After Tokyo I took the Shinkansen, the super fast bullet train, to Kyoto. It goes every 10 minutes. Kyoto is more relaxed, traditional and historic than Tokyo and it is famous for it’s shrines, temples and castles. Here people more so wear traditional costumes, you can see geisha’s walking the street and I even saw a man with a hog on a leash.
The first night I stayed in a Ryokan, a traditional Japanes inn that originated in the Edo period (1603 – 1868). The tatami-matted room even had a private tea set. I had to wear a yakuta (a japanes garment) and sleep on a futon bed with a buckwheat pillow. It had a real traditional feel to it, if you forgot about the airco and the flatscreen tv the Ryokans nowaday have ;-) Hahaha
I was adviced to just rent a bike and visit the beautiful temples and shrines. They didn’t advice me to visit the far away Bamboo grove by bike. And guess what I did? Hahaha. It was afternoon and I had untill five o clock. I had a map and on the map it didn’t look that far. I was wrong. I ended up cycling for two hours or so and still didn’t reach it. People I asked a long the way, people where shocked when I told ‘m where I wanted to go. It was really far. Strangely enough none of them offered to walk me there this time ;-) It was almost a quarter past four. And I still had to cycle for about half an hour. I passed a train station and decided to do the last part by train. It was only two stops.
The Bamboo grove was beautiful!! It was worth every minute of cycling and the two stops by train!
The next day however I decided to do a lot of temples and castles by bus. Lazy tourist style! Hahaha. Each templeI was more beautiful than the other. I went to see the Kinkaku-ji Temple also nick-named the Golden pavillion, The Nijo Castle and Ginkaku-ji, the Silver pavilion. The Silver pavillion obviously had the most beautiful garden. But none of these could stand against the Ryoan-ji Zen Garden. I saw this one on television back in Holland on the program called “Erica op reis”. This was my main trigger to visit Japan. The garden doesn’t include flowers or water, but only white gravel and a few rocks. It is said that no matter from which angle you look at the garden, it is not possible to see all the stones at once. I sat there for ages, mesmerized by the beauty. Amazing!
On my way to one of the shrines I met this Japanese guy who wanted to start a conversation, but his english was as bad as my Japanese is. After some failed attempts of communication he raised his finger, like he wanted to say: “Wait, I have an idea!” He took his iPhone out of his pocket and opened an app and started to talk a Japanese sentence in to his phone. He then held the phone next to my ear for me to listen. The phone said in a robotic voice: “Do you like Japan?” He then gave the phone to me and I understood that I had to answer in to the phone. I held the phone to my mouth and replied: “Yes, I like it very much. It is a beautiful country.” He took the phone, looked at the screen. It didn’t work. Again he gave the phone to me and I repeated my answer. This time it worked. A robot voice, speaking the Japanes translation of what I just said. The app was named Naritra and we communicated through it all along the way. Genious!! This is the future!
I also attended a traditional tea ceremony. We were introduced in to the art and history of the tea ceremony then the woman performed the tea ceremony, which was a range of delicate actions. Taking a spoon, putting the spoon back, taking some tea, mixing it with water, cleaning the spoon, putting the water back etc. etc. I had walked all day and was a bit tired, so this was really relaxing, almost meditating to look at. Later on we learned that every action has a meaning. For example before you drink your tea, you look at the cup. This is to admire the artwork on the cup. Then you turn the cup 180 degrees, so the artwork faces away from you. This is not to besmirch the artwork with your lips and to let the other people in the room also admire the artwork on your cup. After you finished drinking you again turn the cup 180 degrees, so you can admire the artwork again. Each and every action has a meaning like this. The ceremony took about half an hour. After she finished we had a cup of green tea. She explained that this was only the short, basic version. Normally a ceremony takes like three hours. Three hours for a cup of tea… really!? It is beautiful and I like the symbolism around it, but I don’t know if I could wait three hours for a cup of green tea. Hahaha The tea was delicious however! In the beginning she explained that one of the principles of the ceremony is tranquility. Later on she explained that one cup of green tea holds more caffeine than a cup of coffee. I couldn’t help but asking how these two work together, because it sounded a bit contradictory. She answered: “We are good at surpressing our feelings, it is typical to Japanese culture” I was like wow, best answer ever!
At the hostel I was also told about this city full of deers that walked freely everywhere, Nara. I decided to go and see it. It was only half an hour by train from Kyoto. I was told that the deers would leave at sunset. It was getting late, so I had to be quick. When I arrived I saw no deer at all. “If you walk this street all the way, you will see lots of them”, said the man at the tourist information desk. I walked the street and suddenly I saw a deer. Amazing!! But then a saw three more, four more and only a few meters further there was another flock. They where everywhere. I visited two shrines and also there where deers. Went to the park and even more deers. Crazy!!!
