I had better write an article today. The pressure from the family is mounting and we're about to take a mammoth train trip that will probably leave us internetless for a few days.
We got our train passes and immediately headed out on our pilgrimage to Shikoku. It was awesome. We'd never seen rural Japan before, but it was beautiful. There was a constant wind, which was the only thing you could hear once the train left. It sounded like a ghost town.
Some of the houses were built in such a traditional style that I mistook them for temples on more than one occasion.
The temples themselves were amazing. We made it to three of them - each beautiful in its own right. The second was my favorite by far. It was built on a hill in such a way that it looked as if it was part of the hill itself. My jaw literally dropped and stayed open as I turned the corner and saw a long set of stairs reaching up to a shrine in the woods. Magnificent.
I took a lot of pictures but most didn't come out very well. Seeing the temples is an experience, and cameras can only capture pictures.
The people are incredibly friendly. They seemed genuinely excited that Gaijin like us would take part in such a traditional Japanese activity. Usually they'd talk to us in English barely better than my Japanese. After a minute or two we'd give up and just smile and bow.
Although we were only there for a matter of hours, we were showered with gifts. A fruit stand gave us free grapefruits and refused our money. We bought pastries at a small bakery. The baker gave us free sweet bean cakes. When we looked puzzled outside a store the shopkeepers came out and gave us maps and sodas.
A police officer stopped to see what was going on and chatted with us for fifteen minutes.
It seems like it would be impossible to be unhappy while visiting these tiny towns that host the o-henro (people making the pilgrimage). Perfect weather, stunning scenery, and people that treat you as if they personally invited you to their town.
Tonight we take another night train. It was chosen not for its destination, the town of Aomori, whose one highlight is that they have good apples, but rather because of its length. Thirteen hours of pure train riding bliss. We even get little bunks to sleep in. I'll write more when I have pictures to show you.
After that, ticket availability permitting (we never plan far enough in advance), we'll take another night train that goes all the way to Sapporo. I think it might be possible to ski there, but I'm not totally sure. It's supposed to be a really cool place and very different than the rest of Japan.
We have a bunch of incredible places to go, but we're waiting because soon we will have tons of friends here. Phil and Kristy are coming here for over a week and our friend Elisia is coming as well. On top of that we'll be meeting up with Mary and Mark (a highschool friend and her husband), as well as Katie, a girl I know from back when I lived in LA!
Our host and new friend, Elliot, is planning on coming on a trip or two with us, and I even saw my Uncle Jim who was here on business. Who knew I'd have such a busy social calendar on the opposite side of the world?