Day 16

Today was a very relaxed day at home. After sleeping very late, I woke up and eventually, around 3, went to go help teach another english class. This time I was to give the classes my impression of Japan in various categories such as food, transportation, the cities I visited, etc. I really enjoy talking to these students and I think they like when I come in, too. It’s definitely a different kind of experience. After the english class, it was time to go to Osaka for our farewell party with George’s colleagues, and some of his favorite students, who I also became friends with. It was a bittersweet dinner, and my time in Japan has been amazing and life changing. I definitely gained a lot of independence. Tomorrow we go to Nagoya to spend the night in a hotel right next to the airport and I get up the next day to fly back to Detroit. I sure have missed America (and being able to read the menu’s in restaurants). One more day left.

-Loren

Day 15

Today we woke up in our Ryokan and, after breakfast, walked to the ropeway (gondola) that takes you up Mount Misen.

The ride up consisted of two different ropeways and was very scenic.

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After getting to the top of the last ropeway, there was a 2 kilometer hike to the absolute summit of Mount Misen. It was extremely steep near the end and slippery because it was raining. I ran most of the way and it was definitely a good workout. The view from the top was breathtaking. The mountain was not crowded at all, and just sitting at the top alone in the rain taking in nature was one of my favorite experiences of the trip. A perfect place to ponder life’s hardest questions.

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I really enjoyed this mountain, simply because of the peace and quiet and the view. It was the best combination imaginable. I would live here.

The hard part was hiking down the entire mountain (or rather, sprinting the whole way as I did). We didn’t take any ropeways on the way down so we had a lot of ground to cover. I went ahead on a full-on run/parkouring down slippery stairs (I’m lucky to not have fallen) and the run down was even better. Once again, alone, running next to waterfalls and a nice view.

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When I reached the bottom, my legs felt like jello and didn’t work properly. Luckily, there was a nice temple awaiting me.

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After some more walking, I was back in town and managed to catch a glimpse of the world’s largest wooden spoon. Not sure why this is a thing, but it is. It weighs 2 tons.

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After eating lunch on Miyajima, we took the Shinkansen back to Mukogawa (home).

The combination of Hiroshima and then Miyajima were by far my two favorite days of my trip. Both were breathtaking in their own ways.

-Loren

Day 14

Today we traveled to Hiroshima. This was one of the places I was most excited about, simply because of its past. It’s incredible to think I was standing in the spot that a few decades ago was destroyed by a massive atomic explosion. It was a very solemn experience indeed. After we arrived, we took the streetcar to the Dome, the famous building that partially withstood the massive explosion. It was awe inspiring to be standing next to it, in real life.

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Many efforts have been made to make sure this building continues to stand strongly today. It is necessary for this to remain as a monument to peace and to show the horrible outcomes that only result with war, especially nuclear war.

Near the dome were some monuments centered around cranes, Hiroshima’s well known symbol for peace. There are thousands of paper cranes that people hang on this monument,

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There is also an eternal burning flame in memory of the ones who died.

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After seeing the monuments, we went to the museum that explains the bombing and the aftermath. It was incredibly interesting, and extremely gruesome in some parts. It even showed pictures of individuals with skin that was literally melted, draping off of their bones as they were still alive. A very good testament to eliminate atomic bombs for good, indeed.

After our sight seeing was finished in Hiroshima, we took the streetcar to the ferry, and took a short boat ride to Miyajima. This is a small island just off the coast of Hiroshima. It is largely mountainous, with a small village at the base. It has a famous Torii Gate that is in the water, and when the tide is high it looks as if it is floating. This island was incredible to say the least.

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The famous Torii gate is visible in the distance.

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There are deer that roam the island, and are very friendly. You can approach them and pet them and play with them, and they roam free without any care. They are technically wild, but very domesticated and kind. One deer in particular wanted to come into the hotel. Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t tall enough to activate the automatic door sensor. He stood there for a few hours just watching through the door quietly.

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After dinner, I walked around alone to take in the ocean view. It was very nice. I walked down to the Torii gate to see if I could find any crabs on the beach.

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I went back to the Ryokan to go to bed.

One of my favorite destinations so far.

-Loren

Day 13

Today was our last day in Kyoto, and was filled with a trip to the Toei Kyoto Studio Park, which is a Disney-like park with fun things to do and tours around Samurai and Ninja film sites, where famous Japanese Ninja movies were filmed. Many of the attractions were aimed at a younger crowd, but it was still fun to partake. I have never seen any of the Japanese movies the park is based on, so it was a totally new experience to me, and a very interesting one at that.

After the park, we ate lunch at the Kyoto train station. I had a Kobe beef hamburger, which was coincidentally the best burger I’ve ever had. It was amazing. Probably thanks to the Kobe beef, from Japan. They have some amazingly tasty cows here.

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After lunch we took the train to Mukogawa. It was good to be home, if only for a short time. It was a rather short day, with not much to tell. A nice change from the busy days.

-Loren

Day 12

Today we visited the Kyomizu-dera Temple in Kyoto. It is the most popular and well known temple in Kyoto, and was extremely crowded, filled with thousands of school children and tourists. It is situated atop a hill at the base of a mountain, and is one of the most scenic locations for a temple I’ve seen.

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Unfortunately, a large portion of this temple was also under construction.

Next, we visited Kyoto Gosho, a shrine with beautiful combinations of ponds, hills, and gold plastered buildings. It was a place with some serious eye candy, with the potential to blind it was so bright.

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At this same place, we went to a zen garden, comprised of large, mossy boulders, sticking out of raked pebbles. Sitting here and contemplating this scene is said to help achieve enlightenment and wiseness. It didn’t work for me.

