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Archive for the ‘ Travel Stories ’ Category

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26
Sep

Daibutsu

I made a series of pledges in a blog post a few weeks ago. One of those pledges was to travel somewhere every weekend. I am glad to say, with another weekend having come and gone, I haven’t forsaken the writer/reader relationship. The pledge is in tact.

On Saturday, I took an hour of train hopping down to Kamakura, which was Japan’s capital until 1333. While it suffered from the 1923 Kanto earthquake, Kamakura was spared Allied bombing during World War II allowing for the hilly residential district to house more than 60 intact temples and nearly 19 shrines.

I began my tour by stopping at Jufukiji, one of the five most important Zen temples of the Rinzai sect, which together are known as the Kamakura Gozan. Jufukiji had been rebuilt, as all but two of the five had, but, I decided, if I were to visit any of the 65 temples in Kamakura, why not make one of the five most significant my destination?

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17
Sep

Ingoshira Park

Not too long ago, I walked into the Ingoshira Park, a quiet walk-in closet away from the buzzing room of Kichijoji in Tokyo, with a Japanese friend.

There, under the ceiling of fawning trees, hid more street performers than I have ever seen in any American city. On the warm Sunday I was there, I didn’t go more than fifty feet before I saw another musician or painter or magician. One tune floated in the air before being consumed by the next song, from the twang of a traditional Biwa to covers of Beatles songs.

We sat on a bench looking out onto the small pond, heavily trafficked in the sun with rowboats and giant, paddling swans, analogous to their famed cousins that live in the Boston Public Garden.

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17
Sep

The Grand Sumo Tournament

Sumo and sushi, that’s what Tokyo does, right? Alright, well maybe not, but they are perhaps the two most readily invoked images of Japan and, after having already gotten some Japanese sushi, yesterday I finally got a glimpse of the former.

It required 360 yen ($3 U.S.), three trains and forty minutes of travel, but I made it to Ryogoku, just northeast of my South Tokyo apartment. Just as I walked out of the station, beside me was a beautiful stone sumo wrestling statue. I wasn’t bashful enough to stop and click a few photos, only for my pictures to be blocked by the busy crowd, including the occasional kimono-clad sumo star.

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17
Sep

Yasuda and Jikoin

Ryogoku is, by many standards, like so many other countless towns in Tokyo. It has tall buildings and is crowded, with its own claims of interest (i.e. the Kokugikan arena and Fukagawa Edo Museum).

The East Tokyo town has another quality that likens it to, not only Tokyo, but towns throughout this main Japanese island of Honshu (I need a line over the ‘u’, thanks): beautiful gardens and Buddhist Temples.

These are calmer, but just as recognized with Japanese culture as anything, so they remain must-dos for any extended stay in the country. It is thus that I followed a street map and came upon the former Yasuda Garden and the nearby Jikoin Temple.

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11
Sep

The News

The news is different here. It is a funny bit of social science to be reminded that there is no harder goal than objective news. It is harder still to find comprehensive international news. There are nearly 200 (technically) independent states in this world, all with their own events, crises and triumphs. Your local newspaper, increasingly stuffed with revenue-pumping advertisements, can’t quite fit that story on civil war in Cote d’Ivorie.

Studying abroad is as much about seeing the world differently, including its political, social and religious strata, as it as about trying different foods and wasting a different kind of money. Different news, with its different worldview, may be of a paramount importance.

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11
Sep

Kichijoji Omatsuri

(SEE VIDEO FROM THE KICHIJOJI OMATSURI IN EPISODE FIVE)

If you ever travel anywhere, from a neighboring county to a faraway country, will you find yourself a native? Put down your AAA Travel Guide and ask a local where to go, where to eat, what to do.

Thank you, Kyle Cleveland, Professor of Sociology at Temple University-Japan, for being just that for me. An American who woke up and found himself a longtime resident of Tokyo and avid researcher into Japanese culture, he has been instrumental in guiding my travel, experiences and decisions here in Japan.

It was he who directed me to Kichijoji Sunday morning. One of Tokyo’s most desirable suburbs, Sunday was the conclusion of the district’s annual Fall omatsuri, festival. There, one of Cleveland’s former bilingual students greeted me at the train station, poised to be my very patient tour guide for the day.

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11
Sep

Yokohama

(SEE VIDEO FROM MY TRIP TO YOKOHAMA IN EPISODE FIVE)

Excuse me Yokohama Tourism Board. I was less than enthused with my time in Yokohama.

As bad travel tends to go, I followed some bad advice and made some poor decisions. My first stop was in Shin-Yokohama, home to two sights, the 70,000 seat Nissan Stadium and my destination, the Ramen Noodle Museum. Well, if you dream of the thought that someday you might walk through those turnstiles into 10,000 square feet of noodle soup paradise, I hate to disappoint you.

It sucked.

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2
Sep

Settling In

I am settling in. Initially the changes are small. I had some trouble with time: a radio alarm clock that I found was moving too slowly because of a problem with wattage and a windup clock that wouldn’t wind. They have a different Google here and it’s tougher to compare prices in supermarkets.

Most signs use Kanji symbols, others spell words out with the Japanese alphabet of Hiragana or the loan words of Katakana. I speak some scattered Japanese phrases, however I cannot write and I cannot read the language. I believe that makes me illiterate in this country, and my use of the currency a dangerous one to my economic survival. That survival is already tenuous because of this expensive city that doesn’t treat our American currency very kindly.

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2
Sep

Mount Fuji: Part 3 of 3

SEE EPISODE THREE

Read about my Fuji experience in greater detail: Part One, Part Two and Part Three.

In the dark, the terrain was uneven and a bit rocky for the beginning of one of the more trafficked nature trails in the world. Regularly, either my chance at night-hiking was ruined or my idiocy was saved by other groups of hikers with miner’s helmets, headlamps and the occasional flashlight.

My stretches of lone connection and attempts at mystifying my Fuji adventure were shortened increasingly the further I climbed and the faster I went. Moreover, the narrower the path got, the more often I was stuck behind slow-moving hiking groups.

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2
Sep

Mount Fuji: Part 2 of 3

SEE EPISODE THREE

Read about my Fuji experience in greater detail: Part One, Part Two and Part Three.

To review, I left off last time entering a bus station in the hopes of booking a ticket three hours southwest to climb Japan’s highest peak, the 13,000 foot dormant stratovolcano Mount Fuji.

I went to a ticket booth and after getting a dismissive smile when I asked if the teller spoke English (Eigo ga wakarimasu ka?), I threw at her the only two Japanese words I knew that I felt could help: climb Fuji-san. Then, I added a circling finger, trying to convey that I wanted a round trip ticket. This prompted a flurry of keyboard activity. Moments later I traded 5,200 yen (nearly $45 U.S.) for a piece of paper apparently reserving a seat on a bus departing two hours later.

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