Travelogs & Reflections > Therese's Travelog > Japan via Los Angeles

Japan via Los Angeles


September 13, 2005

Hayato was waiting for us when we arrived at the ferry terminal in Osaka and accompanied us by bus and train and bus again to the airport. The airport is actually located on a man-made island in the middle of the harbor. As we crossed the bridge to the airport on the bus, we were impressed with the municipal waterfront park that extended for miles along the harbor. As we spotted elaborate play structures, water features, sports complexes, and parkland, we were reminded of Eugene’s large riverfront parks—Alton Baker and Skinner Butte parks—and RiverPlay, and I wondered how progress on Eugene’s first regional playground was coming along. Once again, we were saying farewell to a dear friend and boarding our flight to Bangkok.


September 12, 2005

Steve and I awoke early the next morning, showered and explored the grounds around the camp. As I mentioned before, evidence of the typhoon was pervasive and we had to be careful as we hiked the trail along the river which was strewn with branches and downed trees and in many segments had collapsed down the river bank. We passed several pools, waterfalls and steep ravines formed by the powerful river. I was surprised by a snake directly on the path in front of me that fortunately slithered quickly away before I stepped on it! On our way back to camp, we encountered an old Japanese couple carrying large baskets for collecting fish and berries. We greeted them with our minimal Japanese—“Ohio,” or Good Morning.


By the time we returned, the rest of the crew was preparing breakfast—yogurt, fruit, and a variety of Japanese breads—and once again we sat down on the floor, Japanese-style, to eat. Today, Kazu wanted to show us the coast and we stopped at a beach town and walked across the bridge to the island of Aoshima, surrounded by a corrugated, natural reef. It looked as though Japanese characters had been etched in the reef but these intricate designs were actually created by the natural process of erosion by the ocean on this island foundation and the coastal sea creatures that burrow in these tiny nooks. We continued further down the coast and picnicked at the beach. During lunch, I had the opportunity to hear about Kazu’s vision to start a professional and cultural exchange program in Miyazaki where people from other countries and Miyazaki would visit and learn about each other’s countries and business ventures. He recently passed a test for the municipality of Miyazaki and will begin working for the city next spring. He believes that Miyazaki needs to better promote itself internationally and that this will most effectively be accomplished by the town becoming more aware of the rest of the world and the rest of the world becoming more aware of the many attractions Miyazaki has to offer. We were very supportive of his idea and let him know we would do anything we could to support him, including mentioning his idea on our website. If you have any questions or leads for him, please e-mail him at:


That afternoon, we finally met Kazu’s parents, Naotaka and Tamiko Kuroki, at their house and spent a heartfelt time getting to know each other and talking about Kazu, our main topic in common! There were many trophies on display. The vast majority of trophies had been won by Kazu for tennis; apparently, Kazu was the #1 player in Miyazaki for two few years straight! Steve recalled with some satisfaction that Kazu had beat him in tennis when they finally played together before Kazu returned home after his year of study in the U.S. Kazu’s father is a high school teacher and his mother is a chef for the public schools. We managed a broken conversation during our visit but enjoyed each other’s company never-the-less and I was emotional as we left them because of our intimate ties with Kazu.


We purchased some snacks for our dinner on the ferry that night and played a game of Frisbee in the park before heading back to the ferry. Our whirlwind visit to Miyazaki had come to an end and we needed to head back to Osaka to catch our flight to Bangkok the next morning. After another emotional farewell to Kazu and Yuta, we settled in for another night on the ferry.


September 11, 2005

As we approached the pier in Miyazaki, we could see Kazu waiting for us in the parking lot and how good it was to see him! We had heard so much about Miyazaki and his family when he lived with us for a year two years ago but it seemed so far away. Then just before we left for Japan, a typhoon hit Miyazaki and the island of Kyushu and we were unsure the ferry would even be running. Kazu had called us while we were with Hayato to tell us that our plans had changed once again and that unfortunately we would not be able to stay at his house because they did not have running water. He was also very disappointed because they had had to cancel the big party they were planning for us on the first night of our visit. I reassured him that the most important aspect of this visit was to see him, and, now, despite all these obstacles, here we were actually setting foot in his hometown! We were all very, very excited!


