A Travellerspoint blog


Hitching Holiday

Throwing caution to the wind, I discover a trusting, inclusive, easy-going Japan just by sticking out my thumb.

sunny 29 °C


Since I was a kid I have listened to my father’s tales of traveling the open Canadian road into Alaska. My father chose the most interesting way to travel: hitchhiking. When we were kids and taking road-trips across Canada, dad would always stop to pick up hitchhikers if we had room. He always said, “As long as they look like they could camp right where they stand then go ahead and pick them up. They are obviously out there for the experience of it, but if they are carrying a gym bag just pass them by." Well, I have always wanted to follow in dad’s footsteps and give hitchhiking a try and this month I finally had my chance.

I heard some other English teachers were organizing a charity hitchhike in Kyushu, Japan’s southern-most island, during Golden Week. Golden Week is when three holiday days fall after a long weekend and if you take four days off work you can have as many at 11 days off. So I took the days off work and I jumped at the opportunity hitchhike in one of the safest countries in the world. Thankfully my best friend, Shane, was totally into it too.


We left Okayama on a night bus at 10pm and were dropped off on the side of the highway at 5am in Mojiko. After wandering around the middle of no where for a while we found a convenience store and bought a map of Kyushu to start making our plans. Once we had decided on our plan for the day, we got out on the road and stuck out our thumbs. It felt pretty weird to do it the first time but it only took about sixteen minutes before we were picked up by a lone guy named Junpei.


Junpei drove us for about an hour and dropped us off at a convenience store where we got our next ride from Hirutakasan who listened to the weirdest chipmunk music. The car smelled like B.O. but only when we were stopped. Took about an hour and a half and we were in Beppu where we found this statue at the station. Yes, that is a naked baby attached to that man's waistcoat.


We wandered over the beach and fell asleep.


After we rolled off the beach we wandered around Beppu for a while and had an onsen at the oldest onsen in Beppu, which incidentally is also the worst onsen in Beppu. I had a fight with a couple of ladies in there and eventually just through my town down and said, “Don’t worry. I’m leaving.” We waited for our new friend Doron who was in charge of the hitchhiking fundraiser, who had offered his place up for passers by who were in need of a place to crash. He fed us and took us out to an incredible hot spring in the mountains that night. It was just beautiful to look at the stars and sit in a natural hot spring. Thanks Doron!

We rolled out of bed the next morning to try one more of Beppu’s famous onsens: a hot sand onsen. It’s exactly like when your friends cover you with sand at the beach but the sand is hot and very heavy and you come out of it feeling like a million bucks.


Oh, I forgot to mention that the day before we were looking for something to do so we hitched out to a place called Monkey Mountain where we were surprised to find hundreds of wild monkeys living in a community near the highway.


We wandered around with monkeys running through our legs and tried not to kill the staff that were constantly nattering on into a loud speaker and taunting the monkeys with peanuts.


From Beppu it took us a couple of rides to get to the Stone Buddhas in Usuki.


Our driver, Aso-san, had picked us up an hour before and we were never sure if he was even heading in our direction. He decided to come with us to see the stone Buddhas and the forest walk.




After that he offered to keep driving us. We finally decided he would drop us off in the next town after we had spent more than four hours with him and we were convinced he was driving us to be nice. But, even when we got to the drop-off point he was still saying things like, “have you seen this…?” and “ have you seen that...?" The guy just didn’t want to let us go. Shane said later he was starting to prepare himself for a tuck-and-roll out of the car.

After holding up our sign that said “In the direction of Sumie (or maybe Nobeyoka)," we got a ride from a nice older couple who were just out for an afternoon drive.


They took us for ice cream.


They too took us out of their way right down to the beach in Sumie though they seemed a little peeved about it by the time they dropped us off. Sumie was a little harder to find than they anticipated I guess.

Well, I would have to say our time in Sumie at Sun Beach was the highlight of my trip.


The beach was so beautiful and quiet. We arrived there at 5 pm and all the little restaurants along the beach looked closed but the door to the last one was open and the man and woman there offered to cook for us. We sat around and drank a few glasses of wine before we discovered the man, Ryo, had spend some time in the States and could speak perfect English. Well, we finished that bottle of wine, and another one before Ryo tucked into his stash of sweet potato shochu (AKA: airplane fuel). We got good and drunk and discovered we all had music in common and it wasn’t but a few minutes later that we had been loaded into Ryo’s friend’s cab and were on our way into Nobeyoka to sing Karaoke at Ryo’s wife’s bar. Needless to say it was a very funny night and we slept like babies on the beach in our tent until dawn.

The next day was a lazy day of beaching and reading and just lounging about. We left in the afternoon to check out another beach we had heard about just five minutes up the road.

Kitaura had a rather large camping resort area with a big beach which we figured we could camp on. We were wrong. We inquired at the resort store with the woman working there if she knew of a good place we could camp for free. The manager of the resort basically told us to get lost but the woman took pity on us and told us we could stay at her house. We figured she would let us pitch our tent on her lawn. Without saying more than ten words to each other this woman walked us over the hill to a little fishing village hidden from the sight of the average passer by. The town looked old and worn out, a little like a slum. When we arrived at the woman’s house (we never did find out her name) she brought us into a little two room house and told us we could sleep there. So there we sat with out mouths dangling open at this woman’s trust and kindness and at our amazing luck to have been given a private house for the night. We couldn’t have asked for anything more. She even cooked us some fish and rice in the morning and served it up with a pot of tea. Fantastic! The only downside was that I suffered from allergies like I never have before in that house so it was a little bitter sweet for me.

We left Kitaura that morning with a guy we had met on the docks who noticed the sign Shane had made and offered us a ride with him. He and his mates had been sitting on the docks by the sea talking shit and joking about pig flu with us. They were a funny bunch. They reminded me of the folks my dad has coffee with every morning, just sitting around solving the world’s problems.

Our destination that day was the Takachiho Gorge, the birthplace of Japan.


It took two rides and about two hours to get out to the gorge. We had an idea we would look for a place to camp in the gorge near the water but there was nothing to be found. The whole place was very touristy and suffered from the same yelling-into-loud-speakers problem that Monkey Mountain had. I got to say though, the gorge was amazingly beautiful!



