martedì 16 gennaio 2018

Japan - a first visit

Me, writing down thoughts on the oldest Zen temple of the island, Tokyo.


It is the 30th of December 2017, after over 20 km of walking under the rain. With heavy bags on our backs and wet like two drops of water into the sea, we arrive at the designated place for our sleep.

After checking in, we just want to get a hot shower, shake and do some stretch, so we rush towards our room.

On our way, a squared full optional vending machine threw at me one of Japan’s most basic lessons in big capital letter: PLEASE, RELAX SLOWLY. Geniuses.

It doesn’t matter what you do, always take time to appreciate what you are doing.

Some days after that, in a Ramen shop, hidden in the restaurant box that was given to me, trying to stay religiously silent, I read this: PLEASE, STOP TALKING AND FOCUS ON TASTE. 

Man, they really are slapping me in the face every time I do something.

As I noticed, they have an amazing appreciation for details and small things. 

Of course, they do not always manage to convey all the concepts they want to. When it comes to english translations, for example, some magic happens. 
If you want to have an idea, go through these descriptions. They are glorious:

I still believe that the phrase "It puts the grated yam and it eats" has a very special meaning that I will never be able to disentangle...

Anyhow, Japan has been a great experience. It was my first time there, and hopefully not the last. My practice has been heavily influenced by tales coming from that home of artists and warriors and I have not been disappointed. Not for a single instant.
Every single day felt like an eternity, given how many things we ended up doing. Just to give you an idea.. We started the day surrounded by the silent chaos of Tokyo city. Few hours later we found ourselves sailing along a huge lake in Hakone to eat some black eggs, slowly cooked in the sulfuric embers of the volcano. After rushing on the top of a mountain in front of mount Fuji, we managed to jump on the last available cable car, ending up bathing in a hot natural spring in the late evening.

We slept in different places almost every night, walking approximately 25 km every day. 
As I have heard from a fellow traveler: "to appreciate your travels you must do it slowly, just get a bike or move on light feet. It's amazing how many things will reveal this approach".

Here is a old man showing how it's done... all the power walking! 

Discovering the beauty on a regular day

Instead of training to maintain my skills and my capacities, I have used any possible moment to improve them in an ever-changing scenario. How? Climbing up into the apartment instead of using the stairs; waiting for the train in a split; sprinting to catch the train before the one displayed; using gravity to slide down all the tubes stations; resting in a squat or trying to hang with the pinkies on the bars of the tube with my bag on my back …And while doing all this: the stares of the people around me, ah! Priceless.

Our itinerary has been pretty simple. Tokyo -> surroundings -> Kyoto surroundings -> Back.

We explored Tokyo as the first thing. We visited many Zen temples and practiced zazen meditation; ate the craziest dishes we could find; infiltrated buildings to see the mega city from the very top; explored all the small, non-turistic alleys with a psychogeography approach and talked in gestures with old travelers and locals.

From there, we met our friends Alex and Sandra

and we ended up into the natural area of Hakone, experiencing sailing on a huge lake, 

observing the huge mount Fuji,


and bathed into the most unique thermal scenario I have ever been into: the Onsen. 

Those, are some almost magical places where Japanese people go, get naked from all problems and clothes to relax in the hot springs. After soaking for a while, they wash themselves with salt and hot water. All this, in an almost surreal atmosphere (I clearly don't have pics of the inside, guess why..).

The night after, we slept in a Ryokan, a traditional accommodation with Onsens inside the room. Amazing place, if you got the chance to try one, do it.

During New Year’s Eve, we followed some people, traditionally dressed up like foxes, and took part into a huge procession where a Lion God (Shi Shi Mai – my new favourite creature) is guided by some servants and bites the head of those who bow to protect them from bad luck and evil spirits. Kids, middle age and old people, beautifully performed.