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For dinner, we got dressed up and went to a reception for the ACP. The food was free, and all you can eat, so I was content.

-Loren

Day 11

Today we went to the Heian Shrine, wich was under construction, but had a beautiful, gigantic garden that was untouched. It had multiple Lotus Flower ponds, banzai trees, and flowers of all sorts.

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There were even stepping stones leading over the pond, of course, not without a warning sign. This pathway would not be for individuals tending to be clumsy.

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I saw a massive turtle (It was much bigger than the picture depicts) that looked like a statue, until it finally moved.

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In the ponds, there were massive Carp (Also known as Koi fish) that are in all the stereotypical Japanese Koi ponds. For 100 Yen there was food available to give them, which I happily paid for.

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After the gardens, we went to the Kyoto crafts museum which showed how many traditional Japanese things were made 100’s of years ago. (No pictures allowed here)

After the museum, we set off to Nijo Castle, which is famous for it’s specially made floors that creak with the slightest movement to warn inhabitants at night if someone unwanted was approaching to attack. The floors still work as they were intended 100’s of years ago and make plenty of creaking and squeaking.

The beautiful gilded entrance to the castle.

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The castle was huge, and housed samurai long ago. There are paintings on the walls and many rooms all lain with tatami mat.

We then ate lunch at Mosburger, a slightly-nicer-than-McDonalds burger restaurant, with a weird Japanese twist to the menu (for example, shrimp burger).

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It was actually quite good. I got a regular cheeseburger with sauteed onions.

I also walked around the outer wall of the current Emperors second castle (He needs multiple castles, of course). It was a very long walk, as the complex is massive.

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For dinner, we ate at a Japanese doctor’s house, where his family proceeded to prepare an 8 course meal. It was delicious.

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I also played a Japanese card game with their two daughters. It was a very fun night of a very fun (and tiring) day.

-Loren

Day 10

Today we traveled to Kyoto, where we would stay in a traditional Japanese Ryokan. This is a type of hotel that is very small (ours was 10 rooms), serves traditional Japanese food, and has traditional Japanese rooms, where the floor is all tatami mats and the beds are a thin pad on the tatami mat that you sleep on. There is also green tea available at all times, of course.
Entrance to the Ryokan.

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In the Ryokan, clothing called Yukata are generally worn around, especially to breakfast.

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After we left our luggage at the Ryokan, we walked to a Shinto shrine across the river.

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This was one of the more involved Shinto shrines I’ve visited, and it was vast, with many small areas for prayer and cleansing and old buildings.

For dinner, we went to a very nice restaurant known for it’s sukiyaki, a Japanese dish were well marbled Kobe beef is brought out along with vegetables and other various dish additives, and they are cooked in a pan in front of you and served hot. It was by far one of my favorite meals.

Day 9

Today was a very quiet day, mostly laying down in bed and recovering from the strenuous travel. However after some rest, I did get a chance to get up and walk around a part of Mukogawa across the river that I hadn’t yet been to. Along the way, I spotted someone’s personal garden, in their yard, that was very beautiful and seemed picture worthy. I also noticed that they had a greenhouse. It was one of the nicest yards I’ve seen in Japan so far.

In the top right, you can see the greenhouse.

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Their was a nice gated entrance and a stone pathway, and in general it was a very unique garden. What a nice thing to have in your yard.

After the walk, I went to the local Medical College to help teach English to some of the students. I told them a little bit about myself, and then they interviewed me and I interviewed them back, to give them some practice in English. This was an experience unlike anything I’ve ever done, and it was very funny as well. They seemed to enjoy my company and I think everyone had some fun.

It was good to have a nice quiet day.

-Loren

Day 8

Today we went down about a mile from the hotel to a Buddhist shrine called Zenkoji. This shrine is around 1400 years old, but has been destroyed by fire many times. The current revision of it is around 100 years old. It was very large, with many buildings available for prayer and incense burning. It also houses one of the next largest wooden buildings, next to the one I visited earlier in my trip.

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Along with the temples and shrines, there was a beautiful garden with blooming flowers and trees.

This was one of the nicer temples I’ve been to so far.

After we visited Zenkoji, we took a maze of Shinkansen and regular trains back home, a total of about 8 hours of travel. After being home for about 1 minute (only to change clothes) we got back on a train to Osaka to have dinner with some Japanese friends. I was extremely worn out from the travel by then, but dinner woke me up. It was a new style of eating for everyone, and involved being served many small dished on skewers of various items (eel, pork, beef, squid, octopus, tofu, fois gras). It was delicious and filling.

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This was a long day, and I’m glad to finally be able to sleep. Goodnight,

-Loren

Day 7

Today we traveled from Hakone to Nagano, where we took a local railway up the mountains to see the snow monkeys. These are unique monkeys in the fact that they are the only monkeys in the world who bathe in an onsen (hot spring). These monkeys were fascinating to watch because of their extreme intelligence and resemblance to human behavior. It really is amazing to see how they act and interpret interactions with humans.

Here is a geyser of steam at the entrance of the monkey park.

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This time of year is a few weeks after the babies are born, so we got to see many baby monkeys and their mothers.

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Here is a baby riding on her mother.

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At this time of year it is fairly warm, so not many monkeys were bathing in the hot springs, but in March when it is still cool, many monkeys will be in each hot spring at a given time. This little monkey was staying warm in the rain.

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The monkeys were being fed grains of rice when we arrived.

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Monkey selfie.

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A top down view of the geyser.

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The bus ride back gave a beautiful view of the Japanese countryside.

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For dinner that night in Nagano we tried something new (new to me), called Okonomiyaki. This is a sort of pancake mix with meat and vegetables that is grilled on a griddle and then served with various sauces. It was very good.

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Another good day!

A 3 week journey to Japan