12/27/2013 – Day 8 in Japan

January 3, 2014 - 11:41 am No Comments

Another early start to the day since we wanted to do some sightseeing in Kyoto before heading off to Kobe. Navigating the bus system, we went to Sanjusangendo Temple, home of the 1001 life-sized statues of the thousand-armed Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy, the majority constructed in the 13th century and created from gold leaf layered on Japanese cypress. The area outside the temple was also the site of the famous duel between Musashi Miyamoto and Yoshioka Denshichiro in 1604.

The overall ambiance is very eerie – in my opinion, a great movie set for a psychological horror film. In front of the Kannon statues, there are 28 life-sized statues of the main Buddhist deities, each frightful in its aggressive stance, incensed facial expression, and clear glass eyes which look like they are constantly glaring. The thousand-armed Kannon are equipped with 11 heads to better the witness the suffering of humanity, and have a thousand arms to better fight the suffering. Although the actual statues only have 42 arms each, we’re supposed to subtract the regular two arms and multiply by the 25 planes of existence to get to the full thousand. We had to take our shoes off at the entrance, and walking through the cold temple towards the gigantic Kannon at the center of the temple, the whole experience felt very mystical. Afterward, we toured the beautiful traditional garden surrounding the temple and took some pictures.

We returned back to the station and had a delicious an-pan, and then lunch at a popular restaurant in the station. For $9, I got tofu and mixed vegetables, udon, rice served with three toppings, and pickled vegetables, all presented beautifully. Grace ate her favorite unagi-don – roast eel in a special bamboo box to make the rice extra flavorful when steamed.

After dropping off Grace’s friend, we headed to the train station to go to Kobe, one of Grace’s favorite weekend haunts during her summer in Himeji – only about one hour away. What a fun shopping city! It’s not a traditional tourist destination, but Kobe is one of the most popular places for people to live. Kobe has all the big stores and chains that Tokyo claims fame to, but none of the crowds. In particular, I loved all the anime/manga stores, as well as the gigantic Book Off in the center shotengai area! We bummed around for two hours exploring the shops, and we even saw our first anime cafe featuring Free! (a popular bishonen anime about a swim team…it’s on my list of things to eventually watch when I get back).

We met Grace’s friend Rie at 3 PM in Umie, one of Kobe’s largest and newest shopping malls. I’m not familiar with Japanese brands, but I picked up a beautifully intricate shirt and a pair of matching cute seal cups. Once we made our loop, we stopped for a tasty cookie shell cream puff before heading out back to the Santomiya area, stopping along the way for souvenir shopping. Rie loves shopping so she took us through alleyways and shortcuts to the best and most popular shopping areas for clothes, accessories, shoes, cute trinkets, and other popular goods among the youth of Japan.

One of Kobe’s most popular tourist destinations is Chinatown. Although limited from an aerial extent (no bigger than the small Washington DC Chinatown), Kobe Chinatown is very clean and manicured, very different from any other Chinatown I’ve ever visited before. All the stores have a shopfront with tasty snacks on sticks that can be bought and then nibbled on while walking, contrary to typical etiquette in Japan. I ate a steamed Chinese leek pork bun, while Rie ate a stick of fried mochi.

It’s hard being an immigrant in Japan – the laws favor citizens for employment and social services, and obtaining citizenship even after being a second or third generation descendant of an immigrant is extraordinarily difficult. Furthermore, even after obtaining citizenship, minorities are often treated as “foreigners” still, and hence many change their last names in an attempt to disguise their background. There’s a whole wikipedia article on xenophobia and ethnic issues in Japan: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethnic_issues_in_Japan – we’re not seeing it since the country is very friendly to foreign tourists, but I can see how difficult life would be to actually live here. In this regard, I think the US is truly unique in creating a culture that assimilates immigrants and welcomes diversity – there are always exceptions, but it’s truly one of the most open cultures in the world, partially because of its relative youthfulness but also because of its democratic social evolution.

For dinner, we met up with another of Grace’s friends (she has so many and truly possesses a unique ability to make and retain friends for years…) who lives and works in Kobe, and we went to a charming cafe restaurant in one of the basement shopping areas. I tried the curry vegetable soup, which had a really interesting flavor. Akari’s majors in English, so it was a lot of fun chatting with her and hearing about life in Japan. We then finished the day with Puri Kura together to mark today’s outing.

We arrived back in Kyoto quite late and climbed into bed. All in all, a wonderful day! We pack each day with adventures and experiences, but time is flying way too fast. I don’t want to come back so soon – I wish I have more time here!

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