Motorway to Roswell

3 05 2009

Nara Path, Nara, 4/27/2009

Or at least, the path back to Albuquerque. Classes at KCJS ended several weeks ago, and after a brief graduation ceremony we were set free to do as we please until we leave or are deported. As I’d like to come back to Japan one day, I’m leaving the day after tomorrow from Narita. I’m currently in Tokyo after a surprisingly strenuous journey through wide swaths of the Kanto and Kansai area, typing from inside a box (a hostel “single” doesn’t mean what you think it does, guys).  As I had to be out of my apartment by the 27th, I decided to make the trip a sight-seeing one and hit a number of different attractions along the way. First up was Nara.

Nara pond 1, Nara, 4/27/2009

I was rather effervescent in my praise of Miyajima, but a few short moments wandering through the temple grounds of Nara was all it took for the old memories from my first trip after my high school graduation to come rushing back. Nara is simply a gorgeous place, a pristine oasis of postcard ready-scenery bubbling out of its urban surroundings.

Nara Pond 2, Nara, 4/27/2009Pagoda, Nara, 4/27/2009Red Tree, Nara, 4/27/2009Todaiji front, Nara, 4/27/2009Nara Path 3, Nara, 4/27/2009

Nara, like Miyajima (or Miyajima, like Nara) is crawling with surprisingly aggressive deer.

Nara, like Miyajima (or Miyajima, like Nara) is crawling with surprisingly aggressive deer.

Sunset, Nara, 4/27/2009

My one regret was not spending more time in Nara, exacerbated by my need to drop off my baggage before going sightseeing. I unfortunately dramatically underestimated just how much weight all the books I’ve purchased in Kyoto would add to my luggage… Hauling around seventy or so pounds of luggage across the Japan has been an exhausting experience, especially since this damn place always seems to put it’s elevators in the most out of way places if it has them at all. The worst of it was at my next stop, Osaka, where the hotel I stayed at had no elevator… and I was on the fourth floor. Fun times. Of course, it was 1400 yen a night.

Taito game station, Osaka, 4/28/2009Tower, Osaka, 4/28/2009Tower 2, Osaka, 4/28/2009Plaza, Osaka, 4/28/2009

The next day I set out for Nagoya, making a pit stop at Ise along the way. Unfortunately, my luggage once again proved to be my anchor, and I only managed to see Geku, the outer shrine of Ise, and completely missed the supposedly amazing ocean-side cliffs.

Geku, Ise, 4/29/2009

The waters were teeming with fish.

The waters were teeming with fish.

There was a wide variety of wildlife at the shrine, including a chicken for a little kid to chase around...

There was a wide variety of wildlife at the shrine, including a chicken for a little kid to chase around...

...and around. This went on for aboout five minutes straight.

...and around. This went on for about five minutes straight.

I passed by a pretty amazing display of flowers on my way back to the station.

I passed by a pretty amazing display of flowers on my way back to the station.

Flowers 2, Ise, 4/29/2009Flowers 3, Ise, 4/29/2009

The train to Nagoya.

The train to Nagoya.

The view from the train...

The view from the train...

...and a passing train.

...and a passing train.

I got to Nagoya late and in an rather amazing coincidence ran into a fellow KCJS student who was leaving the next day, so I didn’t get many pictures. However, when I got to my hotel room, I looked inside the desk and was surprised to see a book exactly in the location where a bible is usually found in American hotels. Surprised that a Japanese hotel would bother to keep such a thing, I flipped the book over and saw this…

Buddha book, Nagoya, 4/29/2009

I again got to my next destination, Kawaguchiko in front of Mt. Fuji, rather late, and after nine hours of trains, I wasn’t in a photographing mood. I also didn’t try to climb Mt. Fuji; apparently, outside the official climbing season from July to August, the mountain’s weather is highly unpredictable and dangerous. As I’ve made it this far in my stay in Japan without being seriously injured, I decided to pass this time, and I was pretty exhausted after hauling my bags around for a few miles on the way to the hostel.

This was as close as I got.

This was as close as I got.

Mt. Fuji 2, Kawaguchiko, 4/30/2009

Kawaguchiko itself. ("-ko" is a suffix for lakes, so it would be Lake Kawaguchi.)

Kawaguchiko itself. ("-ko" is a suffix for lakes, so it would be Lake Kawaguchi.)

And that’s how I finally arrived in Tokyo and started living in a box (made of wood and everything). My time in Japan is quickly dwindling away to nothing, but I end each day so exhausted and my feet hurt enough each time that I mind a little less everyday. Maybe it’s time to come home.

Why is my hostel is Asakusa so easy to find? Landmarks.

Why is my hostel in Asakusa so easy to find? Landmarks.

