Over and Osaka

In 5th grade (might have been 4th?) I started an origami club. I think there was one other member (Andros? Bob? ), and there were only a few club meetings (we were allowed to stay in during recess and do origami), but it was still a thing. I can’t tell you how many origami books I rented from the library at that point in my life – this is years before I even really knew what Japan was.

This is but one example of how Japan sort of just “fit” into my life, but there are many others (my hate for tipping, the fact that I so enjoy taking my shoes off when I go home, my love for gadgety/techy things, etc, etc).

All of this is to say that Japan was a place that I’ve wanted to go more then anywhere else for a very long time. And now Lindsay and I have gone, and as I type this I am at the Kansai international airport in Osaka getting ready to leave. I am quite sad about leaving to be honest. This is in large part because Japan has been everything I had hoped it would be. Every fantastic idea of what I thought Japan might be turned out to be pretty damn close to reality.

To finish up things with the trip itself, we just spent 4 awesome days in Osaka. We had few expectations of Osaka, but sadly it turned out to be one of our favorite cities. I say sadly because we spent less time here than anywhere else in Japan. Honestly, given the choice to stay in Osaka, Tokyo, or Kyoto (the larger cities we spent real time in), we both might choose Osaka. It felt slightly “grittier” and at the same time a bit more down to earth or something. I don’t know.

To start things off, we spent our first night in a capsule hotel. This was “one of those Japanese things” that I’ve sort of always idealized and wished I could experience, and as with other things it was as great as I had expected.

For those not familiar, capsule hotels are generally geared towards “salary men” who might stay too late working (or drinking) or are traveling and can’t make it home at night and don’t want to pay for an expensive hotel. So they are literally just “capsules” stacked on top of each other that you sleep in.

But it’s like being in outer space! Lindsay took these photos of her capsule (note the sexes are separated)

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I had a SUPER drunk guy climb in on top of me sometime around 2am, but he was friendly (I think, based on the few motor skills he was able to use) enough. There are no locking doors, just a wood/fabric mat that covers your door. You can read a lot more about these things on the ol’ internet, but the point is we did this and it was awesome. Also awesome is the fact that you put your shoes in a locker when you enter the capsule hotel, and then you get another locker that has a robe in it that you wear for your stay. There was a Japanese style bath/shower/sauna/soaking area with “free” single use shavers/tooth brush. I would say that one complaint I had is that the common areas allowed smoking and I think my throat is becoming more sensitive to cigarette smoke. Anyway, it was awesome.

After the capsule hotel, we did what we normally did and walked around Osaka a lot. We had ramen, we went to the grocery store, we ate various snacks and drank various beers. We spent a good half a day (if not more) geocaching (though we went like 2/7), and more walking.

We saw the Osaka castle (the photo doesn’t nearly do it justice – it was in a beautiful park, and there was a “Sweet Marathon” going on)

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But a REAL highlight for us was couchsurfing with a great new friend, Kyo. Kyo is a super nice guy and he introduced us to a great new friend Nia. Kyo made us a great hot pot dinner one night, and otherwise was just a really nice guy.

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Kyo also took us to his office to show us where he works. His company (basically) restores/renovates traditional Japanese houses. I happen to love traditional Japanese houses, so it was pretty awesome. His “office” includes various show houses, which are basically my absolutely ideal/dream house. Think wood burning stoves, fresh mountain air, cut cedar planks everywhere.

And that was about it for Osaka, and Japan. Now we fly to Istanbul.

Kyoto (last day) + Etajima + Hiroshima

On our last day in Kyoto, we visited the Fushimi Inari Shrine. Fushimi is particularly famous for the 10,000 torii gates (honoring Inari, Shinto god of rice) which lead you to (and up!) holy Mount Inari. 10,000 gates! How crazy is that? You can walk for 2-3 hours straight up the mountain-side through these seemingly never-ending gates, to give you an idea of just how crazy of an experience it was. It was pretty intense. While I was especially excited to see the vibrant orange color, I didn’t expect to see such beautiful shades of orange. It was truly quite a magical experience.IMG_1087Prayer plaques adorning fox faces (foxes are thought to have been Inari’s messengers). IMG_1095IMG_1082IMG_1102

We tried raw horse meat and fatty mane sushi…IMG_1113And the infamous (sometimes lethally poisonous!) fugu (pufferfish) sushi – all three of which were surprisingly tasty, if not strange.IMG_1114Late that night, we took a night bus (10:40 pm) from Kyoto to Hiroshima, where we quickly boarded a cable car (at 6 am) to the Hiroshima port, and then from there a ferry to Etajima island and from THERE a bus across the island, where we then TREKKED up this ridiculous hill with our packs to get to our home for the next 4 days. Turns out, the travel was worth it.

