More from the digital photo file vault! This revisiting photo files has been a walk down memory lane for me. Today I'm delighted to share some photos from our February 1998 trip to Japan.
|"Peace" - Created with thousands of paper cranes in Hiroshima|
This was my first (and only) visit to Japan and it was a fascinating, sometimes overwhelming experience, filled with friendship and new sights.
Back then, Rick was still working for the Chamber of Commerce and he often dealt with companies from Japan that were interested in coming to our region. He always was active with Lansing's Sister City, Otsu, and for a time worked as director of our regional chapter of the Japan America Society. He had been to the country many times, even taking language classes at the community college. We had been fortunate in making a number of Japanese friends who had come to Michigan for a year from Otsu. In 1998, he took me with him on a business trip that was extended into a long vacation!
|A pier in Chigasaki with Mt. Fuji in the background|
We started with a few days in Tokyo and I confess, I wasn't a fan. I think it was culture shock -- everything was enormous and fast and because, unlike Rick, I couldn't read Japanese, I had a bit of terror about getting separated from him. I'm sure jet lag didn't help! There were places where one could offer prayers at the various shrines. You can bet that more than once I prayed to not lose Rick!
|A shrine and cemetery at Yamagata|
But after a day or so there, we met up with some of his Rotary friends for a delightful dinner at a restaurant in Chigasaki called "Apple Restaurant." The food didn't stop coming and neither did the smiles. They spoke a bit of English, too, which helped. I was going to eat everything they ordered, even if I didn't know what it was. The raw quail egg nearly did me in, but the sushi was terrific!
Yuka, who had been an interpreter on Rick's Rotary trip, took us to Kamakura where we saw the enormous Daibutsu or Great Buddha, a national treasure and one of the iconic images of Japan. The day was cold but sunny and the sky a dazzling blue.
It was exciting to stand in the shadow of something so ancient. Weighing 103 tons, the statue was constructed of bronze in about 1252. It's hollow and we went into the interior, which was surprisingly warm despite the brisk February day.
After exploring Tokyo for a few days, we went to Rick's business appointment in Yamagata prefecture in the North. Two of the people working at the company took us to several places while we were there including this beautiful shrine. It reminded me of Shangri-la in "Lost Horizon."
We climbed the steep, icy steps high to the top of what seemed like an enormous mountain (probably not that enormous -- just icy!). Then we got to the top of the world!
We stayed in a beautiful ryokan where we enjoyed fabulous breakfasts. Equally fun was watching the hard-drinking breakfast crowd that I'm not sure had gone to bed!
Rick, meanwhile, loved sleeping on the comfy futon so much I thought he might get one when we got home!
I bought a Kokeshi doll from this fellow. These dolls, with no arms or legs, have been crafted for more than 150 years as a toy for children. Watching him was fascinating. I wish I could find it -- and probably will one day when I move!
From there it was off to Hiroshima to meet Kiyo, another interpreter from Rick's first trip. We stayed with her family forming a delightful friendship that extended to Rick's boys and Kiyo's sons, with Greg visiting Japan and Hiroko visiting us in America a few years later. They hosted a wonderful dinner with their friends filled with laughter and warmth (and very good okonomyiaki -- a Japanese egg dish -- for dinner!).
Kiyo took us to the powerful and moving Hiroshima Peace Museum and also to Miyajima, an island about an hour away with a magnificent torii gate. The Itsukushima shrine was built close by and both peaceful and beautiful.
I loved the very tame wild deer that wandered the streets of Miyajima. They were little foragers and we saw one take off after a fellow who had some recently purchased some fast food in his bag!
From there it was off to Otsu, Lansing's Sister City, to stay with old friends Naoki and Kanako and Naoki's parents. Little did I know that Naoki's mother was a shiatsu massage therapist. We were delighted when she gave us a well-needed massage!
The Matsumoto family was so gracious. We couldn't have had warmer, more welcoming hosts.
Kanako took us to Kyoto where we enjoyed a walk about. I wish I could remember the name of this place. And thanks to Pamela, I do! It is Ginkaku-ji, or the "Temple of the Silver Pavilion." It was built in 1482 to serve as a place of rest and solitude for the Shōgun. There are so many shrines and castles in Japan and Pamela has recently done a castle tour. I encourage you to visit her blog, Hokkaido Kudasai, and check out her many posts on the castles of Japan.
Our friend, Shoko, also lived in Otsu. She stayed with me during a Sister Cities
exchange while another participant, Yamamoto, stayed with Rick. While there we saw them all (and even ran into an old friend of Rick's who was working at the hotel in Otsu!) It was wonderful to to renew many old friendships and celebrate new, good times. We had lunch with the Yamomoto family and then with Shoko and her family (below), both at their homes. What a treat. That day included a walk on Lake Biwa.
Before the Matsumoto's came to Lansing, Minoru Shirai was the delegate from Otsu. We visited his family as well. On one memorable day they took us to a place where we learned how to make soba noodles and then enjoyed the fruits of our labors in a delicious lunch. We also went to a traditional onsen or hot water spring. There are many of these in Japan due to the country's volcanic activity.
Rick and I were in Japan for two weeks and for me it was an eye-opener. During that time, I sampled foods I'd never thought I'd be able to try. I met wonderful people and saw old friends. I was able to see the homes of people, seeing the differences and similarities in day-to-day living in our two cultures. I walked streets in February where pansies were blooming in big pots outside of homes and shops and visited several museums and shrines that made a powerful impact.
More than anything else, I realized how important it is to step out of one's comfort zone. I wasn't always at ease in Japan -- primarily because of the language -- and that was very disconcerting. I wasn't comfortable in Tokyo, not because it felt unsafe. It didn't. It felt very safe. But I was nervous because I didn't know how to anchor myself. I don't like being attached to Rick -- or anyone -- at the hip and I felt I needed to be, because otherwise I would be horribly lost.
But I adjusted and I loved it. Mostly, thanks to Rick and to the wonderful people we met along the way. Old friends and new, all were warm and welcoming and delighted to share their country -- both the traditional sights and the more informal, delightful spots that perhaps most tourists don't see.
|At the top of the world near Yamagata|
Being with the people, seeing how they lived, what they enjoyed, what they thought was worth visiting in their country was a real gift. We probably won't get back. But I'd love to.
Where shall we go next in the journey back in time through my old photos? Even I don't know yet!