Day 3

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December 10th 2010
Published: December 11th 2010
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(Blogged on the the 10th of December but posted on the 11th of December - Dates have been adjusted.)

Today we moved to another area – Inuyama Yuen. I have a problem with planning our route. For the second time in our trip in two days, I mis-read our itinerary and we got off at the wrong station to get to our hostel. In the end, it worked out for the best since we visited all the places we wanted to go and more, as we trudged from one place to another. But God, we really clocked the miles today and I was getting very frustrated with myself. P was very patient – I don’t know how she managed it. We walked over 5 hours as we crised-crossed the neighbourhoods of Inuyama with P heaving all her belongings on her back and me relying on my Antler wheels and creating a din along the way. I wanted to say “Sumimasen, totem wurusayi desu” (Sorry I am very noisy), but I did not think they would appreciate my sense of humour.

I have to say that today was our most productive day ever. We visited Inuyama castle, had tea at one Japan’s most prestigious tea ceremony locations – Jo-An tea house, and visited three shrines including those meant for male and female fertility which was very fascinating. I had a very good day today.
First we dropped by a small local eatery to have our breakfast. They seemed kind of surprised to see us foreigners. After three days in Japan, we are starting to realize that either the Nagoya areas are not commonly frequented by foreigners (especially when I think it is near impossible to communicate since little or no English is spoken here) or this is not the season for traveling. We were served a traditional breakfast consisting of toast (thick and soft), coffee/tea, hard-boiled egg and a small teaspoon spread of red bean sauce. It was delightful.

Inuyama Castle
In Inuyama castle, I was shocked to discover that castles are made entirely of wood?? And the steps to ascend and descend the castle are more ladders than stairs. There was an instant I thought descending the stairs backwards would be safer – a testimony of how steep the stairs were (although I have to admit that I am bad with heights). There was a tour group of interstate elderly Japanese who soon joined us in the castle. They huffed and puffed and mounted the stairs with much gusto. There were even elderly people with walking sticks who were completely unfazed. I was thinking that this would never happen in a Western country – there were so many fall risks that the operator would have been sued into bankruptcy. Plus, before we entered the castle, we were required to remove our shoes and we were given a plastic bag each to carry our shoes with us. We were thus striding and climbing around in rather ill-fitting slippers. When P descended one of the staircases, one of her slippers actually slipped off and slid all the way down. Apart from being amusing and perhaps a tad embarrassing at the same time, I thought that was just an accident waiting to happen. Evidently, the culture here is much about personal responsibility. Also there were four fairly large lockers that we could rent to deposit our bags for 200 yen each. It was large enough to accommodate a large backpack or a large traveling duffel bag so that was a relief.

Inuyama Museum
We also visited the Inuyama museum where we saw two towering structures, one filled with lanterns. Apparently according to P, they are either moved or new ones are built during the Inuyama festival. For what reason, we are unsure. I bought a pack of postcard depicting sketches; I hope to mount them and frame them up. I was actually after a map of Japanese castles but they ran out of stock. Was also contemplating buying a T-shirt, but finally decided maybe it was too much of a gimmick.

Jo-An Teahouse
We then hauled our heavy bags and went to the Jo-An teahouse, one of the most prestigious in Japan. It costs about 1300yen each for both of us – 1000yen for entry fee, and 500yen for the green tea. We get a discount since we could share the tea between both of us. The operators were kind enough to allow us to deposit our heavy bags in the ticketing area so we could enjoy our tea in peace. Also I think it was a precaution on their part – heavy bags and exhausted girls can cause unintentional damage. It was a very tranquil area, and I think the main point of it was to relax and go into deep contemplation. Unfortunately for both of us, we were on a tight schedule, and intense reflection was not possible. I think the only part I really enjoyed was the actual teahouse where we were served some sort of sweet red bean dessert and a bowl of really nice green tea – not too dilute or too concentrated. Plus we were left alone in a heated room facing glass windows that ran half the size of the walls which gave us a view of the surrounding gardens. I did lapsed into serious contemplation although I think P didn’t and it is probably because I am more serious and I space out a lot more and a lot more easily.

Inuyama International Youth Hostel
Next was the final trek towards the Inuyama International Youth Hostel. By this time, we have walked more than four hours and still going strong. I reckon these are the parts of my Japan trip that I will remember – the agonizingly long walks we take because of stupid mistakes, the constant whinging and bickering, and the maddening number of stops each of us took as we went trigger happy with our cameras. (Did I mention how glad I was to have bought both a compact camera and a D-SLR?)

