6 AM: Breakfast at the hotel. Mom and I devour the mackerel with especial glee.
8 AM: Doing a bit of laundry, taking a brief walk, and repacking.
10 AM: Since we’re here on a church group trip, we begin with a visit to Hongwanji Tsumura Betsuin, a sister temple to the one my family attends in Hawaii. Hilo Hongwanji (our church) and Tsumura Betsuin have had a relationship for thirty years, with fellowship visits on both sides of the globe.
We step off the bus, where the Tsumura contingent have lined up to greet us. We all smile and bow and enthusiastically trade our politest expressions in the others’ languages. Very quickly, I’m surrounded by tiny older ladies who are awestruck by the fact that I’m wearing a tank top; they all pat my bare arms as I pass and comment on how genki (healthy/lively) I am for exposing myself to the elements so utterly. (It’s like 60 degrees.) Then we adorn them with handmade ribbon leis, and everyone enters the temple for a brief service and several speeches of goodwill.
We hear from both ministers. Then both presidents of our respective Buddhist Women’s Association chapters speak, and exchange gifts. It’s lovely to see everyone take care to demonstrate respect and genuine appreciation in their words, their smiles, even their attentive body language.
12 PM: Time for lunch and fellowship! Tsumura has put together a simply beautiful bento lunch for us. Hilo and Tsumura delegates are assigned to alternate seats, and we all try very hard to bridge our language barriers to learn a bit more about each other. Lots of mime and smiling. My Japanese holds up better than I expected, except that I’ve accidentally swapped two very different words (“taihen,” or “difficult,” and “sugoi,” or “impressive/awesome”), which makes me sound like kind of a jerk for awhile.
After lunch, we exchange omiyage, or gifts given to express respect, appreciation, welcome, and gratitude. Omiyage is critical in Japanese culture; it’s like Western host gifts or party favors, except it’s much more significant and occurs more frequently. Despite our best efforts, the Hilo side are soundly defeated in this exchange, but the Japanese contingent remain extremely gracious in their omiyage superiority.
We also dance together, which is really fun. I’ve always liked traditional Japanese circle dancing (simple, repeated combinations that are akin to line dancing or, I dunno, the macarena) which we do every summer at Obon festivals. My grandma taught me many dances starting when I was small. It’s always a treat to dance with her.
Dancing with Grandma, 20 years ago and now
After many more bows and kind words, we depart, hearts thoroughly warmed.
2 PM: Visiting Ōsaka-jō (Osaka Castle), originally built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1583. Hideyoshi pulled out all the stops, creating one of the most elaborate castles of the time – including a tea room for entertaining important visitors that plated with gold leaf from floor to ceiling. Even the furniture and utensils were gilded, except for the spoons and the insides of the cups where the tea would touch. Hideyoshi continued to expand and fortify his palace until his death in 1597, when it passed to his son Hideyori.
But when Tokugawa Ieyasu established his shogunate in 1614, he attacked the Toyotomi forces at Osaka Castle, first for a bitter winter siege, and then again to kick off the Summer War of Osaka in 1615. When the castle finally fell, Hideyori committed hara-kiri (ritual suicide), ending the Toyotomi reign.
Under Tokugawa rule, Ōsaka-jō expanded even further. Today much of the castle itself has been remodeled or reproduced, but many of those early Edo period fortifications remain. We all gaze in awe at the massive stones inside the Sakuramon gate and wonder how many workers it took to move them into place. The large stones here all have names – Takoishi (Octopus Stone), Furisodeishi (Long-sleeved Kimono Stone), Ryukoishi (Dragon Tiger Stone). I wonder if the little stones feel left out. I will name them. Ebiishi. Nekoishi. Momoishi.
Inside, I climb the eight floors to the top of the tower. Whoof, definitely need to add more incline to my cardio. But the view is worth it!
Unfortunately, most of the exhibits on the rest of the floors are labeled in Japanese far beyond my grasp, and the bus is moving along anyway. Ma and I dash to the food trucks for sweet potato sticks and ice cream cones (matcha green tea for her, and milk-flavor, which tastes a bit like cheesecake, for me), which we eat on our way back to the bus.
4 PM: On the bus to Kyoto.
6 PM: After unpacking, we go in search of dinner. A short walk takes us to Kyoto Station, which houses not only the trains but also a large shopping mall and a dizzying array of restaurants. We all want something light, so I hunt around and find Aoi-Jaya on the 11th floor, which specializes in Kyoto cuisine – vegetables and thinly sliced proteins steamed and then dipped in light sauces.
The four of us share a dish of house-made tofu, creamy and simple, with shoyu and ginger. Then we split two dinner sets, which come with miso soup, little dishes of sashimi and tsukemono pickles, and a few pieces of tempura apiece. I love how the tempura here is light and crisp, even when it gets cool, and the shrimp inside is always just barely cooked through, never tough and rubbery like it often is in the U.S. The star of each set is a wooden box filled with steamed vegetables – green onions, bean sprouts, mushroom, yam, and greens – plus two dipping sauces, and a small bowl of rice seasoned with soy sauce and little bits of vegetable.
8 PM: Taking the scenic route – eleven floors of escalators – through the department store on the way back to the hotel. So many intriguing souvenir shops emitting the siren song. I spot a stationery store that spells trouble for me. But we manage to leave, promising ourselves we’ll come back tomorrow.
10 PM: Working and puttering.
12 PM: Bedtime.