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Monday, June 25, 2007

Trip to Japan: Day 2 6月18日月曜日

Monday was a rainy day. After checking out of my hotel, I took a walk from Shinsaibashi 心斎橋 to Dotombori 道頓堀, the liveliest nightlife area in Osaka 大阪. Rainy Monday mornings are a different matter, of course. On the way there, I stopped at a Family Mart convenience store and bought a bottle of Skal スコール, one of my favorite drinks in Japan. Skal is a carbonated yogurt drink that for some reason is difficult to find outside of western Japan. Here's a picture of the bottle, next to a shot taken from my hotel room window.

Two Dotombori icons that every tourist takes a photo of: the Kuidaore clown 食い倒れ人形 and the Kani-doraku かに道楽 crab. Kuidaore Taro has been beating his drum since 1950, while the giant crab has been moving its legs since 1960. I wanted to get a picture of the Glico Man, but his image was covered up as part of some kind of maintenance work.

Later that morning, I met Toshiaki, a former student of mine in Yokkaichi 四日市, and his wife Satoe. Toshiaki was a great help to me in planning my trip, especially with all the information he sent regarding Ominesan 大峰山 and Dorogawa 洞川. They drove me to see Taimadera 當麻寺, which is noted for a large mandala of a Buddhist paradise weaved in the 8th century by a nun called Chujo-Hime 中将姫. I know this because I was given a tour of the temple by Shiho Kuzumoto, the daughter of the head priest. Ms. Kuzumoto did a great job explaining, in very good English, the history behind the temple, and the significance of the treasures it contains.

Next, Toshiaki drove me to Kashihara-jingu 橿原神宮, a Shinto shrine dating from 1889, and dedicated to Japan's mythical first emperor, Jimmu 神武天皇. Afterwards, we had lunch, and then they dropped me off at Kashiharajingumae Station 橿原神宮前駅. I really enjoyed spending the late morning and early afternoon with the Miyazakis, and I hope someday I can return the favor should they ever visit me.

From Kashihara, I took the Kintetsu Line 近鉄線 to my final destination of the day, Yoshino 吉野. From Yoshino Station, you take a cable car to the village of Yoshino, which sits on the spur of Yoshino Mountain 吉野山. That's what the Lonely Planet guidebook states. What the LP guide doesn't tell you is that the village itself is built on a hill. I had to walk about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) uphill while pulling my small suitcase behind me. By the time I reached my lodgings, the sweat was pouring off of me. To my initial shock, no one at the Yoshino-yama Kizo-in 吉野山喜蔵院, a temple that also serves as a youth hostel ユースホステル seemed to know I was coming, despite my having had a reservation made nearly 2 months before. As it turned out, however, I was the only guest there that night (and the first one since the previous Thursday, according to the guest book), and thus had an 8-tatami mat room 八畳部屋 all to myself. At ¥4480 ($36 or NT1185), including dinner and breakfast, I certainly couldn't complain about the price.

Next: Yoshino to Dorogawa

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