”). Here is a site that describes the underground nature of the town. Be sure and watch the video link on this site!  It is so COOL!

There are different accommodations for tourists who desire a stay in Coober Pedy. Although there are traditional hotels above ground, I found this one and think we would want to stay in something like this. Staying underground would be a unique experience for me. Have you ever slept underground?

There are some interesting things to do while visiting. Some people take an flight over the lowest natural point in Australia. Depending on the time of year you could see a huge lake surrounded by wildlife or you could see a giant salt pan.lake-eyre-april-2017a

(credit – Wrightsair)

Other people sign up to play glow golf. Golfing in the heat of the day wouldn’t be fun but using glow-in-the-dark golf balls might be a pretty neat experience.

Another cool way to get to know the area and the people is to do a “Mail run” with the mailman (no, not a literal run). Here is a link to the site concerning the mail run. I love to take photographs and think this would be an awesome thing to do as a photographer.

Lest we forget – the whole reason for this unusual town is the OPAL. The opal formation begins with the fact that this land was previously under the sea. Watch this youtube to learn about how the opal comes to be. Make sure you stick with it so you can learn about the opal dinosaur!




Uluru or Ayer’s Rock is in northern Australia and looks like a big red mountain on a flat desert. It is actually a big red-colored rock made of sandstone and is over 600 million years ago. The Aboriginal people of Australia, present in Australia for about 10,000 years, call the monolith Uluru.

Only part of the rock is visible above ground. The rock is about 350 meters high.  There is an additional 2.5 km (or 2,500 meters) below ground. That means that as high as you see it standing at the foot of the mountain, there is 7 times that much more underground!

The rock is reddish in color due to the iron content of the rock. The iron, normally grey in color, is oxidized giving it an orange color. (Iron in presence of air and moisture = oxidation = rust). I guess you could think of it as a really BIG Rusty rock.

The Aboriginal people own the land and rock but the government has a 99-year lease.  You can walk around the mountain in about 3.5 hours but there are other ways to get around it as well. You can ride bikes or take camel rides. You can go all alone or with a tour guide. You are allowed to climb the rock and not that long ago many people did.  There have been accidents and deaths while climbing the rock so it really isn’t recommended. For me, the most important reason to not climb this rock is the desire of the Aboriginal people who are the keepers of this sacred site. You can learn more about the cultural importance of this area here.

I would like to be near Uluru for sunrise or sunset. I have seen some beautiful photos of the majestic red rock and would love to share those moments with you.



Magnetic Termites of Australia

In the northern part of Australia there is an unusual type of termite.  The termites build mounds that look like cemetery headstones, some as tall as 15 feet high. They look unusual in that they are tall and thin, their flat sides facing east and west. The thin edges of the mound face north/south.  While some other types of termites can build homes underground, the magnetic termite must build above ground due to periods of time when water covers the land.

“But why do they all face the same way?” I imagine that is what you would ask as we stand and look at the strange termite mounds.  I did a little research so I could answer your inquiring minds.  The needle of a compass is magnetic and points north due to the magnetic relationship to the earth. The termites’ mound points north as reliably as a magnetic compass needle.  The two flat sides of the mound face east and west allowing maximal sun exposure to the mound throughout the day.  The mound benefits from this relationship to the SUN.  The termites are warmed by the sun on one side for half the day and on the other side the rest of the day.  In this way the structure has a passive air-conditioning system.  Watch this video to learn more about the air-conditioning and some other fun facts.  (She speaks very fast so you may have to listen a couple of times but the content is worth it.)

HOW?  How do the termites know to build their mounds like this?  The termites, each and every one,  have a sense of the earth’s magnetic field. It is important that they do or their mounds would not align correctly.  Researches know this because they tried putting magnets around a termite mound and the termites abandoned the mound due to the abnormal magnetic fields.  The termites have magnetite inside of them and they can use this to help them in discerning direction.  (Watch and listen to this Australian show you a mound)

Please watch this video to learn a lot more about the magnetic termite.  It explains the social structure of the termite colony.  You will learn that the kids do almost ALL the work!

While learning about magnetite I began to have more questions.  Do you?  I wanted to know “Do other animals have magnetite and use it in some way?” and “Do humans have magnetite?” I wanted to know where magnetite comes from.  I found those answers by doing a little hunting on the internet.  If you have trouble finding out, you can email me at nannatrips@gmail.com and I will share with you what I learned.




The Great Barrier Reef – a Land and Sea in Flux.

The Great Barrier Reef is the largest structure on Earth made by living things. About half the size of Texas, it can be seen from space. The barrier reef, in its present general form, has existed about 6,000 years. At one time it was sediment from a great mountain range and was not under water. The sea levels rose over thousands of years and covered it. A string of small sections of shallow (100 feet or less) land provided a perfect place for the reef to form.

The conditions needed to form the reef:

  1. a solid surface of sea floor that is not too deep (light needs to penetrate to the bottom)
  2. warm water
  3. movement of water sufficient to circulate oxygen well
  4. organisms that live and die, their skeletons remaining to be connected by algae producing limestone, providing a base for more organisms to grow and die……

The reef is constantly changing. Over 400 kinds of coral are found on the Great Barrier Reef. Coral are living organisms, polyps related to jelly fish. Algae provides the polyps with nutrients needed to create the limestone that gives the reef its foundation. Read this interesting page for information on Coral. Then watch this video for a glimpse into the beauty of the Reef. There are many great youtube videos to watch about the Reef and I challenge you to explore the variety available.  I found several time lapse videos that showed coral attacking one another in Coral Wars.


