Thursday, September 17, 2020

Soji-ji Soin: Buddhism in the Noto Boondocks

The Noto Peninsula looks like a hitchhiker’s thumb that has been run over a couple of times. Hilly in the middle and lined with some of the country’s most varied and alluring coastline, this quiet, crooked, 75-mile spit of land sticking out into the Sea of Japan is littered with treasures that demand time and effort if they are to be enjoyed.

One of these treasures is Soji-ji Soin, a Zen Buddhist temple born from pursuits of benevolence, raised in juvenile conflict, and now standing with long-time rival Eihei-ji at the center of the largest school of Zen Buddhism in Japan.

The Costs and Rewards of Being Nice

In 683 a fifteen-year-old boy named Gyōki traveled from his home in the Kawachi Province (near present-day Osaka) to Nara’s Asuka-dera, one of Japan’s oldest temples, to begin his life as a monk. Twenty years later he returned home to share the teachings of Buddhism while actively practicing what he preached: with the help of an army of volunteers, Gyōki built nearly fifty Buddhist monasteries and nunneries that doubled as hospitals for the poor.

From there Gyōki and his followers began roaming the countryside, bringing Buddhism to people who had only ever known Shinto; building more temples (which also served as community centers); and spearheading public works projects (irrigation systems were his thing).

Sounds like a great guy to have around – unless you are the government and can’t handle monks doing anything outside the walls of their monasteries because hey that is against the law and besides who wants robed men freely walking the city streets being nice to people without authorization?

'Kyo-zo' - The Sutra Depository

Gyōki bypassed the government's childishness by going out and raising hell wherever he pleased as an unofficial, private monk. This bent the local officials all out of shape, raising cries of damnation for him not being registered as a Buddhist priest on some list at some sham bureaucratic entity called the Office of Priestly Affairs.

Power to the people, Gyōki beat the beat-down thanks to his popularity among the commoners not to mention his skill in developing public works. (Then, as now, it seems, citizens were only as good as their usefulness to the government.)

The 'San-mon' Temple Gate

Among the temples Gyoki built was Morooka-dera, a Shingon Buddhist temple that actually sat on the grounds of a Shinto shrine, Morooka Hiko Jinja. Once called Tetsukawa-jinja, Morooka Hiko Jinja sat way out in the sticks, up where the thumb of Noto bends east.

Over the years Morooka-dera grew, and by the end of the 13th Century it had built up enough mojo to afford a full-time priest and a master ajari whose task it was to teach students the Way of Furthering the Mojo.

In 1321 the shrine was moved a couple of kilometers west, noticeably closer to the beach. The ajari at the time was a priest (and, rumor has it, an avid surfer) named Joken. So excited was he to live closer to the break that when he moved to the shrine's new digs he forgot all about Morooka-dera, leaving it behind for a monk named Keizan Jōkin to deal with. Upon inheriting Morooka-dera, Keizan turned it into a Soto Zen temple, renaming it Shogakuzan Soji-ji.

In 1322 Emperor Go-Daigo, in all his Imperial magnanimity, bestowed upon Soji-ji the honorary title of chokuganjo, meaning a temple built at the request of the emperor – which, according the math, is bullshit.

The Dento-in, the most sacred building of Soji-ji, preserves the spirit of Keizan.

The Creation of a Soto Zen Master

Keizan Jōkin was, according to records, born in 1268, exactly six hundred years after Gyoki. Unlike Gyoki, Keizan didn’t wait until his teenage years to get his Buddhist mojo on. How could he? First of all, his mother Ekan was the founder and abbess of Jōju-ji, a temple of Soto Zen, a school of Buddhism derived from teachings brought to Japan from China by a monk named Dōgen. She was an active proponent of teaching Buddhism to women, and as such was also a fan of Kannon, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy.

Busy as Ekan was, founding Jōju-ji and another temple, Hōō-ji, it fell to Grandma Myōchi to take care of Keizan during his youngest years. Like Ekan, Myōchi was hooked on Soto Zen. This one-two punch of devout Buddhist influence led Keizan to quickly embark on his own road to monkhood, entering the temple of Eihei-ji at the grizzled old age of eight.

