Thursday, August 23, 2007

I'm home!

I survived the marathon flight from Narita to Toronto and then to Kingston. My last few days at Narita were lots of fun. I spent the first day hanging out and catching up on my sleep. The next day I went to Kamakura with my friend and also to her husband's parent's house. We saw lots of shrines and temples and another friend joined for the afternoon's excitement. Later we ordered pizza Japanese style-teryaki :) yummmm
The next day we went shopping and picked up new stuff and souvenirs before I had to leave. I slept all the way back on the plane, and now I'm suddenly tired again.
I have done a lot in the last month.

Monday, August 20, 2007


links to my pictures
here they are

8 nights 8 cities

So, from my last night in Seoul, I have not stayed in the same place 2 nights in a row. It has been hard to find a computer sometimes, so I have been using my yen carefully to pay for time in the internet cafe to upload pictures and be sure that I have space in my USB to house the new pictures that I will take. Unfortunately I have been neglecting to write here. I will try to update you now on the events of the past week.

After Seoul I stayed in Gyeong ju, then in Hiroshima where I last posted my news. I went to the peace park in the evening, and was glad to go with another girl from the hostel because it looked a bit sketchy in the dark, and there were people that appeared to live there in the park. In any case, there was lots of lighting around the monuments, and the girl I went with had seen the place in the day time so she knew where to go. After that we bought strange food from the 7-11, and crashed for the night.

The next morning I decided I would go to Miyajima to see the shrine in the water. I had seen pictures, and had always wanted to go there. At the hostel many people had gone there to see fireworks the night before, and said that it was well worth going, but not when it was crowded. I checked out at 8am, and left my bags at the hostel, and I headed out on the tram to the train station. I could use my rail pass to get to the end of the line, and then I walked 1 block to the ferry dock, and with my rail pass I could just walk on to the ferry. It was about a 20 minute ride to the island. From the boat I could see the shrine gate in the water. The contrast of the orange gate, the blue of the ocean and the green of the mountains was beautiful. From the ferry dock I was greeted by a group of wild deer-well, maybe not so wild-but it seems like deer are not only found in Nara. These deer were hungry, and tried to eat my clothes and my pamphlet about the island. There were signs telling you not to feed the deer...that it might cause problems to their digestion. I walked to the shrine, and toured around. I took so many was such a beautiful day. I then wandered in the direction of the rope way. I had seen pictures of the rope way, 2 different types of rope way that would bring you to the top of the mountain to see the spectacular view of the island and ocean and other islands around. I swallowed my fear of heights and bought my tickets and got into the small cable car with 2 other people. It was a hot scary ride (nothing bad happened, but we were just so hight up). We transferred to the bigger cable car to get to the top. It sure was an amazing view, and there were monkeys here too! I wonder if there are monkeys on every mountain in Japan. I didn`t have a lot of time to stay at the top of the mountain because I wanted to see the peace park before heading to Kyoto later in the afternoon, so I headed back down the ropeway, and made my way to the ferry and back to the tram and to the peace park.

The peace park was anything but peaceful. I could see and hear from the tram that there was some kind of protest or demonstration or something going on. There were caravans of vehicles sporting Japanese flags, and coats of arms that looked like military something. It is very rare to see Japanese people waving their flag...I have seen flags only at schools actually. I remembered hearing that it was only the right wing nationalists that took to showing off the flag. These people definitely wanted to be seen and heard. There were loudspeakers on the tops of their vans, and they were broadcasting messages to all around. I couldn`t understand anything that they said. Closer to the peace park I started seeing police, and roads blocked off. I wasn`t sure how much was regular police presence, and how much was because of this demonstration, or how much was because of a meeting or something that was taking place at the peace museum. I asked a woman on the tram what was happening, but she just told me it was difficult, and english was difficult. I got off at the atomic bomb dome, and noticed then that the police were blocking the roads, and they were in full protective gear, and had riot shields waiting behind them. This made me a bit more nervous. I still wanted to see the peace park in the day time, this was my reason for going to Hiroshima after all. Unfortunately my visit was not a calm and peaceful one, I was continually looking around me for what was going on, and wanting to hurry out of the area as fast as I could. People in arm bands were passing out flyers, but I think that was for something other than the protest, but who knows. I was told that the museum was closed unless I was with the people in the arm bands--maybe there was a convention going on, I`m still not sure. In any case, I saw the peace park, took some pictures, got really nervous and went back to the hostel. I asked the hostel owner about what was going on, and he said that it was the extreme right wing Japanese people who were protesting against the Japanese surrender at the end of WWII on the 16th of Aug. It sure did make a statement to do that in the peace park. Anyway, he said that this group is sometimes dangerous, and it might be bad to be a foreigner in Hiroshima today. With those words I got my bags and headed directly to the tram that took me to the train station where I would take a bullet train to Kyoto.

