貴章の日本 Taka’s Japan
This blog documents my trip to Japan in 2008. Unfortunately, I never finished it. There was just too much material. The latest post is always first, so start with the last post and read them from the bottom up! To make things even more interesting, there are actually two prequels to this travelog. If you want to know the whole story, read these two prequels found on my blog Cost of Discipleship:
……Jesus in Japan ………………… Passover Flight

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Nagoya Downtown Up We Go

Well now, after our grueling morning romp at Nagoya Castle, Taka thought we should have some lunch, so we found this great restaurant in the Underground Mall in downtown Nagoya. The picture is Brock and me after lunch, two very happy gaijin 外人. (Notice the tooth pick and the smiles.)

Well, what did we have for lunch? We tried something that instantly became my favorite—Kyoto style ramen. The thing I liked about it was that there was a layer of very fine green onions—or maybe chives?—cut up into rounds, I mean literally a thick layer, and then there was the meat slices, the ramen itself, and more onions.
Can you tell I love onions?
Don't come too close!
Kyoto style ramen 京都ラメン is the bowl on the right in the picture. The price? Only 380 円, about $4. The food at this place—おいしかった oishikatta!—was delicious!
What else can I say? Read it and weep!
I know where I'm going for lunch when I get back
行ってきます—Ittekimas’—I'll be back!

After lunch, we walked around downtown. There are lots of trees, and Nagoya Central Park is right there too. The wide sidewalks were thronging with people, walking or on bikes, of all ages and aims. Many were probably on their lunch breaks. Despite the sheer numbers, everyone moved in an orderly fashion, and it never felt crowded. A thickly-built Japanese elder with full beard and whiskers twinkled his eyes at us, as he passed us on his bicycle. Beards and moustaches are rare in Japan. Only some elders, and some youngers, sport them. "An ally," he seemed to be thinking. Behind us rises the Nagoya version of the Eiffel Tower. It's the 名古屋テレビ塔, Nagoya Terebi-tō, the Nagoya TV tower.

Oasis 21

Here we are at the Aquapark on top of Oasis 21, a concrete and glass shopping center, outdoor park and the entrance to Sakae bus terminal. The Aquapark is a shallow lagoon with a glass floor that is supposed to act as a giant humidifier. We went below to the mall, which was quite interesting with the sun shining through "the waters above the firmament."

Here's some closeup shots of myself and Brock with our best friend, host and guide, Taka. We didn't get too many shots of the three of us together, because one of us had to take the picture!

Here's Brock taking a look at Japanese comics at one of the shops in the mall. If you didn't know, everyone in Japan reads comics—avidly! It's like the national pastime, along with playing pachinko.
In coffeehouses I often saw men older than me settled in with a comic book, the result no doubt of Japan's high literacy rate—100%—wow! reading kanji and three different alphabets!

Midland Square Sky Promenade

Another place that Taka wanted us to visit was the Midland Square Sky Promenade. Funny, isn't it, how Japan names its modern buildings and other landmarks with American names?
Even the signs are in romaji or Latin letters. That's what I meant when I wrote that their 100% literacy is quite amazing, seeing as how they have to be able to quickly read a minimum of 2000 Chinese characters, two sets of Japanese alphabets with 46 letters each, and then Latin, English really, with our 26 letters. Learning the alphabets is a snap, but the characters, well, they learn 10 a day while they're growing up. And the 2000 characters are like the bare minimum. Most educated adults know even more. The total for a college graduate is something like 5000. Getting back to the topic…

It's good viewing from the top of this tower, and both Taka and Brock are photographers. Brock also shot video footage up here. The whole city of Nagoya was spread out before us, and it was awesome. In the panoramic view you can see Nagoya Castle in the distance.

The admission charge to go up to the top of the Sky Promenade was 700 円 per person, kind of steep I thought, until I actually made the ascent. The admission ticket shows the "rules" for visitors. I also wanted to give you a sample of the Japanese alphabet, which I took from the ticket and added the pronunciation in romaji, so you could see how easy it is! The alphabet Japanese use to write non-Japanese words is katakana, like the one in the sample below. That is, when they don't just use English letters.

