Anyeong haseyo everyone! Or, more appropriately for this post, konichiwa! Carissa here. Although this has been almost a month in the making, this is our recap of our recent trip to Osaka and Kyoto, Japan. The ever-amazing Rebecca Hobbs has wonderfully narrated this adventure – I butt in with italics wherever I can cause the most mischief ;). But hey, I did the pictures and captions!
Our trip started with a delayed flight – no big deal, although we got into Japan too late to catch a train to the city. We had planned to spend the night in a capsule hotel, but had to sleep in the airport instead. It wasn’t comfortable. Really. At all. Although Becca did get flirted with by a guy from Taipei who offered her green tea kitkats around 4am… but I’ll let Becca tell the story now ;).
After spending a mostly sleepless night (at least for me) in the Kansai International Airport in Osaka, we took an early train to Kyoto. An hour and a half later we arrived and began our temple sightseeing.
Ready to go!
My favorite temple we visited was the Silver Pavilion. The temple itself is not as impressive as the Gold Pavilion, but its zen gardens were stunning. I had enjoyed the gardens and grounds at the other temples immensely – mountains and trees and ferns, still and quiet (all of which I have missed greatly while living in Seoul)- but the zen garden and the temple grounds here were even more beautiful than the others. Near the temple there were zen sand rakings and sculptures interspersed between vibrant flowers and plants. I had never seen a zen garden before, and the straight lines and cones of sand they had created there were unique and very Japan (at least in my mind :) ). A path led up a small hill, winding through lush, green forest with stunning flowers. I often caught my breath in wonder as I walked the dirt path, surrounded by vividly green trees and thick ferns, spotting unique flowers I had never seen. There were colorful hydrangeas in blue and purple, as well, and beautiful views of the temple and zen garden below. It was quiet and peaceful. The garden smelled of rich soil, lush vegetation, and clean air. It was beautiful. This temple and its gardens are certainly one of my favorite memories of my time in Kyoto.
The Golden Palace
Speaking of visiting temples, one thing I didn’t expect, but was happy to see, were the occasional people dressed in kimonos and men’s traditional Japanese clothing. At nearly every temple we saw one or two Japanese men or women dressed in traditional clothing. I am not sure why they were, but it was fun to see! It felt like such a cultural experience. It was also an experience trying to casually and secretly snap pictures of them because they looked so cool…
Or in my case, not-so-casually snapping pics. I may have accidentally stepped on someone getting this one. ~Carissa
After visiting many temples we walked along the Path of Philosophy towards our hostel. This path runs though a pleasant residential area with traditional houses with walled gardens on one side and a narrow canal on the other. Unfortunately, we could not muster a philosophical discussion while strolling along this path. We did enjoy the peaceful walk, however. :)
After we left the path, and were still making our way to our hostel, we discovered a magnificent temple gate just off of our path. It was massive. It had thick columns of dark wood and multiple gates, tall, imposing and six inches thick with wide strips of iron- all set in a forest with vivid and lush green trees. We were too late in the day to climb to the top, but we did snap a couple of good pictures.
Hey everyone – Carissa here. So let me briefly recap what our last 24-hours had looked like: red-eye flight into Osaka, minimal sleep on a shared airport bench, and a full day of temple-hopping with our luggage on our backs. It was fantastic. But… I wanted a shower. And we were lost.
Never fear! The Japanese people we interacted with were incredibly nice. Our taxi driver went to extra effort to translate our directions into Japanese and make sure to get us to the right hostel. After sleeping in the airport, a bed felt luxurious (to me)
After resting, we went out to the Gion district / downtown area. We walked along this narrow food-alley packed with restaurants and finally picked one. After removing our shoes, we were seated in our own private wooden booth, where we ordered a ten-course Japanese meal. Yep, TEN courses, all authentic. I’m not sure I can remember them all, but there was sushi (not bad!), sashimi (whole fish), different soups and noodles.
The next day we walked in the rain to a temple near our hostel. We wandered to one of the buildings in the temple area and saw people taking off their shoes, placing them in a bag, and walking down stairs underground. We thought we would check it out too. A man at the entrance asked us what language we spoke and then handed us a sign in English that explained that you could go underground and touch a gravestone of some important person, carrying out one wish. The sign warned us to constantly hold on to the handrail and that the only light would be on the tomb itself. Carissa and I both skimmed the information, not truly taking in the significance of what it said. We paid our 100 yen, took off our shoes, and descended; no big deal.
I have never been in such darkness. I could not see my own hand in front of my face, let alone Carissa in front of me. I shuffled slowly on the downward path that was taking me under the earth, then understanding the significance of the information on the sign we read- like don’t let go of the hand rail. After a few minutes I turned a corner and saw the gravestone. The lighting was eerie; it pooled around the gravestone alone, illuminating nothing else. I touched the stone (I am saving my one wish for something important ;) ), ascended stairs, and emerged into the blessed light. It was one of the fun, surprising, random things that happen on adventures and give real-life meaning to phrases like “as dark as a tomb”.
After our tomb-walk, we entered the actual temple. It is nestled up into a small mountain, surrounded with trees and ferns in vivid green. A large porch extends over a cliff. Inside the temple was art and furniture pieces of dark wood and gilded with gold. On the porch, there was a large iron pot, smoking with incense, as people gathered around and placed the incense sticks on top of the burning coals. Even though it saddens me to see all those people following a religion that will not save them, it was a surreal moment. In that moment it struck me that I was in Japan, at an ancient mountain temple, immersed in Asian culture. God is good to give me an opportunity to see His world and the unique people and places He created.
