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Published: December 13th 2006
Looks may be deceiving...
I was sad to be headed back to Japan; my trip to America was just a little too short. Yet lucky me, I already had a slice of home (well kinda!) waiting for me in Osaka. My friend Kelle was in Japan coming to visit me! She is a slice of one of my many homes (Japan included, I now have 5 places I consider home). Kelle and I met spring 2005 ‘studying’ in Barcelona. We use the word studying loosely, as more time was spent living the high life in Barcelona with crazy senoras, endless supply of 2 euro wine, Spanish boys, tapas, travels, getting lost on trains, absinthe, beaches, wrestling boots, mullets, and dancing till dawn. What can I say, it was one of the best semesters of my life. Kelle, Lindsey, and I dubbed ourselves the ‘3 amigos’ as we did everything together. Dos Amigos were reuniting in Japan- watch out Nippon dos amigos are coming at ya! Follow along on this blog and see how we conquered Mt Koya (location not even available on blog selection!) and the life of a buddhist monk, discovered the true beauty of Kyoto, played with some fierce monkeys atop Arashiyama,
and were ballers Barcelona style in Hiroshima. Just like in Espana, never a dull moment!
Now trying to meet up with Kelle was an experience in itself. Lucky me, Kelle decided to invest in a cell phone for her 2 week trip to Japan. That made life so much easier….so we thought. We were going to meet up in the Namba train station in central Osaka. Easy, right? Haha- good thing train stations are multiple levels above ground, below ground, and bustling with people from all walks of life. I positioned myself at what I thought was a very central location, next to a large Louis Vuitton store. If Kelle got lost, she could just say Louis Vuitton. Everyone in Japan knows where that it is! My master plan was not so successful. Somehow, we found each other. The next step, off to find our capsule hotel! Due to lack of street signs in Japan, was also a challenge. We ended up having a salesclerk at a chocolate store personally escort us to the location - only in Japan!
Instead of staying in a normal hotel, I thought I would give Kelle a true Japanese experience,
Check out my cool slippers too!
and stay in the famous capsule hotel- unique to Japan. It was my first experience as well. Japan is known around the world for these hotels, which are literally a bed (no floor space), a TV with plenty of porn to go around, and a light. We walked into our girls-only floor, greeted by each wall with 2 rows of capsule beds, one on top of the other. After showers we headed out on the town. I took Kelle to an izakaya and was quickly reminded of the greasy food that Japan liked to serve up at these places. We guzzled down our nama birus while munching on edamame and gyoza. Kelle was going to work up to the wide array of Japanese foods- the fish and natto would possibly appear later. Osaka is always pumping with lights, music, energy, and some of the craziest Japanese people out there. Due to jetlag and our early departure the next morning, we just wandered the streets and headed back around 11. Our capsule hotel was next to a Love Hotel. Was fun trying to explain Love Hotels to Kelle. Her mouth dropped! Koya-san
The next morning we were
sucks if you are tall
up early headed to Koya-san. With Kelle visiting, I decided I was going to take her to places I had not been to yet. Koya-san, southeast of Osaka, is one of the most sacred mountains in Japan. It is home to the Shingon school of Estoteric Buddhism. There are many Buddhist monasteries and temples still in practice today. Koya-san is famous for its Buddhist graveyard and temple-stays, called shukubo. Getting to Koya-san is an adventure in itself. It is a small train track winding through the mountains of Wakayama Prefecture. Then you ascend to the actual mountain on a tram. Then you have to take a bus to the center of the town. I do know the JET who lives on Koya-san, but unfortunately he was out of town for the weekend. We found our temple, and moved in. Dai-in was lucky to have us! We were going to experience the Buddhist lifestyle- sleeping on traditional tatami mats and futons, eating traditional Buddhist meals, and participate in a morning meditation the next morning. Super cool! The tatami and futon did not phase me- it was like sleeping at home! That afternoon we went to check out the temples, shrines, and
pagodas scattered atop the mountain. The main areas is called the Garan. There were so many, I felt like I was in Nara, and was waiting for deer to come bow at me. Later that afternoon we went to the graveyard. Now this graveyard was HUGE and could rival the National Cemetery in DC. Any monk who was worth knowing is buried there. The really special ones kepts in the shrine atop the hill, called Okuno-in. There must have been thousands of graves. It was rather eerie, yet beautiful at the same time.
