Thursday, May 31, 2012

There, I stood.

Where the history of the world took a turn.
Where hundreds of thousands of souls were ripped from their bodies.  In an instant.
Where those left living suffered intensely.  Physically.  Emotionally.
Where a whole city turned to ash and broken lives.  In the blink of an eye.
Where the children lost their parents.
Where the parents lost their children.
Where birds stopped singing.
I stood.

As I stood, gazing at the ruins of the building that has become the icon of the atomic bomb, I felt surrounded…
…by the spirits of those who lost their lives. 
…by the prayers that continuously rise.
…by the peace that the city of Hiroshima represents.
…by the hope for a future of peace.

Visiting Hiroshima Peace Park has been one of the most moving experiences of my life.  Processing the emotions I felt coursing through my veins is taking some time. 

I was struck by how peaceful this place is.  This place that experienced one of the most violent destructions in the history of the world.

The significance of what happened in Hiroshima must be remembered and learned from.  For all generations to come.

During our visit to Hiroshima, we spent around six or seven hours exploring the park and the museum.  There also happened to be the famous flower festival happening during our visit.   I will elaborate on what I saw and experienced throughout several posts, so as to do the experience justice.

More to come.

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Hiroshima Castle

If Japan has one thing figured out-it is public transportation.  Of course this varies depending on where  you are.  By and large, it’s great.

I was particularly impressed by how easy it was to get around in Hiroshima.  There is almost no reason to own a car.  They have trains, buses, taxis, and an excellent streetcar service.  If you choose to cycle or walk, the sidewalks are nice and wide and at the busiest intersections have tunnels underground.

It’s great. 

So with map in hand, we were off to discover Hiroshima.  Our first destination was the reconstructed Hiroshima Castle.

The castle interior contains a museum filled with information and artifacts of Hiroshima when it was a traditional Japanese Castle city.  It was fascinating to learn so much about Hiroshima before it was associated with one of the two the atomic bombings that ultimately ended WWII. 

View from the top of the castle.
Almost all of the displays were translated into English-which was really wonderful for us.  It makes things much more interesting when you can read about them. 

Within the castle grounds stand two weary trees.  There are, of course, many trees in the park.  But these two are particularly significant as they are two of the three trees in the surrounding area that survived the blast of the atomic bomb in 1945.  

Held up and together with ropes and supports, they stand.   Silent survivors for the past 67 years.
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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Taking a Night Bus

In the category of National Holidays-Japan does very well.  Japan has 15.  It's awesome.

Interestingly, Saturday is consider by and large to be a work day.  If a holiday falls on a Saturday it is not made up for the previous Friday.  If a holiday falls on Sunday, it is made up for on the following Monday. 

This year is a leap year.  Unfortunately for us, this means that three or four holidays that would have been on Friday, now fall on Saturday.  No extra three day weekend for us!  Bummer. 

This years Golden Week had one such Holiday.  Because of this, I had to work two days during that week. 

Despite this, we still had a four day weekend.  So we decided it was time we explored Hiroshima. 

To make the best use of time, I booked an over night sleep bus from Tokyo to Hiroshima.  It’s far cheaper than taking the Shinkansen (bullet train).  The trip lasted about thirteen hours, with many stops at rest areas.  But the seats were comfortable (they recline almost all the way and come with pillows, blankets, and a canopy to pull over your face to block light) and I was able to get a full eight hours of sleep. 

We had booked our accommodations at the K’s House branch in Hiroshima.  This was our third time staying at a K’s House, and it was just as nice as the others in Kyoto and Mt. Fuji.  We showed up, and they graciously allowed us to store our luggage until check-in time that afternoon and also allowed us to take showers.  (Nobody smells good after spending 13 hours on a bus.)

(An extra note: I highly recommend the K's House Backpackers Hostel.  The staff speak fluent English and the accommodations are clean and secure.  The kitchen and lounge areas are also extremely nice.  Computers are also available to use for a small fee.  K's House rocks!)

Showered and refreshed, we were ready for our first day in Hiroshima. 

First stop, Hiroshima Castle…
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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Golden Week With Company

If asked whether or not I like travel, I would have to answer thus: Yes, but no.

Here’s the thing.  I dislike the actual traveling part.  The airplanes and dealing with airports, passports, visas, etc.  I feel I am probably not alone in this. 

Here’s the other thing.  I love the being there part.

Taking huge trips is a big undertaking.  I fully understand this-especially after India.  Whew!

So, when Karl and I moved to Japan, we really weren’t expecting anyone to spend the big money and take the vacation time to come visit us.  Boy, have we been pleasantly surprised! 

Last September, a friend came.
This past March, Karl’s entire family came.
Just at the beginning of this month, another friend came.

What fortunate souls we are!

Mike arrived at the start of this years Golden Week.  (Remember from last year?)  The string of four holidays in a week comes in handy when planning trips. 

The first place we took Mike was, of course, Tokyo. 

We explored the Meiji Shrine-which happens to be celebrating it’s centennial this year-in Yoyogi Park.  

