Amy Chavez

Amy Chavez lives on a Shiraishijima, a small island in Japan's Seto Inland Sea, with 563 other crazy people. She also writes for the Japan Times, blogs for HuffPo, and has authored two books: Japan, Funny Side Up and Running the Shikoku Pilgrimage: 900 Miles to Enlightenment. She loves running really long distances, skiing super steep mountains and sailing the calm waters of the Seto Inland Sea. Her motto in life is: "Surround yourself with beauty and peace."

All Stories by Amy Chavez

Japan’s pit toilets: An in-depth look

Like the aroma of fresh-baked bread or the sweet fragrance of a flower shop, the stench of a toilet can be just as memorable, albeit not in as nice a way.

Despite Japan’s reputation for high-tech toilets and Washlets that do everything except brush your teeth (thank God), a surprising number of households in Japan still have the old-style “pit toilets.” These toilets have a porcelain bowl, but no running water to flush in or out. You just squat over the hole and drop your goods into a cement pit waiting at the bottom. It’s basically an in-house outhouse.

Almost all the houses are this style on the islands in the Seto Inland Sea as well as many dwellings in Japan’s countryside. Our toilet reporter takes an in-depth look at how these pit toilet systems work. We bet you’re just dying to know!

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The Marathon Monks of Mt. Hiei: Better than Olympic athletes?【Part II】

In the previous article The Marathon Monks of Mt. Hiei: Better than Olympic Athletes? Part I, I explain the sennichi kaihogyo, or 1,000 Day Challenge, in which the Tendai Buddhist monks of Mt. Hiei, sometimes referred to as the “marathon monks,” walk the equivalent of one time around the earth–at the end of which they become living Buddhas.

In Part II, I trace the monks’ steps on the 30 km pilgrimage route, or gyoja michi, which passes through the sacred mountains and forests near the temple complex of Enryakuji. It’s a rigorous course that winds through the mountains, down into the town of Sakamoto, taking them past more than 250 spiritual places. This is the route they circumambulate for days on end over a seven-year period. For tips on the meaning behind the route, be sure to read Part I before continuing!

Rather than walking the course, I decided to run it. Running pilgrimages is a hobby of mine and I find it is a great way to combine the physical with the metaphysical. It brings joy to my runs and this fulfillment keeps the challenge. If you’re a skier, you’re always looking for more mountains. Sky divers jump at different locations. Runners look for new paths and new trails give running purpose. Leave it to your RocketNews24 running reporter to tackle the famed gyoja michi and reveal its intricacies.

I figured that running the 30-km course through the mountains would take the better part of a day. There is no map and from what I have read, Mt. Hiei can be fickle weather-wise. It has snow much of the winter and spring and there are bears. In June, when the weather was perfect, I set out with a small backpack fitted with a water bladder, some medical accoutrements and an extra pair of socks inside (for those inevitable foot and toe problems), plus an ultra light sleeping bag, just in case I got lost and had to spend the night in the forest (been there, done that!).

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The Marathon Monks of Mt. Hiei: Better than Olympic Athletes? 【Part I】

Mt. Hiei, which straddles Kyoto and Shiga prefectures, is home to a huge temple complex called Enryakuji. The foothills of Mt. Hiei border Kyoto City’s northeast. This group of Buddhist temples is home to an eclectic group of Tendai-shu monks, dubbed the “marathon monks” for their amazing physical feats. Not all Enryakuji monks take part, mind you, as one must get special permission to engage in what is called one of the most rigorous athletic and spiritual challenges on the planet.

During the sennichi kaihogyo, or Thousand Day Challenge, the monks venerate Fudo-myo-o, the god at the center of worship in the Tendai sect. Over a seven-year training period, the monk, called a gyoja, makes a pilgrimage to over 250 sites on Mt. Hiei, one of the top three sacred spots in Japan. At the end of the challenge, he will have walked far enough to have circled the globe once. As if this were not enough to please their god, he also takes part in a fast for nine days in which he can not eat, drink or sleep. So arduous is the sennichi kaihogyo that just over 5o monks have accomplished the challenge since records started being kept back in 1585. Indeed, many monks have died en route to this ultimate quest for enlightenment.

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On a small island of 570 people, 92 are named “Amano” But, why?!

When we think of an Asian country where many people have the same last name, Korea usually comes to mind. With just 250 surnames in use, half the Korean population bears one of three names: Kim, Lee or Park. Compare that to Japan that has over 100,000 surnames. So when we hear of a place in Japan where over 20 percent of the people share the same last name, it’s enough to pique our curiosity.

Meet the Amanos: Amano-san the ferry port manager and Amano-san the grocer; Amano-san who owns the liquor shop and Amano-san who serves curry lunches; Amano-san the plumber and Amano-san the carpenter. They’re all different people who live on the same small island and who, believe it or not, are not related.

How can this be? We bet you can’t guess why!

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Vegetables are smarter than fruits: Three high IQ Japanese veggies

I’ve lived among Japanese fruits and vegetables for 17 years and one thing I can say for sure is that vegetables are waaay smarter than fruits.

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