2017  Japan

2017 Japan

Having always had a Yen to experience the gardens and culture of Japan, this winter’s mission is to check it out; despite current threats from one chubby dwarf North Korean dictator with a bad haircut threatening to ‘sink’ it! Part of our travelosophy is to not let any ‘what-ifs’ dissuade a good adventure.

Flying Business Class for the first time ever (Yeeha, baby!), in seat #1 on the latest 787 Dreamliner aircraft, I’m shocked to see an actual airbag on my seat belt. Now, I may be going out on the ‘skinny branches’ here, but if this Boeing behemoth should happen to plummet 40,000 feet out of the sky, I’m not convinced that a diminutive airbag is really going to be all that much help!

Fortunately, it becomes a moot point when the aircraft’s wheels kiss the tarmac in Tokyo’s massive Narita airport. Christine and I get off to a bit of a stressful start with Japan’s confrazzling transport system by boarding a train on the wrong track, and finding ourselves headed in the wrong direction on a dark and rainy night. Soon realizing our mistake, we muddle our way onto the correct train at the next stop for the 65 km jaunt into Tokyo.

At our hotel I realize I screwed up when booking. Due to an error in currency conversion we find ourselves in a meager hotel room with a larcenous, non-refundable tariff of $560 a night! I’m pissed at my mistake, but sadly we have to suck it up for tonight as they already have the funds and there’s nothing we can do.

In the bathroom, a mass of buttons on the toilet has me puzzled, and as I soon learn, there are clearly both perks and perils of Japan’s peculiar porcelain potties, that feature more functions than a smart phone!

My toilet trauma actually starts out quite pleasantly, sitting on a nice warmed seat. After all, nice toasty cheeks make for happy haunches, right?  However, sitting atop the ass-inine throne and attempting to navigate a multitude of high-tech buttons with Japanese only instructions is a bit of a perplexing crap-shoot for the uninitiated.

While the Japanese may pride themselves on pristine anuses and a spa for the private parts, this Gaijin’s butt cheeks now clench with concern. I push a button with what appears to be a music note on it, and sure enough the toilet starts singing, to mask any splashy or discharge noises; weird, but still OK.

Then things get ugly, as without my glasses, I push the wrong button. Betraying my faith in toilets, water shockingly erupts with a force akin to a firehose from the blast-happy tubing! Thrusting out my hand, I  defuse the uncalled for colonic enema, and reduce the errant sack-attack down to a testicle tickle before jumping off the porcelain perpetrator; traumatized, but ever so relieved to achieve liftoff with all my dangly bits still attached!

Tokyo is a brontosaurus-sized mess of a city. Crammed to the gills with concrete, neon, traffic, and of course, the 38 million Tokyoites residing here, it hosts about the same population as in all of Canada. Our hotel room on the 26th floor looks directly down upon the Shibuya Crossing, better known as ‘The Scramble’; the mother of all zebra crosswalks and busiest intersection in the world.

To facilitate humongous crowds all lights at the five converging crosswalks turn red at the same time, totally stopping traffic as pedestrians surge into the intersection from all sides like a battle scene from ‘Braveheart’; somehow managing to dodge each other with a well-practised agility.

The intersection becomes garish at night with flashy neon-soaked advertising illuminating it from above, and in tonight’s spattering rain, a majority of the crossing’s swarm carry clear umbrellas. From our lofty vantage point the scene resembles ants scurrying away from an agitated nest with their egg larvae in tow.

Being our first day, and hoping for an improvement over our stressful introduction to the city, we set off on an exploratory ramble and in matter of minutes are totally lost. We approach a couple of skateboarders seeking directions and with an unexpected kindness, the long-locked lads not only point us the right way, but pick up their boards and escort us a few blocks to ensure we find the correct turn.

Walking through Yoyogi Park we enter the Meiji-Jingu Shrine through two beautiful 12 meter high Torii gates created from a 1500 year old Taiwanese Cyprus. Adroit workmen use choreographed sweeping arcs of long handled bamboo brooms to meticulously remove the constantly falling autumn leaves in this calming forested area within the guts of the congested city.

Lamenting our wallet-flattening first night in the hotel, we move to a smaller sister hotel nearby. Sadly, this room has roughly the equivalent square footage of a handkerchief, and the joke of a bathroom features a goofy garbage container only slightly larger than a pencil sharpener, which I’m sure will come in handy should we need to dispose of either a bottle cap or cue-tip! However, after our previous outrageously expensive hotel, this dwarfish shelter is a ‘real steal’ at a mere $225 a night!