If you want to save up good money and invest them elsewhere in Japan, you gotta take night busses. A cheap valuable solution to travel everywhere. For the accommodation, I would definitely recommend Airbnb. On the funny side of things, since owners are never there, you become trapped in all sorts of riddles to find the keys of the apartments. 

i.e. “Find the huge grey building. Get into the basement with the code 1909. Open the mailbox by turning the handle 360 degrees on the right, then 40° on the left, then back into the starting position. Get the key. Walk up the stairs, find the red door. Hanging on the handle you will find three lockers, open the middle one with the key you got from the first floor. Get inside the house and make sure to follow the rules written behind the main door. On the table, you will find a tablet. Point it to your face so you can complete the check in process …etc.”

Looking for the air bnb...2 hours in the making

A road in front of our air bnb in tokyo, out to hunt dinner after solving the long riddle
Oh, and make sure you download the google translate app, open the camera and point it to all the kanjis you find here and there – it might save your life (the translation could be shite, but possibly you will be able to orient yourself a bit more).
Once in Kyoto we explored the small hidden city that still lays between the newer walls. Small, narrow roads merge everywhere, recalling the beauty of a forgotten era, that will never come back. Phantom of the past, blend with a more shining and globalized present. 
Here are two photos from an album that I entitled "The old and the new".
The Cola Era..

The new entertainment..

However, if you have the eyes to look around well and the guts to wake up early before the sun comes up or to walk around in absolute darkness, you will discover the real spirit of the island.

We were able to see beautiful gardens under the stars; hearing the sound of an alfa deer shouting his supremacy at 5 cm from our faces; see the sunrise through thick huge bamboo forests; spend time in silence with strangers, finding an incredible sense of connection and ultimately studying monkeys, aquatic creatures and other beasts in their natural environment.

To honor those places, I have written a movement poetry (haiku) that you can observe here:

On our way back to Tokyo we have ridden the dangan ressha (bullet trains) travelling on the Shinkansen lines: crazy fast trains that reach up to 300km/h and literally squeezes you against the seat as you watch the panorama warp around you. What a ride!

Many more things happened but it is enough for now. To conclude here, are just some more things I figured out in the island:

- As it is reported in the book travel with Buddha: Japanese are extremely inclusive, but with some limitations. To put it in a metaphor, they would invite you into their house, while forgetting the chain on the door.

- The ankle dorsiflexion is 10points more thananywhere else. They are just born differently.

The power of genetic manipulation

- If you need anything at any time just look for some seven elevens or familymarts, WIFI, questionable food and smiling that hate their job but would give their life for it.

- It takes around 10 Japanese people to make up for the sound of 1 Italian

Reevaluate the meaning of privacy

- Most people use a white mask to go everywhere. Each one for a different reason: to not infect people if they are sick; to not get infected; to avoid social interaction; to cover their faces not to be watched; to create a physical barrier from the word. I must admit, as most of the things that “can make sense”, it probably was a great tool for earning good money by someone.

- There are more Tori than people. They are everywhere, and if you think you saw the biggest one, wait for it, there is another one even bigger waiting for you at the next corner..

When you thought you saw them all...

And trust me on this...people are ...A LOT.

- It doesn’t matter where you are, you will always find a tourist taking a picture of him/herself with something. It doesn’t even matter what.

- They have a sense of community that makes them similar to ants; it is a macro-organism. They take care of one another, of public spaces; they are loyal and hard workers.

THOUSANDS of people every hour in Kyoto, but I could lick the streets. So clean.

Thanks to my partner for the great adventure. Love you to bits Ari!
Warm Hugs in Cold Days

Why do I care so much to tell you about my travellings?

Well, I believe travelling allow us to get different point of views, explore other perspectives and ultimately challenge ourselves with beautiful experiences that reshape our beings. If there is one thing my mother told me when I was young and that I’ll never forget is: “the best investment you can do with money is to use them to travel”. Spot on.
Never trust those who don’t move and those who don’t travel…

Now back in Italy right in the tornado ready to run this 2018.


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