This is what the Lonely Planet Guide does not tell you about the Inuyama International Youth Hostel. The Hostel is indeed 25 minutes away from Inuyama Yuen train station, but it is up a hill along a one-way mountain road which allows TWO-way traffic including large trucks. About half the time, the pedestrian path is restricted to a small space just off the white line, which is especially dangerous around curves, as vehicles tend to ride over the white line to allow space for oncoming traffic to pass. Also it was deserted as hell, and we were surrounded by forest on one side, and river on the other. The clincher came when we finally arrived at the entrance of the road leading to the hostel. There was a shit load of stairs – maybe four or five sets of twenty really steep stairs which is woeful to the traveler with a heavy backpack or in my case a duffel. P and I are not unfit – P does regular kickboxing, I do daily soccer and BJJ training sessions – but by the time we heaved our shit up those flights of stairs, P was traumatized and I was ready to murder the next person I met. Also the stairs were covered with fallen maple leaves; it was beautiful but also very telling of the number of people who used those flights of stairs – none. I reckon most people either drive up to the hostel, or catch a cab.

There were no street lamps so going back to the hostel is dangerous after nightfall. The hostel operator said that so far there were no reports of any incidents, but he added that there are no residences in the area, so even if there was an incident, no one will be around. I should also add that the hostel is located on a parcel of land that is flanked by a cemetery on each side. I did not find the cemetery spooky; it was rather peaceful and elegant, but this may put some people off. The operators were really polite and friendly and were more than happy to loan us torches on request by P. P thought the torches would come in handy if we return home after dark; I felt that if we needed to use torches to illuminate our paths, we are better off spending some money in cabfare. In the end we did take a cab, about 1300yen from Inuyama station. We were glad we did because along the way we saw how dark the place was; we could tumble off the path or easily taken a wrong time if we were not careful, and yet never realize it. Also the cab driver had to use high beam to light his path – another reason we were glad we decided to spend some well-deserved cash.

The hostel also stated that guests should be back before 10pm. I was appalled at first (more to do with the actually restriction on my freedom – you can tell I am old enough to be unaccustomed to having a curfew) but we came back early anyway because the operator would have to stay up late just to let us in and we did not want to be rude. The hostel also provides supper at a price because the surrounding area has no food after 7pm (there is a homely little place a stone’s throw away from Inuyama Yuen station that closes at 7pm. We ate our lunches there, and it was pretty decent. The operator is patient and friendly and I finally had the chance to practice my Japanese. I refused to speak in Japanese when I was in Nagoya because everyone seemed to be in a mad rush and I did not want to be in anyone’s way or waste anymore of their seemingly precious time). However, P and I decided against supper, we rather visit Inuyama station, which is really alive at night, to get our dinner and supper.

We dropped by a departmental store near the station where I bought two grade 1 Japanese books to read (I was very pleased since I could never browse actual Japanese books online), bought a clear file folder (I finally know what kind of souvenirs I should collect from each country on my travel – the front page of newspapers!), and the supermarket which was simply breathtaking. There was so much yummy Japanese food that we ended up over-spending and over-eating. We got sushi, potato cakes, instant noodles that we never say outside of Japan, three variants of Asahi beer, miso soup, ice-cream, bread for breakfast and the list goes on. It was heavenly.

The other two temples that we visited (and ones that I was really looking forward to because I was highly curious) were the Tagata Jinja and the Oagata Jinka, temples for male and female fertility respectively. Both were on the Meitetsu-Komaki line. The male temple was a 15 minute walk from the station and the female one, a good half an hour walk.

Tagata Jinja
The Tagata Jinja had two holy areas filled with wooden statues of penises of all sizes (lengths). This is when one thing struck me – the statues were all of circumcised penises – I never knew that Japanese had the practice of circumcision too. Either that, or it was just easier to construct a statue of a circumcised penis? It was quite humourous, until we came to the board where temple-goers hung wooden boards of their prayers, and I realized that infertility is more common and less laughable than I thought. There were pleas to be able to start a family, save a marriage or to provide a sibling for an existing child. Apparently, there is also a festival where a large statue of a penis would be brought out into the town. On hindsight, I am thinking, infertility is not really a correct term is it? Erectile dysfunction should be apt considering there are no statues of any testicles to be seen! Anyway, I bought a small golden penis decorative item to keep as momento of this fascinating temple that I have been to.

Oagata Jinka
The female temple was less intense and more respectful. We went there half an hour before closing time. And no, there were no statues of holes or vaginas, but there were symbols that were hanging around that are supposed to represent the vagina. The symbols were quite respectful and tastefully done. There was a couple and a priest there when we arrived. They looked serious and prayed carefully at one of the sacred areas. Makes me solemn when I wonder if the young couple has been trying hard unsuccessfully for a few years to have a child. Unlike the male temple, this temple did not sell any momentos of vaginas. So instead, I got myself an amulet for fertility. It is more of a remembrance and a counterpart for the golden penis that I have bought earlier on.

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