I recently visited Japan from April 1 to 11, 2010. While there I visited with friends and (host) families in Nagoya, Kyoto, and Kanazawa.
It is difficult to fully explain or otherwise describe both the experience and impact of visiting Japan. Japan has long been a place of particular and special importance to me. In many ways one might say there are two me’s; an American version that you know as Ward and a Japanese version by the name of 和道. Beyond this there is little I can find in words that can succinctly explain this to people. At best I can, the better of me finds a voice in Japan(ese).
On Thursday (April 1) I left Seattle for Nagoya.
On Friday (April 2) I arrived in Nagoya where one of my best friends, Yasuo KITANE (北根安雄) and his family made room for me in their home. Both Yasuo and their soon-to-be 4 son, Hiroki, met me at the airport. While their 18-month-old daughter, Sawako, was frightened by my presence on the first night, she quickly warmed to me on the following day and we quickly became best friends. Hiroki and I enjoyed creating sentences on his Pokemon toy. His favorite being “Ward looks like a gorilla” (わどうわごりらみたい).
On Saturday (April 3) the KITANE family and I went to Yamazaki River (山崎川) where we enjoyed Saturday morning with a casual stroll with others enjoying the Spring weather amongst cherry blossoms. Afterwards, Yasuo went to Nagoya University to prepare for the new students and I spent the afternoon on my own using メーグル, a Nagoya tourist bus, to visit both Nagoya Castle (名古屋城) and Tokugawa Garden (徳川園).
On Sunday (April 4) we all took the car and visited Ise Jingu (伊勢神宮) which is about a 2-hour drive from their home. Ise Jinguu (shrine) is arguably the center of Japan’s Shinto-world. The central shrine is reconstructed and moved every 20 years as has been done for over 1300 years. This both serves as an important aspect of the valuation of renewal in Shinto and as a more practical purpose (especially in modern times) of ensuring these particular building skills are preserved.
On Monday (April 5) I took the Shinkansen from Nagoya to Kyoto. I found a last-minute great deal (7000 yen per night) at Kyoto Garden Palace (京都ガーデンパレス) which is situated directly across the old Palace (御所). I decided to walk the 4.2 kilometers from Kyoto station to the hotel in the middle of hot, humid day. While that distance is nothing for a jog, it is another thing when done with a large hiking pack strapped to your back. I did not let this stop me from visiting the palace and Kamogawa Park (鴨川公園) relatively near to the hotel. I then spent the evening out and about window-shopping and having an absolutely perfect meal at a yakitori joint.
On Tuesday (April 6) I woke early (5:30 AM) to get out and visit the Palace grounds and walk along Kamogawa to get some more pictures of cherry blossoms in the early light. I then made my way down to Kiyomizudera (清水寺) where I enjoyed a number of shrines and temples in the relative absence of other tourists (and entrance fees). I did spend 600 yen to visit Koudaiji (高台寺) which is some of the best money I spent during my visit. I spent a good hour next to the rock garden relaxing in the shade and taking pictures. A bit further south I visited Chourakuji (長楽寺) and its Buddhist cemetery which is a bit off the main trail of tourists that by this time in the morning had begun to appear. I did the obligatory visit to Maruyama Park (円山公園) which is hallmark to sakura viewing in Japan. Sadly, I found much of the park cluttered with litter that sufficiently detracted its appeal to me such that I quickly moved on. I eventually immersed myself with the ebb and flow of tourists till I ended up at Chionin (知恩院) where another well-spent 300 yen earned me entrance to a set of temples well worth visiting numerous times to appreciate it all. While by this time in the afternoon my feet began to feel the exhaustion of 10 kilometers, I decided to end my afternoon at Nijyou Castle (二条所). Much of the beauty of this place is inside its buildings with its many ink paintings; sadly photography is forbidden and so I have little to share other than to encourage you to go and visit it yourself! I again spent the evening out and about, finding myself another place to enjoy an unbelievably delicious dinner of Japan-domestic chicken.
On Wednesday (April 7) I spent the morning doing some shopping at Kinokuniya for books and gifts while walking another 6 kilometers or so through Kyoto looking at neighborhoods. I took the express train from Kyoto to Kanazawa where my friend, Mark, met me.
On Thursday (April 8 ) I spent most of my day visiting with one of my (host) families, the Demura family. It has been many years since they have heard from me (for reasons beyond the scope of this blog) and so there was much ground to cover catching up with each other. I spent the afternoon with my aunt and uncle who took me out for lunch and then decided they wanted to join me in seeing Kanazawa Castle (金沢城) and Kenrokuen (兼六園) together. I spent the late afternoon at their home relaxing and hanging out with everyone till I met up with Mark later that evening for dinner.
On Friday (April 9) Mark and I spent the day hanging out together. He took me to a macro-biotics place near his home for lunch. I must admit I could eat at this place every day and never tire of it. We drove out to Kanazawa University (金沢大学) where he and I shared our memories from our shared time there some 12 years prior. It is delightful to remember all the different places we all hung out and many places I had forgotten until we saw them. The university has increased in physical size with the relocation of the engineering department. It truly feels much more like a real university than ever before. There is also a significant amount of infrastructure put in place near the university that has helped foster the commercial district. Given that I did not get as much time as I would have liked taking pictures, Mark and I returned to Kanazawa Castle (金沢城) and Kenrokuen (兼六園). He and I had a great dinner and then ended the evening at his favorite jazz joint.
On Saturday (April 10) I spent the morning Oyama Shrine (尾山神社) where I purchased a safe-driving charm (交通安全守り). The shrine is one that I often visited when I was living in Kanazawa and holds a special place in my heart. I then walked over to もっきりや (Mokkiriya), a jazz cafe where I spent many an afternoon enjoying a glass of beer while reading when I lived in Japan. I then grabbed a taxi back to the train station to catch an express train back to Nagoya. I spent the evening with Yasuo and family, quietly enjoying each other’s company over a home-cooked meal.
On Sunday (April 11) I left Nagoya for Seattle.
Below is a list of the places I visited along with links to the various photo-albums. The links require an account on Facebook. I listed most of the places I visited. In some cases I decided I not to publish pictures on Facebook in so much as I felt the quality of the pictures did not warrant it.
Nagoya (名古屋), April 2 to 5
Ise Jingu (伊勢神宮)
Kyoto (京都), April 5 to 7
Nijyou Castle (二条所)