Because of all the added excitement in the peace park I had missed my original train with the reserved seat, so I was now waiting in line for a non reserved seat on the next bullet train. This train went to Osaka, and then I would catch another train from Osaka to Kyoto. The timing of this trip was not the best. This was the day that most people were returning from their time in their hometowns for OBON (festival when the ancestors come back to their hometown). Osaka is a big city, so many people were coming back to Osaka, and the non reserved seats were not easy to find. Actually, there werent any, but still we were crammed onto the train. All the seats were occupied, all of the aisle space was occupied, even the spaces behind the back seats were occupied by small children. I was lucky enough to get some space beside a wall in the space between the two train cars. I was beside the bathroom and the drink machine along with about 10 other people and their bags. At each stop though more people were pushed onto the train. I was standing up, squashed between many people for about an hour. There was a young girl and her family on one side of me, and we were trying to communicate back and forth. Her dad knew a bit of English, so it made the time go by a little faster to have company.

In Kyoto it was about 37 C, and I had my 2 backpacks and 2 bags (still carrying my gear for Fuji). I followed the rather ambiguous directions to my hostel, and arrived there drenched with sweat. I checked in, and showered, and headed to the bus to find a good place to see Daimonji. A kind man on the bus directed me to the most popular place, and I arrived to see that many other people had been there probably most of the day having picnics and enjoying the afternoon by the water. It was dark when I arrived, but I could see that many women were dressed in Yukata, the summer cotton kimono, and some men were wearing theirs also. Some had sparklers and were having mini fireworks by the river. I asked a police man where the best place was, and he waved me on, pointing and saying "besto, besto". I walked until I found a really crowded place, figuring that it must be good, and sat down. The crowd was peaceful, and so polite. They remained seated the entire time waiting until exactly 8:00 when we could see the daimonji begin. This is a part of the OBON festival where large fires in the shape of chinese characters are lit on 5 or 6 mountains in Kyoto. From one place it is never possible to see all of the fires. From this place I was able to see 2 of them though. It was an amazing sight to see these huge fires in contrast to the dark mountains and the dark sky. They are lit for 20 minutes, and then quickly extinguished. After people had taken their pictures they left in an orderly fashion, and disappeared into subway and train stations. I managed to find a bus that would take me near the hostel, and I walked the rest of the way and went to bed.

I had made plans to meet another friend in Osaka the next day at 1:00, so in the morning I repacked my stuff, discarding things I would not need because this was my last hostel...bye bye towel, flip flops, etc. I checked out, and found a bus to the nearest station. I took a train to Osaka, and managed somehow to find a coin locker big enough for both bags. I found a store that sold salad, and ate that and yogurt for lunch at the station. I met my friend Yuko and her dad at 1, and we had tea in a hotel restaurant while we talked for about 2 hours. Her father left to go back to his hometown, and we went off to find an internet cafe so I could make space on my camera for picture taking that evening. In the evening we met 5 other people who were all students together and came to Queen`s as a big group. One of the guys was recently married, and another girl from the group was too, although she couldnt come for dinner. Even though it was holiday time, many people still had to work. It was too bad that I missed them...maybe another time. It was a fantastic dinner in a great restaurant on the 17th floor, with a view of Osaka. We had a great time, although English was a bit of a struggle for some (it was 5 years since they had used it). I am so glad that I could meet everyone again. After dinner we went to another friend`s house for a sleep over. Both of us were heading to Shin-Osaka station in the morning to take bullet trains in opposite directions. My friend was going back to work, and I was going to climb a mountain!

In the morning we were up early to catch morning subways to get us to the train on time. I just made it actually, and took the shinkansen to mishima station where Aya and her father were waiting for me. He drove us to the bottom of Fuji, and we got ready in the parking lot, ate some food on the bus to the 5th station, and then started to climb. It was misty and a bit rainy on the way up. We couldn`t see up or down, so it was not as scary as I thought it might be. I was amazed though at how fast I got tired and out of breath. We were starting the climb from 2400m above sea level. We had to rest for a while there just to get used to the height. I had been drinking tea from Peru that Tomomi had given me that was supposed to be good for altitude sickness. We needed to rest almost every 10 or 15 minutes and we were walking pretty slowly using our mountain sticks. We arrived at the 6th station pretty quickly (it was just 100m up). We got stamps burned on our sticks, rested for about half an hour, drank more tea, and continued on to the new 7th station where we would stay and sleep until midnight. We arrived after a very long (60minutes or more) climb. It was misty, but I was too hot to wear anything waterproof, so I was in my bare arms proclaiming that I was ok, I was a Canadian...all the Japanese climbers were pretty bundled up to stay warm.

