No one loves Totoro more than the Japanese themselves. The warm-hearted movie has inspired the nation to recreate his image in countless forms: mailboxes, pastries, children’s clothes; you name it and there is a Totoro version.
On Christmas I saw a man dressed as Totoro driving around Tokyo with a Christmas tree attached to his motorbike decorated with objects from the movie.
Little kids sing the theme song while walking down the road.
Middle aged men and women carry Totoro keychains attached to their briefcases.
He is well loved.
You can gather that love and maybe a few acorns too and pay him a visit in Tokyo’s neighboring prefecture, Saitama.
In early spring I visited Kawagoe in Saitama Prefecture. It is lovingly referred to by locals as Ko-Edo, or Little Edo. There you will find streets lined with warehouses and stores constructed during the Edo period. These stores are still open, bustling with tourists who want a nostalgic glimpse into an era past.
A short removal from Japan was all it took for me to truly appreciate it.
I recently had the opportunity to visit Miyajima, an island less than an hour away from Hiroshima. It is known for its red tori gate standing free in the water. I came hoping to see the gate and find a little serenity on top of its modest mountain, Mount Misen.
Hiroshima needs little introduction. A busy port city before the war, the first city to succumb to an atomic bomb, and now a city with over a million residents. I spent only one day here, visiting museums and parks and eating Hiroshima’s famous dish, okonomiyaki.
You made it to Kyoto! Woo-hoo! Now you have to get around. Luckily for you Kyoto is extraordinarily easy to navigate.
You can walk a good portion of the city, ride a bike, or take the bus, subway, or train. There are all sorts of deals for any combination of transportation, but I chose the bus.
Who doesn’t dream of visiting Kyoto while in Japan, especially during cherry blossom season? For me, this was my number one city to visit while living in Tokyo. I imagined this quaint city of wandering streets, of temples and geishas- a city known for its traditional elements. Tea ceremony and kimonos. Quiet reflection under the cherry trees. You know, a Japanese postcard.
One of the most ubiquitous features of any Japanese shrine is the round-headed stone statue clothed in a knit red bib, hat, and soft smile.
They are the guardians of travelers, saviors of unborn children, and all around good guy spirits.
And they are everywhere: from shrines to cemeteries to hiking paths high on a mountaintop.
They are jizo.