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Sojourn and Homecoming. . .

Tokyo Travel Blog

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Subject:  Sojourn and Homecoming. . .

           When I last wrote, I was hurried out of the Internet Cafe and couldn't finish describing my exploits of the day.  I also didn't get a chance to proofread or go over and make sure I didn't miss anything.  One thing worth adding was the trip up Mt. Hiei on the day Koji, Kei, Dave and I went out to all of the shrines and temples on July 17th.  We went up the mountain on a train at a 45-degree angle.  There was an extra cable underneath the car to make sure that the train didn't slip and come crashing to the bottom.  Near the top, it wasn't feasible engineering-wise to continue the tracks, so a cable/ropeway was built.  From this vantage point, all of Kyoto could be seen as well as Japan's largest inland lake.  This was a very historically significant mountain in which 100's of temples and shrines were previously located.  The religious sect that resided there had an incredible number of troops of warrior-priests and monks that were one of the most powerful in the 1500's.  Oda Nobunaga, one of Japan's most famous warlords actually wiped them out because of the potential threat they posed.  That evening Koji, Kei, Dave, and I had my favorite barbecue style food that we had at the Asian Grill in Nagano, yakiniku.  Unfortunately, that night on the subway ride home I lost my camera.  I did my best to hold back my tears and move on.  The next day was the last full day in the Kyoto area and there was a lot I didn't want to miss in "The Heart of Japan."  Dave already saw some of the places I wanted to go to and he had to meet his friend from tea school, so this was a solo-adventure.  One trait that I'm glad Koji acquired while he was studying at U of I was his fondness for American-style breakfast.  Every time Dave and I had rice, pickles, and beef jerky for breakfast, hunger pangs came long before lunchtime.  Koji successfully Americanized breakfast at his house, so low-glycemic foods made mornings during these days much more satiating.  Well, the first stop was Nijo castle.  This was my first visit to a castle, and the grounds were much larger than I envisioned.  There is an extreme difference in feeling from seeing castles in pictures and actually being on castle grounds where ancient warlords had their daily walks in beautiful gardens, samurai warriors and ninja battled to the death, and armies proudly struggled to survive to the very end during sieges.  My imagination of such things was enhanced tenfold being in the midst of it all.  That was great inspiration for the rest of the day on my journey to these ancient places.  Next, was the emperor's palace.  These grounds were of even greater size and stature.  Luckily, the surrounding acres were preserved, and no industrialization of any kind was aloud.  When the emperor wanted to impress others with his status by showing off the sheer magnificence of his home, he meant business.   It took several minutes to get from one end to the other even on bicycle.  It was getting to be late afternoon and since most temples close access to tourists by 5:30 or so, I had to start picking up the pace.  My next stop was Daitokuji temple, which was famous for it's many beautiful gardens and being where Oda Nobunaga's funeral was held.  Although my stay there was short, upon leaving I still felt as if I submerged somewhat into the nature-rich and tranquil atmosphere.  I sped on to Kinkakuji Temple: The Golden Pavilion of Kyoto.  Originally, this was the site of a villa belonging to a nobleman. Then, in 1358, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu inherited the land, and in 1394 he built the pavilion, which was converted into a temple after his death.  There is real gold plating all over this building.  Since I've never seen this much gold in my life, I was taken aback much more than expected.  Although I was impressed when I first saw the temple, when the sun broke through the clouds and reflected upon the pavilion, it's true glory was shown and I was awestruck.  It seemed that the impact of this visually stunning sight would be hard to top indeed!  I had under an hour left before the closing time of the last place I wanted to go that day, Ryoanji temple.  This temple has one of the most well known rock gardens in Kyoto, or even Japan for that matter.  It's surrounded by earthen walls on three sides and faces the Hojo building of the temple complex.  Superficially, the garden itself seems quite simple.  It's about 100 by 30 feet, and 15 rocks (not including the gravel, pebbles, and sand) of various sizes are arranged on white sand in five groups.  The experience was very similar to recognizing shapes in clouds.  The most popular explanation of this garden is that the rocks represent a mother tiger and her cubs, swimming in the river of the white sand toward a fearful dragon.  I saw mountainous islands jutting out of the ocean with fierce waves crashing upon them.  Closing time was upon me, so in my hasty tour of the grounds, nothing was particularly striking with the possible exception of the beautiful pond near the entrance.  I made my way back to the gigantic shopping district where the Aspirin Internet Cafe was located and wrote the 3rd E-mail chronicle of the adventure.  The next day was also a solo-adventure to Nara, the first official capital of Japan.  I was on the hour train ride just before noon.  Although the population is substantial, Nara had much more of a small town feel than Kyoto.  Nara's Deer Park was only blocks from the train station, so I headed there right away.  As I walked into the first field I noticed that the deer are entirely desensitized to human interaction, in that they made no move to escape or even move out of the way.  