We’re back home in the Netherlands by now, but we did not blog about all our destinations yet. After Phillipines we went to Japan. A lot of people told us they are very curious about Japan. And because we think it is strange not to fill our blogs with all our destinations, we will make two more blogposts while we are in the Netherlands. This one will be about our travels in Japan. In the next one we will tell you all about Tokyo (which is quite different from the rest of Japan), Rome and our comeback home. Maybe we will even do a resume, who knows.
So Japan. Japan promised to be a completely different experience, and even before arriving we already got a taste of how different Japan would be than the other countries we visited. We booked all our accommodation through airbnb, and received things like “house manuals”, in one case even a 30 page booklet describing things like how to open the door and how to operate the water cooker. And movies in which the owner of the appartment would show how to walk to the appartment from the nearest train station. Japan promised to be interesting…
After arriving it was just as if we arrived in the Netherlands. It was raining and a lot of people were riding bycicles while holding umbrellas.
However we soon discovered that Japan is in most ways not at all like the Netherlands, nor is it like any other country we’ve ever been to. Japan is weird, and a lot of things are the opposite from what you’re used to. From mundane things like locks on doors turning the other way, to smoking being allowed in bars and restaurant but not on the street. And then there’s the employees on the subway whose job I can only describe as “linepointer”: pointing at the white line you’re not allowed to cross when a metro arrives. And everything is orderly and regulated to extremes. Just take a look at this series of signs.
So we started in Kyoto, a city swamped with temples, gardens and other historical sights. We had a huge but typically Japanese apartment with futons on a tatami mat floor.
As happens more often with Japanese apartments, it didn’t have any bath or shower, but we had to go to the local Sento, a traditional Japanese bathhouse. Here you could wash yourself under a very low shower while sitting on a stool, and bathe in extremely hot baths. You could even go into an electrocution bath that given ‘relaxing’ shocks (not for people with pacemakers…). The Sento was actually a very relaxing experience, and I’m actually glad we didn’t have a shower in this apartment so we could have this experience.
Kyoto itself is very beautiful. We visited some temples with their beautiful gardens, a bamboo forest, and a giant Buddha in the nearby town of Nara, in what is supposed to be the biggest wooden building on earth.
We’ve also visited Gion, the traditional Geisha neighborhood. Here there are loads of people either dressing up as a Geisha, or trying to spot one. At some point there was a huge crowd around a building trying to see a real Geisha.
From there we went to Hiroshima, stopping on the way at Naoshima, a small island known for it’s modern art installations and museums. We were planning have a full day there, by leaving early. Here we discovered that the public transport in here requires something we didn’t have to do in a long time while traveling: planning. We were used to just turning up at some station whenever we wanted to go somewhere, and then you’ll end up wherever you want to be. Transport usually didn’t run on any schedule (aka “when it’s full”), and on most places actually ran quite frequently.
In Japan, the Shinkansen (high speed bullet trains), are fast, frequent, and regular. However, taking local trains away from the Shinkansen line, the services deteriorate quite rapidly to the point we had a terrible connection to a infrequent train that, once it finally left, took an hour to travel 25 kilometers. This schedule is from a different town, but it shows that you should plan ahead when traveling by train in Japan… a concept a bit alien to us by now.
So lack of planning meant we had only a few hours on Naoshima, and we couldn’t visit everything we wanted to, but we did visit a series of 6 old houses that were given to different artists to be turned into a work of art. Photography on the inside was not allowed anywhere but the outside of some places was already quite something.
Also we were able to see some of the works scattered along the coasts, among which is the famous pumking, which the travel companions enjoyed tremendously.
Our next destination was Hiroshima. Here we obviously visited the peace park and it’s monuments and museum. It was all very beautifully made and a stark reminder of the inhuman nature of atomic bombs. In the park there was, amongst others, the peace flame (which will only cease to be once all atomic bombs in the world are gone), a panoramic view of Hiroshima from after the bomb made of 140.000 tiles (the amount of people estimated to have died in Hiroshima by the end of 1945), and a monument for the children. One girl who got leukemia after the bomb started folding paper cranes since it is said that if you fold a 1000 paper cranes you get a wish. She still died, but classmates of her continued folding paper cranes, and now there’s probably millions of paper cranes here from all of the world. Visiting this park was not a fun activity, but still very worthwhile.
