The Happiest Place on Earth – Back to Japan Day 5

I am told that when I was really young, my parents took me to Disneyland with my siblings. I don’t remember anything from this event, and I believed that this would always be my experience with the collection of theme parks around the world. It always looms in the background every time I travel to Tokyo or Hong Kong. Posters are plastered in the airport and many of the bigger subway stops that I should go out and enjoy a day out there, but I always heard that it was something more for small children and there were other places that I wanted to go and see. Well, yesterday, I finally bit the bullet and went out to see what this place was all about by going to the Tokyo version of this theme park.

First of all, know that if you want to go to the Tokyo Disneyland, it gets really busy, and if you do not have tickets, you may want to get them before you arrive. You can still go up to the ticket counter and buy them the day of, but I would suggest that you get there at 8:00 in the morning because I have heard that they quit selling tickets when the park reaches capacity.

Otherwise, I can see why kids want to come to this place. I could see it on the subway train that I took out to the park. As soon as we reached the stop, the kids on the train started to get really excited and could barely wait for the train doors to open. As soon as we got off, a line of palm trees guided the way to the front door, and the blue skies made it feel like I was in southern California and not Japan. But then the Japanese love of Disney took over.

Groups of kids come to this park and they all dress alike so everybody knows that they are together. There were many times I saw groups of Japanese teenagers all dressed in school uniforms and all this the same hats on walking around together. It was a weird little touch, and I do not think that I would have seen the same thing if I was in the one in California.

For awhile, I thought it was Disney law that everybody wear some kind of hat gear. There were many headbands with various ears on them, or hats that showed the heads of various Disney characters, but then when you looked at the back of them, they would have little stuffed doll bodies of the heads that they wore. I refrained from buying one because I could not see myself wearing it anywhere but the park that we already were in.

I didn’t really know how the park worked, but I dreaded the long lines for the rides. I was introduced to the fast track program that was out there soon though. Basically, you can take your ticket and get a pass for a ride at a certain time so you don’t have to wait in line as long. The only problem is that you can only do it once every couple of hours, so the rest of the time you have to spend you time standing in line. It is great when you get to use them because then it makes you feel as if you are special and you can just walk right in, but standing in the standby line really stinks. They will give you an estimate for how long it will take, but it is always longer than the time that they give. I stood in one line for the Thunder Mountain Train for three hours. This is not the best way to spend your time at the Happiest Place on Earth.

The problem with the fast track tickets at Tokyo Disneyland is that they run out of them around noon because the places are already booked, so they close up the stands where you can pick them up. It meant that I got to spend most of the night and the afternoon standing in line. It seems like this is the major theme of this theme park. You have to stand in line for the rides, food, and even the bathroom. It makes the day exhausting and my feet are really feeling it today.

For the most part, I am glad that I got to experience a Disneyland at least once in my life. I do not know when I will be back again, but at least I can now know what it means to be at one of these iconic parks.

Mud Season – Back to Japan Day 3

I know that the eventual goal is to find the cherry blossoms out here, but I was pretty sure that this would have to wait until I made it to Tokyo. I thought that I was up too high in elevation for these trees to be able to survive and show the pink explosion that I have heard so much about. But I have found a couple of them as they try to compete with their siblings down in the big city, but it was still not the time for them to come out like advertised. And yesterday, I went further up the mountains of Japan making sure that I would not see them at all.

One of the things I recommend getting if you ever come out to Nikko, Japan is the bus pass for the area. It allows you to have unlimited rides on the bus through town, and will even take you up a very windy mountain road to the mountain town of Chuzenji. This town sits on the banks of a mountain lake, and has many hiking paths in the area that can take you to many exciting and beautiful spots. I imagine that during the summer months, and the fall, the place is packed with people, enjoying the mountain air, and playing on the lake. The trees up here make it look like the perfect place to be when the leaves change color, but in the spring, there are not many people here. The town knows this, and most of the shops and restaurants close up for the mud season.

