Ten days to Go.
Pick up my passport today. Woo hoo.
Looking at the 10 day forecast for Japan for the first time now, it looks like there’s gonna be a lot of rain. I’m starting to wonder: “Why am I taking my first trip hiking in Japan, in the dead of winter?”
I envision slogging down slippery trails, soaked, tired, miserable.
Now the rationalization starts, a dialogue between my anxious self and my practical self:
I can delay until March Spring time when it’s wonderful and the flowers are starting to come out and everything is lovely. As an experienced hiker, I know that hiking alone in bad weather is dangerous. So…maybe I should delay until, March, just a 2 month delay.
However, as an experienced hiker, I know that as long as I stick to well-traveled routes, I should be okay. Still, I have bought all this cold weather gear end and I have my tickets so.. why not go? I think the good news is that except for New Year’s Eve I shouldn’t have any problem finding accommodations as this is low season.
I stick with my plan, if it rains too much, I’ll have books. Plenty of books.
Our family spent a year and a half living in a tiny suburb of Kobe, Japan, where I attended kindergarten (幼稚園).
To understand Japan, know the shrines. Japan is a land of shrines… There are so many shrines a number of books are dedicated to them. In particular, Rearranging the Landscape of the Gods is on my reading list. An excerpt from the first page:
Shinto Shrines and Buddhist temples remain the mainstay of Japan’s cultural, historical and devotional spaces. For example, there are over 4000 shrines and temples in the Shinto Sect of the Buddhist religion alone.
Some of the odder few shrines that are off the beaten path:
- The Breast Shrine — The kami here is Chichigamisama, the kami of breasts and women come here to pray for plenty of breastmilk and safe delivery of children.
- The Hemorrhoid Shrine — According to ancient Japanese tradition, anyone who visits the shrine and carries out the complete ritual will be cured of the condition of hemorrhoids. The ritual involves first bathing naked in a local river. Then visit the Kunigami shrine where an altar with a holy stone egg stands. They hover their backside over the egg while saying a special prayer. They then must consume a meal of boiled eggs at a nearby temple. This will prevent or cure the affliction.
- The Divorce Temple — Until the end of the Edo Period, the temple served as a shelter for women who suffered abuse by their husbands and sought a divorce. An official divorce could be attained by staying at the temple for three years.
The great variety of temples is only surpassed by the apparent wealth of temples in Japan. Most are surrounded by plush gardens, delightful expressions of stone, water, wood and greenery. It’s sometimes impossible to tell where the temple grounds end and nature begins.
The temples and shrines fit an intimate part of the Japanese culture, along with the food, the language and the land. If you take time to learn the Japanese attitudes towards them, it will enhance your visiting pleasure.
I bought my plane ticket inside the 4-6 week window for passport renewal. So, I opted to wait to the 2 week mark to make an appointment, per the Department of State instructions. Mistake. The next appointment is only four days before I leave. Now, I am faced with paying an extra $150 to a passport agency to handle my passport application.
Since my tickets were paid for with frequent flyer miles (Thank you United) I can delay my trip. But, I don’t want to! Life is short. I’ll go again in the Spring, anyways. This is an exploratory trip.
While there are a number of excellent multi-day hikes in Japan — Nakasendo, Kumano Kodo, and Shikoku Pilgrimages to name a few — there doesn’t appear to be any book that will help english speakers enjoy their time in Japan.
The best reference appears to be this outdated, under-appreciated, and woefully expensive copy of the Lonely Planet Hiking in Japan guide.
I settle on a few of the older, available books.