Monday, July 18, 2005

Hermits, Ninja and Sohei

Well, since I had a three day weekend I really wanted to go on an overnight trip and stay some where. I was contemplating going to Himeji or Mie, but then a gigantic oil tanker caught fire off the coast of Mie, and I found out that getting to Himeji would cost more than my classmates could afford, so I would have to go alone. I have not run out of money yet, but it is starting to look like I might. I will probably get back to Davis and have about a hundred dollars left.

By the way, in other news about my condition here in Japan, I have gotten a lot thinner. I get the feeling that the simple act of living in Japan is probably one of the best weight loss programs one can go on. Food contains very little fat and oil, it is too expensive to eat a lot, and you need to walk just about everywhere. Also, my legs have gotten very toned from almost 2 months of self-inflicted forced marches. I didn’t realize how good of shape I had gotten in until I rode one of the bikes the program has provided for the tutors to the campus.

And thus begins another rant. The types of bikes that seem to be popular in Japan really suck. Cruiser type bikes are really popular. They have one gear, the handlebars are too narrow, the seats are to low and the front wheel can not make more than a 30 degree correction in course. If I ever move here, I think I will have a bike shipped over from the US.

So on to the story. After rushing back to the dorms after that last post, I quickly showered and got ready to go to Kyoto. Our intended destination was Kiomizu Temple. However, this is not Kiomizu Temple. These are steps in front of another temple whose name I did not catch.

I was told by Kari that this temple had so many steps that the group she went with before had taken one look at them and turned around. These were the steps. And I must say, there were far less than I expected. I hardly even got my heart rate up. But, I suppose that is to be expected. There are only a few people who can keep pace with me in this program. Most everybody seems positively destroyed by the heat, but it really isn’t so bad as long as you dress well (I have gone commando the entire trip, except for when I put on nicer clothes), drink water and don’t use any of the anti-persperant sprays that are popular in Japan. Ok, so sweating is a little gross, but you sweat for a reason.

Unfortunately, the way that most people seem to try to beat the heat is by going at a pace that is so unbelievably slow that it could be mistaken for being asleep. This is a source of untold frustration for me. The other things that make us go painfully slow are taking photos, and shopping. By the way by taking photos I don’t mean “Line up shot, snap, done” I mean “Alright, now lets take a picture with A and B. Now just with B. Now let’s take one with all of us. Now let’s retake one because I looked kind of bad…” When this happens at literally EVERY scenic location, it gets really, really old. And why the hell do you need so many souvenirs! Actually, no, souvenirs I would be OK with, but when you are shopping for clothes that are available in America, for cheaper… This is why I like to travel with Mary and Eric. They are not interested in doing any of this. And the cool thing about Kari is that, while she does stop to shop for souvenirs on occasion, she is so quick on her feet that it is still possible to see more than a temple and a half in a day. By the way, I have to justify this rant. I have been very lucky in my life. I have been given the opportunity to come to Kyoto. I don’t want to take for granted that I will always have the opportunity to come back, so I want to see and do as much as I can.

The picture is of the gate of Kiomizu Temple.

Kyoto skyline.

More Kyoto skyline.

This is the pure water of Kiomizu temple. I tried some, it was good.

On the way back we saw this picture. I have no idea what they are trying to sell, but whatever it is, I want some!

Then we went to Karaoke.

Karaoke is so much fun. Perhaps even too much fun since I become so happy and excited that it borders on belligerent.

And once again I totally destroyed my voice. I should have started with calm songs rather than “Cryin’” by Aerosmith.

So the next day I woke up at 9 and got left behind as Kari, Mary, Cindy and some others went to the Gion festival, while I did laundry. Sigh. I then spent the next hour and a half trying to think of what to do with Tamoko and Mayumi, who are the new tutors and have already appeared in some of the pictures. Finally, frustrated by the fact that everyone else was waking up at noon and just wanting to do something, I told Morimori I was going to Maibara and walked to the station. However, upon reaching the station, my plans changed. Maibara would cost 950 yen, and would probably suck. However, Iga-Ueno cost the same and I had actually researched it ahead of time while still in Davis. Iga, I had heard, was the “home of the ninjas”. Since I was alone, I decided to take this trip since it looked like it might be kind of expensive and not a lot of fun.

