I don’t know how I forgot these in my previous lists of Things I’ll Miss About Japan, since they were very important to me when I was there, but here they are:
NO GARBAGE. It was just amazing to not see garbage. There were no garbage cans either, or practically none. Basically, everyone was responsible for their garbage. You carried it with you until you were home or work or somewhere that had a garbage can. The Shinkansen platforms had garbage cans, which makes sense, since people could be on those trains all day and have a lot of plastic bento boxes and such. There were none in the spotlessly clean public bathroom, because there were no paper towels. You brought your own hand towel where ever you went.
We came home to find someone had dumped a broken old desk and sundry other crap in front of our house. There is not the Japanese way. No one would dump a pile of garbage in public, especially not on someone else’s property. It sucked to come home to.
The other things I miss: cutefied public service announcement. All public service announcement had cute drawings. ALL OF THEM. It seemed weird at first, but then I got used to them, and then I kind of liked them. At the last day of my trip, I saw a drawing of a crying garbage can (where was the real one? I don’t even know). It was crying because the garbage was overflowing and falling on the ground. This made the garbage can so sad. Poor garbage can! Then I saw one of a crying handbag. It looked wistfully at its departing owner, who had left it behind in the bicycle basket (yes, people actually do that. And, people do not lock their bikes, either). A black-gloved thief was just about to snatch it, and it would never see it’s owner again. Poor handbag!
I also saying angry mountains, crying deer (being chased by people with sticks), helpful chipmunks with fire extinguishers, the aforementioned smiling body organs, and this: THE ULTIMATE JAPANESE PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT:
Sadly, it’s our last day here. We aren’t doing much, just trying to take it easy and rest up for our trip home.
It’s another beautiful, warm, Bay-Area-like day, so I put on the thigh-high socks I bought, only to discover that on me they are knee-highs. It’s true, most Japanese women are shorter than me, but so are most American women. I guess I’m just especially long-legged, at least from the ankle to the knee, compared to the Japanese. In any case, it’s a thigh-high fail but I’m wearing them anyway.
So, here are some of the things I’ll miss about Japan.
I’ll miss the gentleness of the public venue. I have no idea what goes on behind closed doors here, but when you are in public, politeness and kindness is the rule, and the Japanese tend to abide by rules more than Americans do. I only heard a person shout in anger once the entire time I was here, a drunk man on a bike who felt another bicycle had gotten too close to him. At home, I hear angry shouting all day long. Some people are shouting at the voices in their head. Some of them are shouting at others. On the bus, people are shouting into their phones. People are loud in America.
Also: everyone treating me kindly, everyone respecting each other’s private space, everyone being quiet on the bus and the train — I’ll really miss these things. I felt calm and at ease when I was in public, instead of the guarded, anxious, annoyed triad I’m usually wallowing in.
I only saw two homeless people, and one small encampment near the river during this trip. Is it because the homeless are more hidden, or is it that they barely exist, or a combination of the two?
If we saw a piece of garbage on the ground, or graffiti, we pointed at it in astonishment. The apparent care of the people and public space — I’ll miss that.
It may seem silly, but I’ll miss the fact that I almost never had to sit on a cold toilet sit for three weeks. I got used to expecting a warm seat. And using the Japanese (in ground) toilet really wasn’t bad at all. I got used to it, and it made sense after a while.
My awesome shower in my ryokan, with three settings: “rain”, massage shower head, and jets.
I’ll miss the group of friendly guys who were the staff of Capsule Ryokan.
The variety of colors that men wore, when not in their business suits. And the colorful bicycles, pink and yellow and purple. To see men in business suits on these bicycles seemed so not American.
The way that nature is left alone up in the hills and mountains even though space is at a premium.
The Shinkasen, which is as close to perfect as transportation can get.
The little chimes that announce when a train or bus is coming, or that a stop is coming when you are on board.
Seeing little children out on their own in the city. Also apparently once children are in middle school, they seem to be on their own which is kind of amazing. They travel in groups, unchaperoned. The independence given to children was amazing to witness.
Wild monkeys and deer that you can feed.
Nishi hongaji temple across the street.
Sakura season. As we are leaving, the dogwoods are in bloom and they are very pretty. But there really isn’t anything like cherry blossoms in Japan.
And mostly, fox shrines.
This is my last transmission from Japan. California, here I come.
I noticed on my “trekking” map that there was an image of a gorge to the west of Kyoto that looked pretty good, so I decided that I wanted to go see it. At first K squared were not interested, especially when I mentioned the bus to the beginning of the hike would take 50 minutes. Then I noticed there was a different, less rigorous route that we could possible reach by train, and they decided they wanted to join me.
