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Showing posts from November, 2008

In Japan, Part 3

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October 30, 2008: To Koyasan. In the morning, we're escorted to the proper ticket purchase point in Osaka Station by not one but two helpful Swissotel staff members. After picking up our admissions we head over to the terminal for our train to Koyasan. The Station holds a similar feel to London Station, with its open spaces and daylight filtering in over the metal framework that spider-webs the train gates. A lone, dilapidated pigeon lopes near us. One corner of his beak looks crusted with calcification, and in place of his right foot is an equally-calcified stub. He's charming as hell in his scruffy way, and soon he's lured several scraps of pastry from Rita and I. The train arrives, and we're off to Koyasan. The journey offers the same humble-but-palpable pleasures as the Tokyo-to-Kyoto ride: More birds'-eye views of some of Japan's non-touristy quadrants flit by, but this time the sardine-packed suburbs gradually give way to much more rural and placid a

Travels in Japan, Part 2

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October 29, 2008 : Morning in Tokyo is lovely and clement (probably mid-sixties), but there's little time to enjoy it. Today's trajectory will take us via Japan Rail to Kyoto. Then later tonight we journey to Osaka to stay the night. The following morning, we travel from Osaka to Koya, and to the remote hamlet of Koyasan: The latter will be (we hope) one of the trip's highlights. The train trip from Tokyo to Kyoto takes about two hours. It encapsulates one of the things I love most about traveling--namely, getting a glimpse (however fleeting) of the routine daily life in a foreign country. Beyond the cosmopolitan shimmer of Tokyo, Japanese suburbs zip by. Tight clusters of apartments and factories break up patches of lush green trees and rice paddies: Surprisingly, in such a densely-populated land there are still some wide-open spaces. Our first big salvo of sensory overload hits us not in Tokyo but in Kyoto. Kyoto Station is a massive modern bivouac, honeycombed with m

To Another World: Travels in Japan, part 1

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A patch of blue makes a cameo against the horizon, tucked precariously between puffed plumes of gray/white clouds and indigo sky. The ensemble reflects placidly upon Lake Washington's surface, and a crisp autumn wind stirs yellow and orange leaves around the pavement outside the house. It's a textbook-beautiful fall afternoon in Seattle. But I miss Japan. My US store-bought green tea tastes wanly fruity and insubstantial compared to the bitter and earthy Japanese green tea I repeatedly drank during the preceding week-and-a-half. The cold and moist air of the Northwest (literally) pales against the 70-degree cloudless warmth of the Kyoto skyline. And the sleepy suburban neighborhood surroundng me feels positively stale alongside my mind's-eye view of the eerily-tranquil Koyasan graveyards. Any good vacation leaves you feeling good and enriched on some level, but our trek to Japan seeped into me like no other port of call ever has. I could natter away endlessly about the un