Try Yoshino in the winter?

We ended up going to Yoshino by complete chance. We received a message from a good friend earlier this month after she realized she had double booked some events of her own. The opportunity to get a tour going to Yoshino got scooted over to us and we took her up on it right away.
We had been to Yoshino on a previous trip, but that was only during the peak season, known for its incredibly pink cherry blossoms and many eager beavers wanting to try the sakura mochi under the trees.

This time, however, it would be in the middle of winter, which we soon realized was not even as half as popular during the blooming spring.

Although we were informed on the basics, the exact purpose for us being there were still unclear.

The journey to Yoshino was not as long as the distance our friends warned us about. After a couple of transfers and naps in the train, we were there.
We arrived first and found our tour guide waiting for us in front of the ticket gates of the station.
I remembered this place filled with lines upon lines of backpackers, all wearing hiking uniforms and carrying gear that seemed to come from the exact same store.

We were greeted by a pleasant smile and a brief rundown of what the next two days would be like.
The rest of the group slowly started to trickle in with the exception of one that would join later.

What they explained to us is that we were part of a trial tour, with the group promoting it called the Working Group. Those in the group were all business owners from different shops, restaurants, and other professions from the area. All of them had been born and raised in Yoshino and were school mates from elementary school. They all came to greet us at the station, eager to begin the day. It was quite the welcome. What would be was to give feedback, so they can get more people interested in what Yoshino has to offer outside of Spring.

After putting all the luggage in the car, we started the trek up the mountain. Along the way we got more acquainted with the guides and the area. They gave us random tidbits of information about the scenery along the way.

-The cable car there is the oldest in Japan.
-The elementary school is no longer standing, but all students that graduated would plant a cherry blossom tree.
-The tradition of planting started years ago and now you are able to see roughly 20,000 cherry trees from the top.

We would do our best to stick to the schedule, with a nice lunch awaiting us after a bit of talking at the gates in front of the temple.
We found the founder of Shugendo, En no Gyoja, right before the metal torii gate at the start of the tour. He was an ascetic and mystic, banished and banned because of the power he was said to have had.
His statue was everywhere, greeting us and guiding at each corner throughout the trip.

We walked up slowly to the main road that had shops filled with various sakura knickknacks and foods that also continued the theme.
We were able to taste test some sake that was being sold in the shop. The older gentleman seemed to be pleasantly taken aback by the sudden group that invaded his shop.

The weather was gorgeous and a godsend. It was supposed to snow that day but mother nature seemed to postpone the bad weather until we would leave the mountain.
In the warm sun we walked to the first shop to have lunch.

The restaurants name was Yako Sushi.
It is a soba restaurant that offers various meals with Saba or Salmon. The restaurant also accommodated to the diet my sister and I both share: vegetarian. They prepared a special plate for the both of us: switching the sushi wrapped in kaki leaves to delicious inarizushi.

We have not eaten such a hearty meal in a while, and left the shop in good spirits, ready to take on the rest of the day.

The first temple we found ourselves approaching sat majestically on the edge of the hill: Kinpusen-ji, founded by En no Gyoja.
It seemed so different from when we came two years ago in April when it was filled with tourists and energy. This time, quiet and people-less, we were able to see the temple clearly.
We would be coming here again at 6:30 the following morning for prayers.

The next thing that was awaiting us was the Kuzukiri experience at one of the local shops that sold it in different shapes and forms.
For those that are reading, I would love to explain all that we learned over the two-hour workshop, but would love it even more for you to go and experience it yourself.
In a nutshell, we got a science lesson, a cooking demonstration, with the cherry on top being us having a go at being the chef. We were able to learn about the Kuzu plant and then eat all of the delicious sweets throughout.

This particular shop can be found online at : http://nakasyun.com/

After the deliciously educational experience, we hopped back into the car to our accommodation for the night.

Dinner was at seven, so we had time to check out the bath area and our rooms. The sitting room was upstairs and we relaxed and drank roughly 100 cups of tea until the van picked us up to go to dinner.