Music I’m Listening to Now: Bruce Springsteen, “Dream Baby Dream”.





Miyajima Now Redux

30 03 2009

View from Miyajima 1, Miyajima, 3/27/2009

For our KCJS class trip, I and about forty other students made the journey by Shinkansen to Hiroshima and then once again (for me, at least) to Miyajima. Initially, I was worried that a return trip to Miyajima would be pleasant if slightly underwhelming in light of my previous visit there, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had missed a major part of the island: the path leading to the absolute highest peak. The views from above were spectacular. I hate to resort to hyperbole again so soon after the last Miyajima post, but the view from the top of Miyajima is probably the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Also, Spring has arrived in Japan, and the sakura (cherry blossoms) are blooming across the country. The streets and thoroughfares of Miyajima and Hiroshima were dotted with vivid splashes of pink and white.

Warning: lots of nature pictures to follow.

Warning: lots of nature pictures to follow.

Sakura 2, Miyajima, 3/27/2009Sakura 3, Miyajima, 3/27/2009Sakura 4, Miyajima, 3/27/2009Sakura 5, Miyajima, 3/27/2009Sakura 6, Miyajima, 3/27/2009Sakura 7, Miyajima, 3/27/2009Sakura 8, Miyajima, 3/27/2009

Due to peer pressure I elected this time to take the ropeway, but I didn’t regret it. The ride is disappointingly short for 900 yen, but the scenery is nothing to scoff at, though this is one area where I think New Mexico and the Sandia Tramway could give Japan a run for its money (and in terms of total length, the tramway trumps all trams in totality).

The ride was less fun for the more heights-averse people in the car.

The ride was less fun for the more heights-averse people in the car.

Tram 2, Miyajima, 3/27/2009

Unfortunately, before I saw all of this beautiful scenery, I ran into… a bit of trouble. Our Shinkansen was scheduled to leave at 9:52 a.m. (and if you know Japanese train schedules, you know that’s 9:52 sharp) and I made a number of mistakes, from underestimating the time to get there to going to the wrong Imadegawa station (apparently, there’s a JR one and a Keihan one). After frantically trying to find track 14 and exchanging some barely understandable Japanese with a station attendant, I emerged onto the platform right as… the clock struck 9:54, and I saw the train receding into the distance. Thankfully, I was able to grab the train immediately after and then take a train to Miyajimaguchi the same way I did during my Spring break. It was slightly embarrassing being the only student dumb enough to miss the train, but everyone seemed impressed when I told them I got there by myself. The Japanese train system seems pretty intuitive to me, though.

Another surprise was waiting for me at the peak besides the amazing view- monkeys. Monkeys, with temperates common to the deer that pepper the island, surrounded the tram station, hooting, running back and forth, and picking bugs out of the fur of each other and annoyed deers.

Though the monkey population far exceeded my expectations, the first hint at their presence was an English voice on the tram warning passengers to stow their valuable away from the curious eyes of the sticky-handed monkeys.

Though the monkey population far exceeded my expectations, the first hint at their presence was an English voice on the tram warning passengers to stow their valuable away from the curious eyes of the sticky-handed simians.

Monkeys, Miyajima, 3/27/2009Monkeys 3, Miyajima, 3/27/2009

Monkeys 4, Miyajima, 3/27/2009Monkeys 5, Miyajima, 3/27/2009Monkeys 6, Miyajima, 3/27/2009

Now, as for the view…

View 1, Miyajima, 3/27/2009View 2, Miyajima, 3/27/2009View 3, Miyajima, 3/27/2009View 4, Miyajima, 3/27/2009View 5, Miyajima, 3/27/2009

A temple near the top hosted the “Eternal Flame”, a fire that has supposedly been continuously burning for over 1200 years and was used to light the peace fire at Hiroshima. It… left something to be desired.

It wasn't so much "the eternal fire" as it was "the eternal lightly glowing cinder pile".

It wasn't so much "the eternal fire" as it was "the eternal lightly glowing cinder pile".

Apparently the deer near the top are friendly (or desperately hungry) as one wandered up to me as I was sitting down.

Deer 1, Miyajima, 3/27/2009Deer 2, Miyajima, 3/27/2009

Near the top was a tiny shrine based in a niche in the mountain.

This tiny, tiny shrine was used for tiny, tiny worshp by the tiny, tiny citizens of the island.

This tiny, tiny shrine was used for tiny, tiny worshp by the tiny, tiny citizens of the island.

At last, after an hour of hiking form the top of the ropeway and a short trip up an observation tower, I reached the highest point on Miyajima and surveyed my surroundings.

View 3, Miyajima, 3/27/2009

I sure hope no one's viewing this on dial-up. But if you are, what's wrong with you?

