Hello everyone! I know its been a while, but here we go with some updates! In May we did a lot of stuff since we were trying to capitalize on the weather before the rainy season of June set in, and before the sweltering heat of July and August took hold. It was incredibly hot and humid in May so I was dreading the summer big time, but June has had cool days and comfortable weather, so we might survive yet! Anyway one of the cool things we did was head to the mountains north of Nagoya and went to some villages built around hot springs. This is what I have searching for since day 1 of arriving in Japan–outdoor, natural, beautiful hot springs. Not a concrete public bath house or mega complex like the other ones I’ve been to. The drive up to the mountains was great and for the first time in a long time I felt like I was in some nature and was breathing clean air. It was really REALLY nice.
Andrew making use of this unusual mountain bus stop.
At the Ryokan we stayed at they had a nice hot spring in a japanese style garden as well. But my favourite part was the breakfast. It is a local speciality to have meat or vegetables cooked in this dark miso on a leaf–like shown below. It’s a lovely tasty (and salty) start to the day!
Breakfast was eaten in a common room, on the floor around a hearth (used in the winter I suppose). We felt very communal and Japanese indeed. The traditional Japanese breakfast was also served with fish, pickled vegetables, rice and miso soup as well as green tea and salad.
These are our friends Nikita and Julia and their little guy Dima who came with us.
And here is our first onsen! Now THIS is more what I’ve been searching for. It was sunny and bright out but not too hot to still be able to enjoy the hot onsens. Each tub had something a bit different to it, mineral content or what not, my hair and skin felt so smooth afterwards, and of course my muscles were all mushy and relaxed.
Both the places we went were mixed gender although I prefered this one where it was mandatory to wear a towel. Japanese people have told me that the only way to truly relax in a onsen is naked. It’s so funny how culturally different we are, perhaps some North Americans would disagree with me, but I felt so much more relaxed being covered up. Maybe it would have been different if I was alone, but in front of men and kids who blatantly stare, I was way more relaxed being covered up. Anyway it was lovely nonetheless
I just had to post this photo of Dima in his kids kimono. How deceivingly cute! I luckily snapped a photo in the few seconds of the whole weekend where he wasn’t screaming and whining.
So the mountains were a successful, relaxing reprieve from the city. With only 3 months left in Japan, I think Andrew and I are both finding ourself looking forward more and more to the day our flight takes off. I hate to admit it, but definitely more and more we’ve been feeling this way. However, after my trip to Kyoto I think I am fully committed to enjoying the last 3 months 100%, because you can bet I will be complaining about all the things I miss about Japan shortly after I get back to Canada. Part of the reason for this change of heart is lucky (i.e. because a few things worked out in my favour in Kyoto and I had an amazing time) and part of it is perspective. In Kyoto I felt calm and like I could appreciate the serene and artistic gardens, I went to tea houses where I drank green tea and matcha, I went to mountainside restaurants in gardens and away from crowds and ate fresh Japanese food and just felt good. And realized I need to capitalize on all these good things in Japan while I can. Recently I’ve been feeling disheartened by all the not so good things, of which every country has of course. I was feeling really tired of feeling like the predominant vibe of my life in Japan was this:
Which it most definitely does feel like a lot of the time, especially on monday and wednesday when I got the main train station to work at the school. I feel overwhelmed by noise and insincerity and superficiality a lot of the time. I can’t tell you how many times someone has told me “Maybe we don’t know why, but we just do it.” This is a common response I get from students when I try to ask them anything deeper about things that motivate their culture, or even why they went to a certain place on the weekend, or what they like about a movie or their hobby. Part of it is likely a language barrier and its hard for people to put into words something like motivation, but regardless it means I’m constantly having really basic conversations where I am only learning peoples hobby and favourite movie actors, or what they did last weekend but not why they did it. There are just so many cultural differences that are not congruent with our way of thinking and although we feel we are coming to understand this better, it still feels far away and it is still foreign to us, no matter how much we understand the differences, I feel we are inherently Canadian and despite the little Japanese things we might adopt, our core being is Canadian and constantly fighting that feeling, or trying to suppress it in order to fit int his society becomes heavy after a while. The other things wearing on me have been having every thing wrapped in copious amounts of plastic-including individual bananas, apples, or if you buy a 50 pack of cookies each cookie will be individually wrapped inside the bag. The overwhelming amount of processed food–sometimes I am trying to look for a bite to eat while I’m out and I literally can’t find anything remotely healthy or that has an expiry date within the next decade. Anyway enough negativity, the point being I learned I need to keep getting out and doing as much as possible while I can while I’m hear. Kyoto was a major success–and I want to take Andrew back as soon as possible. It reminded me how one thing Japan has successfully accomplished is creating pockets of peace and beauty within chaos. And even though their nature is beauty in a structured, artistic way instead of wild and natural and vast like in Canada, it can still have the effect of clearing your mind and quieting your heart.
