Sunday, April 01, 2007

Sumimasen, wasabi onegaishimasu!

Sometimes when you're feeling down, you just want to drive around with your friends, blaring some music on the iPod, gossiping, and laughing about the "moments that were." This is an especially novel idea when you have spent eight months in a foreign land (minus Christmas) in relative self-induced solitary confinement. It's difficult to sum up the last week spent on the mainland, but devouring sushi by the boatload, taking full advantage of a pub's Ladies Night, and cruising through the true Japanese countryside was absolutely fantastic. Domo arigato, Josh and Laura, for making the journey across the ocean.

I met up with Ken in Hiroshima on the 23rd and we spent a couple of days gearing up for our meeting with the terrible twosome. Ken and I enjoyed some balsamic vinegar/olive oil, his warm and cozy table, and a fantastic onsen before making the car trip to Kyoto where Josh and Laura were waiting. Quote of the weekend, "I can't believe they are in this country RIGHT now!"

On Monday the big reunion finally happened and then the whirlwind tour of Kyoto commenced with temples and shrines being plotted out on maps (perhaps a bit dangerously while enroute), tirades against Japanese drivers, and plenty of vending machine visits. We hit the major temples of Kyoto, soaking up some atmosphere among torii shrines and damp corridors. The cherry blossoms, which were nowhere to be found earlier in the visit, began to crop up and became a focal part of our plans. After handing over a kidney and liver for parking in Kyoto, we headed back to Shimane-ken to show Josh and Laura where Ken has been hiding all year. Unfortunately, the mainland expressway system tried to get the best of us and destroy our jovial moods, but we refused to yield. Ten hours and a glockenspiel event and sushi conveyor belt later, we arrived at Ken's apartment which would serve as our base for a couple of days.

We headed to Tsuwano, an old town with serious character. It was absolutely beautiful, especially the cherry trees and spring blossoms. A trip was also made to the local shrine by Ken's house and a 300-year-old cherry tree just outside of town, which most definitely was not in bloom a few days before. Like Ken says in his blog, Josh and Laura were tremendously lucky people to have the trees start blossoming when they were in the country. I appreciated soaking up some of their luck as well. And I guess I need all I can get, as shown by this fortune received at the famous Ginkakuji Temple of Kyoto.

After a couple of relaxing days in Shimane, we were once again on the road towards Hiroshima where we stopped first at Miyajima with its famous torii shrine in the water. After a hike in the woods, some time-killing games, we watched the sun set on the island and then headed towards our final destination, the famous Comfort Inn of Hiroshima. Our last day as tourists was spent at the Peace Park Memorial museum where I finally got to see the Sadako and The Thousand Paper Cranes monument that I based a couple of classes on. We faced a bit of a boring afternoon due to the fact that besides the park and Miyajima there aren't too many attractions in the city. This was easily solved for the girls of the group as we headed off to browse and shop among the hundreds of stores in the city center. After a fantastic dinner of BBQ and bacon burgers and plenty of drinks to go around, we finished our reunion with a bang at a karaoke establishment where we ended our time together with a rousing version of "Fight For Your Right" a la Beastie Boys.

Before I knew it, I was boarding a plane and landing on the suddenly very dingy looking Okinawa island. But I was still smiling from our moments in the photo booths, the continuous fighting between Ken and Josh when they got hungry, and plenty of other moments that don't translate to a blog.

Following Ken's lead, here are some of my favorite photos from last week:

Tsuwano in Shimane-ken, a hidden gem of a town. I loved it there.

Cherry Blossoms (sakura) ... absolutely beautiful. I never believed the hype until I saw it firsthand.

Some orange torii shots ---

Ginkakuji Temple in Kyoto which we put off on a dreary Tuesday and it paid off as the sun came out early Wednesday morning.

Sushi making

Some wishes expressed at one of the many shrines that we visited.

Miyajima during the day and as the sun finally set. Our patience paid off... It was fantastic.

The monument for Sadako, a young girl who died from leukemia because of the atomic bomb and became a symbol for peace.

Even today, thousands of paper cranes are sent by schoolchildren around the world to continue her vision. (Our origami attempts later in the afternoon were perhaps a bit less professional looking.)

The scenery might not be as exotic for our next reunion (like The Landing), but nonetheless I can't wait to laugh about our adventures in Japan over a drink or two back in Illinois.


Mom said...

Stunning pictures..Thanks for sharing! Glad you had a great time.

Jeremy & Kimi said...

sounds (and looks) like you had a great time! What an opportunity to see the cherry blossoms, temples, beautiful scenery and the cranes! The thousand cranes reminds me of the cranes from our wedding and of the thousand cranes made for my Grandma by her friends when she was sick... quite a tradition.

How are you going to follow up that fantastic week??

Rachel said...

I told my friends about your thousand cranes at your wedding actually as I was teaching them to make their own.

I'm following up the week with semi-hibernation to save some money and then am going to blow some more cash in Tokyo in June. :)

Have you popped yet?! I'm waiting....

Carly said...

Wow. Amazing photographs.

I apparently plugged into the Cherry Blossom celebration(unknowingly) by switching to the Cherry Blossom Wallflower (haha, bad pun)

Lisa said...

Thanks for the pictures. The cherry blossoms were amazing.

Juhi said...

great pictures and a great blog! I am happy to know that u had a good time! I am quite jealous - bcoz I wont be able to catch the sakura in tokyo when I go :( !!!! I think I may have to come back to Japan another year to see the mainland sakura! any plans for the golden week?

Anonymous said...

HI Rachel! Nice Post! Won't be long before you're home!