Across the street from our hotel stands the monument of Hachiko, symbolizing love and loyalty. The Akita dog called Hachiko went by himself at the end of each day to wait and greet his owner in front of the insanely busy Shibuya train station and they would walk back home together.

One day Hachiko’s owner, a university professor, died from a stroke and never returned to the station where his dog was patiently waiting. Even though Hachiko was given away after his owners death, for the next nine years the grief-stricken dog would routinely escape, and appear at the Shibuya station precisely when the train was due, to wait with undying love for his master.

Eventually other commuters started noticing him, and built a statue in his honour outside the station as a reminder of the importance of the relationship between man and dog. Attached to it is a nice quote by Jess C. Scott that reads:  Never mind, said Hachiko each day. Here I wait, for my friend who’s late. I will stay, just to walk beside you for one more day. My eyes dampen, thinking about the love and bond I shared with my wonderful shepherd-husky cross of many years ago.

Shinjuku Station is the world’s busiest railway station, handling more than two million passengers every day. Struggling to acclimatize to the shoulder-to-shoulder gridlock, we roam from the station along the frenetic neon-riddled streets trying to locate the infamous Memory Lane; also known as ‘Piss Alley’. Starting out as a prime illegal drinking spot in the 1940’s, there was a lack of restroom facilities that resulted in patrons relieving themselves on the nearby train tracks, earning the alley its grittier name. Fortunately, the area has now morphed into a flourishing foodie haven, buzzing with the old Tokyo vibe.

We pinpoint the alley in deep Tokyo nestled near the train tracks and marked by a string of faded red lanterns. The noodle-thin and noodle-full alley greets us with a little nasal foreplay courtesy of smoky aromas from the plentiful cooking grills. Sliding inside a tiny Yakitori joint with a distinct ‘old Japan’ feel to it, we contemplate the tempting edibles scorching over a hot flame.

A neat old fella is cooking while his wife is prepping veggies in the back; chopping like a woodpecker hammering for its breakfast. With no English spoken, our nonversation quickly morphs into a game of pantomimed clues and finger-pointing in order to acquire a tasty ramen dish, gyoza, chicken skewers, and big-ass bottle of Kirin beer. The food is brilliant and the funky setting perfect. So amazing to find such a place hidden in plain sight and we love the Japaneseness of it all.

After exploring the urban village of Daikanyama we investigate the quirky grunge and hip-hop Harajuku area. Here on ‘Planet Peculiar’ fashion is a horrid collision of colors, where the odder and uglier the better. Ludicrous Lolita-like lunatics with silver or blue hair and big gunky eyelashes are plastered with more makeup than a circus clown, and closely resemble a melted box of crayons.

Observing these creepy caricatures bonneted with rabbit ears, and plastic appendages growing out of their ears, prancing about flashing peace signs, I’ve reached the logical conclusion they are as nutty as a squirrel’s breakfast, with insufficient grey matter to sole the flip-flop of a one legged budgie!

The area’s famous Takeshita Street could better be named ‘Tacky-shit Street’, with all the frivolous gadgets, insane youth fashion, and tasteless trash ranging from telephone purses to feathered brassieres. Speaking of feathers, the only thing here we really give a hoot about is an amusing aviary offering a ‘walk with owls’; an up close and personal with a variety of hooting hooligans that seem to repeatedly ask our names. The rest of the street strikes us as nothing more than a perplexing tsunami of silliness.

Departing the absurdity of Harajuku we veer onto Cat Street only to spot a bloke dressed up as a pumpkin, holding a leash tethered to the biggest rabbit we’ve ever seen. This jack-ed up nose-twitcher must be on some serious hare-oids, and I have to stop and pet the bulbous carrot-crammer to confirm it is not a mirage. After all the walking our legs now feeling heavy, and I’m hearin’ a Kirin calling my name, so we meander back towards our hotel where I know there’s an ice cold beer ready to lay down its life for me.

Emboldened by yesterday’s navigational success we again head out for the Shinjuku district, home to all things neon and noodle. Of note is the area’s dominant mascot. The eight ton, forty foot high head of Godzilla glowers down from the rooftop of the Gracey Hotel, occasionally emitting the iconic scream from its snarling open jaw with the protruding and evil-looking ivory!

