Japan is a wonderful country and it has such friendly people. Our professor and his wife (who’s also on the trip) have taken in a Japanese grad student at IU. Her family lives right outside of Tokyo and they met us at the airport to take us to our hotel so we didn’t get lost. This is the third year this trip has run and the past two years the dean of the Journalism school’s wife, Hiromi, has joined the group. She grew up in Japan, knows her way around and most importantly is fluent in the language. Unfortunately, she’s pregnant so she wasn’t able to join us this year. However, this Japanese couple has taken our group under their wings. When they met us at the airport they brought all of us these great Japanese cookies. Yesterday they met us at the hotel and then took us to Asakusa and stayed with us for the day. Today, the gentleman took the train in to meet us. His train ride was about an hour an a half and he just wanted to make sure we’d get on the right train to go to Nikko. It was so incredibly nice.
So this morning after one train transfer, we were off to Nikko. It’s a 2.5-hour train ride up to the mountains. Nikko is a national park with ancient Shinto/Buddhist shrines. Sadly, photography isn’t allowed inside of the shrines. They were magnificent. I think the first one we went into was my favorite. It had three huge Buddha-like figures. They had to be several stories high. Nikko was also a great break from the bustling city. We got in at about 11:30 and had a mile walk up the mountain to the park. We took a wrong turn and ended up walking down this alley. This tiny, elderly Japanese woman saw we were lost and had us follow her back to the main street. People consistently go out of their way to help you. It’s refreshing. There’s a famous bridge before you enter the park, I forget it’s significance, but we made sure to take a ton of photos, including the obligatory peace sign ones.
Upon entering most of the shrines, you need to remove your shoes. It’s a complicated process. You cannot put your shoes up on the mats, but you can’t have your socks on the sidewalk. You kind of need to do to dance to get them off and simultaneously be in the right spot.
As I mentioned, people are very friendly so they’d ask if they can take a picture for you, and we’d return the favor. My professor sticks out a bit in Japan. For starters he’s over 6 feet tall and balding with white hair. A group of Japanese girls had asked my professor to take a picture for them. They were sitting on the steps in front of one of the shrines. I couldn’t resist going up to them asking if we could all take a picture together. They said of course and were very excited that I asked. All of us jumped in the photo with them and then several Spaniards/Italians (couldn’t really hear them well) jumped in, too. It was hilarious. Everyone wanted a picture with their own camera. It was one of the many highlights of the day.
After we left the park we went to a traditional noodle shop where you sit on tatami mats on the floor. I got soba noodles that you dip into a soy sauce. It was ok. Shabrelle, the girl I was sitting with, got a delicious udon soup. I helped her finish it. After lunch we did a little shopping on our walk down the hill to the train station. Then we had another 2.5 hour ride back on the train. Surprisingly, both ways went faster than I anticipated. I might have taken a little nap on the way there. I was attempting to study for my History of Rock and Roll class by listening to our required music, but it put me to sleep. Oops.
When we got back to Tokyo, we returned to the hotel, had dinner and then met up at 8:30 to go to Shibuya. It’s the Time Square area of New York and about 10 times cooler. It’s probably what you think of when you think of a neon lit Japan, because American media love to use pictures from the area to represent Japan. It’s also home to the Hachiko crosswalk, which is the busiest in the world. I took a ton of pictures. There were people coming from everywhere! It was fun wandering around aimlessly. Most of the group I was with went into a Krispsy Kreme to get donuts. I didn’t come to Tokyo to get Kripsy Kreme, so I sat outside to people watch. I was out there for what seemed like forever. The reason being, it’s very rude to eat on the street in Japan, so the group had to sit down to eat their donuts (I also think they were taking their time.) We found an H&M and went in. It was nice, but similar to the ones at home—and even more expensive. Again, something to take a pass on. After walking around all day we were beat. We returned to the hotel to pass out. Tomorrow is an early morning, so I want to get some sleep.