Thursday, May 13, 2010

Honshu and Kyushu Vacation Report, Part 1: Tokyo

Before we returned to North America, we decided it would be a good idea to see some of the rest of Japan. As many of our friends like to joke, “Hokkaido isn’t Japan.” Well, it is… but it’s very different than the rest of Japan. (Quick historical note: Hokkaido was settled by the Japanese in the 19th century, and Sapporo is roughly the same age as Seattle and Vancouver. Before the Japanese arrived, Hokkaido was already the home of the Ainu people.) We wanted to see “old Japan” and reconnect with some old friends, so off we went to the islands of Honshu and Kyushu.

First we spent a week in Tokyo. It seemed like the right thing to do, since Tokyo is what most people think about when they imagine Japan: an extremely crowded, huge city which is busy 24 hours a day. We thought we would hate it, but we didn’t. Then again, we came during cherry blossom season, and except for a couple of rainy days, they weather was great. Maybe we wouldn’t have liked it so much had we visited in the middle of the hot, muggy summer. In any case, Tokyo didn’t feel like a big city the way Boston or New York do. People were friendly and courteous (with the exception of a few businessmen who were in a hurry to get somewhere), the trains were efficient and ran on schedule, everything was very clean, and there were a lot of open spaces and parks.

Some Tokyo highlights were spending time chatting, debriefing, and praying with other OMF missionaries, picnicking under blooming cherry trees (that’s called お花見=ohanami, which literally means “flower viewing,” but specifically refers to viewing 桜=sakura=cherry blossoms), and visiting the Edo-Tokyo museum, where we learned about the city’s history. I also got to spend my birthday at nearby Nikkou National Park, visiting with our friend, Yuka and looking at beautiful trees and temples.

First thing to do on our arrival in Tokyo: find some cherry trees. The only thing is, we really needn’t have gone out of our way, since there were cherry trees everywhere.

Often ohanami parties get pretty wild. We went to one of the popular spots (Ueno park) to observe the craziness. It was a cold, rainy night, and only the diehards were present.

We met up with Ayumi, who stayed with my family for 2 weeks the summer when I was 11. We had lost contact, but I wrote her a letter in Japanese, with some help from my teacher. She emailed me a week later, and we met up in Tokyo.

We made a day trip out to Nikkou National Park, where we met up with our friend, Yuka. (Note the writing on the building behind them…)

(If you can't read it, it says "pink hair.")

Nikkou is famous for impressive temples in beautiful surroundings.

It was my birthday, so I had a phone call from my parents.

We walked around the Imperial Palace. You can’t actually go in, since the imperial family lives there, but you can walk around the outside.

We had Hiroshima style okonomiyaki from a street vendor. Delicious! And the fried egg on top was pure genius…

We visited the infamous Yasukuni Shrine, in which war dead are remembered (i.e. worshipped). The controversy is that a number of WWII war criminals were enshrined there.

This was Keith’s favorite display at the Edo-Tokyo Museum. (Hint: read the caption at the top of the picture.)

Keith makes friends with condemned fugu in front of a fugu restaurant.

We visited the Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka. It was fun to see a museum with excellent displays on some of our favorite films and on the mechanics of animation… and it was cool that they were child-sized. We had to bend over to see them. Oh, and I think I had the prettiest cappuccino ever in the café.

That night, we stayed over with Ronna, who had been my preschool teacher, and her daughter, Erika. Ronna and her husband, Dave have been missionaries in Japan for more than 20 years, so it was exciting to hear more about their life in Japan and see where they lived and worked.

End of part 1. Part 2 coming soon!

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