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One Woman's Opinion

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A Year in Japan: 1965, Part 13

by Mary Wakefield Buxton

Urbanna, Va.— Our daughter Liz was now 8 months old. We decided to include her on a trip south to historical Kyoto, one time capital of Japan.
We caught the local train in Zushi that connected us to the famous “Bullet train” in Tokyo that looked like the monorail in Disney World. It left Tokyo within 5 minutes of arrival and sped us down the coastline at 120 miles per hour passing the magnificent snow-capped Mt. Fiji. We arrived in Kyoto “on time” as, unlike American trains, Japanese trains were world famous for being on time.
Our hotel room, reserved for us by the Navy Base Special Services Office, was a small Japanese Inn named “Rakutoso” (Three Sisters) because it was managed by three lovely Japanese sisters.
Actually, one of the sisters was gone. She attended UCLA in California. While she was getting her degree, a cousin had taken her place. They together did the cooking, cleaning, entertaining, and other odd jobs to ensure their guests had a good time.  
The hot bath was our first activity and after undressing and entering the steamy bath, I bumped smack into a short, fat, naked Japanese man. I screamed. I suppose seeing a tall American woman emerge from the clouds of steam was just as shocking as it was for me to encounter him. I departed hastily. Later I learned hot baths in Japan were coed and no one thought anything shocking about it. There are certainly some things an Ohioan can’t do “while in Rome.”
Dinner was served to us in our room on a hibachi grill with each piece of chicken and fresh vegetable cooked one piece at a time. We were hungry and I thought we watched each morsel as it cooked like starving cats ready to pounce. After it was over, we were still hungry and wished we could go to McDonald’s to have a Big Mac. Exhausted from the day’s excitement, however, we rolled out our futons with our baby tucked in beside us and fell into a deep sleep.
The next morning we explored Kyoto. Unfortunately, it was cold and rainy and the cherry blossoms that we had come so far to see had not yet bloomed. Refusing to let punk weather dampen our spirits, we walked to the nearby famous Heian Shrine just down the road. The bright red “torji” that guards the Shinto shrine is a famous Kyoto sight. 
The next stop was a Buddhist temple where a service was in process. The many worshippers were kneeling before the statues of Buddha. A heavy sweet incense wafted from the altar.
We moved on to walk through a graveyard. The flowers, trees, and shimmering pond with an oriental curved bridge created a peaceful background for the gravestones.
For dinner we left the baby with “Sandysan,” one of the three sisters, and headed for Kyoto Plaza where we enjoyed dinner at the restaurant at the top of the hotel. What a breathtaking view of the city!
The next day we joined an afternoon bus tour which took us to the site of the Old Imperial Palace built in 794 by Emperor Kammu that housed the royal families until 1788. At this time a fire destroyed the buildings and the Emperor decided to move to Tokyo for the new royal site. The buildings have been rebuilt and are exact replicas. I was amazed at the extreme simplicity of the buildings; the royal families lived on tatami mat floors and slept on futons just like everyone else.
Nijo Castle was our next stop. I had just finished reading “Daishi-san” a novel about Englishman William Adams, who was shipwrecked in Japan in the fifteenth century. He stayed in Japan and became a very influential leader in the royal court. He served under the benevolent Shogun, Leyasu, and the novel revolved around their close friendship. Nijo castle had been built by Leyasu.  
As we passed through the ancient hallways of the old Shogun’s residence, I imagined the Englishman and Leyasu sipping tea on the tatami. The “nightingale” polished wood hallways had been constructed so that when you walked on them, a strange nightingale’s song sound came forth. Since we were walking in a group of 10 or so, the floor sounded like an entire flock of nightingales! The floors had been built like this to warn the Shogun of any approaching assassin.
Our last stop was “Sanjusangendo,” a spectacular Buddhist temple that contained 1,000 life-sized carved wooden golden images of Buddha. Each figure had 11 small heads carved into his head piece. Out of its two arms, grew 21 pairs of tiny arms. In the center of these figures was an 11-foot image of Buddha who also had 21 pairs of arms and 11 heads, amazing sights never to be forgotten.

(To be continued)


posted 06.06.2018

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