… and our journey through Japan continued. I’ve already covered some of the “icons”, the food and the cherry blossom craze we encountered. But that’s far from it all. Here is some more, to feed the glutton in you. If you missed Part I, click here first!
Losing my Religion
Japan’s religious architecture and art are amazing. Temples, shrines, torii gates (those oh-so-famous Japanese arches/doorways, most typically orange), pagodas, statues of Buddha, cemeteries -with no crosses-, stone lanterns and so forth. Thousands. All over. Some more impressive than others. At some point you stop counting. At some point you stop taking pictures of every single one you walk past. At some point you stop realizing you’ve just passed another one. And then there’s the praying ritual that comes with that. Claps, bows, monetary donation (of course), pulling the bell’s cord, more claps, more bows, peace of mind.
– There’s no randomness at all, in all those moves –
Such an extremely religious folk, we were convinced. So many temples. So many people performing that bowing and clapping ritual. And then we asked about the difference between temples and shrines, between Buddhism and Shinto (Japan’s traditional religion) and who practiced what. We heard stories of Buddhist monks decorating Christmas trees (?!) and eating meat. Of people going to Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples indistinctively. Of single-digit percentages of truly “religious” people. Turns out it’s more like “traditions” and “rituals” than a really serious religious practice. To my Japanese friends or those in the know, please feel free to confirm. Anyway, religious or not, everything around it is visually delicious.
Mystical atmosphere, at a shrine. // Ambiente de lo más místico, en los templos y santuarios.
Impresive pagodas. // Pagodas impresionantes.
…another one. // …aquí otra.
…and one more, pose included. // …y una más, pose incluida.
Some temples are hidden in between concrete // Algunos templos están escondidos entre rascacielos.
… other ones are surrounded by impressive landscapes. // … otros están en medio de paisajes increibles.
…some have their own complexes. // … otros tienen sus propios terrenos enormes.
Some are huge! // … algunos son impresionantemente grandes.
Last one, only because I’m in the picture. // Aquí el último, solo porque yo salgo en la foto.
Little bell. /// Campanita.
Many many statues. // Muuuuchas estatuitas.
They water the statues as part of the ritual. // El ritual incluye echales agua.
In some places, thousands of stone lanterns line up. // En algunos lugares hay miles de estas lámparas de piedra.
…also thousands of “real” lamps. // … también hay miles y miles de lámpraras de las “normales”.
And then the famous “torii” gates. // Y luego, los famosos arcos “torii”
They signal the entrance to a sacred place -most of the times a shrine-. // Indican la entrada a un lugar sagrado, por lo general un santuario.
Not always orange, but mostly. // No siempre naranjas, pero porlo general.
In Kyoto, there are thousands in one place. // En Kioto, hay miles en un solo lugar.
… I mean, thousands. // … en serio, miles!
And you can sponsor your own… everything has a price. // Y como todo tiene un precio en esta vida, puedes auspiciar una!.
Cemeteries are also very interesting to visit. // Muy interesante visitar algunos de los cementarios.
For us, catholic ones, it’s strange to see a cemetery with no crosses. // Para nosotros, católicos, es raro ver un cementario sin cruces.
Soooo many mini-buddhas. // Tantos mini-buditas.
They could film movies here. // Como para filmar una película no?
Just as a bonus… not really “religious” architecture (more like military), … but I didn’t find another section to put this in 😊 … here the nice castles we visited in Osaka and Himeji:
Osaka castle, surrounded by a wonderful park. // El castillo de Osaka, rodeado de un parque impresionante.
This would be me in front of the castle. // Y este vendría a ser yo, frente al castillo.
This is Himeji Castle, perhaps the most famous one. // Y este es el Castillo de Himeji, tal vez el más famoso de todos.
Guess what?.. it’s an UNESCO World Heritage site! // Y adivinen!.. es patrimonio mundial de la UNESCO!
Just another nice view of the castle. // Otra vista simpaticona del castillo.
hmm.. I already heard this about the Taj Mahal. // Los del Taj Mahal decían lo mismo.
Other cultural traits
I thought I’d share some of the behavioral aspects of life in Japan, as per our experience here. Things that wouldn’t make it to the “icons” list but nevertheless add to that unique character of Japan.
The bows. You wonder how much those lower backs must be hurting, from all the bowing. Sometimes it looks like a “who is the last one to bow” contest, like those times you’re with your girlfriend on the phone saying, “you hang up”, “no, you” … “no, you” … “nooo, you!”. Only with bows.
– Official ceremony, held on the street. Plenty of bowing. –
Japanese are queuing experts. Everywhere. Even to cross the street, people tend to line up, waiting for the green light. Is the restaurant full?… you don’t just write your name on the list and come back in a few minutes… you wait there, making a line. Is the line already 30 meters long? Doesn’t matter, just get in line and wait, patiently. Even if the line is cut off by a big avenue. Continue across the street. There will likely be one or more “queue organizers”.
