Monday, October 7, 2013

Day 6

Oh Tokyo. Where to even begin with you. For anyone who knows me well, one of my many weakness and irrational fears is being cramped into small spaces and pressed into mass crowds against my will. And yet early yesterday morning, after a morning snack of Mr. Donuts and coffee, we boarded the Shinkansen train and headed straight for the heart of exactly this kind of insanity.

My dad, having witnessed just a small spectacle of what a two person elevator can do to my psyche, told me that regardless of my qualms about space that I needed to go and experience it just to see it all. Since we wouldn't be staying there but more than a few hours on our trek to Hono, I was able to shakily prep myself for what was to come.Or so I thought.

The minute I stepped off the train I quickly realized that nothing could have prepared me for what those few hours would hold

Immediately we were swept into the moving swarm. The station seemed to me the equivalent of a large hive. It had its own electric buzz. The only difference between this scene and the one in nature, was that none of the metaphorical "bees" looked anything alike. The train station lobby was really the first time I had seen an array of nationalities on the trip other than the Japanese. In addition to the various ethnicities represented there were number of outrageous and beautiful styles represented as well. Such strange sights I have never seen, not even during my few years residency in Chicago.

Just as the heat and the merging masses were about to overtake my senses and I began to border on shut down mode, we turned the corner and went underneath a massive archway that ushered us to a road sequestered by towering oaks. The further away we trekked from the city, the closer we came to one of the most well known Shinto shrines and its surrounding gardens.

There was sap on tree bark the size of large, amber marbles and the birds above sang their tunes in such volume that it would seem you had stumbled back into some prehistoric time. There were of course still numbers of people, but the grey, pebbled road leading towards the temple gates was the size of a highway. I walked in awe that just moments ago we were in the bustling chaos of one of the most populated cities in the world and then suddenly I was here, breathing the scent of forest and flowers and watching people walk around the temple courts, writing down prayers and hanging them at the base of one of two towering trees. My dad told me to always look at the placement of trees in places like this. That unlike most architectural feats, the Japanese incorporated nature into their designs as key elements of structure. So for example, while it is easy to walk into the courtyard and see only the large tiered roofs and intricate tiles, the two towering tree pillars that had been there for hundreds of years were perhaps the true glory of that place.

As we headed to leave we noticed a traditional wedding taking place further off in the distance. The timing of being able to see something like this is just not something you can ever plan. To see the image of a young woman, shrouded in ceremonial garb and mystery, glance adoringly at her husband for just a split second before proceeding on to the other more serious aspects of tradition was an image that will forever be engrained in my mind.

I felt refreshed and at peace and ready to face my fear yet again...

From now on, Michigan Avenue will forever seem like a barren wasteland to me. The city boasted of so many shiny stores, flashing lights, high fashion advertisements, and loud music that it was no wonder that it attracted so many people to join in this spectacle. For a while we took ourselves out of the moving current and sat on a guardrail watching all the different styles pour through this street funnel. We saw bright colors and outrageous hair styles, tights, spikes, pony tails, fur, lace, leather, jewels, red lipstick, red blush, pumps, flats, boots and bows.

Since the humidity continued to rise we made our way to an indoor coffee shop and remained there until our next train. I had come to Tokyo, I had jumped in its race and felt its rush, and I was ready to leave.

But there was one last hurdle before I could get to Hono for the night and that was boarding the outgoing shuttle. Here I thought I had gone below the city streets and could happily wave to the chaos behind me...but as our car pulled up on the track and I saw through the windows what awaited me inside it was clear that this was not the case.

Sweet mother of all. "You have got to be kidding me." I told my Dad. He of course just laughed and told me to go to my happy place. I can assure you that "happy places" are not easily accessed when you are pressed up against a strange old man's chest and are close enough to count each individual hair on his greying beard.

But somehow I survived, and even managed to laugh and take a picture in the midst of it all to send to my husband with the caption, "...this is my NIGHTMARE!"