At night the area seemed even more Spirited Away-esque with only the lights peeking out of the little shops and houses along the way to light our path.
Sakanaya was a cozy shop with the main options of dishes being either fish or freshly hunted boar meat from the area.
Both fantastically prepared I’m sure, but not choices for us.
Thanks to the wonderful cooks, however, a gorgeous vegetarian meal was prepared for us.
One thing we were very surprised by was how much they were able to cater to our food restrictions, and did it with complete flair.

After a lot of laughs, discussion, and jokes at the dinner table, we headed back to the hotel.
We had an early day the next morning, so we topped off the evening with Reylia leading a small yoga session with the people in our group.

One by one we all took our baths in the nice private ofuro. With our bodies all warmed up, we tucked ourselves into the futons they prepared for us. We had a great day behind us and only hoped we would wake up tomorrow at 6:00 on time.
———

Thankfully we did manage to hear the alarm. The sun had not yet risen. The chill air and silence in the room made an eerie pair, but slowly there was ruffling from the rooms across from ours — the others were emerging as well.

The morning prayers at Kimpusen-ji temple are held every morning, rain or shine at 6:30 in the morning.
They warned us ahead of time that the old wooden floors would be freezing, so bringing an extra pair of socks would be best to protect your feet from the cold. Sadly, we did not heed the advice and were left to putting Kairo(カイロ)in our socks.

The service was fascinating and like no other prayer service.
It started with a session of mantras with meanings that could not be made out by just listening. Sandwiched in between were more personal prayers for the people that were effected by the disasters in the past and for the people that are visiting the temple.
They gave us prayer books that we fumbled with and tried to follow along to what was being chanted. Quite tasking on the brain.
After a walk around the inside of the temple accompanied by more chanting and bowing to the deities, we said our thank yous to the monks. We were hungry and ready to scarf down our breakfast.

Nothing was better for that chilly morning than the ocyazuke they served. Warm porridge-like texture along with rice, tsukemono, and miso soup. A nice well-rounded Japanese breakfast right in front of us to dive into.

After picking up our bags from the hotel, we were informed that there would be a three hour hike in front of us.

We would go through various temples and then do a small purification ceremony to get any evil spirits out of us.

We visited various temples in the area with explanations on how many aspects of Shugendo were handed down from India. Although there are different parts that aren’t similar anymore, some offerings and ways of worship are identical.

Before heading to the last temple of the trip, we visited a small hut that monks come to purify themselves at. The ritual goes that you have to take your right hand and lay it on the thing in the middle and with everyone circling it in the dark while chanting. They closed the doors behind us and before we knew it it was pitch black. The man started and had us repeat what he had said. We circled it three times with people in the group poking each other and trying to give the other a scare. The ceremony ended with a loud gong that almost made us shit our pants. That was when the evil spirits are said to flee from your body. I wouldn’t be surprised. The sudden sharpness of the gong would shock anything out of anyone.
We made our way out of the hut and down the snowy path.

The second temple we visited apparently helps in aiding those prayers that hope for children and women that are infertile. We all laughed when one of us piped up with the line, “Yup! Sounds good to me! Let’s all get pregnant!”
One of those you-had-to-be-there hilarious moments.

We were thankful that the weather held up throughout the trip. Although it was still cold, the lunch that we had helped with that immensely. We popped into a tofu shop, famous in the area for having tofu in all their meals and foods. We received a little nabe on our tray so that we can slowly heat up the tofu ourselves. With a little dip in some ponzu sauce, you got a surprisingly filling meal. We topped it off with – of course – tofu ice-cream. Just plain heaven in the mountains of Yoshino.

The day was slowly coming to an end. We would have a conversation over coffee and cake for feedback.
Before that, however, they suggested one last treat to top off the experience: a dip in the one and only onsen in town. The guys decided to be squares, so it was just us girls who got in and soaked up the water from the rotenburo.
Sitting in the ofuro relaxes, refreshes, and brings about interesting conversation.
We had limited time before we would have to head back for the feedback session, but we managed to fit in some discussion about how a certain temple still doesn’t allow women up to the top. There is naturally a lot of debate around the topic and we went back and forth shooting down the reasons that the people in charge stand by.