Queues waiting for the metro… // Colas esperando al metro…
… to get a table … // … para que te den una mesa…
… to enter a restaurant…. // … para un restaurante…
… even on the stairs, sitting … // … hasta en las escaleras, sentados…
… and my favorite, in front o a “Line Friends” store… isn’t it a self-fulfilling prophecy? // … y mi preferida, delante de una tienda de “Amigos de la fila” … no es paradójico?
Visiting “onsen” and “sento” communal baths (the name depends on whether they are fed by natural hot springs or not). They LOVE them. We loved them as well. Quite an experience, with the multiple lined mini stations (cubicles?) where you first need to wash yourself while seated on a small stool (never standing up), surrounded by the nakedness all of your seated neighbors; …the art of not letting your towel touch the water of the hot pools by rolling it on top of your head … the fact I had to cover up my tattoo with skin-colored tape, as tattoos are not allowed there. Too bad pictures weren’t allowed inside (go figure).
– so much for pictures around a public bath, sorry –
We had never taken our shoes off so many times. We already knew no shoe shall ever touch a tatami floor, but pretty much every place you visit -except from high transit horeca, let’s say- demands that you take them off (more so than in the rest of Asia, I’d say). We were so happy we put elastic laces to our shoes. And felt so bad when we saw people visiting temple complexes in their hiking boots! They spent more time tying and untying than visiting. I drew the line at “shared toilet slippers”, found by the door of many toilets.
– Japanese socks, perfect to wear with flip-flops. And so sexy. –
And that urban legend about you asking for directions and people stopping what they are doing to guide you in person (instead of just telling you)? Well yeah, it’s true.
There’s more, but I’ll leave it there for now.
Things you see on the streets
I’m forcing a little bit my categorization of things, I know. But these ones aren’t “icons”, nor necessarily “behavioral” aspects… you do see them everywhere, though. I’ll keep it short, just listing them.
Vending machines. Everywhere. Offering everything. From mixed cocktails to SIM cards to adult toys. Tiny and huge. Analog and digital.
Everywhere, by the hundreds. // Por todos lados, por centenares!
They say so many machines create a serious energy problem. // Dicen que tanta máquina significa un problema serio de consumo de energía.
Not even to buy a SIM card you need human interaction. // Ya no necesitas interactuar con personas ni para comprar una tarjeta de celular.
A digital one… quite cool. // Una digital… de lo más simpática.
This one is at the entrance of a Ramen place… order there, get your bowl inside. As effficient as it gets. // Esta estaba afuera de un restaurante de Ramen … ordenas allí y pasas a recoger tu sopita. De lo más eficiente.
Neon lights. Some streets look like taken out of a theme park.
All big cities have a street like this one. // Todas las ciudades grandes tienen alguna calle como esta.
hmm.. where were we going? // … a dónde es que íbamos?
Even at daytime it all looks ultra colorful. // Incluso de día se ve todo super colorido.
…but when the lights go on, it’s like a show. // … pero cuando se prenden las luces, pareciera que el show empieza.
Any random restaurant can look so flashy. // Cualquier restaurant de puede ver de lo más extravagante.
Garbage. Or, more accurately, NO garbage. And even more interesting, almost no garbage bins! You are expected to take with you any rubbish you generate. Should we try that in Peru? Hah.
100-Yen shops. Like your usual 1-dollar-shop. Only with much cooler stuff (be aware, you’ll spend a few thousand Yens anyway).
– was dying to buy some audio tapes and CD cases –
Never ending “shopping arcades” (meaning covered shopping streets) and underground labyrinths of shopping malls. In every city. There’s not GPS coverage down there, so you’ll get lost, guaranteed.
Sculpted gardens … it’s definitely a form of art.
Including the typical carp in the pond. // Incluyendo los clásicos pececillos en la laguna.
Manicured gardens. // Jardines ultra-cuidados.
… and not all of them are green and alive. // …y no todos son verdes y vivos.
Guess what tool this gardener is using? // Adividen qué herramienta está usando este jardinero?
Yup… tweezers!!! // Pues nada más y nada menos que unas pinzas!!!
– yup… he is using tweezers –
Dark wood, sliding doors, gray roofs and landscapes comparable to those of New Zealand (however not seen from a campervan but from a train at 300 kilometers per hour).
Traditional street in Nara. // Vieja calle típica en Nara.
Like going back in time. // Como quien retrocede en el tiempo.
This is actually in the basement of a office building! // Esto en realidad es en el sótano de un edificio de oficinas.