The aforementioned Dōgen had traveled to China in search of a better brand of Buddhism, and found it in a man named Rujing. Dōgen returned to Japan around 1227 and tried to assimilate what he learned in China into the current Buddhist teachings. Kyoto, however, was at the time overrun by holy robes entrenched in their Tendai school of Buddhism, and Dōgen was less than welcome to show up and tell everyone to start practicing zazen.

After a time he left, and in 1244 established Eihei-ji temple in the Echizen countryside near present-day Fukui. Eihei-ji would thus become the head temple of the new and growing Soto school of Zen.

The Butsu-den, where the Buddhist deity Shakamuni-Nyorai is enshrined.

But not for long. Keizan had already founded another Soto temple, Yoko-ji, and the priests there were basically fighting the priests of Soji-ji for spiritual preeminence. (Fighting may not be the right word. I can’t imagine a bunch of bald men in flowing robes brawling.) (Actually yes I can. It’s kind of funny.)

Over time Soji-ji won out, having grown its influence through the monks’ practice of traveling the countryside and bringing small village temples from (usually) Shingon and Tendai over to the Soto mojo, much like Gyoki did six centuries prior.

Meanwhile Soji-ji was also competing with Eihei-ji, which perhaps rightfully considered itself the true head of Soto Zen since it was established by Dōgen, father of the Soto school. But the monks of Eihei-ji carried out their teaching of and instruction in Buddhism strictly within the confines of their temple. Once again, with Keizan's priests out there pounding the dirt paths of the surrounding countryside, Soji-ji’s mojo spread further across the region.

Dōgen’s death in 1253 led to infighting over who should assume abbotship (i.e. control) of Eihei-ji. The pillow fights went on for two centuries until 1468 (exactly eight hundred years after Gyoki’s birth, and exactly two hundred years after Keizan’s) when the lineage of Keizan’s Soji-ji took over Eihei-ji. This would make Soji-ji the Grand Poobah of the thousands of Soto Zen temples now spread throughout Japan.

By the end of the 16th Century Soji-ji was officially recognized by the Imperial Court as Japan's head Soto Zen Buddhist temple. Yet the slap fights between Soji-ji and Eihei-ji would continue, until the Meiji Restoration (and the end of meaningful imperial influence) brought a sort of truce. It was agreed, at least on paper, that Soto Zen Buddhism would follow the maxims of Dōgen and the inspiration of Keizan, and Soji-ji and Eihei-ji would stand as equals at the head of what had become Japan's largest school of Buddhism.

Soji-ji was completely destroyed by fire in 1898. The temple was rebuilt in 1911 in Tsurumi, Yokohama, to bring more of that Soto mojo to eastern Japan. The Soji-ji here in Noto remains a training ground for Soto monks, and is called Soji-ji Soin, the ‘father’ temple.

For all its history and aesthetic allure, Soji-ji Soin rarely makes it onto anyone's list of must-see places. Must have something to do with its location out in the boondocks of Noto. But as a part of an exploratory expedition around the peninsula it's worth seeking out.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Higashi Chaya-gai: Cultural Standout with an Identity Crisis

In fifteen years of living and traveling all over Japan that wondrous and fleeting sense of having gone back in time has hit me exactly... twice.

The first time was when I stayed the night in Shirakawa-go, a semi-remote UNESCO World Heritage site flooded with busloads of tourists by day and all but deserted by dark. Under a moonlit sky hemmed in only by the surrounding steep mountains, walking along a strip of rough-cut grass between two rice fields, I paused to look around. 

Massive wooden farmhouses slept like thatch-roofed mammoths among the fields. The paved streets and the power lines inescapable in the daylight were gone, vanished in the night as if they’d yet to even exist. All I heard were my own inane whispers of goodness and god. I didn’t want to move. I wanted the world to stay like this.

One year after my evening with the mammoths I found myself up the road in Kanazawa, in the old teahouse entertainment district of Higashi Chaya-gai. Here too, under the dark of night, the only thing younger than Kane Tanaka seemed to be me. 

Through much of the Edo Era these teahouses sat scattered across central Kanazawa. Frequented by the wealthy and privileged classes, these subtly-named chaya were actually dining and entertainment establishments featuring geishas who would dance, sing and play traditional Japanese instruments while serving food and pouring drinks and laughing at wealthy and privileged men’s stupid jokes (a far cry from the modern Japanese hostess, whose talents begin and end with pouring drinks and laughing at salarymen's stupid jokes).