Etajima turned out to be the perfect mix of a Marquette, Michigan + Portland, Oregon. It felt industrial, and close-knit, cozy and cold. The people were warm and remarkably curious about us (we saw absolutely no foreigners anywhere). We loved it. One night, Kev and I made our way an onsen (another public bath house) on the other side of the island. I wasn’t there for more than 2 minutes, when I was bombarded by about 12 old Japanese ladies trying to speak with me (again, while stark naked) SOLELY in Japanese. Lots of cave-lady sign language and laughter allowed us to communicate (albeit in a comically basic way :)), but it was experiences like this that made our time so wonderful.

IMG_1134We stayed in a 100+ year old traditional Japanese-style house which was built by the owner’s great-grandfather. Interestingly, he actually saw the “mushroom cloud” from the nuclear bomb across the sea in Hiroshima from this home. It was a balmy 39 degrees while we were on the island, and in an attempt to stay warm, we went through copious hand warmers (of which we had 2-3 stuck to various parts of our bodies or tucked in our socks at any given point throughout the day), drank enough coffee to shake for a 24-hour stretch and (if we weren’t walking around) sat literally inches in front of our kerosene+fan room heater swapping sides every few minutes to prevent one side of ourselves from catching fire while the other side froze like an ice cube. You wouldn’t believe it by my description, but it was glorious.

No shoes allowed in the house (worth noting, Kev was in good company with our host’s love of crocs :))IMG_1142Our backyard.IMG_1144Also worth noting that we truly had the best host ever. Yohei taught us about how to make delicious somen noodles, made us fancy bancha-bark tea, (after learning about our love for ramen) cooked us ramen eggs and homemade toast and overall was just full of great conversation and warmth. While we didn’t think our stay could have gotten much better in Etajima, Yohei was truly the icing on the cake.IMG_1153

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Another beautiful feature of the island, was that it was full of mandarin and orange groves.IMG_1160There were these old-school rickity orange-moving carts scattered up and down the hills, which only added to the nostalgic feel.IMG_2707IMG_2705We collected awesome shells on the beach.IMG_1170IMG_1182

IMG_2767Walked through scallop farms.IMG_2754

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IMG_2740IMG_2746IMG_2695Geocached through beautiful patches of cabbage and various veges in practically every yard.IMG_2785We tried lots of new snacks.IMG_1192Last night with Yohei.IMG_1213On our way to catch a bus to get to the ferry on our way back to Hiroshima, we happened across these two ladies cooking up Okonomiyaki, these strange cabbage + pancake + noodles + BBQ sauce things and decided to give them a shot. They were delicious and again, the women were unbelievably warm.IMG_1221IMG_1225On our ferry back to the mainland with stormy skies.IMG_1234IMG_1250Back in Hiroshima, we went to the museum. It was something Kev and I both felt really strongly that we wanted to experience, and truly (not that we expected much different), it was just unbelievably depressing. The entire museum was filled with stories of specific people (many of those showcased, children) who were victims of the nuclear bomb. There were melted skin fragments housed in jars, nails and hair and burnt clothing galore. Photographs of charred skin and gaping wounds rinsed with “black rain”. First-hand video accounts of victims remembering what that day was like for them, and all that they lost.  Almost 140,000 people died that day. 140,000…IMG_2810This is the concrete slab that so many of us have seen pictures of in our history books of a person’s shadow “burned” on to the stone.IMG_2812A traumatizing diorama of children with melted skin.IMG_2796Hiroshima’s Peace Dome still standing from the bombings.IMG_2787I still have yet to process what it truly meant to me to be an American walking around the streets of Hiroshima and encountering so many people (on both Etajima and in Hiroshima) that must have been directly affected by the bomb. While everyone we met asked us if we were Americans, we were treated with nothing but kindness. Time and time again I am reminded that there are always two sides to every story – what we learn in history about our reasons for the bomb dropping and learning a bit about the story that Japanese tell their children about why we dropped the bomb in the museum, being a perfect example of this. I’ll never know what is the lesser of two evils, or what makes a time”right” to go to war – and am thankful that I am not in a position where I will ever need to decide, and that I have lived my entire life with my family and those that I love safe from the threat of it. Regardless of the story told though, it is abundantly clear to me what an appalling thing war is, and regardless of how it begins that it is most frequently the innocent that lose the most.

