Gray-blue sea surrounds us now that Japan has faded off the ship’s stern. We’re alone, walking the windy port-side deck while awaiting the first glimpse of South Korea. A uniformed sailor appears in the windowed passageway above us. His stance — legs wide, hands clasped, eyes locked on us through sunglasses — signals we’re a bit too close to the lifeboats.
We’re about to enter a new country from the sea, which I love, because it offers a slow, anticipatory view of the travels ahead. I’m also fresh off what may have been the best nap of my adult life, lulled to sleep by calm seas and lapping waves, while resting on a sunlight-warmed lounging mat.
Once again, Japan doesn’t disappoint the budget traveler.
Thanks to a broken gondola that doubled our hiking time (and distance!), we were given a beautiful sunset as the ocean hit high tide and surrounded the Itsukushima Floating Torii Gate.
The oft-photographed gate is just off Miyajima Island in Japan. The island is accessible by ferry after about an hour’s train ride southwest of Hiroshima, and it’s a must-do trip if you’re in the Hiroshima area. The island offers steep hikes to stunning mountain views, with a series of fantastic temples and shrines along the way — including maybe my favorite temple in Japan.
One of the coolest experiences we’ve had so far was taking a meditation class and staying overnight at the Shunkoin Temple, a Zen Buddhist temple in the hills of Kyoto. We wanted a break from the nonstop touring of the city’s temples and shrines (more on that later ) to learn more about the history and beliefs behind them.
The deputy head priest, Takafumi Kawakami, offers meditation classes and opened the temple to overnight stays as a way to introduce Zen meditation to anyone who’s curious. He does a great job bridging the gap between cultures for us Westerners, in part because he lived in the U.S. for a few years and speaks fluent English.