Very typical, these type of curtains at the entrances. // Muy típicas, estas cortinas en las entradas.
This little racoon is suposed to bring luck to businesses. // Esta especie de mapache se supone trae buena suerte a los negocios.
Did you also think it was chinese? … well they say it’s originally from here. // También pensabas que era chino?… pues dicen que este gato de la suerte también es de por aquí.
Beautiful little bridges. // Pintorescos puentecillos.
… good also for a nice run. // … buenos también para una salidita a correr.
Fishing (and then releasing the fish). // Pescando (y luego liberando lo pescado).
Almost made it to number 1. // Casi casi logra el primer puesto.
The irony of smoking inside of a tent, in the middle of an open park. // La ironía de fumar dentro de una carpa enana, en medio de un parque gigante.
World’s busiest crossing, at Shibuya-Tokyo. // El cruce peatonal más transitado, en Shibuya, Tokio.
And World’s largest rice spoon (woo hoo). // Y la cuchara arrocera más grande del mundo (oh wow).
Kimonos in a business district. // Kimonos en un barrio oficinesco.
Interesting approach. // Interesante enfoque.
Try leaving without paying for your parking. // Trata nomás de irte sin pagar el parqueo.
Corner bar. // Bar de esquina.
Lucky charms (they represent monkeys). // Amuletos de la suerte (representan monos)
Hachico, the most famous Akita dog. // Hachiko, el perro Akita más famoso.
A real Japanese will have the plastic umbrella. // Todo japonés real tendrá uno de estos paraguas de plástico.
Come eat with me. // Te invito a comer.
Famous billboard in Osaka. // Anuncio dizque famoso en Osaka.
Nishiki market, in Kyoto. // Mercado Nishiki, en Kioto.
Most likely tourists. Seguro que son turistas.
And then the landscapes… // Y luego, los paisajes.
Most famous torii gate in Miyajima (it’s there, look closely) // El arco torii más famoso, en Miyajima (ahi al fondo está, vean bien).
Also great spots for hikes. // También hay buenas rutas para hacer caminatas.
… en enjoy views from up there. // … y disfrutar de las vistas desde lo alto.
Friendly Japanese-Italian restaurant owners. // Super amigables dueños de restaurante italiano-japonés.
Weird products and weird sponsored brands. Supermarkets and drugstores are so fun to visit. I’m sure some of these celebrities are confident their pictures will never make it to the West (or don’t even know they are being used).
Very much up to date. // Muy actualizado.
If you see Messi’s face, you’ll buy it, right? // Basta con ver la cara de Messi para comprarlo no?
Not sure his agent approved this one. // No creo que su agente haya aprobado esto.
Forget about regular wet wipes. // Para esa manita de gato!
There’s more than one person I would gladly buy this for! 🙂 // Hay más de uno al que compraría esto de muy buen agrado.
Kágome, los ricos tomates, buenos para la digestión (only funny in Spanish :P)
Some brands are spot on! // Algunas marcas si son ganadoras.
To my surprise, it was harder to communicate here than in some of the other south-east Asian countries we visited. Not so many people speak English and if they do, their pronunciation will most likely be challenging to understand. Nevertheless, Japanese as a language is phonetically easier than, say Vietnamese, as there’s no intonation elements. This means you can read from the guide book and people will somewhat understand you (try that with Thai…). And luckily, there’s Google translate, flawlessly supporting image-based translation. Flawlessly being a relative term, of course.
Not sure about the “video” button. // No me queda claro eso de “video”.
Clear as water. // Pero si está más claro que el agua.
Children of whom?? // Los hijos de quién?
– See? Who needs to learn Japanese!? –
Funny enough, there are so many words and expressions derived from English!… just add a “u” or an “o” at the end of the words and you’ll nail it. “what is the passwordo for the internetto?”… “do you want your tea hotto or izu?”
It was also kind of contradictory, how Japanese people tend to be very reserved in public. Never saw someone openly talking to a neighbor on the train. If the bus is full and someone needs to pass through, you will never hear them saying “excuse me please, I need to pass!”. They will just carefully make their ways in silence. On the other hand, if they are in their circle of trust or if it’s part of their jobs, believe me they will speak. Loud. And with very long sentences and stretching that final vowel as if it was Mr. Fantastic’s arm.
– clips go in crescendo, so watch till the end 🙂 –
Easy to undertand, see? // Facilito de entender, no?
His job is to hold this “Please make two lines” sign. // Su trabajo es sostener este letrero de “por favor hacer dos filas en la escalera”.
Aren’t you supposed to hold it the other way around? // No lo está cogiendo al revés?
Lunch time, forbidden to socialize. // Hora de almuerzo, prohibido socializar.