We took the train to Hozukyo, and to our delight, the train station is actually on a bridge over the gorge. It just dumps you out right there, in the middle of this beautiful natural scenery. It was pretty amazing, especially since it was just one stop past Arashiyama.
We exited the station and the first thing K noticed was that there were these incredibly GIANT BEES. K has a phobia of bees, which I understand, since I have a phobia of spiders. These bees were by far the largest I’d ever seen. They were about the length of a thumb, from the tip down to the first knuckle, and just as fat. They also seemed to like to hover right in front of your face, as if they’re having a staring contest with you. So even if you weren’t afraid of bees, they were a little freaky.
We started headed towards the trail and the bees were still around us. K decided he couldn’t go on the hike. I thought the bees would diminish as we got away from the station and into the woods, but he was having none of it. I can’t blame him; if I tried to go on a hike and there were many tarantulas, I’d have to give up too.
W and I continued on. It was uphill for a long time. The river was incredibly clean. You could see right down to the bottom, even from where we were, a good 100 feet up. At some point we were more like 40 feet up, and I could see that the river had flooded considerably sometime in the not-to-distant past, as there was debris in the the lower parts of the trees up to about 20 feet above the current surface of the water. Kyoto has a bit of a monsoon season in June so I wonder if that debris was from last June.
We passed a group of hikers, all retirees. It was, after all, a weekday. The hill was steep but they were undeterred.
The entire “Kyoto Trail” in this section ias a road. The area was very pristine, but it was strange to be hiking on a narrow, one lane road with occasional traffic. Fortunately, the vehicles in Japan – even the trucks – are small and they were able to breeze by with no trouble.
It was a beautiful, sunny, warm spring day. The weather was incredibly like the Bay Area, the first day that felt like that. Even the color of the sky almost resembled the color of the sky in Oakland but… not quite as vibrant.
Before too long we came to the top of the hill and headed down through a cedar forest, which was a good change of pace as we were getting pretty warm.
The terrain eventually flattened out and then the nature became interspersed with an occasional restaurant or shrine, and then more and more until we were in an historic neighborhood. Then there were many temples, which I wasn’t too interested in, but W wanted to go to Gioji so we looked for that one. On the way we came across yet another fox (inari) shrine, this one looking spooky and abandoned. There was even a tiny door behind the shrine to the right that was propped open and let to some sort of cellar. It was pitch black in there, and neither W or I wanted to go in. I just figured I wasn’t supposed to.
The Gioji Temple was very small, but interesting. The garden, instead of a cultivating flowers, cultivated moss. They had a display showing the 14 kinds of moss in the garden, and the entire grounds were covered with this lovely carpet shaded by maple trees. Apparently in the fall when the leaves are red it’s quite a sight, but it was striking when we saw it as well. This temple was at one point a women’s convent, so were were some small statues of women inside.
After that we made our way back to the train station, and home — at least our for just another day or so.
I didn’t know this before I came to Japan, but there’s wild monkey just outside Kyoto in Arashiyama. I’ve seen many images of the red-faced macaques in Hokkaido, sitting in hot springs, but I didn’t know these same macaques live throughout Japan, and that they are the only kind of monkey in the country. We decided to hike up to “Monkey Park” and see for ourselves.
The last time we were in Arashiyama was at the beginning of our trip, and we went to the Tenruji temple, which had the best gardens we have seen. We definitely had caught it at the right time. This time we walked past all that, over the Togetsukyo Bridge and up to the monkeys. Along the way there are many, many warnings not to look the monkey in the eye, or offer food, or take pictures of them along the way. I guess any of these things can cause them to go ape shit. Ha ha! Couldn’t resist that one. They also mentioned not throwing stones, which I guess some morons might be tempted to do.
About half way up the hill, K pointed above my head, and there was a monkey just sitting in the tree. I thought, that is not real. That’s a monkey, just hanging out. I haven’t seen a monkey in a bout 15 years, at which time I was working at a humane society. There was a monkey that had been confiscated as an illegal pet and was being held while his fate was decided. I can’t remember whether he ended up at a zoo or sanctuary. I do remember my coworkers telling me to go see the monkey, so I did. I stood in front of his cage. He looked at me and I looked at him and I thought, that really just looks like a little furry human. I mean, it was freaky how similar we looked, especially our eyes.
Seeing this wild monkey was the felt the same in that respect, but even more amazing because this one was wild and free.
Once we got to the top, there were macaques everywhere. The ones that hang out in that area are very tame and you can look at them and photograph them but not touch or approach them. There was one just dozing off, his eyes opening more and more slowly as he drifted off into a slumber. He looked just like an old man.
