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Published: October 26th 2016
Tuesday afternoon, I went with Bon-chan to the U-En guest house. It is a place where all my flatmates are working. While we were having coffee, the girl at the information desk gave me a paper and asked me if I would be interested. On this paper, was a "job offer" for 1 day where I was supposed to go visit Sakurai area (1h from Osaka by train), and I should give my impressions about the place by filling a questionnaire and doing an interview after the tour. All costs would be payed by the company and they will give me 10 000 Yen (100 euro) for the day... After asking around what was the catch (because the offer was too good), looking at the place on my guide book (I actually planned to go there) and wondering 5 min about missing school :P I enrolled for the following day :D Well, visiting a place I planned to go anyway, for free, and getting payed for it !!! what better deal could you get 😊
So this morning I got up early as the company would pick me up at the U-En guesthouse at 8.30 am. Once arrived at the
guest house, I met the 3 other participants of the "experiment" and the staff. The other members were all Australian while the staff was all Japanese (4 of them). After explaining to us how the day will go, we were on our way for the train station. They gave us pre-charged train cards so we wouldn't need to take tickets, and after 1 hour of train we arrived in the city of Sakurai. On the way we picked up another staff, and at Sakurai station 2 other staff and taxis were waiting for us. If you counted well, that makes 7 staff for 4 participants, which was very weird 😉
The first place we went to was the Hasedera temple. It is a really big temple area with many temple halls and one 5 floors pagoda. To enter the temple, you must go through a 399 steps stair which looks really nice and old. The whole temple area makes you feel like you are in the old Japan. There was little gardens everywhere and everything was so quiet. Actually, this temple is a school for monks. You would need to study there for 2 years to get your monk
diploma 😊 Once the stairs climbed, you arrive in the main hall of the temple. In this hall, there is a 10 meters tall wooden statue of a god. This 10 meters high statue is actually carved in only 1 piece of wood, and the story tells that it was carved in only 3 days. The statue is in a little room but very high, which give you the impression that the statue is even taller than 10 meters. It is actually the biggest wooden statue of Japan 😉 so it was very cool to see it. In this main hall was conducted a ceremony, which was really nice to see. It seemed really peaceful over there. This main hall has as well the particularity to have a balcony where you can see the view of all the temple area. You can see the other halls down, the forest, and the mountains far away. Continuing the tour, we visited some other halls and the 5 storied pagoda. The same as in Shitennoji, it seems that there is a finger of Buda in every pagoda in Japan.... which seems unlikely unless Buda had 10 000 fingers :P
After visiting Hasedera
temple, it was time for lunch. The tour organised for us to go in an famous restaurant (famous family in Sakurai), where the specialty is somen which is a typical dish of Sakurai area. Somen is really thin noodle REALLLLLY long. Normally it is supposed to be eaten cold, but we all had is hot as the AC of the restaurant was full powered on 😉 The hot version of somen is called nuimen. It is the same thin noodles in a hot soup with some vegetables, mushroom and a shrimp. The main dish was coming with some sushi, but cooked one. The fish had been cooked in vinegar and the sushi wrapped in leaves. It was that way because Sakurai being far from the sea, it was the only way to conserve fish in the old time. These sushi had a really different taste as I use to know, but it was really good. As well, we got some traditional Japanese desert, which was slimy... but good :D After eating and learning about somen and Sakurai food, we were on our way to the next place to visit 😊
The next place we went to was Omiwa Jinja
shrine which is the oldest shrine in Japan. The story says that it was built for the god of the mountain... which was actually the mountain itself. It is said that this god used to transform into a man, and visit a girl who became his wife. As in ancient Japan, wife and husband were not living together, the wife found out about her husband because one day she followed him and saw he was actually the god of the mountain 😊 So as you can understand, the whole shrine area is build on this mountain, and the area is really big. The shrine is actually the mountain itself and there is no main hall but there is a lot of big halls all around the place. The mountain can be climbed with the authorisation of the monks only, but there is a small garden with a great view on all Sakurai area where we can see the 2nd biggest Tori gate in Japan (32 meters high). After strolling around the area, we were on our way to the 3rd and last place.
The third place we visited was the Tanzan-Jinja shrine and I have to say it was
my favorite. This place was actually where someone planned the assassination of an emperor of Japan. It is full of secrets and mystery, and inside the main hall there is a museum which explain all the conspiracy story 😊 Beside the history of the place, it was a really calm and quiet area, and with the tree leaves turning yellow and red, it was a real pleasure to be there. It is as well the only shrine in Japan where we can find a 13 storied pagoda, and the only place where we can play kemari. Kemari is an ancient ball game played by aristocrats and it is still played twice a year in the courtyard of Tanzan Jinja on festival occasion. The people are wearing traditional clothes to play and the ball is actually made of leather (heavy). The purpose is to keep the ball the longest in the air without touching the ground, like a juggle contest :D
After visiting all these places, we had to give our impressions on an interview and give back the questionnaire which we filled all day long. At the coffee place, we had a sit and a talk about an hour.
What came back from us was that the Sakurai area is really nice and can attract many tourists, but if they want foreign tourists to come, they should put information in English. Of course we had a guide who told us all the stories about the places and it was really interesting, but if someone who doesn't speak Japanese comes to visit the places we saw, he will find it beautiful but will not understand the story behind, and that is a bit a shame... Then, the staff gave us presents (special designer chop sticks) and the 10 000 yen before bringing us back to the guest house by train.
Once at the guest house, we stayed at the bar with the Australian guys, drinking and saying how great was this day. Visiting places which were so nice, all for free, getting present and getting payed... WHAT A WONDERFULL DAY :D
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