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No Moving Parts in a Buddhist Temple
Desperately seeking to sit still
Ugh…three more stops. How am I gonna make it?! As we approached this last one, I barely did. How come we can’t be there yet?!? Every trip has its low point, and I think this has got to be rock bottom.
And why now all of a sudden? This is my third trip to Japan and it’s never been a problem before…then I flashback to Tel Aviv. My friend Rocky’s cousin, Ezra, is trying to reassure me at a roadside rest stop (that we were unexpectedly and suddenly visiting) that there’s now some scientific research that may be showing a link between jet lag and motion sickness…yes, that makes sense, I remember recalling, just like that time a day or two after landing in Hong Kong when Andy and I were riding that really “bouncy” bus around the city. Or on the mini van trip to Pai, Thailand with my wife and daughter after landing in Chiang Mai. But on second thought that bout of motion sickness was most likely spurred on by our crazy minivan driver on the infamous “762 Curve Road” to get to Pai (from those of you from Northern California, think Stinson Beach road at high speed with a spastic driver for a solid 2 hours and you’ll be close to the mark).
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However, the Shinkansen, better known as the bullet train to us westerners, is super smooth, quiet, and fast but without sharp accelerations. There’s nothing herky-jerky about it. And over two past trips to Japan spanning a sum total of about five weeks traveling all over the country on bullet trains with some journeys up to 12 hours long, I’d never had a problem before. Even my unflappable friend, Lars, who seems to have a stomach of steel got sick on one train ride here in Japan on our way to Beppu that didn’t bother me at all…so why now? What’s going on?!
I sheepishly inform the bullet train attendants of my little issue so that if they see me sprinting to the bathroom at the end of the cab on the approach to each stop as the train slows down (yes, there was something about the train slowing down), they know I’m not bolting for the door to leave my “mysterious” luggage behind in my wake as part of some sinister plot. Such a strange looking small bag. Suscpicious.
Three stops before arriving in Kyoto…Wham!!! I barely make it to the bathroom. At least the train toilets are immaculate in Japan, but maybe not so much after I pay a visit to them in a state like this. Spending time at a porcelain bowl in a public bathroom is so much nicer here in Japan than it would be back in the States! Now that’s a sentence I never thought I’d write…Back to my newfound second home, I spend the time while the train is waiting in the station doing my business, hoping that no one is jumping on board, scanning the luggage racks, stealing my little backpack, and bolting. But then I remember that I’m in Japan. Need not worry too much about that.
Living up to the cultural norms here, the attendant is very…well…“attentive” to me, making sure I am doing OK. A blanket materializes from some hidden stash that only she knows about. And those little towelettes they give you at the beginning of each trip were never so valuable in the history of bullet-training. She piles a half dozen more on the empty seat next to me. She also pulls out her secret stash of Dramamine. I swish one down. But is there even time for it to take effect?! Kyoto is only an hour away. Would that little pill stay down?
Two stops from Kyoto. Again!?! There goes the Dramamine. I “miss” seeing yet another train station spending my time in a place I’d much rather not. That’s gotta be it. I usually feel much better afterwards and now that it’s happened twice, I’ve gotta be OK. Could this be COVID-related or some other bug I picked up? Random viruses do sometimes make me dizzy, light headed or nauseous.
Thank goodness! We finally pull into Kyoto. But as we’re slowing down, and I’m grabbing my stuff, I think…make that scream-think...“No! Here it comes again!!!” But this time I need to get off the train! I can’t hang out in my new favorite little wash closet anymore. Maybe I can bolt for the station bathroom the moment the train doors open. But will there be a toilet up on the platform? I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that before in these Shinkansen train stations. They’re usually down below at the ticket concourse level…
As the train stops and I bolt from the door to scramble down the platform, I am suddenly so weirdly thankful that I had spent the last two stops in the train bathroom. Why?! Because as I’m dry heaving into my mask with every few steps, there’s nothing left. I’m empty. And wondering if anyone around me can hear the awful sounds I was making. Hopefully not. One good thing about all this mask wearing is that I probably looked only half as strange as I would’ve with my mouth fully uncovered. Step. Heave. Step. Heave. Step. Heave.
Also, how relieved I am at that very moment that I’m not stuck in the luggage closet onboard the train standing in line to drag out a heavy suitcase, rollaboard, or another heavy beast of burden. Or better put, how relieved my fellow passengers should be that I travel with an ultralight backpack! I’m not sure they would have appreciated my ambient noises or, worse yet, a sudden remodeling of the luggage closet. Being able to quickly mobilize with next to nothing was never so vital! I wasn’t in the mood for any insightful reflections right then and there, but surely that was a moment to fully appreciate one of the benefits of ultralight travel.
So, I hope Ezra’s right. Let all the research show that without a shadow of a doubt that jet lag is to blame for my wooziness, because there’s a lot more of Japan still to see with plenty of trains, buses, subways, taxis, elevators, escalators, and moving sidewalks that may make my inner ear spin. One thing for sure. At a minimum, I’m gonna take a Dramamine and maybe even two before the next leg of the trip just to be safe. Maybe I’ll stay a day or two longer in Kyoto than intended so that I can fully recover from jet lag. There are much worse places to be.
By the way, a big giant thank you needs to go out to all monks, past & present, for not installing any moving contraptions in their temples…there’s so much to be said for just sitting still.