To feed the monkeys, you had to go inside a cage and purchase food for them at a reasonable price. Yes, the humans were in the cage, as it should be. They had yams, apples, and peanuts for sale, and we bought all three. Then we stood next to the wire, one by one, and held out the treats in our palm while the monkeys snatched them up. While one of us fed the monkeys, the other two were taking hella photographs. I had that freaky feeling again when I saw one of their hands on mine, that it was JUST LIKE MINE except smaller and covered in fur.
We saw monkey grooming each other, monkeys fighting with each other, monkeys being whiny, monkeys just taking it easy. I don’t know how anyone could look at all these monkeys acting just like people and not have a seed of doubt planted in their mind about supposed human superiority. They really didn’t seem very different. Now you many say, oh but those macaques don’t have smartphones or space shuttles, but on the other hand they are not destroying the planet, are they? So how smart are we, really? Smart enough to cause our own demise and many other species.
Yes, well, ahem. Happy Belated Earth Day.
After we had our fill of monkeying around (ergh! Actually, K said that when we departed from the monkeys), we descended the hill and took a walk along the river. There were boats for rent and people were fumbling about in rowboats or being taken for a ride on a type of gondola. It was very relaxing and scenic. We passed a man, a foreigner, who said he had just moved there from Okinawa and was loving it.
In the evening we finally found the sushi place we’d been trying to find for about a week and a half. It was a sushi boat place but unlike in the U.S. the sushi was good. They had types of vegetarian sushi I hadn’t had before, including pickled eggplant, tofu skin, and field mustard. The chef nearest me saw me greedily eyeing the field mustard, and when I ate some he asked me what I thought of it. I said, “Oishii!” (delicious) and he muttered “oishii” to himself and smiled. I guess he didn’t expect me to say it in Japanese. The smile was disarming, since the sushi chefs usually look so focused and serious.
Speaking of disarming, I’d like to finish with a word about the rickshaw rickshaw drivers. I don’t know if any women do this work, I haven’t seen any yet. So. Those guys are often really good looking. They stand around on corners trying to get you to take a ride, tanned and wearing a traditional outfits. But some of them wear these little shorts so you can see their muscular legs. I’ve mastered the surreptitious glance at those legs. Let me tell you, those thighs are something else. Thank you, rickshaw drivers of Japan who wear the little shorts, for enhancing my vacation.
Our time in Tokyo was very Blade Runner: dark, drizzly, futuristic.
We were met a Tokyo Station by Michiko, my Stepdad’s brother’s common-law wife. She asked us to meet her at the Silver Bell, a popular meeting spot. We were having a hard time finding it, so K asked a stranger where it was. The stranger had us follow him for about ten minutes through the giant labyrinth, all the while holding two fingers to his left temple to help him think. He had to ask directions twice. Just another example of how incredibly helpful people are here.
Michiko is in her 70s, but I had a hard time keeping up with her as she raced off to take us to the Imperial Palace, which is very close to the station. You can’t actually go into the palace, and mostly people run or walk around the perimeter for exercise. Michiko didn’t even think we could go inside the walls at all, but it turns out there are gardens inside you can visit for free. Michiko was surprised and delighted to discover this, so it was a treat for all of us.
Next we went on a search for a lunch place, and really lucked out. We discovered a farm-to-table restaurant with a buffet. They had photographs of the farmers on the wall, the food was delicious, it was all you can eat, and it was only $15 per person. I can’t imagine anything comparable existing in the U.S.
Next she escorted us through a variety of train changes to the neighborhood of our ryokan. We were surprised to see the area was a little run down looking. Michiko explained that it used to be a very poor area, but had been improving since they built the Sky Tree nearby. She noted that many small hotels had popped up.
It took a while to find our ryokan, and it was almost dark when we got there. It was *very* dark inside the ryokan. The entire interior was painted charcoal grey, and there was only spare recessed lighting throughout. When the staff person showed us our room, it just had one small lamp. We gratefully accepted her offer of another. I guess they don’t think anyone is going to read in their room.
So, we sat on floor of our dark little room with a window that faced a dark concrete wall streaked with rain, and I thought, is this some dystopic future?
We went out for dinner and unfortunately the map the ryokan had given us was useless, so we ended up at the crappy udon place around the corner. Now, I can’t eat any more udon. I really can’t. So I ordered the other thing on the menu, which was boiled rice with vegetables. And if that sounds unappetizing to you, that’s because it is. It mostly just tasted like salt.