The train ride was very scenic, and for the first part an old woman sat down next to me and tried to talk to me. This was a pleasant change since most of the time no one will ever sit down next to me on the train, much less talk to me. In fact, later that very day a college aged girl and her boyfriend got on the same train as me, but when she went to sit next to me on the only open seat on the entire train, her boyfriend tightly squeezed her shoulder and pointed to the back of the train, where they then stood for 10 minutes until a seat opened up. Anyway, I reached Iga-Ueno station by way of a puttering gas-powered train bus (which shows you how remote this area is) and then took a bus to Ueno Castle. These are the castle walls. Really impressive, actually. 30 meters tall, which is a lot for such a tiny area. Ueno can’t have ever been very important, so the building of these walls must have really been a project for this small community.

And here is the keep of the castle. Cost 500 yen for admission. Very simple layout once you get in. This keep is actually a keep that was built later, since the original was destroyed by high winds.

Inside was a small but respectable collection of armor and arms as well as pottery and lacquer ware. I liked how they actually had the armor that peasant conscripts (the well equipped ones at least) would have worn.

This is the beast that is on top of Ueno castle. I have no idea what it is. In the background you can see Ueno.

And me with the castle.

So this was great, on the site of the old castle, the city has built a water tank. Hey, it is, after all, the highest point in town.

So, the thing that Iga is really famous for (or I should say, the only thing that Iga is famous for) is Ninjas. There is in fact, a “Ninja House” that one can visit. On my way to check it out, I discovered this beautiful pile of shrine stones.

But when I got to the Ninja house I was turned off by a variety of things. It was very crowded, it cost 700 yen, and there were women dressed in pink Ninja costumes shouting “Irashaimase”. I’m just not that into Ninjas. So I went back to the tourist map and tried to find something else to do. It was then that I say a sign for the “Revenge Museum”. I located it on the map, and then spent an hour trying to find it, with no luck. My hip was beginning to hurt, so I headed back to the station. Here is the Ueno city mascot.

I decided to take another route home, and while I paid only 950 yen for the return price, I actually rode the train for about 3 ½ hours. I saw some really picturesque scenery on the way from Ueno to Nara, and then suffered excruciating boredom from Nara to Seta. I got home, bought my Kim Chee and squid and began to plan my trip for the next day.

On the 18th of July I finally got to go for a positively awesome hike. I have been trying to find great places to hike ever since coming to Japan. Matsushima was not a fun hike, Oksha Shrine was good, but I was horrendously ill, and when we did a little bit of hiking after Hiroshima it was raining and short. But on the 18th of July, Mary, Eric, Kari, Maiyumi, Tomoko and I hiked Mt. Hiei. Here we are setting off, energetic, well hydrated and not yet hot.

So, first a little background. I first learned about Mt. Hiei while playing “Shogun: Total War”. Yes, video games do indeed inspire me to learn about history. Mt. Hiei was one of the most important monasteries in Japan for a very long time, but, during the medieval period, the monks adopted a certain militaristic streak. Thousands of monks who were trained in martial arts in such proximity to Kyoto was a major threat to Oda Nobunaga, the most powerful warlord of the time. So, with his army, he assaulted Mt. Hiei, burned the entire monastery and slaughtered thousands. Here we are on our way to the base of Mt. Hiei.

So the monastery was rebuilt under the Tokugawa Shogunate, though it never regained its former importance. Here is Mary and Tomoko with Mt. Hiei in the background.

And here we are maybe 1/5th of the way up the mountain. Maybe I should set the scene a little too. It was sunny, really hot, and humid. No breeze at this part of the mountain. Maiyumi and Tomoko had planned to wear sandals, but I absolutely forbade this, and we spent a large portion of the previous night searching for shoes for them. Still, they were not exactly dressed for the hike. The stairs behind us in this picture, by the way, were REALLY hard to climb for some reason. If you ever go on this hike, realize that this is the hardest part.

This is us halfway up the mountain. I was so impressed with everybody. They stuck it out with out many complaints. It total it took us about an hour and a half. It was a beautiful hike. It left me feeling refreshed.

Here are the ruins of a temple. These type of ruins appear to be all over the mountain.

This is the main building of the reconstructed temple.

So this was really intresting. I ran across the exact same thing in Korea. So I asked what it was and Tomoko translated and said it was the grave of a Korean monk who traveled to Arabia, China, India and died in Japan in the 9th century. I had no idea that such a person existed! That sounds like an incredible journey. I must learn more.

And once again, a pretty roof.

So there was no way we were going to hike down. We shelled out the 840 yen for the cable car ride.


Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

What's the deal with the nut sack racoon!?