Journeys in Japan
-All Journeys Must Have an End-
It’s been a month since I got back from my trip, and I’ve had plenty of time to digest the entire experience, and what can I say about it? Frankly the entire thing feels like a dream, like the part in the end of some romantic drama where the main character is thinking about the times he shared with his ex-girlfriend, and there’s a series of flashbacks to previous scenes in the movie with dramatic music set over it. Japan has always had a special place in my heart, like most people who have been affected by Japanese culture in one way or another it is sort of a mecca, a holy ground where the things you’ve been learning so much about take place. The last time I was in the country was with one of my closest friends; we had just graduated high school and it was our first time leaving the country without our parents - really a trip that I am incredibly thankful for. I can easily say this last trip was equally life-changing. It’s amazing what a lot of walking and thinking will do for you!
Anyway, so after getting back to Tokyo I spent some more time with my friend who lives in the city, as well as met up with Simmo for some drinks as we separated on our journey. It’s really amazing how 10 years ago, we never would have had any contact again past those few days we, two travelers from opposite ends of the globe, managed to just so happen to meet in a foreign land. Now there’s Facebook, and to reconnect is just a few clicks away.
Julia and I visited Ikebukuro, which as she described it is the Akihabara for girls. We saw Namco Namja town, a small and very Japanese theme park on the top of the Sunshine City mall; an incredibly enduring place just because of how campy it was. If you’re in Ikebukuro, stop by this place, it’s only a few dollars to get in. We went to Nakano Broadway, which was a really old mall filled with otaku related goods, similar to Akihabara. Being in such an old building and surrounded by vintage toys and collectibles gave the illusion that you were back in the late 70s.
I had to catch the train to the airport to make my flight that night, so we headed back to Julia’s apartment to get my stuff and I departed, a little later than I thought, but with the efficiency of Japanese trains I figured that the 40 minute train ride would give me at least an hour of room. I WAS WRONG! Oh how much more wrong could I be? I missed check in by 10 minutes and was stuck in Japan another few days!! Oh the horror! While the thought of being able to stick around for a bit longer was kind of nice, I was mentally ready to go home and possibly hit up a day at Anime Expo, and I was at the limit of my budget for the trip. Julia and Amanda, thank God for them, offered to host me for remainder of my stay. I grabbed the last train back and after 40 minutes was in Tokyo again. Laughs were had, and we were soon eating dinner in a Dennys at Midnight, and let me tell you if you’re Japan you’ll need to go to a Japanese Dennys. That shit is AMAZING.
Julia and I went and visited Odaiba the next day, and we got to see the life sized Gundam, just as it did it’s daily routine. It was pretty inspiring to see and I really expected it to start walking and explode off into the atmosphere at any moment. I spent the next few days generally being lazy for the first time since leaving Perth. Taking naps in cafes in cafes and whatnot. And with that I was on my way home, fully satisfied that I was able to get a few extra days to make sure I had taken my fill of the place - さらば日本, farewell Japan until the next time. The flight passed by quick, I happened to sit next to a girl travelling back to San Diego from South East Asia on a route that just so happened to take her through Narita. So many amazing coincidences.
Journeys in Japan Pt 8
- Oh deer -
It was my last day in Kyoto, so decided to spend it outside of Kyoto, in the nearby city of Nara. Famous for its giant public park home to a thousand sacred deer, along with the largest wooden structure in the world called Todaiji, I had heard a lot of this place from friends who had been so I had to check it out myself.
The day was probably the hottest yet, the sun was beating down and it was humid as balls. Regardless, I was pretty set on walking everywhere I could this trip so I skipped the bus ride and made the 30 or so minute trek from the train station to the park. As soon as I entered the grounds the deer were there, lazing about in the shade and sauntering around looking for handouts from tourists. It was here that I learned Japanese girls are deathly afraid of deer! You could buy little packets of crackers from vendors to feed to the deer, and whenever someone would take one out, the spoiled creatures would flock to them in droves, making odd and hilarious whistling noises like someone trying to breath out with a clogged nose. I saw a girl run screaming “I’m scared!!” as a small hopeful doe approached her. Her boyfriend watched, amused. Turns out the guys weren’t much braver, I saw the same reaction from a group of high school boys.