 

 

Quick post – video of our island home

And, here is a bonus video from a few days ago – just taking pictures walking around the island. Note that this is not “edited”, it’s just a video the camera automatically puts together from photos you take by recording a few seconds of video before you take a picture. So, not that exciting.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TXueKca1ZVc

Life couldn’t get much better, I don’t think

Pictures will come, but I just wanted to quickly post this while the spirit moved me as pictures likely won’t do justice anyway.

Lindsay and I took a night bus from Kyoto South/West to Hiroshima, arriving this morning around 6:30am. From there we took a road trolley to the port of Hiroshima, where we waited an hour or so for a ferry to take us to the Koyou port on the Island of Etajima. Each step of this trip brought us further from the city, further and further into smaller and smaller towns. People are more likely to stare and wonder what a few gaijins are doing walking down the street with giant packs.

Anyway, after arriving on the Island we took a bus (the bus we suspected took us where we wanted, though we weren’t sure) 3 or so kilometers and then hiked up the side of a hill through the backyards of some UP looking houses (except Japanese). Then bam! We arrived at our current living accommodations, a small, 100ish year old traditional Japanese house. It’s not fancy. At all. It’s got a bunch of random stereo equipment laying around. The couches are warn and mismatched.

It’s currently 38 degrees, and there is no central heat. The doors are all rice paper, which is to say, incredibly thin with very little isolation. The only heat comes from propane fans (I’m hoping we don’t die in a tragic fire), which I have pointed directly at my person. I’m also wearing socks for the first time in 4+ months and one of those expose-to-air-and-shake-to-activate heating pads taped to my chest. I’m still cold, but incredibly happy and content.

Outside the house is a garden with mandarin oranges, a bonfire area (complete with a bench that says “I’ve got 99 problems but a bench ain’t one”), and more importantly a direct view of the ocean. We’re up on a hill, so the view is great. It’s not a “top of the empire state building” view but it is a “top of a hill in a very small rural village in Japan overlooking an oyster farm” view.

Lirdy is currently taking a cat nap. Sadly for her, the heater in the room didn’t seem to turn on, so it’s very cold in there. But she’s under blankets, so hopefully she’s doing OK. We’ll see when she wakes up. Speaking of cats there are two here, but they are actually really great cats. You see, I generally don’t like cats, but at least one of the cats is quite dog like. Actually seems to enjoy petting in a dog-like fashion, and the cat is bigger then many cats I’ve seen so it’s got some substance to it when you pet it.

Having just arrived we don’t have many plans, but our host, Tohei has told us there is the oyster farm/factory 2km away that we can walk to and buy cheap oysters at, so we might do that tomorrow. I also plan on looking for a local bar. And, 6km is an onsen (hot spring/public bath) that apparently looks over the ocean, so that’s on the to-do list for sure.

We’ve got 4 days here, and no plans. Maybe do some reading, and definitely do some programming. And walking.

Kyoto + Arashiyama + Nara + Kinkaku-ji + Philosopher’s Path

Kyoto. Although still relatively large and modern, it’s OLD WORLD Japan – meaning the buildings, the customs, the food – everything is reminiscent of the past. it’s easy to imagine that you’ve been transported back in time, and frankly, fun to do so! From the BEAUTIFUL temples, cobblestone paths, out-of-this-world bamboo forests, wildlife (deer!) hanging out in shrines, geisha cruising the streets, beautiful waterways, short doorways and unbelievably friendly people…it’s a gem, there’s no question about that.

PROOF: (Kevin is stuck on short door way)IMG_0999Geisha out and about…IMG_1005We showed up to Kyoto without a place to stay for the night when we first arrived because (while we didn’t know when we decided to travel here) November/December are considered the busy season in Japan due to the fall colors, and everything we could find online was booked. While we managed to book the rest of the week, we decided to test our luck and just show up and hope for the best – fully expecting the sleep on a park bench or in a karaoke cafe for the night. As luck would have it, we met this awesome dude Yu, who just minutes after meeting him, invited us to his apartment for the night to spend the night, free of charge. It’s worth noting that the day before, we had been exploring a new area and stopped to take a breather and minutes after sitting down, a group of 4 women picnicking nearby brought us tea and sweets…the day before THAT, on a rainy day, our coffee was bought for us by a couple of wonderful Japanese women nearby. Needless to say, it’s been this kind of generosity and overall kindness that has really made Japan a special place for us to visit. The more places we visit, the more amazing sights we see, it’s never been more clear that it is the PEOPLE and the connections that we make that really make a place memorable or a place special. That could not be more true of Japan.

