I’ve been revisiting some of my most memorable moments from our trip to Japan. Of all the shrines and temples, perhaps the one that most captured my imagination was Otagi-Nembutsuji and the nearby bamboo forests.

Like most places in this land of contrasts, getting there is half the fun – that is, if you like solving puzzles! Travelling in Japan made me realize just how heavily we have to come to rely on technology to get around. Whether due to the the complexity of the geography, the dense urban nature of the country or perhaps the language, Google maps was not to be relied upon. In many instances it got you to the approximate location, but something almost always got lost in translation. We got very good at wandering around until one of us figured it out. And in many cases, kind local people came to our rescue. Between their bits of English and Stefan’s limited Japanese, we were never stuck for long. To visit the Otagi-Nembutsuji temple, we took the train to Saga-Arashayima station, then tried to get there by bus but failed. In the end we gave up and took a taxi. Thankfully cabs in Japan are cheap and readily available.

This Buddhist temple has a fascinating history dating back to 766 but has been ruined by natural disasters and rebuilt multiple times. For me the attraction was the moss-covered statuary adorning the hillsides.

The hundreds of comical characters are so expressive, and the way they have become part of nature is a call to meditation itself.

We walked down to the village and took a short hike through the Arashiyama bamboo forest. Peace and serenity lurk among those rows of trees perhaps more than in any religious site.

After our walk we found a little café for lunch. In another amusing cultural contrast, the very traditional place had a poster of Saturday Night Fever with a little shrine to Olivia Newton John behind the bar.

To each his own religion, n’est-ce pas?