I took the Shinkansen train back to Tokyo. At one of my last nights in Tokyo I visited the Robot Restaurant. It was more like a Robot Show. It was one bulk of music, sound, effects, laser lights, robots and spectacle!! It was your typical Japanese extravaganza and I loved it! They only forget to bring me my food, which I got afterwards, but the show was so breathtaking that it didn’t even matter! Haha Like wow!!
On my last night in Tokyo I also went to the Golden Gai, a district in Tokyo that is composed of a network of six narrow alleys, connected by even narrower passageways which are just about wide enough for a single person to pass through. Over 200 tiny shanty-style bars, clubs and eateries are squeezed into this area. I was with a group of Japanese people I just met. When we walked the streets they started pointing full excitement at a guy that passed us. It was the world famous Sumo Wrestler Hakuho. Jeej! I have seen Hakuho! I didn’t know him before, but I guess now I do ;-)
Tokyo was so much fun, that it became very late. At seven o’ clock in the morning I realized that my plane was going to leave in a few hours. I rushed to the hostel, packed my bags, checked out and I don’t know how, but I arrived at the airport just in time. Hahahaha. Japan, love it!!! Up to India!!
“When you travel, you experience, in a very special way, the act of rebirth. You confront completely new situations, the day passes more slowly, and on most journeys you don’t even understand the language the people speak. So you are like a child just out of the womb. At the same time, since all things are new, you see only the beauty in them” — Paulho Coelho, The Pilgrimage
That’s soo true! Japan is one blazing, amazing, culture shock. The fact alone that almost everything is written in Japanese. I have to guess what is what by it’s appearance. Is it a shop, a bank, a station? I mostly have no clue Hahaha
I arrived in Japan at Tokyo Airport and looked out of the window of the bus that brought me to the centre of Tokyo. At that point I started to realize where I was. The stories about the Shogun, the Samarai, the Yakuza… they all happened on these grounds. And I am here now! A strong feeling of excitement grasped my mind and I felt the energy filling the air. I was also lucky to arrive here in the season of the famous cherry blossom. The Japanes love it and I was lucky to experience it. All over Japan trees are filled with cherry blossom.
I stayed in a Capsule Hostel and the name kind of says it all. You sleep in a capsule. It feels a bit like you are sleeping on the Star Trek Enterprise. A quite large room filled with capsules stacked on top of each other. Each capsule has it’s own Tv, radio, light, alarm etc. You can open and close your capsule to enjoy some privacy. There are two things you must not have when doing a Capsule Hostel. 1. Claustrophobia. Check! 2. A large backpack. Ehh… like all 99% of the backpackers? I have no idea why, but you only get a locker that is big enough to put your daypack in, and you are not allowed (as in most hostels) to keep your backpack next to your bed. But practical as I am, I put my backpack in my capsule at day time and put it right next to the capsule at night. Hahaha.
I didn’t learn any real Japanes apart form arigato (thanks), konichiwa (hello) and sayonara (good bye), but I noticed that Japanese people say “Hi” for everything. It means ok, thank you, how are you and lot’s more. And it is not pronounced like we are used to, but really short like you didn’t mean to say that word and with a lot of air usage. Hope this explaines it ;-) haha, but you should hear it. Another thing is when you want to order something. You have to call the waitress by saying something like “Namazeeeen!” in a whiny way. Only Japanes seem to be able to do this
In Japan it is normal to use different footwear for different rooms. So when I moved from outside to the capsule lobby, I had to switch my shoes for Japanese slippers. And at some Hostels I even had to switch my slippers to other slippers when entering the restroom. Like wow! Also the Japanese sanitary deserves some mentioning. For one, most of the toilets have heated toilet seats. And instead of toilet paper, they have like a whole control panel to choose the intensity and dispersion of the waterbeam that cleans your buttocks. Of course they have some toilet paper if you insist on doing it the old fashioned way ;-) At first I also did not understand what the plasti stools where doing in the bathroom. Later I found out that you are meant to sit on it while showering. Wow!
Tokyo is so diverse. Even if I would have had a year, I wouldn’t be able to see everything. At first the subway system can be somewhat overwhelming, because it’s a web of stations that are used by different companies and each company has different lines. But after some practicing I got the hang of it. I also loved the sound of chirping birds at all the subway stations. I don’t know if it is real, because the repetition is so static that it must be fake, but who cares, it brings a bit of nature feeling to this metropolic city. The nice thing about Tokyo is that it is really safe, so you can take the subway to any random neighbourhoud, go up there and enjoy. That is exactly what I did. Tokyo to me was one big computer game. It brought me to Nakano Broadway, a multi-story market, constructed like a maze where you can really buy any… thing! I went to Takeshi street, famous for it’s trendy fashion. I also visited the famous Shibuya crossing and Akihabara the electric town within Tokyo. Here I found a real fun, nostalgic shop where they still sell the Snes, Gameboy, NeoGeo and Sega’s from the 90’s complete with all the game cartridges. It brought back sweet memories and I loved it.