Once in Hono and headed towards rest for the evening, I made sure to check Tokyo off my list of life experiences. I may always shake my head and raise my eyebrows whenever anyone asks me my take on it all, but I will always do so with a fond smile and say of that colorful place that it is inhabited by exactly the kind of people that can truly appreciate it. The crazy ones.

Day Five.

After such a good night of rest we went downstairs for breakfast and ate our meal above the port, watching the ships come and go and the city come alive. From our vantage point in the sky while sipping our green tea and eating our morning rice, everything looked like little toys. There were little toy bikes, little toy cars, and little toy cranes hovering above the water. The only reminder that they were in fact the real thing, was that they were all moving.

Since our hotel was at the very top of a steep hill, the descent into town was through a winding walkway that took us past bamboo groves, residential areas, and the local school, all with the foreground of the morning sun glistening off the water. It felt as though we were descending into a painting.

Onomichi is known for their 6 main islands, all connected by biking archways. So we rented the transportation of choice and boarded the ferry to cross to the first island. To get across, it cost one dollar each and then an extra whopping ten cents for the bike.

As soon as we were off the boat and began our trek, I was so thankful that we opted to view the land in this way. Up until this point I had really only seen Japan's countryside and farming houses from the viewpoint of a plane, a train, or a taxi. But on a bike again and in this type of environment it was so different from my first bike ride full of moss and forests. Now I was towns and plains, a part of the landscape itself. And what smells! Such a rich variety of things to take in-the scent of the fruit trees, the smell of the sea, the incense burning by the wayside for the ancestors...It all seemed to come together and form some kind of special incense all it's own. It was intoxicating. So much so that I didn't realize how far we had ridden already when we came to our first stop.

We sat for a while to take a break on a dock overlooking some old fishing boats. The sound of the waves lapped steadily onto eroding, stone steps into the water. We looked at the map and drank our peach juice. It was cold and sweet. My dad pointed out that from this point on out it was going to get quite steep and hilly, and we had a long route to travel to get up to the connecting bridge to the next island. But the guide map had written in English next to the route, "You can do it!". So we pressed on.

And as we rounded the bay we saw what could truly be comparable to something like the Golden Gate bridge. We pedaled for what seemed like an eternity, but all along I kept thinking of the Japanese word I had learned while watching one of my many documentaries on the plane. The term Gahmen, which means "to persevere in adversity" and the verse in Hebrews that tells us to "stand firm and run the good race" were what called me further towards our goal. And we made it!

The bike path continued by being suspended under the main road. The inland sea was beneath us and we could hear the sound of cars rumbling above. As I road my bike over boats and fishermen and the churning currents below, I had the sensation that after all these years of dreaming,I had finally learned to fly.

Once we crossed the bridge we immediately began our descent back down into town. We soared, turning and winding with the path along the way. Once we reached the bottom we cycled along the shoreline. There was water on our right and fields on our left, full of rice and fig trees and Japanese cabbage. Women were pouring over their gardens, men in hats trimming trees, and individuals on mopeds zipping wildly through the streets.

We somehow found ourselves in the middle of an organized 3-day walk that was taking place along the same bike route we were on. As we rode along for the next hour or so,the pedestrians would see us and immediately smile and wave. My dad would tell them in Japanese to hang in there, and they would in turn say thank you and wish us well on our way.

As the morning went on it continued to get progressively muggy. So we decided to stop for a moment before pushing any further up. We were talking about nothing in particular and catching our breath when an older gentleman on the walking tour crossed over from the other side of the street. Without a word or any further formalities he held out a bright green Mikan and placed it in my hand. Then he bowed and went on his way.

Completely taken off guard, I couldn't shake the image of this gesture and contemplated its simplicity the whole way back. Through harvested rice fields with its' crop standing upright like tepees, while cooling our hot feet in the sea and watching the fisherman, and further still on the ferry ride return this moment continued to stick with me.