Distinctive of these old teahouses are the vertical lattices, called kimusuko, that adorn the buildings’ facades. Sometimes referred to as kimushiko (written 木虫籠, meaning 'woodworm basket'), they are as functional as they are attractive.

A cross-section of the slats forming these lattices reveals that they are not rectangular but trapezoidal; the wider sides of the slats face outward, making it more difficult for passersby to see the chaya's interior while maintaining a view of outside for those on the inside.

Personally this whole visibility arrangement seems counterintuitive to me. Think about it: When you finish your ice cream cone, if you bite a hole in the bottom of the cone and look through one end then the other, which way do you think you'll see more of the world before you get drips of leftover mint chocolate chip in your eye?

Another bit of trivia regarding these chaya is the fact that in the Edo Era these were the only residences (as they were classified) that were allowed a second story. All other homes were limited to one floor.

I can't claim to know what really went on up there in those second-floor rooms, but perhaps trapezoidal slats weren't enough to keep it all hidden from the prying eyes of the passersby down on the street.

In 1820 these scattered-about teahouses were moved and placed in three separate, tightly-regulated districts. Two of these districts, Higashi Chaya-gai and Kazue-machi, have since been designated as Cultural Assets of Japan. They sit near the banks of the Asanogawa River, on either side of the Asanogawa Bridge.

Kanazawa’s third teahouse district, Nishi Chaya-gai, consists of a single street located near the southern bank of the Saigawa, another river running right through town.

As an interesting side note, only one other chaya-gai in all of Japan has been afforded such lofty Cultural Asset status: Kyoto’s famed Gion district, along a side street that, oddly, many tourists never see.

But back to Kanazawa and Higashi Chaya-gai.

Though surrounded by a world made by human hands, under the magical blanket of another clear night time had ceased to be relevant. All the moment was missing was a geisha, clip-clopping through the shadows in her wooden geta sandals, disappearing down a dark alley, away from all but her client's privileged eyes.

Such a fleeting sight is still possible. Higashi Chaya-gai remains in part an entertainment district for an exclusive few, adorned by the  stubbornly-continuing existence of one of Japan’s most iconic art forms. There are, however, opportunities for the common folk to explore the inside of this traditionally secretive world

For all its charm and history and aesthetic appeal, Higashi Chaya-gai seems to suffer from an odd identity crisis. Sources of info give varying names for the area. To wit: 
- Higashi Geisha District
Higashi Chaya District
- Higashi Teahouse Street
- Higashi Chaya-gai Geisha District
- East Teahouse Geisha District

None of course are to be confused with the Chaya-gai Geisha District Teahouse Streets of Kazue-machi and Nishi. 

Higashiyama, meanwhile, is the larger area of town encompassing Higashi Chaya-gai, while Higashinagae-machi and Higashinagae-machi, two neighborhoods just to the east (higashi is the Japanese word for east in case that hasn't become apparent by now) may be nice in their own forested way but hardly evoke images of geishas clip-clopping around.

Japan is often described as a land of old and new, with the common juxtaposition of the two amounting to something wildly appealing.

The Japan of old, with no sign of the new, seems much more elusive.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Hiking Asama Onsen: Condensed Version

Going on sixteen years here in Japan and I can say with the self-confidence of a guy who's not afraid to wear an anti-coronavirus mask that no, I'm not an onsen fanatic. Yes, that sort of proclamation can make you a heretic in Japanese society so I'll add, as I always do to maintain the Wa, that I like bathing in scalding hot water at certain times: after a long bike ride, or a day of skiing, or when someone else is paying.

The onsen village of Asama is right up the road from where I've lived for almost six years now. And the only time I ever bothered going up there was for the annual Taimatsu Festival, where groups of insane Japanese people light these massive bales of hay on fire and drag them through the streets, dressed head to toe in flammables.

But then came the coronavirus, and with it the cancellation of life - i.e. the cancellation of all events and the closure of every building a visitor to Matsumoto might be interested in. This puts the squeeze on a guy who is supposed to be keeping up the English version of the town's visitor blog.

In search of something blog-worthy I hopped on my bike and pedaled off, up to Asama Onsen where, once the smoke from all the burning hay clears, there's actually a lot to see. Enough for four blog posts at least, which are here in short form.