Oh, and they looooove saying thank you (arigato gozaimasu):
– there will be a prize if you guess the number of times he says thank you 😉 –
… and etc.
That was supposed to be my last “category” for this different, weird, unique, crazy and wonderful country. And then, going through my pictures and videos, I noticed there was some stuff I left out! Stuff related to places we visited and things we did.
Interesting places we visited, which I didn’t specifically mention so far… Hiroshima and the emotions around it’s Peace Memorial Park. Koyasan and it’s atmospheric temples, mausoleums and huge cemetery. Nara and its huge Buddha, its world’s largest wooden structure and many many wild deer which, as you can see in the video, we did a great job feeding.
Date and time of disaster. // Fecha y hora del desastre.
Memories of the tragedy. // Recuerdos de la tragedia.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial park. // Parque de homenaje a la paz, en Hiroshima.
Hiroshima dome. // El domo de Hiroshima.
The bomb exploded exactly above it. // La bomba explotó directamente sobre él.
Paper cranes, a symbol for peace. // Grullas de papel, símbolos de paz.
…this is just the entrance. // … este arco es solo la entrada!
This is the real temple…home of a giant Buddha. // … este es el templo… hogar de un Buda gigante.
Feeding bambi. // Alimentando a Bambi.
More civilized than many people I know. // Más civilizado que mucha gente que conozco.
Popular spot for wedding pictures, it seems. // Parque de Nara, popular para fotos con la novia.
– even cute Bambi can be a bit intimidating –
On the activity front, we had Origami lessons, walked through bamboo forests and hiked in bear territory. They said that making noise while hiking would keep bears away, so I nervously took my iPhone out and played some random music… it’s now verified: bears stay way from Justin Bieber.
Our Origami teacher in Nara. // Nuestra profe de Origami, en Nara.
Bamboo forest in Kyoto. // Bosque de bambú, en Kyoto.
About to start a hike… // Listos para empezar una caminata …
… and this is the first thing we see! // … y esto es lo primero que vemos!
– No bear following us. Thank you Justin! –
And that put an end to our journey through (part of) Asia! From there, it was now time to cross the Pacific towards Mexico, for my cousin’s wedding. And then for a final month in Lima, getting spoiled (read: fed to the point of explosion) by our families, catching up with old friends and remembering what it felt like that whole “not doing anything” modus.
This could perfectly be the final post of the year …the actual trip finished almost 45 days after leaving Japan, however the storytelling will pretty much end here.
I might have some material for a final, conclusive post, though… we’ll see, we’ll see…
– Leaving Asia, we chartered a plane just for ourselves –
Amsterdam – The Netherlands, July 6th, 2018
(yup, I’m finishing this post being already back home!)
Francesco, aka Fran ... Peruvian-Italian Industrial Engineer, former Consultant, former Entrepreneur and, as of June 1st, 2017, former Nike employee in The Netherlands. Resigned in order to start a year-long Round The World trip (more like "Round Asia") with beautiful wife Sandra, also Peruvian-Italian, Lawyer and also former Nike employee as of June 1st, 2017. Both born and raised in Peru, call Amsterdam home since 2011.
View all posts by Francesco Bertini
6 thoughts on “Japan… in a parallel universe (Part II)”
Hello again treinamigo, mooie verhalen. Er valt iets te zeggen for “line up” but ik denk niet dat het hier gaat lukken😉. Bij trein zou t af en toe best fijn zijn. So I take Justin with me to🇨🇦🇺🇸let u know if the bears there would love to hear him😁. My sister told me about het buigen en wie als eerste weer stopt…t was wennen, she went to Kyoto for a conference. There too she became a sushi addict en now made me one too. Better then all those canadian steakes..😉 every day. Ik vond het very nice to read all yr posts en zou zeker graag some landen bezoeken. Also actually Cambodia..dat lijkt mij interessant. Japan is zeker on my list as I said before😁. Muchas gracis por alle updates. Maybe we’ll read some extra’s😉. Hasta luego for now! Toedeloeoe en groetjes doeiiiii Fleur
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Ps…ik telde 25x thank you…haha😁😉bye!
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aaaand the winner iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis…… sorry, not you, my friend. 🙂 … you can count again, but there was only once chance to win the prize…. sorryyyyyyy
Also forgot to put my name in it…😉last 2 posts..
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haha… thank you for your comments, my dear train friend.. of course I knew it was you! I don’t know anyone else making comments in 3 languages combined 🙂
Hello trenamigo, haha that is such a teleurstelling cause now someone else is getting de prijs in vorm van tech toilet😂😜…just a grappie. Ik gun de prijs to someone else. Hmmm ik have to count opnieuw then🖐. Stay a bit frio 😉cause its muy caliente. Groetjes for now😀doeg.