When I got up in the morning, I was surprised that it was still hecka dark in the hallway. I realized that dark was really the design aesthetic; you were supposed to feel like you were in a perpetual night. You know, like the North Pole in winter. Which I suppose might appeal to someone, but it isn’t me.
We headed off to Asakusa to see the oldest temple in Tokyo, Senso-ji. After all the amazing temples in Kyoto, it really didn’t seem impressive. There was quite a gauntlet of chintzy souvenir shops, and walking through them in the rain really felt like being in the film Blade Runner. I half expected someone to be selling android snakes.
The temple did have a female deity guarding one side of the gate, which we had never seen before, so that was cool. There was also some female deity (or perhaps the same one) painted on the ceiling, which I really liked.
Then we headed off to Roppongi to see the Mori Museum. This museum is on the 52nd floor, and we were led to believe that by some traveler that you could get a great view of the Tokyo skyline. Which you could, if you paid another 1000¥. Our choices then were a Warhol show or one of painting of children. I’ve seen enough Warhol in my life, so we saw the paintings of children. The paintings mostly came from Musee D’Orsay, and many were of the artists’ own children. It was interesting seeing Manet’s or Picasso’s paintings of their kids. I had never seen them and I thought, well of course they would have done paintings of their children! The reason I hadn’t seen them was because none of them were very brilliant. There were a few good pieces in the show, but they were of other themes involving children.
Rippongi was very ritzy, very different from Asakusa. Next we went to Shibuya to meet up with Michiko at the statue of the dog Hachiko. Shibuya looked like every shot I’d ever seen of Tokyo in a movie, kind of a Times Square x 10. There were four video advertisements playing on the sides of the buildings across from us, each video being many stories high. You know, huge.
Michiko took us to a building that used to be the hot new place when she was young, but was now passe. We ate at an Italian restaurant on the ninth floor that was practically empty, which was great. As I looked down on the crowds rushing around in the rain, it seemed strange to be in a city I’d seen in innumerable movies and heard of forever and not getting a kick out of it. I couldn’t wait to get back to Kyoto.
So, goodbye Tokyo! I’ll probably never see you again.
But I did get to ride the awesome Shinkansen again.
I’ve thought about Fushimi-Inari a lot since we visited it last week (was that last week? I feel like I’ve been here for years), and I’ve mentioned here about my fascination with Inari a.k.a. fox shrines. Today I returned there, solo, to revisit and take a trek on the Kyoto Trail back to Tofukuji, which is just southwest of Kyoto Station.
I brought my sketchbook so I could do some simple sketches of the various styles of fox statues that appear near the entrance. There are thousands of of fox statues on Mount Inari, from massive to miniature, and they have many looks and personalities. I wanted to sketch the largest and most imposing ones, which are all near the entrance except for one on a fountain about where the path through the torii gates crosses Kyoto Trail.
It was fun to take the time to do even the most minimal sketches, since it gave me a chance to really absorb the shapes, styles, and uniqueness of each of the statues.
There were some rituals occurring in the main area of the shrine. In a small shrine off to the side there were three Shinto priestesses and a priest. One priestess was singing and one was playing a large stringed instrument that lay in the floor. It looked about 15 feet long. Another priestess was doing some sort of ritual dance. She held up the white folded paper object we had seen on some of the torii, and moved her arms in broad arcs.
This priestess sat down and priestess who had been playing the instrument rose. She had some sort of gold ritual object in her hand covered in small bells. At intervals, she would twis her wrist with a sharp movement, causing the bells to jingle. There were about a dozen worshippers sitting on the platform to the side, and at one point they simultaneously bowed their heads and she walked down the row of them, jingling the bells above their heads.
I then went over to the large shrine in the middle, where a priest was chanting in a minor key. I thought it was funny that it was Shabbat again, and again I was at a temple/shrine listening to someone chant in a way that resembled the trope for reading the Torah.
Then I headed up the mountain. It didn’t take very long to get to the crossroads as I wasn’t stopping at every little shrine and side trail. I just revisited the places I especially liked from before.
Once at the crossroads, I sat and ate a savory pastry I had bought at Kyoto station. Then I looked at the map on the signpost for the Kyoto Trail. It took me a few tries before I understood which way it wanted me to go. This would turn out to be true for every signpost I came to. Often I would have to cross-reference with the Trekking in Kyoto map I had bought. (By the way, in case I didn’t mention it, I was very thrilled when I bought that map. It seemed like a key to freedom to have a hiking map). I also learned to read the characters for “Kyoto Trail”.
The first section was fairly woodsy, and I was finally alone in the forest. Not my homey woods of the East Bay Regional Parks, but far from home in a place where I didn’t know the names of any of the birds or butterflies, and hardly any of the plants or trees. It was an exciting feeling. I finally understood why my friend M travels alone to countries where she knows next to nothing about the language or culture. It seems cliche, but you really do get to see the world in a new way.
