Friday, September 27, 2013

Travel Log: Summer Vacation PT1- Izumo Taisha/ Hiroshima

Sunburned on a boat, on the deep blue sea
For this blog, I wanted to get out of the habit of posting about specific events in my life like where I traveled or what I ate, preferring instead to focus on a more broad subject that would appeal to a wider audience of people. I thought that if I wrote about the funny and interesting parts of my life, like the idea and execution of school lunch, instead of just a catalog of what I ate, that it might be more enjoyable to read for people not also in Japan and living a similar lifestyle. But I wanted to diverge from that formula a little bit to talk about my travels specifically, and I guess a bit about the idea and execution of travel in Japan.

So let's first start with a little background about where I went and during what time. Our vacation started around the 22nd of July, which was the first holiday day, and I returned to school on August 19th with one week of summer vacation remaining. During that month long period I visited Okinoshima, Hiroshima, Kobe, Kyoto, Izumo Taisha, and parts of Shimane.

A building at Izumo Taisha

Scoping the fibers
The first place I went was Izumo Taisha. Right after vacation began, I took the train to Izumo and met my girlfriend there where she drove us a short distance to the shrine. Izumo Taisha is a lovers shrine-- a place where anyone seeking love can come and pray for it, or leave their wishes for happiness tied to a tree or scrawled on a wooden leaflet swinging in the wind. We passed many such wishes tied everywhere as we walked through the grounds. Many stalls selling various fortune-telling scrolls and other charms for luck or love or a myriad of other things were set up along the paths. Unlike in America, the people manning the stalls were quiet and let their wares sell themselves without without being hocked like cheap stadium peanuts. The workers were dressed in the traditional garb of people who do such work in shrines. Sellers must wear a certain set of colors while those actually tending to shrine business dress in another color. Addy sat with me in a cooling tent and told me about her time spent working in a shrine.

 Most of the shrines there have large knots bound in rope-like fibers that hang in the entrance. I was reminded that the idea of lovers being tied together is present in western culture too. We or course say "tying the knot" when we refer to being married, and this shrine was full of knots twisting and tying together. I got up close to see the end of one such knot. The fibers were tightly bound and wrapped inside a mesh screen on the end, to deter tampering I suppose. But inside the screen people had tucked or thrown various sizes of coins into the knot for good luck or good fortune. I found out that throwing things at parts of shrines is actually a very lucky activity. Apparently if you can throw a stone on top of a torii gate, you will have good luck. I thought that the good luck part was just a convenient excuse to indulge in the irresistible challenge of trying to get something to stick on top of the tall and pleasantly shaped gates, but I kept the thought to myself and continued on.

Shrine cat
On this trip, the summer heat had just begun to pick up in earnest, and we frequently sat and panted in front of mist machines blowing vaporized cool water around and nursed perspiring bottles of tea or water. We ate some good food at a great cafe, where I found coke and other drinks in a glass bottle, and we even found a cute shrine cat along the way. We only spent the better part of an afternoon there, but I still enjoyed myself. I think I'd like to revisit the shrine later on in the year when it's a bit cooler and more tolerable to walk outside. As we were heading out of the shrine, a cab driver called to us and asked if we would like our picture taken together. There was something strange about him-- the way he spoke and carried himself made me raise an eyebrow. But we accepted, and took the following awkward picture together:

The cab driver then went back to his car and returned with a name card. On one side was printed his information in Japanese, and on the other side was his (I suppose) adopted American persona. He revealed to us that he had spent some time in college in America, and that's why his name card said JOHN BELUSHI scrawled across the top in big, capital letters.

The next place I headed was a day trip from Shimane out to Hiroshima. We had a definite itinerary for this trip, so I didn't snap a lot of pictures. First we hit a mall, and perused the stores.To my great surprise, I managed to find some Altoids which I bought on sight. We ate at a wonderful quiet bakery inside the mall with neat vaulted ceilings which slanted sharply down to the ovens and lent an open feeling to the place. Many kinds of bread were on offer, and the entree I had was yummy, but upscale-expensive. I don't get to go crazy so often so I enjoyed being lavish for a little while. But the purpose of my journey was to see about fixing my broken iPhone, which turned out to cost more than I was prepared to pay (Around 170 dollars) so I struggled with it at several Softbank (My phone company) stores and finally decided it was a no go. Frustrated, we set out with what little time we had to the Peace Park. We sat around and talked for a bit, but it began to get dark and we decided to try to go to Costco before it got too late. Unfortunately it was closed, but we managed to eek out a few hot dogs for the drive home.We stopped in a rest station parking lot and marveled as a gaggle of scantily clad women piled out of an unmarked white van and stood about smoking and drifting off to the bathroom in pairs. We speculated about their jobs and histories, then headed home. Maybe I'll write more about them another time.

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