After visiting the temple, we walked back towards our hostel, stopping in shops along the way. The most interesting find: a Samurai sword ear pick (not purchased). We stopped at shop with beautiful fans, and I couldn’t resist buying one of them. One caught my eye right away. It had light colored wood, lovely white paper, with a subtle tree branch and blossom patter in white, and three red butterflies. Definitely a souvenir to remember Japan by. Carissa and I spent a good twenty minutes wandering around the shop, amidst such beautiful things, with the rain drizzling outside and two kind Japanese ladies from the shop occasionally showing us fans. We also stopped at a restaurant for lunch and had soup with green tea noodles (Kyoto is known for its green tea) (I had maccha [green tea] every chance I got – ice cream, noodles, tea, kitkats… :D :D) and an ice cream dessert with green tea ice cream, jello-like cubes, and rice cakes. The soup was my favorite.
In the afternoon we headed to the Shinto Shrine. The shrine is famous for the thousand or more orange gates with black accents on the base and top, and Chinese writing along each column, that line a pathway that climbs to the top of a mountain and back down to the temple. The gates were tall and for long stretches they sat one after another, only about 6 inches apart. We climbed step after step on the path, weaving our way up and down, through a beautiful forest vibrantly green and dripping with water from the heavy rain that fell minutes before. There were others climbing the path as well, but at times Carissa and I were the only ones walking through those gates, surrounded by a peaceful forest. It was wonderful, and both my soul and my imagination were refreshed.
Entrance to the Fushimi-Inari Shinto Shrine
1000 gates really means 1000 gates!
On the way down the path led us near a shop where a man was selling small replicas of the gate and would write on them in Chinese for you. Carissa and I each got one with our name and country written on one column, the date written on the other, and “hope” written on the top beam. It is a fantastic souvenir that will remind me both of the great time I had in Kyoto and to pray for the Japanese people.
The next day we took an early train back to Osaka. Our flight wasn’t until the evening so we decided to spend the morning and afternoon exploring a little bit of Osaka. Our first stop was Osaka Castle. It is a beautiful, Asian-style castle with at least 6 stories, surrounded by high walls and a moat.It was great! We walked along the moat for a short time, then walked over a bridge and wound our way up a path to the castle. There were beautiful views of the Osaka skyline from the castle grounds. There was a museum inside the castle, and the best part, for me, was trying on Samurai costumes. I tried on the tallest helmet; it had black spikes extending a foot and a half into the air. It was plastic, but it was heavy! Samurai warriors must have had strong neck muscles. Here’s a great picture of Carissa and I:
Rebecca, the fierce warrior!
So this guy had this hawk… and he let me hold it. It was pretty exciting :D
Castle selfie ;)
It’s a moat!
A castle, a moat, and the Osaka skyline
Chillin’ by the moat
After visiting the castle we ate some traditional Osaka street food- Tokoyaki which is a doughy ball with a flavorful sauce and a small bite of octopus inside (it was actually really good!) and a type of Japanese pancake with vegetables inside.
By the way – our takoyaki was ordered via a vending machine, from which we received a ticket to take to the food truck.
On our way to the subway, we walked through the beginnings of a music festival. Bands were starting to play, freestyle dancers were busting their moves and throngs of brightly-clad, cutsey, overly-stylized asian-stereotypical fans were gathering. A group of guys gathered around the girl band, while girls thronged at the boy band. Of course, everyone had synchronized dance moves. The majority of the crowd was under-30, but there was definitely a few 70-year-old grandpas pumping their fists.
Just look at his perfectly-coordinated shoelaces!
We then headed off to see the Universal Studies City Walk, Osaka. It was fun visiting the unique shops (like those with Spiderman ramen :D ). We also had some delicious nachos at the Hard Rock Cafe, where I saw the Thriller music video for the first time (I couldn’t believe how long it was! There were also some pretty cool, monster-dancing moves ).
Citywalk Hollywood holds great memories for me, so it was really fun to see Osaka. It’s very similar – they have King Kong, HardRock cafe, the CityWalk sign. The food choices are different, and there aren’t as many interesting shops to look at. But I definitely enjoyed it as a thing to see :D.
We arrived at the airport and another, although not as pleasant, adventure awaited us. We found out that our flight actually hadn’t been delayed like we thought (it was the error of a confusing e-mail from the airline) and had already left. After much prayer and time spent talking to people higher and higher up the chain of command, the airline changed our tickets to the next earliest flight back to Seoul. Unfortunately, that flight didn’t leave until 8:00am, and we were supposed to start teaching at 9:00am. Alas. We got our work covered and then spent the next few hours (it was already 11pm) hanging out at the 24-hour McDonald’s, playing gin rummy (which I won, although Carissa says it was just beginner’s luck. I have played the game before, however…. ) and ordering something new every 45 minutes (I discovered that the McDonald’s had a delicious dip for their chicken nuggets- basil and cream cheese. Yum! I wanted to order ten of the dips and bring that bag with me). We also discovered that we could get blankets from the information center, so around 1:00am we each found a padded row of chairs and slept for awhile. It was surprisingly comfortable, and I got a solid four hours of sleep; blankets for the win. We got on our plane without a hitch, leaving at 8:40am, and were back in Seoul and teaching by 12:55pm.
Now, I want to go back again! Japan was a fantastic place to visit. The people were very nice and polite, the food delicious, and the streets clean. I enjoyed being surrounded by nature even in a city, breathing in the smells of earth and plants, resting in the peace and quiet of the temple gardens and grounds. There was plenty of traditional Asian architecture to see and culture to experience, as well. Although the public transportation system is a little confusing and the taxis expensive, we still got where we needed relatively easily (by God’s grace). Overall, it was a great experience! (So great, in fact, that we are even looking into possibly going back to Japan in July.) This trip rekindled my taste for adventure and experiencing other cultures. I am looking forward to visiting more countries soon. Thank you, Lord, for the gift of visiting Japan and experiencing Your provision and blessings!