Japan Trip Day 8

Day 8 was mostly a travel day for us, since we were heading back to Tokyo from Osaka, but we got up early in the morning and headed out to fit just a couple more things in. Our first stop was Osaka Castle. It’s a beautiful structure that pops up over the trees that surround it. I can’t imagine what it must have looked like when it was still in use; it must have been incredible!

The interior has been turned into a museum and each level is different. There are letters written by Hideyoshi Toyotomi himself, clothing worn by the people who lived in the castle, there are even little models mixed tiny live action reenactments (they’re adorable and Lan and I were hooked for a good 30 min even though we were in a hurry). When you get to the top you can walk out onto the balcony, and the view is beautiful.

The castle was great, but the best part was when I was suddenly mobbed by a group of school kids on a field trip. A girl was saying something to me (VERY LOUD) and I couldn’t quit understand at first. It sounded as if she was asking me where the bath was (“ofuro”)… then another girl whispered something to her and she said, “Where are you from?” (again VERY LOUD). I told them I was american in english and then japanese and got a chorus of “Woooooooow!!” and clapping. They practiced their english with me a little more, telling me things they liked and disliked. One girl said, “I am Japan.” then asked to shake hands. It was so cute! I wish I could have talked to them longer but we all had to move on so I shook a couple more hands and waved bye. Lan snapped a photo of the kids while they were asking me questions.

This was the first time any kids had actually stopped to talk to me, but throughout the whole trip we’ve passed by groups of school kids on their way somewhere to a chorus of “Hello! Hello! Hello!”. Almost always little boys, and almost always sounding more like “Herro!”

So we decided we had time for just one more stop after Osaka Castle before we headed out, and it would be the Osaka Ferris Wheel. It was a quick stop; a short train ride and we ran right over and hopped in line. There was almost no one there so we got right on. The view from the top was really pretty and we got to see the whole harbor .

That done, we hopped back on the train (after grabbing some takoyaki real quick) back to our hotel to grab our bags and make our way to the Shinkansen for one last trip back north to Tokyo.Here are some more train drawings and doodles.

The train ride wasn’t that bad and we were still hopeful that we’d make it to that movie we’d now tried twice to get to… but then there was the trek to our hotel… We got in at Tokyo Station, which is a beautiful station but nowhere near where our directions told us we needed to get onto the subway. Of course, we didn’t know that, we just followed the signs… for about 5 city blocks, with all of our luggage. Up stairs, down stairs, outside then back in. Finally we made it to the subway station we were looking for and had to walk another 2 city blocks just to get out of the station and to the hotel in Nihombashi! By the time we got there it was so late and we were so gross and tired we decided to just call it a night. Oh, and here’s the lovely view from our hotel window.

Yah, that’s an office. I could have reached across and stolen some of their pencils if I’d wanted to…

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Japan Trip Day 7

Today was a special day trip from Osaka up into the mountains. From Nanba station we bought a train/cable car/bus pass for Koya San that included discounts to most of the temples and some restaurants in the area. From there it was about a two hour train ride through smaller and smaller stations until we were winding through the mountains.

It was a long ride so I had plenty of time to amuse myself by sketching the other passengers on the train.

When we finally arrived we immediately got lost (like we do). We ended up taking the wrong bus and thinking that the temple we were heading for was much closer then it actually was, we just started walking. We ended up walking in a long loop around part of the town and several temples, but it wasn’t so bad considering everywhere you look there’s something absolutely amazing. This post is going to be a little photo heavy… but just look at the place!

Since Koya San is so high up it it was definitely chilly and all of the leaves were changing colors. There were some trees that were so bright they didn’t even look like they could be real.

After a little more wandering around we caught another bus (the right one this time) to Okunoin Temple. This temple is the resting place of Kobo Daishi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism, and surrounding it is the largest cemetery in Japan: almost 200,000 gravestones dating back over a thousand years. It’s the beginning of the traditional pilgrimage route through the peninsula so the roads are packed with men and women carrying walking sticks and dressed in white cotton outfits with bells.

If you take your time, the walk to and from the central temple could take you all day. There are two entrances, the shorter one where the bus drops you off and the long one that starts in the middle of town. We began at the entrance by the bus station and made out way to the central temple. There is a small bridge near the center of the grounds that leads to the main temple, over which no photos are allowed. It’s a beautiful large building which you are allowed to enter and inside you can see the priests of the shrine at work or at prayers. On the way back, we just happened to accidentally bump into family grave site of Hideyoshi Toyotomi…! My Japanese history may be rough, but even I know who this guy was.

We managed to find the longer path on our way back out and it was worth the extra time. The paths are small, surrounded by enormous trees and gravestones in every direction. There are small yen offerings tucked away everywhere you look; in small bowls set out in from of shrines, placed on top of grave stones tree trunks and stones, and even tucked into the bark of trees. There are also tiny idols that you can find all over the place, often so hidden away you may never see them.

When we finally made our way out of the graveyard we realized it was a little late… and we still wanted to make it to the movie that we missed the day before! We had to sit and wait (shivering… it was cold) for about a half hour before the bus came, then it was back to the cable car down to the train station and back towards Osaka. Unfortunately for us it took a good 2 1/2 hours for the train to get back. We had completely misjudged our movie time again and missed it for the second time.

Oh well, there’s still time!

