JAPAN

Trip Start Aug 27, 2006
1
7
14
Trip End Dec 07, 2006


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Where I stayed
Yachio Royakon

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Saturday, September 16, 2006

September 12, 2006
We arrived in Kobe, Japan four minutes ahead of schedule - 7:56am. Last night I could sleep, the excitement had been building up since meetings starting that morning and the fever burned through the ship like wildfire. Our Japanese interport students cried through our farewell reception which was amazingly done - very beautiful - they are two really awesome people. As we reached the port of Kobe this morning a brass band greeted us along with the fire boat shooting off the water canons. Everyone was our on deck to bring the ship in and when it finally stopped moving we all erupted in cheers - it is our first "real" port as we have been putting it. We have a long early morning of diplomatic meetings we are students remember - ha - welcoming ceremonies, customs & immigrations, clearances, and debarkation. The hirls - Kelly, BethAnn, Marga and I plan to get lost in Koe today. We we will see how we do. So many people are saying that it is unreal that we are in Japan - but it feels very real to me - HERE WE ARE IN KOBE!!! It is amazing, it's a huge city from what we can see here.

12:45pm - WE FINALLY GOT OFF THE SHIP - well all of us but Kelly because her card demagnetized, oh well it is probably going to happen to all os uf sooner or later, so we are just sitting on the dock waiting. BethAnn and I are having fun playing with the two ways and taking randon photos. Our plan is to take the train into two and go from there. We still have to get our money exchanged and find some maps - and it just started raining - THIS IS GOING TO BE AWESOM!!!!

September 13, 2006
The reason I never finished yesterday's entry was because we never stopped moving. Kobe is a beautiful city - it is grossly modern but yet every once in a while, tucked tightly between concrete giants of the sky will stand a small shrine, pagoda, or temple. There are no public trash cans in Japan - everyone is responsible to take their garbage with them, and surprisingly it is extremely clean everywhere. There are pachinko parlors on every corner and shopping plazas everywhere - massive massive shopping centers. They sell mochi ice cream from vending machines, along with beer, tissues, teas, flavor waters, and Coke. They do not have any diet sodas in Japan - interesting. We walked all of Kobe yesterday, ChinaTown, Tor Road (think Rodeo Drive, California only even more uppity) and made it to the city Shrine, Ikuta Shrine. We went to a tiny bar after dinner and made it back to the ship on the last train (midnight)...now for TODAy (THE 13TH)
I want to start right now - we are at Yachio Royakon, a Japanese style inn on the hilltops of Kyoto. I am sitting here alone, by the window overlooking the garden in my yukata (cotton kimono). It is raining, as it has been all day, but the water is so cleansing and serene as it runs down the chains anchored to the ground. The sound it makes as the drops hit the perfectly groomed gravel beds is almost as hypnotizing as staring into a fire. The royakan is dimly lit, the hallways are tiny, and for the 45 of us staying at the inn it is unearthly silent except for the rain. It is exactly what I would have though if it were 100 years ago and geisha (pronounced gay - ko) were still entertaining at the tea house right next door. This is just the perfect ending to an amazing day. The group left the ship at 0830 and we headed for Nara - Japan's original capitol city. We saw the oldest wooden building in the world built by the Emperor 1600 years ago. It is still standing which to me is pretty impressive, but what was more fun was to watch other people struggling to get a grip on how old it really was. We have bento boxes for lunch, really really fancy ones, but we were in a beautiful hotel in Nara that had a wonderful garden, it was really very pretty. Nara is a beautiful city as well, not as modern as Kobe but it had a different feel with many tiny walkways and little inns everywhere. All the time you passed gardens and tea houses it was quaint. After lunch we went to the largest wooden building in the world which was located in a park called Deer Park - and it is obviously named that for a very good reason. Here is this huge city and right in the middle is this park with deer in it, yes deer - the four legged animals.....they were everywhere. They were friendly as puppies and would walk right through the crowds of people checking everything out and begging for biskets that you could by from vendors on the street. The deer were everywhere, but so were the people - the place was incredibly crowded but the building itself was so enormous it didn't really matter. It was here that a group of gils stopped me and was asking about everything American, and then they wanted to take pictures and it was really fun to hang out with them for a while. As we walked across the raised beam into the actually temple I realized that the Buddah that was inside was huge - then I found out it was one of the tallest in the world - which makes sense since the building was the biggest.....anyway, you just kept looking up and up - I felt like I was in the jack and bean stalk story. It was something like 100+ feet tall, it was huge. I have never felt so small in my entire life, it was completely breathtaking and heartfelt in so many ways. I lit insence with our guide Harumi and threw coins at his feet. The silence in the air with undreds of people all around us was awing and powerful. It was then that it really it me that I am going around the world and this was only the first of millions of little moments like this yet to come. There is no feeling to compare any of what is goingon through me right now because this is truly the first time I am feeling anything like this. I cant remember when I ever wanted to be still and unmoving, to be completely silent for any length of time, and to just let everything touch me, effect me, mold me, move me. Everyone keeps talking about how the world really doesn't feel that big anymore - like it is getting smaller because we are going so many places and because technology and travel is so easy. But as I was standing there in front of that huge Buddha with all the candles around me and smells and sounds of practicly nothing, and the detail of all the nature around me it seemed like the world grew exponential - look at all the possibilities - look at all the things that are, that could be, and stop to think how many of those things we decide to act on As I sit here by the window and watch the old gardener as her wanders through his masterpiece at the royakan - I replay all this in my mind. At first glance into the garden it looks so simple - the rock bed, a few low shrubs, two water fountains and a pond, tall bamboo and that's it. But as I have been sitting here I have realized that the rock bed is filled with white, black and khaki colored pebbles all lined in neat rows arranged in a certain color pattern. They looked very hap-hazard at first, but the intricate detail creates an odd simplicity. It is a good thought to sleep on.

