Today is our marathon day. We are in Ueno, a northern suburb of Tokyo. Actually, it doesn’t feel suburban at all. It feels very much a part of the urban density and intensity of Tokyo. At any rate, we’ll go out and get some breakfast and we have all morning and part of the afternoon for sightseeing. We plan to visit a couple of close-by shrines and museums and catch lunch at a cafe or perhaps purchase some items from the many vendors who set up around the temples. At about 3 pm, we’ll board our train to Narita Airport. After checking in, we’ll have some time to wander around the airport before boarding our plane, which leaves at 6:25 pm. The flight is a little more than 9 hours, so they will try to simulate an overnight experience, serving dinner, then turning down the lights for sleep and turning up the lights and serving breakfast before we land. Hopefully we will be able to sleep a little bit on the airplane. We land in Vancouver, British Columbia at 11:45 in the morning on the same day. It is hard to understand how flying across the International Date Line means that we land before we take off in terms of local time, but the way we think of it is that we have this REALLY long day. After clearing Canadian Customs, we’ll meet our son for the hour and a half drive to his home, which includes a few minutes to clear USA customs at the border. We’ll try to stay awake though the afternoon, playing with our grandchildren and setting up our camper. I’ll probably make a little grocery run for supplies for our trip back to South Dakota and we’ll try to stay awake as long as we are able to make our bed time somewhere near normal for Pacific Time Zone USA.
So, in anticipation of a long day, and perhaps a skipped journal entry tomorrow, depending on what time I’m awake and how much energy I have, here are a few random parting thoughts about our visit to Japan.
Yesterday, we stayed at a hotel in Misawa that served a continental breakfast, which made us wonder what continent they were referring to, given that Japan is an Island. Is the continent Asia? When we visited our children in England, also an island, we decided that the continent in continental breakfast was Europe, since the breakfast didn’t seem to be a North American Breakfast, with cold cuts and pastries, so if England, which is part of Europe has a European Continental Breakfast, does Japan have an Asian Continental Breakfast. On the buffet were sausages, tempura, fried potatoes, breads and croissants, noodles with cabbage, rice with a lot of different sauces, including a good curry, several different soups, fried fish, juice, tea and coffee, and a few other things I’ve failed to mention. It was a good breakfast, and many Japanese people really eat big breakfasts compared with the choices we make. We are not, however, likely to cook rice for breakfast very often when we get home.
For lunch we had bento boxes on the train. Shops in the train stations sell lunch boxes made up with all kinds of fancy foods. You can get sushi, rice, noodles, fish, fried foods and more. It is kind of fun to have a fancy box with your lunch in little compartments as you speed down the rails at 180 miles per hour on a very smooth riding Shinkansen train.
For supper we at food offered by various vendors on the walkway leading up to the Bentendo Temple. The temple is dedicated to the goddess of fortune. We’re not sure if the goddess brings good or bad fortune or if it is a goddess of fortune as in wealth. The temple is fairly well maintained, but it has no particular appearance of being wealthy. It does appear to have been in this place for a very long time. Looking down the rows of vendors made me think that perhaps that is one way to raise money for religious institutions. Allow vendors to rent space for their stalls on the grounds of the religious institution and cater to tourists who come to see the building and have their pictures taken in front of it. We had crab and corn roasted over an open fire and a few little panda-shaped donuts for dessert. I know that the members of our church back home are very tired after a week of preparing for the rummage sale. Maybe just charging rent to vendors who are selling things to make their own living is another way to tackle the problem. (I’m just joking with this idea, it was just a silly thought that I had as I walked between the various vendors, listening to them calling out to customers as I smelled the incense of the temple and thought about the religious practices that are important to some of the faithful people who visit.
All around the temple are ponds filled with lotus flowers. The lotus is a special symbol of Japan. It has a similar meaning in both Buddhist and Hindu religions, where it is a sign of spiritual enlightenment. The Lotus starts underwater, often in mirky and dirty water. It has to overcome the depths and make its way to the surface. Then the flower bud needs to break through the heavy foliage into the sunlight where it can bloom. It represents the human will to survive dark and hard times and to emerge into enlightenment. We enjoyed looking at the lotus blossoms and enjoying our last night in Japan. Looking at the beautiful pink blossoms, I was reminded once again of how important nature is to the various religious traditions of Japan. The human spirit is nurtured by contact with nature, whether it be the ocean, the forest or the formal gardens. Caring for plants is seen as a spiritual discipline. It gives me a new appreciation for those who care for the plants that are in and around the church. A faithful volunteer waters the indoor plants and several different volunteers trim grass, care for shrubs and trees and provide for the natural space that surrounds the church. Our camp, Placerville is another reminder of how important nature is to our life together.
The peaceful gardens are in the midst of a very busy and vibrant city and not far from rushing crowds, speeding trains and traffic clogged streets. Perhaps those who live in such intense urban surroundings are especially needy of the peace that the lotus flowers give to all who take the time to ponder their beauty.
It will be a long day for us and a skip in journal entries for my regular readers. Before long, I’ll be back to my usual schedule and returning to my home time zone.