At the new 7th station we got the stamps burned on our sticks, checked into the lodge and were given a bunk for 3. Instead of bunk beds, they had kind of bunk rooms, so we were given an upper box, with a ladder, and a futon floor, 3 pillows and 2 heavy futon blankets. There were hooks all around the edge for our gear, and we hung up our boots inside plastic bags. We slept about 3 hours, and then woke to eat ramen and snacks, and went to sleep again for another 3 hours. It was midnight when we started out again, and the weather was entirely different. It was dark, and the sky was clear. We could see the milky way, and Orion (which surprised me because I am used to that being in the sky in winter), we also saw many shooting stars. It was colder, but still not COLD really. I didn`t need my jacket yet, just sleeves, so I was in my long sleeves, and others were wearing thick hats and gloves. We walked on through the night stopping often for snacks, or tea, or just a chance to breathe.

We arrived to the old 7th station and were told to be quiet because people were sleeping. We didn`t get stamps because we would do that in the morning when we came down. We rested, and continued on the much steeper path to station 8. It seems like a blur now, all of the darkness, the frequent stops, and the step after step up the mountain feeling like you were getting nowhere, but following the headlight of the person in front of you step by step. My mountain stick found a rhythm, helping me to climb up the stairs, up the rocks, over the boulders, and not to slip in the pumice gravel as we walked on. At the 9th station we knew that we were getting close, the path was getting more crowded, and the pace was slowing down. We passed a group of blind hikers, each blind person paired to a sighted one, climbing in the dark up the mountain to see the sun rise. I am not exactly sure what would possess them do to this, but maybe it is the same for me...I was not sure at this point, why I was climbing up this mountain in the dark either. We kept climbing, and saw that around 4am the sky was getting pretty pink. We climbed on passing tori gates, and pretty soon we didn`t need the flashlights and the headlights to see any more. We climbed on extremely slowly with the crowd, hanging on to the ropes that outlined the path, and depending on our mountain sticks to help us with each step we continued on watching the sky become more and more pink. After station 9.5 we could see that dawn would soon be breaking. The pace quickened as people charged up the mountain to see the sun peak over the cloudy horizon. We just made it in time, shortly after 5am we were at the top to see the sun rise over the volcano. It was unbelievably cold at the top when we stopped moving. I needed that extra sweater that I had carried this entire month. I was very glad of my Canadian toque, and wool socks. We sat on the top of the mountain for some time, catching our breath, and marveling at the fact that we actually climbed the mountain. We took many pictures, and then headed to get the most important stamp of all on our sticks. There is a shrine at the top of the mountain that stamps sticks, and will make a calligraphy page to keep as a souvenir of your climb. There was also a phone which I used to call home, and a post office, where I mailed the last of my post cards. I bet it will take a long time for them to get to their destinations.

We walked around the crater, taking our time, having breakfast, trying to warm up in the sunshine. Along the crater we walked up to the highest point of the mountain, which was perhaps the scariest climb of all. The gravel was tiny, and very loose, so I was clinging to the fence at the edge, realizing though that a fence at the top of a volcano may still not be the safest place to be. I was glad when we reached the top, and even more glad to see that the path downward on the other side was not nearly so treacherous. Around the crater we could see many mountains peeking up from beneath the cloudy sea below us. We walked onward until we saw the top of the mountain reached from another path. At this site there were people cooking food, and even a coke machine. 500¥ for a bottle. We bought some souvenirs, and then finished our tour of the crater. We rested for a bit, put on sunscreen and headed downward.

It was hard to get used to going down when we had been climbing up for so long. DOWN requires an entirely different set of muscles, and a different technique of mountain stick and foot placement. I was busy concentrating on my feet, so I didn`t look at the view much. When we stopped I was amazed to see how small the people below us looked, and how steep the path above us looked. I decided that concentrating on my feet was probably the smartest way to continue. Down was definitely faster than up. We didn`t have the traffic jams, and the difficulty of darkness, but we did have to actively fight against gravity trying to make us slip and slide down the path. We stopped at each station to get our sticks burned on the way down, but didn`t need the rest breaks in between as much as on the way up.