NOTE: If you were looking for information on hiking Mt. Asama, the active volcano further east, it should be evident by now you are in the wrong place. But here in Asama Onsen, unlike on active Asama-yama, you know when the place will be drowning in smoke. So hang out and keep reading.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

One Naughty Ogre, One Naughty Dance, & Eight Million Gods: Takachiho Gorge, Miyazaki, Japan

Japan's long volcanic history has produced scenery of immeasurable fascination. Some of the country’s most visible, stunning and active geological sites can be found on Kyushu, the furthest southwest of Japan’s four main islands.
Mt. Aso, sitting a bit north of the center of the island, has by all evidence blown its massive top four times over the last 270,000 years, resulting in a caldera 25 kilometers long and 18 kilometers wide. Aso-san thus stands as Japan’s second biggest, the world’s second biggest active, and the world’s largest inhabited caldera.
Mt. Aso, smoking in the caldera.
While belching millions of tons of hot nasty stuff into the air over the eons, some of it landing a hundred miles away, Mt. Aso has covered the surrounding landscape with millions more tons of lava which, as it cooled, formed the basalt columns and the wrinkled layers of rock seen all along the Takachiho Gorge.
It took eons, but the Gokase River has managed to create a kilometer-long place of playful geological intrigue (and, in turn, polite pockets of Japanese tourism).
I’ve read there’s a trail, some twelve kilometers long, that runs from the visitor center in the town of Takachiho, past the below-mentioned Takachiho Shrine, along the gorge and into the nearby hills to another shrine before winding back toward town where you will find plenty of encouragement in spending your yen to rehabilitate your parched, famished, wobbly-legged carcass.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Japan's Hikone Castle: A National Treasure You Can Drive Into

Hikone Castle & the Old Guard 
Japan used to have lots of castles. Several thousand of them, actually. Many were built in the 15th and 16th Centuries during Japan’s Sengoku-jidai – the 150 years or so when everyone was fighting with everyone over land and rice and who got to use what title.

The vast majority of those castles are gone, destroyed during the fighting, lost to natural disaster (fire and earthquake being the usual suspects), or purposefully demolished when, with the onset of the Meiji Restoration in 1868, Japan decided they didn’t want to see any more castles (or use any more of those titles).

Today there are only about 50 castles in Japan. Most of those are either reconstructions or mere ruins. Only a dozen of Japan’s extant castles are originals, meaning they are the real thing, built when the Japanese were all fighting to keep each other off their land and their precious little titles.

Of these twelve still-standing castles, only four – Himeji, Matsumoto, Inuyama and Hikone – are on Japan’s list of Registered National Treasures.

Put another way, eight of Japan’s 400-year-old castles are not officially treasured. Meanwhile parents in the US are throwing their kids elaborate parties for making it to sixteen.

Monday, February 10, 2020

This Scheming World: Money and the Masses in 17th Century Japan

Short Story Titles from This Scheming World
I recently read a book. I should have been working but someone once said great writers are proficient readers. If I don’t make rent this month I blame the scoundrel who said that.

Now finished with the book, I’m still not finished with my work but I’m going to write about the book.

Thank you for reading. You are justifying my not working.

I Had No Idea Who Saikaku Ihara Was. I Just Liked the Title.

Three words – This Scheming World – describe perfectly the stories Ihara has to tell. Savvy marketing too, for a guy from the 17th Century. The connotations certainly compelled me to pick up the book. (Let's ignore the possible psychological machinations involved.)

Ihara has been called “the first spokesman for the Japanese masses.” Murasaki Shikibu wrote the Tale of Genji, the world’s oldest novel, in the late 10th Century. It was, in the words of Nobel laureate Yasunari Kawabata, “the highest pinnacle of Japanese literature.” From then on down through Japan’s Warring States Period, when the lords and samurai ruled the land, the printed word was limited to the realm of the country’s nobility.

This changed at the beginning of the 17th Century, with the onset of the relative peace of the Edo Era. No longer were the nobility lords over all; not in the sense they were before, because the economy was becoming heavily reliant on the merchant class. You wanted something, you had to buy it, no one cared who your father once was. How this translated into a sudden wave of interest in literature among the commoners I don’t know, but it did.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Koya-san 2018: Train Schedules, Trail Maps & the Company You Keep

My second trip to Koya-san came in 2018, a mere fourteen years and a few months after my first. And this time, everything was different. I wasn’t with anyone named Amos. I had a smartphone instead of a disposable Fuji-film camera. I would not be camping, illegally or otherwise. And instead of hiking part of the way I’d be taking the train all the way to the top.

