Sometimes I write poetry. Sometimes I like it. Here's one I found looking for something else. I've been reading Basho. Can't you tell? That's his traveling gear, or close to it, above.
As of October 11, 2022, the get-it-on-arrival tourist visa is once more available to most foreigners who can show proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test. No more tour guides. Caps are lifted. Free-range tourism is now on the agenda.
During the nearly three years that Japan has been effectively closed due to COVID, Japan has not been standing still.
Renovations continue apace and expand. Think you know Harajuku? Not any more. Takanawa Gateway is an entirely new station on the Yamanote Line. You won't recognize Shibuya, though it may be easier to find your way around. There's a new and very nice museum (we all know I like museums) in Yoyogi Park. Japan didn't stop; it barely slowed down: it just went to work moving forward and incidentally getting ready for all of you to come back.
The availability of Mexican, other interesting foreign and even vegan/vegetarian food has exploded. While Indian is always your friend, with Italian coming in second, there is so much more available now, and it's not always in Student-Land or Gaijin Ghettos! It's even in the grocery store, and more culinary variety is available every day.
Shopping? Of course there is shopping! It's a national sport! Wonderful existing boutiques are spreading out new and exiting wares. New stores are opening! New products abound. New methods of high-tech marketing and purchasing are everywhere. Fashion? Heck, yeah.
And here are some kaki -- persimmons -- almost ripe, coming to my neighborhood grocery soon!
Normal has changed. Many things are not like you remember them. Renovations are everywhere! Buildings people remember have been replaced with new and modern or meticulous restorations. There are all kinds of new signs designed -- sometimes hilariously -- to make sense of things for gaijin. Paths that were closed are now open. There's a new self-guided tour system available. That must have taken forever to design and implement: press a button and it speaks. With a QR code and an app (of course) it will do it in your language. QR codes and apps are everywhere, for everything.
Because of COVID, Japan has largely replaced its cash-only-everything with on-line alternatives in a concerted move away from Filthy Lucre. I always get my train tickets on line now; I get a discount that way. Machines that take your money (or card) and give you change abound -- even my dentist has one.
No, you can't yet stay on Temple grounds. Many services remain closed to the public. Transportation is rocky, unless you have a private car or come with a group of friends. I end up running -- not my forte, in dress shoes -- for ceremonies and buses, because cabs are simply extremely expensive. I can't wander; I try hard to grab photos but am not always successful.
Temple schedules have been adjusted and made uniform across Japan -- this is something that I don't think will change, but I expect will increase, though I have no way of knowing. Yesterday, it was the second Sunday, and now all Temples hold their Oko (ceremonies of appreciation, with lecture) on that day. That's just one example. The Hoando was as full as they're letting it get -- so nice. I went into the Miedo for the first time in a very long time, and was extremely happy to be there.
The mountain hid all weekend; it mostly rained. I was fortunate to get even a glimpse!
Things will be changing again, and my personal pilgrimages will change, too. I'll just have to see what happens. I don't always find things out in advance. I may end up having to rent cars (I did get that license for a reason) and coming less often to avoid the stress of running for busses and being able to afford the trips. I don't know. But I'm going to find out. And I'm going to make it work.
Temperature checks, hand hygiene, social distancing and masks will remain the norm. Be grateful you can come and suck it up.
I am grateful you can come, too.