The biggest journey I have been on was that to and from Japan for my son’s wedding just over twelve months ago. It has taken me a long time to process and blogging about it in the last days of the year whose beginning saw us just back home seems appropriate. The journey started here with passports applied for and luggage packed. And lots of the short journeys we made in the car were accompanied by the CDs we attempted to learn some Japanese from. Finally, early December 2012, it was on to the train, then plane to the Gold Coast for a couple of days with my sister. And finally, one morning four of us were in the International airport where we briefly crossed paths with my son and his fiancee racing to their plane they were late for. In fact we had started with time to spare but somehow got into the wrong departures lounge and almost missed our plane! But finally we were on to the plane that was to take us to Japan. In the evening we negotiated the Narita airport and found ourselves on the train from there to Tokyo after dozens of escalators, my bugbear. Next day via lots of steps down to subway and train we walked through an ancient forest of Tokyo, to an old Shinto shrine, our lovely, fluent Japanese speaking guide my brother’s son, And all this on 12/12/12 a significant date in many people’s minds! We very much enjoyed a family meal in a traditional restaurant where I had the choice of sitting with legs crossed on a bench. Another family meal in Tokyo, that we cooked ourselves in the restaurant! Next day we wandered around the Ginza without Greg’s expert help. Despite the reputation of it being an expensive area we were able to have a delicious but cheap meal again cooked by ourselves. The ingredients came around in a train. The liquid we cooked our meals in made a delicious broth. Afterwards I found some earrings to wear at the wedding because I had somehow misplaced the ones I had intended to wear. I found a reasonably priced pair but agonized later that I might have paid the yen equivalent of $330 instead of $33 because Greg said ‘Nothing is cheap in the Ginza!’ Luckily my fears were groundless!
Our hotel in the Ginza, the Mercure was elegant and very compact. I loved the bidet that was to be a feature of all the hotels we stayed in. Alas the bath was quite narrow and this led to a near disaster I’ll say no more about!
We went to the top of this vertigo provoking tower but for me no worse than the vertigo provoked by next to nothing on the ground. Amazing to see Tokyo in its vastness spread out below! It seems in Japan public gardens have to have a purpose. Here they are around the plaza of an imperial palace with statue of a samurai overseeing all. As we were leaving Tokyo these darling children moved up to share their seat on the station then waved goodbye. Now we used our Japanese Rail Passes (for visitors) again to go south to Mt Fuji. Negotiating the train system was challenging for me but it turned out it was challenging for all.
Riding in Thomas the Tank Engine down to Mt Fuji was a gentle and amusing contrast. How beautiful and how sacred is Mt Fuji that we saw from many angles including that through the window of our hotel bedroom. Here I am meditating gazing at the mountain, such a privilege! My sister and her grand daughter loved the bath house that they went downstairs to dressed in kimonos from their bed room. They did this more than once, in fact Bella went down several times. I would so have loved to join them but couldn’t quite bring myself to although I went down for a peep. Once I would have done it! At least our private bath was wide and comfortable as were the baths in the hotels we stayed in subsequently. It was luxury to bathe and then sit in the bedroom with its wonderful view. We had a delicious meal in the restaurant where Bella enjoyed a special children’s meal. Lots of temples in lovely Kyoto, constant stream of visitors. One longs for a quiet seat to sit and meditate. In the front of another temple I shook a metal cylinder and drew out a small sheet telling my future. A kind young Japanese woman gave me the positive interpretation. Then she helped me fasten the sheet to a wire to help enhance the good luck. I love doing things the Japanese way! These were the first of hundreds of steps to reach the temple. I didn’t think I’d make it but I plodded on and before I knew it I was up the top and walking on a beautiful dance floor. Thanks to my sister’s generosity we were staying at a series of luxury hotels, At the Sheraton Miyako I acted as if to the manner born! View of Japanese garden from window In Kyoto I felt very strange and decided that this time I should see a doctor. I would have had to wait several hours to see an English speaking one unless I went to the hospital. The hospital very basic in layout with the usual efficiency of staff. Although my blood pressure was very high the doctor could find nothing else wrong. Frank went off to find a cafeteria and bring back some food. This apparently not allowed and he got himself arrested. This was cleared up and the head surgeon courteously escorted us to another of the ubiquitous Lawsons Family Mart where we bought food and drink that was heated for us. We arrived back at the hotel to discover my sister had organised another night’s accommodation as it was getting too late to travel on. Hardly a penance but an unfortunate expense some of which would be recovered by insurance. It turned out Frank had been suffering the same weird symptoms so we obviously had a virus! Snow on the mountains from the hotel window next morning
——and I zoomed in on this temple where Mikao Usui was given the gift of Reiki
A shorter train journey took us to Osaka, the hotel near a shopping complex of several floors all connected by escalators of course. Lots of cheap eating places to choose from, we sampled a few. And plenty of healthy cheap take away food and coffee, but nowhere to eat this other than back at the hotel. In fact the only seating area I spotted was about four chairs in a corner outside one of the shops. Not for the first time I thought of Gateway Plaza in Warrnambool with Kmart and Coles and smaller shops along a plaza with nests of armchairs every few metres. My vertigo is challenged enough there and I welcome those chairs. So imagine me exploring the floors of shops as I did! My big buy was some cheap Puma sneakers I had the excuse to purchase because of my boots lost in Tokyo. Apart from that I bought a few small gifts, and a diary to remind me of Japan through 2013, in a small arcade across the road from the big complex.
