Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fushimi Inari-taisha

From the base of Inari Mountain, tunnels of torii gates climb to the inner shrine of Inari, the Shinto god of success and wealth. The hope of striking it rich makes the shrine a must visit for businessmen and entrepreneurs setting out on a new venture or going through hard times. The shrine has been successful itself, as you can tell by the torii gates. Each one has been donated by businesses or families thanking Fushimi Inari-taisha for bringing them great prosperity.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Philosopher's Path

After reuniting with Zack in Kyoto, we set off on the Philosopher's Path. The route was made famous by Nishida Kitaro, a famous Japanese philosopher who walked along the canal during his daily meditations. The path links Ginkakuji, the Silver Pavilion, with smaller temples and gardens. We walked alone, thanks to the cold rain, discussing the meaning of life and other light subjects.

Our peaceful walk was beautiful and full of laughter.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Himeji Castle

During our karaoke extravaganza in Tokyo, Zack's friends told us to visit Himeji Castle, one of the most popular and well preserved castles in Japan. Shoguns and samurais patrolled its walls and it even survived fire bombing during World War II. We arrived on an overcast day. The hilltop fortress appeared to be floating in the clouds.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Hakone Shrine

From the shores of Lake Ashi, we walk through the vermilion tori gates past the towering Sugi trees that lead to the wooded shrine of Hakone. After the customary washing of hands, we walk to the altar where an offertory wooden box sits. Four large ropes attached to copper bells hang before us. We follow the prayer cycle of fellow worshipers: after tossing some yen into the box, we clap twice, shake the rope, then bow.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Onsen: Hadaka No Tsukiai

Bathing in an onsen, a Japanese hot spring, is a traditional way to stay healthy and unwind. Businessmen soak together to relax after a stressful week in Tokyo. When Zack was teaching in Niigata, he bonded with his coworkers at an onsen.

We say goodbye to Temple who will have to have a solo naked adventure in the female onsen.

Zack and I walk into the locker room and get naked. We walk outside. In the corner are a few rounded stone stools with a bucket next to them. We sit and begin our bucket showers which are mandatory before entering the onsen. When we are clean, it is time to test the waters. There are six small pools to choose from, some are carved out of the mountain and others are wooden like jacuzzis. Each on is a different temperature ranging from ice cold to boiling hot.

We decide to begin in the largest and most popular. We relax and soak. During the next hour, we try out all the different pools and take a sauna. Once our relaxation is complete we towel off and go to hear about Temple's solo adventure.

Onsen by ClayBolton

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Black Eggs

We are floating above sulfur hot springs with mustard colored clouds rising towards our gondola. We disembark and walk with other tourists to the springs where eggs are boiled in the sulfur water which turns them black. You can only buy the eggs in bags of five. Since none of us think we will want more than one black sulphur egg, Zack asks a young Japanese couple if they want to split a bag. They are happy for the offer. With our bag in hand we start peeling.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Kamakura & Enoshima

Zack points us in the right direction and heads to work. After navigating the kanji (Japanese writing) necessary for train travel, we arrive in Kamkura, a heavily templed town outside of Tokyo.

Before entering each temple, we cleanse ourselves by dipping a bamboo handled copper cup into icy water and rinsing our hands. We follow the locals who make offerings by throwing a few yen into a wooden box, clapping twice, and then bowing.

After sampling the local specialty of sweet potato ice cream, delicious and purple, we head to Daibutsu, the towering bronze statue of Amida Buddha looking out to the sea. Our journey along the coast continues as we make our way to Enoshima, a small island just off shore with temples and nature existing in harmony. We walk to the far side of the island to see Mt. Fuji in the setting sun.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Future

Landing in Tokyo from New Delhi was the closest we got to time travel. Gone were the cows lounging in dusty streets, the hawkers howling from every storefront. The clamor of India was replaced by the stillness of the train from Narita airport. We arrived at Shinjuku station in a mass of quiet and orderly people. In an odd way Japan felt like home. At least more like home than India. We walked through the neon to a quiet park. On a chilly February day we wandered alone.

That evening we met up with my cousin Zack outside Shinjuku. He's been living in Japan for almost 3 years and would be our guide for culinary and other adventures.

On Saturday morning, we woke up early to explore. Our first stop was the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa. This was snack central with tasty bean cakes, balls of fried octopus and other free samples of traditional fare. We were late in arriving to the world famous Tsukiji fish market but that didn't stop us from eating fresh sushi. Zack picked out an awesome conveyor belt sushi restaurant. As each plate glides pass, you grab whichever you want. The pricing is based on the color of the plate and when you're done they scan your stack of plates to give you the bill.

Fueled by sushi and green tea we ride the monorail to the The Hall of the Future, also known as the Musuem of Emerging Sciences, where we, along with many Japanese school children, saw that robots will one day be our overlords. But they've got a long way to go. Being surrounded by kids and gadgets made us want to go to an arcade. Luckily Sega's three-level Joypolis was nearby. We pumped a lot of yen coins into the games before leaving.

We were off to meet Zack's friends for dinner and karaoke. We ate izakaya "family style", before heading off to our own private cubicle to sing our heads off.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Rat Temple

The name says it all. Rats run this temple. Milk and sweets are put out for the rodents to enjoy by worshipers who believe that they are the holy reincarnations of a storyteller from the 13th century.

Only in India.

Like other Indian temples, the Kari Mata requires you take off your shoes before entering. Here, however, tourists have the option of cloth foot covers. When we enter the temple, we see rats in every corner nibbling or scurrying by. There are so many rats that we have an odd primal reaction as if our deep Dark Ages ancestors are screaming "bubonic plague! bubonic plague!" Soon we're laughing, though not too loud as to offend.

Most of the temple is open air. Though I explore some of the darker corners, Temple thinks it wise to remain in the light.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Desert Festival

We arrived in Jaisalmer two days before their world famous desert festival was set to begin. We extended our stay to see the parade and festivities which included Mr. Desert and Mr. Mustache competitions, camel decorating, and turban tying. For laughs there's also a tourists turban tying competition where Clay's attempt at the traditional turban scored only a few points short of first place.

Monday, February 1, 2010


On the edge of the Thar Desert sits the sand castle fort of Jaisalmer. Unlike other forts in Rajasthan locals still live within its walls.