Kazu introduced us to his friend, Yuta, and we set off in two cars in search of breakfast. At the restaurant, we ambushed poor Kazu with all kinds of clarifying questions—Could we substitute coffee for juice? What did this combo come with? How much did this entrée cost? Did they have yogurt? As we had discovered in other Japanese establishments we had visited, the Japanese are very rule-oriented; there were no substitutions or deviations from what is stated on the menu. Also, Asian breakfasts are very different than Western breakfasts. Most Asians eat a breakfast that resembles lunch—soup, rice and vegetables, even chicken, pork or beef. Between entrees and side orders, however, we were able to order an assortment of juice, toast, eggs, fruit and yogurt. Paul was entirely content with his mango fruit cup as we had not found ripe mango since Belize in July.


Before long, we were speeding along in our mini-caravan into the Miyazaki countryside. Our first stop was a Saki factory. My stomach was a little squeamish from the ferry ride in the open ocean but after a few shots of Japanese hard liquor (can't remember the name), my gut settled into a content state of sedated oblivion never to re-erupt with any stirrings of agitation that day! In the same complex was a glass factory, and we all watched the artists at work, several of them were collectively working on a large glass globe. I suppose the artistry sustains them as they work in these sweltering conditions with torches and ovens and other heating implements, compounded by the humidity of the ambient temperature. To create is arduous work; we watched the creative process for at least a 1/2 hour and by the time we left, they still had not completed the glass globe. Since tours of the Saki factory were booked for the day, we continued on our way to an adjacent country town, Aya.

As we drove through these outlying areas, we began seeing evidence of the typhoon that had struck the area just a few days earlier. Homes were emptied of all their contents; the streets were lined with piles of mats that are used to line the floors in Japanese homes, futons, refrigerators, TVs, and other belongings that had been destroyed by widespread flooding. There were still many people cleaning up debris; as we drove by, they formed striking tableaus, quietly sweeping their properties and patiently and diligently restoring order despite the widespread chaos the typhoon had wrecked. We saw garbage trucks everywhere, and garbage pick-up workers were working overtime to deal with the overflow. At one juncture, we passed a long line of trucks, waiting to drop off loads of debris at the local dump. In natural areas, groves of bamboo had been decimated by the storm and we saw plenty of evidence of the impact of the typhoon at the mountain camp we stayed at that night. The trails were littered with debris and there were many downed trees, the bank had collapsed on both sides of the river, and large portions of the concrete wall that had served as an erosion barrier along the river had been dislodged and strewn into the river bed. 


Our next stop was a castle high in the hills overlooking the small village of Aya. The castle named Ryu-o, or Dragon’s Tail, was the site of many battles during the middle ages in the time of the samurai in Japan. Among its conquerors were the Ito and Shimazu clans. At one time, the Ito Clan laid claim to the castle as one of its 48 strong line of fortresses throughout Kyushu. Amid this rich historical backdrop is a handicraft center featuring traditional crafts of that period—pottery, wood products, and textiles. Peter and Grandma Carrol settled in behind large traditional looms to weave, and Paul began molding a pottery mug out of clay. It was magical to watch them intent in the creative process in this peaceful setting, steeped in culture and history and surrounded by their Japanese friends, and to see their creations take shape. Peter used colors that matched our living room décor in Eugene and we plan to display his lovely weaving as a wall hanging when we return. Paul commissioned Kazu to write his, Yuta’s, and Paul’s names in Japanese characters on his mug. After being glazed and fired, Kazu will send him his mug to our address in Eugene.  


We wound our way through the museum, which showcased the clothing, homes, life style, and swords of the samurai and their families in displays on all levels of the castle, to the top of the castle. The panoramic view from the cupola observation deck was breathtaking and we understood why this had been such a coveted castle and surrounding territory. For miles in all direction lay the countryside in vivid relief—the red-tiled, ornate pagoda roof tops of the village dwellings nestled in the foreground and neatly outlined farms, verdant meadows speckled with majestic oaks, sparkling rivers, and mountains extending into the distance. Paul also spied a nearby baseball field where a game was being played and wanted to check it out to see if it might be a pro team. We crossed a suspension bridge over the river, rich with riparian vegetation, to the modern sports complex for the town of Aya. We discovered that the teams playing were from a local adult league but that didn’t deter Paul from asking players for their autographs. There were peals of laughter as Kazu translated Paul’s request and we could hear their quips about “Sure, I’m the next Ichiro or Matsui” or “Yes, I expect to negotiate a multi-million dollar contract,” or “Oh, you must be the scouts they’re sending from the U.S!” But, they were so flattered that they invited this young baseball enthusiast from the U.S. and his family to sit in the players’ dugout and watch a few innings of basically very mediocre baseball! Paul was thrilled none-the-less and despite the caliber of the play their autographs in Japanese characters look very impressive!