After a proper wander through the gorge with about three thousand other people we made our way out into the town to look for a place to stay. We attempted to look for a town park we could camp in and found nothing but a couple of overpriced ryokans (Japanese style hotels). After what seemed like and endless day of walking we went back to the gorge to find our bags where we had dropped them next to a restaurant. Shane started laying on the charm to one of the girls in the restaurant hoping we could get a ride. We didn’t get a ride but we did find out we would be able to camp at a highway rest stop on the outside of town. So, we did that. We camped on the smallest patch of grass right outside the restaurant window and when I went to the bathroom in the middle of the night I realized the whole parking lot was full of people sleeping in their cars and four other tents had been set up on the same little patch of grass next to our tent. That was a freaking cold night. We woke in the morning with children playing around our tent and when I got out of the tent I found all fifty people sitting in the restaurant staring out at me like I was a monkey in a zoo. Nothing new.


Our next ride was a short twenty minutes with three guys Shane called "the boy band".


They were quite young and all had brightly colored shirts and crazy hair. They had plastic bags with heads in their trunk. Hilarious! The one guy was a hairdresser. They dropped us off in the middle of nowhere at a grocery store. We were now in Kumamo, the old stomping grounds of my dear friend Krista from home (her stories have contributed greatly to my coming to Japan) and this time our sign read, “In the direction of Mount Aso,” the largest active volcano in Japan.

Aso was spectacular.


I wasn’t really keen on going there at first but it was one of the places Shane really wanted to see so I was happy to check it out too. I’m so glad I did. Though we only spent a little while at the top of the volcano it was one of the highlights of this trip. It was like being on the moon (with dozens of other tourists). The landscape was barren and covered with random rocks and black sand. Shane and I built this inukshuk to make sure everyone knew which way we would be going next.


This was the first inukshuk we had ever made and it looks pretty darn good doesn’t it?

By the time we were ready to make our way down Mnt. Aso it had started to rain. The traffic was crazy and we were hitching right by the edge of the parking lot so loads of people had to stop right beside us. We really got to have a look at the people who passed us by and we started to categorize them. There were the single women alone in there cars; they always pretended they didn’t see us at all. There were the people who were curious but once they saw us they would pretend they hadn’t. There the people who were very sorry that they couldn’t pick us up and would give us a sorry bow or shrug or even pull over to tell us they couldn’t give us a ride. Ha! Then there were those who would pass by waving their hands in front of their faces or nodding their heads side to side to make sure we understood as they drove past us that they wouldn’t be giving us a ride. We would have figured it out when they didn’t stop of course but I guess they just wanted to be clear. Finally a car with two guys pulled up and the one in the passenger seat was making strange faces at us and I was just about to give him the finger when they pulled over and offered us a ride. Lucky I didn’t quick draw the old middle finger. Those two guys were super cool. The one was a university student in Kumamoto and the other was his best friend visiting from Oita. They were great. We didn’t have much corresponding language but we were able to just relax with them and communicate quite freely. They took us into Kumamoto in a couple of hours, fighting traffic the whole way, and we all went to their favorite izakaiya restaurant where we had some of the best food in all of Kyushu.



After that those boys marched us all over downtown trying to help us find some cheep place to spend the night and finally set us down in an internet café. In Japan it is not unusual for people to rent an internet cubical for 12 hours or so and spend the whole night sleeping there. There is a shower and your cubical can have a couch or a floor mat or a chair.


It is very cheep and reasonably comfortable. Because it rained in Kumamoto the next day and we had not figured out what our next move was so we stayed two nights in that internet café. It definitely was a strange place. I woke up to go to the bathroom at 1:30 am and the entire lobby was full of people and I really couldn’t say what was going on.

While we were in Kumamoto trying to decide our next move we met Yukie, the girl at the information counter at the Kumamoto station. She spoke perfect English so for an hour I harassed her for phone numbers, addresses, opinions, and ferry schedules. She was great and really helped us figure out what to do next. When we were leaving the station Shane said it would be cool to hang out with her and I said let’s go back and invite her out. So that’s what we did. She didn’t know what to make of us but she took our number and said she would call after work. Then, as we were about to leave she said, “You’re not hitching me, are you?” Ha ha! So funny she thought we might be trying to hitch a ride off her by inviting her to come and have dinner with us. Anyway we met up with her again and had dinner at her favorite Italian restaurant. It was great, the food and the company.


She was a free and easy conversationalist and she had spent some time in America as an exchange student so she felt pretty comfortable with us. She is getting married soon and will move to Tokyo so I will look her up the next time I am there.

Yukie told us the ferry from Kumamoto to Unzen was just an hour and only about eight dollars so we decided to go that way to get to Nagasaki. Shane had wanted to try the onsen in Obama town and we were both keen to take a ferry, so off we went. We caught a ride with a nice young couple to the pier and hopped on a ferry just a few minutes later. We were definitely the thing to watch on the ferry. Everyone seemed to be very curious about us and our sign. Once in Unzen we caught a ride to the middle of nowhere with another nice young couple. This couple had a little girl sleeping in the back seat. It was the first kid we had ridden with. It was also the first ride we had gotten where one of the drivers obviously picked us up to practice her English. We were expecting most of our rides would come from people wanting to practice their English but this was the first and maybe the only ride like that.

Shortly after that we were picked up out of that middle-of-nowhere spot by another lovely young couple. (It was the day of the lovely young couples.) They drove us the half hour to Obama town where Shane had heard you could try the hottest bathable onsen in the world. However when we got to Obama no one seemed to know what he was talking about. So, we stopped searching for it and decided just to have a regular old really hot onsen on the beach. The town had dozens of outdoor onsens on rooftops and near the beach but the one we went to was right on the beach. It was small and lovely and I had a nice bath while watching the waves roll up. However, our goal for the day was to get ourselves to Nagasaki before five o’clock so we couldn’t linger long in the very famous town of Obama where many signs and deserts have the face of Barack Obama planted on them. We did, however, find time to try the specialty dish of the prefecture, Champon. It was delicious, much like ramen but with more seafood and vegetables in it.

On our way out of Obama we caught a lift with two guys who had just been fishing all day. They moved their rods and tackle out of the way to make room in the car for Shane and me. They didn’t talk much (but at this point Shane and I weren’t very chatty either) and we rode along in their car watching the TV they had strapped to the dashboard. The two guys dropped us off twenty minutes later at a rest stop that had what Shane called a “fake church” in the parking lot. I have to admit it did look pretty fake, or perfect. Something about it was a little off. Anyway, a guy sporting a mesh vest picked us up a few minutes later. He told us that he made hats for a living so Shane called him the maddhatter after that. He said he would only take us part of the way to Nagasaki, but after a quick visit to his sister's house to drop off a gift, his mind was suddenly changed and he decided to take us all the way and visit his aunt in Nagasaki. So we sat back, relaxed, and enjoyed what we didn’t know would be our last hitch of the trip.

