Japan Cruise Part 2: Wakayama

For Part I of the Japan Cruise, click here

Tuesday

After a full day at sea, unable to escape the constant rocking and rolling of the ground beneath my feet, I was ready to get off the boat and explore Japan!

The first port of the cruise was Wakayama, a relatively small city in southern Japan.

We were pleasantly surprised to be greeted by clear blue skies, a spotless city, and polite people. This would be quite the welcome departure from China.

Our Western tour group of Americans, Germans, French, Italians, and Latin Americans packed onto a bus with a lovely little Japanese lady who had the unfortunate tendency to ramble. But that was OK since the sun was shining and we were not being spit on by fellow passengers. This is not China. 

The first stop of the excursion was the Kimii-dera Temple, a Buddhist temple accessible only by climbing 231 stone steps straight up the mountain. You must also first cross some train tracks, funny danger signs, souvenir and ice cream shops.

As we ascended the stone steps, we stopped to marvel at several little shrines and Buddha statues along the way. Japanese architecture and calligraphy are very beautiful and distinct.

We  finally made it to the top where we found ourselves over looking Wakanoura Bay from the base of the temple. There were many different things to explore such as various Buddha shrines, cleansing water basins to rid your body of impurities, and collections of old lanterns.

People left gifts such as soft drinks, candles, and even shoes at the base of the statues.

They even knit little red caps and bibs for the baby statues considered to be the deity Jizo, protector of travelers and infants. We saw this phenomenon all over Japan.

O-mikuji are pieces of paper on which people write their fortune and were tied in various places for good luck. I said my own prayers after ringing the large gong in the temple with a massive rope dangling from the ceiling.

With each ring you say a prayer and in my excitement I rang the gong a few too many times. Hopefully I said enough prayers to compensate.


We began exploring a bit more and discovered an overgrown path of stone steps reaching farther up the mountainside. Of course we were curious and started to climb up in search of the end of the path. We found a third level of the temple site with another smaller and decrepit temple. It was well worth the hike.

Finally we made our way back down to the main level and entered the building housing one of the largest Buddha statues in Japan. We barely glanced at the Buddha before making our way to the roof top for the view.

It really was a beautiful and warm day. We could not have asked for a better excursion!

After the Kimii-dera Temple, the tour took us to Wakayama Castle in the heart of the city. Peter was stoked to see samurai warriors at the tour office and just had to get a photo with these ancient warriors. Samurai warriors were known for their seemingly modern flip flops and sandals.

Our tour guide led us down a beautiful path before hiking up to the castle. We passed a calm pond lush with stunning greenery and into a square interior bridge. In Japan it is customary to remove your shoes before entering any interior space. So we removed our sneakers, gingerly maneuvering the slanted wooden panels and across the bridge.

After ascending a stone pathway, we approached the magnificent castle. The architecture was so beautiful and quintessentially Japanese.

We were able to ascend the castle for a delicious panoramic view of Wakayama followed by some karate chopping on the ground.

After the tour we slowly meandered down and away from the castle and ambled around a local park. This park had those lovely large bonsai looking trees and large stones reminiscent of a Japanese rock garden. However the biggest surprise of the day was a pair of Shetland ponies being walked around the park. We petted the ponies, blissfully ignorant of why they would be there in the first place.

Peter could have cared less about the ponies though, because he became a samurai warrior!!! Look at this face of excitement.

This was literally a dream come true for him which was the only reason why I allowed this to make us late for the bus. Yes we are the crazy Americans dressing like kids and never on time. We are also warriors!

The third and final stop of the tour was the Wakayama Marina City for some lunch and fish dismemberment. Yes you heard me correctly. It said so in the brochure!

First the 7 of us and our friends crowded into a small picnic table for some BBQ. We cooked chicken, squid, squash, corn, scallops, carrots, etc. on our own little grill in the middle of the table. This Korean BBQ-like meal was very interesting to say to the least. While cooking our own food with smoke billowing in my face seems fun I would rather have somebody else cook it for me. However the scallops were pretty darn tasty (it was the slice of butter).

As for the fish dismemberment, we were lucky enough to witness a very fast-talking guy slice up a massive tuna all the while explaining the process in detail… in Japenese… to all the Chinese and Americans in the place. Ok good, got it.

Then we went to Monte Carlo.

Yes Marina City has its very own Renaissance Town for a very special price! We passed. And we didn’t even have any Japanese Yen for some ice cream! Oh well.

Overall we had a fantastic day and saw two magnificent sights in Wakayama. It was probably one of our best days on the cruise. But we had to return to the ship quickly as it would leave Wakayama that evening and arrive in Tokyo the next morning.

Next up… Tokyo.

Shanghai: Jing’an Temple

The day after the Jade Buddha Temple, we continued the theme with a visit to Jing’an Temple down on West Nanjing Road. The Temple is conveniently located at (you guessed it), Jing’an Temple Station! Once we emerged from the station, we were unsure of where to go so Peter asked a guard for directions. Funny enough, he pointed directly above us! Yes, the temple is literally above the metro station exit. How convenient!

Reaching the entrance, we immediately noticed the massive golden lion pillar. The pillar is wonderfully juxtaposed with the modern skyscrapers surrounding the temple.

Upon entering the courtyard, we were greeted with the familiar sight of elaborate fire pits, people in prayer, and grand architecture. This temple is bigger and more elaborate than the Jade Buddha Temple and is currently under construction. However that does not take away from its history and significance.

The first Jing’an Temple was built in 247 AD by Suzhou Creek then was relocated to its current location in 1216. The three main halls surrounding the temple date from 1880 and include magnificent statues of Buddhas (source). Below is the biggest pure jade portrait of Sakyamuni, the first Buddha, in mainland China.

Below the main temple was a vast room under construction complete with a stray cat hiding in the curtains. He was camera shy.

Peter thought the guy in the middle with the cloud coming out of his finger was the coolest. I agree, that’s a serious balancing act.

What I found interesting was how people placed coins around various parts of the temple. The hand carving below was part of a larger carving as you make your way up the main staircase to the temple. As we climbed the stairs, people around us paused to put their coins in strategic places.

People also chucked coins at the structure below, trying to land in any of the tiers for luck. Apparently making the top tier gives you luck for 50 years. Peter almost made it! I definitely missed the first tier. By a long shot.

At the top of the stairs, we were greeted by a massive Buddha that looked to be made out of metal. He towered over visitors in shiny magnificence, offerings of fruit at his feet.

We were so exhausted from stair climbing and exploring that we just had to take a break on elaborately carved chairs. Typical.

While Jing’an Temple was certainly magnificent, I actually preferred the authenticity and remoteness of the Jade Buddha Temple. However, Jing’an Temple is convenient, accessible, and well worth the visit.