After three and a half weeks in Japan, I no longer have Turning Japanese in my head 24 hours a day; it’s been replaced by Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots by The Flaming Lips. Oh Japanese-inspired pop culture, why must you haunt me so?
So, Pia left off with us in Kumamoto on the island of Kyushu. Our next stop was Nagasaki, which, of course, is famous for being the second (and hopefully last ever) city to be hit by a nuclear bomb. We chose not to visit the A-Bomb Museum because we heard that it would be largely repetitive since we’d already been to the one in Hiroshima. Nagasaki is a cute little city, though and we enjoyed wandering around the town, its shopping arcades, and seeing some of its many temples.
We didn’t stay long in Nagasaki before we headed back onto the main island of Honshu to the much more cosmopolitain city of Osaka. Remember how I said that people in Tokyo didn’t walk around talking/texting on their cell phones and that even during rush hour people were respectful and orderly in the streets? Well, Osaka proves that the Japanses are not immune to these big city conditions. It just would have figured that if anywhere in Japan would succumb it would be Tokyo.
Osaka does have a huge aquarium, though, that we enjoyed very much. It had tons of rays, sharks, dolphins, penguins, seals, fish from around the “Ring of Fire” (the Pacific volcano ring, not the Johnny Cash song).
Osaka is also home to Universal Studios Japan. We didn’t go, but the hotel we booked on Hotwire (for quite a bit less that we would have paid at the hostel) was right across the street from it. It was kind of weird to see what felt like the USA while we were in the middle of Japan. This was out our hotel room window:
For stark contrast, we left Osaka and spent the night in a Buddhist monastery in the little town of Koyasan (Mt. Koya). This was outside our window there:
And this was our private room:
Koyasan was first settled in the year 819 by a Buddhist monk and is now the headquarters for the Shingon sect of Buddhism. It was a bit complicated to get to (from our hotel in Osaka to Koyasan took 5 trains, a crazy cable car that pulled us up the mountain, and a bus) but well worth the trek. It’s a beautiful little town with plenty of old temples.
Our stay at the temple included dinner and breakfast, which were vegan, delicious, and prepared according to the belief that every meal should have the five flavours and use five methods of cooking.
In the morning we got up early and sat in on the monks’ morning prayer ceremony which consists of 45 minutes of chanting accompanied by the occasional gong hit (the timing of which presumably has a specific significance). It was so peaceful and beautiful (though very cold). I thought that 45 minutes might feel like a really long time, but it really didn’t.
After the prayer ceremony and breakfast, we went and wandered through a huge cemetery that has been in use for centuries and has approximately 200,000 graves in it, all surrounded by huge old Japanese Cedars.
From Koyasan the next stop was Kyoto where we’re finally sitting still a little. We’re here for eight days and it’s going to be lovely to stay in the same place for a while. I’ll leave Kyoto for Pia to tell you about next time, but before I go:
8 Things I Still Don’t Understand About Japan
1. Garbage. First of all, I don’t know how it is that a country where public garbage cans are basically non-existent can have so little litter – particularly with vending machines and convenience stores everywhere. On arriving in a town one day we had coffee cups from the train ride. We asked at the tourist info desk in the train station where we could throw them out and the woman’s reply was “hmm… that’s a tough one. You could maybe try going into a convenience store and asking them.” Seriously, where do the Japanese put their garbage? I have no idea.
Also, Japanese garbage is usually sorted into burnables, recyclables (paper, bottles, and cans), and other, but often there is no “other” bin. I really don’t know where we’re supposed to do with garbage that isn’t burnable or recyclable.
2. Toilet Slippers. OK, I understand taking off your shoes at the door and putting on slippers, then taking them off when you enter your room. That’s about respecting your surroundings, but then they have a separate pair of slippers that you change into when you enter the bathroom. In most cases the room itself is so small that you don’t actually move in the toilet slippers at all. It just seems excessive to me.
3. Icy Cold Sinks. How is it that the Japanese have heated toilet seats but you have to wash your hands in glacially cold water. I just don’t get it.
4. Girls’ Legs. We’ll be out on a cold snowy day, still cold while wearing as many layers as we can and we’ll see teenage girls wearing very short skirts/shorts with no leggings and they look as if they’re not at all bothered by the weather. I can only see two possible explanations: either I’m wussier than a Japanese girl, or they’re so devoted to fashion that they’ll endure any amount of discomfort. I’d like to think it’s the latter.
5. Coffee. Between vending machines, convenience stores, and coffee shops, you are never far from a place to get coffee. So how is it that Japan has the worst drip coffee in existence (even at the many American chains that are here)?
6. English Titles On Japanese Text. If you were in a Japanese mall and saw a big sign that said (in English) “Store Directory”, you would assume that the directory must have English on it, right? Well, in most cases you’d be wrong. They also love to put English headers on restaurant menus so it’ll say “Lunch” then everything beneath it will be entirely in Japanese.
7. Sock Stores. There are a crazy amount of stores here devoted entirely to socks. I really don’t know how there is enough market demand for them.
8. Japanese Napping Skills. The Japanese have championship-level napping abilities. On any train or subway car you can pretty much guarantee that at least 1/3 of the people will be fast asleep and it’s a common sight to see lines of cars parked at the side of the road with a Japanese man asleep in the driver’s seat. Also, I’ve seen Japanese men nap in restaurants; they finish their lunch then have a little upright nap right there at the table before paying and leaving. It’s quite impressive, really.