That night we bunked in a beautiful hostel in Nagasaki along a lovely river with stunning bridges. The whole feel of Nagasaki was quite different than other places I have visited in Japan.


The people didn’t seem so curious about our presence, the atmosphere was relaxed and laid back, and the buildings had character and vitality. The hostel was great and the two people who ran it where very helpful apart from one thing: they highly recommended we go to Ioujima Island. They said it was great. So we went, and it sucked. We showed up thinking we could camp somewhere on the island so we set off on foot to the beach the guy at the hostel had recommended. After passing a strange catholic resort we found that there was nothing else, just abandoned buildings. When we got to the beach it was unsightly. There was no toilet or shower nearby. There was a park and a community area but they were all overgrown and locked up. So we wandered back to the ferry port in the hopes of renting bikes and checking out the other side of the island. As we went around the island we started getting a kick out of calling it Abandoned Land. COME! See the empty buildings, enjoy our dirty beaches and even pull some weeds at ABANDONED LAND! It was a strange place and the Japanese people were flocking to this island all day like it was a freaking tropical island paradise. Not so! With that said though, we did get to rent bikes and go around the other side of the island. Some of the views there were spectacular but the bikes we rode were old as fire. It might have been easier to walk it. At least then would only have to push ourselves along. We headed back at the end of the day, resolved to enjoy another night in the comfortable hostel in Nagasaki.

That night we hooked up with some friends from Okayama who had gone out to Nagasaki to go camping for Golden Week. They wanted to go out for some drinks so we wandered around the bar area of town and eventually stumbled into a place that appealed to my friend Katie. It was a hit! The room was all velvet and red and in the corner there were racks of costumes. There was a Karaoke machine and there were plenty of English songs. We were in heaven! It was a really fun time.


The next day we took off for Fukuoka but not before visiting the A-Bomb museum and peace park.


I liked the peace park in Nagasaki better than the one in Hiroshima. It was more quiet and enclosed and there were many beautiful statues donated by various governments.


Once we were through at the peace park we headed up the road to try catch a hitch to Fukuoka about two hours away. There were two major problems. The first problem was that the holidays were over and there weren’t as many people using the highway and they were back to their nine-to-five mentality. The other problem was that the only way to get onto the highway was to take the center lane of traffic. Given that everyone heading to Fukuoka was in the centre lane of traffic and we were on the side of the road no one stopped for us. We tried everything from dancing and singing to pleading with drivers to take us with them. We tried hitching from further up the road in the hopes that someone may not yet have moved into the centre lane. After three hours we gave up and hopped a bus to Fukuoka. We were in a pretty cranky mood because we had hoped we could hitch all the way back to Okayama but our experience showed it might not be as easy as we thought.

So, we took the ride to Fukuoka and had a couple of hours there to kill before the night bus back to Okayama. We went and had the prefectural specialty tonkastu ramen in a crazy little restaurant where each person is separated into booths whether you like it or not. It is very private.


There is even a curtain separating you from the serving staff. It wasn’t the best ramen I have ever had but the experience was certainly interesting.

We hoped the bus from Fukuoka to Okayama at 10pm and after about 7 or 8 hours of sleep--thanks to the valium I bought in Thailand--we arrived at 7am sleepy-eyed and disoriented.

We were in a bit of a rush to get back to Okayama because we had a Saturday morning Rugby practice. We were quickly approaching our second annual rugby tournament in Shikoku. This was the highlight of my year last year and there was no way I was going to miss it. This year Okayama was able to put together two teams instead of one so a total of 25 people went out to Shikoku Island this year including five supporters.


The new team did a great job but our own team was not so fortunate. We were unlucky enough to have several bad refs. We played as well as we could but we really felt we were brought down by the reffing. Well, we all agreed the reason we went out there was to have fun and we absolutely did. We went swimming in the river and had a great BBQ in the most amazing campground with the most breathtaking mountains as a backdrop. Plus, I was able to spend some quality time with the many people who have become like family to me here.


The rugby games were just a spectacular bonus. We even got to see the traditional Maori dance, the haka, performed by the winning team. This picture doesn't to it any justice, but believe me, the haka is an absolutely electrifying dance that will make all the hairs on the back of your neck stand right up.


All and all another wonderful weekend.

Well, one month to go…Where should I go next?


Posted by brendab 05:26 Archived in Japan Comments (7)

Fall Back

Autumn is a beautiful time to be in Japan, and good company and great food make it a dream come true.

rain 4 °C

So the fall was, once again, a wonderful time to be in Japan. The mountainsides turned colours only ever seen in dreams and books. The earth finally cooled down after the summer months and I found myself getting out everyday to enjoy walks in the national park near my home. It is such a blessing to live in such a beautiful place.



On the American Thanksgiving weekend, my dear friend Masami made the journey from Tokyo to Oakayama to hang out with friends and family over the holiday. (Though the Japanese don’t celebrate Thanksgiving they do have a three-day weekend). You remember Masami, she is the Japanese girl from Nimii who left to live in New York for 14 years and suddenly found herself deported last year.


Well, I joined Masami for a couple days in Nimii, enjoying the opportunity to be a fly on the wall of a Japanese home full of people just being themselves. No bowing and posturing, just straight up homey goodness.


Masami’s mother and aunt are stylists in a salon owned by Masami’s family. Being a stylist is a very busy job in Japan and requires real talent. Stylists are responsible for getting people in and out of kimonos for weddings, coming of age ceremonies, and any other time a woman puts on a kimono. One of the most beautiful and creative parts of a kimono is the obi. It is always studied, and it is essential that the obi is tied with care, creativity, and imagination. The obi is what makes the kimono.




Anyway, it was a busy day for the ladies when I was out in Nimii as there was a wedding to prepare for and a coming of age ceremony. The shop was full of kimonos, wigs, curlers, make-up, and hairspray. When the wedding kimono was delivered to the shop we ooo’d and aaah’d over the intricate design and how it cost just under $3000 TO RENT for the day. That just left me stunned. It was at this point that Masami’s mother asked me if I wanted to put it on so I said, uh YEAH! We didn’t put the obi on, of course, but I put on the robe. I felt like a white whale in a Christmas tree.


Only days later we had our annual American Thanksgiving lunch and football game at the home of some of my other English teacher friends.


I would say about 70% of the teachers here are American, so I have quite a few American friends now and I am quite in habit, after two years, of celebrating Thanksgiving in November. Well, it was a feast! And this year our Japanese friend, who we call Georgie, had his wife and new baby with him. Having a little cooing bundle of giggles around is always a lovely addition to any holiday. I think our friend Andrew fell in love!


There was turkey, stuffing, and good friends, everything necessary for an unbelievable Thanksgiving dinner.