When did life become so boring?

This wasn’t a trip, exactly. It was a last-minute reconnaissance mission. And I had only so much time to get up the mountain, get acquainted with Koya-san (the part I missed my first time here), and get back down the mountain and out to Kansai International Airport south of Osaka where I’d meet up with a group of thirteen Slovenian women.

Like most sacred and serene places that have turned into tourist circuses, Koya-san has been made extremely easy to reach and then navigate. I could have skipped this recon mission and blindly led my group around Koya-san’s East Side, including the sprawling crown jewel of Oku-no-in, without looking stupid. I like to avoid looking stupid whenever I can though, so back up into the Wakayama mountains I went.

All the ins and outs of getting to Koya-san can easily be found online so I won’t bother - though I will offer a couple of tips I haven’t seen anywhere else. One, transfer to the Nankai Line at Namba Station. It may look like you can save a bit of time catching the Hashimoto-bound train with a transfer at Shin-Imamiya but ‘Shin-Imamiya’ is actually a code word in the passenger train industry. It means ‘hell’.

If none of this makes sense to you, that’s fine.

But if you ever find yourself trying to get to Koya-san you’ll need to know that Namba is good and Shin-Imamiya is bad. Try to remember.

The other secret I picked up on my time-sensitive recon mission is this: If you’re traveling with a big heavy suitcase on wheels, either store it at Namba Station’s second-floor luggage service center or ship it from Namba (or your last hotel) to wherever you’re going after Koya-san. Navigating your way to and around Koya-san isn’t too difficult. But dragging your crap up and onto the cable car that sits at a forty-five degree angle…then dragging it up the narrow steps inside the cable car as you search for an empty seat (negotiating all the other big bulky suitcases in your way)… then off the cable car and up more stairs to the top cable car station… through and around to your bus platform… and, finally, onto a bus that was designed for Japanese locals and minimalist monks, not big white people (or any other invading color) with big huge suitcases; the endeavor is, in a word, amassiveannoyanceforyouandeveryonearoundyou. Avoid it. Trust me, your trip to Koya-san will be so much nicer.

Just ask my thirteen Slovenian ladies.

One more thing…

…and then I’m done giving travel advice (because quite frankly I hate giving unsolicited travel advice). Spend a night in Koya-san. Yes, you can do a day trip from Osaka or even Nara, but it will end up feeling more like a recon mission – and probably without the part where you meet thirteen Slovenian women afterward.

Not only is there more to see in Koya-san than you can reasonably fit into one day, the best times to see the best parts are early morning and in the evening when the crowds of big Westerners with their big wheeled suitcases as well as the loud-mouth, self-absorbed Chinese tourists have made themselves blessedly scarce. This goes for just about anywhere, but considering Koya-san’s relative isolation an overnight stay is virtually imperative – unless you’re the kind who prefers recon missions. Plus staying the night offers the chance to sleep and eat in a temple, giving you a feel for the life of a monk, albeit a fleeting and superficial one.

However! (All right, I lied. One more bit of advice.) If you can – and this goes for traveling to Japan in general – come in the Spring or the Fall. The crowds are lighter (except during Golden Week) and the temps are significantly more agreeable. And while the cherry blossoms are much more spectacular down in Yoshino, the pockets of fall colors splashed around Koya-san make the unique experience of Oku-no-in even better.

Now, this last morsel of wisdom is not advice. It’s a warning. Don’t come to Koya-san to experience the temples. They’re nice, don’t get me wrong. But they alone do not justify making the trek up here. Oku-no-in is what makes this place special. That said, making a day trip out of Koya-san is certainly possible; a few hours exploring Koya-san is sufficient. You’ll just have to share it with the hordes.

So what’s so special about Oku-no-in?

Konishiki against one of his less formidable foes.
Yes, Oku-no-in is Japan’s largest cemetery, with over 200,000 grave markers and counting. (Yes, after more than a thousand years they are still adding graves.) But just because something is the biggest doesn't mean it’s the best. Consider sumo wrestler Konishiki, who never achieved the top rank of Yokozuna.

