Osaka has been great. I didn:t know what to expect from meeting my relatives, but was thoroughly happily surprised.
My mom:s cousin has been spoiling me rotten- baths every night, breakfast every morning, dinner every evening. Delicious every time! Classic Japanese food. In contrast to the food in China, I recognize many of the flavors here. It comes from my grandmother, faithfully serving up traditional Japanese food at all important occasions. So while I was truly surprised at many of the Chinese flavours, here in Japan it:s like coming home. Not to mention all the delicious street foods- today I had fresh mochi made in front of my eyes! And 7-11 sells all kinds of sushi fast food- nothing at all like the nasty old hot dogs and weird sandwiches they have in the US.
Last night I met my two little baby cousins, aged 2 and 5. Nina and Aina- two adorable little tornados! During the course of the evening they took every cushion off the couches, tormented the kitty, opened and closed all the doors in the house, rolled around on the floor, rode on the toy tractor and threw the wooden balls from the toy rollercoaster all over the floor. Then we had dessert and they drew pictures. Their parents were great- their mom, Aki, showed me pictures of Aina in her cheerleading outfit, and of the cutest Girl:s Day bento lunch she made with food that looked like the Girl:s Day hina dolls. Their father threw them up in the air as they screamed. It was great, being a part of this little family! My mom:s cousin had made a sushi dinner, with chirashi sushi rice topped with baby squid, and uni on the side. There was vegetable tempura, and for dessert, inside out mochi and green tea ice cream. A beautiful family moment.
Another cool thing- I learned how to spell my name! My grandmother had it written on the back of a picture, and my cousin wrote it again for me. Then I looked it up online and found that the meaning really is something like the ocean at dawn. She said it was a difficult character even for her to write.
Today I went to Nara. Took the train. Love the train. It puts me right to sleep, with the comfy heated seats and rhythmic motion.
Saw a bunch of cool temples- Toddai-ji, the biggest wooden structure in the world, with a huge Buddha inside. Nara National Museum had a bunch of Buddhas and Boddhisatvas inside, demonstrated the path of Buddhism from India through China and finally to Japan, merging and finding a place next to Shintoism. Kaisuga Taisha was a big temple complex located at the base of a hill, in the middle of a forest. By the time I wandered over there it was getting dark, so the crowds of people had gone home, and it was just me and a bunch of greedy deer. They get used to getting deer cookies which are sold everywhere. So the deer come nosing up to you, scaring the children, looking for treats. But it was really nice to be there quite alone. The paths were lined with stone lanterns and Shinto gateways. This was the traditional peaceful, restful Japan that I wanted to see. I wandered around until it got too dark to see, plus it was cold and I was hungry.
Tomorrow I:m leaving this sanctuary and heading out for Kyoto. It:s all hostels from here on out, plus one night on an overnight bus. Gotta have at least one overnight bus experience in Japan to compare with India and China, right? It almost doesn:t seem fair!