Hunger soon took over though and I quickly forgot about the piece of fruit in my purse. We found a place to sit right after we ate where there was shade and a cool breeze funneling in off the water. As an added perk there was free wireless! (The traveler's haven! Any spot with fresh air and internet! We have even decided we are going to write a traveler's guide simply based off where to go on any given trip to pick up free wireless signals. We are going to entitle the book "Four Bars, Four Stars", so be looking for that;) We sat there for a good hour or so, working on our writing and people watching.

For dinner we decided on Ramen again since Onamichi is famous for its Ramen dishes. Our 25 mile day meant that dinner was inhaled, and to be honest, I don't quite remember the atmosphere of that place. Only that they food was fantastic and the soup even came with potstickers. Sweet bliss.

Since we were leaving early the next morning we strolled to the train station to buy our tickets in advance. Then we just sat by the docks and watched the lights of the boats on the water and listened to the steady back and forth of the ferry boat as it traveled from bank to bank.

Back at the room we were barely able to stay awake to call home. But as I cleaned out the remnants of the day from my backpack, my hands stumbled upon the gift that had been given to me earlier that morning. I placed the Mikan on the table and stared at its' simple beauty-the beauty that this small, green sphere represented a currency of kindness around a much larger sphere. And so I went to bed, thankful that gestures like this are not at all void from the world and that the sweet offering does not have to disappear when it is eaten. I can still carry it with me and pass it on to someone else.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Day Four

"But as the outward strangeness of Japan appears to be full of beauty, so the inward strangeness appears to have its charm-an ethical charm reflected in the common life of the people." Lafcadio Hearn

Yesterday could not have turned out any better. As I sit and reflect on all of the special gifts we received, I cannot help but laugh. So much of me wants to skip ahead to the main event and spill the beans of what took place that makes these weary travelers so out-of-their-mind giddy. But emotion with restraint is one of the overarching ways of doing just about everything out here, so I suppose I can give it a go and carry on with my four day tradtion of doing things in chronological order.

The ryokan (traditional Japanese Inn) that we woke up in is my favorite thus far. It had the same simple ammenities (beds, table, and tea cups) but with the most delightfully odd, young host. His sporadic movements and broken English were quite endearing, a sort of mad professor mentality with a deep mix of kindness. Sleep stood me up yet again that night but after a good warm shower and another filling breakfast (complete with new additions of whale meat and entire fish staring at me staight in the eye) I didn't seem to mind. *I should also note here that another reason I enjoyed this place so much was because we had our own private toilet and I didn't need to worry about sharing a bathroom with both sexes in the middle of the night, hah!) I am sure my mother is reading this and saying "Whhaaat?"

The atmosphere we woke up to outside of our window that morning was indeed perfect in keeping with our writing/literary tour. It was quite overcast and cloudy with intermitent bouts of soft rain. (I think any good writer would admit that a little meloncholy rain here and there is always necessary for gaining perspective.) I was also pleased with the weather because as both Grammy and Dad have told me, there is just something about Japan in the rain that you have to experience to get the full effect. So I got to put that in my memory picture box. I also got to use my new polka dot umbrella. Which, lets be honest, was also a highlight.

The pace that morning was great. We walked leisurely to the train station and got a very traditional cup of a long-standing historical coffee brought over from their great, great ancestors named after what the natives call...Starbucks. (Yes, we caved.)

Then we poured over the map and sipped our iced drinks like true American tourists. We casually discussed how we would instead go to author Lafcadio Hearn's museum and residence first and then the Matsue castle after that just in case the rain picked up.

Then we hailed a taxi and he brought us through the city of Matsue. It was a bustling town built around an island where the castle sets atop a hill. We crossed the bridge and he dropped us outside the doors of the museum. We thanked him and went to the front desk where we payed 3 dollars each to get inside. It was not a large museum by any means. An american author of Irish descendent, Lafcadio started out as a journalist at 24 and eventually became a correspondent for Harpers to Japan. In 1890 he procured a position as an Enlgish teacher in Matsue and his writings say that he "became fascinated with the beauty of Matsue and the kindness of its people." He remained in Japan for many years and became dearly loved by the Japanese people for representing them to the rest of the western world in such true and thoughtful ways. In 1904 Hearn passed away leaving his Japanese wife and 3 children behind. But his 15 months in Matsue left such an impression that his residence and works are still admired and remembered today.