Japan Trip Day 6

Today we got up super early. We knew we were leaving for Osaka in the afternoon, but we wanted to squeeze just a little more time in to see more of Kyoto. We hopped a city bus and about 45 minutes later we were at Kinkakuji. Another very well known, iconic temple, and well worth the trip.

The upper floors are covered in gold leaf. This is because (at least as I understand it) the upper floors hold the actual shrines, and the gold leaf is to represent on the exterior a reflection of what is held within. I haven’t had any time to color adjust any of my photos, so it’s a bit difficult to see just how beautiful this shrine really is, but here’s a link to a much better image if you’re curious.

After a short walk through the grounds there are lots of food vendors, so we each bought a few snacks. There were even special Kinkakuji Dango with gold flakes! They were delicious. (The other ones there are chocolate covered)

After we’d munched a bit we walked out of the shrine and… got more food! There was a very cute little Udon shop just across the street and we just couldn’t help ourselves.

After we’d stuffed ourselves we hopped back on the bus to our hotel, then hiked over to the JR terminal to hop back on the Shinkansen, this time for Osaka. I remembered to snag a photo this time =)

We were really hoping to get to Osaka in time to go see a movie that we had both been looking forward to (るろうに剣心 RurouniKenshin), but it was a bit of a scramble just to find our hotel and then the theatre… It was actually connected to Shin-Osaka subway station which is massive and crazy. So we found the theatre to hopefully see the movie the next day, then found a little Okonomiyaki place nearby. YUM!! Okonomiyaki is one of my favorite things and Osaka is the place to get it.

Japan Trip Day 5

Haha, weeeell it turns out internet isn’t always as easy to come by here as I thought it would be, so I missed a couple days! I’ll just have to back track a bit… so I’m already on day 8, but I’ll go back to day 5 and go from there.

Today (Day 5) was all about the shrines! We had a goal to see four of the larger shrines in Kyoto and we made it to three of them today; Fushimiinari, Kiyomizudera and Yasakajinja (the shrine at the end of Shijo Street in Gion). The first, Fushimiinari was the one I was most excited for. It’s the head shrine dedicated to Inari, a fox god of wheat, money, business and luck (among other things). It’s most famous for it’s iconic Torii gate paths, each one donated to the shrine by a business hoping to gain Inari’s good favor.

The path to the entrance to the shrine is lined with thousands of plaques covered in the names of the businesses that have donated.

Then the road opens up to reveal the enormous entrance to the shrine.

Just inside the main entrance are rows of stores selling shrine souvenirs, mostly fox inspired (I got a little bobble head Inari charm! Maybe it will give me a little luck…). There were also lots of tanuki, snakes and manekineko

A bit further in the grounds open up, until you come to the main attraction: Paths to the inner grounds lined with literally thousands of Torii gates.

Then there are the charms when you get to the inner grounds. These are always a really fun part of the shines; they are charms made by the shrines for anything from recovering from an illness to passing an important exam.

And one last photo from Fushimiinari: Inari holding harvest wheat in his mouth.

Our next stop was Kiyomizudera… but it was a little bit of a fail on our part. We didn’t realize that the Kiyomizudera that we had heard about and seen so many images of was actually the observatory and the main shrine area, which is far less interesting, is much closer to the city. So we made it to the main shrine and there was nothing there, and by that time it was too late to get all the way to the observatory! Well it wasn’t a complete waste of time; as we were leaving the grounds, we saw a few of the local monks appear from inside the off limits area and walk into the main temple. A few minutes later a couple very young (and very late I think) monks ran into the main temple building as well, and moments later the daily chants began.

We stayed to listen for a while, then headed off to visit Yasaka Shrine before it got too late. Yasakajinja is the shrine we saw the day before, but it was already all closed down for the night. During the day there are vendors that line the path into the shrine that sell all sorts of things; antiques, clothing, and lots of yummy food. There are also (of course!) more charms being sold by the men and women of the shrine complex.

So it was a very full day of shrines complexes and trains and running around. The plan for the next day was to wake up early early, book it to just ooone more shrine, run back to the hotel then board the Shinkansen for Osaka… but that will be another post!

Leaving for Japan

As of 5pm today I’ll be on my way to Tokyo, Japan where I’ll be busting ass to see everything I possibly can for the next two weeks! I head out from Puerto Vallarta to LAX where I get to spend the next seventeen hours…! There weren’t a whole lot of choices when I bought my tickets so it was either do the horribly long layover on the way there or on the way back. From there it’s a 12 hour flight to Narita where I’ll be meeting one of my best friends who will be with me through the whole trip.

Our schedule is pretty cram packed. We both realized that this kind of trip wasn’t going to happen again any time soon for either of us, so we went all out in our plans to make the most of our time there.

Here’s the game plan:

Tokyo -> Izu (Arai Ryokan and hot springs) -> Kyoto -> Osaka -> Koya-san (in the mountains east of Osaka) -> Tokyo

I had this whole long winded explanation of each place we were going, how we were getting there and what we’d be seeing all typed out… but I realized it was just my nerves getting the better of me. I am packing super light since we’ll be moving around so much but I am bringing my laptop with me, so hopefully (maybe) I can actually post pictures/drawings/updates while I’m there. I’m not expecting to be able to post every day like I normally do, but for my sake if nothing else, it would be great to have a sort of travelog record of this trip.
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The week after I get back from Japan I’m flying out again, this time to Chicago for a convention. I somehow managed to pull together a plane ticket and last minute room/board to get there, so hopefully with that trip I’ll be able to make some money instead of just spending it! (I’ll need it….)