After lunch at a family restaurant chain called Joyfull that served inexpensive American and Japanese food (reminded me of Friendly’s on the east coast), we headed to an archeological site and museum in Saito. The museum was fascinating but the only interpretive materials in English were a small, overview brochure and Kazu couldn’t easily read the Japanese alphabet they used for their main interpretive displays. The museum was arranged in multiple levels and we were able to view an actual prehistoric cave dwelling from above and peer inside it through the protective plexiglass encasing. We were also able to see how the surrounding land had been shaped by massive volcanic eruptions and tectonic shifts and the route early humans had followed when they migrated to and inhabited the region in this fertile valley. Outside the museum were the actual ancient burial mounds, some excavated, some under excavation and some still intact. We visited one of the mounds that was restored after the excavation and crawled into the cave. The children climbed to the apex of the mound and had great fun as Kazu and Yuta chased them on the wall that surrounded the main burial mound and sent them rolling into these ancient relics. Yuta also lured them into the cave beneath the mound and shut the gate on them, a trick they tried to repeat on their mother but of course I’m just too shrewd (actually I’m rather gullible and ended up among the dripping cave walls contemplating prehistoric living conditions!). It was a beautiful, pastoral setting and the afternoon lighting made the surroundings particularly riveting, and, though I’m not an artist, the scene seemed to summon you to contemplate its beauty and portray it through some artistic medium… and sure enough, we encountered an artist with his easel doing just that.  


We stopped by a market to get food for dinner and then headed to our bungalow in the mountains. Kazu wasn’t kidding when he said it was in the mountains. We gained some serious elevation climbing high into the Tsubakiyama Mountains on a small, winding mountain road, ignoring two road blocks erected because of the typhoon after calling the caretakers of the camp and getting their reassurance that the road was indeed passable. It was late when we finally arrived at the camp but we quickly prepared our vegetables and chicken and the coals for the BBQ. Yuta’s father had loaned us BBQ tools and a couple of Japanese fans. We used the fans to very effectively nurture the fire and soon we were ready to begin stir frying our chicken and veggies on the special grill Yuta had brought from home. The last step was to warm up the already-cooked noodles and soon we were sitting on the floor Japanese-style around platters of roasted green pepper, onion, mushroom and chicken and dipping these roasted delicacies in a flavorful yakitori sauce (soy, garlic, and sesame seed oil). According to Kazu, in Japanese BBQ, you eat the food directly off the grill.


That evening we played Hit the Deck, a card game we had bought for Kazu for Christmas while he lived with us and had a great time teaching Yuta how to play. Kazu was busy translating the rules but ultimately we decided it would be easier to just play a few practice rounds. Yuta’s exclamations as the play unfolded were hilarious and he caught on very quickly, making sure not to be the last player to “hit the deck” after losing a couple of rounds. But ultimately our party was quite weary after a marginal sleep on the ferry the night before and quickly fell into a cozy slumber in the sleeping bags Kazu and Yuta had brought for us. I find out the next day that Kazu and Yuta had stayed up talking until late into the night. It turns out that we were the first Americans Yuta had ever met and he was very excited about having the chance to practice his English and pursuing the opportunity to go to the U.S. and study English.       


