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Reporter's Notebook: Finding peace in busy Japan

August 26, 2010|By Ashley Breeding, coastlinepilot@latimes.com
  • Laguna Coastline reporter Ashley Breeding seeking peace in Japan.
Laguna Coastline reporter Ashley Breeding seeking peace… (Coastline Pilot )

When I'd think of Japan, I'd picture cherry blossoms, Buddhist pagodas, geisha and what was probably the most delectable sushi on the planet. Likely because these were the images inscribed in my mind from history books and travel guides.

Fascinated for as long as I can remember by what I perceived to be Japanese culture, Tokyo and its neighboring cities remained somewhere at the bottom of my "travel wish-list," below jungles, rainforests and various Natural Wonders of the World.

That is, until my friend moved to Kawagoe to teach English last year and presented me with the opportunity to visit. Suddenly, I found Japan at the top of that list and a fairly expensive plane ticket in my hand (well, e-mail).

I'd initially planned to visit just after the New Year, but because I was partial to skipping through cherry blossoms over licking icicles, I decided to muster some patience and wait until the weather was warmer. I also recruited a travel companion and dear friend, for what would become our co-journey to "find some inner peace" amidst her chaotic new life as an attorney and my long hiatus from yoga practice.

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This concept seemed laughable to me, as my feet turned numb inside my rain-soaked boots and I sipped a piping-hot cappuccino inside Café du Mon, where we've come to seek refuge from the gusty, flip-your-umbrella-inside-out winds and torrential downpours in Kyoto.

Mind you, this is where, half-way through our trip, we've traveled about 400 kilometers by the Shinkansen (bullet train, or "Frisbee train," as we called it because it didn't seem to move that fast) to visit the most beautiful of temples, lavish of gardens and meditate beneath the Momiji (Japanese maple) trees. We figured, "What's another few hundred bucks on the travel bill? This is surely the place to find peace."

I was also hoping to see some cherry blossoms, because the ones in the city had already fallen from their branches and since blown away in an unseasonably early summer.

We had arrived in Kyoto the previous afternoon, after a nearly missed train ride — everything is printed in Katakana symbols and despite being a tourist attraction, few natives speak English — through the scenic countryside that took us past Mt. Fuji just in time to taxi it to the wrong hotel with a similar name, and then hoof it with our luggage 20 blocks to the correct one before we called it a day.

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