Japan Week 8: Turkey Trots, Marathon Monks, and Captain Mal / by Anna Terry

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So it’s been a while since my last journal entry. You have China to blame. Since the end of November, we have been in a new city every week, which makes sitting down and writing one of these tough. I’m so behind that for this post you will be reading about what we did for Thanksgiving…and Christmas is only 3 days away! At this rate, you won’t read what we did for Christmas until well into the New Year. Anyway, you’re probably sick of reading about what we did in Japan, but TOO BAD, I’m going to torment you even more with one more post about our last week in Kyoto. From spending the first of many holidays to come this year just the two of us (Shane and I) to running into a celebrity at a shrine; it was a bitter-sweet week and we were sad to leave Japan.

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Thanksgiving in Japan
One of the downsides of long term traveling is missing out on the holidays with family and friends back home. I’ve opted out of Thanksgivings in the past, choosing instead to stay at home with a whole bunch of meat, cheese and a bottle of wine, having a jolly ol time. But being in a country that doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving at all, we didn't even really have the option. I don't even think you can buy a whole turkey in Kyoto. We made the best of it anyway and did the next best thing to a Turkey Trot, a hike up a mountain to look for a waterfall and a hidden shrine, followed by a feast of dumplings and ramen. So, not the most traditional Thanksgiving, but it suited us just fine. They may not celebrate Thanksgiving but it turns out the Japanese are all about Christmas! They started the Christmas tunes on repeat in shops the day after Halloween. Yeah, for those who complain about people starting Christmas too early, we’ve been in the Christmas spirit for the whole month of November now. So, take that! We’ll see how festive the Chinese get. If at all. 

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Tori Gates and Firefly
We saved the best and one of the MOST crowded tourist destinations in Kyoto for last: the famous red Torii gates. The Fushimi Inari Shrine is a Shinto Shrine with over 10,000 torii gates that wind up along the mountain trails. The gates are donations from individuals and companies giving thanks for their prosperity and hoping for good fortune in the future. I’ve seen hundreds of pictures on Instagram (if it doesn’t end up on instagram did it even really happen?) but those photos just don’t do it justice. To avoid the crowds we left the apartment early to catch the first train out, and for a while we had the shrine mostly to ourselves. Pretty magical. What could make today even more special you ask? Seeing Nathan Fillion at the shrine. For those who don’t know who Nathan is, you might know him better as Captain Malcom Reynolds on the pop cult sci-fi show Firefly or as Richard Castle on the ABC show Castle. Ohhhh yeah that Nathan. What’s even crazier is that I honestly wouldn’t have known who he was if it wasn’t for the fact that the past week Shane and I have been binge watching the show Firefly. WHAT. A. SMALL. WORLD! It was one of Shane’s favorite shows in high school and let’s just say that when we spotted Nathan, he became star struck. He didn’t even want to go up and say hi! I went up and talked to Nathan for a few minutes while Shane hid. I can report back that Nathan is very nice which is always a relief when going up to celebrities in public. 

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Mt. Hiei
We were able to squeeze in one last hiking trip outside of Kyoto before we left. Mt. Hiei is home to the marathon monks. These monks walk long distances (known as Kaihogyo) in an effort to attain enlightenment. For a 100 days straight, these monks walk 52 miles a day. That is almost the same distance as walking around the earth. Now these monks aren’t expected to do this on their first try. They work up to these 52 miles/100 days for years and years. When we went to Mt. Hiei, we weren’t as ambitious as the marathon monks. As far as I’m concerned, if you have to walk that much for enlightenment... then it can wait. Blogs about the hike said that it was a moderate hike, not very strenuous. I don’t know what they are talking about. Either they are in amazing shape or just took the cable car up and looked down at the trail and thought oh its not that bad. Pshhhh. Steep going up and steep going down. Definitely gets the glutes going. The temples at the top were cool but I thought the overgrown hidden shrines along the trail were so much cooler. 

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Karaoke
Karaoke is kind of a big deal in Japan. You round up some pals to rent a private room where you can belt out some tunes and drink unlimited amounts of alcohol. It’s even socially acceptable for you to go rent a room alone (You might think that is a little sad, but I can sympathize with shy singers). I have never sang in public and never will. Put it up as number three of Anna’s worst nightmares right behind snakes and spiders. Those that have heard my angelic voice carry a tune, you should consider yourself lucky! I’m happy to tag along and do some interpretive back up dancing for who ever is up singing. After saying all that, we are in Japan, how many times do you get the opportunity. So I DID agree to go on our last night in Japan to rent a private room at Jankara. I thought, why not? It’s just the two of us and Shane is a big karaoke-r. What really blew me away was the different types of karaoke packages that Jankara offered. You could rent a normal private room OR you could rent a room with a climbing wall, a mini skate park, OR a glass room in front of the lobby so passerby’s can stop and watch you. Unfortunately the cooler rooms come with an uncool price tag that wasn’t in our budget. For an hour and a half we (mostly Shane) sang the usual Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, and Disney karaoke classics. Did I sing? There is no video proof so you’ll never know. It’s good to know that if we ever run out of money, we can rely on Shane’s musical talents to help us get by. 

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Some Things I Will Miss Most About Japan

  1. Public restrooms: from malls to subway stations, they’re always super clean and have heated toilet seats. 
  2. Train system: the subways are fast, on time, and so clean. A little intimidating to use at first and they can become SUPER crowded during rush hour. But once you get the hang of it and avoid the most popular times, there’s no going back to the US transportation system
  3. Sushi: I have been ruined for life. 
  4. Drug Stores: Like a kid in a candy store, except instead of candy it’s Japanese beauty products 
  5. Order: As in people being patient and politely standing in line. No pushing, no cutting, no chaos (cough China cough).