Japan was amazing: 2…Naritasan

I only had one day in Narita, and previous research led me to believe that my time would be best spent at the Naritasan temple complex, which is about a 15 minute walk from the Narita train station. The road between the train station and the temple complex is called Omotesando, and it is a quaint winding road perfect for tourists.

Omotesando

 

Hardware store with a big ol’ vending machine

 

Monkey show along Omote sando…ironic because in Indonesia the week before I saw people protesting monkey shows as animal cruelty.

There were many shops, selling things like jewelry, kimonos, snacks, jewelry, knickknacks baskets, and incense. There were reportedly dozens of Unagi (broiled eel) restaurants, as Unagi is a specialty of the region.

Many of the restaurants advertise their foods with the display of rubbery looking examples.

Fake food in the window display

I decided to eat at one of the Unagi restaurants. I went inside, looked at the menu, pointed at a picture of what I wanted, and received my food. Even though I encountered very few people who spoke more than a few words of English on my trip to Japan, we were able to communicate somehow.

The unagi, which I had not had in years since quitting gluten, was very good but my stomach felt itchy for hours afterwards, so something there didn’t agree with me. I was literally eating some foods I did not recognize at all.

 

My meal

Powder for the unagi

Another seasoning powder

Eventually, after making my way through all these distractions, I found the temple complex. Here is its entrance:

Entrance to Naritasan

 

Inside the temple area I was amazed. Memorably, it was a cold day, but the toilet seats were warm. I had never encountered preheated toilet seats before, and they were very welcome.

There are about a dozen temples, and many of them are still actively being used, apparently by Zen priests or monks practicing Shingon Buddhism.

 

I managed to get a few photographs of inside places before I realized I wasn’t supposed to be taking photographs inside.

 

Inside the main temple before someone scolded me for taking a picture

 

I think this was the main temple exterior

 

In the main temple, I sat down to try to meditate, figuring that seem like a good thing to do inside a Buddhist temple. After a while I noticed more and more people were coming in and one of the priests was lighting some candles. I wondered if something was about to happen, and sure enough I was in for a real treat.

A dozen or so priests filed in and sat in a row with their backs to us. There were now at least 100 or more people in the temple. I practically had a front row seat, if you can call sitting on the floor a seat. The priest spoke for a while and did some ritual movements that I didn’t understand. Then a very old man in fancy garb came in and he sat in some sort of seat of honor, also with his back to us. Then I saw fire appear in front of the old man, and I realized I was watching the Goma fire ritual. Priests started waving wooden planks with writing over the fire and then suddenly one of the priests was waving a bunch of handbags over the fire. Then I realized people were lining up and handing over their bags to be waved in front of the fire. I figured it was some sort of blessing. At one point during the ritual someone banged a drum that was probably at least 6 feet in diameter. It was simply thunderous. All in all a very special experience. I felt like quite the ignorant newbie.

There were opportunities throughout the temple complex to light and offer incense, purchase amulets and listen to rituals. Some people were having words written in Japanese on wooden planks, but there wasn’t any explanation in English how that worked. Almost all the signage was in Japanese. I expected there to be lots of tourists there but I was pretty much the only non-Asian, so I don’t know.

I’ve been practicing Tibetan Buddhism for years and found it fascinating to see the differences between Tibetan esoteric Buddhism and Japanese esoteric Buddhism. I saw statues of Buddhas I recognized, and there were vajras in some of the temples. But some of the things they were doing ritually seemed very unfamiliar to me, like rubbing the prayer beads against something to make sound. I felt bad in a way that I couldn’t understand more of what I was seeing. But it definitely lit the curiosity stick for me to learn more someday.

 

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Japan was amazing: 1 Hotel Nikko Narita

Although I spent a week in Indonesia and only two nights in Japan, the Japan portion (which I did on my own) made quite the impression on me. First I have to say that Japan felt like being embraced in a warm hug. Everything talks to you (in Japanese)…the elevator, the credit card machine, the toilet, robots. On the way home I stayed a night at Hotel Nikko Narita, which was pretty amazing for a long layover. This place was like an oasis in the middle of nowhere, with multiple restaurants, a gift shop, gardens, vending machines galore, money exchange machines and more. But best of all it offered multiple ways to escape the hotel to see the sights. There were several different buses you could catch just outside the hotel. The one I took ran a loop between the hotel, the Narita train station, Aeon Mall and another hotel. More about my adventure at Narita-san in the next post.

 

My hotel had a zen rock garden

 

Still Christmas in February outside Hotel Nikko Narita

 

View from my hotel window, which serves to illustrated how grey Japan is compared to Java.

