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Business as usual here. - Vox Audita Perrit, Literra Scripta Manet....
The heard word is lost, the written letter remains...
Business as usual here.
Today was a sad day, but in the interest of getting out of the cycle of grief, I didn't really stop to think of Maryke. It does go without saying however, that a day does not pass when I'm not thinking of her and asking the same questions that I was asking two years ago and yet receiving no answers for.

I was struck sharply by news from a friend that a priest who ministered to me and other students at Stuartholme passed away unexpectedly. I remember Fr Norbert for the droll sense of humour in his homilies and his affection for us- he was very popular and well-loved in the Stuartholme community. It was also two years ago today that he was saying mass for Maryke, and then was there to comfort me a week later when I attended my class reunion.

Anyway, as David Horton might say: Moving on. I've written up the post on the second leg of my Japan trip. Pictures are here.


My shinkansen to Osaka was in the afternoon, so I sort of pottered around Tokyo for a little while after storing my bags in a locker at Tokyo station. I did a wee bit of window shopping in the Ginza and had tamegeki (bowl of noodles with an egg omelette) for lunch. The trip to Osaka took about three hours, which I spent reading and watching the countryside whizzing past in a blur. I was met by Mina at Shin-Osaka station at around six, and we took a train to Ashiya where her mother Mariko was waiting to pick us up. We had dinner at an Italian restaurant before going back to their house- had to navigate an amazingly tall and narrow staircase to get up to the room where I was staying. Spent rest of my time there worrying about falling down these stairs! Mariko also gave me a ticket for the National Museum of Kyoto, which was a nice gift.


Full day today. Mina and Mariko took me out to Himeji Castle, one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites and a National Treasure of Japan. Like Mina's house, castle had extremely narrow staircases that we had to navigate in slippers. Incredible example of Japanese know-how when it comes to defenses- I believe that scenes from The Last Samurai were shot here too. From Himeji-jo we journeyed onto Mount Shosha, a journey we took on a ropeway to get to Engyo-Ji, a monastery for the Tendai sect of Buddhism and an important pilgrimage site. Scenes for The Last Samurai were shot here too (I haven't seen the movie, but I might have to swallow my dislike of Tom Cruise and do it now).

When we got back, I sat and watched a Sumo wrestling tournament with Mina's dad. He says that the best sumo are no longer coming out of Japan, but instead places like Mongolia and Russia. More sports over our dinner of sukiyaki and Asahi beer (and let me say that I like Japanese beer better than Aussie beer- blasphemy I know, but I enjoy the lighter taste)- Japan defeat Bahrain in World Cup qualifier!


After attending mass in the morning, we went out for a picnic in a nearby park with Mina's brother and his family. I helped Mariko make nigiri (rice balls), and we also had karage chicken, pickled vegetables, black beans and other assorted goodies. We went for a wander to look at the cherry blossoms and then took part in a tea ceremony.

Mina's dad and brother also took me out to see their business out near Kobe port. Their business might be familiar to some of you- you know those capsule hotels? Well, they make the capsules. The harbour was absolutely windy and freezing bloody cold- I think it was the coldest I had been for the entire trip!

Dinner was okonomiyaki, or savoury pancakes. OM NOM NOM! This was followed by watching the family's favourite samurai soap opera, which is set in Himeji castle during Edo Period. One of the female characters was a Christian, though a decidedly sexy Christian who looked like she was flirting with one of the samurai in a candlelit room. Not entirely sure whether cast was overacting or not.


Went on a morning shopping expedition with Mina and Mariko to Kobe. We visited a massive designer outlet that sold second hand luxury goods. The place was absolutely packed with people and there was a lot of jostling to get to some counters like the Louis Vuitton/Hermes boutique. We didn't spend very long in there, and went on to what looked like Japan's answer to Borders- a three floor bookstore that also sold a lot of other stuff- Mina went in there to buy some stationary and stickers for her kindergarten teacher job (she began work a few days after I left!). We had lunch in Kobe's Chinatown, and then Mina and I parted ways with her mother and we took a trip out to Nara. Visited the Todai-Ji (home of the Daibutsu- check out the photos!) and Kofuku-Ji temples.

Dinner was a three-course affair and was all very elegant- I am in awe of Mariko's cooking skills! I was also presented with presents- a set of ceramic plates, two cartons of sake, some sake cups and a few old volumes of manga that I had expressed interest in (Warau Mikaeru for anyone curious). Suddenly my gift of a set of coasters and a beautiful coffee table book looked like peanuts in comparison.


