Last entry from Japan?
Trip Start Mar 15, 2004
13Trip End Apr 16, 2005
There are a couple of countdowns going on right now - the cherry blossom countdown (radio reports tell us that we are just days away from the big event) and the pack-up-and-leave countdown (15 more days before we set off for Thailand). Naturally, we're driving ourselves crazy with anticipation for the cherry blossoms. Can't wait to sit under those magical blossoms and, in a haze of drunkenness, become melancholy about the beauty of something that can only last but a few short weeks. Ahhhh. Gotta love Japanese thinking.
Since the last update we've been keeping ourselves busy working like mad and squeezing in some really neat sights between. Don't worry - this time I'm really going to try and keep it brief.
In February a friend of mine (Sandy) came for a visit. It was really nice to see a familiar face and we thoroughly enjoyed her analysis of the accuracy of western stereotypes about Japan. We did our best to experience as many of Japan's cultural hot points as we could (chopsticks, kimono, fans, sake, hot springs, temples, shrines ... Japan must be famous for a hundred different things). Perhaps the most monumental achievement resulting from Sandy's visit occurred moments after a short tour of the Hilton's all-you-can-drink Happy-two-Hours, when we decided to visit the karaoke establishment next door. There for the first (and probably last) time I actually picked up a mike and proved to everyone (i.e. Sandy and Kyle) I cannot sing ... at all. Sandy and I subjected poor Kyle to a horrendous rendition of "Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto" (he returned the favour with "Return to Sender" - twice). And it went on and on until we couldn't take ourselves any longer and we left to go eat sushi. The following morning we ventured off to Kyoto for a two day trip, where we hopped from one amazing sight to another:
Kinkakuji, a gold-plated pavilion, is set amidst a beautiful pond and moss-covered forest. (I still can't get over all that moss Sandy! You should have taken a picture.) The pavilion itself is a bit of a golden overload, but it's very famous and was interesting to see.
Ryoanji Temple, famous for its Zen rock garden
Gion. We skulked around the famous Geisha quarters at night to see if we could spot these mysterious ladies. Alas, they are too quick and too wily for the likes of the average tourist.
Kiyomizu Temple, a beautifully preserved temple with a very tilted and unstable-looking balcony that overlooks Kyoto city. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves here
Fushimi Inari Shrine, featuring 40,000 red torii gates that form a twisty path around a small mountain. "It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call 'The Twilight Zone'" This place is ... unusual. Before visiting I had an appreciation for these striking gates. But, after walking around for an hour in a maze of them I slowly started to go crazy, and (unfortunately) have never looked at them the same again. Periodically the gates would part to make room for massive torii gate dumping grounds, where visitors could leave their mini torii gates in honour of this or that. Very strange place.
After returning to Nagoya Sandy impressed us all by venturing out by herself to do a hot spring tour. The next day she left in a blaze of chopstick shopping glory. Thanks for visiting Sandy!
On March 15 Kyle and I attended the annual Hounen Matsuri (Fertility Festival) in Inuyama
A few days later we had a four day weekend and headed to the Hiroshima area for our final excursion in Japan. In our usual way, Kyle and I stormed the area in a flurry ...
Kurashiki Bikan Chiku Music Festival (Okayama). We were lucky to be in the area to experience this little festival that took place along quaint Kurashiki canal. The day was lovely, the mood was cheerful, and the street was animated with musicians and families strolling around admiring the 17th century granaries.
Takahashi Raikyuji Temple (Okayama)
Hiroshima City. Ever since being there I've struggled a bit when I tell people that Hiroshima is a really nice place. But, it is. Despite everything, Hiroshima was rebuilt and is thriving again, and is using its terrible experience as source of inspiration and leverage in its fight to rid the world of nuclear weapons (I sound like a brochure!). Our hotel was just a five minute walk from the A-Bomb Dome and T-Bridge (target for the bomb), so we spent a couple of nights and days strolling around Peace Memorial Park between side trips elsewhere. I guess I'll just have to let the pictures do the talking because I'm sure everyone has similar feelings of sadness and disgust about what happened. But most of all, it made me realize how lucky I am to have never had to live through something like that myself - I lack the capacity to even fully imagine how bad things could have actually been. Oh - if you haven't seen the movie Atomic Café, I recommend it.
Miyajima Island and Seto Inland Sea (Hiroshima)
Iwakuni Kintai Bridge (Yamaguchi). This famous ribbon bridge used to be used by Samurai back in the day. Like many sights in Japan, this one is best viewed during cherry blossom season, since the river is lined with dozens of trees. Nevertheless, the bridge is really neat.
Night bus. To save money we took a nine hour night bus from Hiroshima to Nagoya. Night busses are very reasonable - the seats are arranged seat-aisle-seat-aisle-seat, and recline really far, you get a blanket, and a pair of slippers, and the lights are out. It would have been alright if the man beside me would have stopped snoring for five seconds to let me fall asleep. It was shocking how sloppy of a snorer this man was
Well - that's it! I'm finished. Thanks to everyone for taking the time to be interested in our little trip to Japan. And despite what you may think, I've left lots of stories out of these updates - you'll just have to hear them directly from us when we get back. We'll see you in August!
Love Joanne and Kyle
PS I might have a few things to say before we leave!