After dinner, and a little time to let it settle, we headed off to the park for the annual American Football game. The biggest problem seemed to be dividing into teams, but once we got that out of the way we were trucking.





Well, long story short, a good time was had by all and we rounded off the day with leftovers and a game of Taboo. What an amazing day! I am so thankful for my friends here. They have enhanced my time in Japan so much and they will be sorely missed when we all go our separate ways again.

Another important group of friends here in Japan are those of the Japanese persuasion. Despite my inability to express myself in Japanese and their inability to express themselves in English, they still invite me to every outing, every community volleyball tournament, and every house party. They have been overwhelmingly accepting of me and my differences. That is very hard for Japanese people. They like things, and rules, and people to all be the same. It is what makes them comfortable. Anything outside of this disturbs the Japanese “wa” and these friends of mine don’t seem to care how different I am. They love how crazy I am cause they are all crazy too. So, with that said, I was invited to the usual monthly party at my neighbours house in November. It was a bit of a pre-Christmas party, and, once again, a good time was had by all!



I really can't say enough about how kind these people have been to me. I have decided that I will not be staying a third year in Japan, which means that very soon I will have to leave all these people behind. I cannot tell you how sad that makes me. These people, the ex-patriots, the teachers, and the Japanese friends, have dramatically reshaped the landscape of my life over the last 18 months and I will forever hold them close to my heart. You will all be sorely missed my friends, but let's make the best of the time we have left.

Posted by brendab 03:37 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Back In Japan

After a wonderful summer home it was great to get back into the swing of things again in Japan

overcast 16 °C

When I got back to Japan I met up with my friend Sol in Osaka and spent several days with him and his friend, Chris, exploring Osaka and Amanohashidate.


Aminohashidate is called one of the top ten views in Japan and it is basically a tree covered sand bar that connects the mainland to the island where we stayed.


In order to get the full effect of the view one is meant to travel to the top of a mountain and view the sandbar by bending over and looking through their legs. It’s hysterical. Here is Sol doing it.


Here is what it looks like.


Only in Japan would they have looked at the view so many different ways they would eventually discover that the best way to looking at the view is in fact through your legs. And it really is better. Unfortunately, all my pictures of this trip with Sol were somehow lost off my camera so I have have had to borrow Sol's pictures from the trip. All these photos are ones he took.


A few weeks after my return to Japan I celebrated my 31st birthday. I decided to spend the week on a small island in the Seto Inland Sea, not far from my home.





Unfortunately the weather was crappy the whole time and I decided to leave early. I did however have my first sailboat ride and a lovely birthday party before I left.


I was also able to take many great pictures of the views around the island.

When I finally returned back to work at the schools in September it was time for the students to prepare for their sports days. Sports day consists of a variety of events such as relay races, beanbag tosses, dance and cheer contests, and various performances.

Two of my favorite performances are the Sorambushi dance, which is a traditional Hokkaido fisherman’s dance, and the pyramid building performance, during which boys create various human pyramids some of which end in choreographed collapse. It’s a full day, and all the parents (and I really mean all) and community members come out to watch the events. Many family members are also asked to participate in some of the events. I’m glad to report that the weather this year was much cooler than last year so it was a relatively comfortable day and better than last year when the students were dropping like flies.


While I can't show you pictures of the student's faces, I can show you pictures of the party after.

Naturally, after a day like sports day, all the teachers go out for a party. This party had three parts. Dinner and Beer, Snack and Hard Liquor, Dinner and Watching the News. Great night. Actually it was a full moon that night and there is a special dish the Japanese eat on the full moon.



I can't remember what it is called but it has the Japanese word for "moon" in it. Not as good as it looks.

September was also the time we English teaching veterans welcomed the new teachers to Okayama. Naturally there was lots of time spent in Karaoke bars and sushi houses in attempt to make the new teachers feel welcome in Okayama. My town of Kibichuo-cho said goodbye to Melissa who was here last year from Michigan, USA and this year welcomed Tina who is an artist from upstate New York, USA. One of the first things Tina and I did together was pick blueberries and go up to the local ostrich farm to have a look. What ugly birds! They freak me out!

A few weeks later we were invited to Yokota-san’s house for a soba making challenge. Soba is a flower that is dried and ground down into powder which they mix with water to make soba noodles.



The noodles have a very earthy, grainy taste and are usually served cold with a dark sauce, wasabi, green onion and sesame seeds. The grinding of the seeds takes forever though and even with six of us grinding at top speeds we maybe only produced a half-cup of flower after a half hour.



Yokota-san’s wife said it takes three hours to grind enough flower for a decent batch of soba.




After the soba challenge we went down to look at the rice field we had planted in the spring which was not yet ready for harvest. We also picked grapes from Yokota’s vines and were sent home with enough grapes to fill a bathtub.




It was another great day.

A few weeks after that, we were invited to yet another Ekaiwa student’s home. Tadao-san loves to make pizza, almost as much as he loves to brag.




So after going on a tour of his home listening to him tell us how many things he made in it we started to make pizzas. Then we walked down the stairs that Tadao made and sat in the chairs that Tadao made and ate with the chopsticks Tadao made, all the while listening to Tadao talk about how great he thought all the things he made were.



They are pretty great but they loose their luster when the he brags about it every five minutes. When we were finally all bragged out we headed home, once again, with a bathtub full of grapes.

So that brings me to last weekend when a few friends and I went to Takebe to enjoy the fall festival there. It is a very vibrant and colourful festival, as all the fall festivals are, and I had a wonderful time.





And one week later, we found ourselves at another fall festival, this time in my town. The Kamotaisai festival is one of the three larges festivals in Okayama and it is really spectacular.



Last year Shane and I went and had a great time so we went again and took a new English teacher from Scotland, Katie, with us. All afternoon we enjoyed the okonomiyaki and all the other goodies that the street vendors had to offer. We also took in some Japanese masked stick fighting, some shrine shaking, some priest bowing, some drum banging, some drunken fighting, some flute playing and some slutty teen parades.






Just a usual afternoon at a Japanese fall festival and it was a great time.

But that wasn't the end of the fall festivals. Oh no! They love the fall festivals here. Every town and every village and every shrine and temple has one and the shrine nearest my house is no exception. My area, Yoshikawa, in fact has a very famous, well known temple and it's fall festival is equally as famous if not widely visited.


Two boys are chosen from the town to ride up to the temple on horses with their gang of priests and samurai following behind.