Oh, the other thing to notice about this sample is how English names are "Japanised."
In Japanese, syllables can only end in a vowel or in "n"—so, this is what they have to do to write our weird language!

Tomorrow, Taka goes to work for half a day, and Brock and I hang out and catch our breath. Then, later in the evening we get "dressed up" and go with him to visit his corporate "boss" at the main company. Stay tuned. More to follow…

Monday, June 9, 2008

Nagoya Castle 名古屋城

Nagoya Castle, first a little bit of history…
In 1610, Tokugawa Ieyasu ordered the daimyo 大名 to help with the building of a castle that was to be the new capital of the existing Owari Province. Construction was completed in 1612. During the Edo period, the Castle was the center of the important town, Nagoya-juku, from which modern Nagoya 名古屋 developed. Nagoya Castle was destroyed by fire in World War II, but the donjon has been rebuilt. That's the part that is now a museum, and which we visited today. It no longer has the internal structures of a castle, but instead has been entirely rebuilt with a central staircase and galleries on all the levels. One of the exhibits was a wonderful scale model of what the interior of a Japanese castle is like. Due to the destruction caused by the air raid, most of the Castle's artifacts were destroyed, but somehow many of the paintings survived and are displayed in the numerous galleries.

In front of the Castle are some other buildings that seemed to have to do with maintenance of the park that surrounds it. Here we are, armed with cameras, ready to shoot hundred of photos—which Taka did, about 900 to be exact, during our entire trip, of course!

In the plaza before the Castle there are souvenir stands and the ubiquitous beverage machines. Though vending machines may seem to be a nuisance at a historical site, they are a welcome relief to exhausted hikers.

No matter where we went in Nagoya and the surrounding provinces, beverage machines were everywhere, the drinks were tasty, various, and cheap, usually only 100 yen each.

On top of the Castle are two golden imaginary tiger-headed fish, called kinshachi 金鯱. They were used as talismans for fire prevention. They are also said to be a symbol of the feudal lord's authority.
There were copies of this fish—and by the way they come in male and female versions—in many places in the park and in the Castle, as well as on top of it. Behind us is a kind of booth that has a golden fish. Here we are making fools of ourselves at one of the many photo façades that one finds everywhere at tourist attractions. Oh, well.
The golden tiger-headed fish at the top of the Castle are said to be visible for miles around from the sunlight reflected off them.

This empty field is the site of Honmaru Palace 本丸御殿, which was destroyed in air raids, and has not been rebuilt. There are plans to rebuild it on the original site in the next four or five years. As you can
see, we spent a lot of time walking around the park before we actually went inside the Castle. What we didn't get to photograph were some things I wish we had—the moat, for example, that surrounds the
Castle. It was deep and on parts of it were dry and filled with soft grass, which a herd of deer were grazing. They kept staying far enough ahead of us, or around the corner of the Castle wall, so that we didn't photograph them, unless Brock got them with his camcorder.
In an odd sort of way, I liked being outside the Castle than in it. Here's another view through the trees.

Here we are, Brock and I, getting ready to enter the Castle. The plating on the doors was massive. Inside the Castle everything was modern and rebuilt like any contemporary museum, a little disappointing.
We really couldn't take many pictures in there, but we did get a few of us taking a rest on one of the benches. Here's one of them—Brock and Taka, sitting bolt upright like two warrior monks. It was pretty strenuous exercise climbing to the top of the Castle by stairs.
Taka took this picture of us as we were getting ready to leave Nagoya Castle through one of the exit gates leading out of the plaza.

What else can I say about the Castle? Well, it was pretty interesting in a museum sort of way. The collection of paintings that were saved from the bombing of Nagoya was splendid, as were the weapons, armor and other artifacts from samurai days. We bought a few excellent books about the Castle's collections, and at very reasonable prices. The top floor of the Castle was the funniest thing and unexpected to me—a rather gaudy and tinselly souvenir shop where you could buy all the weird doo-dads, imprinted with the symbol of Nagoya and its Castle, the tiger-headed fish, that you could want. "I'll buy some of these the next time I'm here," I thought to myself.

