Japan overview, thus far…
- Do not J-walk in Japan.
- Automatic doors in stores, on trains and on buses, must be opened and closed by the press of a long button usually located on your right.
- There are 7-11s everywhere, offering a variety of great rice balls and mochi.
- Japan is extremely clean, however you’ll have a hard time trying to track down a trashcan in a public area.
- Prices are comparable to that of the states.
- We purchased a Japan Rail Pass which made traveling extremely easy. The stations (especially in Koyoto and Toyko) are the size of large shopping malls. They have everything you may need, boutiques, restaurants, beauty stores, dug stores, etc.
- Vending machines and bakeries are extremely popular and make for the perfect breakfast. Get a cold can of black coffee from the vending machine and try a variety of pastries from a local bakery.
We arrived in Osaka at 15:45 and thought we would get to downtown by dinnertime. The subway ended up getting very delayed (supposedly unusual for Japan) at Otori station. After 90 minutes of delay and the sun setting we decided to catch a cab. The entire ordeal ended up costing $20 per person, still cheaper than the $120 a cab would have cost from the airport. People were extremely helpful but still no one seemed to know what was going on, however there was suspicion of a suicide.
The next morning we took 3 trains, a cable car and a bus to arrive at the town of Koyosan. The public bus dropped us off at the Ekoin (hotel monastery) and we were so impressed with the efficiency of the public transit (definitely proved yesterday was a fluke). After dropping our bags off and getting the details on town from the extremely helpful staff we left to explore the world heritage site!
We first went to the Kongobuji Temple, the headquarters of Koyosan Shingon-shu Buddhism. There we saw the beautiful rock gardens, intricately painted sliding doors and observed devote monks. The enormous cedar trunks that build the rafters of temple were unlike any structure I had ever seen.
The next stop was the Sacred Center of Shingon Buddhism, a multi stupa complex dominated by the orange Konpon Daito. When entering the stupas you purify yourself with rubbing a pinch of ground cloves in your hands, an invigorating smell.
After exploring, we returned to Ekoin for some Ajikan meditation and training. We both found it very challenging but immediately felt the calming and centering affects. Hopefully this is something we can practice more in the year to come.
We had a traditional Shojin Ryori cuisine, which included sesame tofu (extremely soft, unlike any tofu prepared in the states), miso soup, potato jelly, noodles, frozen tofu, radish, wheat gluten, salted plums, and rice. While very unique and strange to us, it was still delicious and we ate it all.
In the morning we went to the Buddhist morning prayer and a fire ceremony conducted by the monks. There was meaning in every signal movement, object, tool, prayer and sound. While we respected and admired the amount of superstition, it was unfathomable. However, siting in a tiny building with 30 people burning a large fire listing to monks chant was uplifting and beautiful.
The final stop in Koyasan was the Okunoin, a large cemetery with over 200,000 tombs. We started on the Sando approach with many tombs of ordinary people, samurais and past emperors dating back over a thousand years. The end of the cemetery was the moralism of Kobo Daishi the founder of Shingon Buddhism in Japan, which reached eternal meditation in 835. The moss and pine bouquets accentuated the 500-year-old tombs. Some companies even had tombstones for their employees. An extermination company had a tombstone dedicated to all of the termites that have been killed and wishing them peace!
We traveled from Koyasan to Osaka then to Osaka to Hiroshima via the bullet train. This is such an efficient, reliable and comfortable form of transportation.
Our first stop was the Hirsoshima Peace Memorial Museum and Park. We walked through the museum with heavy hearts. We learned the story of Sadako Sasaki, a young girl who died of leukemia as a result of the bomb blast despite folding 1,000 origami paper cranes to appeal to the gods to make her well. Now, individuals fold cranes and leave them at her memorial wishing for world peace. We also saw the frame of the Gembaku Dome, the sole building to withstand the explosion. Words cannot explain our experience; you must experience it for yourself.
We took a ferry to Miyajima Island, explored the Itsukushima shinto shrine and explored the beautiful daishoin temple. This was the first temple that I saw specially worshiping the Dalai Lama. We saw a beautiful sand mandala and explored little shrine caves. We decided to hike up Mt Misen (approximately 2.5 km each way), and was rewarded by a beautiful overlook of Hiroshima. There were many locals visiting the island dressed in traditions kimonos for the festival and fireworks.
We ended the night eating Okonomiyaki, and learned that “hibachi” was created by westerns. Okonomiyaki is the closest dish cooked similarly to that of hibachi. This was a like a pancake make with egg noodles, crepe, egg, oyster sauce, cabbages, tempura crumbs, green onion, and/ or seafood. It was one of the most delicious meals I had in Japan.
Stay tuned for a post on Kyoto and Tokyo! ps. if you have any helpful feedback on how we could better organize/present this blog, we’d love to hear it!