• Japan In Reflection

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    Being one of the destinations I had always desired to visit, I was apprehensive that Japan might not live up to my high expectations. In many aspects, my expectations were exceeded. From the extreme, almost absurd cleanliness, to the absolute regard for aesthetic minimalism. Japan is a uniquely functional, polite and stunningly beautiful country. Of course, as with any society, under such outwardly apparent aspects, there lies many things which are more or less kept hidden. Having only ten short days of observation, I am well aware I hardly scratched the surface of a deeper and highly faceted sense of despair and xenophobia which many Japanese contend with. From such anecdotes as the Aokigahara “suicide forest” in the foothills of Mt. Fuji, where dozens choose a shorter path yearly (Read more if you’re mentally stable here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aokigahara) . Or the readily apparent exhaustion and submission of an overworked labor force one senses on an evening in the Tokyo subway. These and countless other darker issues exist in an outwardly welcoming and exorbitantly polite society. 

    Perhaps I am predisposed to a certain awareness of less observed, and admittedly darker aspects of certain places. This in no way to say Japan is not full of innumerable positive, and brighter countenances. The sense of satisfaction, and simple joy of a Japanese salaryman loudly slurping his lunchtime Ramen. Or the utmost preparation, and ritual that goes into the simple act of enjoying a cup of tea during a tea ceremony. It is easy to observe among the Japanese ,an imminent desire for personal enjoyment, and gratification. It sadly seems these desires for self fulfillment are often outweighed by a greater need to serve a highly organized and hierarchical economic and industrial overseer. This sense of responsibility and honor obviously stretch far back into Japanese history, and I would be misguided in either judging or opposing them. I’m simply trying to organize my observations on what was a stunning, depressing, and uplifting ten days.

    Of course these observations may be patently naive, and I am quite aware of the downfalls inherent in attempting to understand such a complex society in a minute amount of time. Perhaps upon my inevitable future return I’ll be able to break through a few cultural barriers, which I have learned takes much time and patience. But for the time being, color me confused, intrigued, and content with my small whirlwind through what could by any account be the most unique country on Earth.

  • Alphabetical Associations

    ARRIVING ASYMPTOMATICALLY AT AN AUTOMATED AUTUMN, BEFORE BECOMING BURNING BROWN. CREATING CURSED COMPLICATIONS. CAPITAL C. DENYING DILLIGENCE, DESCRIBING DELIVERANCE
    DELIVERED DIRECTLY. EVERYTHING ENCOMPASSING ECONOMIC EXERCISES, EVIL. FOREGOING FINANCIAL FURIOSITY, FREEDOM. GOODNESS GRACIOUS, GENEROSITY.
    HITHERTO HELPING HOLD HANDS, I IGNITE IGNOMINITY. JINGOISTIC JEALOUSY JUST (generates the need for a “g”). KICKING KETTLES KERBSIDE, LOVE LASTS LONGER.
    LETS LINGER LINGUISTICALLY…..
    LOVE LANGUAGE LIKE LIBATIONS.
    MIGHT MYTHOLOGY MISLEAD MALICIOUSLY? NOT NEVER! NOT NEVER! NAY! ONLY ONE’S OPEN OPINIONS OVERRIDE ORIGINALITY. PRESCRIBE PILLS, PERHAPS PERCEPTION
    PREVAILS, PERHAPS POETRY. QUIETLY QUESTION WHY THE LETTER Q EXISTS. RECOILINGLY REQUESTING REDRESSES SEEMS SILLY. STILL STANDING SAYS SOCIETY, TILL THEY TURN TOWNWARDS.
    TYPICALLY TINMEN TUMBLE, UNTIL UNDERSTANDING UNDENIABLE VULNERABILITY. VEXED VIVIDLY VIA VENTS VENORATING VACUOUSNESS. WE WILL WILLINGLY WHETHER
    WHO WORSHIPS WONDEROUSLY. XYZ

  • Kyoto: I Needed More Than A Day

    After a week to acclimatize to the mystifying and often outright alien things that happen seemingly every minute in Japan, I was somewhat relieved to have a break due to rain in Kyoto. Unfortunately in retrospect, I could have spent a lot more time there. The one clear day I did have to spend was packed with both aimless wanderings, and happenings upon places that cemented my reasoning and desires to come to Japan. Unlike Tokyo, Kyoto held a palpable sense of history which was jutting up against a recent foray into modern architecture. Tokyo on the other hand was becoming consumed by the ultramodern, while struggling to maintain vestiges of it’s long-reaching history.

    After figuring my way out of the large train station, my first stop, although unintended as I misread the map, was Sanjusengando (or Rengo-in) Temple. Set among an extremely minimalist courtyard with various pools and orange hallways is one of Japan’s largest and most sacred temples.

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     The main temple building holds 1001 statues of the Goddess Kannon (A Buddhist deity of Mercy), along with her protective deities, which range from Zen, to Hindu, to Buddhist in origin. It is also the longest wooden structure in japan to this day. Here is a view of a portion of the main structure, with the wind doing it’s best to accent the architecture. Unfortunately photos are forbidden within the main shrine. I truly am disappointed I can’t show you the inside, I guess you’ll just have to go for yourselves.

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     And another view to give a perspective on the size of the structure, this is about half of it.

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     I was quite happy with my mistakenly getting off at the wrong bus-stop and stumbling upon such an interesting and historical temple. I decided to take a walk to the historical riverside Higoshiyama district, which looked on the map to be around 2 miles. It turned out to be about 4, but I was not at all bothered as the streets of Kyoto are far less bustling and hectic than those of Tokyo. I passed innumerable interesting sidestreets and shrines, but knowing I had a limited amount of time, I continued toward my destination. And being Japan, of course there was a giant cartoon cat in uniform to guide me. Across the river is Higoshiyama.

