Thursday, December 13, 2012

Ringing in the New Year in Japan

Japan is known as the "Land of the Rising Sun", but for me, it will forever be the land of the most spectacular sunset.  It’s also a place where I’d spent one of the most tranquil and peaceful New Year’s Eve. 

For many Japanese, New Year's Eve is time for a peaceful celebration with family, and while in Kyoto with my husband and our friends, we decided to honor that tradition.  On the night of the 31st, we'd found a lovely Buddhist temple to hear the JOYA NO KANE, which is the temple bell tolling 108 times (symbolizing the 108 worldly desires).  Then, after midnight, we headed over to a Shinto Shrine for Hatsu-Mode (first visit to a shrine), where we prayed and wrote our wishes on votive tablets along with hundreds of locals and visitors.  It was a truly beautiful and serene way to begin a new year.
 Hejan Shrine, KYOTO
Japan was, and still remains to be one of the most difficult countries I’d traveled in, mostly because I couldn’t speak the language and it was almost impossible to find someone … anyone who spoke English.  All the streets signs, menus, and almost every written material were ONLY in Japanese, and even at the hotel, there were hardly any staff members with whom we could communicate.  The most difficult part was that in contrast to a lot of other countries I’d visited in Asia, I found the locals to be unwelcoming and unhelpful to tourists and foreigners.  

Also, Japan is a study in contrasts and contradictions.  Cities are modern and high tech, but tumbledown wooden shacks can still be spotted next to a modern skyscraper, and although Japan has often been seen in the West as a land combining tradition and modernity, often these juxtapositions can be quite disappointing.   

Nevertheless, it was an interesting experience to see and explore a country that seemed to be in a world of its own.  
Rokuon-ji Temple, KYOTO
 Nanzen-ji Temple, KYOTO
 Ryoan-ji Temple, KYOTO
 Gion, KYOTO
Kofukuji Temple, NARA
 Todaji Temple, NARA
 Nigatsu-do Hall, NARA
OSAKA Castle


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