Here I am—yoo-hoo—over here! Way over here, in Japan.
The 11.5 hour flight was uneventful. I watched five movies, ate three meals, and slept for five minutes. Every once in a while I glanced back between the seats at my five-year-old nephew, and he was only sleeping once. The rest of the time, he was hunched up like little kids do when they’re jazzed, his black eyes twinkling with excitement. He and his brother are now attending kindergarten and fourth grade, respectively, in local Japanese schools for two weeks.
I had brought my full-size smushy pillow, and it made all the difference in comfort to be able to lean against the window with some padding.
I had a bit of a rocky start in Tokyo. My cell phone wouldn’t charge, then died. I walked in circles for almost an hour trying to find my hotel. The “tower view” I’d paid extra for was a view of a brick wall, and no one at the front desk spoke enough English for it to be worth my while trying to explain it. When I logged into my credit card account there were a slew of charges from a company I’d never heard of.
Thank god I’d brought my laptop! How else would I have been able to find an Apple Store in Tokyo? The folks at the front desk knew only enough English to point at a map handout (all in Japanese except the name of the hotel), to show me how to get to a local train station.
All is well now. My experience at the Apple Store was delightful. My Restless Legs disappeared completely for three nights! I can only guess that my brain thought nighttime here was daytime due to the 14-hour time difference, and I never get RLS during the day. It’s back now, bad as ever.
I spent two full days in Tokyo, then moved on to Nikko, a small city in the north. The advertised reason to come here is to visit the shrines dedicated to the first shogun, Tokugawa, and others. They are amazing, but the delight for me here has been nature and food.
This was my first meal here; a bento box featuring yuba, a local specialty that is soy rolled out paper thin then rolled up into pinwheels.
Here is a photo from a walk I took yesterday along the Tamozawa River.
You could look at this and say, “Hey, this looks just like the Knife River on the North Shore near Duluth! Why go thousands of miles away when you can drive two hours and see similar scenery?”
And you would be right, to a point. I love the North Shore and fully intend to go there this summer, too. But it doesn’t have red painted sacred wood bridges that are hundreds of years old, or stone bodhisattvas wearing red knitted caps and bibs.
It was on this walk—on my fourth day after arriving—that I felt myself come down off the ledge of worry about my phone, my credit card, finding stations and getting on the right trains…. This is often the way when I travel.
After my two-hour walk I hit the main shrine, which involved another half hour hike up a very steep incline followed by 200 steps where I passed people literally bent over double and clutching their chests.
At the top, in the Temple of the Crying Dragon, I was basically accused of shoplifting a lucky talisman. Thankfully I was too tired to come out swinging, which would be my usual response. But I left in a huff wishing bad karma on a Buddhist. More on that later.
I consoled myself with a bowl of yuba ramen.
I returned to my inn and soaked in the onsen, or hot spring bath, which is 10 steps from my room. Yes, you do it naked.
As I sat on the edge of the pool and gazed out the window I saw there was a stone Buddha in the bushes. I could just make out his big fat belly … wait—I was looking at my own reflection!
Dang, guess I better watch it with the giant ramen bowls.