After about 3 or 4 hours we were down the mountain, and on the bus. The plan was to find a swimming pool with a jacuzzi to relax. We swam and showered and got clean, and then ate there before heading to Atami where dinner was waiting for us. We slept early, and Aya`s sister joined us in the middle of the night. Aya left early in the morning, and I was with Aya`s mom and sister the next day. We went to an fancy soba restaurant, and then went looking for souvenirs from Atami.

I left Atami at 5:30 and headed on the shinkansen to Tokyo, and then took the express to Narita where Tomomi met me at the station. My legs were still sore, and I was glad of the mountain stick! I had a quiet evening with Tomomi, and slept until late in the morning. I have been using her computer to update my pictures and to write this extremely long post. Tomorrow we plan on one more adventure to Kamakura, and then the next evening I will fly home to Canada. Time has flown by so fast!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Back to Japan

I had such an amazing week in Korea with my friend and his family. I was sad to leave! I met so many old friends, experienced the busy life in Seoul, the quiet peaceful places in Seoul (I was surprised to find how many there are), and I have been up in several tall buildings at night to see the spectacular views. I even went to an amusement park, and near the DMZ to look over at North Korea with binoculars. I tried so many interesting foods, and was able to eat more spices than I thought.

The last day together my friend and I went to Gyeoung Ju (maybe that is how to spell it). It is an historical area in the country side. I saw some famous temples, and took a crazy bus ride up a mountain when it was raining, or we were in a cloud, im not sure, but it was a wet road, and he was driving fast through the hair pin turns and I had to keep closing my eyes so I couldnt see over the edge. At the top it was a beautiful view into nothingness as we were for sure in a cloud. It wasnt raining or anything, just mist, like you are dreaming, but not really. Seeing the shapes of temples and lanterns coming out of the mist was truly amazing. We walked through the rain/cloud drops falling from the trees until we got to a building that housed a large carved Buddha statue that was sitting serenely up high on the mountain. My friend said that he had been there once at dawn and seen the colours of the rising sun reflecting off of the statue and the jewel in its forehead.

After braving the bus ride back down the mountain we went to a museum to see archaelogical finds from the large tombs of the area. There were so many things on display, from buttons to crowns, mirrors, pottery, tools etc. I was glad to have my friend to help give me useful insight to all of the treasures. We then went to see the tombs themselves, HUGE earthen mounds rising into the sky like pyramids almost but round-kinda like what you would see on teletubbies. We could tour inside one of them to see the structure of the tomb, pretty cool actually. After that we went to see an old observatory, a platform upon which people went to see the sky more clearly. It is not very high, but the shape is rather intriguing.

We stayed in Gyeoung Ju for the night, in a motel near the bus station, and then took a bus to Busan in the morning. He saw me off at the international ferry terminal, and I continued on my way to Hakata by boat, and then to Hiroshima by shinkansen. I arrived here and realized that I am a bit tired. I took it easy, and just walked around the park tonight (with another girl that I met here--it is a little sketchy there at night). We saw the atomic bomb dome and the statue of Sadako and the 1000 paper cranes that I learned about when I was in brownies. It is beautiful at night, but I am sure it will be even more so in the daylight.

Tomorrow my plan is to go to Miyajima if I can wake up early enough, and then go to the peace museum. I will take a train to Kyoto later in the afternoon, and see Daimonji (the fires on the mountain) there tomorrow night.

It is HOT in this computer room, and the keyboard is strange, and I pay by the minute, so I am going to sign off now. More to come later.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Seoul Tower

Today was a bit of a lazy morning. We stayed home until lunch listening to the rain fall, and watching some english TV programs on my friend's computer. I went out for lunch with his family to a restaurant where you cook meat on a grill over hot coals right at your table. The meat is then put onto a leaf of lettuce, or sesame leaves, sauce and rice are added, and the leaf is then wrapped around all of it and you eat it like a little bundle. It was fun to do, and tasted really good. After lunch we met another friend at a traditional Korean village that was set up-kinda like Upper Canada village, with model houses and other buildings. We had traditional tea and cookies, and toured the area. It was interesting to see their old fashioned things, and how similar they are to some of our old fashioned things. We don't however have a teepee made of straw with barrels set in the ground inside of it to house kimchi and pickles. I couldn't guess the purpose for this structure. It was nice to see my other friend again. Since we last met he stayed in Canada for a while, and now has 2 kids, one of them was born in Canada. He had to get home to his family, so it was a shorter visit than we had expected.

