Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Osaka and beyond

Well, I'm leaving Osaka without really having been there. Unfortunately, since I left Tokyo I have been rushing around, and only spent two days in Kyoto. I've been in a suburb of Osaka since then, and spent only a couple of hours in the city itself.

It was interesting being in the suburbs. I've been staying with a friend and her mother in Kishiwada, a city nearer the airport than Osaka itself. To be honest, Kishiwada reminds me more of the Midwest than anywhere in Japan: while there are certainly reminders that I am in Japan, like the genkan where you take your shoes off and then enter the house proper by taking a step up, on the whole the city is very similar to towns in the Midwest. There are long strips of roads lined with malls, and the house I stayed in has a very western feel to it. It reminds me a lot of an aunt's or grandmother's house, with cutesy little knickknacks and candy everywhere. She is a grandmother, so I suppose it fits, but it was just so reminiscent of my childhood.

My friend Kazumi's mother, sister, and niece

Because my rail pass will expire on Thursday, I decided to leave Osaka - as I said, without really having spent much time here - to go to Ise, the center of the Shinto religion. Here a building that is rebuilt from scratch every twenty years holds the mirror of Amaterasu, the central goddess of Shinto and the direct ancestor of the Emperor.

There is also a famous shrine with two rocks, thought of as husband and wife, very near where I stayed when I went to Ise

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Torii Torii Torii

Today's the first full day in Kyoto. To be honest, my first impressions of the city weren't all that enjoyable - I had a terrible time finding the hostel I'm staying in because of the tiny alleys

(no that is a street, not an alley), and with a heavy pack and bags it isn't much fun. I finally was able to find the place, however, and I ended up having an enjoyable day today.

I started with the Sanjuugendo, a temple with a ton of Kannons. Taking pictures isn't allowed, so I don't have any, but it is an amazing spectacle. There are hundreds of statues and each is subtly different from the next. You can only really see the front row, though, and after the 30th column or so they start to blend together. It was worth seeing for the sheer wow factor, but I left feeling a bit empty, as I often do when I leave buddhist temples (I guess you are supposed to feel empty after a visit to a Buddhist temple?)

What made the day was a visit to the Fushimi Inari temple to the south. This is a shinto shrine celebrating Inari, a god of rice, I believe, who is accompanied by two ghostly foxes.

I'm a big fan of toriis, the gates that adorn shinto shrines (there is a picture of a torii from the Meiji shrine in Tokyo in this blog), and this place is crazy for torii I was in heaven when I saw this, but this was just the beginning. There are Torii everywhere, from the small torii above to huge gate-like torii that you walk through in much of the shrine.

This image just scratches the surface - the torii are stacked like this for miles, and though I spent about 2-3 hours wandering through the park (actually a mountain - I went to the top as well), I didn't see all of them. You walk through the torii to the next shrine which is covered with torii

then you walk through another group of torii.

I took hundreds of pictures of the things, but could hardly have captured a thousandth of the number that are there.

Well, I've rested up and now I'm going to try to catch a bit of Gion (the "entertainment district") after dark. I guess I'm going to head to Osaka tomorrow, though Kyoto is so close I will probably come back.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Japan, Japan, Japan

Well, I'm still in Tokyo, despite what I told everyone. I couldn't get a reservation for the places I wanted to go, so I have just stayed here, and I'll probably just head to Osaka and Kyoto, saving myself some money.

Anyway, thought I'd share the cute little cat that rides the Tokyo Metro, reminding passengers not to get their tails caught in the doors.


Went to Kamakura shrine yesterday. The Daibutsu of Kamakura, the Great Buddha, has been a part of my consciousness since I was a child, so to actually see it after all these years was quite an experience. It isn't as big as all the pictures make it seem, but that's not really a bad thing. It is more friendly that way, I think.

There is actually quite a bit more to the Kamakura area than the Daibutsu, however. There is a temple to Hachiman, a common god in Japan, which is nice, though the main thing I enjoyed was that they had just constructed new sections to the temple and the unfinished pine smelled wonderfully. Very often temples in Japan are left unvarnished like this, in contrast to the laquer that is applied to the wood in Chinese style temples. I find it much more elegant, though of course the wood rots much quicker. But that's part of life, and this concession appeals to my aesthetics, and always has.

