So, they planned this great big trip to Nikko for us that would leave us overnight in a ryokan, or traditional (hehe… “traditional”) Japanese-style inn. First we drove for three hours, then we got off at this wicked cool shrine-place that was commissioned by the founding emperor of the Edo period (or at least, he was very famous… Lemme check Wikipedia; yes, he wasn’t the emperor but rather the Shogun, which means he was the military leader and more or less acted as Emperor having received permission from the Emperor to do so in his name. This continued from the early 1600s until well into the 19th century when the Meiji Emperor decided he wanted control back).
So this is the shrine where his spirit is entombed along with his grandson and successor, Iemitsu, who was wisely placed in charge at a young age and before Ieyasu died, so that people would have no problem accepting him, as they knew Ieayasu was still really the one in charge for several years up until he died. Smart guy!
I have a bunch of pictures up in the first album of Nikko from this place. It was very beautiful, and the weather was clear, and since it was high (say, a kilometer above sea level, which the Japanese tell me is high…) up, the air was pretty dry to even in the sun it was completely bearable, unlike events which occurred shortly upon my return, of which you will get to read shortly.
So, the ryokan… Right. They called it traditional, and while I know what they meant, it’s hard to accept a place as traditional when they have plastic, wood-shaped pillars, a gift shop, and color television. Like I said, I know what they meant, meaning that it had full tatami (woven straw mat flooring) rooms complete with low-to-the-ground tables, and at night they laid out futon on which to sleep. (Futon in Japan are rather different from “futons” in America. Aside from rather dramatic pronunciation changes, they are actually flat mats with some extra bedding laid over top of them. You sleep kind of on the floor, and it’s actually surprisingly comfortable. For instance, I’ve not had any back pains upon waking since I arrived and have been sleeping on futon.) They also served us more traditional Japanese meals for dinner and breakfast.
And on the top floor they had a more traditional-style o-furo, or Japanese bath. The unisex ones are very rare modernly, so of course this one was separated men and women, but it had all the makings of a full Japanese bath in that there was an area for getting naked (an incredibly important part of any bath, I imagine), an area for washing yourself with soaps and shampoos and shower-heads on hoses, then a hot (like, “oh, that’s what the lobster feels like” hot) outer bath with a slightly less hot (“who needs skin, anyway?”) inner bath.
It’s really wicked-cool, though, how they keep it as modest as possible, see, the boys get this little (when folded, but unfold-able to be larger than any HUMAN would need) towel the hold over themselves while walking around, and then when you get in (not wanting to contaminate the o-furo water, of course), you kind of raise it up and place it on your head for safe keeping. And of course you’re sitting down, so your legs do most of the blocking necessary. It’s actually a very well-developed system if you ask me; and certainly something the Japanese have been doing right for centuries! ^_^
Okay, so we had the ryokan, and while there we wore the complementary yukata, receiving remarks from old Japanese ladies who thought we couldn’t understand, such as, “Wow, that’s kind of amazing…” with regard to all these gaijins (foreigners, oh and I put the -s on there because it’s fun, albeit probably grammatically incorrect) wearing Japanese clothing. It was cool.
The next day we left relatively early, climbed a mountain (in the bus), got to a place that is famous for its Japanese foot-bath natural hot spring treatment, smelled it, got out of the bus, walked to the place, then found the sign to the right… Yes, sadly it was closed for some reason, though I don’t really recall just now. I suppose my anguish at having sucked in the sulfur fumes for naught was too much that I wasn’t paying too much attention to pathetic attempts at apology… I remember there being an apology, however, for whatever that means. Also, apparently when the foot-o-furo is closed, you’re not allowed to have feet… >.>
Then we drove back down the other side of the road, which, by the way, was a very winding road, as it had been built in ancient times as some kind of tribute to the Japanese lettering system which was then not nearly as intuitively arranged as now you may find it, an d had one major turn for each character. There were 48 back then. Yes, a very winding road, indeed. >.<
(Fortunately, they’d handed out Dramamine at breakfast to those who thought they might have issues, and nobody found need to take advantage of the amenities — a trash can, I think — provided at the front of the bus by the staff. I suppose that in previous years they’d had problems, the poor blokes. ^_^ )
==Love and Falls==
On the way down, we stopped at a couple of waterfalls, one with a path alongside. You can find pictures of all these in my second Nikko photo album, fwiw.
The one was very long, and not terribly steep (or having an horrendous drop-offs), and the second was terribly steep indeed… Something like, what, 900 meters high? Yeah, I guess it beats even Niagara Falls for height of the drop. The first was famous for its winding and intricate water flow. The second for its romantic appeal… kind of.