Nearby, a quiet stone path lined with bamboo leads us into an oddly calm oasis in the midst of the crush of cars and humanity. The Golden GAI is small fragment of ‘Old Tokyo’ that miraculously survived redevelopment and is now saturated with over 250 tiny watering holes shoehorned into six narrow pedestrian-only alleyways. No doubt about it, the Japanese are in surely in love with their spirits!

Each day the notorious Shibuya Crossing hosts about two million people, and likely even more today with it being Halloween. Caught up in the suffocating scrunch of bodies, we’re forced to perform pirouetting evasive maneuvers as we shoulder-brush our way through the claustrophobic chaos of shortness!

The Tokyo swarm, looking like a gigantic human ant colony, is herded by hundreds of white gloved policemen using light sticks and megaphones! Waiting at a traffic light, Christine suddenly ends up in the smothering embrace of a tall dark stranger; a gigantic T-Rex that’s one of the countless costumed crazies congregating on this night of spook-tacular Tokyo bizarreness!

Tokyo has left a sizable dent in our treasury, and it’s time to try and stop hemorrhaging yen. The intimidating train station has a swarm of people flowing through it like a river, but a gracious stranger helps us acquire tickets for the sleek Shinkansen Bullet Train; the main vein whisking people from city to city. Catapulted from Tokyo to Kyoto in less than 2½ hours, we have swapped cities with swapped letters.

Called ‘City of Peace and Tranquility’ and home to some 2,000 Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, Kyoto is so much more than a ‘misspelled Tokyo’. It’s more like the Zen antidote to the insanity of Tokyo. Our Sakara Kyoto lodging is nestled amongst odd little shops in a narrow covered shopping alley called a ‘shotengai’, with what is meant to be a soothing Japanese version of elevator music piped in overhead. Regrettably, the tinkling tunes resembling an ice-cream truck enter my ear canal, annoyingly ricocheting around in my skull in search of an escape route they can’t seem to find!

The convenient Higashiyama area however, is superb. Our suite, called the Bamboo Room, features a tree built smack dab in the middle of it that separates off a small kitchen. The ability to cook our own grub helps offset exorbitant restaurant prices that are so atrocious that the Japanese even have a word for it: ‘Kuidaore’, which literally means ‘eating yourself into bankruptcy’. The other problem we have with restaurant dining here is the preposterously puny portions, roughly the size of a Brussel sprout!

Walking past one of the restaurants, we’re shocked by the menu board with English translations that reads: ‘Pork barbequed on skewer – There are the following kinds’: Tongue; Heart; Liver; Throat; Womb; Ovary; Large intestine; Small intestine; Stomach; Spleen; Vagina; Meat of the head; and Fat of the head. And just W.T.F., I ask myself, is ‘Fat of the head’ and ‘Meat of the Head’? Sounds more like a couple of my pals back home rather than food!

Suppressing a shudder, we anxiously show ‘gagsville’ the soles of our shoes; as swine vagina and all its cohorts sound vile enough to have one curled up in the fetal position sucking a thumb. We are both of the opinion that the search for logic on this menu would require one very powerful microscope!

Back at Sakara, my slippered feet shuffle across the bamboo flooring to brave a bathing attempt in a teeny tub less than 4 feet long. While this vessel may be perfect for a three year old, I find myself sitting curled up like contortionist from Cirque du Soleil. On a positive note, the tub corner is just large enough to host a recently purchased bottle of Tempranillo wine. Now, if only I can untangle my limbs enough to reach it!

Before the break of day, we venture off the beaten track into the mountains around the traditional village of Ohara. Locating the enchanting Sanzen-in Temple earlier than planned we find it still closed. Milling about in the frigid weather waiting for it to open, a shopkeeper sees our plight and opens up his shop early, inviting us in for a cup of tea and sweet roll.

Sipping the warming tea, we engage in a challenging chat based on his limited English and manage to come away with four little tidbits from him: He tells us that Canada has good salmon; his son is a guitar maker; he loves to garden; and he went to Hawaii for his ‘bridal’. Expressing gratitude to our hospitable host, we bow goodbye, as the intriguing temple has just opened its gates.

