Mainly Japan…

Hey Everybody!

So I just got home  a few hours ago and am always so happy to return to my friendly little Ryukyu Kingdom. This time I decided that since it was a three day weekend, thank you Mr. Columbus, I would head off to mainland and do a little exploring of my own.

This trip would be one of many firsts…I have only spent one very happy weekend in Tokyo back in May but that has been it. Yes I do travel quite a bit around Okinawa, but Mainland has escaped my attention, until now that is.

My whole life I have planned where I’m going, what I’m doing, usually with an itinerary in hand, but since moving here I decided to live much more spontaneously. If I want to go somewhere I now get a general idea and just head out the door. I’ve also eschewed luggage. I’ve got a rust-colored LL Bean day pack which I fill to capacity and that’s it. A couple cameras, a change of underwear (heaven forfend I don’t have clean underwear  in case of an accident)  my spare toothbrush and I’m on the road.

a-street-in-nishinomiya
A street in Nishinomiya, on the way to my hostel.

I had booked a hostel in Nishinomiya with the idea of going to Himeji and on up to Engyo-ji, where they filmed the Last Samurai (one of my favorite movies). But upon further inspection it would have taken at least 2:45 minutes to get there and then many more hours to get to my other hotel later in the day. So that was out…I thought also about Kyoto, but again, time constraints. So it was between Osaka or Kobe.

dinner-eggs
Ramen, of course…I am in love with ramen!

I walked from the train station to my lovely little hostel, with very friendly staff and got my key and bunk bed all set up for the night. I’ve never stayed in a hostel before, but this was great, friendly people, nice accommodations and inexpensive.

I think I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating, walking alone at night is a treat in Mainland as well as Okinawa. There is nothing to fear, not dogs or people…it’s just a lovely experience. So I took a walk up by the Japan Rail train station and looked for a nice restaurant. I found one, and you can see my dinner pictured above. I spent the time considering where I would spend my one full day.

I woke up in the morning and it was raining. Being a pluviophile (thank you Bean Beaulieu for the word) I had no problem with that, I simply  stopped at the 7-Eleven and bought a few clear plastic garbage bags (as a cover for my backpack) and decided on Osaka. There are plenty of cultural landmarks I had read about including Shitennoji Temple and wanted to see it for myself.

I got on the train and headed for Osaka. I liked where I stayed because on the train I was the only Caucasian…that always makes me happy. Off one line and on to another…the train system is so comprehensive it is difficult to make a mistake. I got off the Osaka Loop and into the Osakajokoen to see the castle.

trees-in-a-park
Osakajokoen – Which means Osaka Castle Park…the trees are the peaceful guardians.

I arrived around seven a.m. so I had much of the park to myself, well me and the ravens. So I wandered around and I saw the old walls, I’m fascinated by old walls, hence I can be very boring to travel with as I want to just stand there and look at them for a long time. This is another reason I do a lot of traveling on my own.

flute-in-the-park
And he will have music wherever he goes…playing the flute to no one and everyone.

So I found this fabulous body of water, and then found out it was a moat. A castle with a moat! What a good day I was having.

Here’s a little information about the castle itself:

The construction of Osaka Castle (大阪城, Ōsakajō) started in 1583 on the former site of the Ishiyama Honganji Temple, which had been destroyed by Oda Nobunaga thirteen years earlier.Toyotomi Hideyoshi intended the castle to become the center of a new, unified Japan under Toyotomi rule. It was the largest castle at the time.

time-capsule
Osaka Castle and time capsule

You can find more information by going to http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e4000.html…

Basically everyone kept burning it down or dropping bombs on it… um that would be us…but they keep building it back.

I got up to the top and realized there was going to be some event, as evidenced by all these little trucks driving through the gates that were meant for samurais, soldiers and horses, not Daihatsu trucks. I thought, I’m going to get out of here before all the crowds show up. As I walked back down, the crowds were just beginning up the hill. I made it out in time.

another-gate
One of the posts along the old walls.
apricot-trees
I think they said these were apricot trees,  they look like so many trees I’ve seen in Japanese art.

Next on the list was Shitennoji Temple, a place I really wanted to see and experience. This was another hop on a train across town. I got off a little farther so I could just walk around Osaka. I often hear service members talk about Osaka, and it has a reputation of being a party town.  I suppose if that’s what you’re looking for, that’s what you’ll find. In fact, I was hesitant to go there due to that expectation, however I was looking for architecture and temples…and I found those also.

shitennoji
Shitennoji Temple – the oldest officially administered temple in Japan, built circa 594 CE.

Here’s a little information about Shitennoji Temple:

“Shitennoji was built by Prince Shotoku (574-622 A.D.), the great cultural hero of early Japanese history who at the age of sixteen successfully triumphed over the opposition and brought about the adoption of Buddhism in the country. The battle was between the Soga Clan and the Monobe Clan. The Soga, represented by Prince Shotoku, wanted Japan to adopt Buddhism, a newly arrived, highly developed religion from India via China, and the powerful Monobe were opposed, supporting instead the ancient Japanese religion. The Prince, it was said, achieved his victory by praying to the Four Heavenly Kings, the soldiers of the Buddha. And it was to mark that victory that in 593 A.D. he ordered the construction of Shitennoji Temple. The temple was built not far from Osaka Bay, which played a vital role in trade and traffic. It was a strategic location which enabled a show of Japan’s power and prosperity to the world. Despite repeated reconstructions, the layout of the temple compound has remained largely unchanged from the beginning. Shitennoji is the favorite shrine of many Japanese people and is fondly regarded as the Buddhist altar of Osaka.”

temple-and-apartment-building
At Shitennoji
shrine-and-spire
Shitennoji Temple
more-lanterns
Lighting the way, I thought these were stunning.

You can find more information about Shitennoji at this website: http://www.osaka-info.jp/en/facilities/cat11/post_278.html

While wandering about, I met a very nice American couple Henry and Pat, and we spent quite a while talking about Japan and how awesome it is. They were very nice, it was good to talk to people from home…actually Denver (go Broncos!).

henrypatme
New friends! – Henry and Pat and of course me at Shitennoji Temple.

After Shitennoji, I was getting hungry and decided to go in search of a restaurant, the pictures below were some of the things I encountered along the way.

street-performers
I don’t know what they were advertising, but the music was nice.
monk-on-the-street
A monk on the street, so Japan.
rikshaw-street-scene
My first rickshaw sighting
pokemon
How sad you have to tell people not to play Pokemon on  sacred temple grounds.

I had a lovely lunch of nothing but meat! I don’t know what kind of meat most of it was, but it was tasty and filling. In fact, I don’t think I’ve eaten that much meat since I left America.

I decided to head off to my hotel near the airport around four o’clock and just chill out, walk around town and settle in for the night. At my hotel however, I saw that they had a Japanese public bath. This was very thrilling as I have never done this before and I wanted to give it a shot. Of course it was a women’s only and I had heard some stories. Most of the stories are about getting in there, washing quickly and wanting to get in the water. I heard from many people that we Americans rush and everyone else is still soaping up. With this in mind I did the most thorough scrubbing of my life, like I was preparing a horse for the 4-H judging, except I was the horse!

It was kind of funny because the women were friendly and welcoming, not at all what I was expecting. A great experience. I will not hesitate to do this again!

So I flew back this morning and it was a lovely time. I wanted to include this picture because I often hear (from Japanese and Okinawan women) that there is no romance in their culture. I beg to differ, and I offer the picture below. This is what it’s all about….

romance
Romance….this is beautiful.

Wishing everyone a terrific week, until we meet again.