Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Japan Wrap-up Photo Dump


I'm not exactly sure how to talk about the rest of my month in Japan so I'll just do another photo dump, sharing the stories behind some of the photos I took.

I spent the past two weeks in the historical and Buddhist heart of Japan: Kyoto, Nara and Koyasan. Kyoto is famous for all the historical temples still standing in the city. Nara is home to a 50' tall bronze Buddha, built in 751, who sits inside what was, until recently, the world's largest wooden building. Koyasan is a small town in the mountains centered around more than 100 temples, some of which allow tourists to stay in them.

Here's the Nara Buddha that was cast in bronze in the year 751. According to Atlas Obscura, the initial construction nearly bankrupted Japan.
Today it is very much a tourist attraction, primarily for groups of school children. Nobody was hanging out and being particularly spiritual when I was there. I was mostly surrounded by 14-year olds taking selfies.

My favorite Buddha was this next one in Kamakura, just about an hour by train south of Tokyo. There was a scenic, wooded 45-minute hike to get to the Buddha. Of course, you all know that getting there is half the fun. It was a gorgeous day and I sat down and meditated for 30 minutes here amongst the visitors. This Buddha is also about 50' tall and bronze.

This next photo is of a women praying before entering a temple in the snowy mountains outside of Kyoto. The morning mountains here were beautifully coated in an overnight snowfall and there were few visitors when I was there. 

Here's another shot from that same temple.


I visited many temples with gorgeous gardens. You've probably seen photos of Japanese zen gardens with the 5 rocks sitting on a big bed of gravel. They didn't get very old to me and I enjoyed visiting many different ones. Here's a nice place for dinner next time the local Lama invites you up to his summer temple.



One of the most famous and popular sites around Kyoto is the Fushimi-Inari Shrine because of the amazing tunnel of these orange gates. I'm not sure there are really 10,000 of them, but there's certainly more than 1,000. Super cool and quite photogenic.
Which way to the Zen Buddhist temple?

Matcha green tea is a special kind of ceremonial green tea that is crafted with love and ritual. Here's a photo from a tea ceremony I attended where, over the course of 10 minutes, this lady prepared one cup of matcha. She said it takes 10-15 years to be a Master of Tea Ceremony, learning all the proper techniques for making different types of matcha for different purposes in different seasons of the year.

The tea is very smooth, thicker than a normal cup of tea. It is often served in exquisite tea rooms, such as this one looking out over a bamboo garden.

In Koyasan I spent 3 nights staying in a Buddhist temple. They had 8 or 10 rooms that they rent out to tourists and we could witness some of their daily monk rituals. My room had a nice view into a wooded area surrounding the meditation hall. It was a wonderful 3 days of peace and quiet, listening and deep thinking for me.

The food was amazing and vegan. Miso soup, rice, tofu served multiple different ways and far more tasty than I'd ever had, assorted tempura and vegetables served in ways I'd never experienced before. If I could eat like this every day I could almost become vegan. Almost.

There is an ancient cemetery in Koyasan and it was fun to walk through. It houses the mausoleum of the Buddhist monk who is called the Father of Japanese Culture because he created the Japanese written language (adapted from Chinese) and started the whole calligraphy craze.

The generous woman at the aforementioned tea ceremony who kindly translated my name, Kirk, into Japanese calligraphy obviously didn't know that I'm unemployed and homeless.
Splendid Success = Unemployed & homeless

Just a couple more things I need to mention. First, Japan has a weird sexual and pseudo-sexual undercurrent. On the surface, all Japanese are very proper, bowing all the time and being super polite. In the workplace they are encouraged to conform and it is seen as bad to stand out. One of the effects of this is these places called Maid Cafes. I had to try one.

You go to this cafe where a bunch of 16-20 year old girls are dressed up as maids. There is an extreme level of cuteness applied to everything. It's like Hello Kitty having tea time with a basket full of puppies.

The food is all cute and colorful, though it doesn't taste particularly good. Shocker. I ordered the salad and the nuclear green sugary beverage. It's hard to see in the picture, but the cheese on the salad is formed to look like little critters. 
Cute pose with love heart

Here's the nice picture card they gave me when I was leaving. The embedded photo is me and the girl/maid/whatever who was my server.
Cute pose #2: fists beneath chin.

The first 30 minutes was quite entertaining. Most of the 20 people in the cafe were eating alone, like me. And it turns out it was on Valentine's Day (I swear I didn't plan it that way, but I realized when I took my place at the end of a 20-minute line to get in). There were definitely some very lonely people who go to this kind of cafe for (completely innocent) companionship. More than one customer was playing a little children's game kind of like Hungry Hungry Hippos with their server/maid.

But after being there for 30 minutes I was ready to roll. It was one of those crazy cultural experiences that was super fun, but only for a short amount of time. I was the only non-Asian customer and it felt a little weird to be glancing into the lives of some very sad souls.

Lastly, I will share with you one more weird Japanese cultural experience. I spent 4 nights in Kyoto staying at one of those pod hotels. You know what I mean, right? It's this Japanese budget hotel option where you're room for the night is not much bigger than the trunk of your car. The place I stayed was brand new, though, and the pods were quite sufficient and cozy. This stock photo of the place I stayed shows the double-decker pods on each side of the hall. Each one is probably 6'6" deep by 4' high and 3' wide or so. There was a tv inside, and a fan, and lights with dimmers.

That's it.
I'm writing this from Shanghai, China where I'm pleased to be crashing with my buddy Mikko for awhile. I may use Shanghai as a home base for much of 2017. My first priority is to turn my business website into version 2.0, likely called Prepared Passing. It'll be an educational site for people who have a parent who is dying.

So I'm gonna crank on that for the next couple months. But I'm also excited to be able to easily visit places like Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, greater China, Mongolia, India, Nepal, Bhutan and on and on and on.

Asia is big with lots to see and at this point I have no schedule. Gonna stay until I'm ready to move on and do it up right.

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