Our readers share tales of their rambles around the world.
Who: Pam Frazier (the author) and her son, Drew, of Alexandria.
Where, when, why: Japan, Oct. 16-27. Drew had a bone marrow transplant when he was 2 and went on to graduate from Connecticut College in 2013 with a degree in history with a focus on Asia. He survived a low-grade cancer last fall.
Highlights and high points: We visited Tokyo, Hakone and Kyoto, spending most of our time in Kyoto. Our plan was to bring to life the history and language of Japan that Drew was so devoted to studying in college. We chose the date based on one of Kyoto’s annual events: Festival of the Ages. Costumes from every era of Japanese history are on display for a two-hour parade through the streets of Kyoto. We were on the grounds of the Imperial Palace just prior to the parade, and one of the performers gave us tickets for seats!
We spent much of our time at a number of Kyoto’s World Heritage sites (of which there are 17, according to a guide). It hit me all at once. The reason the gardens and temples are so beautiful is because of the connections of Shintoism and Buddhism and nature. They are joined. You can’t take a bad photo — the beauty is at every angle, every corner — and it is an intentional expression of faith. The torii gates at Fushimi Inari-taisha, a sacred Shinto shrine dating from 711 AD are beyond spectacular. We walked through 1,000 of the 5,000 gates.
Cultural connection or disconnect: Drew had found “rabbit cafes” described on the Internet, and we visited one in the Akihabara district of Tokyo. Because residents of Tokyo typically live in small spaces, they often cannot have pets, so cat cafes and rabbit cafes have sprung up. You can visit one, have a tea or coffee and hold your favorite rabbit or cat for a fee. There were probably 20 rabbits in residence that were well cared for and rated on a wall for their popularity with clientele. I confess that I refused to hold one when our hostess said, “Please forgive them if they pee or poo on you.” Drew, however, was game, and we saw three. The last rabbit, dark brown, was the friendliest fellow.
Biggest laugh or cry: I left for the trip with two pairs of underwear. That might be too much information, but I have never done something like that in more than 40 years of travel! Turns out you can survive on two pairs. Thank God for hair dryers.
How unexpected: The food! It bore no resemblance to the local sushi place. Most of us have experienced Japanese cuisine, but dining in Japan became a whole new art form to us. We stayed in Japanese ryokan, or inns, for seven nights of our trip. Dinner was a two-hour event that was served in our rooms or a private dining area while we were wearing the Japanese version of pajamas. At the ryokan in Hakone, Gora Hanaougi, Drew and I shared one of the best meals of our lives. We had a 13-course Kannazuki menu, featuring gingko nuts, eel, Hida beef and fried puffer fish. Tokyo also offered some wonderful meals. We enjoyed Kobe beef at Mon Cher Ton Ton in Tokyo’s Roppongi district and tempura at Ten-Ichi in Ginza. After returning home, both Drew and I independently answered this question the same way: What was the best? The food!
Fondest memento or memory: We were fortunate enough to spend an evening with Peter MacIntosh, a Canadian expat who is a member of a Kyoto teahouse. He arranged for us to spend an evening with a maiko, a geisha apprentice. Having been in Japan in the 1980s, I had the opportunity to experience entertainment provided by a geisha before. This time, however, the setting was just the three of us, and seeing a maiko dance in close quarters showcased the true elegance of this traditional art. Both Drew and I appreciated how lucky we were to have this experience. But by far the greatest gift was spending time together in a place that was the subject of so many hours of study for Drew.
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