Here's some more photos chosen at random. Don't forget to click on them to zoom. You're welcome to download any you like.

Meet ミスタ-ドナツ Mr Donut!

After we left Koshō-ji Temple, our next stop would be Nagoya Castle. But on the way there we couldn't resist stopping by Mister Donut ミスタ-ドナツ Misutā Donatsu in Japanese pronunciation.
This is a franchise that died out in the U.S. but is very strong in Japan, and their donuts, coffee and service are just about the best we've ever experienced.

Notice the signs in English pointing the way IN, and announcing PARKING. This is not just for the benefit of tourists!
The average Japanese knows hundreds of English words!

In the States, this kind of quality can be found, maybe, only in small, family-owned donut shops, but our chains like Dunkin' Donuts, or even Krispy Kreme, can't begin to compare.
Not too sweet, not doughy or yeasty, baked just right, glazed or filled just right, perfection. They also have other things at Mister Donut, such as mini-quiches in a flaky pastry crust. This first visit I ordered one and ever after that was my favorite.

My typical order, coffee
(all you can drink), a mini-quiche, and two donuts.
Here we are paying for our donuts. Below are three graphic samples of the goods to tantalise you!

Oishii des’ おいしいです de-licious!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

At Koshō-ji Temple

After coffee at the Aladdin, we hit the highway to our next destination, Koshō-ji Temple. It was still pretty early. Taka wanted us to get there in time to attend the temple service at 8 o'clock, and then afterwards, we would visit his mother Yoko's grave, which is in the temple cemetery. This visit was full of meaning, as Brock and I were going to pay respects to the mother of our best friend in Japan, a soul that worked and struggled hard for what she knew was true, and passed her legacy to her four sons and, I wouldn't doubt, to her husband as well. A little bit of her story is told in the prequel Jesus in Japan. I wish we knew more about her, but there is still a lot of unknowns at this point.

From Taka's attitude toward Buddhism, I gathered that it hovers on the periphery of his mind. He seems to hope that whatever the chanting monks do will help Yoko wherever she is, and that vague hope seems to be the normal Japanese attitude about their dead. They leave flowers at their graves and burn bundles of incense, sensing that this somehow soothes the dead, or makes them happy.
Japan appears to be coming to the end of its religious past, modernity and the speculations of other races are cutting the last few links they have. Like the Greco-Romans at the time of Christ, they only half-believe that the gods are there, and barely believe there is any help in them. Both systems, the Greek and the Japanese, were full of the highest and noblest ideals, and yet they seemed to dissipate like morning mist when the sun rises, and when the Son arose.

Here we are, we've arrived at Koshō-ji. It's very much in park-like surroundings, everything ordered to bring peace to the mind and heart. Well, almost everything. Here too, as everywhere else at temples throughout the world, that world has the job of door man to the faithful. This was our first encounter with temple commerce in Japan, spiritual materialism—incense, prayer sticks, and a whole line of religious items I had no inkling existed. We stopped there momentarily, while Taka enquired, "Is there a service today?" And who should be there today but the great Buddhist abbot, fourth in rank in all of Japan, that personally prays for Yoko. Like all Buddhist prelates, he was friendly, even jolly, as he greeted Taka. "He's not here all the time," said Taka to us, "we lucked out!" Taka let him know that he was bringing two gaijin 外人, foreigners, with him to the service.

Koshō-ji Temple dates from the 17th century and consists of a number of fine buildings including an impressive five-storey wooden pagoda completed in 1808. The temple and grounds of its attached graveyard are situated in pleasant woodland on Yagoto Hill. There's an annual "1,000-Lantern Festival" at the harvest moon and also small flea-markets are held there on the 5th and 13th of every month. Unfortunately, we came in the off-season for both.

We approached the temple steps, removed our sandals, and stepped onto the clean wooden floor of the porch. We'd never been inside a Buddhist temple before, except the Portland Buddhist church off southeast Powell, and that's exactly what it felt like, a church, complete with pews and hymn books. But not this temple—this was the real thing. I looked around carefully and intently, looking for signs of Christian influence. Why? Because Eastern Orthodoxy arrived here at least two centuries before Buddhism via the Silk Road in the form of the Nestorians.