One of the important concepts I learned while reading about the Reef is called Mutualism. (Source – the fisheriesblog)  Mutualism occurs when benefit is gained from different parties for living.  Examples include the sea anemone and the clown fish. In the movie “Finding Nemo” we saw Nemo, a clown fish, darting in and out of what looked like a plant, a sea anemone. The sea anemone has stinging tentacles that kill other small fish but the clown fish has a special protection from the sting. The clown fish can dart inside the anemone to get away from danger. In return the clown fish helps to keep the anemone clean. Another beneficial relationship is between the anemone and a crab. The anemone can attach itself to the back of a crab. By moving around more it has a better chance of catching food. The crab, in turn, is protected from predators that my be harmed by the stinging tentacles of the anemone. Mutualism is a concept that applies to more than living things on the coral reef.  Can you think other examples of mutualism?

I think it would be wonderful to dive on the reef and explore some of the islands that make up the Great Barrier Reef but I would especially like to sleep on a pontoon on the reef at night.  I can imagine us sitting on the deck watching the sunset and then seeing the star-filled sky.  We would look up to find the Southern Cross in the sky. aHR0cDovL3d3dy5zcGFjZS5jb20vaW1hZ2VzL2kvMDAwLzA1My83ODcvb3JpZ2luYWwvd2lkZV9zb3V0aGVybl9jcm9zc19yZWRmZXJuLmpwZw==

This photo of the Southern Cross was captured by Greg Redfern.

The pontoon would gently rock with the water movement and lull us to sleep as the creatures of the sea move below us.  The reef is different at night.  Some of the fish sleep, finding protection in different ways as predatory fish move looking for food. The Parrot Fish secretes a mucus protection around itself so it can sleep. (See one sleeping). Other fish bury themselves or hide in the coral to rest.

In the morning I think we would dive to see the reef as the sun penetrates the surface providing algae light, the essential element needed for life.  Photosynthesis is needed for the algae to live and it is the variety of different algae that give The Reef the beautiful array of colors.  We would want to see the living reef up close and while snorkeling is one way to view it, I would want to scuba dive so I could spend more time under water.  A person can’t just put on the scuba gear and begin diving though.  There are important things to learn first. I took scuba diving in college and that was a long time ago so we would all need to take some classes so we would be safe.

There is a wonderful peace and quiet experienced while scuba diving.  The sound of your own breathing is calming as you move with the use of your scuba fins.  Big movements of the body aren’t necessary to move in the water and that is good as we would want to create as little disturbance as possible as we explore the reef.  We have to keep up with one another of course and it would challenging to “tell each” other about what we are seeing.  Not until we surface and climb out of the water would we be able to share our adventures.

There are dangers to the reef and its survival.  Scientists have found evidence of prior reefs under the current one that died long ago.  The current dangers are manmade and natural.  Because the reef is a reliant upon a delicate balance of living creatures it is important that this balance be maintained. A loss or over abundance of one type of organism can create a damage that can be irreversible.  One of the current threats is a type of Star Fish.  Here is an interesting article about new findings concerning this threat and our hope to assist in reversing damage occurring due to an overabundance of the Star Fish.

Other factors effecting the reef include sediment runoff from rivers entering the sea. This sediment can prevent adequate sun penetration of the water.  Temperature changes and water condition changes can also effect the balance of a reef and can begin to kill organisms, effecting the balance of the ecosystem. Bleaching is happening to part of the reef and scientists are worried that the Great Barrier Reef could become so damaged that it could be lost.  See this article to better understand this phenomenon and the triggers that could be causing it.

I am sure that our trip to the Great Barrier Reef would be one we would never forget.  What do think you would see and learn that you would want to share with your children some day?



Appreciating the Boomerang

I hope you liked the boomerang you received in your box this month.  I found a few YouTube videos that tell you how to throw one.  I liked this one.  I hope you can get your boomerang to come back to you.


What makes a boomerang work?  I found an interesting article by Popular Science that addresses the physics of this.  Are you interesting in making one?  Here is a link to a video by Science Samurai showing how to make your own. Elias, I know you love science so I challenge you on this one.  Let me know if you make your own.  I would be mighty impressed.

I always like to find some fun facts about topics and here are a few:

**The oldest boomerang was found in Poland and is believed to be over 30,000 years old.  It was made from a Mammoth Tusk.

**The longest boomerang flight known was over 2 minutes.

**The largest returning boomerang is over 9 feet tip to tip.

The Boomerang, able to fly much farther than a spear, was originally used to bring down game while hunting. The Aborigines (original people) of Australia used them thousands of years ago.   Not all boomerangs are meant to return and they can be a variety of shapes and sizes. The early ones were made from roots, limbs, or bones. They were multipurpose, not just used for hunting.  I found one type that has a special hook on it meant to catch on the shield of the person you were fighting. After hooking onto the shield the fighter could swing behind the shield to attack.

Not all hunting techniques involved hitting the animal.  One technique involved throwing the boomerang over a flock of birds.  The birds, mistaking it for a bird-of-prey, would drop down into nets or toward waiting hunters.

Other uses include starting a fire by rubbing the boomerangs together. Some were used as clappers in music and dance. I read that they are Sonorus when struck together.  (I had to look that up:  –Definition of sonorous: having a sound that is deep, loud, and pleasant)

Today there are competitions built around the art/ sport of throwing.  The Boomerang Association of Australia has a great online newsletter.  Check it out. 

There are some boomerangs that are just too beautiful to throw.  You can find them for sale or in art museums.   Symbols are often included in the decoration and have meaning.  Here is an example of symbols used.




I would like to decorate my own tool and make up symbols that are relevant to me.  Here is one I designed just for our trip.