Even all of the docks were blocked off, preventing people from going out on to them, and all off the paddle boats shaped like swans were loaded up on the shore, and locked up until warmer times would come. Despite the lack of people, I think that this might have been the best time to come. I did not have to fight crowds to enjoy the scenery, and without the noise that comes with vacationers packing the shore, it gave me a quiet respite that allowed me to just enjoy the day for what it had to offer.

Even the biggest attraction out there, Kegon Falls, did not feel overcrowded. This 100 meter waterfall brings many people to take pictures. There are some nice viewing places on top, but to get the best views, I needed to take an elevator through 100 meters of mountain to get to the bottom of the falls. There were a few people who took the bus up to this spot today, but not nearly as much as there could have been. I had no trouble finding a spot on the rail to take some pictures and enjoy the beauty of the scene. Granted I have seen pictures of this place in autumn and I can see why the crowds come out for it, but I really enjoyed the time I was able to spend there without them.

I know enough about the mud season by growing up in Colorado, and seeing the mountain towns empty during those times of the year when the tourists just do not want to come, but I think that these can be the best time to enjoy places. I got to see something truly spectacular, and I felt like I was the only one that got to see it. I know in reality that is not true; that many people come to this place to take in its beauty, but I still will hold on to that feeling because it has made this trip one of my favorite ones so far. It is still about the sights, but this time, it is mine to enjoy the way I see fit.

A Day in Nikko – Back to Japan Day 2

I did get to see one tree start to produce a couple of bud that would eventually explode with cherry blossoms, but that is not what Nikko is really about. It is more of a mountain town filled with cedars and ancient temples and shrines. The town experiences and influx of people during the autumn months to see a different kind of event with the trees, and it was nice to explore the city during one of the quieter times. That does not mean that people still did not come out for the day from Tokyo to look at the sights before heading back for the evening. This town has the ability to get really busy for the day, but as soon as that last train leaves for the evening, it turns into a sleepy little mountain town again where everything closes by 10:00 in the evening. But it makes sense because all of the amazing things to see are best enjoyed during the daytime, and there really is not reason for a night life.

One of the more iconic sights is the Shinkyo Bridge. It is right across the street from the Nikko National Park, a World Heritage Site. It is an ancient bridge that spans the river that runs through town, and there is hardly ever anybody on it. The reason for this is because they charge you to walk across it, and it doesn’t lead to anywhere. In fact, you just have to turn around and come back after you have taken the journey, and you can’t really see the bridge while you are on it. It would be like going to the Rialto Bridge in Venice and wanting to take a picture on top of it. There is another bridge fifty meters from this one that you do not have to pay to cross and it is the perfect place to admire the architecture. This is where you will see the crowds taking their pictures in front of the bridge. They then travel across the street to see all of the temples and shrines that Nikko can brag about.

They will find themselves instantly among the cedar trees and every turn that they take they will find another pagoda, shrine or gate. It is a great fortress that was built during the Shogun era, and you can see how this would have protected people from rival armies. It is also the perfect spot to sit back and listen to the wind blow through the cedars while admiring the amazing art work that has lasted through the ages. The most impressive of the shrines is the Toshogu Shrine. It is worth the time to go up to the numerous gates and buildings and admire the intricate carvings that decorate the eaves. There are many little treats that you can spot if you spend the time to look for them, and because the crowds were smaller while I was out here, I believe I was given the opportunity to fully appreciate the sight.

But the place I enjoyed the most was the one furthest away from the crowds. It was the Kanmangafuchi Abyss Trail. This path runs along the river and you have to walk through a residential area in order to find it. It hold numerous Jizo Buddha statues, a favorite Buddha in Japan because he looks over the children. I know it is probably different during the busier times of the year, but we were only one of three groups of people who had made their way down here. The statues are really cool to see, but the river is also a treat. This is just what the city of Nikko has to offer itself. There is still the mountain area to explore that would make doing this small little mountain town in a day a really hard thing to do.

