Space Pen: Lost

After the relatively easy day, traveling with a fun group and having entertaining conversations, there were only four of us at the Japan Rail (JR) station that morning. Instead of walking, we caught the rail to Choden station at from there walked to Temple 18. Though it wasn’t rush hour (as I understand it, we were a little late), and school was out, the train was full but not crowded at all. Bikes outside the JR station The parking lot is small (maybe enough room for a couple cars), but that doesn’t bother anyone as the majority of the folks seem to walk or bike. Given how crowded the train was with students, though, I was a little confused that everyone was telling me there was a school break.

The students that were on the train were, for the most part, on their way to clubs or extracurriculars. They still wear their uniforms, which prompted my father to make the inevitable Sailor Moon comments. But here I was able to flaunt my knowledge and trump him in JapanLore (Natural 20!) because I knew that their uniforms change based on school, season and occasion. Much like my first high school, they have regular and dress uniforms. That said, unlike Canadian Academies (and apparently like my old school is now), they don’t get options in the uniforms.

Of course, this doesn’t stop the girls, and it was mostly girls. They were just like any high school student I’ve ever met. They joked and teased each other, rolled up their skirt waistbands so the hem was above the knee, crammed in last second homework, etc etc. Some of them slept, but for the most part, it was kids going to school.

The only odd thing about the train ride was that at the the transfer hub, they took off the last two cars, in order to make things more efficient. I demanded this be explained, and apparently they’ve been doing train studies in Japan since forever, and know where each train rider is at all times, within a reasonable error rate. This explained why the train was still crowded, even though there were fewer riders. They had less cars in the ‘off’ season! The entire system is a finely tuned … machine.

From the station, the hike to Temple 18 was murderous. It was almost 90 degrees on some of the ugliest stretches of road I’d seen yet on Japan. The landscape was dull and boring, the architecture was uninteresting and really I could have been anywhere. When we finally got to some shade, the track was muddy and Boone got his feet wet. Then we had an uphill that was pure pain and made Dad miserable. Oddly, I was feeling much better than I had at Temple 12, but really that wasn’t saying all that much.

Temple 18 used to be off limits to women, until Kobo-Daishi came with his mother (who I think was a nun at that point). He sat outside and prayed for a very long time, possibly did some special spell or chant, and then suddenly women were allowed. The translations for some of the histories were a bit rough, so you got to make up your own reasoning for a lot of the Temples. Now that women were allowed in, the Temple became known as The Mountain of Gratitude to Parents. Boone and I told Dad ‘Thank you’ a lot as we walked back down.

As hard as the hike up had been, going down was worse. My knee had held up pretty well on the flat ground, but it was a return to stabbing pain in the outside of my kneecap with every step. I ended up walking backwards down parts of the hill to take the pressure off my knee, which everyone found amusing and worrying. Still, all our spirits were high when we hit the flat ground and starting cruising along again through the town.

Temple 19 was one I had mistaken for the one with a bunch of crutches in the yard. The logic was that at this one temple, people were magically healed of walking injuries, so they’d leave their crutches and stuff. Instead, this is the temple where I realized I’d lost my Space Pen. I even dumped my bag out to try and find it, but alas, it was lost in Japan. For the first time since my arrival, I swore. As soon as I had, I started to laugh at myself, whipped out my backup ballpoint pent and returned to my notes.

We all decided a break was in order, and Dad taped up Boone’s feet while I wrote. The poor boy’s feet had started to swell up, he had bugbites and blisters and he was overheated and tired. I was trying hard to keep hydrated and by lunch I’d downed over two liters. We had 10km let to get to the hotel, but everyone was so grouchy and at some level of miserable. Too hot, too sore, too tired. I could pound out the miles on flat ground, so long as I was staying hydrated, but Boone the Mountain King was dying. He’s just not build for this heat, as his British Isles genetics have dominance over his fair complexion. In short: Boone’s Whitey McWhiteStein. At least I’ve got some of the Mediterranean in me.

The last 10km were a slaughter. The map said it was 10k, and the signs said it was 10k, but after an hour of hiking, the signs got to 7km left and stayed there for another hour. I knew that I could run a 5k in 30 minutes, and walk it in an hour. That meant that after the two hours, we should have been a lot closer than ‘7’. And yet. We had to stop to buy breakfast and dinner, since the hotel had no kitchen, was just one more damn thing going on. As the weather hit 32C and we stopped for the nth time to breathe, I staged a rebellion. Give me a bus, or give me death. My knee was extra painful, Boone had turned taciturn in his flip-flops, and Dad was grumpy, loathe though he was to admit this.

The hotel was small, lacking a kitchen, but they had a huge eating area and a small sitting room. The bathing room was decent sized, and as I was the only woman in the joint (again), I went last and got it all to myself. At dinner, Boone and I geeked out and talked about RPGs while we ate ramen and other convenience store crap food. We watched TV for the first time in Japan, since our brains were too awake and we were physically tired and uninspired. The show was a political soap drama with a fellow who looked like Robert Downey Jr. and a man who was faking his own death (there were also newspaper reporters, long lost siblings and other regular soap crazy stuff). Then we watched a kids sports competition show with a game that was a cross between badminton, football with a paper airplane and cosplay.

I did not make that up.


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