I say ‘kind of’ because, well, it’s not really the kind of thing most would find romantic, but it had to deal with romance. Let me explain. You see, in ancient Japan, young kids really had no control over their lives. If you were a farmer’s son, you would be a farmer. Samurai children became samurai, children of an emperor became royalty, period. And half the time, your parents arranged your marriage in order to best place the family in a situation where everyone would be most able to survive. In those days, I suppose that’s what it was all about.
Needless to say that some people didn’t really like or follow this ideals, and they were frowned upon muchly. Rather very muchly. So muchly, in fact, that you just couldn’t make it work no matter how hard you tried. There are (I’m told) several famous puppet plays in Japan (I forget the name for puppet plays just now…) about such young lovers who, being unable to live as they wish, yet feeling unable also to live, ah, not as they wish (love being a powerful force and all that), decided upon some interesting/dramatic/creative/emotional way to off themselves together.
Story goes, this waterfall is where that sort of thing has actually happened. One of the Japanese ladies on the tour with us further told the story that mysteriously, no bodies were ever found at the bottom, which prompted me to suggest that I wondered if the couple ever actually DID jump. In case you were wondering, it’s never a good idea to question the reality of a Japanese traditional story. You see, it just wasn’t up for discussion. She told me: “No, there were people who saw them do it!” Like, “there were people” makes it final or something. Not that SHE knew any of the people, of course… Ah, well. So there you have it: Love’s Labors Lost… down the drain, as it were.
==Kokoromi Gakuen, or, How Wine and Social Work Mix==
After the falls, we made one final stop on the tour before returning to Tokyo; and this story is one in which Mom will find a particular interest, I think.
I will tell the story of the place: You see, in Japan, the mentally handicapped are often just plain not seen. Their families hide them away and take care of them so that they will not have to face the outside. (I think out of pity for the person, not so much out of shame for the family. So they do it with good intention, it seems…) However, when this happens, the handicapped people have very little skills to survive in the real world, and if the family cannot take care of them any longer, or their parents die, they are left a burden on the community, or helpless, or worse.
So back in the… oh, 1950s or so, a man got the idea that if you could help train/teach those who are mentally challenged how to work hard and find meaning and motivation in that sort of mundane hard manual labor, then they could get jobs where they would be both useful, and not a burden to their employers. So he started a grape vineyard (Now, grapes are not the most abundant of fruits in Japan, being not native, I believe) with the intention that he would take in those who were mentally handicapped and give them a place to live, and they would learn how to grow the grapes, and they would perform hard work as a means of teach how to find happiness in their own lives, and so that they could go out and get jobs in the rest of the world and both feel and be truly productive.
I guess they’ve had great success. I have a lot of pictures up from there, as well, in the second Nikko album. The facility (especially outside and the work they do) is not really as nice as one might think for such a place, but they were very positive in saying that those who live and work there are very happy and proud of the work they do every day; and they had a very interesting way of looking at hardships. They say there are four kinds of sufferings (they used the word gaman, which more literally means “hanging-in” or “pushing through”, and in hard times): hunger, sleepiness, temperature extremes, and um, well, I can’t remember the fourth right now… But anyway, their philosophy is that only by working through these trials can you truly come to know yourself, and find the inner peace to be able to push through the mundane, everyday, repetitive tasks we face and be happy regardless.
It’s very impressive, and a few people in the group remarked how these people with mental disabilities are probably now better equipped to be like ninjas than are we, who have been selected for academic excellence to be in this program. My take is that they are probably happier in their hard-work and sweat lifestyle than I might be at any given time in my air-conditioning and wireless-internet lifestyle… though through being in Japan I feel like I’m learning at least some of those hardships.
Continuing on, I guess the proprietor of this school would hold on to some of the grapes each season and make a little wine on the side, because he liked it; but word got around, and people stopped by each season to try the latest batch, and they started telling him he should sell the stuff. One thing led to another, and the farm turned into a winery, which is now relatively successful (given that it’s in Japan), and returns a growing amount of profits to the school. The guy you see last in the list of photos is actually the man in charge of making the wine there. He’s from California, but has lived here in Japan at that job for over 15 years now! He said the best thing to do being new to the country is to have fun. ^_^ I think I’ll give it a shot.
Then we went home, ate food, and slept, I imagine. That’s more or less what I did, anyway.
By the way, I’m a little disappointed that nobody commented on the Ducati store sign I found when I got lost! Like, seriously, that was the highlight of the whole event! There’s a chance (slim, bit still extant) that I may not have posted the event at all but for the fact that I wanted an excuse to brag that I live nearby to a Ducati store!! ^_^