Japan

by Keith Stanley
(copyright 2005)

   The flight from Chicago to Nagoya was about 13 hours, daylight the entire way, leaving Chicago about 1 PM and arriving Nagoya about 4 PM, making for a long day, especially as I still had to take the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) from downtown Nagoya to Tokyo that same evening.  The flight, though, on my $600 ticket was pleasant, the more so for my having been "bumped-up" to business class.  About halfway through the flight, I awoke to find we were passing over the mountains and glaciers of Alaska (or Northern Canada?):
IMG_0690 mountains from airplane window (good).jpg (67962 bytes) Img_0693 glacier from airplane window (good).jpg (55826 bytes)
Mountains from plane window Glacier
     Arriving at the new airport in Nagoya, my first stop was the men's room, where I found (some of the) stalls were not quite what I was used to (very clean though!):
IMG_0695 toilet asia.jpg (26054 bytes)
     The next afternoon, I began my sightseeing Tokyo, stopping briefly by the Imperial Palace grounds (where I saw very little), then walking on to the Tokyo International Forum, then to the Ginza area for the evening:
Img_0700 buildings reflected in moat (good).jpg (45582 bytes) Img_0701 tokyo international forum (TIF), exterior (good).jpg (55781 bytes) IMG_0703 ship's ribs, wider view (ok).jpg (67834 bytes)
Buildings reflected in moat Tokyo International Forum ('TIF') TIF, ships ribs
Img_0706 tic ship, glass building, widest view (ok).jpg (59953 bytes) Img_0709 tic atrium, reverse angle (ok).jpg (67263 bytes) Img_0707 looking down on department store crowd (ok).jpg (68021 bytes)
Widest view Another angle Department store crowd
at the TIF complex
Img_0710 dior, ginza's harumi-dori (ok).jpg (41451 bytes) IMG_0715 on harumi-dori, with people (ok).jpg (48666 bytes) Img_0716 close-up, posters on harumi-dori (ok).jpg (55665 bytes)
Ginza (on Harumi-dori) Ginza Poster close-up
     From Ginza, I headed over to Shinjuku, taking the JR (Japan Rail) Yamanote Line (which forms a ring around central Tokyo).  Shinjuku is more youth-oriented and a happening place at night:
IMG_0721 shinjuku (ok).jpg (73815 bytes) Img_0731 shinjuku mcdonald's, girls walking, crop (ok).jpg (91704 bytes) Img_0732 shinjuku, mcdonald's, boys laughing (ok).jpg (86645 bytes)
Shinjuku Shinjuku McDonald's,
girls walking
Shinjuku McDonald's,
guys laughing
     The the next morning, I took the JR Yamanote Line from my Ikebukuro neighborhood to the Ueno neighborhood, where large Ueno Park is adjacent to the station and the home of some major museums.  In and around the station are places to eat, shop and hang-out (even a Starbucks).  
Img_0739 at ueno station (good).jpg (79241 bytes) Img_0742 ueno station (ok).jpg (68931 bytes) Img_0748  walking under trees (ok).jpg (103456 bytes)
Ueno Station Ueno Station Ueno Park
IMG_0758 copper lanterns foreground.jpg (52644 bytes) Img_0766 shops under the the rails w crosswalk (ok).jpg (78261 bytes) Img_0765 japanese billboards (ok).jpg (85878 bytes)
Copper lanterns,
Ueno park
Shop under Ueno Station Japanese billboard
     Another morning I set out early for the area on the west side of Shinjuku station, a district of impressive, Western-style, high-rise office buildings.  Even though it was 7 AM on a weekday morning and the sun had already been up for a couple of hours, the area was virtually devoid of human activity--desolate.  Among the buildings I saw were two designed by well-known architect Tange Kenzo (the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building and the Park Hyatt Hotel where the movie "Lost in Translation" was filmed):
IMG_0768 tange kenso's tokyo metropolitan gov bldg (ok).jpg (111438 bytes) Img_0771 view from tange kenzo's park hyatt toward TMGB.jpg (38615 bytes)
Tange Kenso's (architect)
Tokyo Metropolitan Government
Building
View from Park Hyatt
(the "Lost in Translation" hotel)
toward Metro Government Building
     On leaving the Park Hyatt and walking back toward Shinjuku station around 9 AM, the sidewalks were packed with Japanese businessmen, wearing dark suits, flooding out of the station toward the business district.  I would say the masses were 'swarming,' but for the fact that they actually were rather orderly.  I noticed that virtually everyone waited for the walk sign to light before crossing the street, even when no traffic was coming.  