While there we definitely made one Japanese lady a believer in ghosts. We asked her to take a photo of us. In the photo there was a layer of smoke/mist over us so we were not seen clearly. When she took one look at the photo on my digital camera, her eyes popped out of her head and was determined it was a spirit/ghost! It was cool! A ghost, or smoke coming form the incense 10 feet away….believe what you want to believe! It started to rain harder, and we realized we only had a half an hour to make it back on time for
Kelle was hoping for an old Japanese man to take her there
our Buddhist feast. At 6 pm, dinner time, we still were only half way there. That’s when you run along the side of the road and stick your thumb out. In less than a minute a lovely old lady picked us up. I love Japan.
Sopping wet we arrive at dinner. Now, it looked so cool. I don’t know if my meal has ever looked so pretty! We were beyond excited to gobble our food up. I would consider my meal a Monet painting- pretty from afar but up close it kinda sucks. Buddhist meals have no seasoning, no meat, no fish, no garlic, no onion…so basically the food is pretty bland. In addition, they pickle a lot of stuff. I hate pickled anything so this constituted a problem for me. They did give us a cute little nabe pot, yet that lacked flavor! Then, we had a bunch of root-type bowls- one was white cut julienne style. When picked up with chopsticks it was gooey and stringy! And the tofu- something funky going on there too. The tempura was good! Despite our distaste of unflavored food and weird veggies/pickled morsels, we enjoyed the experience nonetheless. The experience
of the food on Koya-san inspired my title and was definitely a highlight of the trip. Next up, Kelle got to hit up a sento- always a great way to acclimate foreigners into Japanese culture by bathing naked with them!
The next morning we were up at 6 to participate in the Buddhist meditation. Despite being all in Japanese, it was very relaxing and a cultural experience. It was a lot of chanting, which I now think is a universal language. It felt pretty cool to be in the presence of the monks and knowing what they put themselves through their entire lives (hey we just ate the food, that alone was enough!). It definitely made me more curious about Buddhism and the monk lifestyle, although my love for drinking and dancing will not be conducive to my future role as a monk. After the ceremony it was breakfast time- rice, miso, and more pickled veggies!
Overall Koya-san was an INCREDIBLE experience. Definitely one of my most memorable in Japan. The area was so beautiful, experiencing monk lifestyle was so interesting, and I was in great company. I would highly recommend it to anyone. Kyoto
Our Buddhist Temple
Dai-in. It was awesome
That afternoon Kelle and I headed up to Kyoto- time to experience old school Japan. I LOVE Kyoto so was so excited to be returning to the incredible city. We started out by going to Kiyomizudera. I had already been there, yet is by far one of the most impressive places in Japan. With Kelle I was again astounded by its beauty. I made Kelle take the token photo with the JHS kids asking us our names in English for their school trip. Then we went on to Nijo Castle- somewhere I had not been yet. They had an incredible rock garden and beautiful wood walkways. Next I took Kelle to Heian Jingu because it is my favorite in Kyoto. I opted out of going into the garden and instead enjoyed relaxing and admiring the beautiful temple. After that we headed to the Gion District. We were unsuccessful at spotting any geisha, yet again I felt as if I myself was a geisha wandering the streets of Gion, straight out of Memoirs of a Geisha. That night we met up with my friend Andrew Joiner, a JET from Shiga ken that I met at the re-contracting conference last
The headquarters of the Shingon School of Buddhism.