One of my stops was the ‘internationally famous’ rock garden at Ryoan-ji. The garden itself is really not that impressive for someone like me with no real knowledge of rock gardening, but apparently its a masterpiece. I tried to think about how it made me feel instead of just be confused at how people thought it was amazing since it looks so basic, and concluded it conjured up feelings of attentiont o detail and precision. Exactness. It made me feel nothing in a way, in a good way, that there was nothing to understand. Just feel simple, organized…things just in their right place.
Lunch at the teahouse in the garden was nice, but it was literally more tofu than I’ve ever eaten in one sitting. One criticism I usually have about the casltes and temples and historical places we go is that usually there is either no english translation available, or the english translation that is available is so poorly translated or so vague and void of useful information it is difficult to put what you are looking at into context. It is hard to know why something is so important or special. When I travelled in other places in Europe or even in US or Canada I feel like I was able to grasp a better context and learn something usually about the places I visited. I often leave sites in Japan with information like “it was built in this year, it was burned down in this year, this guy owned it then passed it on to this guy. The building measures this many meters by this many meters. It is made of Japanese cypress. It is now a national treasure.” This was also sort of the case with the rock garden although one thing I read in the pamphlet that I liked and will hold on to is from an inscription in a stone wash basin. The pamphlet tells me the translation is ‘I learn only to be contented’ and goes on to say ‘He who learns only to be contented is spiritually rich, while the one who does not learn to be contented is spiritually poor even if he is materially wealthy’. Okay pamphlet, nicely said.
Some more views of the surrounding temple area…
You can buy a candle to light that matches the wish you want to make. I thought ‘a got of marriage’ sounded funny, but I already got a marriage! People don’t hesitate to buy these as well as more expensive techniques of accomplishing the same thing–making a wish for something. You can pay more money though for I guess maybe a more serious wish or for it to work better. You can also pay to ring a bell (to get the attention of the Gods) or to get your fortune. This temple was busy and people were making all sorts of wishes.
Next stop was Kinkaku-ji, where I was interviewed by a school group for a class project, which you can it was obvious they were forced to speak to me against their will by looking at the expression of some of the guys faces.
Here is Kinkaku ji, which was impressive to see, although extremely difficult to get a decent photo of due to tons and tons of tourists. Tons of foreigners come to Kyoto since its definitely one of the hotspots, but Japanese people in general love Kyoto and love visiting, so I think its almost always full of visitors.
The temple originally belonged to a statesman who wished for it to be converted to a temple after his death, which it was. The landscaping is an example of the Muromachi period design which emphasizes incorporating the building into the garden. The pavillion houses relics of the Buddha. Originally built in 1397, the current building was restored last in 1955
That night, despite being tired I went out to Gion, a famous area known for many traditional houses and restaurants and preserved historical streets. It does have these things if you have the energy to look for them–otherwise you could walk around the area never knowing it was anything but a major modern busy street. The night was warm and humid and perfect for a stroll along the river.
Also everyone tells you to go to Gion because ‘you can see a maiko!’. The tourist office INSISTED I visit GIon if it was the only thing I had time for. It was my second time in Gion and I really need to emphasize how small ones chances are of seeing a Maiko (their word for Geisha). It would be cool to see one, but I feel sort of bad for them because tourists go a bit crazy snapping photos and its really rude to take a picture without asking permission, although apparently if you ask they will request that you not take a photo anyway. I feel a bit mixed about it, but anyway I didn’t see one which I wasn’t expecting to, and I was happy I went to Gion anyway and did find some rustic vibe–although my photography skills dont’ show it so well, I tried to capture some shots that show this.
The Machiya I stayed in was a building over 100years old that has been converted from a traditional family business of Kimono production where the family works on one stage of the kimono production process in a workshop in the bottom part of the house and lives upstairs in the top part. Now its been converted to a hotel since most families don’t live like this anymore since many business no long operate on such a small scale, but apparently this used to be the common way for many businesses and was how many families worked. You always inherited the job of your parents in this way.
Another stop was Zanzen temple which is sort of ourside the city in the mountain area which was pleasant because although it was busy it wasn’t overly crazy busy like some of the famous temples in the heart of the city. There was a pleasant walk up a hill along a river to get the the temple. This temple was founded in 804, and is one of the only temples whose head priest was a member of the imperial family. It is part of the Tendai sect of Buddhism. There are little stone heads and mini statues popping up here and there–and I couldn’t find any information about them except that they were ‘laughing buddhas’. People were saying “Kawaii!!” and taking tons of pictures of them which means “cute!!!” but I couldn’t find out their significance…maybe there was none! It’s just a bit unusual to have stone heads popping up out of the lawn.
The amazing super efficient bullet train–I cannot believe how many people are constantly moving around Japan. This train is huge and one like it runs about every 2 minutes every day between Tokyo and Hiroshima. And this is highspeed only, there are 2 slower speeds too. Anyway it made travelling to Kyoto a complete breeze and even though its expensive its so convenient and comfortable I think I might never bus to save money again.