I sure hope no one is viewing this on dial-up. But if you are, what's wrong with you?

View 8, Miyajima, 3/27/2009View 9, Miyajima, 3/27/2009View 10, Miyajima, 3/27/2009

The ropeway station.

The ropeway station.

View 12, Miyajima, 3/27/2009

Hell, even the view from our ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn) wasn’t bad.

Ryokan View 1, Miyajima, 3/27/2009Ryokan View 2, Miyajima, 3/27/2009

For whatever reason, taking pictures of the actual ryokan completely slipped my mind. It was a fun experience- we were put into groups of four to six in traditional Japanese rooms, complete with tatami mats and just futons for sleeping, and provided with yukata, a sort of light cotton kimono, to wear. We had a traditional Japanese dinner with a wide variety of dishes, from prepared fish to a sort of tofu soup to a plate of delicious strawberries for desert, all with tasty if weak beer on the side. Sadly, sitting Japanese style in the seiza position (with your legs bent under you) is beyond my abilities as a gaijin, so I sat cross-legged and tried desperately to avoid exposing myself. After dinner we went out and view the famous torii (as seen in my last Miyajima post) in the dark, but unfortunately there wasn’t enough light for me to get a picture that didn’t look like it was taken from inside a trunk.

We departed in the early morning for Hiroshima, and I took several pictures of the blooming foliage surrounding the temples and shrines.

Island view 1, Miyajima, 3/27/2009Island view 2, Miyajima, 3/27/2009

Ze ever-hungry sea.

Ze ever-hungry sea.


One more shot of the torii, for old times sake.

One more shot of the torii, for old times sake.

We then took a bus to Hiroshima, which was also a bit of a photographic non-event. Our first stop was the Atomic Bomb Memorial, which has an atmosphere not terribly conducive to photography. The memorial is much like any memorial, such as for the Holocaust or Vietnam: an experience that is equal parts moving and horrifying. It’s hard to walk away from a museum that includes graphic pictures of still-living female high school students burned so badly they’re hardly recognizable as human beings, or recounts the story of a young girl inflicted with radiation-induced leukemia years after the bombing and her subsequent desperate attempt to fold a thousand paper cranes so that her wish would be granted and she could live, and feel that it was in any way a “pleasant” experience. Nevertheless, Hiroshima should be a necessary trip for anyone going to Japan, and anyone whose ever seriously considered just “nuking them all”. A little bit of contemplation on horrific suffering has a way of putting things in perspective. I did take a picture of the Atomic Bomb Dome, a building nearly at the hypocenter of the explosion that somehow structurally survived the explosion that utterly demolished all buildings around it for thousands of feet, thought it was gutted by fire. On the left are some picnickers, enjoying the weather and the view of the river outside the memorial.

Atomic Bomb Dome, Hiroshima, 3/28/2009

Music I’m Listening to Now: Lotus Plaza, “The Floodlight Collective”.





Myriad Harbour

10 03 2009

Miyajima tori, tide out, Miyajimaguchi, 3/4/2009

If Himeji and it’s white castle were a case of a monument’s inherent beauty overcoming poor weather, Miyajima was an example of both nature and locale combining to form a perfect tableau. Miyajima is in my admittedly mostly uninformed opinion up with Nara in the upper echelons of beauty in Japan. Both the day and the island were in perfect condition, and my expectations were both met and exceeded. The addition of a number of surprises helped push Miyajima over the edge to make it the highlight my vacation. If you ever get a chance, I highly recommend going.

Boat View 1, Miyajimaguchi, 3/4/2009

Miyajima is reached from the mainland by taking a short ferry ride from a dock conveniently close to the station. My experience with the town (called Miyajimaguchi) in the evening when I finally left the island leads me to believe it’s essentially an elaborate decoration for the island proper; there wasn’t a whole lot going on.

Both JR (Japan Railways) and a private company run ferries; there's no meaningful difference between the two, as far as I know, but those with Japan rail passes can ride the JR one for free.

Both JR (Japan Railways) and a private company run ferries; there's no meaningful difference between the two, as far as I know, but those with Japan rail passes can ride the JR one for free.

My first big surprise upon arriving: deer. I had honestly assumed that Nara was the place to go for deer in Japan and had no idea that there were deer on Miyajima. There were deer, alright.

Deer 1, Miyajimaguchi, 3/4/2009Deer 2, Miyajimaguchi, 3/4/2009Deer 3, Miyajimaguchi, 3/4/2009

A young deer.

A young deer.