September 10, 2005

With Hayato’s very neatly outlined directions, we managed to find our way through the Kyoto subway and train to Osaka. We met him at his neighborhood station and followed him back to his house in Osaka. Hayato was raised in Osaka but moved to this house when he was in junior high school. Hayato and his parents live on the seventh floor of a high rise apartment building. Hayato’s mother, Takako, was not working and was there to greet us when we arrived. We all enjoyed looking at photographs of the family, especially an album of Hayato when he was little. His characteristic enthusiastic smile made him easy to identify in the photographs, and, when it wasn’t there in posed shots, Paul was always able to point him out (even when his mother wasn’t sure! Paul has a sensitive eye for his friends!). Looking at photographs was a fun way to interact with our limited Japanese and their limited English as we were able to share in their life through the events depicted in the photographs. At lunch time, Takako brought out a platter of sandwiches, an American salad and fried chicken (the latter two items were especially prepared for my mother-in-law as this is her lunch diet plan) and as we were eating this food, Dominoes Pizza arrived with a delivery of Japanese seafood pizza and American pizza! Peter, who has had pizza withdrawals throughout the trip, dove into the American pizza with great gusto, and we all enjoyed our luncheon feast. Eager for some physical activity after lunch, we all headed to their neighborhood park for some Frisbee action. We all had great fun but there was nothing quite so entertaining as Hayato’s mother! She was bound and determined to successfully catch and throw the Frisbee and she was willing to lunge, dive and otherwise maul her body in the effort! I was really worried, though, when she fell over a bar backwards in her attempt to catch the Frisbee. By the time we left the park, she was battered and worn but was ready to purchase a Frisbee and become more proficient in the sport!

This Frisbee can soar if it catches the wind right and several times people along the perimeter were in peril. One time I threw the Frisbee it catapulted across the street heading directly toward an unsuspecting fellow sitting along side the street under a large umbrella. At the last moment, he saw it and sprang from his chair as the Frisbee slid right over the top of his umbrella. I felt terrible of course but to see him run like the dickens was hilarious and I had a hard time containing my laughter while bowing in apology profusely!

Our played ended when Paul and Steve collided and Steve accidentally hit Paul in the solar plexus and he had to take a break to recover from the blow. After a short reprieve, Paul wanted to purchase Japanese baseball cards so we took off on the subway to downtown Osaka. What fun we had going up and down escalators in these large shopping complexes. On a pedestrian overpass/plaza we were entertained by a Japanese heavy metal band, and we were later approached by a group who was collecting donations for a public vigil that evening against world hunger. We gave a donation and wrote our message for peace and economic justice on our lantern that would form a floating illuminated 3-star formation in Osaka that evening. We were glad to join with our Japanese brothers and sisters to launch this intention for global peace and justice, and they were thrilled that we participated.

At around 5 p.m. we gathered our packs again and set off by subway, train and bus to the Osaka ferry terminal to catch our ferry to Miyazaki on the southern island of Kyushu to visit our dear friend, Kazu. Hayato and Takako accompanied us on the 1.5 hour extravaganza through Osaka public transportation. Osaka is the second largest city in Japan and we believe them that it would be very easy to get lost in this maze of routes and modes of transportation. Once we arrived at the ferry station, we were once again grateful for Hayato’s help deciphering the rather complex passenger manifest for the ferry and the complicated discounted fare that Kazu had booked for us. However, with his assistance, we were soon boarding the ferry and getting settled in the economy class passenger area, which consisted of Japanese style mats for sleeping, a blanket and storage area for luggage. As soon as we had stashed our belongings and staked out our area, Peter and I went on our customary exploratory tour of the ship, as we always did when we traveled by ferry throughout southeast Alaska a couple of years ago. There was a large deck at the stern, a cafeteria, bar, video arcade, and gift shop. By the time the ship launched, it was already 7:30 p.m. so we decided to decipher our food options on the ship. We were confronted with only Japanese characters and though there were 6 different Ramen noodles, we had no idea what the different flavors were! I approached a woman nearby and Eureka!, she was married to a Brit who taught English at a university in Miyazaki and she spoke impeccable English! She became our personal translator and was very entertaining with her commentary about the "jolly" ferry food and attractions in Miyazaki!

September 9, 2005

Today we took the train to Nara and hiked through the many parks and temples in this small town in the foothills. At a pond at a municipal park in the center of town we discovered an abundant population of turtles. We thought at first that they were confined to the perimeter of the pond but as we scanned the breadth of the pond, we could see their little heads popping out of the water for its entire expanse! Paul found a small turtle and pointed him out to me but as soon as I greeted the little creature, he dove into the pond in sheer terror!

