Saturday, December 6, 2008

One ticket to Nirvana, please!

Some of you know that I took a trip to Kyoto and Hiroshima in early November, and man, was it BEAUTIFUL! If you don't have it on your list of things you must to before the inevitable, then please put KYOTO-AUTUMN on it right now. Seriously, put it on your list right now. It is an absolute must see. I did not know that trees had so many colors, and the intensity in which they display them is hard to describe, but is truly spectacular. I took about 250 pictures of leaves changing colors, and yes, they ALL look different. I learned from my Costa Rica sunset collection that even though at the time the sunset may look different, once the pictures are developed, not so much. About 100 sunset pictures later, they all are pretty, pink sunsets that sort of look like the previous 98 pictures. Anyway, this time, I really nailed it, and I am pretty sure that even to the most experienced picture observer, they epitomize variety!

Anyway, Kyoto is full of shrines, temples, geishas, obnoxious tourists, and a history so ancient, it's hard to believe. We walked on wooden floors that were constructed in 710 AD, stood in gardens that were manicured for Emperors, and fed free roaming deer that are supposed to be messengers from God. We even crawled through a hole that promises us Nirvana. Oh, believe it skeptical ones!

Behind the largest bronze Buddha in the world there is a wooden pillar with a hole in the bottom that is the same size as the aforementioned Buddha's right nostril. If you can fit through it, and boy is it SMALL, then you are guaranteed Nirvana. Much to my fellow Japanese tourists shame, I crawled through twice for good measure. You can never be too sure in this life. Nirvana, here I come!!

I also tried to pet at many deer as possible which is actually a lot harder than it sounds. They are not so much interested in being pet as they are being fed, and since I had no food on me, I spent most of the time chasing the damn deer around while everyone else was trying to get rid of them! All I wanted to do was pet them, and perhaps give them a message to take to the man upstairs. They are messengers from God after all, so I figured what the Hell! Between my crawl through Nirvana (twice, no less), and grabbing as many deer as possible, I am pretty sure I am covered-either that, or I have contracted Lyme Disease.

Hiroshima was also amazing in its own right. A city that was completely devastated by a human atrocity is now a flourishing, beautiful place that I highly recommend to anyone looking for history, peace, and good food. I think everyone should take a trip to the museum and peace park so you can see for yourself what detonating an atomic weapon really means. It was a shocking look at what humans are capable of doing to each other (twice, no doubt), but also of our resilience to survive. Both human and plant began to resume life about 3 months after the attacks. There is one picture in the museum that shows Hiroshima leveled to complete rubble, and amongst the dust and the wreckage, there is a plant with its leaves pushing through the rocks, beginning its life all over again. It is a moving and inspiring photograph. The picture was taken in the fall of 1945.

Next we went to Miyajima, an island off of Hiroshima that was a small piece of Heaven. Here you can find Itsukushima Shrine which was founded in 593 AD! These peopled were constructing incredibly beautiful and ornate structures and putting on Noh theater productions in 593 AD! What can you say you were doing in 593 AD?

The torii gate that provides the entrance to the shrine is built in the sea of the Sanyo coast. When the tide is in, it looks as if it is floating on the water. It is ethereal! The cool thing about Miyajima, aside from floating gates and really old stuff is that nobody is permitted to be born or to die on the island. The entire island is considered sacred, and sanctity has no room for the miracle of life or eternal sleep. The elderly that I did see living on the island did look fit as a fiddle I will say, even though they were probably 205 years old. They are doing all they can to not die just to save themselves from being evicted. That is dedication!

As in Nara, the ever important messengers of God, the deer, are roaming at will. This was obviously the high light of my trip. The whole experience was truly breathtaking.

Overall, our trip went off without a hitch. I was forced to use my shaky Japanese and managed fairly well, and as far as I know I did not insult anyones mother. Finally, our last day was upon us and we had to get up early, to get to the train station, to catch our bus, to get to the airport, to catch our's exhausting just writing that!

There is no airport in Kyoto, so you have to fly to Osaka and take a bus from there. Anyway, we woke up late and ended up in a mad dash to the train station. As we jumped out of the cab, I was a little panicked, but managing to keep my cool. I was feeling fairly confident, however, that my message sent via deer up to Heaven would prevent us from missing our flight.

We ran to the bus depot, and found the machine to buy our bus tickets, but everything was written in Kanji!! The founders of the Japanese language decided for some reason to not have 1, but 3 alphabets. Convenient? I think not. Anyway, I can read 2 out of the 3 and usually can manage with that, but this time, I was at a complete loss. The bus ticket machine was written entirely in the one alphabet that I cannot read. I found some attendant and asked him which ticket I needed for the airport and he showed me. We bought the tickets, but already something was strange. They had miraculously gone up in price since 4 days ago. But since our bus was leaving in about 15 seconds, we had no time to speculate and bought them.

