April 2nd, 2014

zen garden

Kyoto -

This is the first moment where I've found a pause to check in.  It is Thursday morning in Japan, April 3rd.  We left on Monday, March 24th, and arrived Tuesday, March 25.

Japan, the size of CA, is an archipelago with 6,852 islands.  Japan has a population of 126 million people, most of it concentrated together, as much of the land is uninhabitable. The fifty states of the U.S. have about 309 million people. I'm not sure how accurate the population figures are but they give a sense of why at times I feel I've never seen so many people gathered together whether it is at a train station or on the streets.  That said, all is clean. Trains arrive on time, and all moves in a way I've never seen before.  Toto toilets are common here with heated seats and a bidet function.  I even used one in a port-a-potty in a small village.  I've wanted to share each day, but am only now coming to a pause to consider how to share my experience here.  Perhaps haiku would make sense but for now, I will mainly list what we've been doing and receiving.

I left off when we were leaving for Kyoto on the Shinkansen, which has maximum speeds of 150 to 200 miles an hour.  It is something to stand on a platform and see one, barely see one, speeding by.  Despite the speed, it has a friendly look with the nose of a dolphin.

We have without planning managed to perfectly time the beginning and peak of cherry blossom season which varies each year and is of profound importance as a sign of renewal and new beginnings.  April 1st is not April Fool's Day in Japan but instead is a day of change. It marks the beginning of the government's fiscal year.  This year taxes on purchases were raised on April 1st, so we witnessed a mad rush of purchasing, or perhaps it is always that way. A shopper I am not, so I can't comment on what is usual here.

Kyoto, like Tokyo, was alive with blossoms, and the sunlight just right. I was reminded of the last words of James Wright poem, "A Blessing":

Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

There are thousands of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines in Kyoto. We explored four of the thousands of possibilities.  I'm going to give links to the four we visited because I don't know how to share how I experienced these places.  I don't have the lifetimes.

Though I believe "less is more", there is no way I could have chosen one of these places to miss.

I come now to this haiku of Matuso Basho (1644-1694),

Even in Kyoto -
hearing the cuckoo's cry -
I long for Kyoto.

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Little Kyoto - Takayama -

We journey on the train to Takayama in the Japanese Alps where we are met by a guide and given a tour of the "old town". I feel we have found Shangri-La.  It is exquisite.  Denver is its sister city.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Takayama,_Gifu

Here, I fall into the peace of Japan, the gardens, water, and form. It is a purifying place.  We spend the night, enjoying a traditional Japanese dinner and breakfast.  There are many courses of food, all beautifully displayed.  We are given Japanese robes to wear.  I am in a different time, mood, place. In the morning, I sit with the windows open. listen to the rain, and write haiku.

The next day we are given a tour of a sake factory, which is right off the street and more like someone's home.  It is small.  We warm by a wood fire as rain has come and it is cold and wet. We are given our sake tasting cups to bring home. The Farmer's Market is small this Saturday because of the rain.  We move quickly along like the river that has gone from calm to rushing. We visit here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Takayama_Jinya

We enjoy udon noodles each day for lunch, and have coffee in a family coffee house.  Starbucks is encroaching in Japan, and the small family coffeehouses are struggling to survive though this place is full and communal. The art of one of the daughters is displayed on the walls.

We travel on a bus to a mountain village, Shirakawago, and see thatched roofs that currently cost $220,000 each to repair. That is one reason it is a UNESCO site.  It allows the old ways to be preserved.  We learn how these homes knew how to be built in a way to honor the earthquakes that are common here. The structures move with the movement of the earth. There are four homes we can visit.  We choose the oldest, feel again what it would be like to live here in different times.  The gods feel alive here, Shinto gods, nature gods, wind, fire, water, earth air. Bliss.  We also recognize that our area has become this kind of tourist area.  Perhaps, one day, we will invite people into our home to see "traditional ways".

We journey back to Nagoya by train on Sunday night.

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Continuing to journey in Japan -

This morning is the first time I've had alone outside without a guide.  I walk outside in Nagoya, look up at buildings and cranes, sit by a fountain, watch a child feed a few pigeons.

On Tuesday, we went to Osaka, to an R and D facility for Mitsubishi.  We met with men who do very specific research work.  I listened to formulas, questions and solutions, again impressed with the integrity in producing so much of what I take for granted.  I see my car with new  eyes.  I see transport up and down and all around with new eyes and appreciation.

We went up in the now world's tallest skyscraper in Japan at 300 meters, and enjoyed the observation deck.


We strolled the longest shopping street, or maybe strolled isn't the right word.  This is a busy place.  We walked rapidly to a wonderful place to dine.   Then "home" again to Nagoya for a busy next day. We eat breakfast at 7, so it's rarely possible to get eight hours sleep by the time we get to the room each night.

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