Moss is the boss here at Sanzen-in, and cute stone Buddhas peek out of moss-blanketed gardens a thousand years old. The tranquil sanctuary is sea of glistening green punctuated with dozens of maple trees strikingly dressed in their full fall finery and a perfect place to get our Zen on.

Like most days, today we’re trying to distance ourselves from the crowds with a rather ludicrous starting hour. Stepping out of a train into the blackness of the night in unfamiliar territory, we hunt for the address of 68 Fukakusayabunouchicho; better known as the sacred Fushimi Inari Shrine.

Finally locating our target, we climb towards the vibrant, fox infested shrine through a tunnel of more than 4,000 bright carrot-colored prayer gates. Snuggled closely together, the gates straddle a steep path snaking up 4 km of treed mountainside. The prominence of fox statues is because Inari, Shinto god of rice, is believed to communicate with humans using foxes as his messengers. With the suns ascent, the glowing orange-red tunnel is undeniably one fine shrine; one that ‘shouts’ in a country that prefers to whisper.

Returning to town, we again allow ourselves to be swallowed by the streets of Kyoto, and find ourselves temple hopping along the ‘Philosophers Path’ and visiting the Zen temple of Ginkakuji and other shrines including Chion-in, Shoren-in, Honen-In, Anrakyji, Reikanjie, and Heian. Nearby at Maruyama Park, sharing the paths with human powered rickshaws, kimono-clad visitors, and a bamboo-hatted flute player, our wander leads to a couple of stone-paved shopping streets on the Sannenzaka Slope. These hilly streets at the foot of the mountains have a charming atmosphere, with traditional wooden shops, teahouses, and the impressive five story Yakasa Pagoda nestled at their base.

At night, these same pretty streets are deserted, and here alone, with the old storefronts bathed in soft glowing lights, it feels as if we’ve been transplanted into a little town from centuries past. Oddly, on our way home, an alleyway leads us to a fine swine shrine; dedicated to, of all things, the wild boar!

Kyoto’s Shimbashi Street in the Gion District is magical, and for good reason, known as ‘the most beautiful street in Asia’. The ancient stone street is dressed with willow and cherry trees draped over the shallow Shirakawa Canal which gently gurgles past old wooden teahouses adorned with glowing paper lanterns; offering the perfect backdrop for couples taking pre-wedding photos, rickshaw boys towing kimonoed clientele, and occasional sightings of the legendary Geisha.

A grin graces our faces witnessing a neat nuance of nature in a still eddy of the canal. As a tiny fish shelters under a leaf to avoid the sun, a clever white egret suddenly sheds its hunched demeanor and stealthily stilts over to the leaf and slowly lifts a long limber leg out of the water.

Stretching it with the ease of a yoga master over top of the leaf, it gently taps the leaf with a foot. When the curious little fish pokes his head out to see whose knocking, a sudden blur of the bird’s beak turns the minnow into instant sushi. I guess the moral of the story is don’t open your door to strangers!

Amassing so many experiences each day, the one constant is the peerlessly polite and courteous people. Things are accomplished in an orderly fashion with people speaking in whispers. There is also no jumping of queues, and people respectfully refrain from wagging their jaw on cellphones while on public transport. Another plus is that street litter here is virtually nonexistent, as it simply doesn’t occur to people to drop any rubbish; especially commendable given it is almost impossible to find a public garbage container.

Turning on the TV tonight, I quickly realize the futility of trying to locate an English channel. This is a little disappointing as I have a better chance of licking my elbow than comprehending the hieroglyphics of the Japanese language, and find the rapid-fire dialect little more than annoying noise. However, zapping my way through the channels I stumble upon a sumo wrestling match for which there really are no words!

In this befuddling blip in an otherwise civilized society, it seems bigger is better for the blubbery bloated behemoths bound in a belted beefy wedgie braced between bare buttocks. Boasting bulging beer bellies appearing ready to birth inflated beach balls, the bulbous boys briefly belly-up and battle to bully and bump each other outside a circle made with rope. Not beholden to this bizarre ‘sport’, I bid bye-bye to browsing the bafflingly and boring buffoonery, and get back to reading my book.

Travelling south to the city of Nara today, we find ourselves quickly surrounded by thousands of freely roaming wild sika deer. Totally accustomed to humans, these valiant versions of venison strut through the crowded chaos with complete confidence and immunity, sniffing out handouts of specially made deer food crackers sold to the crush of deer feeding tourists.