I made my way through the crowd towards Todaiji, stopping to buy a delicious sushi riceball and eventually arrived at the giant temple. The inside was impressive, several towering buddhist idols stood inside looking over all who entered. After spending some time in the temple I made my way back to train station, stopping for lunch at a small restaurant where I tried a Japanese-ified Italian dish (although googling it’s name only brings up results related to Japan) called “doria”. My God. Why do we not have this in America? Basically a gratin dish with a cheese sauce and melted cheese on top (mine also had omelette and curry), it was one of the best comfort foods I’ve ever had.
- Capture the Colour photo contest -
I’m reposting this image as my entry to Travel Supermarket’s Capture the Colour photo contest. As per the rules of the contest, I am nominating 5 fellow bloggers to take part! William Camargo, Adrienne Shon, Michael Cabusi, Agent Sakur9 and Martin Wong.
Pictured are ancient and overgrown grave markers in the Okunoin graveyard at Mount Koya, Japan.
You escape from the roar and hustle and bustle of the concrete jungles that cover Japan, and find yourself ascending up into the mountains of Wakayama prefecture to the birthplace of Shingon Buddhism, one of the major schools of Buddhism in Japan. Towering skyscrapers are replaced by monstrous ancient cedar trees, convenience stores by somnolent temples and cell phone habituated city dwellers with bald headed monks. The air is filled with the sound of birds and cicadas.
Despite the initial impression of a place of esoterism and seclusion from modern Japanese life, it’s clear that beneath it all, that is not the case. Monks zip around in sporty cars, at temple entrances you’re greeted by Koyasan’s mascot “Koya-Kun”, a cutely drawn caricature of a travelling monk, and pilgrims are driven by bus to each of Koyasan’s holy areas where they follow their tour groups to receive holy merit by visiting as many of the mountain’s series of temples as they are able. Still, in the early morning when the crowds are back at their hotels, as you wander through various twisting pathways of the seemingly endless graveyard that enshrines some of Japan’s most famous and important historical figures, you can’t help but imagine yourself transported 1000 years into the past.
Journeys in Japan Pt 7
- The spirits must be guiding me -
On my second to last day in Kyoto I made general plans with Simon (the friend I made a few nights back) to do a dusk hike at the Fushimi Inari shrine, which is the long winding series of red torii gates running up a mountainside. Unfortunately the only way we could communicate was via e-mail, and Simon could only access the internet when connected to wi-fi (those who’ve been to Japan will know that wi-fi connections are a rare commodity), so my message telling him to meet me at the station was not received.
Hours earlier while he was taking a nap I had sent him an e-mail saying I would be going to the shrine, but I decided to take a detour first and explore Kyoto station, which has a large shopping market in it’s basement with fresh food vendors and various small takeout booths. The food was amazingly delicious looking and I had trouble choosing, but finally decided on some okonomiyaki. I settled on the stairs of the station to eat, and after about an hour and half since I had e-mailed Simon I set out for Inari. I waited at the front of the station, and after about 30 minutes I started to realize that he probably didn’t get my e-mail, meaning he was already out and about. I figured there would be a decent chance that he was either on his way to Inari, or he was already up on the path. After eating an ice cream and waiting another 30 minutes, I decided to get the show on the road.
After about 30 minutes of hiking, I hear someone call out my name behind me. By all the amazing coincidences, it’s Simon - and somehow he had chosen the exact same route to take as me (there are several forks in the path). Fitting with the trend of crazy coincidences and impeccable circumstances that made up my trip in Kyoto, I suppose in a way I wasn’t surprised we were able to meet up.
After hiking Inari we said our goodbyes. Simon would be leaving Kyoto for Tokyo the next day, and although our paths were splitting here, we would both be in Tokyo at the same time during the final leg of our trip, so we knew we would meet up again for one last night on the town. I headed straight to an onsen in northern Kyoto that I had read about, and it turned out to be one that I had visited with new friends when I first visited Japan in 2005. Will the coincidences ever stop?
Journeys in Japan Pt 6
- Ichi-go Ichi-e, once in a lifetime -
The next day the weather was sunny and perfect for the hike I was planning on doing - a trek starting from a sidepath at Ginkakuji temple that would lead up a mountain path, through the forest and past various clearings with piles of wood laid out for the upcoming festival where they light the giant 大 on the side of mount Daimonji. After about an hour of intense climbing in sweltering heat, once again fending off various insects, I made it to the cleared out area where the 大 symbol is marked in flame on the mountainside. You can see in the photo the pits where the wood is placed for the fire, along with the most incredible view of Kyoto.
