I returned from a ten day trip to Japan last night, so I'll jump into blogging with a posting about "summer treats."
Traveling has always been one of my favorite summer treats, and this spur-of-the-moment trip to Kyoto was no exception. Here are a few photos and the top 12 highlights:
1.) Hanging out with mountain monkeys. (A tribe of about 200 monkeys live in the hills outside of Kyoto. We went to a park where you are free to roam among them, but signs warn you wisely - don't look the monkeys in the eye! If you do, they will bare their teeth and follow you around. I probably took 50 monkey pics, so if anyone needs reference material, let me know!)
2.) Cheering for sumo wrestlers on the final day of a tournament. (These big guys throw salt, glare at each other, stop a lot, show off their ample cheeks - the rear ones - and then the fights only last a couple of seconds. They brawl under the roof of a shrine, which you can see from the picture. It's half religious ceremony, sportting event. Very interesting mix!)
3.) Feeding deer cookies to sacred deer in Nara. (This is a cool side-trip outside of Kyoto where herds of sacred deer roam about. They bow to you as a way of begging for deer cookies, but watch out because they'll bite you on your butt to ask for more! Nara also claims to have the largest wooden structure in the world that houses an enormous Buddha statue. There is a hole in one of the pillars that is the side of Buddha's nostril, which you can crawl through for good luck. I just managed to wriggle through.)
4.) Visiting Kinkakuji (the Golden Temple) and dozens of other shrines and temples in Kyoto. (It seems like there is a shrine and lovely garden around every corner. As you can see from the picture, this beautiful one is totally gilded on the outside!)
5.) Summer fireworks in Osaka. (Japan does it right - we watched a two hour show from the steep walls of the Osaka Castle).
6.) Zooming along on the bullet train. (The average speed is 250 km/hr, which means you cover the length of a football field in 1.5 seconds. Mika and I figure if we had one in the US, you could get from Seattle to LA in less than 6 hours.
7.) Cormorant fishing on the Oi River. (We boarded a flat bottomed boat strung with lanterns and sat on tatami mats on the floor. Some fisherman light a basket of fire on the front of their boats, which attracts fish. Then, they release about six cormorants on leashes that dive to catch the fish. But, alas for the cormorants, they get yanked back into the boat and the fisherman gets to keep the fish.)
8.) Eating out of vending machines and convenience stores. (Seriously. At Japan's prices that's about all we could afford. But, wow, it is some of the freshest food you'll every try. It is made fresh every day, and if you like rice, fish, and pickled vegetables, it is really tasty! There are vending machines EVERYWHERE, and some even sell beer and all kinds of naughty things.)
9.) Funny translations. Here is my favorite, which is describing a dish on a menu: “I pick up an eel with an eggplant and made it tempura and wore grated radish with soy sauce.” (Although I never expect English when I travel abroad, I was surprised how little English was spoken in Kyoto. People seemed to know about five words, and we had just about that much Japanese in our vocabulary. So, we got around with about ten words of common communication. It was a fun challenge.)
10.) Drinking sake with a bunch of very intoxicated Japanese businessmen. (If you have sake, you don't need to share the same language to understand each other. Bar games are universal! What a riot.)
11.) Toilets. (They come in three varieties - Western (what we have here), Traditional (squat and do your business in a porcelain trough on the floor) and Ultra Modern with Buttons. The last variety are my favorite - they play music, heat your seat, and spray different parts of you with water. But, you have to be adventurous because all the buttons are in Japanese and the first time I tried the spray feature, I couldn't figure how to turn it off!)
12.) Lantern festival. (One evening, we went to a lantern festival at a temple with 1,000 torii gates - if you've seen "Memoirs of a Geisha," you've seen this place. We got to explore it after thousands and thousands of red lanterns were lit, cicadas were buzzing in the air, and it was pure magic.)
Now to get over jetlag…