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     Higoshiyama consists of a few square kilometers of claustrophobic alleyways, mostly populated by high end restaurants, and traditional teahouses. I was very tempted to have a nice meal and cold drink after the long walk, but the prices quickly dissuaded me. There was nothing under $80-100 for a good sized lunch!

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    After getting lost in the small alleyways, I got on the subway and proceeded to get far more lost on my way to Fushimi-Inari mountain temple. I thought I was on the right train, but started to get a sinking feeling when we passed about 5 train stops and continued speeding up. End result was me at the far northern edge of Kyoto, surrounded by factories. That little detour cost me about 2 hours, which was worrying as my planned hike to the top of Fushimi-Inari was supposed to take 2 to 3 hours, and it was already beginning to get darker. After much pantomiming, and broken English, which I had become quite accustomed to at this point, I finally made it to the bottom of the mountain and decided to get to the top as quickly as possible. 

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     I had seen a few pictures of this place before, and knew of thee vermillion gates, which had been dedicated by wealthy patrons of the temple over the course of many years. What I was not prepared for was the sheer numbers of them, thousands after thousands! The reason for the color of the gates is the fox being the guardian of Inari mountain. 

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     The hike began to steepen, and my pace began to quicken as the light was fading and I had no idea how far I had left to go. I took an apparently mistaken turn, which again led me to one of the more impressive sights I had seen on the trip. A perfectly split forest between towering bamboo on one side and massive pines on the other.

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     I was sure this was not the right way, but it was so intriguing I had to continue…. I happened upon this graveyard, which as you can see has smaller versions of the vermillion gates set on the headstones, presumably as a blessing to the dead, by relatives who could not afford a full size model.

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     At this point I was a few miles into the forest, and hadn’t seen anyone. The trail was becoming extremely steep, and the light was fading fast, but I kept spotting vermillion gates, so assumed I must be headed in the right direction.

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    By now I was 2 hours in and increasingly unsure if I’d make it to the top, but suddenly the trail opened up,  and the summit came into view.

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    Like many difficult hikes I have been on, it was not the summit which turned out to be the most exciting, but rather the return. The vermillion gates, and temple buildings were all backlit in the quiet darkness. This led to an eerily beautiful trek toward the bottom.

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     After seeing this place I was truly sad I would be leaving Kyoto the next day. I knew there were countless more secrets to explore, countless surprises that would have to be left to my already manifesting desire to return.

  • Diverging Paths

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  • Omi-cho Market Kanazawa. Unparalleled Freshness.

    As much as I would be able to say about the beauty and absolute aesthetic perfection of the seafood available here, I think just a small description will do these pictures justice. Again, the most striking thing about this market was the complete lack of any smell of fish!

     

  • Tokyo to Kanazawa.

    After an extremely hectic, and relatively sleepless 3 days in Tokyo, I was happy to be headed in a more tranquil and quiet direction. Namely Kanazawa, on the west coast of Japan. Being me, I left the planning to the last minute, and was grateful to have help from one of the capsule hotel staff. He was a local University student, and had recently traveled extensively in Europe, so his English was quite good. He wrote me an itinerary in both English and Japanese! Arigato gazai mashta Koya-san! I left the capsule hotel with a sigh of relief, as I knew that my next hotel would have something I hadn’t seen in over 4 days and 6,000 miles. A real bed! 

    I hopped on the subway with a modicum of confidence, as I only had 2 stops to get to Ueno station. I was giddy with excitement knowing I would be departing on the Shinkansen, or Bullet Train, something I had always wanted to experience.

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    Futuristic, Fast….

    For some sadistic and infuriating reason, every photo and video I took on the Shinkansen didn’t get saved on my camera….. Never happened before, perhaps the immense velocity at which I was traveling (~318 km/h) caused my camera to malfunction, no that’s silly, but every picture before and after worked fine… Odd. I changed trains in a sleepy mountain town called Echigo-Yuzawa. It was extremely scenic, and I was half tempted to take a stroll and delay my trip for a few hours. I thought better of it, and waited the 90 or so minutes for my connecting train to Kanazawa.

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    My bags, looking lonesome in the quiet train station.

    When the train arrived, I mistakenly got on one of the reserved cars, and sat down. I had no idea some cars were reserved, and some were open. After a brief episode of pantomiming and bowing to the ticket-taker, I made my way to the non-reserved car. The trip from Echigo-Yuzawa to Kanazawa was amazingly scenic, with brief passes near the Sea of Japan interrupted by tunnels that often seemed to go for miles.  After emerging from one of the longer tunnels, I was stunned to see a valley which was completely unlike the previous scenery. If I hadn’t of known better, I would have sworn I was in the Swiss Alps!

    Wow!

    Wow!

    After about three minutes of this breathtaking backdrop, we entered another tunnel, and emerged in a completely industrial mining town. Amazing how quickly the scenery changes in Japan! By this time, the sun was setting, and I was glad I hadn’t taken those few hours to sightsee in the previous town. Nothing worse than arriving to an unknown and potentially confusing place after dark. We pulled into Kanazawa Station around 6 pm, and I was a bit stunned at how large and modern it was. After finding the tourism information center (I try not to rely on such things much, but I have found them indispensably helpful in Japan!), I was pointed in the direction of my hotel. Thankfully it was only a five minute walk from the station! I couldn’t resist setting up my tripod to get a  shot of the amazing entrance to the train station.

    Traditional vs. Modern

    Traditional vs. Modern

    I was exhausted and extremely relieved to arrive in a hotel lobby that was both tasteful and welcoming.  I had a hard time believing such a fancy looking place was only ~$55 a night! Aside from the rooms being about 12 feet by 12 feet, everything was new and immaculate. I hardly remember my head hitting the pillow.