Partaking in an interview at Todai-ji temple with a group of students hankering to practise their English, one deer actually has the audacity to nose his way right into our enclosed circle, checking to see if we may be concealing any food, before a slap on his furry rump sends our horny friend on his way. For our time and help with their studies, the teacher and kids kindly offer us a little origami present as a thank you.

After this endearing experience, we walk a pathway leading to the red pillars of the sacred Kasuga Grand Shrine, and the ground’s 3,000 moss-covered stone lanterns. Finally, we enjoy a saunter in the calming Japanese gardens of Isui-en, to recharge our batteries before leaving Nara and returning to the madness of Kyoto Station.

Today my age is elevated to sixty-nine. While a number with pleasurable connotations for many, it’s also represents the equivalent of reaching 483 in canine years! A mere year short of acquiring septuagenarian status reminds me that while I do like birthdays, the problem is, too many can kill you! With the sky still black as a geisha’s wig, our day begins at the popular Golden Pavilion, where we have managed to be the first to arrive and stake our claim. Waiting for the gates to open, the sky lightens and the trickle of visitors turns into a torrent with the arrival of the dreaded tour buses pregnant with tourists.

Being first in, we race down the paths to have the temple all to ourselves, if only for a magic minute. Adorned in glittering gold leaf, the reflection of the pavilion is mirrored on the surface of a still pond adorned with mini islands of matured bonsai pine trees. This impossibly beautiful postcard image of tranquility provides a precious moment with all the ingredients for a spectacular Kyoto photo.

After a brisk lap of the pavilion, we leave behind the suffocating horde of rubberneckers, and bus on to the big-but-blah, Imperial Palace. Returning to town, Christine and I take afternoon tea in a discrete little teahouse tucked away on a smidgen of road called Nene’s Path.

Hidden behind the vine covered fence, we’re greeted with charming gardens and a pond carved into the rocks, with monstrous colorful koi tame enough to suckle our fingers. The uncoy koi and zen-sational garden provide a perfectly pleasurable pause in our hectic day. B-day relaxation one-oh-one!

Today, the little two-car train we’re taking to Kurama curves along the railway tracks through forests of maple trees, with the colorful red leafed branches kissing the car’s windows. On arrival however, we learn that our planned mountain hike between the villages of Kurama and Kibune is over before it begins. The power of nature flexing its muscles during a recent typhoon has collapsed part of the mountainside, taking out the path along with it.

Walking away with a dominating mood of disappointment, we’re watched by an evil looking red statue of a mythical creature called a Tengu; a goblin-like creature believed to live on Mount Kurama that alternates between creating kindness and mischief. Wearing an angry mouth below a disproportionately long proboscis, Mr. Tengu does not help to lighten our mood. Stuck out here in the middle of nowhere with spirits squashed, there’s nothing to do but wait for the next infrequent train back to the city!

In Kyoto, we know that asking directions to our destination of ‘Awadaguchikachoyamacho’ will have us looking like retards, so we roam about on our own. Eventually finding our target of the Myodai Omen Restaurant, we’re eager to sample their Udon specialty dish, rightfully regarded as an edible masterpiece!

During our walkabouts in Kyoto we’ve spent a lot of time ‘Finding Dori’; in fact, on almost every corner, as ‘dori’ is the Japanese name for street. However, it’s not the dori’s that are our problem; it’s the mean mouthful of preceding letters, which are anything but ‘hunky’!  With wandering our activity of choice, we have referred to our paper maps so frequently the fold lines have now been turned into air!

With the cold chasing away any early morning bleariness we head to the Arashiyama area to partake in ‘Shinrin-yoku’; a Japanese term meaning ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’ or ‘forest bathing’. I suppose technically, we will be ‘Banbu-yoku’ or ‘Bamboo Bathing’, as we’re headed specifically to the Sagano Bamboo Forest. As typical early-birds we arrive in total darkness to an empty forest thick with quiet.

With a great stroke of luck, we are just in time to witness some mesmerizing magic in the bamboo forest. Golden fingers of the autumn sun begin peeking over the horizon, with thin slashes of light weaseling their way through the thickets onto soaring bamboo stalks along edge of the grove. The angle of the rays forms a perfect light, creating the amazing illusion that the towering 30 meter bamboo is actually on fire! This brain-draining sighting lasts for mere moments before vanishing, but we’re off the Richter scale with exhilaration knowing our camera has captured the awesomeness of the phenomenon.

