At my last book club meeting the conversation went from discussing A Year in Provence to sharing humorous travel stories (book club tangents are often more interesting than the actual book discussions). After hearing about several hilarious mishaps, inadvertent cultural faux pas, and near-disasters (most, funny only from the safety of hindsight and home), it occurred to me that problem-free trips do not make for very interesting travel anecdotes.
Both my trips to Japan were so well choreographed and shepherded by friends, that there was little opportunity for me to get lost, botch anything up, or encounter any risks or pitfalls. The funniest things to happen on my latest trip was having to ask a male friend to help me decipher the Japanese on feminine hygiene products (he was unable to offer any enlightenment as to the reason for the pictures of rabbits and flying pigs). The only other funny thing was, apparently, my pronunciation of Japanese words, which baffled some people and highly entertained others. Also, running out of money 2/3 the way through the trip did lead to some unexpected challenges and suspense.
So, if no problems means no stories, than I’m relieved to say I have no real stories to tell about my trip. However, that doesn’t mean I have no stories to tell. They just wont be about me.
Some of my favourite places and things experienced on my recent trip:
– stopping to eat a box lunch overlooking the Oi River and the lush green mountainside of Arashiyama (storm mountain), Kyoto
– hearing uguisu, the Japanese nightingale, call in the bamboo forest beside an old inari shrine
– shopping for kimono fabric and antiques at Kitano Tenmangu market, Kyoto (and escaping from the rain in a tiny tofu hot pot restaurant)
– eating a delicious lunch of fresh vegetables, rice and grilled tofu braised with miso sauce (if you scoff at the idea of tofu tasting good, then you’ve never eaten in Japan!), followed by exploring a school for samurai, a castle, and a ninja house
– enjoying the view from Kiyumizu Temple in Kyoto and Roppongi Tower in Tokyo
– following the beckoning cats signs to Gotokuji temple, the home of the first maneki-neko (lucky cat)
– experiencing Kabuki
– soaking in a natural hotspring beside a river in Wakayama
– walking down ancient stones stairs to the base of Nachi Falls
– following a crow through the huge tori gate at Kumano Taisha, the shrine of the three-legged crow
– walking on the old Tokaido hwy through the historic town of Seki-cho and sitting in a 370 year old shop interviewing the 13th and 14th generation wagashi-makers (who may or may not be related to ninjas)
– meeting highschool and university students, and chatting with people at my talks
– basking in the hospitality and kindness of friends and acquaintances (old and new)
I came away with two notebooks full of notes and ideas, as well as over 2000 photos (mostly for research and to help jog my memory), so look for a future story — possibly involving a 17th century girl, a wagashi shop, ninjas, a fire, and a trip on the old Tokaido hwy.… (that is, after the maneki-neko story).