To add insult to injury, it was pouring down rain, and the bus was moving slowly. We had about 2 hours to get to the airport which I thought was more than enough time, since it only takes one hour by bus, but with the weather like this, I was starting to get nervous. Finally, an hour goes by, and we are nowhere near the airport. Soon enough an hour and a half go by, and I am fairly certain we are about to miss our flight. Damn deer!

Finally, we pull up to the airport at 11:05am, for our flight that leaves at 11:15am. We run in, go towards the counter, and throw our itineraries on the counter, explaining that our flight is about to leave. The woman (let's call her Yoko),notices our turmoil, and speedily does whatever it is the people at airline counters do. After furiously typing something into her terminal, Yoko stops abruptly and stares at me. I stare at her. She then says:

Yoko: Why are you here?

Andrea: Um...we have to catch our flight.

Yoko: Yes, I know, but why are you HERE?

Andrea (looking around, briefly wondering where HERE is): Isn't this the airport?

Yoko: Yes, but why are you HERE?

Andrea (I don't have time for an existential debate on why anyone is here-I need to catch my flight lady!!): Um....

Yoko (staring at me like I am a particularly daft zoo animal): You are in the wrong airport.

Andrea: Wrong airport? We are in Japan, right? (Did I fall asleep on the bus for hours?)

Yoko (patiently): Yes, but you have to go to Osaka airport!

Andrea: Where am I now?

Yoko (less patiently): Kansai airport!

Andrea: Isn't that in Osaka?

Yoko (heavy sigh as if explaining things to a 3 year old): Yes, but there are 2 airports in Osaka, and you are in the wrong one.

Andrea (sheepishly): Oh. So where is Osaka airport?

Yoko: About an hour away from here.

Andrea (trying to lighten the situation): Hmmm, that will make it difficult to catch my flight then that leaves in 3 minutes, ha ha.

Yoko (the light hearted attempt failed-then her very serious response): Yes, it would.

Andrea (sheepish tone returned): What should we do?

Yoko (very large sigh): Just a moment, please.

Yoko then walks off. Most likely, to either hit her head against the wall, or to laugh uncontrollably at my complete and utter stupidity. But let me put this into perspective for a second for all of you judging me at this moment. First, my itinerary is written completely in Japanese and in Kanji no less, making it impossible to read. It does say the Osaka airport on it, but I can't read it! My friend booked my tickets and she speaks Japanese, so this is an irrelevant point to her. Second, I had no idea that there were two airports in Osaka. It didn't even occur to me to ask about it. As I am pondering this dilemma, thinking that we are going to have to buy new tickets, get to Osaka airport which is God knows where, spend more money than I even have, I see Yoko come running over to us with a huge smile on her face. From bitter experience, I have learned about this smile, and my stomach drops.

Yoko (sighs, pauses, then sighs again): Why are you here again?

Am I in the twilight zone? Didn't I just have this conversation?

Andrea(exasperated at my own mental weakness, and the incessant, pointless questions) : Um, I don't know. I have no idea why I am here. I can't read the damn Japanese, and I didn't know that there were two airports in Osaka, and I don't know. I just don't know why I am here, I don't KNOW!....

Yoko (triumphant): Well, we will let you fly out of Kansai on a flight that leaves in one hour.

Andrea (shocked): Oh! Thank you so much!! So, so much!

Yoko: But, on one condition.

Uh-oh. I am going to have to hand over my left kidney, or my pinkie finger, or relinquish my trip to Nirvana, or....

Yoko (like a school teacher scolding a child): You can never do this again. Never, never again.

Andrea(smiling and laughing a little): Uh, don't worry. But really, I can't believe we are the first people to have done this, I mean...

Yoko (with no trace of the huge smile that she had a second ago): Yes, you are.

Andrea (with that familiar sheepishness I recently adopted): Oh, well OK. We're off then. Thank you again, really...

With that, we quickly walked away before she could change her mind. I am pretty sure that my picture is up in the Kansai airport next to pictures of wanted terrorists and infamous hijackers. Most likely under the heading of "Japan's most dim witted gaijin."

Overall, it was a great trip. I took close to 700 pictures in 4 days and wore poor Nick out. I give him credit for keeping up with me, as it is no easy task. I put the energizer bunny to shame when I am on vacation, as I truly believe in leaving no stone unturned, no shrine unseen, no deer unpet, and no second wasted on silly things like eating and sleeping.

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday this year. Be safe, silly, and adventurous, and if you get the chance, climb through the nostril of Buddha. It will serve you well-even if you do end up in the wrong airport!

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Buon Natale, Feliz Navidad, Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu, etc. HAPPY NEW YEAR to EVERYONE!!!!!!!!!!