     Needless to say, Shinjuku station was packed, but I was able to work my way into a position near where one of the carriage doors on the next train into the station would be opening (trains were arriving/departing every couple minutes).  When the train arrived, doors opening, guys were bouncing/jostling out of the car (exiting) in a steady stream of fits and starts, like sardine pinball billiards powered by compressed gas.  Once they were out, we flooded into the car, which, to accommodate the rush hour crowds, had no seating.  Everyone would stand, packed tight.  I considered myself fortunate, as one of the first to board, that I could stand by one of the windows on the far side of the car, able to see the passing scenery on a beautiful morning.  I held my briefcase between my legs until there was room to set it in front of me on the window ledge.  

     By the time we got halfway around the loop toward Ueno (again on the Yamanote line), the car was mostly empty and passengers were sitting (apparently the seats had been folded up against the wall during the crowded part of the loop?).   

IMG_0778 car interior (good).jpg (71359 bytes) Img_0772 view from train JR Yamanote line.jpg (60600 bytes) Img_0786 station platfrom ueno (ok).jpg (83474 bytes)
JR car interior JR Yamanote Line, as seen
through the engineer's cab
Ueno Station platform
     At Ueno station, I got the Ginza Line (subway) to Asakusa to pick up the Tobu Nikko train to Nikko.  The Tobu Nikko station was under the Matsuya department store, where I bought a bento box lunch in the basement.  Nikko, a smallish town about an hour and a half from Tokyo, is the home of the World Heritage-listed shrine complex of TÇshÇ-gă.  The weather was partly sunny when I left Tokyo, but by the time I arrived in Nikko, heavily overcast . . . but, what can you do?
Img_0792 begin shin-kyo bridge, nikko (ok).jpg (82079 bytes) Img_0811 5-tier pagoda.jpg (51758 bytes) IMG_0814 complex.jpg (56980 bytes)
Shin-kyo bridge, Nikko 5-tier pagoda at Nikko's
Tosho-gu
Tosho-gu complex
Img_0821 statue, seated archer (ok).jpg (38524 bytes) Img_0825 roof detail (ok).jpg (55542 bytes) Img_0829 detail at taiyuin-byo (ok).jpg (75291 bytes)
seated archer Roof detail Detail at Taiyuin-byo
     The next afternoon, I happened to be in the vicinity of the Ginza Kabuki theater, as it was nearing time for the late afternoon show to begin.  This would be a 3-hour performance, but, for the benefit of tourists or others who don't want to commit to 3 hours, it is possible to buy a ticket for a single act.  I decided to buy a ticket to the first act, which would last about an hour and ten minutes, standing room only.  It was warm in the theater and I was tired.  The usual elements of Kabuki were present--the white painted faces, the voices, the instruments (especially that distinctive-sounding stringed instrument that would be struck irregularly) and the shouting out from audience ‘shills.’

     Of course, the language of the performance was Japanese, and I didn’t understand a word of it.  There was almost no action.  Virtually all my interest in the performance was gone after 10 or 15 minutes.  I considered leaving early but resolved to tough it out for the next hour, so as not to lose face with or disturb the Japanese audience around me.  Yet I was tired standing, shifting around, leaning on the rail or the back wall in one posture or another.  I found it very difficult to stay awake.  In fact, I nearly fell asleep on my feet twice, once awaking just as my knees started to buckle (and catching myself) but imagining how embarrassing it would be as an ‘uncultured gaijin’ to pass out on the floor from sleep in the middle of a Japanese national treasure.  Finally I got up the nerve to simply walk out, others think what they would.