Indonesia was amazing: 1

I came back from my trip to Indonesia February 2, 2018 but haven’t had any time to post anything about it. I figured I at least should put up some photos!

I left the USA on January 22, 2018 and flew to Yogyakarta via Tokyo and Jakarta. The goal was to meet up with His Eminence Avikrita Vajra Rinpoche, His Eminence Abhaya Vajra Rinpoche, Her Eminence Dagmo Kusho Sakya and dozens of other travelers from Sakya Monastery in Seattle, and from around the world, in order to undertake a pilgrimage to see various sites important to Buddhism, such as the temples at Prambanan and Borobodur.

I arrived in the pouring rain, and each passenger was handed an umbrella as they stepped off the plane. We had probably a quarter of a mile to walk to get to the airport.

Welcome to Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Here is your umbrella and your first experience of rain soaking through your sandals.

They say that Indonesia isn’t a good place for travelers with mobility issues, and they aren’t kidding. Imagine trying to shlep a wheelchair here:

This is the road between the hotel where I stayed and the nearby Galeria Mall.

We stayed in the Novotel Yogyakarta Hotel and it was pretty posh. Here are some of the fancy treats that awaited my roommate and I:

This is a Javanese coconut treat.

Snakeskin fruit

One last thing, because I wished I could have found a photo of the plug in the hotel before I went, is a photo of the plug in the hotel. I geek out on weird things. 

I will try to post more in the coming weeks!

Cat’s View of His Person Taking a Trip

I’m heading to Indonesia tomorrow and here’s what my cat thinks about that.

 

“I bring you a sacrificial glitter puff direct to your sleeping space, which I will keep warm in your absence.”

 

“I will meditate in your place while you are gone and paw-ray for your swift return.”

 

“I will sleep in your chair and half way through the day wonder why you are not here to wake me up, prick my ear and give me a treat.”

I went to Central Park and out came this silly review

It was a hot August day and three of us Pacific Northwesterners unused to hot, humid weather wandered into the south end of Central Park with the naive bravado of Seattleites taking a walk at Green Lake. (For those unfamiliar, Green Lake is a large round puddle in the middle of N. Seattle with a simple path around it…forty five minutes walk and you are back to where you started).

We first fended off the guy who wanted us to pay at least $80 for some kind of bicycle rickshaw tour, then continued, still bright in the eyes, toward some giant rocks that begged to be climbed. By the time we got to the top of the first rock, this middle-aged mama was ready for a long sit. Took some ill-conceived vertical panorama shots of my husband that made him look fat, then spied a small rock in the distance and felt sorry for it, sitting by itself. We climbed a hill to hug the small rock, which turned out to be the height of a ten year old.

About thirty minutes after entering the park, heat-soaked delirium began to set in, along with big-time confusion about where to find a bathroom. We began to wander along paths that followed the whims of nature, rather than the friendly grid system of the urban locations to which we are accustomed. We came around a bend and a freaking amusement park appeared out of nowhere. I consulted the Google maps, even Pokemon GO, but could not figured out where I was. Yelp informed me that there was a coffee shop nearby by…Dancing Crane or some such. I was willing to believe anything at that point. Suddenly there it was…a coffee shop with A/C and a bathroom with a long line, next to the largest mayonnaise dispenser I’ve ever seen. Outside the shop was a Zoo, yes, a Zoo!

Next thing we knew, we were back at the south end of the park again, quite accidentally. Husband tried to convince me we were in the exact same location, but the truth was more insidious: the whole south end of the park is a series of carbon copy rubber stamps of everything else…the same identical looking food carts and guys selling overpriced tours, stamped up and down the concourse. I stayed on the “Wein Walk” while husband and daughter went to another iteration of endless hot dog carts. I saw a giant rat run across the walk. Wanting to get a closer look I went over to an empty park bench, hoping to sit my delirious, overheated body down, but a mom and her two boys beat me to the bench. I considered for a moment telling them about the rat hoping it would scare them off, but I wasn’t sure I could craft a coherent sentence.

We continued down the path and saw a building called Arsenal Gallery. Entering the building, we found yet another set of bathrooms and on the third floor they told us there was a gallery. The elevator let out, and we wandered around trying to find the cases of firearms we expected, then realized the gallery was actually showing paintings of plants, and had nothing to do with guns.

Our confused wander continued northward, where I procured a frozen lemonade and saw a reservoir full of remote control sailboats. Additional wonders included a black squirrel, which I didn’t even know existed. It occurred to me that many Central Park rodents probably lived and died for generations without ever leaving the park. Where else are they going to go?

[Originally posted on Yelp]