There is a lot of shouting and drinking on the way. Once the two groups have reached the shrine steps the boys are pulled off their horses and raced up the steps to the shine. They are set on cushions and fed all day long in two separate corrals. Several dances and ceremonies take place through out the day, and, as always, there are lots of vendors serving Japanese favorites such as sweet bean paste cakes and octopus on a stick.






The next weekend a couple of friends and I went out to explore the Seto ohashi bridge. One of my friends lives very near the bridge so we drove up to have a look.


The bridge is the longest two teared bridge in the world and is 35 km long. It's pretty cool but very expensive to cross in a car. I have gone over it twice now.


This weekend we were invited by Yokota-san to go with him to Hiroshima to pick oranges on Ikuchijima island. The Christmas mandarin oranges are perfect right now. We drove about two hours out to a little island which is famous for the orange picking, the incredible temple, and octopus(s) (?) The weather was perfect and we were able to enjoy a lovely morning of climbing into trees and eating as many mandarins as we could. A one point a woman who hadn't seen me picking in the tree suddenly saw me there. She gave a little shout, turned to her friend and said, "There is a foreigner in this tree." Very funny.




After the picking we went off to have our octopus lunch. I usually don't think that much of octopus (I don't mind it but I never order it) but this octopus was very tasty. One of my friends, Lauren, is a vegetarian and that always perplexes the Japanese mind. There are pretty much no vegetarians in Japan and they don't at all grasp the idea of not eating meat. They were very nice though and did their best to make some vegetarian stuff for Lauren. They did think she was very strange though.



After lunch we went off to check out Kosanji Temple and museum and it was amazing.



The temple had many sections and you could spend hours there just checking out all the nooks and crannies. The temple buildings were all very decorative and brightly coloured. They looked like new. There was an enormous 50 statue in the middle of it all of some female goddess.


The best part by far was the cave. My pictures will do it no justice at all. The stones that lined the cave were brought in from Mnt. Fuji and there were hundreds of rock statues throughout. The statues lined all the walls and went right up to the ceiling. Every where you turned there was a beautiful little carved statue. It was amazing to see.





Outside the cave there were beautiful gardens and an incredible marble monument called "The Hill of Hope" It reminded me of Crete in Greece.






So now, here I sit on Monday afternoon, trying to choke down what I affectionately refer to as spit salad, wishing I were back on the island chewing on BBQ octopus.

Posted by brendab 17:55 Archived in Japan Comments (1)

There and Back Again

A trip to Canada, a culturally maimed BBQ, and a fall full of festivals. It's been a great three months.

overcast 16 °C

So! Here I am. I have not perished in Japan but am in fact living out a very happy and healthy life. Dad has been hounding me to put something on my blog for months and I have to admit I have been neglecting my blogging responsibilities for some time now. So, for those of you who are dying to know what is going on with me, here is an update.

Three months ago, when last I left you, it was springtime here in Japan. My friends and I enjoyed planting rice in a friend’s field, a rugby tournament in Tokushima, and an exciting trip to Tokyo. The last three months have been just as exciting with my trip home to Canada being the highlight of the summer. It was so great to get home and see my friends and family and spend some time at the lake. The best thing was seeing my niece and nephews and meeting the newest little addition to the Boonstra family, Liam. Liam was born in the spring and it was strange to know that there was a new member of my family across the world who I had not yet met. The time I spent with my brother’s kids was defiantly the highlight of my trip home. Just look how cute they are.

Before I left Japan for the summer, however, there were a few interesting events that are worth mentioning. The Sayonara Party to say goodbye to all the English teachers who were heading back home after their time in Japan was up. The AJET organization I volunteer for rented an old samurai house at the top of a mountain not far from the city. The views were spectacular and the party was a raging success.

Overlooking the valley
Checking out the view
Enjoying the entrance
Many beautiful views
Spring flowers

Another event was the Ekaiwa BBQ. Ekaiwa means adult English class in Japanese. I have been teaching the Ekaiwa class since I arrived in Japan last year. I really enjoy meeting with the regular class members, as they are a great source of information for me about the community and about Japanese culture in general. I find that Japanese people don’t always get me and many don’t try. They often see me as strange and rude but the Ekaiwa people are usually very open to understanding me and the reasons why I think and do things the way I do. Still, despite their openness to me, there have still been some cultural bumps in our road. The Ekaiwa BBQ was one of them.

To begin with the BBQ wasn’t supposed to be a BBQ, it was supposed to be a simple bonfire with wieners and marshmallows. It came up because Melissa (the other English teacher in my town at the time) and myself had been lamenting to the class about missing campfires like we had at home. We explained it to them and they said there was a good place to do it at a local park. So, we started to plan. By the time the next Ekaiwa class rolled around the students had taken the simple bonfire and Japaneseized it. They turned what was supposed to be a simple evening of conversation and relaxation into and evening of hectic food preparation and prescribed behaviour. They can’t help it. It’s what they do. But, there was no way to stop the rollercoaster without inconveniencing some class members who had already taken it upon themselves to buy food.

So, on the day of the bonfire, one of the members of the Ekaiwa class and his wife went to the campsite at 4pm to start preparations for the 7pm BBQ. When I turned up at seven I found all the members of the Ekaiwa class there deep in the throws of chopping vegetables and fruit for various Japanese BBQ dishes. The majority of them had been there since 5pm. I was worried they wouldn’t know exactly what an actual campfire was but I was pleasantly surprised to find a lovely roaring fire when I turned up. What I was not overjoyed with was the two floodlights they cast on the fire so they could keep a close watch on the cooking. On top of the Japanese food that had been cooked, one man brought his wife along so she could BBQ meet for us. This is such a ridiculous Japanese male thing to do, to drag their wife places to do things for everyone else while the men enjoyed themselves. It ticks me off more that the women do it. So, there she stood next to a roaring fire, under two flood lights, cooking meat over a portable BBQ while us foreigners struggled to distract the people from their busy-bee absurdities in order for them to practice English conversation with us. Once the food was all finished, the Japanese people started cleaning up. They literally took their last bite of food and instantly started on the task of cleaning the whole thing up. So there they went, busy again.



Once everything was cleaned up they announced, “OK, we’re finished. It’s time to go home.” But the fire was still roaring and it was only 9pm. So we said, ok you can do what you like but we are going to stay. They didn’t get that at all. They do everything as a group in Japan and they can’t really handle people breaking away from the group so they all decided to stay, which was great. So we all sat around the fire and told some ghost storied and talked about a variety of very interesting things. Then it was 10pm and they said, OK, now we are finished. Once again we said you can do what you like but we are going to stay and enjoy the fire. There was lots more wood and it was a Friday night. We explained that at home we would likely stay until enjoy the fire and have conversations until late at night. They said that some people were tired and wanted to go home. We said, you don’t have to stay, please go home if you wish. Please stay if you wish. They said they needed to put out the fire. We said we could do it. They said Yokota-san was responsible for the campsite. We said we would take responsibility for the site and the fire. All the people left reluctantly and rather uncomfortably but Yokota-san stayed. He simply could not handle passing off the responsibility of the campsite to us. We stayed until 1:30am. Yokota-san stayed too. Yokota-san incidentally is the same man who dragged his wife along to suffer through cooking meat.


