In early October, a Buddist memorial service had been arranged for my wife’s (Michiko) mother, grandmother and aunt. We planned a trip to Nagoya, Japan to attend the memorial service, and tour Japan after the ceremony. Two of our adult children, Jennifer and Alan, also accompanied us.
We arrived at the Buddist temple in Nagoya on Sunday, October 9th. The main temple was recently rebuilt, and was beautifully framed with large cedar beams. The distinct smell of fresh cedar gave the temple a feeling of being connected to the forests of bamboo and evergreen trees surrounding the temple. The memorial service took place in an adjacent temple. The alter was filled with ancient artifacts, including a statue of Buddha that was one thousand years old.
Most of Michiko’s family from Tokyo, Nagoya and Detroit attended the ceremony, followed by lunch at an udon restaurant near the Nagoya train station. It was a time to visit and share, as we do not get a chance to see Michiko’s family in Japan very often.
On Monday, we started our two week adventure in Japan. Michiko was our tour director. She had spent many hours creating our itinerary, with help from Alan. It was a combination of visiting her home town of Kyoto, checking out major tourist attractions, and going to prefectures where Michiko’s ancestors originated. Here is a quick summary of our adventures:
Nakasendo Highway – The Nakasendo Highway is a walking trail that connected Edo and Kyoto. We walked the 6km between Otsumago and Magome. It was a beautiful mountain trail with waterfalls and alpine vistas.
Toba/Ise – Toba is the home of Michiko’s grandmother. It is famous for it’s cultured pearls. We went to the pearl museum on Pearl Island, and watched a special pearl diving demonstration by Ama divers. On the train ride back to Nagoya, we stopped at Ise to visit the most famous Shinto shrine in Japan.
Hiroshima – We visited the Hiroshima Peace Museum. For me, it was very emotional. War causes so much death and suffering. Innocent civilians so often bear the brunt of war’s destruction. Below is a picture of the Cenotaph Memorial, which includes a stone tomb that contains the names of over 220,000 who died as a result of the atomic bomb. In the background is the A-Dome.
Kochi – Kochi is the home of Michiko’s ancestors. We visited the Kochi farmers market, a 326 year old tradition that is 2km long and the oldest outdoor market in Japan. It takes many hours to visit all of the market stalls. I bought figs and homemade daifuku (omochi with sweet beans inside) to snack on during our many train rides.
Kyoto – Visited the bamboo forest at Arashiyama with the kids. Beautiful walk along the cool, shaded paths.
Kobe – Visited with Michiko’s aunt, had lunch near the Kobe harbor, and rode to the top of the Kobe Tower to get a panoramic view of Kobe.
Tokyo – Our last city to visit before flying back home. We had dinner with Michiko’s brother and his family at a soba restaurant. We seldom see his family, so it was a treat to visit with them again. Throughout our trip, we were constantly dodging bicycles. It is a very popular mode of transportation. I only wish we would do more daily bicycling in the USA.
Four years ago, Michiko traveled to Japan on her own (a bucket list item for her). She stayed mostly in hostels to save on cost (rates are $30-$40 per night per person). When making plans for the 2016 trip, she made reservations at the same or similar hostels that she had used four years ago. I must admit that I was very tentative about the accommodations. I envisioned large dormitories with rows of bunk beds, and youngsters up all night partying and whatnot. Well, I was completely wrong. The Japanese hostels were extremely comfortable. Because we were a group of four, we had private rooms with either two bunk beds or four futons laid out on tatami mats. Do try out a hostel in Japan. You might be pleasantly surprised like I was.