Left for Kyoto today, taking an express train there from Ashiya that took about forty-five minutes. I couldn't check into my hotel until two pm, so I stored my luggage and went off in search of a feed. Kyoto Station is absolutely huge, a destination unto itself. There are two department stores, restaurants and other shops in the building, so I wasn't exactly bored. After some browsing around and lunch, I found my way to my hotel, the Kyoto Royal. Wasn't too hard, though suitcase is now heavier than it was before, so struggling up a flight of stairs with it isn't easy.

After settling in my room, I took a late afternoon trip to one of the larger souvenir shops to do a little more shopping for friends and family. I then walked back to the area around my hotel in search of an early dinner. Had sushi at a sushi-train restaurant and sat next to an American mother and her daughter who baulked in horror when they saw horse being served up as one of the dishes. I had no problem with the food (but didn't try the horse all the same), although you have to watch out for the wasabi they put on the sashimi to help it stick together. One piece had so much on it I thought I was going to breathe fire! Started a little love affair with Asahi milk tea tonight too- so good! I also wrote some postcards to send out.


Had an unproductive morning- got up later than I had wanted to (getting used to another set of rice pillows), and then spent a fair bit of time getting lost. Salvaged the day with the surprising find of Kyoto's Catholic cathedral down the road from my hotel, and a Catholic bookshop where I managed to find a book of the mass in Japanese, Romanized Japanese, English, Spanish and Tagalog as well as a unqiuely Japanese take on the Virgin Mary in the form of a kokeshi doll. After lunch I went to Kyoto station to mail out some postcards and then caught a bus to Ginkaku-Ji, aka the Silver Pavilion. The temple was undergoing renovations, but the gardens and the rest of the temple complex were well worth a look, and very ambient.

Mostly though, day was spent getting lost. I suck.


Morning visit to Kinkaku-Ji (the Golden Pavilion) today, which was equally as lovely as the silver one, though without all the scaffolding and renovations going on. My first sight of the temple was through a sun shower, which was beautiful. Did tour through the temple area quicker though, as there was a very large tour group not far behind that were going to crowd up the place a bit. I followed that up with a visit to the National Museum of Kyoto with the ticket that Mariko gave me- there was a special exhibition of Zen Buddhist art that was worth the twenty minute walk from the station. I also had a wander around Gion, but only saw one Geisha enroute to an appointment- it was a bit too early in the day for them to be about.

After a late lunch, I went on to the International Manga Museum- awesome! There was an interesting exhibit on Franco-Belgian comics too, including some Japanese translations of Tintin. Spent quite of a bit of time there reading some volumes of their extensive manga collection too.


My last few hours in Kyoto I again spent in the general area of Kyoto station- did some more souvenir shopping and then caught up on my e-mails at an internet cafe. I ended up dozing through the shinkansen trip back to Tokyo. My afternoon back in the city was spent unpacking and settling in yet another hotel room and then some more wandering around Omote-Sando.


This wasn't a disappointing part of the trip, but it was a week when I had to cram a lot into what time I had. I didn't see Osaka, but having Mina and her family as my guides to the area in and around Kobe was great, and it was nice to have company when I'd been spending so much time alone before. I would have liked to have spent longer in Kyoto, maybe about five days instead of the three. I didn't because most of the hotels were booked out for the time I was there, pretty much all due to the holidays and cherry blossom season. I will definitely go back to Kyoto, because there are attractions that I missed out on seeing there, and having seen enough cherry blossoms to last a lifetime now, I'll try and go in the tourist off-season. The next time I'm there, I'll also work in Osaka and Hiroshima, both cities that I wanted to explore but ultimately didn't.

Mina and her family saw me safely around the various attractions near Osaka/Kobe, though I found Kyoto a little harder to navigate. There are just two subway lines, and the rest are run by Japan Rail, which require different tickets. I ended up using the buses a lot more- finding where I needed to go ended up being easier that way.

All this said, I felt the Kansai region was a culturally rich area. Tokyo is a comparatively modern metropolis, but Kyoto, Nara and Himeji are all areas that play host to Japanese National Treaures. I found Kyoto in particular to be a much more peaceful place than Tokyo, life seemed to go at a slower pace there.

Current Mood: melancholy melancholy
Current Music: Sarah Blasko- Flame Trees

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