To my surprise, the Kyoto Trail is not very nature oriented. It wends its way through temples, shrine, and suburban neighborhoods. I pretty much only saw people when I would intersect these places. Otherwise, I was mostly alone on the trail.
After about an hour and a half the trail abruptly ended, and I was dumped into a section of Kyoto I didn’t know, with no indication of where the Tofukuji station was. The map was fairly vague, so I had to rely on my wits and good sense of direction to figure it out. There was some doubling back, but you know I can’t bear to ask for directions. Eventually I was at the station, hurray!
I returned to my ryokan. After a rest and another lunch of cheap crappy udon (we are all quite sick of it), W and headed over to Kyoto Station for a souvenir run in the shops downstairs in a section known as the Cube.
W ended up buying about a dozen animal figurines at this one shop, so while we were waiting for them to be gift wrapped, I went across the way on my quest for a short skirt to wear with my 300¥ (about $3) thigh-high socks I had bought earlier in the trip. I found a gray skort in medium size, and although I think skorts are dumb and wasn’t sure if I was a medium, decided to try it on.
Trying things on in Japan is an entire ritual. The very, very chipper salesclerk takes the item from you and escorts you to the dressing room, even if it is just a couple of feet away. They take the item off the hanger and hand it to you. You remove your shoes before you enter the “room”, and there’s a little rug for you to stand on.
When I was finished, I opened the curtain and the salesclerk was expectantly waiting for me. Bear in mind, this tiny shop was jammed with customers, and I started to blush from all the attention I was receiving. She asked me (in Japanese) if I wanted the item, and she genuinely worried that I might say no. (from here, everything was said to me in Japanese, but it was easy to discern from the context what was being said). She asked me if I wanted her to hold the item for me while I shopped some more, and I said no, I was ready to buy it. She escorted me another five feet to the counter, where we bowed and thanked each other very much.
The cashier looked like she was having the time of her life ringing me up and I thought, how do they do it? How do they look so darn happy?
When I think about it, I used to look pretty happy in my one sort-of retail job, which was working at a video store. But part of my glee was my liberty to be sarcastic if I chose. I was hardly ever sarcastic, but knowing I could be improved my demeanor considerably.
In any case, the weather has turned cold again so I’ll have to wait to wear my new Japanese outfit. In Japan, only young women wear cute and sexy outfits. I am, however, from Oakland where even old women think nothing of a wearing a tight dress or showing cleavage. This isn’t nearly as risque as all that, so as James Brown says, I’m going to get up and do my thing.
I meant to include this on my post about Hiroshima. It’s a haiku that was on the wall of the peace monument by one of the survivors about the moment of the blast.
I saw a dragonfly alight on a fence
I took of my cap
and was about to catch it when…
At some point in the middle of this trip, I thought I couldn’t go to Hiroshima as we had planned. I thought it would just be too emotionally overwhelming. I told K squared as much and they accepted this.
A couple days ago, K said we should really go to Hiroshima and I realized he was right.
As a Jew, I’ve always associated World War II with what happened to my people – the Holocaust. But another gigantic horror happened to the Japanese – the bombing atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Today was our first rainy day in Japan, so the weather suited the occasion.
I learned a lot about Hiroshima, like how the hypocenter of the bombing was on the arts center of the city. As an artist, that little fact effected me. As a human being I know that all the victims equally deserve my sympathy.
I also didn’t know that some survivors were very close to the hypocenter, and although it’s a miracle they survived, they saw their entire families and home and happiness taken from them in a split second. Which is too horrible to contemplate, and also a gruesome reminder to remember how incredibly lucky I am.
At one point I sat down in a resting area, in a comfortable sky-blue leather seat facing out the window towards the greenery of the park. I literally sat with my feelings. I started crying without warning, but after a deep breath and deeper sigh, continued my tour of the museum.
There were many great sculptures outside the Peace Memorial Museum, so as horrifying as many things are in the museum, when you return to the world there is a lovely fountain, and sculptures of peace and hope.
When we returned to Kyoto, there was another anti-nuclear power demonstration, the second we’ve seen near Kyoto station. The protesters were mostly older people, people who grew up in the shadow of nuclear devastation if not survivors themselves. They know the horrors.
There are two things I fucking hate with my entire being: cancer and war. It was hard to spend time looking closely at something that interlaces these two monstrosities, war being something I find especially disgusting. But I did it, to honor the people of this land I’ve come to love, and in the name of peace.