Bah. I need to stop avoiding this post and just do it. But how do I describe my trip to Japan…a trip that really blew me out of the water in terms of WOW, this is like being on a different planet. Ok, here goes…
First of all, Japan is REALLY FAR AWAY. Like, over 6000 miles away far. And it’s 13 hours ahead of my time zone. That alone were some mind boggling facts to deal with. On top of that was the fact that a) there are very few non-Japanese (I’m used to living in a multicultural society with lots of different coloured people all around me…so THIS was bizarre!!) and b) there really wasn’t all that much English – which was humbling. We pretty much had to rely on my Lonely Planet guide book to understand what we were looking at when visiting sites. And as for understanding menus…well, I’ll get to that!
I flew from Ottawa to Calgary, Calgary to Tokyo…and by the time I went to bed in my hotel in Tokyo I had basically been away for over 24 hours – save the maybe 2 hours of sleep I had on one of the flights. The good part of that is that I slept for 8 hours straight the first night and when I woke up the next morning, I was on Tokyo time – easiest time change adjustment EVER.
We were in Tokyo the first 3 days and the last 2 days, and spent the 4 days in between in Kyoto, Nara and Hakone.
I think I’ll categorize things as a way to try and share my experiences in some kind of coherent manner…
Temples & Shrines – seriously, I have never seen so many in my life and some of the ones we saw were absolutely incredible structures. Below are a short description and pictures of some of the more significant ones we visited.
Meiji-jingu – a Shinto shrine dedicated to deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken (1920)
Senso-ji – Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple (and just steps away from our hotel). Founded in 645 (bombed & destroyed in WW1 and rebuilt).
Kiyomizu-dero – Founded in 778, present buildings constructed in 1633 – not a single nail was used. The temple takes its name from the waterfall within the complex which runs off the nearby hills – kiyomizu means “clear water” or “pure water”. And yes, I managed to time my picture perfectly – took it just as three girls beautifully dressed in their Kimonos walked through the gates!
Fushimi Inari Tasiha Head shrine of the Inari (spirit of fertility, tea, rice, sake, agriculture and industry). Main shrine structure built in 1499.Thousands of torii (orange arches/gates), marking the transition from profane to sacred, line the 4km walk up the mountain.
This one was my favorite —-> Todai-Ji’s Daibutsuden – Largest wooden structure in the world and houses the world’s largest bronze statue of the Buddha Daibutsu – originally cast in 746. The Buddha is 15m in height and weighs 500 tonnes. Once inside, we found ourselves needing to sit down to try and absorb what we were looking at.
Crazy fun things – like I said, it’s a different world.
The Robot Show. I don’t even have anything else to say other than THIS IS JAPAN. It was an hour long show and I put together a short montage of it…it was just as crazy as it seems lol
Shibuya Crossing – this is a famous BUSY intersection where, when the pedestrian crosswalk is on, there are people crossing in EVERY direction…so I was filming it but it turned out that that wasn’t what made my video so memorable…check out the horror movie character in it!!
Goldfish Game – It’s called Kingyo-Sukui and it’s a traditional Japanese game in which a player scoops goldfish with a special scooper where the “net” is made of paper and tears after only a few tries! Traditionally you would get to take the goldfish home with you…thankfully that was not an expectation with the 2 fish I caught – I actually tied the high score of the day with my catch!
Sumo Wrestling. Seriously, this was a highlight. We were not there during tournament season and thought we were out of luck for seeing any sumo wrestling but then our hotel told us about a sumo club who allowed outsiders to view their practices from outside on the street through windows into their training rooms. IT. WAS. INCREDIBLE!
The aggressively friendly deer of Nara – oh lord this was hilarious…but somewhat scary at the time. In the town of Nara, the deer run the show. And when they discover you have snacks for them (which I did) they DO NOT leave you alone…in fact they will
bite nibble on your bum to get your attention!
Mt. Fuji – yes, we tried to catch a glimpse of this elusive mountain…but alas, we were not there on one of the ~80 days per year it reveals itself. So I drew it in to show you where it should have been! lol
But the town of Hakone, from where we tried to see Fuji, was beautiful!!
Toilets – yes a whole section devoted to them…because you either had DELUXE toilets with front and rear bidet functions AND a heated seat (ohhhh, how I miss the heated seat!!!)…and public ones had a “privacy” button that would emit a sound (usually a flushing sound) so that others around you didn’t hear your bathroom sounds. Amazing, right?
Yeah, until one night at a restaurant on my way to the ladies room I first had to pass behind men peeing, out in the open, in a trough…and then when I found the ladies area, I found a hole in the ground…although, for holes in the ground, it was pretty fancy! lol Yup, squat and pee…and yes, I could only assume that was what it looks like around the hole!! EWWWW!!
Food – let me be very clear. I am NOT a foodie and given my STRONG dislike for fish/seafood, I knew that Japan would be an issue for me…but I never really factored in the language barrier on top of that! Some restaurants had ZERO english, some had a little, some had a lot. It was really hit and miss and sometimes we didn’t have a choice – we had to just go in blindly. I will admit that I ate a McDonald’s 3 times while there! lol!!!!
Some of our of favorite lost in translation examples…or at least we hope they were!
But we had the most delicious dumplings while in Kyoto…And I wish I could find someone back home who could make deep fried pumpkin and camembert balls!
And skewers cooked right in front of you…soooo good!!
And did you know how many emoji’s are Japanese related??? The mystery of this emoji is one that has been bothering me forEVER…mystery solved – it’s deep fried rice with a little “handle” of seaweed.
And I would also like to say that Japan (and this includes Tokyo which has a population larger than Canada itself!!) is THE CLEANEST country. I want to wear a hazmat suit in subways here in Canada…in Tokyo, if my ice cream cone fell on the ground in the subway, I would pick it up and still eat it. Seriously. Here, we saw shopkeepers out in the morning SCRUBBING down the sidewalk in front of their shops – they would even get down on their hands and knees to scrape something off the pavement!!
There is still so much I could share about our trip but I fear this post is already too long! I though that nothing could top Africa and it’s not that Japan was better, it was just more different than I could have imagined!! Am so grateful to have had the opportunity to experience it!!