Today we walked the “Philosopher’s Path” which is named after the 20th century philosopher, Nishida Kitaro, who used this walkway as a meditative practice. The walk itself can be completed in about 30 minutes (although it took us hours) as there are multiple temples, etc along the way that are worth seeing…

Just to start this blog out right, I have to say – what a hunk, am I right!?IMG_2563

Posing on the Philosopher’s TrailIMG_2621

Not a shrine, but a pretty worthwhile stop for cute points- cats nestled up together in a cart trail-side to avoid the wind (of which there was ample today!)IMG_2623

We also encountered many artists painting and sketching along the way. Given the picturesque nature of the walk, it’s not overly surprising they chose such a beautiful spot. Apparently in the spring, cherry blossoms adorn the pathway – and while the fall colors have been nothing short of amazing, I bet that it would give our walk today a run for its money.IMG_2617

Kami stones along the wayIMG_2609After walking for not much time at all, we hit Ginkakukji temple.

To be honest, I was hesitant to go check out this “zen garden” and temple, because truly, 1.5 months in Japan, we have seen our fair share of temples/shrines/gardens and I wasn’t feeling the need to pay for another…BUT (thankfully!) Kevin insisted (which I never will live down), and it was TOTALLY WORTH IT. The temple grounds were actually constructed in 1460 (SO CRAZY!) by a man facing his retirement – and the sheer amount of planning and thoughtful design that went into constructing this (now) temple was truly amazing. The pictures don’t do it justice (but, do they ever really?!)

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My favorite pic of the day 🙂 We call this the “booty toosh” Tyra (Banks) would be proud.IMG_2586IMG_2600IMG_2582IMG_2575IMG_2579IMG_2572IMG_2574IMG_2567IMG_2569

Yesterday we checked out the “Golden Temple” aka Kinkaku-ji. We walked for about 2 hours (literally) to get there, but dammit if it wasn’t worth it too! The fall colors were out of this world, and it was yet another instance of “man, I’m happy we saw that.” I’ll tell you this, the Japanese have a way with integrating the landscape into their artistic design and have a serious knack for maximising tranquility among the magnificent. Nature perfectly placed, golden water reflections…Kinkaku-ji is a perfect example of this.

IMG_2320IMG_2351Told you.IMG_2349

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TWO days ago, we took a train to meet up with a friend we met in Tokyo to visit a city called Nara. We originally heard about Nara from Anthea, who visited Japan a few years back. After informing us of a ridiculous deer infestation of the city, and hearing her stories, we decided to check it out. IT WAS CRAZY! Aggressive, and Pavlov-ed responsive to deer cookies, these little buggers were NUTS! (Full disclosure: While I like to think of myself as fairly tough, I was actually pretty freaked out with their aggressiveness….and while I DID feed them towards the end, I would not say I came ANYWHERE close to feeling comfortable – DEFINITELY not enough to feed them from my mouth like Kevin did :)) Given the fact that it’s hunting season back home, I couldn’t help but laugh knowing we were literally surrounded by HUNDREDS of deer eating OUT OF OUR HANDS when the rest of our families were freezing their butts off for hours waiting for just ONE to approach. Come to Japan guys! Just sayin’!

Seconds after walking to the “Can I purchase deer cookies?” counter, Kev was greeted by a new, hungry friend.IMG_2382He took to his new job right away.IMG_2414

Kevin the Deer Whisperer.IMG_2413Deer selfie!

IMG_1034Kev and our friend Ira without enough hands for crackers.IMG_2428

Not surprisingly, there was ANOTHER! temple that we checked out, so we walked to Tōdai-ji (see those ominous clouds?!)….IMG_1037It was raining pretty hard on and off, so Kevin dressed for the occasion.IMG_2465IMG_2475IMG_2458

We weren’t the only ones interested in it though…IMG_2440

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And the day BEFORE THAT we checked out the BAMBOO FOREST aka Arashiyama. If you’ve ever seen Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, you have an idea of this place – only with one difference. Loads of tourists. Even still, it was INCREDIBLE. BREATHTAKING. OTHER-WORLDLY. Bamboo for DAYZ.

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IMG_2532IMG_2503GEISHA/MAIKO SPOTTING! Apparently bamboo forests aren’t only for tourists!IMG_2508All the beauty worked up Kev’s appetite for something sweet (which happens by the minute, I’ll tell you), and we happened across a super cute little homemade custard stand. Good luck? Yes. Happy camper? YES.IMG_2546

And again, our walk there was pretty ugly….IMG_2545

Sick of gorgeous fall colors yet?IMG_2539

We’re not.IMG_2541IMG_2548

And the day ended, just as most seem to…with RAMEN + beer.IMG_2551IMG_0985

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 1,000 times – Life is pretty darn good, and we are feeling pretty damn lucky.