Ice Cream Asian Style – Back to Japan Day 1

What do you do when you get back to your hotel after a long day of traveling with a little snack of ice cream, and you don’t have a spoon to eat it with? Well, all of my years of camping in Colorado has taught me one thing. You adapt and conquer. You go through all of the stuff that you collected throughout the day of travel and find something that will work for you.

The parking lot at Incheon International Airport early on a Saturday morning

Yesterday was one of those crazy travel days that always kept me going, but I knew in the end it would be worth it. I would be traveling to Japan to search for the cherry blossoms that everybody talks about. They are supposed to be one of the things that everybody must see in their lifetime. It makes it on all of the travel bucket lists, and they are supposed to poke out starting this week. So I took the recent Spring Break opportunity to hop over the Sea of Japan to go and see them. The day started out early at Incheon International Airport, and I thought that I had planned correctly, nobody would schedule a flight that early. Boy, I was wrong. Many people must be on Spring Break right now and looking to find their own adventure in East Asia.

A look of the main street in Nikko, Japan

My goal for the day was to eventually make it to the Japanese mountain town of Nikko. It is a two hour train ride outside of Tokyo, and is one of the hidden gems of Japan. It is filled with old temples, and great Japanese architecture, and you do not have to compete with the crowds that you would find in the busy Japanese cities. It doesn’t have the cherry blossoms that Tokyo is famous for, but I have a whole week to see them, and this would be the perfect to ease into the week. The only problem was in order to get there I would have to hop off the plane, get on a subway, and then a train, and then a smaller commuter train if I wanted to make it there in time for dinner. It meant to keep going all day long.

Government building in Nikko, Japan

Because of the busyness of the Spring Break, the time that I thought would have to sit down for a quick bite to eat was taken away from me by standing in airport lines, and figuring out how to book the trains that I needed to make it to my destination. The only thing I could get to eat along the way came from a convenience store in the Tokyo airport. Luckily, I was in Japan. Even if you buy a couple of rice triangles to eat, the person behind the counter will stuff your bag with napkins, chopsticks, and salt and pepper. I didn’t know it at the time, but this little gift would become important later on.

Ice cream with chopsticks

So it came back to my original question. How do you eat your ice cream when you do not have a spoon? Well, you adapt and conquer. You go through all of the things that you collected through the day to see what might work as a substitute. When you find it, you eat it Asian style with chopsticks. They work just as good as spoons.

Modern Negotiations

How can I be wrong when I’m always Right?
The problem comes with what is Left behind
After the compromise that comes from a fight,
Leaving the country direction that’s blind.
So I will act like an oak in strong wind,
I will stand tall on top of my lone hill,
And against the tumult, I will not bend,
No matter how much it brings about ill.
So you will begin to see things my way,
Giving me what I deem is Right for all.
Politics is the game I want to play,
Leaving in my wake, what is Left to fall.
I know that my legacy is at stake,
But I will never waver, only break.

Golden Idols

Are we required to take the same leap,
In a land that claims freedom from such things?
But in a flock full of minded sheep,
The melodies that everyone sings
Must be bleating just like the one grazing
Next to you in the supple field of grass.
Shepherds will consider it amazing
That not one in their flock will be so cross
As to go off and try it on their own
Instead of emulating their neighbor.
For we must all pray to the same carved stone
Just like they have forced us to do before.
Does our faith come from an accurate voice
When our kind leaders take away our choice?

The Glow from the View in the Elements

I will not let the distance get between
The celebration I can have with you.
I will battle to make it to that scene
Where we can toast all that we have been through.
Not even the nastiest of weather
Will deter me from my ultimate goal.
It does not make the trek any further.
Though my ambition I believe it stole,
It only gives me a greater resolve
To plow ahead through the gathering snow.
Any problem you throw my way, I’ll solve.
My way is lighted by the party’s glow.
There is nothing like the final greeting
When it’s your family you are meeting.