After a short break to take in the scenery, I headed up the path to continue to mount Daimonji’s true peak, and then planned to make a loop that would take me down to the Tetsugaku no Michi, or path of philosophy, and then to Nanzenji temple. Unfortunately the trail had multiple paths and was not clearly marked, and in my hurry to find the way down I ended up taking the wrong route. I made my way to a gravel path through the mountain, but after 30 minutes I began to suspect something was not right. For starters, the sun was indicating I was walking north instead of south.
Eventually I passed through a tiny residential area where an old man was playing with his dog, and old ladies were tending their gardens. Continuing on I found signs that helped me find my location on my map - I was just south of the tiny town of Hieidaira, north east of mount Daimonji, and way far off from where I wanted to go. There would be no way to get back to Kyoto without trying to backtrack and find the correct mountain path, or walk through Hieidaira and hope to find a bus or train that would take me back into the city. Otherwise it would be what I calculated to be at least a 6 hour walk back.
The town was pleasant, all residential houses, and eventually as I walked toward the main road that cut through the mountains back into Kyoto I found a bus stop. 15 minutes later I was on a bus back into the city, and incredibly thankful I didn’t walk back. The mountain road turned out to be extremely tiny and would’ve been terrifying to walk, especially with the sun going down.
Back in Kyoto I got off the bus by Kyoto University and decided to walk to find something to eat. I had just gotten lost in the mountains of Kyoto and was starving! I was craving something other than Japanese food, so I decided to stop in at an Irish pub that I had read about online. This turned out to be one of the best decisions my whole trip. At the pub, which was run by expats and had a great atmosphere, I had a Guinness and fish and chips and sat in a corner booth to read book. After an hour or so a band came in to play and I had to relinquish my spot to them (and was compensated with a free pint). I decided to sit by a foreigner who was in by himself and looked as if he had been on a long walk as well. Introductions were made, turns out he was from Australia and was on a long trip throughout Asia. Simon was his name, and after a few rounds of beer and conversation we were friends and on our way to a new bar that he had read about called A-Bar.
A-Bar was quite the unique experience - the interior felt like the inside of a log cabin - parties sat together at long tables so you had no choice but to mingle with the people around you. We just so happened to be seated next to some African gentlemen, who were some of the most interesting fellows I met during the whole trip. Evans was a PHD student and had been in Kyoto for some time and was showing his friends around, all very educated guys. We talked about Japan and Japanese culture, life in Africa, animal behavior, and all sorts of interesting topics. After they left for another bar (we would later run into them again, with many hugs, handshakes and slaps on the back), Simon and I decided to sit with a group of foreigners and Japanese who warmly welcomed us. Turns out they were study abroad students at Doshisha University and Walker, the first fellow we talked to, invited us to a pizza party that he was having the next night. How could we turn that down?
Journeys in Japan Pt 5
- New Friends -
On my second day in Kyoto I decided to brave the rain and go on a hike through a mountain trail that would take me from Kurama to Kibune, both small towns north of Kyoto. At first the walk was pleasant, albeit strenuous, but as soon as the I entered the dirt trails higher up into the mountains, I became weary of the various insects that seemed to want to eat me alive (the sign at the entrance of the path warning of all the various poisonous insects and animals didn’t help my paranoia), and there was a certain black flying bug that would not stop following me. Because of this hike I now realize how much I dislike bugs, although I probably was being unreasonably afraid. I hurried as quickly as I could down the path to Kibune, at this point just wanting the hike to be done with. I got to the town tired, soaked and hungry (for some reason I didn’t think to eat anything before the hike), and because of the rain most of the restaurants were shut and to make things worse I realized that the walk to the station was actually quite far, about 1.5 miles, so I hurried on and eventually was on the train back.
