I was looking up at a dragon staring down at me. That was how it was standing directly under the giant chochin, that iconic Japanese lantern, hanging under Kaminarimon, the entrance gate to Sensō-ji. The stream of tourists washing into temple grounds was oblivious to the intricate carving on the wooden, hidden dragon above them. I timed a gap in the human flow to take a groufie with my girlfriends before another wave of people nudged us to move forward.
Two-na, too-na, tuna! I went the way of chilled tuna that had traveled up the Pacific rim from the warm tropical waters of my archipelago to this chilly fish port in Tokyo. My early morning visit to Tsukiji Fish Market was a sequel to my tour of General Santos City Fish Port Complex three years prior. Yellowfin tuna from Celebes Sea were prepped in GenSan before they turned up sashimi-grade in Tsukiji.
Fujikawaguchiko and Oshino, Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan
January 31 – February 1, 2017
Ninja called. I came.
Seriously, what could top my first snow experience and first ski lesson in Yamanashi? Practically none, but other treats this prefecture near Tokyo could offer were more than charming. That turned out to be food so oishi and some ninja moves so out of the blue.
Ah, to be in a small town trapped in a big city. In just a week’s stay, I felt in the zone in Taito-ku, one of Tokyo’s more traditional wards encompassing the quaint districts of Ueno and Asakusa. I could live here, I thought. Having been welcomed so warmly by friendly, familiar faces accounted for that sense of home. My student-turned-friend Taka came by within minutes of my arrival.
Like a moth to a flame. That was how I had a night of light with my naughty friend Yuka. She suggested we see the annual extravagant LED light display commonly known in Japan as “illumination.” The word effectively lured me to scenic Minato Mirai, the harbor development of Yokohama. A walk on the boardwalk certainly delivered. The skyline was wholly lit-up with a galaxy of colored pin lights outshining actual stars.
3W was shorthand for three sales a week. For us put-upon salespeople, it meant work, work, work! That was my ancient past as a life planner for a Japanese insurance company in Manila. Our big boss, Sawaki-san, demanded nothing less than Japanese-style work ethic. I had never looked back on it as fondly as I did in Tokyo Metro 20 years later. I fancied myself as a salaryman for a day.
“When in Japan, get nekkid as the Japanese do” was my mantra. It was time to get the hang of letting it all hang out in full view of friends and strangers alike. In the (un)dressing room, I was still bundled up in winter wear, less for warmth than for self-consciousness. My Japanese friends Taka and Koji, comfortable in their own (bare) skin, approached to inquire what was taking me so long. I peeled off my gloves and sweater ten…ta…tive…ly as in an awkward striptease. I stopped short at my skivvies. Then I uttered a sheepish admission, “I’m shy,” before doing a 180 and unwittingly mooning them! I caught their impish grin and, just like that, I was cured of any qualms about public nudity.
Tabaco, Albay, the Philippines and Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan
November 22, 2015 and February 1, 2017
No kissing of the ground here as I wouldn’t want to wake these sleeping beauties. It didn’t mean I was less smitten at first sight by iconic Mt. Mayon (2,463 m or 8,081 ft) in the Philippines and Mt. Fuji (3,776.24 m or 12,389.2 ft) in Japan, both seductively conical and dangerously active stratovolcanoes. At times spewing fire and brimstone but mostly notoriously shy, these badass beauties were known to hide their graceful form behind a veil of clouds.
To a tropical boy, snow was as real as Santa Claus. I knew which was fictional, but snow was just as much the stuff of children’s literature and my childhood dream. Then “adulting” cured me of my boyhood fascination with frozen precipitation.
I had mostly visited historical landmarks and megapolises in Japan. All were amazingly memorable experiences; however, they merely touched on extreme points on the Japanese continuum: its rich historical heritage and its modern urban present. I felt there was a missing link between these polar opposites, and on my last day I realized the bridge for this gap was right under my nose.
Some pleasant discoveries were made, not by getting there, but by getting lost. The irony was that my Japanese host’s rusty sense of direction got me exactly where I had envisioned myself to be in Kyoto.
Kinkaku-ji (Temple of the Golden Pavilion) was, by far, the loveliest spot on earth I had ever seen. My first glimpse of the imperial yellow temple, gleaming in the summer sun with its reflection shimmering on the placid pond, was a poetic vision – a scene of exquisite beauty that I could only describe as heavenly. Belinda Carlisle nailed it – heaven is a place on earth. And it was in Kyoto. But one man’s heaven was another man’s hell.