I’ve decided that instead of saying “Hai” when my name is called in class, in honor of Zushi and to instill martial spirit I shall respond with “Osu!” It gets me a few funny looks but on days like this one I need all the martial spirit I can muster.
It was a full day, starting with a trip to Nokigiriyama, in Chiba Prefecture – someplace I’ve always wanted to go but never did find time for. It’s a temple complex in the mountains where the largest Buddha statue in Japan resides (38M including his pedestal) as well as a giant Kannon carved into a hillside (yes, that is me next to it) and some some 1500 Arhat Buddha statues on the path leading up to the Daibutsu. Most of this was done in the 18th Century, though the temple itself (Nihon-ji, a name that should tell you its importance) has been around since the 8th Century.
It’s a pretty remarkable place, as you’ll see (hopefully) from the pictures. It’s not that far as the crow flies, but takes about three hours from Shibuya – two trains to a bus to a ferry to a ropeway to hiking. It’s funny, because I visited the USS Midway museum in San Diego with my Dad last year, and it was based on Yokosuka for many years – I never thought I’d actually be in Yokosuka, but life’s funny that way. The Daibutsu is remarkable, but damn – that’s a lot of steps. I was knackered by the time I was done hiking around all the sub-temples and such. You may have seen Nokogiriyama if you’re a fan of Top Gear – it was the destination for the episode where James and Hamster raced Jeremy across Japan on public transit while he took a souped-up Nissan.
Two videos I want to share. The first is of the Japanese Giant Hornet, known as the “Sparrow Bee” here. I knew about this animal (it kills more people than any other in Japan, though in this relatively safe country that’s just 40 per year). It’s not especially aggressive but is so massive that it injects a tremendous amount of venom with each sting. Until I saw one in person, I had no real conception of what a 2-inch hornet meant – you can’t imagine how terrifyingly big that is. I know this won’t do it justice but I had to try.
The next is of an amazing occurrence that took place on the return trip on the ferry, where three Buddhist monks were feeding the gulls some sort of snack food in a bag. Maybe this is common but somehow a hawk decided it wanted in, and hovered majestically over the boat, divebombing and catching the food out of mid-air (in a heavy wind, mind you) with its talons. It was truly one of the coolest and most astonishing things I’ve ever seen. I have no clue why the gulls weren’t freaked out by a raptor in their midst, but they didn’t seem to care.
And finally, because I realized I hadn’t posted one and I was there on Saturday night, Shibuya Crossing:
As I said, I was exhausted by the time I got back to Tokyo, but there was a Halloween party at the school so I didn’t want to miss that. Because it’s an international school, half the students are Japanese learning other languages and the other half foreigners (mostly Euros) learning Japanese, and this was a good chance to mingle. I’ve always said it’s not a great party unless someone leaves in an ambulance, so I guess this was a great party. This was where the well-dressed Belgian man (who wasn’t a student, I don’t think – I don’t know who he was) invited me to a “legendary underground Halloween rave” that would still be going at breakfast. Tempting as that was, I wasn’t that sort of person even when I was the age to be one, so I regretfully declined. The road less traveled…
A few miscellaneous Japan thoughts:
- For a country where specificity is a highly-prized virtue, websites are shockingly inaccurate in telling you what buses to take, and from what stop. Very annoying.
- One difference between being a resident and a tourist on Tokyo: I’m now basically confined to going to destinations on the weekend, when millions of other Edoites do the same thing.
- There were quite a few Americans at Nokogiriyama – many relatives of the folks stationed at the Naval base, I’m sure – and it’s striking how much heavier we are than Japanese. The active-duty guys are obviously ripped, but the families – it’s night and day. Parents, siblings, even kids – so much bigger around the middle.
- A Japanese man slipped on the steps climbing down from the Daibutsu, and I (I was rather proud of myself) immediately asked “Daijoubu?” To which he replied, “Yes, thank you.”
- The Japanese have that Snickers commercial where the person turns into a famous hothead when they get hungry too. This one features Zatoichi the Blind Swordsman.
- Japanese vending machines are the coolest in the world, easily. The one that serves brewed coffee for 120 yen at the ferry terminal had a hilarious video looping, featuring gaijins chefs and jazz trumpeters making astonished faces at how good the coffee was (“Wao!”). When you order a coffee it switches to a countdown, where a robot is seen preparing your coffee and bringing it to you on a serving tray.
More thoughts later – for now, sleep.