Greetings from across the big pond!!! Over the past few days I have been exploring Japan, seeing many temples and shrines and eating a lot of different things that I wasn’t always sure what it was. And it’s been great!
We arrived in Kobe on Friday morning to a fireboat spraying its hoses high in the air – a sign of welcome. Upon our docking we were greeted by a performance of drums and drama before we made our way through immigration and were set loose to our exploring. After a day of getting acquainted with Kobe itself and finding that I don’t like sushi, I went to Nara – a former capital of Japan about and hour and a half northeast of Kobe – to see Horyuji temple – the first Buddhist temple in Japan – Todaiji temple – the largest – and Kasuga Shrine (Shinto). For lunch we ate in a deer park along side some fairly friendly, and hungry, deer. When you go to feed the deer you are to raise your hand and the deer will bow to you in appreciation. (Part of me thinks that the deer learned that if they do cute things like that they’ll get more food!) The temple complexes were beautiful and gave me pause as I gazed over the grounds and the ancient buildings. The Buddha statue at Todaiji is roughly 75 feet tall and you can fit five monks in the palm of his hand. The sheer size of it all humbles you, if not the sacredness of the space – though it’s now more of a tourist attraction than a functioning temple. The great craftsmanship and attention to detail amazes me. I loved every minute! And no trip to Japan is complete without watching a sumo tournament on tv on the bus ride back. You don’t want one of those guys after you!!!
The next day Laura met me at the ship and we headed off to Kyoto. After catching up on the hour or so subway ride, we went to Byodoin temple and stopped at many smaller shrines and temples that I don’t remember the names to. All were quite beautiful! For lunch we ate at a small restaurant where I ate some sort of noodle soup, rice, and some sort of egg, soy bean, and beef…stuff. It looked a little disgusting but it tasted great! I also tried some green tea ice cream, a popular treat in Japan. It’s not my favorite but it I have to admit that it wasn’t too bad and would reccommend it to all of you. The remainder of the evening was spent wandering Kyoto and getting a feel for the blend of semi-rural and urban lifestyles that make up the atmosphere of the city. We wandered down to the river that runs through Kyoto and enjoyed the night air, the occasional burst of small fireworks, and sips of our sake (which isn’t one of my favorites either.)
And so, with that, we parted and I braved the Japanese subways on my own. There is really nothing like traveling in a foreign country alone when you don’t read or speak the language and you need to get somewhere just by what little information you have and a little bit of luck.
Well, tomorrow and the next day will be spent wandering the city of Kobe and perhaps a hike of Mt. Rokko to round out my short time here in Japan. I know it’s only out first port of call, but it’s my favorite…so far.