For Golden Week (actually from 4/28 to 5/9), my mum and sister came to Japan to visit me and have an epic Japan adventure. It was their first time here and, despite some trouble in the form of a food-borne illness striking my poor mother and making her sick for three-ish days, it was amazing. We did a lot, saw many things, and ate a ridiculous amount of delicious Italian food because the aforementioned mother was leery of Japanese food after getting sick. The blog write-up is going to be both long and image-heavy, so let’s just get this thing going with part the first: Matsuyama!
As I said, they arrived at Kansai International on 4/28 in the late afternoon. Because they do not speak any Japanese and had never been to Asia, I took the train to meet them and then immediately turn around and bring them back here to my apartment. This was, in hindsight, kind of a stupid plan on our parts because they were exhausted after their 11 and a half hour flight, I was tired from six hours in transit to get to them, and it was a stressful experience overall getting them here. But we succeeded, my living room was set up with futons, and all was more or less well.
On Friday, their first real day in Japan, we just sort of hung out in the city: checked out the shopping arcades, met some friends of mine for dinner, and did karaoke because they had to experience it. It was sort of low-key after all the crazy traveling and we left the real sight-seeing stuff for Saturday, when we went to Matsuyama Castle, Dogo (noteworthy for having the oldest onsen in Japan, which also happens to be the inspiration for the onsen in Spirited Away), and Ishiteji (石手寺), which is the weirdest temple I have ever been to. It’s actually noted as being possibly the weirdest temple in Japan, and is part of Shikoku’s 88 temple pilgrimage, though it isn’t famous among foreigners.
Matsuyama Castle (松山城) is actually pretty awesome. It’s one of the 12 Japanese castles that still counts as original (others, like Osaka Castle, are straight-up reconstructions) and you can definitely tell when you’re cautiously climbing up and down the scarily steep, narrow stairs. Incidentally, three of the other 12 original castles are also on Shikoku because Shikoku is super inaka and the brunt of the WWII bombings, among other destructive movements, were elsewhere. Matsuyama Castle is lovely – you can see it from a huge portion of the city because it’s on the top of a small mountain in the middle of downtown, you get there by going up either a chairlift or a ropeway tram thing (the chairlift is better, fyi), and the view, as you can see from the above photo, is fantastic. My sister is afraid of heights and was kind of freaked out climbing to the top, but it was so worth it.
I don’t have any photos from Dogo, because it was nothing I hadn’t seen before, so I’m just going to skip ahead to Ishiteji, which is awesome. My sister and I actually went back on Sunday, when our mother was lying in my apartment ill, because it’s that great.
I tried to find information on this place, because it’s so weird, but the best I could come up with is that it dates from the 8th century, though most of the main buildings are Kamakura, and it’s inexplicably bizarre. My sister and I dubbed it Creepy Temple because, seriously, it is. The front part, which is the part actually in proper use, is pretty normal. Pagodas and incense and a temple bell and all the normal stuff you find when you visit Buddhist temples, really.
Then you go around the back of one of the temple buildings and find… a cave.
The cave, which is long, dark and filled with tons of wooden statues, hanging beads, and creepy freaking wall paintings, is the path to a mandala. This isn’t something we knew when we started, but rather what I figured out from the map of the complex I looked at outside after we’d been through to the mandala and back. It’s also not something I would have figured out on my own because I wouldn’t have known the mandala was a mandala had an old Japanese lady not told us to go up a path across the road from the cave’s exit, to see it.
The mandala was… weird. I know I’m overusing that word, but there’s really nothing else to be said. The whole area feels really unsettling because it’s overgrown and not being taken care of. There are rusted, decaying statues (of Hindu gods, like Shiva) and it’s super quiet and just seems like a forgotten about, neglected place.
Then you get to the mandala itself. It’s a perfectly spherical bronze building and, inside, there are a few statues and paintings, and a single flight of stairs going up. At the top of the stairs, you find yourself in the center of one of the most unsettling rooms I have ever been in: rows of wooden statues staring at you from all sides. Mixed in with the statues are random velvet benches (why?), but it’s all behind a fence, so you can’t get to them. Everything was dusty and looked like no one had been up there in ages, though there’s a sound system in the center console thing and the power was turned on. So clearly it’s used for something.
Then you look up and find yourself staring at the mandala:
Despite the beauty of the stuff hanging from the ceiling, we left pretty quickly because the whole feel of the place was making the hairs on the back of our necks rise up a little. Most of the statues had angry or anguished expressions, it was dead silent, and you just get a little weirded out after a while with hundreds of eyes trained on you, wooden or not.
The next day, though, when my sister and I were leaving, I had to get this picture, just because. Me and this dude are bros, man.
We also wandered through a massive old cemetery for a while, which was very pretty and quiet, but went on forever. Seriously, the graves just kept going on up the hill, way farther than we were willing to walk. That place just kept going, I swear. It was cool, though. We really enjoyed it. So I will end this post with one last picture, of the aforementioned cemetery. It might sound a bit morbid, but honestly it was a lovely way to spend part of our holiday.