The subject of this month's Japan Blog Matsuri is "My Favorite Place in Japan" hosted by Nihon Sun.
My favourite place in Japan... that's not one I have to think about very long, the answer is simple - I have two.
I first visited Nikko Toshogu just over a decade ago. It was a magical experience, and I've gone back likely a dozen times since that first time. I've gone in the fall and seen the stunning fall colour, I've gone in the winter and shivered in the chill drizzly rain, I've gone in the summer and baked in the humid heat, I've gotten a sunburn at the spring festival
and interviewed by a local TV station at the fall festival,
I've lined up with the ojisan with their huge cameras to photograph the shrine lit up at night, I've gone alone and I've taken friends. I love the contrasts of the shrine - the explosion of colour and goldleaf covering almost every surface
contrasting with the natural simplicity and silence of the surrounding cryptomeria forest.
I only have to close my eyes and I can be standing in front of the Yomeimon
or admiring the intricately carven panels running from either side of the gate
or standing in front of the simple grave of Tokugawa Ieyasu - the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate and the deity enshrined at Toshogu
or wandering down the path lined with stone lanterns.
In my mind's eye I can see the carvings of the famous sleeping cat
and the see-no-evil, speak-no-evil, hear-no-evil monkeys
or the climbing dragon
or beautiful irises
Nikko Toshogu is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Shrines and Temples of Nikko. Huge numbers of Japanese and foreign visitors visit every day. My other favourite place in Japan, however, is not on a single tourist map. It is found about a half an hour from the city of Kagoshima in the southern part of the island of Kyushu.
It looks like your average old Japanese home as it sits part-way up a hill overlooking rice paddies and small vegetable patches. The carport is covered in climbing plants, and the garden beyond is overrun with greenery. Squeezing past the car, you pick you way along a path of old weathered stones to an equally old sliding door. The hallway you enter into is dark with age, as is the entire house. Grandfather sits in the main room at the low table, reading the newspaper with a magnifying glass and practising his calligraphy. Grandmother putters about, straightening out things in the other room, fixing tea, and washing dishes. A few cats have free run of the place - jumping from between the papered sliding doors to the garden beyond.
When the younger two generations descend upon the house father inevitably turns on the TV to watch baseball - causing grandfather to complain about the noise while also muttering that he can't hear what they are saying. Mother complains that grandmother won't sit down and rest. The girls tease their grandfather and lounge about. And the odd looking older sister cradles her small cup of tea and smiles. She may have grown up an only child in a country on the other side of the world, but this place, these people, are home.