As we approached the gates of the first set of temples, we were greeted by several deer eager for treats from the visitors. A special food for the deer is sold at concession booths and souvenir stands. It’s no wonder the deer are everywhere! Ikurou handed Peter and Paul a packet of their special crackers and they were immediately assaulted by a pack of deer. After being goaded aggressively by a few deer, Paul gladly surrendered his pack to me and I tested our friend, Dorothy’s advice: only feed them after they have properly bowed. Sure enough, most of them hastily bowed before accepting their food.

Through the gateway pavilion and we were standing in front of the world’s largest wooden structure that houses the largest Buddha in Japan, Todaiji Temple, built in the 700s. The statue is made from cast bronze and plated with gold. In the rear of the temple is a hole through one of the building’s pedestals which simulates the size of the giant Buddha’s nostril opening, and visitors can crawl through and experience the narrowing of Buddha’s septum! Peter almost got stuck and asked me to pull him out. After that narrow escape, I decided not to attempt the feat!

Peter and Paul were antsy for some good ol’ Frisbee action in the park, and we let our new Frisbee soar and only had to retrieve it from surrounding trees twice! Everyone got a piece of the action, even Grandma Carrol when a Frisbee landed in a tree close to her. After some impressive mid-air catches, Hayato called it a wrap and we were soon on our way back to Kyoto.

September 8, 2005 (later that morning)

Hayato, Takako and Ikurou arrived promptly at 10 a.m., and we set-off to see Kyoto together. We made our way first to the Golden Pavilion, or Rokuon-Ji Temple, which literally translated means "place of many deer." Built in the 1200s, this pastoral complex was originally the villa of the aristrocrat, Kintsune Saionji. However, it later became the dwelling of the third shogun of Ashikaga who further cultivated the site as a retreat-like setting, and after his death, it was converted into a Zen temple in accordance with the provincial ruler’s will. Every aspect of the environment was first-class. Our admission ticket was printed on beautiful parchment and the characters printed with quality ink. As we and the hoards of other visitors descended upon the main attraction, the Golden Pavilion and the reflection pond that surrounds it, all were drawn to quiet contemplation. We all sat contentedly for quite awhile admiring the serene beauty of the setting. Peter found a perch on the fence along the perimeter of the pond and began sketching the pavilion from different angles. The outside of the edifice is gilded with gold-leaf and literally glistens in the sunlight. At the pinnacle is a gold Chinese phoenix. We meandered among smaller shrines in the park-like setting and found refreshment in cold green tea at the tea house among a grove of cedar. Takako instructed us in the art of drinking green tea; the bowl is rotated at all four directional points before sipping the pulpy tea, and the bitterness of the beverage is cut by the dainty sweet bean curd paste candy that is served with it.

We stopped at Kyoto central to eat at the underground mall. We indulged in traditional Japanese food, noodles in broth with vegetables and scallions, along with fried chicken and shrimp (in tempura batter). Well fortified by our meal, we headed to the national treasure, Sanju-Sangen-Do, or the temple of the 1001 guardians of Buddha. This temple is very impressive. As you enter, all guests leave their shoes in cubbies and process into a temple hall, 20 meters in length. There, you are greeted by row upon row of statues of the Buddhist deity, Kannon, standing in geometric precision. The statues are made of Japanese cypress and lacquered with gold. Every few yards in the foreground of the sea of sentries, there are statues of guardian deities derived from the mythical traditions of ancient India, 28 in total. Finally, in the center of this impressive formation is a giant Buddha. The national treasure is an active temple as well. Incense permeates the temple, candles inscribed with various petitions to Buddha are lit, and offerings to Buddha festoon the altar. We followed Hayato, Ikurou and Takaka’s cues and bowed at the appropriate intervals and offered up our prayers for blessings upon our family and ancestors.

