I have been to Japan several times and been to some of these places more than once. Soon, I will be taking another trip to Japan, and they are making me a ticket to go on a day trip to see some of this again. When I was a student in Japan, I was taken around and shown things twice by my university, so I got to know about good places to see. If you go to Japan and can’t go to any of these places, at least visit the local Shinto shrine and Buddhist temple. You don’t have to believe to go there. Just appreciate what you see and if you can understand what people say, ask questions. Japan is interesting, and I am going to tell you about some places I have been shown that will give you an idea if you would like to take a trip.
First of all, if you look through my blogs, a few months ago, I went to Osaka Castle. I have been there several times, and I learn a little more every time I go there. The Shogun who united all of Japan lived there. If you want to know about it, you can look back through my blogs.
Soon, I have a ticket to go to Kyoto. Kyoto was, once upon a time, the capital of Japan. It is quite a place to see! It has 1,600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines. There is a lot to see, and unless you spend a long time, you won’t get to see it all. However, there are a few things that are more enlightening. You can see the place where the old emperors lived. Ginkaku-ji is also there. Ginkaku-ji is “the golden temple.” It sits out on a lake. You have also probably seen the famous Rock Garden on TV or in a magazine somewhere. It is in Ryoan-ji, a Buddhist temple. When I was there with the first group of students, they all sat around the garden and just looked saying, “It is time for us to slow and and just meditate on the rocks.” In a few weeks, I will be showing you whatever I can find in Kyoto.
The largest Buddha statue in Japan is in Nara at the Tidaji temple. It is in the middle of a deer park. There are deer everywhere. I have also seen this place in videos on Facebook. I went there with a student group when I was in Japan. The second largest Buddha is in Kamakura at the Kotokuin Temple. It is 11.4 meters tall. If you go around to the back, there is a little door with stairs inside. Some of the students went inside the Buddha.
Somewhere they took me that really fascinated me was Nikko. Nikko is more Shinto than Buddhist. The original “See no evil, speak no evil, hear evil monkeys: are in Nikko. They are carved above the door of the Toshogu Shinto shrine. The idea for the monkeys idea is not particularly Shinto. It originally came from Confucianism, from China. China has had a lot of influence in both Korea and Japan. Confucianism teaches the older people to keep the younger people in line, and it works. It also makes a lot of younger people very humble. It is not a religion, but a model for society to make society work, a philosophy. The monkeys were carved by a guy named Hidari Jingoro who also carved the famous “Sleeping Cat” (Nemuri Neko) that is also up over a doorway of another Shinto Shrine nearby. I tried to find the meaning of the Sleeping Cat. From what I understand, Hidari Jingoro was fascinated by cats, and he based his cat on a book by Zempel Matsumura, but I couldn’t find out exactly what the book was about. Hidari Jingoro studied wood carving in Kyoto. There is one more thing to see in Nikko. It is an Unesco World Heritage site, “the Scared Bridge” (Sometimes called the Snake Bridge). They say it was originally built by a god, but it has been restored. It is a red bridge that goes over the Daiya River. It is the only entrance to the Futaarasan Shinto shrine. They hold Shinto ceremonies on the bridge. When I was there, they told us that we weren’t allowed to go on the bridge, but only look, but when I looked it up on the internet, they said you could buy tickets to go across the bridge.
Besides these, there is more to see in Japan. If you are in Tokyo, go to see the National Theater. It is where they do the Kabuki and Bunraku plays. In Kabuki, they dress up in brocade kimonos, put white makeup on their faces, and beautiful wigs. Women have never acted in Kabuki. Thin men called onna geta dress as women. It was considered immoral for women to be on the stage in old Japan, and they have continued that tradition. In old English plays, it was the same. Men used to dress up as women, but England eventually put women on the stage. In Japan, women are on the stage, but not in Kabuki because it is all about tradition. In Bunraku, they put on marionette type Japanese plays. These are all very interesting, and I recommend that you see them if you have a chance. Also in Tokyo, there is Tokyo tower and the Ginza, both worth seeing. The Ginza is a big shopping area. Don’t take the subway during rush hour, but go to the subway during rush hour and watch what the people do. You will get a big kick out of watching the “train stuffers.” The subways get so full that they have hired people to stuff the people into the trains and make sure the doors close. At rush hour in the subway in Tokyo, you may even see people’s arms hanging out the windows because they have been stuffed in so compact there is no room for their arms inside.
Another fun thing to do in Japan is to climb Mount Fuji. They count how many rungs you go up, and the closer you get to the top, there are little huts where you can stop for things to drink or eat and to buy souvenirs. The closer you get to the top, the thinner the air gets. We got tired and didn’t end up getting all the way to the top, but it was fun, and we got pretty close.
You can’t leave Japan without riding the Shinkansen, the Japanese bullet train. It goes 200 miles per hour. I have ridden it several times. When I lived in Okayama, I had to ride it every time I went to Osaka to the American embassy. It gets you there very fast! Some Japanese ride it everyday because they commute. There are more interesting places than where I have been. I was told about an island south of Oakayama that is supposed to be very pretty with lots of beaches, but I never had a chance to go there.
I have visited many more places than these, and anything you have a chance to see in Japan is always interesting. One of the most interesting things I thought when I was there was that their culture grew up completely on the opposite side of the world from mine, and they did things extremely different from what I was used to, but what they did still worked. Just because people do things differently doesn’t mean that what they are doing does’t have merit. One day, I would like to visit Okinawa since my son in law is from there. I have spent a lot of time in Ibaraki and love it there too. There are many more places than what I have seen. The last time I went to Ibaraki, my friend took me to a little shop that sold all natural food that was very interesting. If you can’t go to one of the places that is famous, there are always interesting things to see right where you are. When I lived in Okayama, the Shinto shrine was around the corner from my house, and my neighbors were trustees of the shrine. They loved to explain things at the shrine to me, and every time there was a celebration down there, they invited me to see what they were doing. All I can say is “Interesting!” I am a Christian, and I don’t believe in the old Japanese religions, but they are part of what makes Japan so interesting.