The exhibit had two main rooms. The first told of his writings and earlier years in New Orleans and the second showed wonderfully unique items such as the luggage he took with him when he left New York for Japan, a pair of his spectacles, and the pipes he used to smoke.

We walked around the exhibit as most do, quietly and subtly observing specific details. Both my dad and I thought it odd at the sheer number of Americans that were in this small, little museum on an early Saturday morning, but didn't dwell too much on it it until he overheard a conversation between two gentlemen and saw a picture in the display case. That's when he leaned over to me and whispered. That's Lafcadio's great grandson standing there."

It absolutely was. The next 15 minutes were a blur as my dad spoke with him and his wife and also with the museum curator of New Orleans who as it turns out JUST brought over the New Orleans exhibit and had a ribbon cutting ceremony moments before we had arrived. How wild! To think that the two of us, on this week, on this day, at this time, would just happen to wander aimlessly into this little museum and meet the great, great grandson of the author we had been reading and enjoying while on the very trains of Japan's countryside! The photograph above you will notice a look of shock and kid-like excitement in both of our faces as we stand next to Bon and his lovely wife who reside in Tokyo-5 hours away!

We left those doors and attempted as best as possible to remain composed, but quickly dropped those defenses away from the gate and kept repeating to one another "oh my gosh that was so cool, so cool, so so cool". (Writers don't always have a profound way of describing everything, particularly when they are excited). After this small victory dance we walked next door and walked beneath the threshold to Lafcadio's old home. We could so easily picture a life lived there. A writing life. One of quiet dedication but also of every day annoyances. You could just as easily hear the sound of the pen on the page as you could one of his children crying in the other room over a dispute between a sibling. It was all quite lovely to think that one can write quite well and not have to be a slave to coffee shops, cigarettes, and the drunken life in order to make something of ones work. (No offense, Hemingway).

The rest of the afternoon all seemed to come together in one glorious, misty dream.

We took a boat along the channels of the town and sat on our knees as we went under bridges. We listened to the soft drops of the rain on the tarp roof and to the hauntingly beautiful songs of the tour guide as she sang. Her voice echoed off the cement structures above us and we would often sit without saying a word. It seemed to me a church service amidst a cathedral of trees and water. After we got out of the boat we climbed up the hill to visit the castle. What a giant. A fortress of power and design that looked across the whole city of Matsue.

On our way back we walked to the local super store and got a few items needed: two persimmons, a knife to cut them, chapstick, and 2 peach juices to take with us for the next days' bike ride. We then hunted for a restaurant to eat Yakisoba, which after countless dead ends, we thought we would never find. Just as we were about to give up, we entered into a small "restaurant" underneath the train tracks. It was a kitchen and a shelf. But they said "yes" they served it there and we sat down to rest our weary feet. Best lunch yet. It was the kind of food that leaves you warm on the inside for hours after.

It was this same warmth that stayed with me on the train ride all the way to Onimichi. I awoke from a small nap to see lines of mist hovering in the mountains as we followed the winding river bed. It was the same mist one of the tour guides back at the Ninjadora told us Japan was famous for. I had awakened in just enough time to see it.

Yesterday was a day filled with all sorts of these magical "happenstance" moments, like the simple smile of a young girl that told my Dad with no words at all that we were about to miss our connecting train. Or even that sleep crept in that night for me like the mountain mist, making its decent from above and hovering there until morning.

