As promised, I bring you the first entry for my multi-part blog series about the wonderous splendor that is traveling Japan. My trip started at my favorite mexican restaurant in huntington beach where I felt that perhaps a belly fully of food and a few margaritas may get the trip started on the right foot and maybe, just maybe, help me get some sleep for the 11 or so hour flight departing LAX at 1am. I am unfortunately a very light sleeper so sleeping in cars, trains, and planes does not come easily and generally can not be counted on. To no avail, my plan didn't work as I probably nodded off a few times for maybe 10 or so minutes. I would imagine all in all I probably got about an hour or so of sleep scattered through the entire flight and matters were made more difficult when A)the passenger in front of placed a carry on item under the seat hence preventing me from fully extending my left leg and B)the group of high school students behind me and in particular the 2 girls who felt the darkened plane with a number of people trying to rest meant the perfect opportunity to watch a comedy and laugh as loudly and sharply as possible. Good times.
Plane landed at 5am or so Japanese time and made it through customs and got my luggage in quick time. For the record, in Japan use of the luggage cart is complimentary. The Japanese are very efficient and I guess somewhere along the way decided getting people in and out of the airport as quickly and easily as possible trumped the motivation to make an extra buck or two on cart rental.
I found my wife and her father and soon was carbound for Hayama Japan, my wifes hometown and the place I generally call home when I visit the area. I was lucky enough to fly into Haneda airport as opposed to the larger and more commonly used Tokyo Narita which meant getting back to Hayama was a 45 minute or so car ride as opposed to a 2 ½ hour train ride which was nice.
I made it back and exchanged some pleasantries with the wifes family and was quite pleased to hear that my mother in law had actually filled a tub with hot water which meant after the long day and the long flight I could relax if not for a bit in a soothing japanese bath. I lounged for a bit and couldnt decide on whether or not I would have a green tea to start the day or a cold beer. It actually ended up being coffee but I digress as time was not on my side and a few hours later found myself aboard a train in Zushi Japan headed north for the Japanese Countryside of Yamasaki where would be spending the night with a friend of my wifes and her American Husband for some sightseeing. Its always nice to find someone in Japan who speaks English as at times you can very easily get a claustrophobic feel when visiting.
The train ride itself was fine, it was about a 3 hour trip and we had reserved special seating that meant we had a smaller car with bigger seats that swiveled so 4 people could play a game of poker if they wanted to. Also nice that some Japanese trains for longer trips feature stewards who routinely walk the train selling drinks and snacks. Alcohol is among the offerings so one could buy a cold beer to enjoy on a long trip if one was so inclined.
We met her friend at the station and next thing I know we are visiting our first of many Japanese shrines in the Kannonyama Shrine. It's a 5 story tall statue that looks over the city weather permitting and more importantly offers the opportunity to walk inside up the top for a wonderful view of the area, not unlike the Statue of Liberty in that regard. Temperature wise it was very warm and very humid that meant the inside of the facility and the hundred or so steps to the top was a sticky affair.
Out of the statue we continued the walk around the shrine and were looking forward to what Todd, the American husband of my wifes friend referred to as the spooky bridge of death. How could the kids pass that up? Making the walk to the bridge the fog started rolling and given the already tropical vibe of the far east locale meant the indiana jones vibe was in full force. Meandering down a foggy mountain trail in central Japan to cross the legendary bridge of death? What could possible be better? That is until we actually got there to find it was closed for renovation in a real Clark Griswold moment.
Good times but that I was walking the grounds of a revered Buddhist shrine in central japan how unhappy could I really be? And sure I was disappointed not to have been able to take a picture of my children holding our miniature stanley cup while crossing the legendary japanese bridge known for its ghostly apparitions and high suicide rate but hey, I'm on vacation and can learn to simply roll with it.
Later we ended up at one of the local Japanese BBQ restaurants(known as Yakiniku) for some cold beers and some fantastic food. In japanese restaurants they have a series of rooms known as “family rooms” which are basically a separate area where diners can let their kids run around without bothering other diners. They typically have some type of view of a bonzai garden and/or a waterfall and this one was no different. I am accustomed to Yakiniku from back in OC, so in a strange way it almost serves as comfort food and I really enjoyed it knowing that at some point the options would almost certainly be limited to some type of asian noodle or sashimi bowl along the way. Not to say I dont enjoy those foods but at some point a burger or sandwich seems Ideal. I will mention, the newest burger crazy in Japan comes from a chain called “Freshness Burger” as to which I hope to try and write about in upcoming blog entrys.
The next day I woke up and decided to take an early AM walk down to the river that went through the town. It was still moist and humid and reminded me a bit of Hawaii or some other Mid-West Local known for the humidity. My goal was to get to the banks of the river, throw a stone or two, see if I could visually spot any fish and was told from the previous night the river was 10 minute walk from their home.
Making my way up the street I stumbled across an old, but still functional beer vending machine on the side of the road which always is a treat. Walking in front of some homes there were a few that had Koi ponds so I stopped and looked a bit and took in the whole vibe. Crossing the street and across a series of Rice Paddies I made my way to an overlook where I could clearly see the flowing river. Only problem- it was incredibly wet, there was no footpath I could find, and the few steps I did take meant my shoes were instantly soaked. I opted for viewing the river from a nearby bridge.
Later, back at the house, I enjoyed Japanese breakfast which consisted of fish, another kind of fish, some green beans, some more fish, some little hot dogs, some other type of steamed yam, some assorted fish cakes, and buttermilk blueberry waffles served with powdered sugar and vermont maple syrup. And yes, I made up the last part.
After breakfast we made our way to a couple of other shrines and places of note in the area. The first shrine was very cool in there were a ton of things to see and do. For 100 Yen you could purchase a bundle of incense, light them in a coal stove, and place them in front of the Buddhist god of your choice. Not this next part is pure speculation but Im guessing the series of statues all represented one facet of life and the statue of which you choose to place the incense would mean fortune in business, love, money, family, etc etc etc. Since I didnt know which statue was which I went with a gut feel...
This shrine was very user friendly and hands on. They hand a merry go round type attraction as well as a series of different large bells that could be ring and other various type of noise makers. The Kids loved it and Todd amused us all after ringing a huge bell with as much force as he could muster did a cartoonish vibrating type dance akin to a Tom and Jerry cartoon. I later rang the bell as well but passed on any attempts at humor as I didn't think I could trump Todd's comedic antics.
|Spring Water poured from the Turtles Mouth...some drank from it.|
Getting higher to the source of the spring I looked to the side to see the spring water running down and turning everything in its path to a sort of bronzish color due to the sulfur in the water. At the top of the hill we decided to go ahead and sit in the hot springs. The men and women going to their respective springs and me and my sons all dropping trow to sit the water. They didn't quite know what to think at first but later realized it was no different then a jacuzzi minus the chlorine. There is something about the refreshing and healing powers of a hot spring. Getting dressed I felt revitalized and once again basked in the moment as I was in central japan with my sons and our close friends taking part in a traditional hot springs soak.
We left the mountain and everyone but myself and the mother of our friends who was driving were napping as the car made its way down the mountain. Yeah....being a light sleeper has no relatively few benefits when traveling.
We made the train station that ran through Yamasaki just in time to catch our train back to Hayama.....and another 3 hours later we finally it made it back. Was a whirlwind couple of days. Very excited to keep on moving forward with plenty more adventures ahead.