IMG_0839 entrance ginza kabuki theatre.jpg (89830 bytes)
Entrance Ginza Kabuki theater
     After walking out, I stopped at an inviting looking coffee bar for an exotic smoothie (Y490), which turned out icy.  Good tables with views were available, but I was self-conscious and soon driven out by the faint but unsalutary smell of reified cigarette smoke that pervaded the place, seeping up from the smoking room in the basement.  I finished my ‘smoothie’ on the street then began my odyssey of finding a place to dispose of my empty cup. 

     There are no trash cans on Tokyo streets, nor in the railway & subway stations (yet the streets and stations are generally unlittered . . . I guess the Japanese ‘pack it out’).  Be that as it may, I had no desire to put a dirty smoothie cup in my briefcase.  I recalled that it generally is easy to find public toilets in the train stations (where there are wastebaskets).  So, even though I had no other reason to want to go down into the subway on a lovely May evening, I did.  In my tiredness or whatnot, I found no restroom.  In frustration, I nearly came to the point of abandoning my cup between planters, but I just couldn’t do it--if the Japanese can be neat, dammit, so can I! 

     Finally I considered that all the restrooms I’d seen in stations were perhaps only to be found once having purchased a ticket and passing through the turnstiles.  I asked the station attendant who was manning the turnstiles if there might be a place I could dispose of my cup, waving my cup for him to see.  He said "no" simply, if not curtly, and I wondered if he understood my question.  A restroom I asked, a ‘toilet’ (surely that he would understand, and every station has a toilet).  "No," he said. Could he really have understood?  I kept my eyes intensely on his face, annoyed with his attitude and asked, "what, no toilet?"  No! "None at all?"  No!  I came very close to raising my voice in outraged anger but instead simply walked away, thus, as I understand it, not losing 'face.'  Shortly thereafter, I found an appropriate place to dispose of the cup (I don't remember where . . . maybe a McDonald's).  

      The next day, I was back in Asakusa to see the Senso-ji (also known as Asakusa Kannon), the most venerable of Tokyo's Buddhist temples.  

Img_0842 students in uniform nr asakusa kannon.jpg (64300 bytes) Img_0844 the shopping crowds on the shopping approach.jpg (74049 bytes) Img_0845  shopping crowds, four girls waiting.jpg (50595 bytes)
Student's gathered in front of
Asakusa Kannon shop district
Shopping crowds
on the way to Senso-ji
Shopping crowd, four girls waiting
Img_0846 a proprietor with his wares (ok).jpg (83490 bytes) Img_0847 fans.jpg (73705 bytes) Img_0852 senso-ji background, two older women (ok).jpg (48884 bytes)
A proprietor with his wares fans Two older women exit Senso-ji
Img_0854 entrance arch from senso-ji.jpg (64888 bytes) Img_0855 5-tiered pagoda.jpg (35532 bytes) Img_0856 messages left.jpg (45699 bytes)
Entrance arch seen from Senso-ji 5-tiered pagoda Messages of probable
spiritual import
Img_0835 asakusa arcade entrance, night (good).jpg (48552 bytes)
Asakusa arcade entrance, night
     I should say something about my lodging in Tokyo.  I stayed at the Kimi Ryokan, near the Ikebukuro station (JR Yamanote Line).  Arriving at the Kimi, I checked shoes in the rack by the entrance and signed in as a guest (in room 305).  I would say the Kimi is somewhat of a cross between a traditional, Japanese ryokan (lodging) and a youth hostel . . . very reasonably priced at Y4500 (about $45) a night, but somewhat lacking in amenities.  My room was very poorly lit--dark & gloomy, even on sunny day.  The showers and the bathrooms were communal.  There was no rack for hanging clothes or towels in the room, nor were there any drawers, just 3 wall hooks . . . no wastebasket.  The room did, however, have genuine tatami matting on the floor, which I found very nice--as warm as carpeting and as padded, in fact, nicer in it’s firmness, and more elegant. There was some framed calligraphy on the wall, but it was really bad . . . maybe so nobody would be tempted to steal it.  There was one sliding window shade made with rice paper.  