After getting out of our birthday suits we headed back to the car. It seemed it had rained while we were enjoying the bath, and as soon as we step foot in the coffee shop, it started to rain once again.

It was hard to think of very good advice or talk about things we wish had been done differently because we had such a pleasant time. Nevertheless, we all took our turns in expressing our ideas and our newfound view of the area.
The delicious cake and coffee at the log cabin on top of Yoshino mountain wrapped up the day nicely. Everything had gone smoothly, and we got on the 5:07 train going back home. We shook hands, took pictures, and bid our farewells to the wonderful Working Group that let us experience such a fantastic weekend.

We got to know lovely people that we probably wouldn’t have met otherwise and shared this memorable trip together.

Gradually our new friends took their separate ways, and we made the hike back to our house.
We came home, made a green smoothie, and went on and about how cold it was.

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London, Lists, Lines

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I have returned from London and I feel like I am still getting in the swing of things. When I say swing of things, I mean slowly preparing myself for going back to work. I love working and working hard, but there gets to be a point when the boredom at certain jobs can reach such a level of dullness, it starts to become painful. Wording it like that sounds horrible, but it some positions just don’t work for certain people.

What was a blast was some observations and sketches I made while I was visiting London. I will keep a few to myself, hidden in my notebook only available to those who come by for a coffee. Five for you.

toilets

  1. The toilets are square.Who has a square ass? 
  2. There is a lot of brick. Everywhere. I have never seen so much brick in my life.
  3. The “Tube” is literally the shape of a tube of toothpaste. 
  4. In London, shops look like Ikea. The whole city is a cute hallmark card.
  5. All museums are free. Sold me on the country. 

Customer Service Q&A: I sprung this one on my father

While sitting in the local Nepalese restaurant with my dad, we were enjoying our butter chicken curry and our spicy tandoori when I sprung a quick interview about customer service on him. Conversations like this don’t happen very often, so I wanted to take this opportunity to find out a bit more about my dad and what he thought about the values of the company I am currently aspiring to work at. He was born in Wisconsin and came to Japan in his early 30’s. He has five daughters and loves to write. The interview was simple, and I had a lot of fun asking him the questions.

When you were younger, did you do anything related to customer service?

No.

Not at all? Not even a bar or something?

Oh yeah, I did that when I was younger.

How was that?

I hated it.

Why?

People are jerks, and it stunk like smoke all the time. There were a lot of rude people.

Was this in Wisconsin? There weren’t any other customer service jobs?

I worked at a flouring company as well. I was the manager of a warehouse.

Did you learn anything interesting while you were there?

Yeah, that if I keep doing this I will have a sore back. The stuff was heavy.

What are the customer service difference between American and Japan?

I think in Japan its more formal and ceremonial.


The Buffer Values and my dad’s take on them:

  1. Choose Positivity 

Do what you like. Try to make every situation positive. Try to learn something.

  1. Default to Transparency

Yeah, thats a good idea. They should tell everybody about what’s going on. Don’t keep any secrets.

  1. Focus on Self-Improvment

You got to always try harder I guess.

  1. Be a no-ego doer

We all have an ego.

  1. Listen first, then listen more

You should do more listening than talking.

  1. Communicate with Clarity

To be clear. I’d like to have everything clear, otherwise how do you know what’s happening? You don’t want to be in a fog. You will have accidents if you are in a fog.

  1. Make time to reflect

See how things went in the past and see wants going on. How things are working. Ask yourself, did this work for me? Thats what memories are for. Other things can be to watch your reflection in the mirror, stretching, et cetera.

  1. Live Smarter, Not Harder

Yeah, I agree wight hat one 100%, thats my motto. I’m going to tattoo that on my forehead. Why would you want to do everything the harder way?

  1. Show gratitude

Simple stuff. Compliments. Say something nice. Depends who you are talking to but saying thank you is the easiest.

  1. Do the right thing

Do the right thing! Good idea. What would the right thing be? The right thing would be to do things that you love, but don’t hurt other people.

Japan Sketch Auction: Friends Curry Shop

I will be posting new artwork regularly and will be up for sale 🙂
If anyone happens to be interested, please bid on the Instagram page!