After visiting the temple, we were approached by a group of high school students from Nagasaki who wanted to interview us. We answered their questions and engaged in conversation, and, by the end of the conversation, we were exchanging e-mail addresses and making pledges to stay in touch. They were absolutely thrilled to make contact with us and were especially thrilled that we promised to continue to communicate with them. I have already received an e-mail from my new 15-year-old friend, Yumi Yoshioka. We were to encounter many more of these groups of students seeking interviews during our stay in Japan. Though there were some Western tourists, we were still quite a novelty, and Japanese young people seem very eager to practice their English. It seemed wherever we went we attracted a throng of students and much peals of laughter as we attempted to communicate!

September 8, 2005

We awoke on the morning of September 6 to reports that a powerful typhoon had hit the southern island of Kyushu in Japan, where our friend, Kazu, and his family live. We wondered about his family’s welfare and the weather conditions in Japan and whether or not our flight would even take off today. A quick call to Thai Airlines and we were assured that all was well and that the flight was on schedule. Our 11 ½-hour flight to Japan was remarkably pleasant; we were served two very tasty meals and Japanese tea and generally pampered with head-sets at no charge and four movies and periodic hot, scented wet towels. We had to wonder what first-class was like and envisioned passengers receiving full-body massages! When we landed in Osaka at 5:50 p.m. one day later, there were no traces of the typhoon and we were treated to a spectacular sunset over the verdant, mountainous island of Honshu.

It was very exciting to finally be in Japan. We have looked forward to this part of our trip because we are all very anxious to see our friends, Kazu and Hayato, who both lived with us in Eugene while studying at the American English Institute at the University of Oregon. Hayato, his father, Ikurou, and his mother, Takako, greeted us at the airport in Osaka and shepherded us through the local railway, subway and streets of Kyoto to our hostel, Greenpeace. We have no idea how we would have navigated our way had they not been with us and we are immensely grateful for their kindness and hospitality. By the time we arrived at our hostel, it was 4 a.m. Pacific Standard Time and as soon as Peter and Paul saw real beds, they collapsed and were immediately out cold! Steve, Mom and I were oriented to the hostel: All guests must remove their street shoes and place them in cubbies in the foyer. There are slippers available for use throughout the hostel, as well as special slippers when using the bathroom or shower. Each room is lined with beautifully woven mats, and Steve and I are sleeping on a futon mattress on the floor which is very comfortable. There are two kitchens in the hostel for guests to use and we plan to go to the market and prepare food as it is apparently very expensive to eat out here. As soon as we could, Steve, Mom and I joined Peter and Paul in a much needed horizontal slumber! However, since our clocks are completely haywire, I was up several hours later and have been coaching myself to catch some sleep for most of the night. I finally succumbed and arose at 4 a.m. to begin writing these reflections and waiting for a decent hour to shower and begin exploring Kyoto!

September 1-6, 2005

Kwajer, Bill Clark III, once again enthusiastically and generously hosted us for five days in Los Angeles as we prepared for the second phase of our journey, and the day after our arrival, my mother-in-law, Carrol, arrived to join us for the remainder of our trek. What a joy-filled meeting it was as we waited, with great anticipation, for her to emerge from the sea of passengers streaming through the secured area. We have all looked forward to her joining us on our trek. She will bring a rich intergenerational perspective, as well as cherished companionship and many creative gifts and talents.

Throughout our stay with Bill, we were wined and dined, shuttled in style in a Cadillac Escalade, and entertained royally! Bill took us to the spectacular performance of Creation at his church, The Crystal Cathedral in Orange County, Pastor Robert Schuller’s church. The performance integrated acrobatics performed from scaffolding high in the cathedral’s aft, actual mist, rain, wind, and fog, live actors, giant size puppets depicting dinosaurs and later other animals, and the largest motion picture screen ever used in a production of this kind. He also joined Peter, Paul and me for a reunion with Rieneke Zessoules, her husband, John, and their precious twin girls, Maya and Priya, and Candy Hergenrother in Oxnard. Though our afternoon rendezvoux was all too short, we all delighted in each other’s company and vowed to make these encounters happen more frequently in the future. We also were able to visit my parents and grandmother in San Diego and I am so glad we got to see them before embarking on this latter phase of the trip. We hope they will be able to join us in Portugal next spring.

Our time in Los Angeles was a whirlwind as we hustled and bustled to see loved ones and gather supplies and make preparations for the remainder of the trip. Again,a heartfelt thanks to Bill for helping make all this happen in these short five days.