My view now is of the early sun, cascading over the hills and Onomichi's fishing port. My father is listening to Handel's Messiah "The Glory of Lord" and I can't wait to see the ways in which He will continue to reveal that same unending Glory to us today.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Day 3

Just in front of the train station in downtown Kanazawa is a statue of the city topography and two life sized children playing on top of it, signifying their home as their playground. "This is truly the best way to describe my time here", my dad says. His childhood allotted for a palace to be his park and a world famous garden to be his backyard. Today's events fell nowhere short of a taste of that great adventure, even if it was all packed into the hours between 7 and 2.

We awoke from what was a restless night of sleep for both of us and walked down the steep and narrow steps from our room to the traditional Japanese breakfast prepared for us. It was a truly a new cultural experience for me as I looked at the spread and saw an array of items including miso soup, salad with miso dressing, roasted salmon, seaweed and jelly, dikon and eggs, and of course the ever present staples of rice and green tea. Although I have not yet quite become acclimated to the smell of fish in the morning, I will say that I was grateful for a hot meal and did eat just about everything...accept for the jellied seaweed.

My dad had a full days events planned for us and so we set out right away into the streets. Not moments outside the door we were met with the sight of students in uniforms on their way to school, all riding their bikes in the small roads between each house. A typical week day in Kanazawa had begun. We were off and running.

The city streets were clean but crowded with pedestrians. Men in business suits headed to work and children in navy blue shorts, white polos and bright yellow hats were all on their way to school. We hiked through this bustling scene on our way up the steep hill to Konroku, one of Japan's most famous and breathtaking gardens. We knew we were getting close to its entrance when my dad pointed out the workers with their straw coned hats and work boots-the diligent care takers of this centuries old landscape.

As we strolled the grounds my dad made note of the importance of making sure you looked closely at the trees and the way things are kept. Nothing is by accident in that place and it is really quite remarkable to think of this royal garden surviving all these hundreds of years. At some point it seems to have turned into a type of royalty itself in a way. It is doted on hand and foot. Men in the brook with brooms made of sticks and wooden handles ushered down any fallen leaves to be scooped up by another worker down the way. Women with rakes, gently brushed over the grounds' surface, searching for fallen pine needles. It was easy to see why this place is one visited from around the world. It was a mastery to behold.

I bought a few items at the gift store. One tea set in particular reminded me so well of all the colors and hughes of green I have seen during my stay here. Toting our gifts and chewing on the last few grapes from the day before, we walked back down the street and headed towards my Dad's old gradeschool.

Neither one of us were quite sure what to picture that morning or how things would turn out. Quite frankly I thought for sure no one would be around to let us in. But sure enough, the principle herself unlocked the door. Once my father explained his story we were immediately ushered inside. I sat in a large office at a conference table beneath the photographed faces of the leaders of the past. Not one minute after we had sat down were we then presented with cold tea in blue and white frosted glasses. The window by the principle's desk was open and the morning breezes swept in our room as she and my dad both poured over photographs and memories. He presented her with the children's book he had written and as he signed it some of the youngest children stood giggling in the open doorway and waved. Their jet black hair was in pig tails and their faces shone. We then followed the headmaster through the schools hallways, past children practicing the art of Haiku, past hanging Calligraphy paintings, and past colorful storage bins lined top to bottom with shoes.

She took us into the second grade classroom and immediately my dad was a hit. He spoke with them in Japanese and in turn they practiced English with us. The one picture above I managed to get with the children circling around him is actually quite wonderful. It turned out to be so similar to one he had just showed me earlier that morning of Grandad, surrounded by the neighborhood children as he shared the gospel with anyone that would listen.

The rest of the morning was full of events like these. For example, after having left the school we crossed the street and stopped in on the barber who used to cut my dad's hair. Not only was he still in business at age 77 but he stopped in the middle of a cut on a client and raced upstairs to get his wife. The two of them marveled in awe that Jensensan was back, and that he brought with him his daughter this time. We asked the customer in the chair if it was alright to stop and to take a picture. He smiled and nodded enthusiastically. The wife quickly untied her apron, embarrassed of course, and the barber stood in the mirror with a comb as he brushed back his own slicked hair to ensure a good photo. More laughter and then we left just as quickly as we went in.

