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Saturday, June 19, 2004

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Things you must do before leaving Japan


Leaving Japan? Don't. At least not until you've experienced some of these must-do things here:

1. See Mount Fuji. Find out what all the fuss is about and take part in the national obsession with Mount Fuji. From murals in public baths to murals in banks, find out why Mount Fuji is one of the most photographed images in Japan. I'm not suggesting you actually climb Mount Fuji, as the climbing season is short and many people are disappointed with the less than pristine environment on the mountain, but at least take home a photo that shows you took part in the fuss and visited this highly respected mountain.

2. Visit Todaiji Temple in Nara. Todaiji, with is giant "Daibutsu" Buddha sitting inside the largest wooden structure in Japan, is my favorite, but any of the main temples in nearby Kyoto are just as impressive. See Kyoto's historical treasures that have provided the foundation for Japan, but limit your time to just a few and enjoy them rather than getting "templed out."

3. See a live sumo tournament. Sumo, Japan's national sport and once the most popular, is as entertaining as it is baffling, much like American football is to outsiders. But the tradition is deep and you won't go away disappointed.

4. Take part in traditional culture. Make "mochi," carry a "mikoshi," wear a loincloth at a local festival or take part in a tea ceremony or ikebana. Wear the traditional clothes and seek a deeper understanding. You'll experience a leap in cultural understanding as well as a sense of belonging and responsibility to the group.

5. Learn how to make sashimi. Learn how to make the most famous and traditional food in Japan by learning "sanmai oroshi," a simple method of cutting raw fish flesh into three parts for sashimi. All you need is a knife. Take pride in doing something so simple you never would have thought of it yourself.

6. Ride the bullet train up and down the country and live like the Japanese do -- by the clock. Get everywhere on time, and don't have a minute's delay in your day's activities. Awe yourself with Japan's efficiency .

7. Drive Japan. Japan becomes a much bigger country by car. Experience for yourself the roadways that represent modern mobility and individualism to the Japanese. Witness the mountains, the cities and the smog all at once. Drive around the island of Kyushu, where you can see scenery that you've only seen before on old Japanese teacups and vases and wondered why it looked more like China than Japan. These classic Kyushu scenes, with high, knobby mountains, create scenery dramatically different from the rest of Japan.

8. Stay in a love hotel. Get in touch with the sexual side of Japan by staying in one of the ubiquitous love hotels with your spouse, lover or partner. Completely legal, love hotels provide cheap, safe and clean accommodations while offering the option of checking in and out anonymously. Everyone does it, and no one is shy about it. Love hotels, with their flickering lights and pastel colors, are so chintzy they're cool.

9. Do the Shikoku pilgrimage. Get in touch with the spiritual side of Japan by visiting the sacred Buddhist temples around Shikoku island. Even just a day or two of visiting any of the temples will give you insight into the passions of older Japanese and their insistence on doing something significant while having fun. Walk a portion of the pilgrimage and experience the unmatched kindness of Shikoku locals.

10. Visit the Inland Sea. Understand the roots of Japan by experiencing the bucolic old Japan with its fishing villages and self-sufficient lifestyle that encouraged a work-together attitude. These communities are some of the few places in Japan where people aren't rushed, overworked and stressed out.

Did I miss one of your top 10? E-mail me at amychavez2000@yahoo.com


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