It feels a little weird to say this, but Miyajima’s deer seemed to lack… a certain something. Nara’s deer were already straining the use of the word “dignified”, and their more tropical kin had gone a bit further to seed. It’s hard to feel the holy aura ascribed to deer by the Japanese when they’re constantly doing this:

Unlike flying or camouflage, this is one of those animal skills that has never even occurred to me to be worth being envious about.

Unlike flying or camouflage, this is one of those animal skills that has never even occurred to me to be worth being envious about.

Also, much like the deer in Nara, being sacred beings doesn’t prevent them from, goat-like, consuming much of what they can physically ingest.

Deer 6, Miyajimaguchi, 3/4/2009

It's all fun and games until you realize they're eating your passport.

It's all fun and games until you realize they're eating your passport.

Of course, there was more to Miyajima than practically domesticated, de-antlered (though, uh, steadily more antlered the further inland you go) freeloaders.

Statue, Miyajimaguchi, 3/4/2009

One of Miyajima’s best known landmarks is the giant red torii, or gate, built on the coastal plane of the island’s landward side. The view, as you can see in this entry’s first picture, can change dynamically depending on the time of day and the corresponding tide.

Torii 1, Miyajima, 3/4/2009

I have no idea how they build stuff like this in water; water bridges similarly confuse me. In the gate's case, I guess you just had to do it fast, before the tide came back in.

I have no idea how they build stuff like this in water; water bridges similarly confuse me. In the gate's case, I guess you just had to do it fast, before the tide came back in.

Looking out on the gate was a shrine that I was unwilling to pay the entrance fee to get into (I think the ferry fee should be enough, damn it) so here are some pictures at a distance.

Torii Shrine, Miyajima, 3/3/2009

The shrine was built with a number of interesting architectural features to avoid damge from storms, including sections of the flooring that can float freely in case of an especially high tide.

The shrine was built with a number of interesting architectural features to avoid damge from storms, including sections of the flooring that can float freely in case of an especially high tide (or so I read on the outside).

Here's the shrine with the tide out.

Here's the shrine with the tide out.

Similarly impressive landmarks dotted Miyajima.

Pagoda 1, Miyajima, 3/4/2009

Too big to be contained in one photo.

Too big to be contained in one photo.

A big 'ol chunk of wood.

A big 'ol chunk of wood.

Random Temple 1, Miyajima, 3/4/2009Random Temple 2, Miyajima, 3/4/2009

After some walking uphill, I discovered an impressive temple that was luckily free of charge.

Their logo is some sort of medieval rattle.

Their logo is some sort of medieval rattle.

Temple 2, Miyajima, 3/4/2009

The return of the Tanuki, this time as a Buddhist monk. Notice the absence of the exaggerated testicles.

The return of the Tanuki, this time as a Buddhist monk. Notice the absence of the exaggerated testicles.

Temple 3, Miyajima, 3/4/2009Temple 4, Miyajima, 3/4/2009

I really like the way the wood is designed underneath the roof.

I really like the way the wood is designed underneath the roof.

Eventually, I got an idea into my head that I could walk around the island to see the landmarks on the backside. After proceeding through several tunnels…

Tunnel, Miyajima, 3/4/2009

long, deserted roads…

Road, Miyajima, 3/4/2009

and several miles of surprisingly clear ocean…

Water, Miyajima, 3/4/2009

I realized I had perhaps underestimated the distance. I decided to rest on a quite beach for a bit before turning around.

This section of the island was amazingly quiet, and at this point I hadn't seen another human for about an hour.

This section of the island was amazingly quiet, and at this point I hadn't seen another human for about an hour.

Looking down, I realizd the white dotting the beach was thousands of sea shells.

Looking down, I realizd the white dotting the beach was thousands of sea shells.

Returning to the more inhabited regions of the island, I decided to go up this time. Miyajima is the site of one of the World Heritage Sites, in this case a stretch of forest that has gone essentially undisturbed since antiquity.

There was a tram that could take you over the forest that seemed like it would be nice, but the ticket was 2000 yen. Half that for one way, but you had to jump out yourself.

There was a tram that could take you over the forest that seemed like it would be nice, but the ticket was 2000 yen. Half that for one way, but you had to jump out yourself.

I also did a little bit of off-the-path hiking.

I also did a little bit of off-the-path hiking.

Proceeding up some narrow paths, I reached the most scenic views available on the island. Though I once again was humiliated by a woman in at least her seventies who somehow managed to pass me going the opposite direction while I was going up, and then pass me again as I went down on the other side. Christ.

Path, Miyajima, 3/4/2009View, Miyajima, 3/4/2009

I think this is my favorite picture that I've ever taken.

I think this is my favorite picture that I've ever taken.

Music I’m Listening to Now: Flight of the Conchords, “We’re Both In Love With a Sexy Lady”.