100 meters from there park there were robots though… that lightened our mood.
We also visited nearby Miyajima, an island known for it’s floating tori gate. To make a photo from the most spot directly in front, you would have to pay and wait in line, and then be able to make the same picture everybody else is making. So Lidewij made a different one.
We also went up the sacred mountain Misen on this island with a cable car. Here we enjoyed beautiful views and a nice walk back down.
Next destination was Nagoya, which served as a base to walk part of the old Edo era post road between Tokyo and Kyoto. We walked the beautiful stretch between Magome and Tsumago, two beautiful old villages. On the trail we walked through beautiful scenery, past bear bells (I really wonder how many bears there actually are around here), and past a nice little tea house where we met a 88 year old Japanese man that was walking this trail and was actually not that much slower than us. Impressive.
At a base for this beautiful walk, we stayed in Nagoya, a very modern city with some nice achitecture, like a bus station with a roof covered in glass and water. So from the top you can see the blurry people at the bus station.
And of course you cannot visit Japan without seeing mount Fuji. So we want to Kawagutchiko, a village near mount Fuji for some nice views of mount Fuji… except for the fact that it was really cloudy and a little rainy the 2 days we were there, and only got 2 short glimpses, except for the morning we left when the weather was really nice.
So we enjoyed ourselves in the nearby amusement park: Fuji-Q highlands. This amusement park is well known for it’s 4 record breaking roller coasters. One of the roller coasters was under maintenance, but the other ones were indeed really spectacular. In the Netherlands, I’m normally never scared of rollercoasters but after riding one of the few 4 dimenensional coasters in the world here (the seats would rotate while riding the coaster), I was actually quite scared before going in the other two. The typical Japanese twist in this park was that the employees would applaud you when the ride would start.
And then it was time to leave for our final destination in Japan: Tokyo, which really is a world on it’s own. But that we’ll keep for the next blog.
Some interesting facts about Japan, to finish this blog with, because Japan can be so weird and funny
… did you know that…
– A lot of restaurants have plastic models of the food they serve? Most stuff is in Japanese, but you can always point to miniature models…
– The conductors in the Shinkansen trains bow before entering and before leaving every compartiment. I’ve even had people in the supermarket bowing for me while I was buying a bottle of water. And then handing your receipt to you with two hands… These people take politeness to the next level.
– When you want to pay, you have to put your money on a tray, from which the cassier takes the money. When they hand you the change, it does not go in the tray first. Why? I don’t know. Because it is Japanese?
– Toilets are like space ships. A lot of public toilets have a dashboard full of functionality, heated toilet seats, and even a button that triggers the sound of a flushing toilet (!)
– Restaurants are usually buildings in which you cannot really look inside. People eat behind curtains, and you won’t find a lot of terraces in Japan.
– Speaking of restaurants: dinner time in Japan for vegetarians is usually not a lot of fun. Actually, I think Japan is the least vegetarian compatible country of all the countries we’ve visited on our journey. Response of a Japanese person when saying you’re vegetarian is usually one of pitty.
– A lot of Japanese don’t seem to be very aware of the rest of the world. It’s not just that people don’t speak English, some people even didn’t know where the Netherlands where. Because of that you encounter weird stuff like an american diner styled restaurant with a spanish name and spanish texts on the menu serving spaghetti, with some weird asian style sauce.
– A lot of things in Japan are or very modern or from the 80’s
– Some signs are so cute! Look at this roadblock.
– Japanese are very orderly and neat. They wait in line everywhere and nobody gets pushy.
– In the whole of Japan, people like to dress up like Geisha’s. You can rent everything: clothes, slippers, handbag, socks and you can let your hair done. A lot of Japanese girls do this and then they parade around, making selfies of themselves looking as Geisha. Lidewij made a whole series of this women dressed up as Geisha