Seoul, South Korea / Tokyo, Japan / Guangzhou, China
October 31, 2014 / January 29, 2017 / September 8, 2017
With a little help from my friend, I snagged a photo op with the 236-meter tall Namsan Tower in Seoul. I mounted a ledge for maximum exposure. And raised both arms to be sure. Cindy clicked the camera.
She did get the entire tower within the frame. I was not as lucky. At least I could spot my forehead!
When in Japan, get nekkid as the Japanese do! 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.
This is the last entry in my Japan 2009 series. I’ve mostly written about historical landmarks and megapolises I visited. 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 could be another man’s hell.
A nightingale sings in Nijo-jo (Nijo Castle) – with every step you take. Centuries before the Twitter age, the Tokugawa shogunate already used tweets. This castle, built in the 17th century in Kyoto, is famous for its wooden floors that tweet – the uguisu bari (nightingale floor). When I got to Kyoto, it was the first place to wanted to see – and hear.
Tokyo Towel. No, not a cloth to cover your nakedness as you emerged from an onsen (a public hot bath). Just an example of the Japanese quirk of rolling the hard /r/ to a loopy /l/, as in that hilarious scene in Lost in Translation involving a befuddled Bill Murray and a demanding dominatrix. In my case, I got befuddled looks because I looked Japanese but couldn’t speak Nihonggo. Continue reading “Found in Translation”→
I survived Tokyo. Its crowds, its convoluted metro lines, its punishing summer heat. “There’s got to be a morning after,” goes the cheesiest song ever from a disaster movie. After a full day traversing Tokyo, I found that perfect morning after in Yokohama. Not that the day, or night, before was a disaster. It was just the most gruelling city tour I had ever done.
The world’s most faithful dog and the last samurai. Two stories. Two statues. Two symbols of loyalty. Two sides of one city. I saw the dog statue first thing in the morning, the samurai one before I ended my first day in Tokyo. One devoted his life to loyalty; the other sacrificed his for it.
A long long time ago…in a land far far away…there was a lady with powdery-white face, blackened teeth, and brows in the middle of her forehead. She retreated to a mountain temple and came up with an epic tale “on the night of the full moon.”