There is also a beautiful temple to Kannon near the Daibutsu. Kannon is a Bodhisattva who has promised to save all living beings from suffering before he/she enters Nirvana her/himself. Kannon, called Kuan Yin in China and Avilokitesvara in Sanskrit, is usually female in China and Japan, though male versions, like those in India, are also found in Japan.

The temple grounds have a fantastic garden and an associated section for Jizo that commemorates children who have died either through miscarriages or abortion. This picture of Jizo is from another temple and doesn't show the impressive number of tiny Jizos at the Kannon temple, but gives you an idea of how Jizo is often portrayed - like a child with a beanie cap and a bib. The paper streamers on the right are actually thousands of tiny origami cranes.

I'll have to add the pictures of the Jizos from the Kannon temple later.

Here's the photo.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Meiji shrine

I went to the Meiji shrine today, and I have to report back, as it's really been the most moving experience I've had thus far. I can't say anyone else would feel the way I did, but for some reason the mix of natural scenery, Japanese atmosphere, Shinto, and the expectations I've had about my trip created an emotional reaction.

There were several marriages going on while I was there. I guess this must be a common thing in the shrine, as there was one nearly every half hour.

I won't try to explain how I felt today - instead I'll just put up this picture that I really enjoyed.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Birthday party

Yesterday was my friend Yuko's birthday, and so after my day of wandering around Shinjuku, I went to meet her and her friends for a pasta dinner and beers. We had a good time.

Yuko is in the center, showing off a present. Just to the left of Yuko is Sachi, another friend I met in San Francisco. The other two, Kaori on the left and Su on the right, are nurse friends of Yuko's.

While I say we had a good time, I was a little frustrated by my inability to effectively communicate with them. Though my Japanese is good enough to hold fairly uncomplicated conversations, it is often very difficult to clearly express myself. There were a few misunderstandings, some of which may have caused undesireable impressions. In any case, though, we did have a good time, and I'm guessing I didn't alienate them too much :).

However, a little bummed that I was having these difficulties, after I parted company with my friends I was called a "gaijin" (foreigner) for the first time and that brought me down a bit more. It was just silliness - drunk salarymen making an obvious observation, but it still made me feel like an outsider, a feeling that had already shown itself when I had such a hard time expressing myself earlier in the night.

I feel much better this morning, and I'm off to see the old side of Tokyo, in Asakusa. I'll also be visiting the Matsuo Basho museum, which I'm pretty excited about. I'll have pictures later.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


Well, all my worry was unnecessary. I'm here and I love it! (Exhausted though) I got in yesterday, and after a smooth yet tiring trip to the hostel (it took about 2 hours, I think, much of that time with my stupid huge backpack on), I was able to take a shower and go off to meet friends. We had a couple of drinks, then went home early.

Today I went to the Shinjuku area, a madhouse during the mornings, they say, and the station has the most traffic of any in the world, I believe, with 2 million passengers a day. When I went it wasn't so bad. In fact, it is a little odd, but Shinjuku is the more interesting - the other stations are eerily quiet, as thousands of people walk through almost without a word. Somewhat unsettling.

Anyway, I need to get out of here to meet a friend for her birthday. A few pictures without explanation (sorry!). Next time I should have more time.

Monday, September 12, 2005

A new japanese story

From tomorrow I will be in Japan.
From tomorrow everything will be different.

I'm both excited and in absolute terror. I really don't know what I'm going to do there - I have a very, very loose schedule, so I'm not even sure where I'll be after the first few days. The feeling is familiar - I felt the same about a trip to Europe many years ago which, I'd have to say, was more failure than success, and about my move to Georgia years later - without doubt a failure, unless you consider the fact that it got me out of Kansas and on the way to a life not confined by that state's boundaries. I don't remember feeling this way about moving to San Francisco, though I probably did. But I think by the time I left Athens I was so ready to begin a new life that anywhere would have been fine. Now I feel I have something to lose, the nearly homelike feeling I have here in SF. But hopefully that is not all. Hopefully this will be much better.

I'm tired, so I won't be going on much longer. I wanted to put up some pictures of Kansas, but that will have to wait.

Good luck to everyone, next time will be from Japan!