I’ve always loved to write, including keeping travel journals from our vacations. I’ve divided them into several posts, as some are rather long.
They are old, but I hope you enjoy them anyway.
Terry and PJ’s Adventures in Japan – May 2000
Friday, May 19, 2000
We flew from Florida to Tokyo to visit our friend while he was stationed in Japan. Chuck (our friend and U.S. Naval Officer stationed in Yokosuka) found us at the airport right on time. Chuck’s house was about 2 hours from Narita airport. We took a wrong turn on the way home, so it took a little longer to get there.
Chuck, being an experienced traveler, wouldn’t let us go to bed until evening so that we could adjust to the time difference quicker. We were up 28 hours straight, and Terry didn’t sleep much the first night, either. Daylight is at 4:30 am and sunset is about 6:00 PM.
The next morning, the three of us travelled a blazing 176 mph by bullet train to Kyoto. We didn’t have reservations, but we found a hotel, which was a challenge, as there was a festival going on Sunday.
The first night we had an American style toilet. But the baths were communal, but fortunately, not coed. Apparently, at some hotels the baths may be coed.
The hotel provided kimono style robes, called yukatas, to wear to the bath. Certain rituals are followed prior to entering the hot water pools. The first room outside the bath had baskets to leave one’s personal belongings. The next room has short stools in front of mirrors. You sit on one of the stools to wash. After rinsing, you can get into one of the pools of hot water to soak. It is very relaxing.
We shared the hotel room with our friend Chuck. I guess the hotel staff was not sure of the configuration of our sleeping arrangements, so they lined our futons up side by side. The tradition is that the guest will pick up their own bedding in the morning, so they might still be wondering how the three of us slept. Or, perhaps that is the traditional Japanese way to set up the futons, I’m not sure.
Saturday, May 20, 2000
Saturday evening, we went to the Gion district. We saw several geisha and maiko (apprentice geisha) on their way to work. They do not stop and wait for you to take their pictures, so you have to snap it quickly. The maiko wear longer obi’s which trail down their back. The maiko also wear the traditional white makeup.
Sunday, May 21, 2000
Sunday morning we went to a huge flea market at the Toji Temple. Chuck bought some bonsai plants and pots. We bought some chopsticks with geisha and sumo wrestlers on them. While we were at the flea market, we felt a small earthquake. It was minor, so it was not scary.
Also at the flea market, an old gentleman came up to Terry and shook his hand. He then touched Terry’s beard and rubbed his face against Terry’s face. Then, he kissed Terry on the beard. It was quite surprising. The old gentleman seemed as happy as he could possibly be because he saw an American with a beard.
We had made quite a few attempts to obtain tickets to a musical called the Kamagawa Odori, but hadn’t been able to get them. A travel agent suggested that we go to the theater and request the tickets in person. By doing so, we were able to get tickets for a tea ceremony with maiko Sunday afternoon prior to the musical. We were the only non-Japanese people in the tea ceremony. The green tea was powdered and foamy. It was definitely too strong for us. We all sipped it, and realized that we had to drink it or be considered “rude Americans,” so we finished it even though none of us liked it.
The show included singing, dancing, acting and musical instruments. It was performed in Japanese. We didn’t know what they were saying, but it was cool to go. It was authentic, and not in the least bit touristy. The playbill had a summary of the show written in English, so we had some idea about the storyline.
After the show, we walked around a shopping district. We saw a group of guys, dressed in dark suits, that were probably part of the Yakuza, essentially the Japanese mafia. I had read that when they do something that displeases their boss, part of their fingers are cut off. Terry was looking at their hands through the camera zoom lens and he said that one of the men was missing some of two of his fingers. Otherwise, we might have suspected, but would not have been sure.
When we returned to the ryoken Sunday evening, we were told that they had to change our room. We had been upgraded to a much larger room. I wasn’t sure if it was because we knew that the correct Japanese tradition is to fold and store one’s bedding, or if they really needed the other room for someone else. Months of research and knowledge of the local customs did come in handy many times, but we’ll never know whether that was why our room was upgraded. We loved our new room, except it did have a traditional Japanese toilet, which one squats above, instead of being seated in the western style.
And because I couldn’t end this post with the above picture, here’s something more pleasant to remember. This was a garden at one of the temples we visited during our vacation.
To be continued…