47 – Japan! Hiroshima, Onsen (Bathhouses), Airport Security, and more

The bullet train – 200mph (320km)

Several days were filled with Shrines and Temples, representing both of Japan’s primary religions, Shintoism and Buddhism. Shintoism is based on nature as explanation of life’s mysteries — simply, that good or bad things happen because the “gods” are pleased, Or Not.

Buddhism found its way to Japan in the 6th century, and the Temples depict the Buddha in many forms. I’m told that many Japanese embrace both Shintoism and Buddhism to varying degrees.

Like ants at a children’s ice cream cake birthday picnic were tourists and worshipers swarming Kyoto’s countless Shrines and Temples, so catching these sites not mobbed was an accomplishment. The next was aborted, because photos and videos were forbidden. ooops. I didn’t mean to be disrespectful.

Food = Adventure

Like a child sent to the market with a shopping list, I’d offer my note since few menus were in English. “I am a vegetarian and don’t eat meat. Will you please help me?”
Imagine a 6-year-old learning their home address for this street

Onsen vs Sento

Japanese bath house experiences were countless naked women, more comfortable in their own skin than I’d ever seen among any group, and that should  clarify why I have no photos to share, but click here for the story

Sea Cucumber
The domestic flight south to Takamatsu included first-ever burp: Airport Security snagged my tiny 2” pocket knife, which no other security (even in Israel!) has ever bothered, forcing me to “check it” in a shoe box size container they graciously provided. The punch line is that they missed a 4” paring knife in my carry-on, about which I’d forgotten.
Japanese school child’s lunch

Packed like sardines

Squeezing into a Tokyo commuter subway car is like wedging another shoe into the box on moving day, and then another… I saw locals graciously surrender every centimeter of personal space, adjusting shoulders or whatever can be moved to accept yet another stranger, but even on a subway among an otherwise orderly, courteous people, getting to work on time can be dangerous

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GmEh-1pK87Y   ThankfullyI didn’t see this in person, but check it out 

Free medical care and sometimes alone is better!

Two days before leaving for Japan I took a bad fall — tangled in a dog leash between two angry dogs — and injured an already damaged-ACLrepaired-thus-fragile knee. Swelling and pain slowed me severely through the first week but I did my best to be a good travel companion (the story of my companion, Yo, is Post 46). However, the first morning I was on my own and more tuned-in to my surroundings, I noticed for the first time an osteopathic/acupressure medical office we had passed repeatedly.

Leaving my shoes at the door, I took advantage of the receptionist’s attention and whined while pulling up my slacks to show the severe swelling. She fetched a colleague from a back room and the end of the story is that after 15 minutes of pantomime and sympathy, my knee was compression-wrapped for the deplorable swelling and I was gifted a package of 10 poultices to apply. Dr. Google Translate and the staff’s collaboration was 21st Century, and I was not asked my name or for a Yen of payment.

Can you imagine?!

 

Coke in small bottles not supersized!
Torii Gate (to Shinto Shrine) on Miyagima. The Shrine is entered through the gate, begging the question, “Do visitors arrive by boat?”

 

Hiroshima

Hiroshima’s Atomic Dome Memorial
What can be said about the losses of war?

Atomic Bomb Dome, the National Peace Memorial Hall for Atomic Bomb Victims, and the War Memorial Museum, all must-see sites of sorrow left me wishing the World War Two museum of New Orleans to be alongside. So many deaths and destruction east and west. https://www.nationalww2museum.org/

(deep breath)

 

How to set the a/c in this hotel room? Generally, expenses were comparable to major U.S. cities, but hotels offered tiny single rooms for nearly 1/2 price. 🙂
Choices. Most were immaculate.
Airplane view of a few of Japan’s 6,852 islands
1,000yen lunch is about $10, although  those $0’s took a while to “stomach.”

 

Darn

Image result for teshima art museum
Teshima Art Museum

Imagine cccold, damp, abusive winds off the water, pricey tickets, and a long line of fellow tourists. We were instructed to take shoes off outside the entrance, at last entering the facility which was a concrete shell with vast sections open to the unfortunate elements. Here’s the museum link: http://benesse-artsite.jp/en/art/teshima-artmuseum.html

Warned to not ruin the “art” we stepped carefully around it — tiny drops of water, gravity-pulled or wind-pushed along the sloped and very-cold-to-stocking’d-feet concrete floor. That the paintings, sculptures, and artifacts I was hoping for were nowhere to be found, and admittedly labeling it Disappointing reveals me lacking the sophistication for modern art.