Now just the two of us went to a market area of Seoul to have a look. I was told that it was crowded and that there was energy there. I had never seen such a market, people selling anything from silkworm larvae (to eat) to purses to pickles to socks to T-shirts with the strangest English I've ever seen on them. I'm sure some of them have just copied error messages from computers and put them on shirts, or else they choose the words because they look cool, not because of the sense of them. It was pouring rain on and off, and although there were some tarps slung up over the stalls we were getting pretty wet, and the vendors looked to be closing up. We went to a department store and found some books with the cutest English (or almost English) phrases on them. Some of them are rather poetic in the round about way they get to the point of the sentence, others simply took dictionary definitions and made that the text of the design.

After the store we went to see the southernmost gate of Seoul (historically that is). Currently it is surrounded by traffic on all sides, but it proved to be a good refuge from the rain, and had a particularly interesting ceiling painting of 2 dragons. After resting inside the arch of the gate and waiting for the rain to calm down, we took a cab and got dinner, then went to Seoul tower. The tower is on a hill, and even so is not as tall as the CN tower, but you make the approach to the base of the tower by cable car, which for me was quite scary. We were there after dark, so even though it was rainy the view of the lights was still gorgeous. I've never seen such a fantastic night view. The river was lit up, and the bridges twinkled with hundreds of car headlights and tail lights. After making several slow loops around the observation deck and sitting and enjoying the view for quite a while we came down from the tower, and down from the cable car, and back to my friend's home.

Another long and wonderful day. Tomorrow we're going to meet another friend in the evening, but maybe take it a bit easier in the day. Hopefully with nice weather we can go for a walk, or bike by the Han River. I'm finding the beautiful places that are hidden in the busy city. The crowds and noise in the city make the peaceful quiet places that we are finding seem even more delightful. I'm having a wonderful time.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


We made a plan to meet another friend and her family at Everland yesterday. It is a huge amusement park, 30-40 minutes by bus from Seoul. It is like Canada's Wonderland fused with the desire to be Disney land. There were lots of rides and parades every few hours, magic shows and circus performances, we even saw African dancing. The weather was great, and the lines took no more than 40 minutes per ride. We rode roller coasters and water rides all day, stopping to have lunch and dinner with my other friend's family. Her two little kids are so cute!

Before lunch we went to the summer splash parade. We were warned before hand that we might get wet, and they passed out plastic bags to put cameras and phones and wallets into...I had no idea what was to come. There was singing and dancing and parade floats, and everyone around seemed to have water guns and rain coats on. There was a little water being sprayed on the crowd, and I thought that it was not that bad, until suddenly from the rooftops they started spraying water cannons. It was suddenly a torrential downpour and we were soaked that way for the next 10 minutes. So from about 1:00 onward we were soaking wet, with squishy shoes and socks. We continued to ride rides until about 9:30, when we caught the bus back. We were a bit sunburned and quite tired, and there were no seats on the bus so we balanced standing up hanging on to the handles all the way back. It was such a fun day!

Korea is lots of fun

I am having a fantastic time in Korea. My friend lives in Seoul, he says he lives in a really crowded part but luckily we haven't been out when it has been too crowded. The first day I was here we went to Insadong, a neighbourhood with street vendors and small shops and restaurants. This is a famous place for tourists to go to find souvenirs and see what the traditional Korean crafts are. We walked the length of the street about 3 times before the day was done. We had lunch at a chinese restaurant because I am probably not able to handle Korean restaurant food so well due to the spices. I'm eating lots of interesting new food that his mother has been cooking, and most of it I can eat without any problem--she's making the "non-spicy" version of things I'm sure. We saw the palace in Seoul after lunch. The English tour was going too fast, and the English was not exactly English, so we took our own tour, a much longer one. The palace was beautiful. They are in the process of restoring the entire complex to its former state. New buildings are being constructed according to 1930s photos and older notes. The rafters and ceilings are all magnificently painted in vibrant colours and complex patterns.

After the palace we went to have ice cream, and then to a HUGE book store (nicely air conditioned) and then I was led back toward Starbucks (the place where we would meet another friend for dinner) and suddenly around a corner beside all the shops and stores was a very big temple. We went up to the steps and inside I could see 3 big gold leaf Buddhas sitting there. There were many people at the temple bowing, kneeling, standing and bowing again. My friend is Buddhist and he said that they do this 108 times or 3000 times sometimes.