After the BBQ, the next major event in my life was the celebration of the Fourth of July. I find myself celebrating many American holidays here in Japan as so many of my friends here are American.



So this time it was American independence. Of course the whole thing is not a lot different than the Canada Day celebrations with the food and the friends and the flags. It might be an American holiday but it sure reminds me of home.



Then came my lovely three week vacation at home in Manitoba.








Certainly the highlights were the BBQ my folks threw for me with all my cousins when I got home, the camping trip with the extended family in Ontario, and the time spent with my niece and nephews. I also spent a great deal of time with friends as the Winnipeg Fringe Festival was on at the time. The Fringe of course draws all my theatre friends from all over Canada to Winnipeg, which means I got to see a pile of old school friends.


It was a wonderful and much needed vacation home.



Posted by brendab 00:12 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Riding out the Winter

After a magical Christmas I return to snow and satisfaction

snow 0 °C

So, after many months of just soaking in to my new life and neglecting my blogging duties, I am here to tell you that I am still alive and well in Japan, and I’ll try to catch you up on everything that has been going on here lately.



When last I left you I was fully enjoying the fall weather which was beautiful and mild and lasted right up until the new year. However, it was cold. You see the homes in Japan are not insulated which means that even though it is still plus four out side and it’s lovely it is the same temperature in your house and that is not so lovely. I have managed to adjust to it using a series of carefully placed kerosene heaters in my home. I always took advantage of heat at home and enjoyed the benefits of simply turning a knob and having heat suddenly appear but here in Japan I have to take my two twenty-litre jugs to the gas station and buy the fuel that will heat my house for about a month. It’s a little like finding out milk comes from cows and not the grocery store.



December was a bit of a rough month for me. I was cold, I was feeling homesick and I wished I could be home for Christmas but that wasn’t in my budget. But I really didn’t have any plan for Christmas and the idea of being alone on Christmas in a country that didn’t even celebrate Christmas was hard to take. Then my good friend suggested a few of us go to Tokyo for Christmas and all my problems were solved. We took the cheepo local trains, which were on sale for obvious reasons, all the way to Tokyo in a mere 11 hours. Whoot!


What can I say about Tokyo? Well, first of all, I was completely intimidated by the subway system as it looks something like a rat king (if you have never heard of a “rat king” look it up and be completely disgusted). As it turns out Tokyo is totally English friendly which defiantly can’t be said about all Japanese cities. The subway and all other necessities were a snap and I was able to wander the city as I pleased with very little help although there were plenty of people in Tokyo who were willing to offer help.





As I’m sure you can guess, Tokyo is filled with lights, noise, crazy fashions, great food, fabulous people and amazing temples and other sites. There was no shortage of things to do or see and I tried my best to do it all. My top three would have to be checking out the rockabilly dancers in the park at Harajuku, running out into the busiest intersection in the world (Shabuya) on the stroke of midnight 2008, and visiting Tokyo’s most famous temple (Meiji-jingu) with over a million other people to pray on New Year’s day. We also had the great fortune being able to visit the imperial palace on one of the two days a year it is open to the public.






After Tokyo I headed for Osaka where I picked up my parents and we continued Touring Japan. They wanted to drive on the coast so we headed up to the San-in coast and spend a bit of time driving on that beautiful side of Japan. Unfortunately, my camera was out of juice by this time so I don’t have any pictures of the coast but stay tuned for a video I’m producing.


We also went to visit Hiroshima which is a beautiful and vibrant city despite its horrible destruction during the war. We went out to Miyajima Island (AKA: deer island) so see one of Japan’s three greatest views and we were not disappointed to find it was a wonderful place to visit.






After Hiroshima I sent mom and dad back to Osaka on the bullet train and headed back to my little hometown of Kibichuo to find snow. Something about the snow and the vacation and the kids that greeted me when I got back to school renewed my spirit. I have decided to stay in Japan and to run on and see what the future will hold for me here. I signed the contract again so I am officially here until August 2009. Whoa Nelly! It's gonna be quite a ride.




Posted by brendab 22:58 Archived in Japan Comments (1)

Right Under My Nose

There is a lot of joy to be found right out my back door.

sunny 9 °C

Until now I have only experienced two seasons in Japan: the repressive and painfully hot summer and the glorious and oh-so-pleasant fall. I can’t imagine the other two seasons possibly measuring up this marvelous season. The mornings are breathtaking: misty and cool. The afternoons are warm and sunny and the evenings smell of burning leaves and tilled soil.




While I find myself completely broke (I have put myself on a strict debt-reducing budget) I have still managed to get out and enjoy some loveliness closer to home.


Despite Japan’s lack of proper Halloween festivities, the schools encourage us teachers to give the students a little taste of Halloween. I wrapped most of my students in toilet paper and called them mummies. I have also been toting around a big bag of Halloween costumes for the kids to try on. I think the kids are dying to try out trick-or-treating.

Speaking of the kids, you may or may not notice I have taken down the pictures of my students. It was recently brought to the attention of all teachers here that we could get in trouble for posting pictures of the kids. So, while I would love to show you all how cute they are wrapped in toilet paper, you will just have to use your imaginations. However, I can still post pictures of the staff. In this picture is the school nutritionist (left), the principal, (center), and the school secretary (right). They got right into the Halloween spirit.


This same day I was invited to join some of the children (I think I can get away with this picture as you can’t see his face) to learn how to perform a traditional tea ceremony. I was asked to perform the guest duties first which, as it turns out, are just as painful as the host duties. Every part of the tea ceremony is choreographed; the host and the guest perform the ritual together. Not a single movement is wasted. As the guest I enter and get into seiza (sitting on your knees). I place my fan before me at a very specific place on the floor and I bow. I rise and take very deliberate steps to a flower arrangement which I examine from top to bottom and I bow again. Then I will sit in seiza for what feels like a lifetime. During this time I will eat a chalky cookie and drink some weedy tea. It might all taste better if my ankles didn’t feel like they were being bitten by fire ants the whole time. On the hosting side of the tea ceremony there are a lot more moves to learn. Very specific ways of folding the napkin and stirring the tea makes the hosting job a hard one to master. It is easy to become entranced by the motions and forget the pain in your legs. Actually my legs fell asleep so I couldn’t feel them at all. I also couldn’t feel them when I tried to gracefully get up to bring the tea away. There was a lot of giggling I tell you.


