Japan

We have wanted to travel to Japan since before we even met. And even after travelling to Japan for 2 weeks in the winter of 2011, it is number one on our list to go back to – hopefully to live in the near future!

Japan was very much just as we expected it to be. A country with a rich deep culture that overrides the push for modernism. We first spent 4 days in Tokyo. The city seemed much more spread out and not as busy than Seoul or Hong Kong, which surprised us. As usual, we spent the first day just wandering around and getting lost. For our second day, we met with Dad’s friend Abe San and his wife. They showed us the old suburb of Asakusa where we visited an old temple complex, walked the old streets, had a traditional lunch complete with kimono wearing servers and amazing kobe beef, and went on a half hour rickshaw ride. It was an amazing day and one of the best experiences that we have ever had! Next up was the Tsukiji fish market, reportedly the largest fish market in the world. And boy was it huge!!! We got there at the early time of 5.30am, just after a lot of the main auctioning was done, and wandered around the complex. We have never seen so many sea creatures in our life, from crates of shrimp, crab, sea slugs, echinoderms, and the biggest tuna. Unfortunately we had somehow strayed into a restricted area and were extremely politely ushered into other parts of the complex. After we left we stopped off at one of the onsite sushi restaurants for breakfast and had the freshest sushi money can buy. It was beyond delicious! After visiting a couple more temples and wandering around the bustling streets for a couple more days, including the Harajuku area which is famous for its hoards of cosplay wearing teenagers (even the snow did not dampen the spirits of the various short-skirted anime girls or shirtless guys), we headed to Kyoto.

Kyoto was our favourite place in Japan, not only for the huge amount of stunning temples, but also the old streets and ancient feel of the city. It really is the cultural capital of Japan! It was snowing when we arrived too, which created a magical setting over the next couple of days as we saw amazing temples which seemed to be highlighted by the snow covered rooftops, grounds and gardens. Most impressive of all was the Torii gates leading to the Fushimi Inari shrine. There are thousands of orange gates lining various trails up a wooded hill to the shrine, and walking through them is an amazing experience. However, Kinkakuji, or the golden pavilion, was also a stunning sight to behold…a Buddhist temple that is set in a large pond and is covered in pure gold leaf. Nighttime in Kyoto afforded us a chance to walk down the narrow streets of Gion, made famous by the Geisha who inhabit the area.
In the next 2 days we saw more temples than we have seen in any other trip – with the exception of Bagan in Myanmar. Kyoto is truly a stunning place.

From Kyoto we took a Shinkansen bullet train to Hiroshima. It was certainly a sobering place to visit, and the atom bomb dome was a very striking sight to behold. Interestingly, the museum close to the dome was very…..politically correct, which we found somewhat surprising. It displayed all the facts of what had happened, and even illustrated Japan’s past with regards to the invasions that the country had conducted, but at no point did it point blame for the nuculear attack. The whole point of the museum seemed to be to illustrate the horrors of nuclear weapons and promote the destruction of all nuclear arms – a point which it gets across very well. Outside the atom bomb dome however, there were people offering to tell a different tale along with pictures and facts/figures about what happened that the museum does not show. Suffice to say that their sentiments towards the American military and government are extremely…negative. Not for the act itself, but for the treatment of the victims after the fact.

After Hiroshima we headed to Nara for a day trip before our final destination in Osaka. Nara is a quaint little city which boasts 2 unique tourist attractions: The worlds largest wooden building which is a huge temple housing a giant Buddha, and thousands of wild deer that walk around the large temple and park complex in the middle of the city. You can buy deer food, which we did, but soon realised that care was needed as Sam managed to get attacked by about 10 deer at once demanding food. I would have lept to her aid, but watching deer biting her bum trying to get treats had me on the ground in stitches of laughter!

Our final destination in Japan was Osaka. And to be honest, we really didn’t like it too much. It seemed like a smaller Tokyo but without the traditions or the beauty. The zoo was also a pretty horrible place to visit as a New Zealander, with animals living in tiny concrete enclosures and looking rather worse for wear. The only exception was the middle of the city which had a beautiful canal running through it and was frequented by mobs of cool-kids sporting their latest Japanese trends in some rather humourous ways!

Japan is an amazing place which, unlike some of the other countries we have visited, seems to mix holding on to it’s traditions and culture whilst moving ahead in the modern world superbly.

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