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Combining the last two days together since the last day was mostly flying home.

Today we headed back to Hikone to visit my ancestral hometown of Hinatsu (日夏町). I had never been here before, so of course I was feeling a bit apprehensive. For me today was that moment of a reality check to make sure I wasn't dreaming.

Hinatsu, Azuchi, KiyomizuderaCollapse )


The Last DayCollapse )


Japan 2010, Day 12 - Osaka

Today we were supposed to travel north to Amanohashidate, but the overnight rainstorm was so bad, we decided to spare ourselves the hassle and bumped up our Osaka trip!

We didn't really go sightseeing in Osaka, so this post is pretty brief.

It was mostly for shopping, foodage, and R&R. However, we did visit the Instant Ramen Museum in Ikeda.

OsakaCollapse )


Japan 2010, Day 11 - Hikone

Today we set out for Hikone on Lake Biwako! I was really excited because after touring Hikone castle, Grandma would take me to my great-grandparents' hometown in Hikone's southern province! … or so that was the plan, but things didn't quite work out. XD;;

A little history of Shiga prefecture and Hikone. Shiga prefecture was once called Omi no Kuni (近江の国) and considered one of the most strategically important areas due to:

1) being located right next to the capital
2) being located at the apex of the routes between Kyoto and Edo.
3) economic importance in both agriculture, game, and trade.

In ancient times, Omi was a frequent abode of the nobility. Genji Monogatari by Murasaki Shikibu traces its origins in Omi. The Hojo clan also had claims to this area during the Kamakura period. The Koka (Koga) ninja can trace their origins in Omi's southern provinces. Oda Nobunaga built Azuchi castle upon the shores of Lake Biwa because of its strategic location with Kyoto and the natural protection from the lake, Ishida Mitsunari was also the ruler of northern Omi during his reign, and following his fall the Ii clan ruled Hikone until the Meiji period.

Omi has a long history of breathtaking scenery, resulting in what's come to be known as the infamous Omi Hakkei - the 8 Views of Omi. Another popular type of beef, Omi-gyu,also comes from this region. :)

In short, this place has a hell of a lot of historical importance to it. It's a shame we weren't here longer. There's was just too much to explore.

HikoneCollapse )


Japan 2010, Day 10 - Arashiyama

Today was mostly an R&R day due to the extreme burnout from the week. Mom wanted to go to Arashiyama, since she had never been on the boat trip. Sachiko also mentioned it would be extremely hot today, but that didn't deter us. Grandma didn't want to go out into the sun, so she went shopping on her own.

ArashiyamaCollapse )


Japan 2010, Day 09 - Koyasan, Kyoto

Today we would head to our final destination, Kyoto, where part of my family lives. The morning was filled with mostly touring Koyasan's sights, then a 3 hour train ride to Wakayama, into the Osaka Loop, then to Kyoto Station… not an easy trip to say the least. Thankfully, my relative Sachiko was generous enough to invite us over for dinner the first night. I hadn't seen them for over 6 years since I was a high school student. Sachiko was now married with 2 children. XD;;

Okunoin, Family time in Kyoto!Collapse )


Japan 2010, Day 08 - Koyasan

Today we said our last good-byes to Kumano and made our way to the heart of Shingon Buddhism, Koyasan. Koyasan, or Mt. Koya, was founded by the priest Kobo Daishi (aka Kukai), in the 6th century. The mountains today host many temples, along with Okunoin, the most important graveyard in Japan.

To Koyasan!Collapse )


Today we planned to visit the other 2 of the 3 grand shrines of Kumano. Though Nachi and Hayatama Taisha were located along the sea, and therefore easier to access, Hongu Taisha was located far-inland near Kii-Tanabe. There are no trains inland, meaning we would have to take a bus from Shingu to Hongu-cho.

Kumano Hongu Taisha, Hayatama TaishaCollapse )


Today we said goodbye to Ise-shi and Mie prefecture, and begun our trek through Wakayama. Wakayama prefecture encompasses the entire southern section of the Kii Peninsula, bordered by Mie, Nara, and Osaka prefectures. Much of the region is uninhabited due to the steep mountain range that makes up the southern area, with the majority of the cities being along the coast. The area is also considerably more rural, thus we had to plan the trains accordingly.

Though Wakayama prefecture is famous for sea food, ume, and other marine-related delicacies, the area also hosts a world heritage site - the Kumano Kodo (熊野古道) or Kumano Ancient Roads that connect the three grand shrines: Nachi Taisha (那智大社), Hongu Taisha(本宮大社), and Hayatama Taisha(速玉大社).

Kumano was hailed in ancient times as a place of healing, rebirth, and salvation; where people would go in their darkest hour to ask for help. Absolutely no one is turned way.

Whether you had a strong faith, a weak faith, whether you were sick, in despair, an emperor, a noble, suicidal, or a poor man, Hindu, Christian, you name it - the gods of Kumano welcome everyone regardless of who you are or where you come from. In the past, many emperors and nobles made pilgrimages to the three grand shrines of Kumano, to the point that many interconnecting stone roads were established throughout the mountains, often guarded by many stone Jizo. Because the roads connect the 3 shrines, it is thus named the ancient road.

This area also has a history of Buddhism and Shinto fusing seamlessly, as shown by all three grand shrines enshrining both a shinto kami and a celestial buddha. The disciples of Shugendo (the yamabushi) originate from this area, as does Aikido.

It is also thought that this was the land that the spirits of our ancestors would dwell after death (i.e. Yomi no Kuni), and believed to be a pure land upon earth. Because it is relatively untouched by civilization due to the steep mountains (with exception of the highway and small towns today), the renowned natural beauty of this area largely remains the same as it was thousands of years ago. Thus Kumano is also termed the 「神々の住む場所」, the dwelling place of the gods.

It also has a very old history going back to the foundation of Japan, when Jimmu Tenno (the legendary first emperor) landed here and went to conquer Yamato. Even today the numerous hot spring towns located deep within the mountains are still known for their healing properties.

Because of its importance to the ancient Japanese, there is a popular old saying, "Seven times to Ise, Thrice to Kumano" concerning pilgrimages made. With the influx of western culture in Japan, Kumano has become somewhat forgotten or even relatively unknown to the Japanese themselves, but because of its status as an important UNESCO world heritage site it continues to remain for later generations to appreciate.

Day 06 - Kumano Nachi Taisha, ShinguCollapse )


Today was a relatively packed day, leaving little time for lazing about. Today we'd first head to Futami to see the infamous Husband and Wife rocks, then head to Toba to see Mikimoto Pearl Island (and buy some pearls!), and finally, if time permit, visit Ise Jingu's Geku.

Futami, Toba, Mikimoto Pearl Island, GekuCollapse )


Japan 2010, Day 04 - Ise Jingu

Today was our departure day for Mie prefecture and the beginning of our trek down the Kii peninsula. Our first stop was Ise city, home of Ise Jingu, the most important shrine in all of Shinto that houses Amaterasu Omikami.

Since part of the day would be lost from traveling to Ise, we decided to just go to Ise Jingu's Naiku.

Iseshi and Ise JinguCollapse )