My recent trip to Japan included a four page itinerary. There were 17 people in our group -six Tribute Center docents, three Rotarians, two Mount Sinai doctors, three Mount Sinai medical students, and 3 translators. Our fearless and super organized leader did a tremendous job of keeping us on time and on task. The four page itinerary included logistics meaning what we were doing each day, mode of transportation and what kind of attire was appropriate – casual, business casual, business or formal. Formal didn’t mean evening wear. It really meant suits for the men and our firefighter docent needed to wear his uniform.
Our last two days of our twelve day trip were unscheduled. In ten days, we attended 6 Rotary Club functions, visited 2 Mental Health Clinics, 1 School for the Deaf, 1 High school, a Memorial Rose Garden, the Sakado Crane Memorial, 1 Temporary Housing site, 2 Shrines, and 2 Temples. We had formal meet and greets with the Mayor of Koriyama, the Minister of Reconstruction, and the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs. We listened to 3-11 stories and told our 9-11 stories. We exchanged gifts and were treated royally. We had “tea” in some amazing places and we ate a lot of raw fish and rice. We traveled as far east as Kesennuma, Miyagi and as far west as Nara. The best I can estimate we traveled over 1000 miles. Our modes of transportation were the bullet train, the regular train, cabs, subway and a chartered bus. Oh and we “dragged” our luggage wherever we went.
We had private guided tours of:
- Chusonji Temple, first national Treasure of Japan http://www.chusonji.or.jp/en/precincts/konjikido.html
- Kaiseizan Shrine
- Kasuga Shrine http://en.japantravel.com/view/the-stone-lanterns-of-kasuga-shrine
- Todaiji Temple http://www.taleofgenji.org/todaiji.html
I stood at the foot of the giant Buddha in Todaji Temple. I had tea in the room only special guests and the emperor visit at Kasuga Shrine. I learned that a shrine is Shinto and a temple is Buddhist. I loved seeing Japan and learning new things but my favorite thing was interacting with the people. If you asked me my favorite experiences:
- Doing “ballet arms” with a teenager who wants to be a ballerina when she is older.
- Having a woman tell me she had traveled two hours to come to the mental health clinic seminar because she meet me last year and wanted to see me again.
- Traveling with the most compassionate, selfless group of people who made me laugh, cry and always had my back.
- An amazing dinner conversation with a Shinto priest, classical pianist, Japanese business man and Jewish doctor that started with me asking “I learned today that every 20 years the shrine is taken down and rebuilt. Can you explain that to me?” and lead to me explaining what grace is?
You can’t make this stuff up. I am so blessed.