I had a mental list of things I wanted to experience in Japan.
- Stay in a ryokan
- Relax at an onsen
- See Mt. Fuji
- Eat takoyaki
- Eat taiyaki
- See the Akihabara district in Tokyo
- Get a Japanese ear-cleaner
- Ride the shinkansen
- Get a Daruma doll for Greg’s job search.
and I am glad to report that I did all of these things!
We stayed in ryokans every night, though the temple lodgings at Koya-san were technically a shubuku not a ryokan. At Hakone, our ryokan was also an onsen, and on the women’s side at least there were 5 pools/tubs. We saw Mt. Fuji from several vantages at Hakone, as well as from the shinkansen on the way to Nagoya to get to Takayama. In Takayama I ate taiyaki, and in Osaka I tried takoyaki. On our free day in Tokyo we visited a bunch of famous districts, including Harajuku, Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Akihabara. And at Nara, home of the largest Buddha statue in Japan, I got an ear-cleaner. I picked up the Daruma doll at a souvenir shop (not a temple) toward the end of our trip, but I can’t remember if it was in Nara or in Kyoto.
What the heck is all this?
The ryokan in Tokyo, with our futons ready for us
A ryokan is a Japanese inn, with tatami floors that you may not wear shoes on, futons that are stored away during the day and set out at night, and complimentary green tea in the room.
An onsen is a hot-springs bath, open to the public. There is a space for putting your clothes, a place to wash yourself, and one or more pools for soaking. There are lots of rules, like no clothing allowed and no towels allowed in the bathing pool, and you must rinse off all soapsuds before entering the pool, and at the Hakone onsen they didn’t allow any metals in, by which I think they meant take off all your jewelry. I guess the minerals in the water might have reacted with it.
Leave your clothing in a basket
Wash yourself all over
Enjoy a hot soak with a pretty garden view
I know you know what Mt. Fuji is. The most important and revered mountain in Japan. We did not climb it, we just posed for photos with it.
We were lucky that the clouds retreated for our photo opportunity
Takoyaki is dough balls with a bit of octopus inside, cooked on a griddle with lots of hemispherical depressions in it so the dough balls come out round. Taiyaki are fish-shaped snacks filled with red bean paste (or other fillings) and cooked on a griddle with fish-shaped depressions in it. If a Japanese word ends in -yaki, it is probably yummy, like sukiyaki (usually beef and vegetables in a sweet sauce), or okonomiyaki (a pancake-ish dish with egg and meat and vegetables in it).
Keiko took this photo when we shared takoyaki. We got them "wit" (as we say in Philly) everything - brown sauce, mayonnaise, bonito flakes
Taiyaki-the kind with red bean paste
In Tokyo, there are many neighborhoods with their own distinct characters, like in many large cities around the world. Akihabara (also known as Akiba) is “electric town” where you can buy almost anything relating to electronics, video games, anime and manga. There are girls in costumes on the street corners (they won’t let you take a photo), giant gaming arcades, the nerdiest-looking guys (also known as “otaku”) who you will never see in the fashionable districts like Harajuku, and shops devoted to single types of item, like fluorescent light bulbs, or wire!
One of the wire shops in Akihabara, Tokyo
We rode the shinkansen (bullet train) numerous times as we traveled between cities. They are pretty slick.
A shinkansen arrives at a station. Or maybe it departs - they look the same at both ends
A Daruma doll (Dharma) represents the founder of Zen Buddhism. It is used to represent a wish or goal, and one draws in the right eye when making the wish and one draws in the left eye when the wish is fulfilled. I wanted one for my husband who is hoping to make a career change this fall, as a fun representation of his goal. We are not Buddhists. This morning I drew in the right eye, and when Greg gets his new job I will fill in the left eye. Traditionally Daruma dolls are burned at temples at the end of the year, but I think we will keep this one.
Japanese ear-cleaners are not q-tips. They certainly have cotton swabs on sticks in Japan, but the ear cleaners are usually bamboo and you use them to carefully scrape the wax out of your ears. My mother-in-law says they are very effective! You can get them shaped like samurai swords or like light sabers, but I chose a more traditional style.
Can you tell which is the ear cleaner and which is the Daruma? Daruma dolls are weighted so if you knock them over they turn upright again
I’ve got a lot more Japan-related topics to write about, so be patient!