When traveling, it’s always a good idea to pack really comfortable walking shoes; we walked an average of 5 or 6 miles a day. Good thing… because, as usual, the food was incredible!! I ate, roughly, the equivalent of my own body weight in sushi, sashimi, gyoza, miso, and rice alone! From a glorious, artful, dinner presentation at the Ritz Carlton Osaka that was as much a feast for the eyes as it was for the palate, to the visually stunning, yet budget friendly, Daimaru "Feast Paradise" markets in the Osaka (Train) Station… you will want to try it all!!
I wanted to experience every level of gastronomic availability. The luxury Michelin star cuisine in Tokyo and the tiny, dark, side street haunts that are off the TripAdvisor radar. I wanted to taste the “real” Japan! But just how adventurous was I willing to be when it came to food?? Let’s just say I set my "adventure" goal at somewhere between “I’m in a foreign land and I want to try new things!!“ and “Oh HELL, no. I am NOT eating that s***!!” And so it was! I ate any manner of sea creature (tentacles and all), I ate flowers (spicy!), I ate “ribs” (not sure whose!), I discovered that I really dislike Soba noodles (and that you’re not supposed to drink the water they're served in. Who knew?), I ate things that I really wish I knew what they were… in some cases it’s so I could eat it again and other times so I can avoid it at all costs. I drew an indelible line at any “gelatinous mass” I encountered… and you would be surprised at how many I DID encounter. Eww.
A bit of advice: When you’re off the beaten path and away from the places that cater to tourists, keep your eyes open for signs that say “Japanese Only”, or for owners that wave their arms at you, or make an "X" with their forearms, in a fashion that tells you to scat. Not all places are delighted to have Americans and/or Europeans as patrons. Some forbid it. It’s legal and it’s their prerogative. Instead, look for signs (both literal and figurative) that let you know you’re welcome. Many are obvious, such as “We Have English Menus!” or if they’re pleased to see you, and/or invite you in. Also know that many places close between lunch and dinner. Wait too long to have lunch and you may find yourself “hangry” and SOL! (Ask me how I know. pfft.)
But not to worry! There are so many wonderful places. large and small, that welcome you with open arms. You’ll have no shortage of choices! When you need a break from Japanese cuisine we found Italian, German, and American food (TGIFriday’s, anyone?? Not kidding!!) without too much difficulty.
The Shunkō-in Temple. I found it in a Google search before I left home. I am a yoga and meditation instructor and I was a Licensed Massage Therapist for many years and so, there were just two things I knew I had to do while I was in Japan: Experience a Shiatsu massage and meditate at a Zen Buddhist Temple. I did both.
The Shunkō-in Temple and Guesthouse in Kyoto is a Zen Buddhist temple that holds meditation classes, followed by a temple and garden tour, maccha green tea and Japanese sweets, all for only 2,500 yen (less than 25 US dollars and just over 20 euro). All people are welcome.
The meditation is led by Deputy Head Priest, Reverend Takafumi Kawakami, who talks about incorporating mindfulness meditation into today’s world of social media and constant connectivity, and whom I later discovered does Ted Talks!! COOL!! I was only there for about an hour and a half, total, but the experience was so special to me, so “once in a lifetime”, that I have no doubt it will remain one of the most memorable experiences of my life.
Which brings me to:
May I suggest that, when you travel, you find a few things that are incredibly important to you. Things that you either can’t do anywhere else, that were originated in the region, or that the location you’re in would make the experience that much more meaningful to you, and make sure you do them. Even if you have to venture off on your own… as long as you’re safe, BE the solo traveler. Don’t travel thousands of miles and then allow another 20 or 50 or 75 miles, the lack of a companion, or fear, prevent you from doing something that makes your heart sing. Hire a guide, talk to the hotel concierge, take a taxi, take a train. When I was sitting on that woven grass mat, getting ready to meditate, in a temple, in KYOTO, JAPAN (!!!) I had tears of joy and gratitude in my eyes. I hadn’t traveled nearly 6000 miles to tell myself that another 40 miles by train was too far to go to make a dream come true!! Travel should open your eyes, open your heart, and change you. Let it.
Like I said… Japan changed me. Here’s how:
I’ve always had an inclination toward quiet and a sense of space and order in my surroundings, my life and my career. Generally speaking, I don’t like a lot of noise or commotion, and I can’t even think among clutter, yet, in recent years, the amount of “stuff” I’ve accumulated has exceeded the areas in which I have to comfortably store it. Simply put: I have way too much crap! So the organization of belongings and the lack of “stuff” I found in Japan… in the décor, in the gardens, even in the hotel rooms… was a powerful motivator for me. When I came home I did a quick google search and found the book: "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing" by Marie Kondō. It was a lot of work on many levels, but within a week of returning from Japan I had happily let go of approximately 50% of my belongings. What a relief!
I’ve rediscovered the freedom and luxury of Space. Space in empty drawers and cupboards, space between my belongings, space to think and breathe… and it opened up space for even more travel, adventure, experiences… and love.
So for that, Japan, I say arigatou gozaimashita. Thank you.
In part 2 of this blog I'll give more specifics on destinations... stay tuned!! In the meantime click the lighter gray text to follow links!
HERE'S WHAT I'VE LEARNED:
1) Don't decide what a place is going to be like before you get there.
2) Not everyone is going to like you and, as we already know, this has a lot more to do with them than with you.
3) Don't wait until you're starving to decide on a place to eat.
4) Letting go can be a very good thing.
5) If you find a pair of REALLY comfortable shoes that are cute, buy them!! They'll be worth their weight in gold!
“CHANGE BEGINS AT THE END OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE.”
~ROY T. BENNETT~