We did actually have some festivities just before Halloween and I was pleased that nearly everyone had an awesome costume. The music and the venue were great; it almost felt like home.


My new and delightful friends Shane B and Laura H (both American), and I, have gone on a few low-cost adventures recently. The first was a lovely sleepover at Laura’s mansion. I’m just barely overestimating the reality) followed by a day in Tsuyama. We made our way to the Tsuyama castle, which was nothing if not positively breathtaking. I’m told it is even better in the spring when people come from all over Japan to view over 500 cherry trees in bloom.






As we left the castle we stumbled right into a full-on festival so we followed the crowd and took dozens of pictures. It was a great day.




The next weekend the three of us headed off to Kurashiki where there is a great little old fashion touristy area near the station. We wandered around and soaked up the beautiful weather, the unusual shopping, and the delightful food.






This weekend I was not only given an electric blanket by one of my teachers, Kobara-sensei, but I was also treated to a day of relaxation and great food. Kobara-sensei wanted to show me some of the onsens in my area. Onsens are public baths which dot the entire country of Japan. They bring much needed warmth when the seasons cool down. We first went to an onsen close to my house which was inside of an old hotel. It felt very much like stepping back in time. Before the visiting the second onsen I was treated to lunch at Kobara-sensei’s mother-in-law’s house. She made a feast. If I had even coughed I would have splattered all over the place. Kobara-sensei’s father-in-law even treated me to a great performance of traditional Japanese mask dance. All this was followed up by a visit to a full-on onsen resort with hot sand baths, saunas, and six different baths to soak in. it was an absolutely wonderful day.



As my budget has kept me close to home recently, my darling friends came to me this past weekend. We took a hike though the forest near my home and discovered a surprisingly beautiful and challenging trail to consume our afternoon. Later we walked around my little town and took in the shrines while Shane unleashed his wild side.




They say that the three to four month mark is a time when teachers typically start feeling very low and homesick. While I have been warding off homesickness very well (thank you Skype) I have had my down days. Communicating is always a tough road and people are very shy and embarrassed to speak to me. Thankfully there are still a few who go out of their way to make me feel at home here and others who just go out of their way. One way or the other I am glad and grateful for those friends who make life in Japan that much easier.

Posted by brendab 03:02 Archived in Japan Comments (3)

Finding Uphoria in Food

Tasting all Osaka and Kyoto have to offer

sunny 27 °C

What a weekend. Where should I begin?

A few weeks back a few teachers asked me if I wanted to go on a trip with them to Osaka and Kyoto. As they were places I had hoped to visit anyway, and, as I was quite drunk at the time, I shouted out, “Yes! I would love to go!” A few weeks later I found out the trip was going to cost $440 for one night and two days so I was wishing I hadn’t been quite so eager in the first place. Well, I had made my bed and then I had to get comfortable in it. I know at home I would have said, “No, that’s too much. I’m bowing out,” but here there’s an obvious communication gap and bowing out could mean offending the only Japanese friends I have. So, instead of worrying about the money I decided it was going to be a great time and worth every penny. I didn’t know at the time it would be worth so much more.

The two girls in charge of the trip handled everything. We chartered a bus that picked us up early Saturday morning from the school behind my house and drove us an hour and a half to Kobe, the site of a 7.9 magnitude earthquake which ripped apart the city on January 17, 1995. The earthquake killed over 6,000 people in Kobe and had an impact on nearly every person in the city. We visited the Disaster Reduction Museum which stands on the site of the hardest hit area in Kobe. The exhibit itself was not only creative (a jagged screen showed a 15-minute representation of the earthquake) but deeply moving (a young girl tells the story of how she watched her sister die in a fire before she could be rescued from the rubble and how the volunteers gave her hope to start again). There were dozens of miracle stories and thousands of pictures documenting the event but the best parts of the exhibit had to do with recovery and the quest for renewal. As its name suggests, the museum also had many areas dedicated to disaster reduction which also made for some pretty interesting information which I value deeply now that I’m in earthquake country. I’m sure this is one of those places I may not have visited if I hadn’t had some Japanese people take me.


Next on the agenda was a bit of shopping and a visit to the Osaka aquarium where I enjoyed a number of animals I had never seen up close before. It reminded me a lot of my scuba diving experiences in Thailand and made me want to go back. It seems that when you are under water all the problems in the world, all the worries and all the stress, just gets washed away.






After the aquarium we hurried off to enjoy the latest Imax film in 3D. It was wicked!

After loading the bus again we drove about thirty minutes to our hotel in the heart of Osaka’s busiest district. With three hours to wander around I was able to buy a new camera take some pictures of the very busy Osakan sites.


When dinnertime rolled around we met back at the hotel and walked through the mobs of people to a quiet little shabushabu place. The twelve of us sat in a bare room on the floor and we were served the dish by kimono-clad women who were probably the best servers I have ever seen. It was so enjoyable I could have burst. Our main serving lady entertained us with a few English phrases and we ate the most delicious meal. Shabushabu is a broth that is boiled in a clay pot on a burner on your table. First the serving lady adds some meet and a few vegetables and then serves us in small bowls lined with ground sesame seeds. She then returns every few minutes to add different vegetables and meats to the pot and serves us again. It goes on like this until there is nothing more to add to the pot. At this point she brings in udon noodles (the really fat ones) and adds them to the tasty broth and serves it. Of course there is a pallet cleanser and a bowl of rice after followed by a lovely orange mystery desert. Add a few glasses of wine and sake to the mix and I was full to my eyeballs. It was a wonderful time.




After dinner we took some photos in the silly photo booths and played some Japanese video games. I had no clue what I was doing with most of the games but I know I kicked ass at air hockey.

Later we went to like a late-night Japanese old town where we ate some more food (the Japanese really like to eat) and played old fashion games. It was like Lower Fort Garry meets Tinkertown. Good fun.

After some much needed sleep at the hotel and a breakfast buffet to get us going again, we headed off for Kyoto and what has been hailed as one of Japan’s most famous rock gardens. It was something I had never seen before. Fifteen strategically placed, moss-covered rocks in a sea of carefully raked stones. It really was quite exquisite, and the buildings and gardens surrounding it were also very inspiring in their own ways.




After a few hours of shopping in the tourist area of Kyoto and picture with a Geisha, we headed off for another totally fabulous dinning experience.


