Enlightened Pilgrimage

IMG_1950IMG_1954IMG_1952IMG_1955IMG_1959Though it has seemed like a long time, I have only been in Japan for a bit over three months and have less than one more until I am to return. Am I kind of bummed that I will be going home soon with no idea when or if ever I will return to this incredible land?. Yeah a bit, but I looking forward to returning to my homeland as well as the obvious fact that I have seen more of Japan than the Japanese have according to them, and I know that I will return some time in the future, possibly for the 2020 Olympics, it will be very fascinating to see what Tokyo looks like for the World to see. Still, there there are a few more tasks on my list to complete first, two more places to visit, the city of Nagoya known for a legendary Daimyo, a shrine dedicated to a mythological sword and a nearby original castle; as well, there is the mausoleums of Nikko, which I might go visit with a friend, who recently moved near there. Of course, seeing the new Godzilla movie before I leave, maybe Disneyland, though it has been getting really hot and the special Studio Ghibli exhibition going on downtown, are also on my list.

As usual, I spent the last two weeks are more adventures, both locally and farther away. I went up to Sendai, which is an hour and a half from Tokyo by Bullet train on a Friday instead of my usual Saturday due to having to make up a class as the the professor was going to be away for a conference. It was a pretty smooth ride, but there were significant less tickets available to buy, but I was lucky enough to get one of the last two tickets. Though the weather was cloudy, it was not raining, so I was able to go all over the city without any issues. I started by taking a taxi to Zuihoden, which is the mausoleum of the Daimyo, who founded the city, Date Masamune. Though he has been dead for nearly 400 years, he is still well-known throughout Japan and highly revered by the people of Sendai. He is best known for his boisterous personality, distinct armor topped with a 2 foot long golden headpiece on his helmet and , hence his nickname, the One-eyed Dragon. While he was only a minor lord, he has the second most impressive mausoleum, only topped by the Shoguns own, making Masamune stand out even in death. It was a really cool place and certainly worth going to see. After that, I went to the Sendai City Museum, which had an extensive collection of artifacts of the area including their centerpiece, the armor of Date Masamune. I also went to 2 shrines, one built in honor of Masamune and other built by him. He is Sendai`s greatest hero and still loved by people, much like how Spider man is to New York, except that Masamune was real. On my way back, I went to buy my return ticket, but the next available train was not for an hour and because it was so booked I had to stand, the next one with available seats was not for a few hours. It is very ironic, that in New York, it is illegal for someone to ride a bus going across state lines standing, but it is perfectly legal and `safe` for someone to ride a bullet train going 200 miles an hour standing, well its Japan, so it must be safe. Fortunately, there was an available seat, it was a smooth trip and I even had this really cool meal, that I pulled a string and it cooked itself in 5 minutes! As a result of this trip, I decided to think about buying a round-trip ticket to avoid this problem from happening again.

I said that I was going to go to Nagoya afterwards, but last weekend was so hot that I decided to go back to Kamakura, which was much cooler that day, and see the last of the great temples, though this was my third trip there, Kamakura has so many famous temples, that it took me three times to see all the major ones. While I was familiar with Kamakura from my previous trips, this time, I was in a much different part that was a lot more rural despite being only one station from the bustling center of the city. As usual, I went to a quintessential temple on top of a hill with a great big wooden gate, though I have seen even larger ones, this ones lack of ornate design or paint gives it a much more earthly and honorable appearance to it. Originally the temple had 40 buildings, but due to the Kanto earthquake of 1923, which destroyed significant amounts of the Tokyo region, there are only 17 remaining, but it is still the largest temple in Kamakura and has many impressive artifacts and buildings in it. The most famous artifact that the temple had was 715 year old iron bell, that was on top of another hill with a really cool view of the area visible. After that temple, I went to another nearby, that was also pretty impressive, but a lot smaller, though it did had a small open house, where you could mediate, which definitely makes it a unique experience. I could have gone to more smaller temples, but due to the heat, I just stuck to the big ones. I am positive that I seen enough of Kamakura as I can not think of any more temples that I have to see.

I also took a trip back to the mountains, this time to Nagano, a city known for a mighty temple, gorgeous mountain views and the so much natural beauty. Once again, I took a bullet train to get there, this one was called the Kagayaki, which is translate to shine, probably emphasizing how it shines in the sun as it whooshes past onlookers. Bullet train tickets are honestly astronomically expensive, just look them up with google maps, but my parents are paying for them as they understand it is the only real way to see a lot of the most amazing parts of Japan and want me to have no regrets about missing anything. They know how much I wanted to do Japan and are very proud of my bravery in going through with it, I really love them and can not wait to see them, when I return, welcoming me home with fresh New York bread, Japanese bread is good, but NY has the world`s best. The first thing that I did in Nagano was go to Zenko-ji, which is this huge temple with all these impressive buildings focused around it. I have been to bigger ones, but this one was still among the best and I always like to see the famous ones with have their own unique style to them. After that, I headed to Kawanakajima, which was the site of a famous series of battles between the legendary Daimyos, Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin. It is located in what is now a small park, but there are all these cool monuments to it including life sized statues of the Daimyo fighting one-on-one, which actual happened. A nice day, though there was enough in the city to rationalize staying a night.

While I am down to my last month, I still have plenty left to do, though I am quite satisfied with all I have been able to do. One of my friends at my dorm, who has been here for 2 years, told me, he was impressed with my dedication and passion for Japan and seeing as much of it as possible. He said among the several groups, who have come for a semester since he got here, that no one ever really went all out in seeing Japan like I had, I even went places he had not, so I know that I seized this once in a lifetime opportunity to its fullest. Aside from my solo plans, I am meeting with a friend on Saturday to go to the Tokyo Zoo, which I have not been to yet. I hear they have Pandas, which will be pretty cool to see. Still I plan to play it by ear on what I will be doing. Even though Finals are coming, the workload is pretty light, so I still have plenty of time to enjoy myself, though I do need to commit to my papers at night.


Aaron is a History Major with the desire to see the world and learn as much as possible about it. He cannot wait to write about his adventures in Japan, making new friends, living in Tokyo and exploring both new & old Japan. This is Aaron's second Study Abroad program to Japan through SUNY New Paltz!

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