I awoke at 5 this morning and hustled to the subway station. From there we took a commercial train an hour and a half outside of the city. Then we took a rail car half an hour up a mountain. Then we took a bus for 45 minutes. And then we walked for 10 more minutes.
During this excursion, we had lots of time to view the Japanese landscape. We saw misty mountains, farms, with lakes and forests, and everything in between. I even saw a deer from the rail car, casually watching us roll past it. I'm almost embarrassed to admit this, but growing up I always thought Japan was coast-to-coast cities, with no nature remaining, let alone with fully inhabited forests! Words cannot explain the lush waterfalls, the greenery or the plant life. It was like a rain-forest!
Arriving in Koyasan, we went to our Buddhist Lodge. It's exactly what you imaged a lodge would be like: rice screen doors, waterfalls next to the rooms, trees, nature inches away. A very earthy, yet clean, experience. And best of all, no mosquitoes!
What did surprise us though, was how modern the lodge was. Not only was it in tune with nature, but it also had satellite TV, running water and fairly stable wifi. After all, this is Japan!
Once we were settled, we got a lesson on Japanese shoe customs, something us Westerners never think about.
When you enter a building, you are not allowed to step on any wood with your shoes. But you also cannot step on any stone without shoes. To enter a building often results in an awkward dance of taking off shoes while stepping on them, and then stepping on the wood one foot at a time. Once inside, you have to put on slippers, but they are only allowed in the hallways. You remove them when entering rooms and go barefoot, or with socks on. Except for bathrooms. In bathrooms you wear specific "toilet slippers".
Pretty simple, eh?
After our lesson, we went out for lunch. I'm still anxious on trying authentic Japanese food, so I got a dish that was fried chicken pieces and cheese on rice. I was taught during this meal on how to properly use chopsticks... which still needs some practice.
Then we went to the temples.
The first temple we arrived at was one made by a Japanese missionary who went to China for 3 years to learn Buddhism. He then returned home and began to teach his own form of Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, which became the most common form of Buddhism to date. The temple was beautiful, but without knowing more about his accomplishments I didn't really understand the history or the importance of it.
The next group of temples were far superior. The biggest of these temples had a massive stone Buddha inside. This temple was made in honor of the man who founded Zen Buddhism.
Near these were another region's temple, the Shinto religion, which lived hand-in-hand and in peace with the Buddhists, something the religions of the West have always struggled to do.
I found the contrast between the quiet forests of Koyasan and the busy streets of Osaka to be incredible, and I especially noticed it at these temples.
We then went into the nearby cemetery. Like most cemeteries, this one was full of stones and status, but unlike most cemeteries, it was completely void of bodies. That's right; there are almost no bones at all in this cemetery; just spirits. To the way nature had grown around the stones reminded me of pictures of Aztec and Mayan structures, with mold and trees growing around the buildings, forever absorbing it into nature. The cemetery was massive, but beautiful and humbling. After that, we arrived at the sacred grounds, washed our hands and mouth and witnessed the monks pray.
We hiked back and had a full, meatless, vegetarian supper waiting for us. During supper we talked about Hiroshima tomorrow. We learned that in Japan, they don't say "America dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima", they said "The first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima". This is because the Japanese feel responsible for the war, and feel the Americans only did what had to be done.
After supper we learned how to make some paper cranes and took a communal (but same-sex) bath, and relaxed in our kimonos.
Sorry if this seems rushed, but today was an incredible day and I am so tired. The steam bath probably isn't helping any either.
Talk to you tomorrow, from Hiroshima!
And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.
Since I am Saskatchewan born and raised, it always bothered me when people said there's nothing to do in my home province. If you're looking for culture, history, food, beer, sporting events, community or a touch of quirkiness, Saskatchewan is the best place to visit!
If you've been following my blog for awhile now, you'll know I could write a whole article about places to visit in Saskatchewan (actually, I have written it). For sake of brevity, I handpicked some of my favourite places, but there are many that I left out. Are there any places you'd add to this list? Let me know in the comments below.
The Island of the Dolls is in Xochimilco, a borough south of Mexico City. While it would be faster to take a car from Mexico City to Xochimilco, the traffic is dense and the roads are very congested. Instead, if you're going there, I'd recommend taking metro, which is easy and the cheapest in the world. What you gain in comfort, however, you lose in speed, as the train ride takes about 2 hours.
Mexico City and Xochimilco both sit in the Valley of Mexico. Until about a millennium ago, the whole region around Mexico City was surrounded by a massive body of water. Over the centuries due to both climate change and interference by humans, most of this water has dried up, for the exception of Xochimilco. With networks of canals crisscrossing the borough, car transportation is difficult and water transportation is essential. I'm sure there were motorized boats somewhere in the waters of Xochimilco, but I never saw any. Instead, canoes and rafts are common on the water. However, the most popular vessel is a trajinera – a colourful gonadal-like boat that is pushed along the water with a wooden pole.
Xochimilco is known worldwide for their Floating Gardens market, which are essentially canoes floating down the canals, selling wares to tourists on trajineras. These include things like food, drinks, silver rings, trinkets, ponchos and sombreros. Occasionally other trajineras full of Mariachi bands will approach tourists and offer to play beside them on the water.
As this was my first time flying a kite, I'm proud to say I only crashed it about thirty times. Thankfully, my instructor said, the kite wasn't too expensive and was made for crash landings. After one particular sharp nose-dive, however, he came over to show me what I was doing wrong. After a few minor adjustments, I kicked the kite back into the air and managed to do my first loop.
The field we were in was empty that day. Within 24 hours, however, the field would be full of kite enthusiasts from across the world. Many of the kite flyers were from Canada and the United States, but some even came as far away as London, Germany and New Zealand. At only 13 years old, the SaskPower Windscape Kite Festival has become internationally renowned to kite flyers around the world.
When people think of kites, they might think of the classic diamond shaped kite of Charlie Brown. However, these days there are many different kinds of kites, and each with their own unique design and purpose.