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
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.
In Kyoto, we saw Nijo Castle, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, the Kitano Tenmangu shrine, and Sanjusangen-do.
Nijo Castle: http://www.city.kyoto.jp/bunshi/nijojo/english/chishiki/index.html
The Temple of the Golden Pavilion: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinkaku-ji
The Kitano Tenmangu Shrine: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3939.html
I don't have words to describe what it is to see 1000 life-size statues of the Thousand Armed Kannon standing on both sides of the statue of Buddha.
Certainly we saw more than enough and I was disappointed to miss this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ryōan-ji.
I would also have appreciated more time to just walk around and absorb, but a schedule has been lovingly and thoughtfully arranged for us, and to that schedule, we keep. We were slightly fatigued when we boarded our train to return to Nagoya for the night.