Miyajima was our next destination and beautiful and charming in every way the Teshima Museum wasn’t. Sometimes extreme disappointment is followed by near perfection. READ MORE HERE

~~~

Taco Bell, Shibuya
The last of Cherry Blossoms, because the season came a week early
Snoopy, the world traveler

The “As much as we can see in Japan in 10 days” trek rolled through Tokyo, Takamatsu, Miyajima, Hiroshima, and Kyoto via bullet trains, planes, ferries, buses, taxis, and a ride in private car.

Japan added six to my beds-total since beginning structured homelessness in June 2016 (total at this posting is 79.)

Next stop: Vietnam

46 – The Land of the Rising Sun

Golden Pavilian, Kyoto

Below: Shibuya Intersection Light — a quiet day. (As many as 2,500 at other times) 

The setting was Denver, a Tech Center Starbucks

“Would you be interested in touring Japan together?” The question formed and launched itself, and as always the words refused my summons to return. Instead they lurked between us, a heavy fog.

My friend, Yo (short for Ryohei) kept his eyes trained on mine without expression, a beat too long. Oh what have I done?

Shinto priest

Below: the moat around the Imperial Palace in Tokyo

Yo did at last say “Yes” on that already-too-hot August morning last year, and by the time I left for Poland (see blog 42) three weeks later, we had AirBNB and hotel reservations in places of which I’d never heard, as well as flights to Tokyo (his from Denver, mine from Tel Aviv) arriving within 12 hours of each other. We’d see Japan’s famous cherry blossoms in full bloom! Or so we thought…

And throughout the months of planning, the trip’s risks made me itchy with uncertainty.

Sidewalk instructions in Kyoto
Disney Store in Tokyo. Did you know Disney Tokyo Resort opened 35 years ago and is 3rd most visited?
Miyagima Island. Close enough to touch.

Yo came to Colorado to ski sometime in his twenties, and made it his home. We met ballroom dancing in Denver six years ago, and while I’ll never be the dancer he is, there was a magic moment when my skill was tolerable and he began asking me for an occasional dance. I did everything in my power to work a night of dancing in Japan into the itinerary, but it wasn’t meant to be and it was with great disappointment that I didn’t pack my dancing shoes.

Traveling together was a risk, since a major or minor incident could cost the friendship. Yo could have laughed at the very idea of wasting a moment of his precious, infrequent visit to far-away family and friends just to tour with me. We might have conflict with planning particulars or during the trip. What if he misinterpreted my interest as romantic? The potential interpersonal risks were real to me, and yes, I know he probably never gave it a thought.

~

Chancing the risk to ask, and surviving rejection or disappointment is a symptom of living life with which I’m at last reconciled.

~

It was a trip of history, beauty and culture… 

This family, dressed as Geisha mother and daughter with father dressed as the men who “employed” them. The book to read is “Memoirs of a Geisha” by Arthur Golden
Spending the day costumed as history in Gion, the neighborhood of the Geisha, is popular recreation, and I heard more of these Geisha wanna-be’s speak Japanese than English
Torin Gate (to Shinto Shrine) at Miyagimo Island
Hiroshima Dome

Tokyo held another sort of history that was uniquely precious to me, when… 

Yo and his five forever-friends dating back to elementary and middle school invited me to join them one evening, and after the restaurant we migrated to the  Ryoichi’s apartment. As we filed in behind him, he shouted, “Alexa, play —“ (Why can’t I recall the song he commanded? It was Boomer rock, and caught me by surprise, but then, why not?) While the modern apartment and decor typified upper-middle class apartments/condominiums in the U.S., the Japanese words and melodies filled the air with “Exotic.”

Surrounded by conversations and laughter in a language I cannot understand has become the norm since immigrating to Israel in November 2014, so I played the game of imagining the lives, guessing at their temperaments. There was a story teller who put grins on their faces, another whose laughter could surely be heard next door, and the tall quiet one, fully engaged but ne’er a word. The one sitting beside Yo reached for the bottle to refill his shot glass more than the others, and towards the end of the evening retrieved a guitar from another room and…  I didn’t see it coming: the voice of  Kris Kristofferson!

I’d been invited into the sanctum of Boys’ Night Out — terrain forbidden to wives and girlfriends, but my USA passport set me in a different category: “Special”

It was not lost on me it was Yo who was special to them. Their precious male-friendship history warmed my heart more than an entire evening of ballroom dancing.

On a flat screen TV larger than the bathtub in my AirBNB unit, we watched scratchy films (converted to DVD from original home-movies) dating back to 1960’s high school camping trips. I studied the faces and forms of today compared with their shirtless selves’, teen-lean bodies, and smile as I write about their laughter and play, past and present.

Where no woman has gone before! The inner sanctum …

Pay attention! Don’t miss the moment.

The subject of how we met came up, so I whispered to Yo, “Let’s show them how well you dance.” In minutes, furniture was moved, Alexa was playing “Lady in Red,” and I savored the perfect, precious dance in Tokyo, a dream come true.

Gardens at Imperial Palace Kyoto

P.S. Yo and I are still friends after a great trip.