I had expected the staff here to be very friendly and helpful with all the ins and outs of Tokyo and otherwise, maybe even to spend time hanging out with guests in the lounge or something . . . none of this was the case.  On the other hand, on my first night, after taking my shower, relaxing in my yakata, I found the most convivial group of fellow travelers in the lounge.  There was the woman from Macedonia (earthy and reminding my of a mature hippie flowergirl, free with her opinions, positive, enjoying the company), her husband from Germany, and their young son (who speaks Dutch, as they now live in Holland).  There were the four ‘youth’ in the UNESCO? student program, studying abroad in Japan . . . also very friendly and convivial . . . two of the girls were from Indonesia (Jakarta), one guy was from India and the other from the Philippines.  I found I could relate well with each, comfortable and relaxed and knowing something about each of their cultures.  It turned out it was the last night in town for each of them, so we said our farewells at the end of the evening.  Back in my room, I found I had to guard against my 'worldly wise ways' going to my head.

Img_0862 approaching kimi, radio building.jpg (41557 bytes) Img_0737 kimi ryokan, my room, wall.jpg (43035 bytes)
The 'radio building'
near Kimi Ryokan
The most presentable wall in my
room at Kimi Ryokan (note bedding
on floor in lower right corner)
     KyotoI took a cab from Kyoto station to east Kyoto, where I was staying at a small, family-run, Japanese-style inn with only 4 guest rooms (Kiyomizu Sanso).  I was genuinely relieved and delighted to see the beautiful, traditional-style wooden housing and shops along the narrow, one lane, stone-paved lane, Sannan-zaka, as we approached my lodging.  The inn was just a short 20 meter passageway off of Sannen-zaka!

     My hostess met me at the door.  She is a genuinely gracious and friendly person, who, with limited English, made me feel warmly welcome.  She is truly well-suited to being a hostess and does a lot of good in the world!

     The inn and my room are quaint and beautiful, as befits a lodging in this neighborhood.  All  of the finishings in my room are of warm, natural materials.  A good-sized window with a sliding rice paper screen in a wooden frame looks out on a secluded driveway.  The ceiling is covered in natural, light-grained wood ceiling panels with darker wooden cross supports, tatami mats cover the floor, and the walls have a natural, sand-grained finish.  There is one low table with seating pads (no chairs).  In one corner there is a built-in stand/table, under which luggage can be placed.  The bedding is rolled-up (folded) in the closet, to be taken out only for evening use.  Guests were expected to make up their own beds, when the time came.

     Outside the room’s sliding, rice-paper screens, there is a regular sliding glass window that can be opened for fresh air. The room also has A/C if needed (it won’t be on this trip) and superb lighting–abundant lighting is available, if one wishes, from the circular florescent tubing, partially shrouded in a paper lantern–really rather overpowering.  I generally preferred to use, instead, only the fixture’s one dim incandescent bulb (about one candle power) for a nice natural effect.

     The seating takes me some getting used to–it can be a little hard on my back. What I’ve found works pretty well for me as I’m typing this journal (on my laptop) is sitting on one folded-in-half floor pad, leaning my back up against the low stand built in to the wall, using another pad to shield my back from its hard edge.

     A full Japanese-style breakfast was served by my hostess in my room.  It always included a pot of tea, miso soup, and a small crock of rice.  Along with this there would be small portions of 8 or 10 other food items, served in a bento box . . . really neat . . . quite elegant . . . nicely presented.  I would really enjoyed this and marvel at all this being part of my lodging contract at Y6000 a night.   

     As far as I could tell, Kiyomizu Sanso was run entirely by our hostess.  Being as our rooms were inside her abode (as in a bed-and-breakfast), she would coordinate with her guests when she wanted to do errands during the middle part of the day, as she needed everyone out during this period when she would lock up.  Guests did not have a key to the outside door.

[Btw, though my rooms sliding entry door can be latched from the inside at night, my hostess told me there was no key to lock the door from the outside, requesting that I take care to secure my valuables as I see fit.  I know theft is rare in Japan, but still, not knowing my fellow-guests, etc., I would have felt better having a key to my room. There seemed to be a keyhole on the outside of the latch, so I wondered why no key was provided.  Was it lost?  Was it considered unnecessary?  Was it only my room that has no key or are all guests rooms the same?  I never found out.]

