Travis Smith: my resume, bio and photos back to the main blog page

Wednesday, 12/10

It’s tough to travel with 6 people, even if those 6 people are exactly the same as you.  But add in:

* different levels of spending cash
* different levels of familiarity with the place you’re visiting (some have been before)
* different bladder sizes
* different endurances for walking
* different appetites

And that’s not even counting the most important thing: different ideas about what a fun thing to do on vacation is.  For some folks, shopping is the best way to spend time.  For others, it’s eating.  For others, it’s seeing the sights, and for others, it’s watching interesting people interact.

(Side note: check out my theory of tourism. It explains a lot about my thinking on travel experiences.)

* * *

The day started with a totally different Japanese breakfast.  The two centerpieces of this one: clams in a thick red miso soup, and a dish that was between a quiche and soup, with crab meat and a yellow gingko seed or two thrown in.

From breakfast, we headed out to the bus, and bought the all-day pass.  (That was a good choice!)

The bus took us past about 4 different train stops, and by that, I mean not four stops along a train route, but four different train companies that run through downtown Kyoto.

The one we were going to catch was the Ramdan, a streetcar that runs out to a special area with a wonderful zen garden and bamboo grove.

The zen garden was especially lovely; the temple that cares for it burned down about 6 times, but the garden was basically in the same layout as it was when they created it, 1000 years ago.

A nice little set of signs showed 13 kinds of moss growing within about a 40 square foot area—some on tree roots, some under rocks, some like grass, some living under other moss.  It was really nice to be reminded it’s not just the big trees that have particular species and deserve labels.  Every type of life can interesting.

The bamboo grove was really nice, but we visited it one day too soon: they were in the process of running lights all through it and along the 2 km path that led from temple to temple, to light it up for a Christmas celebration.

We ate a late lunch at a little country-side restaurant that grilled a hot bowl of udon noodles for me with a poached egg on top of it; the also through in a block of grilled mochi (pounded rice cake) that was burnt too much for my taste.

* * *

My mom finds things in the world to be a constant marvel. A small example of this important character aspect actually comes from Day 10, when I took off my sweater on the train back to Tokyo just before she walked by.

“Ah!” she said.  “You’re wearing a new shirt!  When did you have time to change into that?”  It’s lovely that she noticed, and lovely that she took delight and interest in the little change in the world around her.

But today was an even better example of her wide-eyed appreciation of new experiences: the little road-side restaurant had wireless, so she got a chance to use an iPhone for the first time, to check her email.

It was just a great little moment: at the same time that she’s eating one of the oldest Japanese cuisines (a rice-based soup bowl, kind of like risotto, with mochi and mushrooms and vegetables) outside a temple, she was using a little Internet device to check on her business emails.

* * *

Unfortunately, we dawdled far too much along the way, stopping in the zillions and zillions of little stores, and when we got to the most important temple, the one that was to have about 1000 little statues of spirits dressed in tiny jackets, we discovered that it closed at 3:30 in the winter.

We learned this at 3:40, standing outside the closed gate.

We were all sad about this; it was kind of the main reason we’d headed all the way out to the edge of Kyoto, and we had no real reason we’d had to miss it, other than our own pace.  We steeled our resolve for the next day.

Walking back as dusk descended was surprisingly nice. the road had had a slight incline up, enough so that I hadn’t really noticed, but it made going back that much easier.

Along the way we stopped in a Japanese cemetery, and mused on why it was located where it was and what sort of ceremonies they had there.  One interesting sign: “Please don’t leave food for the dead here—cats and birds are attracted by it and make a mess.”

* * *

There are no trash cans in Japan, except maybe, maybe outside a convenience store.  Other than that, if you have a wrapper, say, for a bag of chips, you have to carry it for about 1.3 km in order to find a place to throw it away.

Despite this, there is no litter problem in Japan.

* * *

Reverse the path: from the farthest temple, back down the path, back onto the street car, back to the bus station, back to the bus, back to ... almost the hotel, but we jumped off a little sooner than that, letting Jason and Noriko return for a hot bath while we fit in a little more street roaming in Gion.

Mom really wanted to explore an antique store with a fussy and probably insane man who reminded me of a clutter-loving architect with wire glasses and a red scarf and a permanent suspicious glare.

We bought nothing, and wanted to find a nearby craft market, but instead ended up waylaid by the cutest little Japanese man.  And I say that without fear of being diminutive or insulting—he was literally cute, little, and spoke English to me as he pushed by me on the busy street.

He was dressed in a really ratty jacket, and I kept expecting him to ask for money, but he turned out to be as sharp as anyone else we met, with a twinkle and a lively sense of humor.  Maybe he was one of Santa’s helpers, retired.

“Hello, English!” he said.  “Hello,” I replied. “I can speak english, you see, yes?” He could, it was true.  “I can speak English better than anyone in Japan, you think?”

Well, maybe not better, but pretty good, I thought.  We went on to have a nice long conversation about the population and relative size of Canada, and how hard it was to move to Canada, and whether Japanese people are friendly, and whether Japanese people stand out in Canada.

He then showed us his English homework and said he’d been studying for years, and that English was really hard to learn.

Actually, Noriko had been having the same conversation with us just the previous day—that English is really hard to learn because there are so many expressions that don’t translate exactly.  This fellow showed us several from his homework: “I have many acquaintances. I have a wide acquaintance. I have a large acquaintance.”

Of course, two of those mean the same thing, and one of those mean,s as virginia put it to the little man asking about it, that you are friends with someone large, like a sumo wrestler. 😊

We parted ways with

* * *

We got a call from Michelle

Overheard

“The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

...who said it?

“Almost every American I know does trade large portions of his life for entertainment, hour by weeknight hour, binge by Saturday binge, Facebook check by Facebook check. I’m one of them. In the course of writing this I’ve watched all 13 episodes of House of Cards and who knows how many more West Wing episodes, and I’ve spent any number of blurred hours falling down internet rabbit holes. All instead of reading, or writing, or working, or spending real time with people I love.”

...who said it?

“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

...who said it?

“I play with variables constantly.”

...who said it?

“Only the person who has learned Continual Love coming from a heart of Gratitude/Worship can effectively deal with the problem of loneliness.”

...who said it?

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