Saturday, May 28, 2016

osaka's giant wheel

We stayed in Universal City while in Osaka. Every night from our hotel room, we could see perfectly this ferris wheel light up by the city aquarium. I am a sucker for these kind of things. I've been on the London Eye, Seattle's wheel, Bangkok's wheel and way too many gondolas to recount on at least three different continents. Despite the fact that we were exhausted from our day jaunt to Kyoto and despite the fact we had a 4am wake up call to look forward to the next day so we could catch out flight home, we caught the last 8pm ferry over to the wheel from Universal City. 

The ferry ride itself wasn't beautiful. Osaka is a very industrial city. Also: I am a harsh critic. After all, I grew up in the Puget Sound and spent four years of my life commuting on ferries that have views of the Cascade Mountains, the Olympic Mountains, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Baker and many beautiful islands in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Sound. The ferry ride in Osaka took us past a Mitsubishi factory, a huge naval boat and busy ports with even busier cranes.  

Still, it was fun. 

We got to the ferris wheel right before the sun completely set. We ascended into the sky as it turned shades of pink, purple and orange. We crept higher and higher as all the lights of Osaka illuminated the dark city beneath us. It was a truly beautiful time to be so high up in the sky. Even better, the ferris wheel lights up at night in bright, fun colors and images. It was so wonderful to sit on a bench and just watch it before we caught the 9:30 ferry back over to Universal City. 

We sat there, thinking: man, we are going to be exhausted come Monday after four day of adventuring in Japan. We had taken half a dozen trains, got lost in the Japanese countryside, made dreams come true at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, tested out a real ramen house and rode so many horrifying and fun roller coasters. Not to mention dealing with the whole airport and flying to another country thing. But then we also thought: times like these are more than worth the exhaustion that comes later.

Still, after four years of this wonky lifestyle, we are surprised that we can say: oh, we just went to Japan for the weekend. Now that things have actually started to settle down at home and at work, we are set on making this-- a weekend jaunt to another country to have ridiculous amounts of fun-- happen at least twice a year. 

Because even though we were both physically tired, mentally we felt fresher than ever. 

Our goal for the upcoming years is to take time off like this in between each semester quarter, meaning the transitional time between first and second quarter and between third and fourth quarter. We are both hard workers, and we are both uber responsible. Sometimes so much so it is a detriment. We both realized that life can and will continue on without us at work, and that our absences were barely felt. We deserve to find time to be adventurers and prioritize fun above all else, and we deserve it more than just during our summer and winter breaks. Hopefully that means traditional November and April weekend hops around Asia, or whatever continent we happen to move to in the next few years!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

climbing the steps of Lion's Head

Earlier this year, my friend and I set out on a scoot adventure trying to find this beautiful mountainside temple on Lion's Head Mountain. I had read about it in Lonely Planet and desperately wanted to see it in person. In the end, we stumbled upon it entirely by accident-- after all, the only location indicator Lonely Planet gave was that it is in some foothill. Not exactly helpful. We just kept scooting and scooting higher up into the mountains. I was so excited when we finally did find it! We had come to a stop sign, and randomly decided to turn right. A little around the bend in the road was the temple! We explored one main temple and saw one more in close proximity. I had thought that was it.

I was wrong.

I went back to Lion's Head Mountain last weekend with the husband and some friends. We discovered three separate temples all carved into the mountainside and greenery before finally turning around. Staircases built into the mountainside and forest led us from one temple to another. All boasted beautiful mountainside scenery. After the third temple, we spied some more stairs leading around a bend higher up into the mountains. We decided to turn around, however, because my husband's knees don't like going down stairs and rain clouds were fast approaching.

Now I am so curious: where do those stairs lead? What other goodies are hiding on Lion's Head?

Taiwan certainly does some things right. Near the top of my list are temples. They are ornate, colorful, and a little whimsical. I cannot wait to trek up as many stairs as possible here, hopefully seeing even more beauty tucked into the rugged hillsides of Lion's Head.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

fushimi inari shrine

While in Japan, we took a day trip from Osaka to Kyoto to visit the Fushimi Inari Shrine. Truthfully, I didn't know very much about the shrine before our visit. I had seen a picture of it, however, and knew I wanted to stroll through those tall, red, ornate gates myself. 

Kyoto is only an hour away from Osaka by train, so we thought: why the heck not?! 

On Saturday morning, our last full day in Japan, we left Osaka mid morning. On a piece of paper we scrolled the names of the three stations we would need to transfer at along with train numbers. Just a little over an hour after we left Osaka, we made it to the Fushimi Inari Station.  

We spent half a day at the shrine and the nearby small town. 

We noticed right away that the shrine was nothing like the Buddhist ones we have become so familiar with in Taiwan. That's because, as it turns out, this is a Shinto shrine. Rather than dragons, dogs and foxes were everywhere! I thought it was so cool and different! 

The Fushimi Inari Shrine is Japan's most popular Inari shrine. The Inari shrines are dedicated to Inari, the god of rice. One easy feature to recognize an Inari shrine by is the presence of foxes. The foxes are said to be the messengers of Inari. You will notice in the pictures that the foxes have items in their mouths like rice or scrolls. 

The shrine is built on Mount Inari, a sacred place. The main shrine is at the bottom of the hill and then a trail leads up to the top of the mountain. The trail is lined with thousands of torii, the red, tall, ornate gates I was so excited to see in person. Businesses can purchase small or large torii for a pretty penny. The basic idea is that Inari is the god of plenty-- plenty or rice or money or success. I wish we could read Japanese so we could understand what was written on the torii we walked through. 

Because we went on a Saturday, the shrine and mountain were pretty busy. Still, we didn't mind. There was something so peaceful about this place, and I know we will be back. Plus, we had a lot of fun wandering the day market, eating at a traditional ramen house and popping by a Japanese cat cafe, all of which I will tell you about soon!