     After getting my stuff settled in my room, I set out to explore the delightful Sannan-zaka with my camera and the day’s last couple hours of light.  I didn’t go far, fearing I might get lost, as I’d not brought the map the proprietress had provided (though getting lost in the fading light might have been possible even with that map).  I stumbled onto the Kiyomizu-dera (temple/shrine?) as I wandered–it was just closing for the day–it would be my first stop the next morning.  In the other direction, I passed a silhouetted pagoda on the way to the busy Higashioji-dori (an avenue), where I bought a sashimi package at convenience store for my evening meal.

Img_0865 kiyomiso sanso, my inn lodging, exterior.jpg (34834 bytes) Img_0978 kiyomiso sanso w breakfast on table.jpg (51640 bytes) Img_1063 neighborhood pagoda, bw.jpg (39482 bytes)
Kiyomizu-sanso entrance My room at Kiyomizu-sanso
with breakfast on table
Neighborhood pagoda
Img_0871 s-z stairway up.jpg (83509 bytes) Img_0872 a place to eat.jpg (57128 bytes) Img_0875 stairway down.jpg (80474 bytes)
Sannen-saka stairway up A place to eat Stairway down
IMG_0879 sannen-zaka stollers.jpg (64787 bytes) Img_0882 a passage.jpg (72241 bytes) Img_0883 roofing 'gargoyle' (ok).jpg (61999 bytes)
Strollers on Sannen-zaka A passageway Roofing 'gargoyle'
     My first morning in Kyoto, I set off to explore Kiyomizu-dera, the Buddhist temple and shrine just up the hill on Sannan-zaka from where I was staying.  During the Spring, many students come to see the shrine on school trips.
IMG_0891students in uniform walking to kiyomiso-dera.jpg (50299 bytes) Img_0894 at kiyomiso dera.jpg (46015 bytes) IMG_0897 hitting the gong vessel.jpg (42476 bytes)
Student's walking to
Kiyomizu-dera
In the vicinity of Kiyomizu-dera Striking the resonant vessel
Img_0903 students pictured.jpg (61078 bytes) Img_0908 students reach to drink falling water (ok).jpg (78504 bytes) Img_1068 kiyomiso-dera.jpg (80023 bytes)
Students posing Student's leaning to reach
the mystic falling water
Kiyomizu-dera
At Kodai-gi temple:
Img_0910 at kodai-gi.jpg (42443 bytes) Img_0915 worn woodwork.jpg (62971 bytes) Img_0918 shrine detail (ok).jpg (43526 bytes)
At Kodai-gi temple Worn woodwork Shrine detail
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Sparse traditional interior Interior three students pose
Img_0927 two students (ok).jpg (65071 bytes) Img_0928 keith and two students (ok).jpg (64420 bytes)
two students Keith with two students
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Graveyard at [unknown] shrine  A statue in a park
     Ginkaku-ji was my favorite of all the shrines and temples for its beautiful and mindfullness inspiring landscape–the ridged sculpture with truncated cone to aid in the appreciation of moon viewing, Japanese gardens, tended wooded hillside paths ways, special moss. I met again (chancing to take another picture before realizing) some of the same students pictured earlier. Their teacher pointed out, to my surprised memory, that we’d met earlier . . . I shook his hand in hearty greeting . . . he and his students liked that, with gusto.
Img_0938 ginkaku-gi truncated cone (ok).jpg (55830 bytes) Img_0940 reflections.jpg (59301 bytes) Img_0944 moon viewing sculpture, hills.jpg (81374 bytes)
At Ginkaku-ji, a truncated cone reflections A sculpture to aid in the viewing
of the moon
Img_0945 view to an interior.jpg (56612 bytes) IMG_0947 moon view stark ridges (ok).jpg (79977 bytes) Img_0949 VIP moss (ok).jpg (92483 bytes)