The history of this place certainly sets it apart from Japan’s eight million other cemeteries. A monk by the name of Kukai established this remote, forested mountain plateau retreat back in 816 as a place to pursue and teach the esoteric wisdom that he picked up while in China on spring break. These teachings have come to define the Shingon sect of Buddhism, one of Japan’s largest.

Over time Kukai’s high-altitude hideaway grew into a bustling barefoot community of monks. In 834 Kukai pulled his last trick (for the time being) and entered into eternal meditation. That’s right, though Kobo Daishi (Kukai’s posthumous name) is entombed here he is not dead yet. He’s resting. Reminds me of a monty python skit.

According to the legend, Kobo Daishi is waiting for Miroku Nyorai, the Buddha of the future, to arrive and wake him up. Not one to waste time, he multi-tasks in his sleepy state, offering salvation to those who seek it. For this reason, this is THE place to spend eternity. Not everyone can end up here, though, so many will visit and leave an eyebrow hair or a fingernail. Better than nothing, I guess.

Exploring Oku-no-in

The traditional entrance to Oku-no-in is the rather understated Ichinohashi Bridge. This footbridge serves as the passageway into the sacred ground of the cemetery that lines the two-kilometer path leading gently through the impressive cedar forest and past those almost quarter-million tombstones. Many of them are centuries old. Many are covered in moss. Even for Japan, it is rare to feel like you are walking through the land as it was a millennium ago. Here, you do. Unless there are big people with big suitcases around.

And like I said earlier, the atmosphere is most serene, most striking in the early morning hours or in the hours before and after nightfall. Rainy, misty conditions take away from the experience not one bit, and may even enhance the enchantment only a cemetery can offer.

If you’re pressed for time, if you aren’t quite up for the extended stroll, or if you’re just plain lazy, you can take a town bus all the way to Oku-no-in-mae bus stop and cut your walk in half. Note though that you’ll be walking through a recently-added section of the cemetery, where all the graves are nice and new and nothing special. You’d still see Oku-no-in, but you’d be missing all the other good stuff. Which would be like, I don’t know, heading straight for the centerfold.

Along the walk from Ichinobashi, among the thousands of long-forgotten departed, are countless side paths and trails. Don’t hesitate. Go check out a few of them. Your chances of getting lost are nil. (If need be, just listen for the loud-mouth tourists.) Like these short diversions, the main path is not completely flat – you can count on a few slopes and short staircases. But these minor matters are more than fully offset by the scenery.

The Main Event

Right outside the boundaries of Oku-no-in proper sits the Gokusho Offering Hall and, just to the side, a row of Jizo, which are representations of the benevolent little deities believed to look after travelers and the souls of young and unborn children. These particular Jizo are called Mizumuke Jizo, which means you get to splash them with water while you pray for your deceased loved ones. Go ahead. It’s fun. Just remember to pretend to be serious.

The Gobyobashi Bridge takes you over into the uber-sacred grounds of Kobo Daishi’s final resting place (until he wakes up and gets back to business). This means crossing over from the land where eating, drinking and taking pictures is allowed into the land where it is not. Mind your manners. To your left (unless you are walking backwards in which case it’s on your right) you’ll have the chance to test both your strength and your fate with the Miroku Stone. This revered rock sits in a cage, surrounded by a crowd of hopefuls taking turns sticking their arms through the hole in the mesh and trying to lift it with one hand – a feat which, if accomplished, gets you lots of great existential prizes.

The Toro-do is the Lantern Hall where, predictably, there are lanterns. Ten thousand of them, actually, give or take. They are said to be eternally lit. Behind the Toro-do is Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum, Gobyo, where the man the legend is said to be meditating until those lanterns go out.

Ten thousand lanterns. Two hundred thousand gravestones. Eternity. All impressive numbers. Sadly, I wouldn’t have time to confirm any of them.

I had a date with thirteen Slovenian women – and their luggage.

Train or Trail? Depends on Who’s Going.

For me, Koya-san isn’t just a place. This 1,200-year-old ode to Buddhism is an experience – and a truly unique one at that. But like all unique experiences, as it is for travel itself, how you get there can make a huge difference in what you take away.

If I ever go back to Koya-san, I want to hike up again.

That, of course, will probably depend on the company I am with.

Nothing against my Slovenian girlfriends, but I think I’ll give Amos a call first.