Japanese Trip this Fall

Gorinto StupaR and I went over to the city this evening to meet with one of her old friends from back in the day in high school, Isaac. R mentioned that he lived in Japan at some point when we were on our way over so I made a point of bringing up our impending trip when we were all chatting.

It turns out that he and his girlfriend had, on very short notice, picked up and went to Thailand and then Japan. They wound up getting a place in Osaka without any jobs or specific plans. Eventually, they moved outside of Osaka to a place not terribly far from Koyasan, the home of the Shingon sect of Buddhism. They stayed in Japan for a year (she found work and it was cheap in the countryside) and came back.

This is relevant because two of the places that R and I want to go to in Japan are Mt. Hiei (with Kyoto) and Mt. Koya (Koyasan) because of their connection with esoteric Buddhism, specifically the Tendai and Shingon schools. It turns out that Isaac had spent a bit of time at Koyasan and has friends there. He has a friend who works as a volunteer guide for Koyasan and can put us in contact with her so we can get a personal tour. He can also recommend a range of places to stay there, in Kyoto, Tokyo, and other places. It seems that we have a bit of a resource.

In addition to Isaac, R’s office at Six Apart has a Japanese branch. A couple of her coworkers are Japanese who have been transferred to San Francisco as part of an exchange. In conversations with R, they have also offered advice that is fairly recent (as has my friend, Lee, who just returned from Japan).

Isaac did recommend that if I am interested in Japanese at all (which I am), that taking a course before going would do wonders for my experience. I’ve been considering taking a “101” level course this summer if possible. He also emphasized quite strongly that learning the hiragana and katakana alphabets would make a dramatic difference in traveling as many of the smaller train stations have no romanji (roman alphabet) signs, nor do menus or other writing in many places. The ability to transliterate signs would turn potential nightmares into easy travel.

Our current plan is to go around the end of September or the beginning of October. This is our anniversary and the normal time we use for longer vacations. It is, happily, also the early fall, which generally makes our trips (previously to Thailand, Italy, and Mexico) a lot more enjoyable that either mid-summer or winter. Isaac and others have all said that fall is probably the best time to go to Japan. We plan to go for two and a half to three weeks, depending on vacation time and such. That is the length of time we used for our trip to Thailand and we found it worked well, especially since it takes a day or two to recover from the travel around the world on arrival. This time, we may allow a day or two on return to recover before returning to work, a horrible lesson that we should have learned from Thailand.

I’ve been wanting to go to Japan since I was a child watching Akira Kurosawa samurai films with my mother reading me subtitles. The fact that I am involved in Tendai now and have a spiritual connection to Japan makes it all the more immediate to me.