By Deborah Howell

Day 3, Japan. You’re probably wondering when you’re gong to see some photos of the Japanese countryside and not just the inside of a bat cave. Well, today is that day.

PHOTOS: Deborah Howell’s Japan Journey: Volcanos and Black Eggs, Japan’s Wonders

This photo gallery will take you through the southwest area of Japan, about 150 kilometers from Tokyo, near Hakone.  You’ll see ancient shrines where you throw a coin into a well, bow two times, clap two times, then bow once more. I clapped too quietly, so as not to disturb the gods of fishing and prosperity. “You must clap louder, for them to hear you,” advised my friend Hiroko.  So I got a re-do, and clapped as loud as I could. I don’t know if the gods heard me or not, but it did feel good to clap with conviction, in any case.

You’ll also see a gaseous volcano–so gassy that when the chickens lay their eggs, the shells become black. We had to try them–and they did taste a bit different than their white and brown cousins–a bit richer and totally delicious.

You’ll see a photo of the ancient Tokaido Road, built over 600 years, leading from Tokyo and Kyoto.  There are various checkpoints along the way to make sure you’re not carrying guns or women, so watch yourself.  Ok, so that doesn’t happen any more, but that was the custom back in the day.

You’ll  also see a couple of shots of Mt. Fuji when she drops her cloak of cloud to let us he a peek.  We chased her around the back streets of Hakone, rushing to get to a vista where she wasn’t enshrouded by cloud and mist, and were so happy to say that we’ve now seen this glorious goddess with our own eyes.  Since she is the holiest of mountains, in ancient times women were not allowed to climb her. I’m not exactly sure why this was the case, but the reason was spiritual in nature and observed until recent times.  Personally, I’m delighted to say that today girls and women are welcome to climb and walk and play anywhere on the goddess.

The towering Japanese cedar trees stud the green mountains with their majesty and their needles make for soft walking in the damp woods.  The air is fresh, clean and fragrant with that slightly spicy pine aroma that makes you feel so alive and so happy. The scenery is a cornucopia of deep and mellow greens beneath a skyscape of swirling clouds and a blending of blues.

You’ll see photos of koi ponds, gift shops, pretty packaged goods, and shots of unspeakably beautiful food that tastes as good as it looks.  I feel like every meal is an Advent calendar where we get to open all the little doors at once and taste what’s behind them.  Christmas every day, here in the land of Buddah.   :).


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