Pictures come to my mind so much clearer today. Things like the wall across the street from where my dad's old house was, the hill they used to ride on and the sandy ground of the school yard. We visited new places he had not yet been as well such as the old Geisha district and a Ninjadore built with secret passageways, escape routes, and trap doors. The fish market could take up a full page of reflection just on it's own. The colors, sights, and sounds of that arena was overwhelming-so vivid and alive. There are quite literally hundreds of different seafood items and vegetables. The King Crabs were so fresh that their claws still moved in the plastic wrap and oyster shells were bigger than the size of your palm.

It was a whirlwind of a morning, but I am doing my best to not forget the small things in between along the way. The subtleties of this country are to me the true glimpses of beauty. One of these shining moments occurred as we left our hotel to catch the train. Just out of the corner of my eye I noticed that the hotel owner was still outside to see us off. I gazed behind my backpack and watched him in secret. And without any idea that anyone was watching, he bowed to us as we drove away.

In that moment it was as if Kanazawa itself had knelt goodbye and bid us come back again to play.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Day 2

It is 2:30 in the morning and I am writing at a table on the floor, cross legged, next to an open window. Kanazawa is a big city, but unlike the night sounds of other cities I know, it is quiet enough to hear the sounds of the river running through its streets and a few foot steps down its alley ways with the distant echoes of laughter. I told my dad over a dinner of sushi and Saporro tonight that I think of Japan as a utopian society and that I know I shouldn't do that as every place in the world has its obvious flaws... He just smiled and winked and said, "No, you can say that."

This past morning we woke up around 5:30 to the sound of the birds. We got ready at a leisurely pace and headed downstairs to walk the streets before breakfast. The night before we had arrived in the dark so stepping outside of the inn showed everything to be an entirely different world. He had told me before that this was the town that he would come to every summer as a child, and while I had always pictured it as "a beautiful place" I had no idea it could even come close to something like this.

Lush green everywhere. Tall forest of pines and Japanese maples, ferns, and everything covered in a carpet of moss. But more on this to come further on.

Breakfast was nothing short of a work of art. We were served an exquisite meal, such a spread already on the table and then to be served a full plate of fresh fruit-persimmons and their beautiful orange color, yogurt garnished with mint leaves, a hard boiled egg served on display, and a delicately sliced piece of Salmon on bread with some sort of cream cheese. What a feast! That and of course the strong coffee they serve set it all off just right.

Of course it was truly our host there that made us feel like such royalty. Always he smiled as he served and did everything with a certain exactitude that made it seem as though he had been preparing for our stay for years. A picture on the hallway wall of our same aged innkeeper as a young man affirms this. Of course I am not so ego-centric to think that he is this way only with us, but that is part of the sheer beauty of Japanese service. They make you feel as though you were the only person in front of them at that given moment and that you are a treasure. Their smiling eyes tell you so and just in case you forget, they bow.

After breakfast we stepped outside and saw our bikes. They were pah-fecto as I have learned to say. (That's two words now Grammy! ;) Powder blue and chrome with a giant basket in front and a little bell that sweetly chimed when you rang it. We were off.

It was a morning I will never forget. Riding through a sea of green, smelling the scent of pine while watching the sun cast it's shadows and light over rocks and ferns was simply ethereal. We road back streets for a while and then took the main strip up the steady slope to the language school that my dad and grandparents went to and the cabin they stayed at during the summers of his childhood.

There were neat moments of seeing things like the tennis courts that the Emporer met his wife on and hearing how my dad witnessed it as a sandy haired, blonde boy peeking over the tennis court fence. Or hearing how he would ride his bike and go flying down the dirt path in the middle of the camp and feel tree roots shake his tires. Or hear of how the one missionary neighbor made amazing sloppy joes, while another had built a giant swing. Stories of how they had seen a man cut off a chickens head in the yard over the hill and also how they had walked upstream in the river to catch small little crabs. These details were wonderful to hear and to imagine. But nothing came close to praying with my dad in the same church walls that my grandparents were in. Or seeing the building where my dad heard a missionary's story and biked home to ask my Grammy how he could come to know Jesus. It was a rich morning for me in this regard. The tears would surface often and still do even as I write. How faithfulness in that place has been so richly blessed and multiplied by our Heavenly Father is almost too much for words.

