A Travellerspoint blog

Japan (with photos)

An amazing and paradoxical place

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View Bill and Hope 2019 on HopeEakins's travel map.

We have looked forward to our five days in Japan with great eagerness. Neither of us has been here before. We don’t know much about Japanese literature or Japanese food or the Japanese language. We learned much from presentations by the ship’s excellent Destination Lecturer, Jon Fleming; Bill read a book about Hirohito, and we perused the Web and a guidebook. The ship has never given us instruction on behavior in other countries, but in Japan we received a letter that encouraged us how to bow and nod (a lot) and gave us guidelines like:

Never raise your voice.
Always be punctual.
Avoid using the number 4 because it has connotations of death.
What the Japanese say and what they mean are very different; e.g., they never say “no.” If they mean “no,” they say “maybe.” This is because above all, they try to honor and respect everyone.

We were also warned never to blow our nose, nor to spear food with our chopsticks, and always to use TWO hands when handing over money and paper.

Despite all this instruction, we were often surprised and bewildered. Japan is a country that is moving headlong into the future, eager to adopt Western ways, and at the same time, Japan clings to its ancient traditions and makes us take off our shoes so often that we are tempted never to visit another temple. You are always on the edge of making a mistake here. “Arigato” means “thanks” and “arigato gozaimus” also means thanks. The first is said to friends and acquaintances, the second is said to teachers, shopkeepers, etc. But how do you know who’s who? What is a guide with whom you have travelled for three days?

Our guides were absolutely terrific and spoke excellent English, in great contrast to our few words of bad Japanese. We visited Osaka, Nara, Kyoto, and Tokyo staying at a fine Hyatt Regency in Kyoto.

Shinto and Buddhism permeate the land; shrines and temples abound. In them are little shops selling blessings; in the gardens are little pots collecting coins thrown to hit them. The blessings are very specific. People line up to buy them for passing exams, having an easy childbirth, cure from disease, safe travel, etc, etc. Sometimes the blessing plaques are quite pretty, but we didn’t buy one in fear that it might be for fertility. This “pay-to-pray” movement doesn’t seem crass or mechanistic; rather, it seems that the idea of divinity overlaying and connecting with humanity is part of Japanese life. People stop into temples during the day and pray for a minute or two, trusting that a god/the gods care about them and bless them. This religion/custom appears disconnected from faith. The Japanese don’t work at believing things; they just follow the ancient ways.

In Osaka, we were well accompanied by a guide recommended by Chris Rowthorn. Sakae brought us on busses and subways through the modern CBD (central business district) to Osaka Castle, a 17th century fortress in the middle of the city. The seven story building is surrounded by a major moat. The moat walls and the castle foundation are 90 meters high and built of huge cut rocks that have never fallen through centuries of shogun wars, fires, earthquakes, and WWII bombing (which destroyed 90% of the city). Wow! Another wow: a group of teens on a school trip left their backpacks on the ground (neatly arranged) because there is no theft in Japan!

We were disappointed that the Plum Garden was not yet fully in bloom, until we smelled the heady scent of the blossoms and saw the bare branches covered with tiny flowers. The structure of the trees looks just like Japanese paintings. We were in fairyland and we loved it! Sakae opined that Tokyo’s cherry blossoms are NOTHING compared to Osaka’s plum blossoms. Tokyo’s cherry trees are hybrids, she said, and so they all open at the exact same time and fall at almost the same time a week later. The Buddhists see this coincidence as symbolic of the ephemeral nature of life. Sakae much prefers the many species of cherry and plum and apricot trees in Osaka that have a longer blooming season and a huge variety of colors and sizes. We agree with her.

We met a Buddhist priest at a small shrine in the CBD. This priest’s current ministry is to Filipina women who have been abandoned by their Japanese “husbands.” For lunch we sat around a grill at a local restaurant and watched as the chef made fried noodles and an Osaka pancake with eggs of a remarkable color. Those with good eyes should look almost to the bottom of the column on the English menu.

Finally, we walked through Dotombori, a district filled with entertainment and neon signs and young dressed in wild costumes. Even here, there was a small shrine with a Buddha covered in moss.

Photos follow:
B&H at Osaka Castle
many pix of masonry
backpacks lined up
lunch
Buddhist priest
city of Osaka
B7H in Plum Garden
Dotombori shrine

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Posted by HopeEakins 01:35 Archived in Japan

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Comments

Maybe coins for prayers isn't that different from some Christian (RC and Anglican) lighting candles as part of a prayers and then putting coins in the slot?

Love the photos.

by HARRIET D Odlum

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