Wednesday, May 16, 2007

(Aijima Island)

Friends and well-wishers may enjoy these photos from our recent trip to Japan - I've highlighted the best with a tag of the same name. My husband (here looking rather nautical) took the bulk of the photos, and all the good ones.

Japan was a joy despite the many privations of backpacking. Anyone who knows me - and many who do not - can guess I do not care for backpacking. It was my husband's idea, and he's been roundly excoriated since. It's not that I am addicted to fine food and first-class travel - I can and do enjoy low-budget fare, cozy hostels, and public transport. What I do not enjoy is looking like a damn fool. Backpacking is all fine and good in the great outdoors, where tramping around with all your belongings strapped to your being is a necessity. There is nothing more ludicrous than seeing a 30-year-old man amble through the Tokyo subways as though he's mistaken it all for Yosemite.

What troubles me about backpacking - a point I took pains to explicate clearly and repeatedly while wringing out my underlinen in the hostel sink - is that it's entirely artificial. There was no reason at all we had to carry one bag to Tokyo, and no reason to carry that one bag on our backs. It's as utterly arbitrary as deciding we're only allowed to bring things that are red. But having accepted this dubious premise, we were then bound to suffer for it. Intentionally bringing four pairs of socks on a ten-day trip is unforgivable. There I was in one of the world's most fashionable cities looking like it was laundry day at forestry school. I may have been wearing brown hiking boots with black track pants - but as all those photos have been destroyed, we'll never know, will we?

And yet, as I said, we had a wonderful time. We started off in Tokyo, which was every bit as elegant and sophisticated as I'd hoped, and then on to Kyoto and Himeji before we skipped over to Shikoku island. From there, we went to Matsuyama, Hojo, the islands of Kashima and Aijima, and the Kazura Bashi bridge. Shikoku was lovely - it reminded me in many ways of the Pacific Northwest, only even more cool, fresh, and green. True, Aijima Island was full of centipedes - but then, that's what you get when you navigate entirely on a series of cartoon novelty maps.

We hit many of the prime Japan sights, including fish markets, cuteness emporiums, noodle shops, and Harajuku street kids. And, of course, we stayed in a capsule hotel - much more comfortable and pleasant than I would have expected. I'd like to install some sort of space capsule into my apartment. Trip highlights included the incomparable Meiji shrine, the dry garden at Konchi-in, and Kyoto's Kiyomizu-dera temple (a candidate for one of the new seven wonders of the world). And the contraption Dev build to dry our clothes.

Perhaps the thing that most impressed me about Japan was how many extraordinarily kind and helpful people we met in every city and town. No sooner did we open a guide book or look quizzically at a road sign than someone would appear to give directions, offer suggestions, or draw out minutely detailed maps. One old woman even made me some origami animals while we rode the train together - a rabbit and a dachshund.

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