So Saturday night was our last night in Saipan. We were treated to a nice dinner out by the clinic director and his wife. While we were sad to leave the beautiful beach paradise that is Saipan, we were excited to be headed to our next stop – Japan!
Cherryl and I met in Japan, a few years ago… something like 45! We thought it would be fun to revisit this fantastic place that we love so much. We scheduled about 5 days layover on our trip home… and instantly wished we had more time!
We landed in the “new” airport, Narita. The old airport, Haneda, is still used, I think mostly for domestic flights. We picked up our Rail Pass and a cute little portable Internet provider… about the size of a pack of gum, it lets all our devices connect without using their cell time or getting a new SIM card. In fact, as I type this, we are on Shinkansen, the “Bullet Train”, doing 168MPH! Smooth and quiet. Fantastic! But I’m getting ahead of myself…
We left half our baggage at the airport (We wouldn’t be needing our SCUBA gear!) and caught the Narita Express, which gets you into downtown Tokyo in less than an hour. The view from our 14th floor hotel room was great – the lower third of very tall buildings next to us!
Monday morning we headed out again, after deciding we still had too much stuff with us. (The hotel was happy to hold a bag for us.) So we caught our Shinkansen train for Kyoto. The well over 300 mile trip zooms by at less than 2.5 hours, including a few stops along the way. All seats have more legroom than first class in a plane, and they actually recline enough you could sleep (and half the people do).
Our hotel in Kyoto was built in a large circle, surrounding a garden area. A ways out of town, but walking distance from the subway. We decided it was too late in the day to hit the major tourist spots, so we opted for a traditional Japanese bath house. Several decades ago, most homes had no bath facilities, so a public bath house was used regularly. The Japanese are very clean people, and the evening outing to the bath house was also a great way to chat with your neighbors. Most places have separate men’s/women’s sides. First you get undressed, then you wash thoroughly, sitting on a ridiculously small stool, while pouring small buckets of water all over you. Only when absolutely clean may you enter the large bath areas. There you may have a choice of several temperatures and styles… including one they run an electric current through! I was always taught to avoid crossing electricity with water, but they’ve been doing it here for years. It feels really strange, like all your muscles want to tighten up a bit at once. Some think it’s good for you… I think it’s pretty weird!
Ginkaku-ji is commonly called the Temple of the Silver Pavilion. Build in the late 1400’s, it was the life work of a Shogun to be his retirement home. It has one of the most beautiful moss gardens in Japan. The original plan was to cover the building with silver, like the Gold Pavilion is in gold (more on that in a minute), but that never happened. It has always been called the Silver Pavilion anyway. (I always planned on buying Hearst Castle, but it’s never happened. Think they will call it McArthur Castle anyway?)
Getting there fairly early was a great thing – not crowded, and plenty of time to savor the fantastic gardens.
No, this isn’t a monument to a chicken… that’s a Phoenix!
Lots of flowers in front of shops.
We saw lots of gals in Kimonos, and some guys in their Yukatas as well.
We trekked from Kyoto to Osaka, (13 minutes on Shinkansen) to try and find the school where we taught and first met. We found the SDA Osaka Center on the map, and were very proud of our ability to navigate the subway system all the way there. Except the building was not the same one we taught in… They moved from the old building years ago. The new one is beautiful, and includes the church and a language school, as did the old one. The receptionist at the school said her mother worked in the school when we were there – turns out we’d known her! She pointed out the location of the old building, but when we got there, we found a totally different structure; I’m sure the old one was torn down.
Travel by public transportation is fun and efficient in Japan, but involves more stairs than I can describe. We walked our feet off! When we finally finished the day’s adventures, our Apple gear said we’d done over 18,000 steps and 11.8 miles! (That doesn’t include the previous day’s experiment… Walking the length of the train at 168mph got me 3 miles of walking!) Turns out we’d walk like that every day! We travelled by Shinkansen, express trains, local trains, subways, busses and even the Tokyo Monorail.
Below is a non-crowded train. Subways have seats along the sides instead of in rows.
There is no way to show how many people are on the move in the railways/subways, but here is my short attempt…
This was my favorite temple decades ago. Created in 778 AD, it is a stunning wooden structure built into the side of a mountain, with a deck jutting out into space.
This is what I remembered and was looking forward to seeing:
But unfortunately, it is now being restored… so this is what we saw:
Scaffolding over the whole structure! Sigh… we could still go inside, and see the fascinating pattern of wooden beams and beautiful lanterns from inside.
Below is a set of fountains, where people treat the water as if it has special powers. When I was first here, people would drink from water they’d catch from the fountain in long handled wooden dippers. Today they have metal dippers that they can supposedly sanitize with an ultraviolet light between uses, and most didn’t drink but just got their hands in it or maybe splashed it on their faces.
There are pagodas on either side of the entrance…
Prayers can be written on paper, and tied onto special racks, or maybe even printed on a wooden card and hung up.
It used to be common to leave food for the images, and of course they would need a bib. We saw more bibs than food. Just getting ready for the feast to come!
By far the most visitors were Japanese.
Known as the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, it was also built as a Shogun’s home, complete with fabulous gardens and Gold Leaf over much of the structure. The original was built in 1397. In 1950 it burned down, thanks to a careless monk. Rebuilt in 1955, it is covered with even thicker gold leaf than it was originally.
Lots of girls in pretty Kimonos…
Everywhere are cute little shops with cute little ladies selling…
Japan is all about clean!
Streets, shops, homes, parks, even public bathrooms are very clean. In the temple pavilions there were people sweeping the moss!
High Tech Toilets
In the old days, Japanese toilets were all the “Squat Pots”; just a ceramic slot in the tile floor that you squatted over and did whatever you came in there to do. But they have not only adopted the western style toilet, but modernized it dramatically! Heated seats, auto flushing, and soft closing lids.oSome will shoot jets of water to wash you and heated air to dry you off. I’m told there are some available that will do urinalysis too… but we didn’t meet any of those in our hotels.
They are everywhere… I was amused by “During Cleaning” on a non-accessible train door, and “Mildly Air-Conditioned Car”… until I walked the length of one train and noticed one car (the one we got on) was defiantly hotter than all the others. I guess some like it hot…
Subway tickets are magnetic and you place them in the gate, it opens, and spits your ticket out the other side in a split second. For the rail passes we had to show our passes to a staff person… and I guess here the staff is stuffed!
People apparently go to the grocery store meet section to meat other non-vegetarian people…
The food is beautifully presented, unless you are at a buffet and have to do it yourself. One hotel had an included breakfast, served at an Italian restaurant. So the first time I’ve had spaghetti, scrambled eggs and rice for breakfast!
This is a poster with a futuristic dental theme, but I have no idea what they are selling.
I just thought this was fun – the old guy in a suit, with his mask on, riding a bike, swerved over to say Hi and chat with the cab driver…
Ok, not all the food is displayed beautifully… The cream puffs seem to be barfing green tea or vanilla filling, and the breadsticks look… well, unusual. (But the vanilla cream puffs were great!)
And a quite energized salesperson…
How beautiful and fun!! ‘Glad you could retrace steps of long ago! Tx for the stop in Japan!