He wrote a poem

photo-179In my last post, I talked about my first encounter with the artist, Mitsushita. Each time we met up until now has been conversations over two hours, the kinds of talks where you happen to glance at a watch and you jump out of your seat, surprised at how fast the time had gone by.

In the beginning, because I am a cheapskate, I had no intention of buying his art. After speaking to him however, I decided that I wanted a piece of this fantastic person.

He drew me —blue wig and all— but he also wrote me a poem. It was not what I had expected, and I was beaming.. As I read, I knew that during our marathon talks he had been listening with ears as well as heart. It was an amazing feeling to be heard.

I will write the Japanese and try my best to translate it into English.

たくさん泣いてきたね。
涙をこらえて頑張ってきたね。
涙を流せる優しいあなたへ。。。
あなたがもしも恐がってほうならボクはあなたの笑顔になりたい。
もしもあなたが涙を流すなら、ボクはあなたの涙を幸せに変えたい。
あなたの笑顔世界で一番キレイでも。ボクはあなたのキズも愛したい。。。
あなたの笑顔がボクの幸せなんだ。信じたい。。。
You cried a lot coming here didn’t you.
You did your best and held in your tears.
These words I will write are to the kind one that lets her tears fall.
If you are scared, I want to change your fear into smile.
I want to change your tears of sadness into ones of joy.
Because your smile is the most beautiful. I will love all of your faults.
Your smile is my smile. I will always believe this.

The Snake Handler, Mr. Matsushita and a Blue Wig.

These days I have been getting into a funny new habit – selling postcards on the street after work. I haven’t been out this past week because I couldn’t find a place to sleep in the city, but I will get out again next week if the timing works out.

photo-178It all started when I finished a Chai tea and a sandwich at the coffee shop near Shinsaibashi-suji. One by one the shops in the area closed down for the night, leaving only the footsteps of those coming home from the office, or the ones on the way to their questionable midnight jobs. By this time it was around 11:00 PM and against the shutters of the medicine shop, I see the artist Matsushita on the street open for business. There hasn’t been a night that I haven’t seen him sitting there, yet I had never approached him. I didn’t like the idea of making small talk when I had no intention of making a purchase. This particular evening was different however, and I decided to go and ask if it would be okay for myself to start selling postcards along this road. He explained to me that it would be no problem as long as the shops around were not open. I was excited to start laying out my small postcard collection. I admired this artist and the stand that he started packing up after his long day. Matsushita and his snake-handler sidekick Daisuke were about to leave. With a few words of advice about selling and pricing, they reminded me to watch out for old drunk men, and left shortly after.
I was alone and some people actually came up and started a conversation, commenting on my art and the blue wig that I wore, which was an attempt to hide myself from any potential acquaintances that could walk by. I enjoyed meeting these new people of the night, feeling very incognito.
One man who spoke English came up and introduced himself. We talked for a good twenty minutes, and he decided that it was his job to help me get more customers. His business strategy began with trying to lure people to my little chair by practically harassing them in English. His theory was that people walking by would be more interested if I started speaking in English to them and leave out the Japanese. In my experience however, that is 100% not the case. In Japan, people are afraid of things that they are not interested in. I wish I could be as confident as he was, but I don’t think I could fall into that way of selling.photo-177
After a while, and a few postcards lighter, Matsushita comes riding back on his bike. He was worried about me and came back to check on how I was doing. It was so thoughtful of him to go out of his way.
No other customers came to buy postcards after that, but we talked for hours about his life, what I do for a living, and our opinions of the conventional way of approaching work in Japanese society. His family had different expectations of him, but he choose to be a full-time artist. Now around 30, he questions his choices in a positive way and doesn’t regret them. He told me that he loves what he does and is glad even though he struggles doing it sometimes.
He has lead an interesting life, one very much opposite to the usual briefcase carrying salary-man you see all the time.  I admired his relaxed disposition, and desired his lifestyle.
What would your mind be like after meeting different personalities and observing the world all day?
I hope to go back to the shopping street and see my artist friend and his funky art very soon.