Letters Home from Japan Day 7

Trip Start Apr 20, 2012
Trip End Apr 29, 2012

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Flag of Japan  , Kinki,
Friday, April 27, 2012

Letters Home from Japan

Day 7

I've been so
fortunate to be able to visit holy sites not only here in Japan, but in many different countries. While every religion has different precepts
and beliefs that they hold dear, there are also many similarities.  At the Holy places here, people make monetary
offerings, pray in reverent silence often on their knees, and seek the favor
and blessings of various deities and gods. 
They ask for and receive blessings of priests and holy men.  Perhaps we should seek to celebrate that
which we have in common and bless that which we don’t understand or agree.  I don’t know. 
Just a thought.

At 5:30 this morning, I heard strange noises outside
of the open window next to my bed.  There
would be a few minutes of a strange sound, followed by a crash, and then voices
of men.  I threw open the drapes and was
immediately face to face with a Japanese man, standing on a ladder with a small
saw in his hands.  We were both shocked
and surprised at the encounter. He was a tree trimmer standing on an extension
ladder, sawing branches from a tree.  He
would saw off the branch, let it crash and the ground crew below would throw
the branch on to a flatbed truck.  Good

Blazing sunshine and
warm breezes made the walk to the train station pleasant.  We’d decided to head to Kobe in spite of the fact that it is not
particularly a tourist Mecca.  The train ride was
shorter today.  Kobe trains were also nowhere near as crowded as
are most of the trains into and out of Osaka.  It
was a welcomed relief to have a comfortable seat to share.  Kobe is a port city, the largest in Japan and 6th largest in the
world.  Kobe was also the very first 'open port’ in Japan.  For most
of its history Japan had been a closed country, meaning that no
persons or products went into or out of the country.  It became the first ‘treaty port’, and opened
up to international trade with the west. 
It is one of the few places in Japan where there is a mix of nationalities both
in population and cuisine.  During the Second
World War, Kobe was bombed in 1945 losing 8800 of its
citizens.  Then in January 1995 it was
hit with an earthquake measuring 7.2 causing over 40,000 casualties.  It decimated the port which has since been
rebuilt.  A special area of the damage
has been preserved and serves as a memorial to the event.  We explored the area named Harborland, only
to discover it was the first day of Oktoberfest on the pier.  Oktoberfest in April?  Only in Japan.  German
food and beer were being promoted in a beer garden atmosphere.  Inside the rail station were a variety of
international shops.  At a French bakery
we bought hot dogs wrapped in pastry.  A
hula demonstration was going on in another store to promote Hawaii tourism.

We visited a local Temple and walked around the town.  Kobe was quiet and serene.  There was not a sea of humanity like we’d
seen in Osaka and Kyoto.  This
seemed like a small town having just 1.5 million residents.  There was traffic, but not much.  People walked the wide sidewalks, but it was
not even close to being crowded.  The
pace was slower and calmer.  Flowers were
in bloom and the streets were spotless
Compared to those other mega-cities, Kobe was a retirement community.  And of course the usual groups of school
children were well represented.  We again
posed for pictures with them.

We went back to Osaka for a final goodbye.  We went again to Shin Saibashi shopping
district.  Victor visited a favorite
action figure store and after that, we enjoyed a free Crispy Crème donut,
before dinner.  We’d actually stopped at
the Crispy Crème store earlier, only to discover lines of eager donut eaters down
the street.  We had once again gotten
submerged in a mass of people, shoulder to shoulder, as far as the eye could
see.  We were once again packed like
sardines in the train cars.

Are there vending
machines in Japan?  There
are a lot of vending machines in Japan!  They
sell pop, juice, water, tea, whiskey drinks and beer.  No matter where, there are vending machines
in view.  While having no actual count,
it has been stated that there are more vending machines in Japan than there are citizens of New Zealand.  The
other thing I’ve noticed is that eating out seems to be the national past
time.  People love to eat out here as
evidenced by the sheer numbers of eating establishments.  Just in Tokyo, at last count there were in excess of
80,000 restaurants.

As we were leaving
the Osaka shopping area, I noticed a place called The
Cat Café’.  While walking by, I could see
cats romping around inside the store.  I
guessed it to be a cat babysitting service. 
Not even close.  The Japanese have
a great fondness for cats, but most apartment buildings do not allow cats.  The Cat Café’ is where cat lovers can go to
eat a meal in the midst of cats.  They
can enjoy cat company and play with them as a part of their eating experience.

While walking back
to the train platform, I made a hand gesture allowing a Japanese woman to board
the crowded escalator ahead of me.  She
smiled and said something to me in English. 
Victor jumped in and spoke Japanese while she spoke English.  As it turns out, she is married to a man from
St, Louis, Missouri (my home town) and had been there many times.  Go figure.

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