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.
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About a year and a half ago I visited Kyiv, Ukraine. As I walked down the millennium old streets and gawked at the towering cathedrals, I saw the beginnings of a new country, one that was slowly rebuilding from a much darker time. The process of what I was seeing had a name. It was called decommunization.
Decommunization includes renaming architecture, changing laws and protocols, and even tearing down monuments. People's Friendship Arch in Kyiv, for example, which symbolised the friendship between the Communist East and the Capitalist West, was torn down. Some statues, like war memorials, are exempt, but there is still talk of making modifications to them. Anywhere you go throughout the former Soviet Union, the hammer and sickle are being removed – not from history, but from modern society.
I don't often take blog requests, but a friend approached me recently and asked about Venice. He's traveling to Italy for a wedding this summer and is stopping in Venice for few days. He asked me if I knew what he could do in the Floating City, so I racked up a list of ten things for him to see.
Feel free to leave a comment and let me know if I missed anything, what your favorite thing to see in Venice was, or if you plan to go visit Venice after reading this!
If you follow my blog, you know I love history. History is what makes us who we are today. It defines our accomplishments and highlights our failures. Most importantly, it helps us move forward as a society.
A lot of my focus is Saskatchewan's history, but there's plenty of amazing history to be told in our neighbour province of Alberta too. From First Nations culture, through to early pioneers, the oil boom and the legacy the province today, there is always something to learn about when visiting Alberta.