21st December we took the train to Takamatsu and the family already there happened to be at the station when we arrived. Such excitement of course. On 22nd December was the reason for our trip, the wedding. In excitement and maybe nervousness we dressed for the occasion. Lovely bride and my son excelled himself. I have to say I find it a struggle to survive an occasion such as this, especially one where I am somewhat a centre of attention. I had dreaded it, was nervous but I think I did well. I was told afterwards I had looked relaxed anyway. Many weddings here in Australia are not in a church, but in a garden or at the beach with a celebrant and a personal ceremony. A non traditional wedding in Japan is not in a temple with Buddhist or Shinto celebrant, but in a chapel with Christian theme and hymns and celebrant dressed in priestly robes. Paul and Kana’s wedding was like this whereas nephew Greg, one of these celebrants, was to be married in a traditional Buddhist/Shinto ceremony in August. Good that people have choices! The reception was elegant, food delicious. During the ceremony and the reception Kana’s cousin, reputedly the best pianist in Asia, played exquisitely. Not everyone will agree with my opinion that I somehow photographed an angel in the midst of all the activity but here is the photo anyway! Guests all introduced themselves in the language that wasn’t theirs. I made my first presentation in Japanese. I laughingly introduced myself as ‘Haha’ meaning ‘Mother’. There was an amusing bingo game based on guests’ names. Paul finally got to act the clown in the guise of Santa Claus, earning himself a commission to play the old gentleman on another occasion. As usually happens the cake, and a lovely one it was, was cut and served to guests. And thus it was time for bride and groom and all parents to bid guests Sayonara at the end of this lovely occasion, my one small duty albeit a challenging one. Much thanks is due to Kana’s parents for the lovely wedding they gave Kana and Paul. In the anticlimax after the wedding we walked along a covered arcade of many shops, looking for the artisan who makes dolls from old kimonos. No success but it was good to just walk. I was used to the idea there would be nowhere to sit. Next morning I was really feeling the effects of the effort I had made at the wedding and I was starting to feel nervous about the trip back to Australia. I couldn’t even make it down to breakfast with the family who came to the hotel for the occasion even though that precious family time is something I value. But there is not a lot of it nowadays so I am out of practice. It was good to set off then for the wonderful old Ritsurin Gardens but again I felt I couldn’t keep up with family. As usual there wasn’t much seating but there was an old bench under a tree where I could sit cross legged , meditate and observe the passers by. I did this while in the cold wind until a courteous gentleman took me into a restroom with a similar bench, and toilets nearby. He was obviously happy to try out his English so we chatted away about Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road until my name was announced over the loudspeaker. Family had thought I was lost although I explained that they were the ones who got lost. And then it was time for us to go our separate ways.
Back to the hotel we went, the least grand of those we had stayed at, but comfortable nonetheless, and with its small Christmas tree in the foyer.Downstairs with our bags we waited for the taxi to take us to the station where we would catch the Express bus to Kansai Airport. Incidentally Christmas time was acknowledged in Japan every bit as brightly as it is here.
I was sorry for it to finish. There were crowds of people at the airport and lots of time standing in queues. Having finally presented my passport I sat down to wait before getting on our flight. I casually opened my passport and to my amazement the face of my younger, slimmer darker sister looked back at me. I got my sister to look at her passport with equal amazement. I thought of the extreme fussiness to get our passport photos exactly right but here we were in Japan going through on the wrong passports! At last we were on the plane. I slept for two or three hours early in the flight but later I was restless although Frank was able to make use of the empty seat beside him. Back on the Gold Coast in the early morning we could already feel the heat. Next day was Christmas Day and it was good if unusual to spend this with the Gold Coast branch of family. Temperatures were milder than I expected but humidity still trying. Anthea was coughing a little and soon Peter was too but it didn’t keep them for their daily swim. A couple of days later flu hit me very suddenly and I succumbed heavily as I do. The thought of the flight back to Melbourne and even the train ride worried me and it seemed easier to stay on, Anthea not objecting to this, and a doctor I saw authorising it, but Frank worried and I knew I had to make the trip sooner or later. So we left on time and it all went smoothly. Sitting opposite us on the train was a pretty teenager who looked just how Bella, who had assertively accompanied us on our journey, will look in a few year’s time. A couple of days after we reached home the flu hit Frank hard so I think it was lucky for Anthea we were home in Koroit. I was almost better I thought but a relapse didn’t surprise me Joan from Nimbin was staying with us during the Lake School of Celtic music and Dance, ( that I felt too unwell to attend), and seemed to think will power and positive thinking would keep her safe. But not so. She became quite ill and ended up staying on an extra week. I started to feel better, but I came down with the symptoms again. Here in Koroit summer is kind bringing the occasional very hot day but mostly cool to warm weather with the usual sea breezes. Good weather in which to get well and to be pensive as memories were processed. Sayonara. .