This time it was called Bento, I think. You get several different kinds of food ranging from one little perfect white potato to tiny little bunch of mushrooms tied together with some sort of radish string. You only get one of everything but there is a lot of variety. In this place we were given an extraordinary room with sliding glass doors that gave a perfect view of a little garden. Once again a woman in Kimono served us. It may sound like this is the norm here but I’m sure it’s not. Remember, we paid a small fortune for this trip.



After lunch and a bit of lounging around time we headed off for the last stop—calligraphy. I was surprised to find that we were taken to a temple and practiced calligraphy while a priest prayed and banged a gong. The room must have been filled with a hundred other people all there to practice calligraphy and meditate. It took me forever to finish but finally finished some thirty or so lines of Japanese Kanji characters. We complimented our time at the temple with a short walk around the temple garden, which is famous for the thick green moss that grows so perfectly in the forest around the temple.

Back on the bus we enjoyed the views and a live comedy show that reminded me of a television sitcom. I couldn’t understand it but I still thought it was pretty funny. A few hours later I was back home wondering when I would next have the chance to do it all again.

Posted by brendab 07:10 Archived in Japan Comments (2)

Japanese Fall

They say fall in Japan brings with it cool and immesurable beauty.

sunny 31 °C

Coming from a farming community myself, I feel very happy and comfortable with the fall and its accompanying harvest. Everyday now the scene reminds me of home but is yet so different. The massive combining equipment at home would dwarf these little rice picking machines and one of our grain trucks could fit ten or more of their little trucks inside it.






It’s all about volume. Our fields are a hundred acres each or more while the average field here is no larger than a city lot. All these little fields fit snugly between the mountains and are farmed usually by one or two men and their wives. We, of course, are without mountains and there is no limit to the available farming space. We harvest hundreds of bushels a day while these farmers drive away from the fields at the end of the day with around forty grain sacks of rice.

While we are now officially into the fall, we are not yet experiencing fall weather. The heat may come down a little with a day or two of rain but we sit eternally at a 30-degree temperature daily. The humidity is what does me in though. Playing with my younger students has me dripping with sweat and constantly wiping my face with a towel. Towels are an essential part of life here in the summer and fall. It is very rude to wipe your sweat with your hand so everyone carries a towel with them wherever they go. The kids however can get away with anything cause they are just so cute!

Fall also brings with it school sports days. This is a day for which students spend an entire week preparing. Families, town officials, principals and teachers from other schools will gather at the sports day site and will participate and observe a day full of fun and athletic activity. Many of the games I had never seen before and every school had its own variation of almost every game. My favorite game is the beanbag toss that sees two teams face off with a player from each team sporting a basket on their backs. The basket heavy players must stay inside the opposing team's area while each team tries to get as many bean bags into the basket as they can. The basket laden players do their best to run away from beanbag wielding players on the opposing team—good fun, very athletic, and a great laugh every time.

The sports day yesterday ended with a party at the local hotel. Everyone enters the room and chooses a number. The number determines where you will sit. Last night the luck of the draw put me nowhere near any English speakers but we still communicated and had a great time. The party doesn’t start until there is a speech and a kampai which is basically a toast. No one drinks until the toast. After the toast we eat and eat and eat. You will either get platters of food you all share or you will get twenty little bowls all filled with colorful little things which are usually either egg or fish. I say that in jest of course. There are many tasty and unique foods to try at these parties. It is also your responsibility to make sure you keep and eye on the glasses of the people around you as it is rude for a person to pour their own drink. You must make sure your neighbour's glass is always full. The night usually only lasts three hours when some fruit or rice and coffee will be brought it to help soak up your alcohol. Japanese people seem to get quite drunk on just a small amount of alcohol so they are astounded at the amount I can drink without even feeling tipsy.



Tonight I venture to a small town near by in my little car. I have become quite accustomed to driving on the left hand side of the road. The problems only come with finding my way as most of the streets have no names. My instincts really come in handy for getting around.
The town I will go to tonight is called Takebe. It is home one of Okayama’s five international villas and a lovely onsen. An onsen is a public bath where people pay a small price to go in, sit naked with their friends and coworkers on little wooden stools (men and women are separated of course) and wash themselves completely before submerging themselves in a hot mineral bath. A lovely time if you can get past being a fat westerner among tiny little Asian beauties. But, all problems, all worries, and all stresses are soaked a away in just a few minutes and one feels ready and willing to face another day in Japan.

Posted by brendab 01:51 Archived in Japan Comments (1)

Cultural Cravings Fulfilled

A wander through a Shinto Shrine

semi-overcast 39 °C

Here is an excerpt from my journal on August 11, 2007:

August 11, 2007

This morning I wake in my new Japanese mountain home early enough to take a walk through the morning mists haunting the village’s many walkways. The air is wet and the trees gently drip dew onto the path before me.
My mind stiffens as I approach an unfamiliar Shinto archway, flanked by two fierce looking rock dragons. Stone steps rise between and beckon me but hide what lies ahead. Yet, I am unafraid, only joy fills me. Carefully, thoughtfully, I climb.
At the top of the steps is a path leading to an old wooden temple. On either side of me is a platform on which stands a large leaning bamboo rod wrapped at the top and in the middle with white cloth. I can only guess what they symbolize. Life? Death?
I advance humbly down the path, studying the old buildings before me: a wide platform accessible by wooden steps, a table supporting a wooden box, a thick rope, a bell. I wish to ring it but I fear I might wake someone…or something. Another platform, this one higher, holds a larger bell; another rope, this one thicker, grips me and pulls. The silence is so delicate I do not want to break it, to offend the keeper of this majestic place with my clumsy, unknowing noise. First, I will learn, then I will ring.
As I continue though the grounds I come across a small yard. Several rounded stone pillars have been placed along each side. Some are shaped like temples, some like baths, some like altars, high as my hip. Behind, flat sticks rest in wooden grates. What I can only imagine are prayers, or blessings, have been painted on each stick by a skilled calligrapher’s hand. Beside is a small box containing dusty bowls and burnt incense. Is it a graveyard? One thing is sure, it is a holy place.
At the end of the yard is a path leading into the woods. Two primitive log archways mark the way. Webs caught in the corners are turned to beautiful silver frames before the misty backdrop. Beyond the arches, in the forest, countless webs shimmer in the day’s hazy morning light. I walk until I come to an opening. Beyond is a field of rice, and beyond that, an old farmhouse. An old man working in his garden looks up and waves, “Ohayo, gosaimasu!”
The day is born again, and I too feel as though I have started a new life.

Posted by brendab 08:23 Archived in Japan Comments (2)

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