Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Back in the crisping heat of Phoenix, Japan seems so far away. The two geographies couldn't be any different. The hot, arid, desert like conditions of phoenix compared to the muggy, wet, and lush landscape of Japan. Heading from phoenix, i caught a plane to LA, then took the 13 hour flight to Taipei, Taiwan. The airport in Taipei was just massive, and the things I remember most (as much as you can remember after a bleary-eyed 13 hour flight) were the efficiency of the airport and the duty-free shops. I mean come on, whats up with duty free? haha. After waiting a bit, I flew back over the same waters I had just recently crossed into the land of Japan, to the city of Osaka. I was immediately just bombarded with a whole array of new sensations. There were so many people, so much technology, and so many signs that I could not understand.
After getting acclimated to Japan and my new surroundings for a few moments, I met up with the group I was traveling with and headed for the city of Kyoto via train. An interesting train ride ensued. The outer rings of Osaka were just littered with crammed communities and rice paddies. Every ounce of space in Japan is utilized. More on that later. As the city began to disappear, I started to see groves of lush green trees. It was amazing to see these trees right next to concrete structures. The landscape continued to meander as we made our way into Kyoto, with mountains now appearing in the distance. Kyoto station, where all the trains come through, was just utterly impressive. You get off the train and walk into a huge, cavernous gallery that at its highest point is 11 stories high. Huge escalators line both right and left as you exit into the bustling city center.
Our accomodations for the few days I was there were traditional Japanese Inns, called Ryokans. These consist of small, traditional Japanese rooms with roll-up mat beds. Sleeping on the ground on these roll up mattresses was a lot of fun. And thats in all seriousness. haha. The Ryokans are run by families, and getting that authentic side of Japan was really neat.
We spent a lot of time in local cafe's, where shopkeepers serve usually either breakfast or lunch and coffee throughout the day. These were small, 8-12 capacity rooms that were usually the ground floor of the owner's house. I loved hanging out in these cafe's. Most of the local cafe's were located away from the central shopping and business district of Kyoto, where huge global retailers like Tiffany and Armani had stores. This area was where everybody seemed to conglomerate on the weeekend. I enjoeyd getting to walk around the different parts of the city and experience both the authentic local cafe's and the more modern aspects of the city.
Our group took a train one day to the mountains on the east of the city. It was about a 30-45 minute train ride into the mountains, and the views were just spectacular once you got inside the mountain. Modern Kyoto seemed a distant memory as we glided into the lush forested mountains. We were able to get out and hike up a winding trail to an old Buddhist temple that sat on the upper edge of the mountain and looked out at several other nearby mountains. It was evidently a strategic religious and military locaiton back in the day. But you see, back in the day in Japan means a whole other thing than back in the day in America. They've just had so much more civilization history than America has, even though we had Native Americans here for such a long time.
I left Kyoto with a general impression of mystery. The ancient temples and shrines are everywhere in Kyoto, and they tell a story of deep-seeded Buddhism that intertwines culture and belief into one seemlessly woven tapestry. Old and new stand side by side in Kyoto, evidenced by the cafe's and temples right next to modern telecom companies. It just is a land of mystery to me, and after only a few days there, I can only leave with a huge appreciation for the intricate culture and interesting customs of this land. It was definetely an incredible experience.
Hopping back on the plane to the states, I realized just amazing it is to be able to continent hop with modern forms of travel. It just boggles my mind.
As the first part of my internship with Food for the Hungry, this trip springboards me into the rest of the summer. More to come later. Until then, Peace.