Japan is full of some of the most amazing culture and fascinating history. With a civilization many centuries old, Japan has had a lot of time to evolve. However, they staunchly retain the rich past that defines their architecture, shrines, attitudes, and traditions. They respect each other and have an incredible work ethic. They impress the world every year with their technology, yet they loyally maintain structures that have been in existence for over 1300 years.
I only have a few more of these highlights before I get into the real meat of our trip. This week has understandably been busy catching up from our vacation and preparing for another over Thanksgiving. I know you’re anxious for the full daily accounts, but I’m afraid I’ll have to tease you for just a short while longer…
When you visit Japan, unless you try explicitly not to, you’re bound to wind up at a few shrines. Fortunately, that’s ok, as every one is unique in their own way. If you really want to mix it up, try visiting them after dark. Check to make sure they’re accessible after hours, but if they are, this can provide a great opportunity to beat a lot of the crowds at some of the more popular destinations. (more…)
Some of the best meals we had in Japan came from small street vendors. We’re no strangers to personal proprietors specializing in a single dish (or few) from a small booth on a street corner; Portland’s food cart culture is renowned. While we feared these establishments would be less adept at English, they actually proved easier when it came to ordering. With only a few items offered – most physically present behind a glass pane – it was a simple matter of pointing and holding up two fingers. And very like the much-loved, tiny food vendors at home, their business only survives if they’re really good (as patrons frequently have plenty of alternate options).
If you find yourself in Kyoto, set aside a morning for the Philosopher’s Walk. Best un- (or lowly-) populated, early morning will afford you a quiet path upon which to calmly take in the song of the water and contemplate life’s mysteries. The entire path is a little over a mile and is lined with shops, street vendors, restaurants, and temples. Decorated with hundreds of sakura trees, this area is popular during cherry blossom season and is a great spot for fall color.
Ryokan are a luxury even for the Japanese. These traditional hotels invite you to don yukata and sip tea on tatami mats in your room. Far more spacious than hotels in the city, they serve as miniature suites, with a full bathroom (as in: a full room for taking baths – not showers), a “living” room that’s converted into a bedroom with futons at night, and a sitting/sun room. Many ryokan also feature a high-end restaurant with full, multi-course, traditional Japanese meals (where you sit on tatami mats and food is partially cooked at your table). If you’re lucky, yours will additionally offer a larger, multi-person sentou or true onsen.
We’re now home from our (amazing!) trip, so look forward to detailed daily overviews as I sift through the 3742 photos I took over the fourteen days. In the meantime, I’m continuing to feature a few specific pictures.
One of the favorite pastimes in Japan is visiting onsen or sentou. What’s the difference? The former are natural hot springs; the latter are public baths. The line between them has been blurred, and the terms are commonly interchanged, with true onsen explicitly calling out the natural hot springs feature of their establishment. Modern sentou create artificial hot springs by pumping geothermally heated water, so it’s easy to confuse the two.
It’s difficult to visit Japan without tripping over at least a dozen shrines and temples. While most of the Japanese population wouldn’t consider themselves particularly religious, many practice the standard rituals of visiting shrines, saying a prayer, and drawing fortunes. The young go hoping for favorable test scores or new love; others simply wish for good luck and good health.
Visiting temples in Japan, you might come across lines of small statues dressed in red caps or children’s clothing. These are Jizou statues, and they are to ease the grief of a passing infant or unborn fetus (and some believe to appease the vengeful spirit).
For a truly wild spectacle, check out the Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku (follow the giant light signs; it’s hard to miss). The name is a slight misnomer, as this is primarily a show, with snacks, sushi bento boxes, and drinks available for separate purchase. This is certainly geared toward tourists, with everything predominantly in English. They pack about 200 people into a tight room, and proceed to parade wifi-controlled floats and extravagant illuminated robots. Cute Japanese girls dance and fill the room with thunder on the taiko. The animatronics reach out and right over the audience; it’s amazing how they can fit these things in such a small room. Music, laser battles, lights, dancing, robots!
Apologies for posting somewhat erratically here, but I can only do so when time allows (and quite frankly, I’d rather be on vacation than write about it :)).
Yokohama is a very ritzy city just south of Tokyo. It is an area for shopping and quiet dates on the waterfront. It is most known for its iconic clock Ferris wheel, featured in many anime. I couldn’t get enough of the lights and that wheel!