May. We had a traditional ramen meal, then spent the night drinking beer along the river in Kyoto. Yes, it is indeed the cheap route, yet I don’t think anyone’s trip to Kyoto is complete without sitting along the river drinking and being with friends. Someone told me you can’t leave Japan until you have kissed someone next to the river, but I guess I may have to hold out on that one for my return trip to Kyoto. Later that night my Berkeley friend, also named Andrew (Kramer) who is teaching with NOVA in Shiga Ken as well came to join us. This crazy random old Japanese man decided to come talk to us (again, I think I have a sign that says TALK TO ME on it). As we got talking, Andrew Kramer and I mentioned we were from California. He asked where and we said San Francisco. He then proceeds to tell us he went to BERKELEY!!!! Yeah you can bet we had a heyday with this one. He proceeded to tell us about the crazy times he had there in the 60s. Being the old crazy man talking to us, we can bet he had a
the big one...
little too much fun at times ;-). Berkeley Bears spreading far and wide! A few beers to many later, we hopped the last train to Andrew Joiners in Shiga Ken, where I proceed to spill his ENTIRE protein shake all over his floor. God I am a great houseguest!
Tuesday morning (I was playing hooky from work shhhh!!!) We headed to Lake Biwa to check it out. It is the largest lake in Japan, and at some points very difficult to see the other side- similar to the Great Lakes of America. It was neat to see where Andrew lived and check out Lake Biwa. That afternoon I was planning to take Kelle to the famous Golden Pavillion because, well, everyone has to see the Golden Pavillion. Andrew mentioned the monkeys at Arashiyama and Kelle had her mind set on seeing the monkeys. At first I was hesitant, but well, Kelle was the guest so monkeys it was. After visiting Arashiyama I can totally eat any doubt I had and honestly, is probably the COOLEST part of Kyoto. If I was a JET I think my number one location to be placed would be this outskirt of Kyoto. The
One of many
atmosphere and terrain were phenomenal. I think I would visit the monkeys at least once a month.
So the monkeys....soooo freakin awesome! We paid our entrance fee and started to climb to the top of Arashiyama. For a good 15 minutes, no monkeys. We were getting ripped off? All of a sudden, out of nowhere, I look up at a tree and a monkey is staring me in the face! I was so startled I screamed and jumped back. Monkeys started to appear everywhere! It was awesome! We spent a good hour playing with the monkeys and taking photos. We were told which monkeys to stay away from because they had bad tempers. In attempt to take photos of monkeys, other monkeys would come up and hit us, as if telling us to NOT take the photos! They had baby monkeys which were out of this world. Seriously, screw the shrines and temples. When you go to Kyoto go see the monkeys! After that we walked through a nearby bamboo forest. Again, a treasure of Kyoto hidden by the beautiful shrines. We found our way wandering through the bamboo stalks and coming across small temples- it was so peaceful.
After this the sun was starting to set, and it was time to head to Hiroshima and settle in to Hotel Casey. Hiroshima
It was time for Kelle to check out my turf. Unfortunately I could not play hooky much longer so could not tour Hiroshima with Kelle. Instead, I met up with her after. When we met up I made sure I had Chu-Hi in hand- Barcelona style baby. We sat by the river with the Atomic Bomb Dome behind us enjoying the spectacular weather. That night Kelle tested out okonomiyaki- I think after the Buddhist food anything seemed okay to try! She was a huge fan as most are- nothing beats Hiroshima okonomiyaki. The next day Kelle and I met up with my friend Tiffany and went to a cheap restaurant were carafes cost 300 yen- just like Barcelona! Needless to say, the train ride home was a little uncomfortable, and the following morning Kelle headed back to Tokyo a lot later than originally planned. By the time I finished work Kelle was gone :-(.
I definitely think Kelle experienced Japan to the fullest! I still can't believe she actually came out to visit
me and already want her to come back and live with me. It was also great for me because I got to see a lot of new things in Japan that I hadn't seen yet. Definitely go check out Koya-san and test out the Buddhist meal yourself. Kyoto is famous for its temples AND monkeys! It's great to have visitors and show them my life here. So, any readers, you are welcome and wanted in Japan! Adventures to come I promise! I love you Kelle and please come back soon! Who knows where we will be headed next...mb you can meet me to hike basecamp next October! :-)
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