Walking up through the many gates of Fushimi Inari, it is hard to imagine when the shrine was first brought to Inari mountain back in 816 A.D., let alone when it was first built in 711 A.D. Tourists and locals alike flock to the site in their multitudes, snapping photos of the picturesque scenery. Particularly during the early section of the way, it is necessary to weave a path through the many selfie-takers as one follows the trail up the mountain. As with any such endeavors, one has to have a knack for timing else risk featuring in many a family photo. But who is there to look at faces when the bold red paint stands out so strikingly against the surrounding forest?
Yoyogi Park is a huge park in the northern part of Shibuya, home of the Meiji Shrine, as well as the location of the first powered aircraft flight in Japan (back when the place was called Yoyogi Army Parade Ground).
After WWII, during the Allied occupation of Japan, the grounds were used by U.S. officers for their military barracks. It was only after the occupation ended and the area was used for the Tokyo Olympics of 1964 that the grounds were turned into today’s park.
In 1920, after the death of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, the Meiji Shrine has been established as people “wished to commemorate their virtues and to venerate them forever” (more info).
People from all over Japan and overseas donated over 10,000 trees and voluntarily planted the forest which people can enjoy today.
Tokyo, now one of the largest and most populated cities in the world, came from a small fishing village which held a strategical position to the water (land, sea and river routes) in the Kantō province.
From 1603 to 1868 is the period in Japan often referred to as the Edo Period, which was marked by continuous growth now that the country had finally unified. Edo was the old name for Tokyo, which came from Edo Shigenaga, a military governor of a large province who built his own castle there, called Edojuku (Edo castle).
Much of the culture and literature flourished in this period, as Japan adopted strict isolationist policies, stabilized its population and ended a period of internal fighting between the various warlords.
The period started with Tokugawa Ieyasu becoming the shogun (military dictator) of Japan and selecting Edo as his headquarter. The strength of his shogunate over the whole country meant that the emperor, located in Kyoto, was effectively powerless.
This period came to an end in 1868 when the pro-emperor army defeated the supporters of the shogunate in the Boshin War. The government had been growing more powerful for a while and events sparked by the forced treaty upon the opening of Japan helped to bring about this change.
Emperor Meiji moved to Edo and started a new period of reforms and innovation for Japan, called the Meiji Period or Meiji Restoration, which led to the current state of Japan after more than 200 years of isolation.
Having left Korea just after Christmas, the move to Japan during the New Year’s holidays is quite a shock with its mix of old and new traditions. The sights and atmosphere made quite an impact and, in retrospect, captured the essence of today’s Japan.
If someone wants to feel a connection to the past, Tokyo holds a large variety of temples and shrines. Buddhist temples around Japan ring their bells 108 times to get rid of the 108 human sins (108 Defilements of Buddhism).
If someone wants to get lost in the numerous temptations of the material world, in the first few weeks of the year, many (if not all) shops, big and small, prepare the popular Fubukuburo (“Lucky/Mystery Bag”). They are usually just plain red bags with only a price tag on (to get an idea). Each shop gives smaller or bigger hints as to what each different type of bag can contain and how much the items could be worth.
With Seoul behind, after a relatively short journey, the little town of Yaro is a refreshing experience of Korean countryside and calmness. Surrounded by rice/onion fields, hills and rivers, I really enjoyed the change of pace. Sometimes visiting manly cities can make one forget that the world isn’t always so hectic.
During a day-off from volunteering for a family in Yaro, I headed to the Haeinsa Temple, just a short bus ride away.
For the first few days in the Lapland, the weather went against all my hopes of seeing either the stars or the northern lights; the sky was completely covered in clouds, day and night.
On the third day, walking back from the center of Inari, I experienced almost a déjà vu of my first adventure here. Again pitch dark and again trying to survive the cold and the passing cars on the side of the road.
It was just 4 o’clock in the afternoon but already as dark as it gets.
Just moments before being rescued (once again) by Jussa’s father, I noticed a light in the sky. At first excited, I quickly realized it must just be a small hole in the clouds, from which a small spot of light was coming through – nothing like the clear sky I was hoping for.
It was just after dinner that the single spot was joined by a multitude of other lights.
Taking this as a sign, I started checking aurora forecasts regularly to keep an eye on the solar wind gauges. (Funny thing about the aurora forecast service: every day, a single guy, in Finland, checks the solar data, the sky and his gut feeling and updates the website with the forecast of the night.)
Dropped off at the nearest bus stop, I headed to the husky camp by foot.
It was just 3.30PM but, in Inari, it was already pitch black, especially because there were no streetlights in that part of the road.
Equipped with my massive backpack and phone/flashlight, I started my 2.5km walk. It was an interesting experience: walking in the middle of the forest, the path only dimly light, snow falling; it was thrilling. The darkness and the trees surrounded me in a chilling embrace, which is how I imagine it would have been before electricity.
While all these thoughts stormed through my head, one of the rare passing cars stopped by and a voice called my name.
It was Jussa, the owner of the sled dog camp, and his family, coming to rescue me.
We had a quick dinner and headed to the camp so that I could get settled.