Tsuyoshi-san took us to say good-bye to his parents, and then we were off to the Futarasan Shrine, just over an hour away. We went through beautiful countryside, with kitchen gardens and rice paddies in every empty city lot, and rice paddies and covered strawberry patches in the outskirts. The foothills were sprinkled with scarlet Japanese maple (momiji) and other fall colors. We passed the university where Tsuyoshi-san is somehow involved with a project to find gravity waves. He makes, I think, membranes able to withstand super cooling. They will shoot laser beams between very flat mirrors 3 km apart, and a gravity wave will perturb them.
Futarasan is in a complex of buildings where the Shogun used to have a summer vacation home. It is a harmonious collection of Shinto buildings, each lavishly decorated with carvings and painted wood. Yes, it's a World Heritage site, but it is not a museum. Most of the people who crowded the area (seemed like about 5,000 of them) went as pilgrims as well as tourists. You could buy good luck charms, light candles, get lectures by monks, be blessed by paper pom-poms, wash your hands, tie paper prayers to trees or wooden ones to special stands, and generally act pretty much like you might act in a Catholic cathedral. We climbed stairs, took pictures, climbed other stairs, looked at ceilings, and were delighted.
We got a picnic lunch at a 7-11 and drove up a hideously winding road, the Irohazaka, to a lovely lake ringed by volcanoes, a snow-capped peak, hot springs hotels, and a shrine with real live monkeys. We didn't see the monkeys up close, but there they were across the road and up the mountainside, chattering at each other. Wow!
During all this, there was considerable behind-the-scenes concern on our behalf. How would we negotiate a Tokyo train station when it was time for us to go to our next destination? Phone calls flew thick and fast, while Camilla and I blithely gawked at the amazing sights out our window.
Finally, Tsuyoshi plonked us on the fast train to Tokyo, and when we got off, a friend of a friend of a friend was there to meet us. Terri had taken her evening off to usher us down, around, through, around, down, and around to catch the subway to the Andon Ryokan in a rather seedy part of Tokyo. It took us some time to find it, and by then we had asked Terri to dinner. That took some time to find as well, and we feel we have a new friend. Finally, a hot tub and then bed.
Word of the day: ryokan: guesthouse