We met my other friend at Starbucks and went to have dumplings for dinner. Although it was a non spicy food, there were jalapenos swimming in the broth....

We walked after dinner and found a stream running in the city. It had stepping stones and stairs to the water, and fountains and lights and a waterfall. It was created to bring a more ecologically friendly meeting place for many people. It was a very popular place on that hot evening. People were wading in the stream although it was apparently illegal to take a bath there. Closer to the waterfall there was a security man blowing a whistle at anyone who got too close to the water.

We went back and slept so soundly! I think I am more tired than I realize, but somehow I'm waking up early still.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

What a whirlwind!

I'm now in Korea and realize that it has been a while since I wrote anything here. I've been pretty busy with adventuring so when the time comes to be near a computer I'd much rather be sleeping! I spent a wonderful few days in Nagoya after my time at the hostel in Kyoto. My friend met me at the station and we went to Inuyama castle, the oldest castle in Japan. It is still preserved in its original form inside, so it's not like the ultra-modern Osaka castle that looks cool from the outside but is transformed into a museum that doesn't look castle like at all from the inside. After the castle we went out for dinner with friends and had a great time eating first very fancy Japanese food then we went for chicken wings after that. The next day we went to two old towns on the original road betwen Kyoto and Tokyo. The towns were on the border between Gifu and Nagano prefectures, and in the mountains. One town was up high, the other in a valley. They were so peaceful to walk through, and lined with shops showing traditional gifts and some people were even making them right there for us to see. It was so hot though, that seems to be the case every day. It gives us a good excuse to eat ice cream though. I bought myself a bag that was woven from dyed silk (fabric pieces in one direction, and threads in the other). It is blues and greens just like the mountains. I also bought a table cloth showing the indigo dying that is so common to Japan. I was able to see more friends that I haven't met in a long time, and got to see wedding pictures too-traditional shinto wedding pictures. I took pictures of the pictures. I took a day trip on Monday to Kyoto from Nagoya all by myself. I saw several new temples and lots of bamboo. I also walked up the mountain in Arashiyama to see the monkey park at the top-wild monkeys wandering all over the mountain top, pretty cool, but I was a little nervous of them.

After Nagoya I went to Osaka to meet more friends. We started off by going to Himeji, which was farther than we thought, but worth the trip. We saw the castle and the gardens. The castle is a huge one, and also looks old inside. The gardens were lovely and green, they claim that flowers were in bloom, but we only saw really tiny ones. It was nice to have a calm place to relax and imagine a breeze...I think it was 33 or something close to it.

The next day in Osaka we went to Ohara, a town outside of Kyoto (Osaka to Kyoto takes 1.5 hours from my friend's house, but the train ride is a good social time). We saw more temples, and walked through the old narrow paths of the town. I ran into a craft area (dangerous I know), and this discovery led us to find a "factory" where people were weaving and spinning and dying silk with vegetable dyes. We stayed there and pestered them with enough questions until they took us on a tour, and one woman demonstrated how to dye something with indigo. It was a really interesting process, I will have to try it!

We came back from Kyoto and had dinner with my friends and her family. Her brother in law is a monk. I have never met a monk before! I will go back to Japan in the future and he said he can show me around his temple when he works there.

I left early this morning from Osaka, took a train to Hakata, a boat to Pusan, and a train to Seoul, and a subway to my friend's house, and now I'm eating watermelon, and going to go to sleep because it is almost 1 am. We're making a good plan for tomorrow. I'll post more pictures sometime this week.

Friday, August 3, 2007

My pictures

For anyone who wants to see my pictures, all of them are located at this link It is a bit of a hassle to upload them to several places, so I hope that this is easy enough to find.

