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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If you've ever passed through Medicine Hat, or you're spending a few days in the area, you've probably wondered what to do there. To most people outside the city, Medicine Hat might seem like a sleepy little prairie town in the Canadian Badlands; but for those who live in Hell's Basement, they'll tell you that this city is one of the most exciting places you can explore in all of Alberta.
I've gone to Medicine Hat three times in the past two years, and while I'm no expert on this thriving city, I know where the hidden gems are. If someone I know is passing through the area, I tell them they need to visit Medicine Hat. To help explain why, I put an article together for anyone else interested in visiting the Hat.
If you're spending 24 hours in Medicine Hat, you'll need somewhere to sleep. Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park is a little under an hour away and a great place to camp. Camping in Cypress gives you the choice to explore the park, the city, and everywhere in between.
For many of us in Saskatchewan, summer means it's time for an Alberta road trip. Although the endless stretches of prairie have their appeal, there is nothing quite like seeing the mountains rising over the horizon.
One challenge that comes with taking a summer road trip is the heat. Much like on this side of the border, it isn't uncommon for summer temperatures to get to the extreme. I know a few people who have had car problems in the heat, and my family is one of them. Nothing ruins a trip more than an unexpected visit to the mechanic.
Thankfully, Alberta has a myriad of places to go swimming, kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding or fishing. This not only gives your vehicle time to cool off, but also gives you a chance to escape the heat as well.
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.