A view to an interior 'Moon view' stark ridges VIP moss
Img_0952 moss and a stump.jpg (72517 bytes) Img_0950 a worker tends the hillside (ok).jpg (65829 bytes) Img_0958 a student group (good).jpg (73143 bytes)
Moss and a stump A worker tends the hillside A student group on the
Ginkaku-ji grounds
     Gion:  Gion is the section of Kyoto associated with geisha and exclusive evening teahouses.  These things do still exist, though, I think it's relatively rarely that one spots geisha out on the street, so, I count myself fortunate to make a geisha sighting.  The three women you see walked in a line on their high wooden sandals taking little steps in unison, accompanied by a female 'handler.'  They seemed not to take note of their surroundings, maintaining composure, despite any possible indignities associated with the public street and bright sunlight.
IMG_0965 geisha in the sun (good).jpg (49234 bytes) Img_0971 gion evening place to eat.jpg (53789 bytes)
Gion Geisha Gion teahouse, evening
Img_0966 shop display food.jpg (41367 bytes) Img_0961 interior retail way, gion (good).jpg (48959 bytes) Img_0962 starbucks.jpg (78571 bytes)
Shop display, food Interior retail way, Gion Gion Starbuck's
At Kinkaku-ji (not to be confused with Ginkaku-ji):
Img_0981 kinkaku-ji (ok).jpg (65962 bytes) Img_0985 kinkaku-ji (good).jpg (66150 bytes) Img_0984 kinkaku-ji, shimmering water under eaves.jpg (29125 bytes)
Kinkaku-ji Kinkaku-ji Shimmering water under eaves
Ryoan-ji's famous 'dry garden' (Zen rock garden):
Img_1016 ryoan-ji dry garden.jpg (87604 bytes) IMG_1023 zen contemplation at ryoan-ji (ok).jpg (77119 bytes) Img_1017 ryoan-ji, people.jpg (59998 bytes)
Ryoan-ji, 'dry garden' Zen contemplation at Ryoan-ji Ryoan-ji people
     Kyoto has a marvelous new JR train station complex near the center of town which probably should not be missed by those enjoying 21st century shopping and amenities in Japan:
Img_1033 station exterior (good).jpg (67589 bytes) Img_1039 double loop (good).jpg (70076 bytes) IMG_1040 railyard below.jpg (88584 bytes)
Kyoto JR station exterior Double-loop at Kyoto station Rail yard below
Img_1047 city skyline, hazy peak.jpg (60005 bytes) Img_1048 girls on ledge (ok).jpg (57153 bytes) Img_1049 iced coffee sky restaurant (ok).jpg (69347 bytes)
Kyoto skyline with hazy peak
as seen from train station complex
Girls on ledge Iced-coffee at sky restaurant
Scenes from a Kyoto covered street arcade:
IMG_1079 stairway and screen (good).jpg (65227 bytes) Img_1082 food (ok).jpg (100747 bytes)
Stairway and screen
in arcade
Food
Img_1075 making mini hotcakes (good).jpg (58838 bytes) Img_1076 making mini-hotcakes (ok), two girls.jpg (57678 bytes)
Making mini-hotcakes Two girls watch
Miscellaneous scenes around Kyoto:
Img_1056 looking out from teahouse to garden (ok).jpg (37480 bytes) Img_1011 nijo-jo grounds with cityscape background (ok).jpg (72327 bytes) IMG_1002 garden outside ninomaru (ok).jpg (73392 bytes)
Two girls look out from
teahouse toward garden
at Murin-an
Nijo-jo grounds,
cityscape background
Garden outside Ninomaru palace
Img_1064 tree in woods on temple grounds (ok).jpg (75512 bytes) IMG_1093 yasaka-jinja entrance.jpg (64436 bytes) Img_0990 breakfast at chitose inn.jpg (57168 bytes)
Tree in woods on temple ground Yasaka-jinja Breakfast at Chitose Inn
Img_1070 electrical transformer, bw (good).jpg (52570 bytes) Img_1083 pigeon (ok).jpg (49863 bytes) Img_1084 pigeon fluffing.jpg (66598 bytes)
Electrical transformer Pigeon Pigeon fluffing

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