I could go up and pet them and even have them eat right out of my hand.  I felt like I possessed the animal empathy of a forest ranger.  My sense of connection to nature was stronger than ever because of the belonging feeling being accepted into a group with these "wild" animals.  As I moved on to the first temple I wanted to see I quickly realized that these deer are absolutely everywhere.  I saw the famous five-story pagoda while one of the deer were just standing and looking with me as if he was my long-time buddy.  Next, I headed to see the largest Buddha in the world, cast in solid bronze.  This was also allegedly in the largest wooden building in the world.  It was a few miles walk and there was just more and more deer walking around like they were people.  Well, the deer weren't allowed in the temple.  Just upon entry into the building, I immediately realized that the pictures I've seen do not do this statue justice.  This was gigantic.  A tour in English was already in session right nearby.  The tour lady explained that only a few inches to a few feet at a time was cast, then the next casting upon that, and so on.  The whole process of the statue creation and the building around it took nearly seven years.  I'm amazed they did it at all with the technology they had over a millennium ago.  This was the main attraction in Nara, and after a couple more hours wandering in Deer Park, I started to head back to Kyoto.  Pleasant scenery and a beautiful sunset were my travel companions back home (Kyoto was indeed beginning to feel like home).  I missed most of the scenery earlier since I was reading about Nara on the way there.  The next day was going to be Himeji Castle and Osaka.  Koji got on the Internet and discovered that the Keihan Railway Company (the subway train where I lost my camera) had their Lost & Found department at Osaka station.  Hmmm. . .  it's worth a shot.  Oversleeping far past the intended 7am train ride to Himeji caused us to settle with just Osaka.  One of Dave's sensei's in America has a nephew that lives in Osaka, Saira, who Dave already contacted.  He gladly accepted the duty of showing us around a bit, albeit with time constraints of only a couple hours.  As soon as we got off at Osaka station I headed straight for the Lost and Found and IT WAS A MIRACLE.  Some passenger who lived in Kyoto traveled all the way to Osaka just to drop off my camera.  WOO HOO!  My eagerness to go to Osaka Castle was now even more fueled.  Alright, not only were these castle grounds far larger than Kyoto's Nijo castle, the keep was over a hundred feet tall.  The moat was a over a hundred feet across.   Even after crossing that, there was an inner moat of equal stature.  Boy do I have some cool pictures.  We first ate and then headed to the museum right next to the castle.  Inside were various artifacts from the Jomon period from a few millennia ago up to the 1900's.  All of this made me more anxious to get in that keep.  As soon as we went in you are directed to go to the very top.  This view was great more so because you could imagine what you would have seen five hundred years ago than merely how high it was.  As we descended through the floors, the history of this area of Japan and Osaka was depicted, with the focus on the warlords Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu.  Saira had to go right after leaving the castle so we headed back to Kyoto.  That night we were set to head to Tokyo by bus.  We thanked Koji's family hundreds of times for their extremely good hospitality, left them thank you notes, and even left presents in our guest room for them to find after we left.  We rushed off to the bus and by 10pm we were on our eight-hour ride to Tokyo (they just barely allowed us to bring our bikes on).  As we started to ride away from Kyoto I was flooded with nostalgia while I lay my head against the window, pretty much saying goodbye to Kyoto.  When I was a kid I would do the same thing on long driving trips each time we left a place that I was particularly fond of.  I slept on and off for several hours because of the bumpy ride.  A little over six hours after departure, we hit a rest stop and not only did I see the dawn of a lifetime, but Mt. Fuji was in view as well!  I couldn't sleep at all the rest of the way to Tokyo, especially now that it was light out and is was a bumpy ride.  Around 6am we arrived at Tokyo station, which was about the size of Grand Central Station.  Upon arrival we had a few minor complications.   While Dave was in Kyoto weeks earlier he bought a multitude of things that ended up comprising of 4 shopping bags and he had a large suitcase, all of which he left at Koji's.  Well, now all that stuff was with us in Tokyo with just our bikes at 6am on Friday while we weren't due to leave Japan until Sunday morning from Narita airport that was about 80km away.   I promptly laid my backpack on the ground nearby and started to get my much needed rest.  Meanwhile, Dave kept seeking out help to store his very bulky and very NON-portable luggage.  After him asking, searching, and coming back several times over more than a 3 hour struggle, a place willing to hold his stuff overnight was finally found.  With a sizable engineering effort, his bike was made to transport all his things, while standing off the back and walking it naturally.  With that anchor off our hands it was time to see a few of the sites.  Impressions of Tokyo were not that great at all.  People were less helpful or considerate than anywhere else we've been in the country.   Streets and sidewalks were very overcrowded.  Our first destination was the temple that had the gravesites of the 47 Ronin of the famous Japanese true story, where 47 Ronin committed suicide for the sake of their master's honor.  This looked as if it was practically shoved into place with taller buildings crowding all around it.   