We shopped some that morning as well. Bought some Nashi and a bunch of 8 dollar grapes that were worth every penny. They were the size of apricots and when I bit down into it such an explosion of flavor! I am forever ruined of United States grapes.

We stopped at a coffee shop on our way back to the main strip. Here they serve you your coffee at a table. Next to us sat a lady smoking a cigarette with her dog in her lap. Their iced coffees were strong and sweet and was the perfect extra boost.

After packing up from the Inn and making sure we had some parting photographs with our host, he bade us well and sent us on our way off to the train station. We told him he would meet my middle sister next year and he smiled and bowed.

At the station we grabbed a bento box to take on the train as we had several connecting routes to take and wouldn't have time to stop for lunch. I spotted a lunch with "brown socks" as we affectionately called them as kids (sugared rice and vinegar in a fried tofu pocket? I may be wrong on the ingredients on this but my dad is sleeping so I cant confirm). On a bench in the sun while we waited for our train we played Rummy 500. I was losing per usual when the train pulled in and we began our journey once more.

I told my dad how glad I am for these train travels-not only for the obvious reasons like rest, or getting to see the country's many landscapes (we saw the Japan sea this afternoon from the train!) But mostly because it gives me time to think and reflect.

Our taxi from the train station in Kanazawa took us through the clean streets and tall buildings of the city. We turned the corner and parked next to a building with a small side entrance to our next hotel. Ducking through the fabric doorway and being ushered into our new home for the evening with night air, I was brought to yet another new surprise. Here we were to stay at a true Japanese hotel. Two mattresses on bamboo mats and a small table and seat cushions was all our room had to offer...and it was all that we needed. We dropped our backpacks and headed out for dinner, where we also sat on the floor and talked of the day and of things I am reading about and laughed over how I was trying to read the menu side to side instead of up and down.

To end the long day I went downstairs to take an Ofudo-or hot bath. (Again, spelling on this is going to be inaccurate, he's still sleeping). I will say this, the Japanese do not over exaggerate their words. A hot bath it was. And the experience is something I think I shall pass on writing about and just have as a laughable memory in my head.

After this scorcher of a water experience I all but hobbled up to our room for the night and tried to stay awake for another two hours. Sadly I was bested yet again by the international date line. Hence my ending this day two update at 3:45 in the morning.

As I close the days events and try to go back for a few hours more sleep, I can' help but play the days events over and over. All afternoon there was the obvious natural urge to try to take pictures of everything and write feverishly on napkins and train tickets about all we have seen. But I am learning that a large part of being here is just learning to let it all fill up in your lungs. Japan can permeate who you are if you let it, and I am breathing deep.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Japan: Day One...ish.

In no way shape or form am I putting these ramblings on here as an act of literary accomplishment. Quite the contrary I am a little embarrassed at how unedited these are going to be, but with the rate today went and how quickly everything seemed to just slip through my fingers, I figured it would be a good thing to try to at least remember the days events. Then perhaps at a later date I can go back from there and use those as landmarks to help remind me of all the other things along the way.

We left the house and got to the airport and on our plane with no hiccups along the way. While we sat waiting to board with talked with a grandmother and her granddaughter who were also headed to Japan for the first time. The Grandmother was lovely, she was from Ireland and said that she remembered when she was 5 years old pressing her face up against the car window out over a distant land her family traveled to and thinking "wow, you can do this? you mean there is more out there than just my house?" She lived to travel she said. Ilaughed to myself because I think just now at my age I am beginning to realize what she did at 5. Both my dad and I agreed that she reminded us a lot of Grammy-the same sparkle in her eye, the same itch to travel and do fun things, especially if those fun things involve grand children.