Entrance to Meiji Shrine
First look at the shrine
A wedding was happening while we were there!
A special garden on the shrine grounds included this gorgeous pavilion.
Tanukis! Racoon dogs, in English.

We found a fabulous Korean restaurant overlooking the Harajuku district.

Harajuku station

We took in a special exhibit at Tokyo National Museum. 

The exhibit we went to see.
This trip was off to a good start. 
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Monday, May 21, 2012


Sooner than we knew it, we were on our way back towards Tokyo.  We could hardly believe how quickly our week had passed by. 

During our last full day in Japan with Karl’s family, we made our way to Ogawa Machi to show them the home we have made for ourselves here.  We arrived in the afternoon and had just enough time to make it up to two of Karl’s schools and introduce them to his fellow teachers and some of his students. 

Karl in front of Higashichichibu Mura Junior High School
With the basketball team.
With the volleyball team.
What a unique and wonderful experience!  Everyone was extremely gracious.  They offered a sake drinking set as a gift to Karl’s parents. 

That evening we met some of our friends at our favoritelocal dive bar.  It was the perfect way to end our trip together in Japan. 

With the fried chicken that Papa San gave us as a present!
The following morning, Karl and I brought them all to Ikebukuro station in Tokyo to see them off. 

Last photo together in Japan.
It is difficult to say goodbye to people for whom you care so much.  During this trip, Karl and I were newly reminded of our lives waiting for us back at home with our families and friends.  We miss everyone so much now and are already beginning to look ahead as we begin our final year in Japan. 

The time will fly.

As the express train bound for the airport whisked our family away, we slowly gathered ourselves together and walked ahead to our day…together in Tokyo. 

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Friday, May 18, 2012

Matsumoto, Nagano

Only two more nights left on the trip.  We started making our way north from Mt. Fuji to a city in Nagano called Matsumoto.  We were going to see an original Japanese castle.   (The same one Karl went to see last summer.)

After a few hours on the train, we arrived.  For our one night stay in Matsumoto, we stayed at a ryokan.  This one was a completely different style from our ryokan in Kyoto, but also nice.  The people who run the ryokan speaks English extremely well and even shuttled us to and from the train station for free.  So kind of them!

After getting settled in and having some tea, the ryokan owners gave us some special English maps that their daughter had made.  They showed exactly where the castle was and had great descriptions of places to shop and eat.  This map came in very handy that afternoon. 

After seeing the castle (unfortunately there were no English guides and not many signs were in English…can’t win them all!) we wandered around and did a little shopping.  

We still had a few hours left of the day and weren’t quite sure what to do. 

Then we got an idea: using the little map,  we plotted out a course of international cuisine restaurant/bar hopping.  It was perfect!  Everything was in walking distance of each other and we would be able to try lots of different foods. 

Stop number 1: Spain

We had some delicious appetizers and some beer.  It was excellent.

Stop number 2: China

Jasmine tea, dumplings, and egg rolls.  Delicious.

Stop number 3: Italy

We were ready to have actual dinner at this point.  We ordered a beautiful salad, pizza, pasta, wine, and chocolate cake to finish.  Fabulous.

We made it back to the ryokan in time to relax in the little onsen (natural hot spring) before it closed.  A great way to wrap up any evening!

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Mount Fuji

We had been crossing our fingers for good weather all week long.  When we started out on our day long bus tour of Mount Fuji-the weather was perfect.  What luck!  

The first place we visited was the shrine at the foot of Mount Fuji.  It was beautiful.  Our tour guide spoke excellent English and had grown up in the area around Mount Fuji.  The things we learned about the history regarding the mountain were fascinating. 

We learned many things about Mount Fuji.  At the visitors center there was a video-in English-that explained how the volcanoes through out the centuries formed MountFuji.  It was fascinating. 

Mount Fuji is the largest mountain in Japan at 3776 meters (12,389 ft) The official climbing seasons is limited to July and August.  The top of the mountain is cold all year round and gets lots of snow, making it extremely dangerous to climb during the off season.  Professionals do climb it all year round, though it isn’t recommended due to the danger.  (But that’s why they are rock climbers, right?)

During our visit, we were able to drive up to the fourth of eight stations.  Most climbers start hiking from the fifth station.  When hiking from the fifth station, it takes an average paced hiker about six hour to reach the summit.  

Karl and I will be back to hike by the end of our time here in Japan.  I’m excited.

After coming down from the mountain, we made our way to two caves.  These two caves had been formed due to the lava from Mount Fuji’s past eruptions.  The first cave was an ice cave.  The caverns in the middle of the forest act as natural freezer.  The ice stays all year round.  

The second cave was a little walk into the famous Aokigahara forest.  This one was called the wind cave because of the two openings, which create a wind tunnel. 

Because we had a little extra time we were able to also go see some beautiful waterfalls.  They were part of the largest opening of natural spring water in the area of Mount Fuji.   Fortunately for me, the lighting was perfect at that time.

After about nine hours on the tour, we were ready to get back to K’s House and head over to the bar next door to relax. 

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