This really seemed to ruin the whole atmosphere that the other temples possessed.  The next stop was Tokyo Tower.   Did I mention that Tokyo streets are laid out like a plate of Spaghetti?  I was told that even taxi drivers got lost here, so finding places wasn't the easiest task.  This was nearly identical to the Eiffel Tower except for the larger size and the lack in aesthetic appeal as a result of the orange color.  I went to the upper viewing deck of this baby, and all I could see for miles and miles to the West was buildings, buildings, and more buildings.  This was just far too much crowding and population.  I discovered that 25% of Japan's population was in the Tokyo area, and it sure did show.  Our feeling notoriety dwindled as well, causing even less lasting affection for Tokyo.  If anyone ever visits Japan, and you have the opportunity to not just go here, MAKE IT SO!  I am so very glad that I decided to save this for last even though it wasn't "the best" in any way.  When we were finished with the tower we started to head to an inexpensive inn that we found near Shinjuku.  This was one of the skyscraper districts and was a bit cleaner than central Tokyo, but still had the overcrowding.  The inn was probably the worst we went to yet.  We had to call down on the intercom to ask them to turn on the water, and there was bubble wrap glued to the window as if they were trying to give it a smoked-glass effect.  This place was cheesy as can be.  Luckily, because of my exhaustion I was fast asleep minutes after laying down.  There were only two more must see places we intended to go, The Shotokan and The Imperial Palace.  We headed for The Shotokan first thing in the morning.  This was the training dojo where Gichin Funakoshi founded and taught Shotokan Karate at Tokyo University.  Dave has been in this martial art for several years and he was like a kid in a candy store.  I didn't mind it at all.  While heading off campus we saw an archery hall and field, called Kyudo (way of the bow) in Japanese.  The girls in this sport were all too enthusiastic to try to explain everything they could.  We weren't allowed to shoot though so we headed on to the Imperial Palace.  The palace was surrounded by expanses of gravel that we weren't even allowed to ride our bikes on.  After walking partway around the grounds, which were several square miles, it turns out that we aren't even allowed in the grounds.  Well, I got a picture of the side of one of the buildings.  This just added to the disappointment of the Tokyo experience.  Well, to be extra, extra sure that we made the flight with no complications, we decided to take a train to the airport that night and wait it out till morning.  Telling myself the advantage of staying up over night to help set my internal clock back to US time was what I had to help drive this decision.  We got to the airport around 9pm and only one restaurant left was open.  Little did we know that Narita International Airport, the biggest in Japan, practically closes down from 10pm-6am.  I couldn't believe it.  We parked ourselves in the waiting area, and only those with morning flights the next day were allowed to stay.  After laying down a bit a very strange old man sat right across from Dave.  He kept talking to what seemed to be an imaginary friend next to him.  Over and over and over.  The police and security guards went around to collect everyone's ID and ticket information, and this guy completely ignored their requests.  Not until physically shaken did he even acknowledge the fact that the police were even standing there talking to him.  It was a complicated project for them to extract the man's ID from his bag and check his ticket.  All they did is apologize over and over while he called them names.  Can't imagine that ever happening in New York!!  After another hour or so of him not shutting up, we finally couldn't take it and I asked Dave to tell the security guard that he was afraid that the insane man will eat his foot.  Meanwhile, I kept telling him not to speak more and more forcefully.  Finally he stopped talking, but only for about a minute.  The security guards actually called a meeting that lasted over ten minutes to discuss what to do.  They refrained from doing anything and then brought the police into it.  They decided that they need to call other police and have a meeting with them to discuss what to do.  This all took all over an hour.  The lack of decision-making by individuals was astonishing.  Finally, they decided to escort him out, which took about 20 minutes and consisted entirely of polite requests and apologies to him.  Jeez!  Finally some rest.   The last few moments in Japan I had a cheeseburger breakfast plate at Big Boy restaurant in the airport.  I couldn't wait to get back home.  By 11am we were on the plane home.  The flight was on and off sleep and bad TV programming.  We landed in Detroit nearly 12 hours later.  Detroit was very strange indeed.  Caucasians were everywhere!  I couldn't believe how much everyone was sticking out!  Signs were in English!  People were *speaking* English!  I could read everything!  The intercom voice was speaking in English.  Drinks were big, VERY BIG, Super-sized in fact!  Bathrooms had toilet paper, lots of toilet paper!  People drove on the right side of the road!  Cars weren't only sub-compact and super subcompact!  I didn't hit my head once!  This was when I truly realized the intrinsic benefits of this adventure being more than just the experiences of the trip, but was a greater fondness for life altogether.

          This was system shock alright.

 PS.  I took over 500 pictures on this trip and I will be done scanning and posting all the "good" ones on the web soon.  I'll e-mail everyone as soon as this is complete.  Thanks for reading!!

  -Joshua Renz

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photo by: maka77