The flight itself was not awful. 13 hours in one spot rarely is wonderful. But the ANA airlines were fantastic. Such hospitality already was seen and that was just on the plane ride there. The flight attendants did things like held babies for people while they used the rest room, made you green tea on a moments notice without hesitation, and even all wrote me a card which they signed, welcoming me to Japan for the first time.

I also watched a lot of documentaries. I now feel as though I could be a prolific lantern maker, Ramen noodle restaurant operator, and also make flower arrangements that are ahead of my time using elements that few have used before.

When we landed it was so foggy and rainy that it was difficult to really see anything. Japan has always been shrouded in some kind of mystery to me and so it actually seemed very appropriate coming into a sea of fog. (That and there was also the mental fog that has come along with the jet lag that is interesting as well.)

From our terminal we rushed to customs and baggage claim so we could make the earlier train time to Karuizawa. Two Japanese ladies at the train station spoke in great length with my dad about (from what I could make out anyways) how he is taking all 3 daughters on separate trips over the course of 3 years and then is going to take my mother for the final trip to tour all the places we've been. They ooh'ed and ahhed and said additional things while laughing. Of course the conversation was lost on me but it was neat just to listen to my father and watch him in an element unlike anything I have ever seen him in.

The only thing I have been able to master thus far as far as language is Domo. And the bow. But I have this slight feeling that I am overusing both of them. It's simply because I have nothing other that I am able to communicate with to anyone, so if I leave anyones presence at all I just want them to know that at least this frizzy haired American knew her thank you's and knew how to show some respect darn it all.

As the connecting shuttle to Tokyo pulled into the station I watched one of the ladies who cleans the cars bow at the passengers as the train approached. It was incredible to think that here there are people who clean the equivalent of our subway cars back at home, and yet they do it in such a way that you would think they find it the most rewarding job in the world. I figured if they can treat people with that much respect that they encounter coming on and off the subway, then how much more should I be respectful of those I work with and those that I see come in the door. Side thought.

As we pulled out of the underground station and headed to Tokyo, the picture window next to me changed scenery and we were in daylight. Green everywhere. And not just the typical forest green that I am used to, but almost an electric color...that lit up the whole landscape. Here I had thought I would use this hour to catch up on some sleep, but the entire ride I sat mesmerized. There is no point of reference to really compare it to. Just that it was a wonderful first impression of Japan with its' rice fields and bamboo forests and old men standing out over their land, and women in their gardens, and clothes on the lines everywhere you looked, and rivers and downtown city life put any other city life to shame.

Both trains were quite the experience but the bullet train was super cool. (yeah, I"m pretty descriptive and poetic and stuff after 24 hours no sleep). It goes up to 160 miles per hour and because we got reserved seats that had all the leg room in the world, I slept like a baby for...a a good 24 minutes.
Once in Tokyo we took our connecting train and made it to the village of Karuizawa. When we got off at our platform the air was perfect and the town still and quiet like something out of a wonderful story. Little restaurants here and there lit up, but for the most part this town met us with just the kind of welcome we needed. One soft and cool and not too loud for our sleep deprived minds.

Because I had been staring at soups during my documentary stint on the flight, we decided to try out a local spot and had the most satisfying dinner of my life. we were served a giant bowl REAL Ramen noodles in a savory broth with bean sprouts and other vegetables. Then we walked back to our amazing rooms for the night. The inn is lit by lanterns in the middle of Karuizawa, you could see it's glow from a block down the way.

The hosts are fantastic, from greeting us at the door with slippers and asking us all about our trip, to making sure we all the accommodations in our room that we could ever need. Green tea, some beds, and a shower. As I sit and write this shoddy excuse of a days events, both my Dad and I are sitting with windows open and the breeze coming through. We were listening to some Classical Japanese music, but after about 10 minutes of that we switched over to Elton John.

If that doesn't say "The Americans are Here" I don't know what does.

Thats right. THis american is here, and she is so so grateful.
...and SO going to bed.