Aug 3 Kyoto

Today I met someone in the lounge as I was checking the weather. He had just arrived the day before, and was happy to have a bit of a tour. We spent the day together and saw so many excellent sites. We started off hopping the bus to Kinkakuji, the golden temple, and saw it and its reflection in the pond. It felt like we were walking on a conveyor belt always moving so we werent standing in anyones sight line for photos and things. It is beautiful, but not my favorite temple experience. Next we caught the bus to Ginkakuji, a much simpler temple with a more elaborate garden, and fewer tourists walking the paths. There were amazing gardens with sculpted gravel, something I had never seen before is a truncated cone of gravel-can you tell I`m a math teacher? There were a variety of mosses growing there, so much so that they had a moss identification table with them separated into different categories, the top being the most wonderful moss described as the "VIP of moss" I giggled about that for a while. Anyway, then after Ginkakuji we had green tea ice cream which melts incredibly fast in the 30 degree heat. We then set off down the Philosophers path from Ginkakuji. It is a path by a canal lined with cherry trees which must be gorgeous in the spring. Covered in cicadas though they are pretty noisy. Along this path there were several more temples and shrines, some we couldn`t visit though because of the day of the week or because they are simply not open to the public. Today it was rainy, so we bought umbrellas and walked anyway-you get to see so much more and have more flexibility with your plan. We had lunch at a small hole in the wall craft store/restaurant it was delicious curry rice. After that we walked to the Heian Shrine and toured the gardens there, it was beautiful, but could be even more so in May or June when the iris are blooming. There were stepping stones to cross the pond, and herons eating cicadas and all sorts of nature type things all about 5 meters from the street. There`s a high wall around all of the temple/shrine gardens, but you could still hear the faint beeping of the green lights. I was very impressed by the size of the orange gate at the entrance to the shrine, it dominated the entire horizon. My camera had run out of steam by then, but I`m going to steal my friend`s photos later.
The internet was down in the hostel when I tried to post this before, so we have moved on, and after getting money from a bank machine-in a 7/11 it works and the machine has English-we found an internet cafe (HEALIN FEELIN GOOD TIME CAFE), good eh? So I`ve got more pics to add to the picasa site which I will do maybe tomorrow morning. I`m off to Nagoya for 10:00, I`ll take the Shinkansen from Kyoto station, so I should leave the hostel around 8:30 to be sure that I can get the right bus and then get on a shinkansen going to Nagoya. I called tonight to make sure that I can get picked up at the station. I`ll be staying 15 minutes from the station, so that should be pretty convenient. I`m excited to continue my trip and see some new places. I`m all walked out these days!

As far as the typhoon goes, it went north, but we had wind today-finally a nice breeze-and there was also rain on and off, but nothing really bad. It was just annoying to open and close an umbrella all the time, and then to carry it around. It might get left at the hostel, who knows. I can get another one later.

So, I`m going to use the rest of my internet time to check my email. More to come tomorrow or the day after from Nagoya.

Aug 2 Kyoto

I was up early (out of the door by 7:30)and walked to see lots shrines and temples. I tried to go to Kodaiji and Ryozen Kannon but missed the turn and ended up at 8:00 at another shrine that was just opening. I walked around that, and it appeared to be a shrine for peace since I saw all the paper cranes, and also monuments with a gun and helmet. I came across a turnstile and it requested 300Y to pass, so I paid, and then it opened, and I walked up and up and up through the forest. I think I was walking through a very old grave yard. There were stone grave markers but no wood, so maybe they had all rotted away. From up on the hill there was an expansive view of the city, and also very conveniently a bench (by the usual drink vending machine-yes, even in an old cemetery on a mountain you need a coke). I ate the granola bars that I had brought with me, and then headed back down.

I went to Ryozen Kannon and I was the first person there. I put the first stick of incense in the burner and got up to the temple just as the monks were starting prayers at 9am. It is a very curious ritual involving bells and gongs and drums and lots of incense and chanting. one monk was chanting with overtones. The temple itself is quite impressive because of the giant white Buddha sitting on top of it. I actually saw the Buddha from the parking lot over the trees. I walked all around and even in the Buddha. They have a slab of stone with Buddha's foot prints on it-they are more than 6 feet long. Also in this temple they have a memorial to all unknown soldiers that fell in world war 2. There was a room with sand/soil from military cemeteries from all the allied countries and drawers with lists of names (presumably) from each of the allied countries of the soldiers that died in Japan. I found Canada's drawer. The Japanese names were kept in another room.

I left there just as the other tourist busses pulled in, and went on more of an exploration toward Kyoto station. I stopped in at various places, and called home from a payphone just to see how that worked. I got to Kyoto station around noon and took the train with my rail pass to Inari station to see Fushimi Inari shrine. It has many kilometers of trail up and down the mountain. I think the maximum peak was up 230 meters or something--I'm not so sure about Fuji anymore! This was a hot climb, and I was not prepared really to walk that far in that heat. I brought my water but finished it really early, and had to stop several times and use the shrine water to wash my hands(cool my wrists down). Some crazy guys were there jogging up the stairs up the mountain, and others were racing each other. I met a Japanese woman at the top and we climbed down together, and joined up with 2 cram school teachers from Tokyo who were on a break for the week. They must have been grad students I think. Their English was good, and we walked and talked down the mountain. All told I was there for about 3.5 or 4 hours. We headed back to Kyoto, and then I started another adventure.