After leaving the enchanting forest, we’re still gushing when we arrive at the Tenryu-Zen temple. The temple’s entrance features a dragon purification fountain, with bamboo ladles to scoop out water into cupped hands for rinsing. Girthy koi growing old and fat lazily fin through the still waters of the lake, and adding to a profound sense of calm are reflections of scarlet maple trees on the lake’s surface, and the scenery from the adjacent mountains of Arashiyama acting as the next tier of the photo-worthy gardens.

Nearby, we cross the leisurely flowing Katsura River over the famous 400 year old wooden Togetsu-kyo Bridge; impressed with the mountain’s glorious eruption of Technicolor from a forest of vibrant green and crimson leafed Japanese maple trees.

With a pocked full moon winking through the clouds tonight at Kodaiji Temple, the otherworldly neon glow of lights on the aged trees and immense stalks of bamboo is a sight that lingers in the mind. On the walk home we lay eyes on an elusive geisha clip-clopping down the street in her split-toed white socks stuffed into ridiculously elevated sandals.

Dressed in all her kimonoed finery, her face is painted a fish-belly white, with scarlet smeared lips and eyelids. Her only exposed skin is two large brown fangs on the nape of her neck, below an elaborately coiffed raven-black wig cluttered with flowers and frills and tied with silk ribbons. The word ‘Geisha’ may translate to ‘woman of the arts’; but though many would disagree, I find these rare apparitions kind of clown-creepy, with all the sex appeal of a turnip!

Via a series of trains we reach the small town of Momoyama in the southernmost hills of the Higashiyama Mountains. It’s a pretty little town, and enjoying a stroll along the wispy willow-lined Horikawa River, we stop in at one of the many sake breweries, getting slightly sozzled on the sneaky fermented rice.

By now we’re becoming friendly with Kyotos streets and constantly on the lookout for an untrodden path. So today, just for the Hell of it, we jump on the subway and ride it out of town to the end of the line; just to see what’s there. After an hour’s walking we meet a fit 80 year old with surprisingly good English, and during our chat he sagely suggests we may want to try walking along Lake Biwa Canal, all the way back into Kyoto. We decide to try his recommendation as this Japanese jaunt sounds like an interesting plan!

Passing hunched herons stalking breakfast in the canal, we arrive to the solitude of the small, semi-hidden Honkokuji Temple; greeted by a ferocious golden eyed dragon spewing water. These concealed spots are called ‘anaba’, and discovering them is one of the real delights of random roaming. Christine and I have the temple all to ourselves, and relax for a spell before continuing the pleasant three hour hike. According to Christine’s Fitbit device, we’ve now racked up over 400,000 steps since arriving in Japan.

All around Kyoto we’ve been noticing quirky statues of what appear to be some type of silly animal looking like a hybrid of a racoon and hedgehog. These laughable ceramic rogues, wearing straw hats and holding a bottle of sake, are also endowed with a jumbo sized set of testicles hanging down to the ground. Asking about the statue’s significance, we’re informed they’re meant to bring prosperity, and are a takeoff on a real animal known as a Japanese Racoon Dog called the ‘Tanuki’.

There’s even a song children sing about the Tanuki in schoolyards: (Tan Tan Tanuki no kintama wa;  Kaze mo nai no ni; Bura bura), roughly translating to (Tan-Tan-Tanuki’s testicles; There isn’t even any wind; But still go swing-swing-swing). Personally, I think the ‘poet’ responsible for this prose should be required to commit seppuku; but that aside, I somehow find myself with a fondness for the ballsy little statues! Ah yes, there is so much to like about Japan; geographically small, but culturally grand!

Alas, it’s time to apply the brakes to our wanderings and return to ‘our home and native land’. Waiting in the business lounge at Osaka Airport, I happen to compliment one of the female staff on the healthy juices available, and it seems my comment was appreciated, as later, with smiling eyes and a finger pressed to lips, she whispers: ‘Shhh, secret’, and presents me with a little gift package containing chocolates!

Yet again, I am flabbergasted by the kindness of strangers that has been so prevalent throughout our travels in this courteous and intriguing country. Somehow her sweet gesture seems such an appropriate ending, as we say sayonara to our sojourn in the land of the ‘surp-rising sun’.

Mark Colegrave   November 2017