Turns out I took the wrong train and instead of heading back to Kyoto station, I was back at the very beginning in Kurama, which was not so bad as there was a famous onsen (hot spring bath) in the area that I wanted to try, and so 15 minutes later I was soaking in an rotenburo (outdoor bath), rain drizzling down and an amazing view of fog covered mountain I had just hiked (Here is a photo from Japan guide of the bath that I was in). While in the bath several foreign guys got in, along with a Japanese guy with dreadlocks. We all sat in silence admiring the scenery and eventually after a long soak, departed.
In the train on the way back to Kyoto, I happened to sit by the same fellows I shared the bath with. One of them asked me to take a photo of them and I obliged in English. He was surprised at my American accent and before long introductions were made and I was to join them for dinner. Turns out they were two designers named Cyril and Willy visiting from New York, being shown the sites by Daijiro, a friend of their old classmate. Meeting Cyril, Willy and Dai would be the beginning of series of new friends in Kyoto.
Dai took us to Kyoto’s red light district called Gion, and we ate sushi and other various dishes at an Izakaya (a sort of pub). After food we went on a walk around Gion and then to a ramen shop whose specialty was chicken broth/meat, and it was quite delicious. Dai then brought us to what he called, “the real Kyoto” - a unmarked bar on the third floor of a inconspicuous back alley building right next to an abandoned elementary school. It was tiny, dark and dingy, but totally charming. After several beers we went our separate ways - however I knew from that point that the adventure was just beginning.
Journeys in Japan Pt1 [cont.]
Photos from the first day in Tokyo! Including:
Awesome airplane food, my tiny room, meeting up with Julia, eating at Ramen Jiro.
Later - photos from DisneySEA and the Ghibli Museum!
Journeys in Australia Pt 5
Some photos from the day. Today we were hammered again with torrents of rain (in fact a tornado ripped through a neighborhood in Perth), and I took a quick moment of sunshine and a part in the clouds to walk from my Grandma’s to my Aunt and Uncle’s house. The sky was brilliant and clear, and seemed much more vast than any sky I had seen in the US.
Adam cooked lunch for us - kangaroo steak and salad. I was thinking perhaps I’d see a kangaroo while I was here, but I didn’t expect it would be on my plate. The meat was lean and tasted pretty much like normal cow steak.
Journeys in Australia Pt 4
With it being the work week there hasn’t been a lot for me to do except chat with my grandma, read Lord the Rings, and go on the computer. Monday was West Australia Day, and my cousin and I went out for burgers at place called Alfred’s Kitchen, which apparently is said to have Perth’s best burger. Seeing as how I’ve only been to one other burger place I don’t think I have enough experience to say it’s the best in Perth, but it is definitely damn good. I had a steak, egg, cheese and bacon burger with a side of chips (fries), and it was really quite amazing. My favorite part of the meal was the fries, they do them large cut and perfectly crispy with a soft center. Probably the best I’ve had in a very long time. My only complaint is that it was quite expensive, but then again I haven’t seen much that isn’t expensive here.
The past couple nights my cousin and I have been playing Magic the Gathering - he bought a box of booster packs and we did a sealed draft by opening 6 packs each and making a 40 card deck out of the best cards. Fun stuff!
Today we got hit with heavy rain and crazy wind - not very welcoming for my other cousins who are coming in from Seattle/LA tomorrow.
Journeys in Australia Pt 3
On Saturday we went for a dim sum brunch (it seems most of my photos from this trip are of food, not that that’s a bad thing), where my cousins, aunt and uncle, grandma and I all stuffed our faces. I was able to eat my favorites, sticky rice and cha fun (god I love cha fun), and also had garlic squid, juk porridge, har gao, and cups and cups of really good tea, probably the best I’ve had at any dim sum place.
That night my Uncle cooked a BBQ at home and we all stuffed our faces again. Definitely a lot of face stuffing this trip.
Adrienne’s store is live! Another from our shoot, once again photo by me and post-production by Adrienne. I super love this one, Color is a really awesome model and knew exactly what to do.
Anyone looking for an awesome point and shoot camera? I’m selling mine so that I can upgrade my cell phone before I leave for Australia/Japan. It’s a great camera that has a lot of excellent features that most point and shoots do not offer. 3 batteries, a 16gb card and a case included.
One of the shots from the photoshoot yesterday! It was a really fun and interesting shoot - everything was DIY. The lighting setup was super ghetto (just a couple of spotlights clamped to tripods), but I think the results were quite nice. All post-production was done by Adrienne.