It is certain that many of the oldest temples and shrines in Nara, Kyoto and other places are built over the burned out ruins of Christian churches. Buddhism, with imperial support, vigorously overcame and absorbed the Nestorians, and there are supposed to be vestiges of Orthodox culture in the Mahayana Buddhism of Tibet, Mongolia and Japan. So I looked, but all I could see was layer upon layer of rich symbolism in a semantic very alien to me.

When we entered the temple, it was deserted. There were about six backless benches in the hall in front of the main "altar," if you can call it that. There was a huge golden image of Buddha there, and lots of other stuff. "The benches," explained Taka, "are for modern Japanese who sit in chairs all the time and can't sit cross-legged on the floor for very long. You can sit there if you like." Then, after we looked around a bit at the temple furnishings, Brock and Taka sat down on the floor, and I on a bench, while we waited for the service to start. Brock got his camcorder ready to shoot footage of the temple service, which he did. I can't wait to see it.

The abbot and about eight young monks, all sturdy young fellows none older than about thirty, entered and stood in two facing rows opposite each other, with the abbot in the center with his back to us. Then, the abbot and his disciples sat down, and the chants began, punctuated by the sound of wooden and metal chimes that made more a hammering sound than a ringing. It reminded me just a little of the Orthodox simandron, a wooden board hit rhythmically with a hammer, to call Christian monks to services.

We listened hard. I, trying to distinguish words in a language I knew. Every now and then words that sounded Japanese were chanted, but mixed up with other words that sounded Sanskrit. Taka said he couldn't make out a thing they were chanting. For twenty minutes, as the monks changed their tune several times, Brock filmed, and all three of us changed our posture, sometimes sitting on the floor, sometimes on a bench. Anything to keep our bottom halves from "going to sleep."

Abruptly it was over. The monks had taken no notice of us, but I'd seen one or two of the younger ones furtively glancing our way. They all stood up, bowed slightly toward us and filed out. We sat alone in the temple, and talked about some of the things in front of us, trying to guess their meaning. We walked around the inside of the temple once more, stopping at a little shrine with about 5 primitive muddy looking doll-like images. The multi-slotted money box that we were to see at every shrine and temple in Japan beckoned hungrily. At this shrine you dusted off one of the images, and made an offering, and you got blessed or something.

Before we left, the abbot and his monks filed past us again and went to the porch to say some mantras out there, at least that's what it looked like, but then it turned into something like a staff meeting at the beginning of the day, "Who's gonna do what today?" sort of thing. By the time we exited the temple and got our sandals, the monks had disappeared. Through a screen I saw a woman kneeling in a side shrine, quietly. We re-entered "the world of the real" with our feet re-shod, and I bought a prayer stick and a bundle of incense as a souvenir for 200 yen. A real bargain, I thought, until I got a box of five bundles of incense for 100 yen a few days later at the 100 yen store!

We hiked up some stairs and onto some gravelly paths into the great cemetery on Yagoto Hill. It didn't take long for Taka to find Yoko's grave. It's a new monument, and beautifully carved in deep calligraphy with the Imayama family name. We read the inscription for Yoko on the back of the monument. I can at least read Japanese dates, which are expressed not in A.D. years, but in the regnal years of the emperor. Yoko was born in Showa 6 (1931) I think, and she passed away in Heisei 16 (2004). If I've made a mistake, I'll correct it later.

Taka had brought some incense, and he lit the bundles and placed them in the incense urn. I didn't think they would burn, but they did. "If the smoke goes straight up," Taka explained, "the soul is happy." The smoke rose pretty straight. Taka smiled. He dusted off the monument, and we all just paused there. Brock and I paid our respects, and silently prayed. It was a connecting moment. Then we withdrew, did a bit more sight-seeing on the temple grounds, and walked back to the car.

As we taxied down the runway… I mean as we got back on the highway… we started thinking about what was next on our morning agenda. Nagoya Castle. But first, time for Mister Donut!

Four more pictures…