This time I was tired of walking, so I went to the first big street that I could find, and I took the first bus that stopped at the first station that I got to. The bus went toward north west Kyoto, and ended up suddenly at the bus terminal-not much fun, so I took the next bus to Arashiyama to the famous bridge. I watched the sun set, and the clouds whipping by--the typhoon was a few cities away but we got a bit of wind. After sunset, I walked across the bridge and noticed boats with lanterns on them floating around, and searched for the boat dock. I got a ticket for the 8pm boat ride, and had an interesting time doing so because the boat operator didn't know english, and he even had trouble writing the japanese words in english letters...he definitely would not simplify his speech or speak slowly even when I asked. Anyway, the boat ride was great, I met 2 boys in yukata (summer kimono dress) and I met another young woman who spoke a bit of English. We got into the boat and took off our shoes before entering the tatami area. It looked like a longer, wider canoe, enough space for 2 people to sit on the flat bottom comfortably, and the sides were high enough to come up to your arm pits so you didn't feel like you'd fall out. There was a roof on the boat but no walls, and from the roof there were paper lanterns lit by candles. The boats were propelled by men using long bamboo poles to push off the bottom.

I didn't really get what we were going to see or do on the water, I was just happy to be in a cool place with a breeze sitting down and relaxing. It turned out we were in for quite a show. They had 2 boats out fishing for river trout with cormorants. 5 birds were on leashes and the handler held all 5 leashes together. A man in the back of the boat propelled it, and another man in the middle hit his paddle against the side of the boat to scare the fish. On the opposite side to the man hitting the boat was a fire suspended in a metal basket from a metal pole near the bow of the boat and the birds and the handler. The scared fish would go toward the light made by the fire, and then the cormorants would attack them. When they got a fish the men would yell out, and then the handler would yank in the leash, grab the bird by the neck and force the fish back up and out of its mouth into a basket. This happened over and over again. It was an interesting look into a historical way of fishing, but I felt bad for the birds.

I ran and caught the last bus to Kyoto and stopped off at a grocery store to buy my dinner-yogurt and 5 bananas and some kind of fruit jelly thing, all for 400Y. It was pretty good. I've had my fill of bananas for the week.

I sure slept well after all of that excitement.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

More adventures in Kyoto

Aug 1 I was up at 7 and walking around not wanting to miss any daylight. I wanted to see as much as I could before the typhoon showed up. I started at Yasaka shrine and was one of the few people there that early. They were busy setting up paper lanterns for the end of the Gion Festival I think. It was really pretty, and so still and calm. I met two camera-men and they were in Kyoto to take pictures of the morning light in the shrine, and then they said that they were going to find the geisha and maiko to take pictures of them. They would all be going somewhere, so if we stood outside the gate of their house we'd be sure to see some of them. So I followed them, and they struggled with English and I struggled with Japanese, but we talked together the entire way. We stood with maybe 40 camera-men to take pictures of the geisha, and after about 15 minutes we saw quite a few of them. I was feeling a little bad about being a paparazzi, so I left, and together with another camera-woman we went to Yasaka shrine again, and Kiyomizu temple where the view was spectacular. Since it was such a hot day we walked slowly, and explored the random shrines that we came across. One was dedicated to monkeys, and another had the oldest 5 tier pagoda in Kyoto. We went to a tofu maker's shop for lunch, and ate the freshest most delicious tofu there. Later in the afternoon we went to Kenninji temple and saw beautiful stone gardens and a huge painting of 2 dragons that was put on the roof of one of the buildings. It was an impressive sight.

Later that night I met up with a guy from France and one from NewZealand. We walked to Kodaiji temple and Yasaka shrine to see the lanterns lit. On the way we saw a shrine to the wild boar, and I got some good pictures of that. Kodaiji was up on a hill, and there were stone lanterns and spot lights and also paper lanterns lit all over the place. Also there was a light show going on in the garden. I found out later that it depicted the ghosts of abandoned tools that would come back to haunt you if you did not use them and treat them with respect. A ghost broom and other things were the main characters. It was really strange.

For dinner at about 10pm we found an irish pub in Gion. There was an open mic night so the Japanese customers had brought their guitars and were playing blues and jazz music--the strangest irish pub experience I have ever had.

Someone is waiting for the computer now, so I will write about Aug 2 a bit later.
Off for more adventures now

P.S. The typhoon took a turn in the other direction, so we wont be bothered by it here.