September 14, 2006
Everyone woke up this morning to smell of freshly baked bread, it had stoppe rainging and the early morning sun was making everything steam with life. We ate breakfast sitting on the sundrenched tatami mats looking over the beautiful little garden, which took on a whole new personality in the fresh daylight. A few of us walked to the temple in the same compound this morning with Harumi. She reminds me of Mary Poppins and none of us could keep up with her speed of walking. It was very awakening to be there so early in the morning with the dewy warmth and refreshing sunlight while no one was aound. You could hear the dew drops fall from the pine trees and hit the ground, you could smell the freshness in the air, and you could feel life all around. The tour today started at the Golden pavilion - which was great but very crowded. That was followed by Shogun's palace in Kyoto which was pretty amazing as far as architecturally well done for its time - like everything seems to be here. I stole away from the group so I could walk through the gardens, it was really fun to think about all the people that had walked the same gravel paths 1000 years before me. Lunch was sushi and tempura which was awesome but very people liked it. Today was not as striking as yesterday, not because the places weren't neat but they just had a different feel. I liked the shrines and temples of yesterday, today was more of the Empirical buildings which didn't connect with me as much. We did get to go to a really neat market in Kyoto - we all had green tea soft serve - it was awesome. I realized the value of being speechless today sitting on a bench watching people at the market as I ate my ice cream. I just sat there and smiled as I looked around.

September 15, 2006
Today was pretty laid back, I did some hiking - actually a lot of hiking with our group that did a tour through the mountains. It was nice, nothing to write a lot about but hiking is hiking. At the top we were greeted by monkeys - LOTS OF THEM. And the little town at the bottom of the mountain was so cute and old fashioned. I had lunch at a little noodle shop that over looked the river that the village was on and just had a great time walking around the town and through the bamboo forest that borders it. I had time to sit by the river and writ in my journal and I played with a little puppies that an older man had gotten as a gift for his grand daughter - he spoke really good English and he was very inquisitive about the Semester At Sea. It was fun and relaxing to be away from the big cities and hang out in the country where things were much slower and much more relaxed. I spent last night on the ship and it was good to take a night as down time.

September 16,2006
In our getting lost in the city we found free internet so I am writing this now because I board the ship for China. It has been eye opening in certain ways, and just plain fun in others. It is still fairly early in the morning so today's happenings will just have to live in my memory!!!

XoXoX
SPK
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