After a few days I discovered that there is a whole world on top of the one you see. In the Netherlands you are used to just look at the street horizontally. For example if you see a restaurant, you don’t expect another restaurant on top of it, at most there are some houses on top of it. Here you also have to look vertically, because sometimes three restaurants are stacked on top of each other. I was looking for a certain Yakitori restaurant. I knew for sure that I was at the right address, but when I looked I only saw an entrance door to a somewhat office-like building. Seemed that I had to take the elevator to the 6th floor to find out that there is a whole lively, world hidden here with a lot of people, good atmosphere, the smell of roasted Yakitori with lovely spices. Like… wow!!.
My visit to the Senso Ji Shrine, the Asakusa neighbourhood and the Imperial Palace brought me back to ancient Tokyo. Especially when strolling around in the gardens of the emperors and imagining how it would have been in those days, with the wars, the shogun, the samurai’s, you can’t help but feel a shivering through your spine. The gardens are beautiful and protected by these great, thick walls that had a real crucial function back then. Impressive
I also went to the Sumo Hall where the sumo wrestlers train. Unfortunately it was no tournament season, so the hall was closed. But just as I was going to leave, some apprentice Sumo’s left the building. Ok, they where not as big as their heroes, but it is as close as I could get to Sumo wrestling on this visit haha And off course I struck a pose with them. :-)
The clubs here in Tokyo are also pretty good. The seem to love Hip-Hop. Especially in Harajuku you see a lot of Japanes Hip-Hoppers walking by. The only weird thing in the clubs are the “No dancing” signs. Imagine me being there and the bodyguard politely asking me to keep my dancing down a bit. Lol!! Hahaha.
Japanese people are really nice and helpfull, but during my stay in Japan I became afraid to ask somebody for directions. As soon as you ask someone for directions it is like they sign a no resign, death contract that forces them to make sure that you arrive at your destination or else… hahaha.This is no worry when they know the location and can point you in the right direction. It gets sticky however, when you clearly see that they have really no idea where the location is, just like you, but are not willing to give up. They keep staring at your map for minutes, holding it in each possible direction, mumbling some Japanese, start asking other people, type the location in their phone. Even when you say, it’s ok and you will find a way to get there, they simply ignore you and continue looking at the map, at the road, and then back at the map, mumbling some Japanese again. Eventually most of them will offer to walk you to your location. Even if they are searching together with you and it’s a 2 km walk far off their own intented route. So I became afraid to ask for directions, because I didn’t want to put this torment on them.
One thing I did not understand is why Japanes people keep on talking Japanese to me, while I clearly don’t understand it. I reply that I only speak English and like they haven’t heard it, they continue in Japanese and ask me some more questions. This leads to a somewhat awkward conversation where they are speaking Japanese, me trying to clear up that I don’t speak Japanese, me smiling politely saying “Arigato” and continuing my walk. I later met a guy from Hong-Kong at the hostel. I asked him if he had the same thing. He explained me that they are actually speaking English. It only sounds Japanese. “Maccerudonerulds” for example is the way they pronounce “Mc Donalds”. Ow shit!!! Hahaha. That day when I was walking through the station with my large backpack and daypack on, a small, old Japanese lady looked at me with fascination and asked: “Arruju goching climbru amountinn?” It sounded like Japanese, but when I listened closely I understood that she was asking if I was going to climb a mountain. Wow Frans!… Wow… I may have missed some good conversations my first few days in Japan. Hahaha.
I went to the Tsujiki fish market where the morning catch is traded. The sushi bars around it serve the seafood that has just been caught. It doesn’t get any fresher than that. I had my best Sushi ever!!! Period! To imagine that the food on your plate was just swimming in the sea, moments ago. And then to imagine that I am the same guy that once said: “I don’t like sushi!” Shame on me, I officially apologyze ;-) Hahaha
A funny contradiction in Japan, is that a large part of the population wear mouth facemasks and on the other hand you can still smoke in restaurants and clubs here. It almost seemed unreal to smell smoke from the table next to me, while I was eating my diner. Haha
And the vending machines….. they are something else! They are everywhere and you can get any drink out of it. Even burning hot coffee or… a can of beer. Yeah I said it… a can of beer. Imagine taking alcohol out of a venture machine in the Netherlands. Impossible nowadays. Hahaha
As regards to the lower limit of food, ti is still really nice. You can walk in to any alley, pick the grimiest looking restaurant and still have food that is ok. Even the sushi from the supermarket is really good. And it is also common to wait in line to get in to a restaurant. Not only for top restaurants, but any normal, local restaurant. All the restaurants have fake plastic replica’s of the food the serve, exposed in front of their restaurant. These plastic replica’s look really realistic. There is even a large trade going on in these replica’s. And for tourists it is really handy. You can see how your dish will look like prior to your order.
One thing I also wanted to do is to visit an Onsen which is an old, traditional bathhouse. In the lobby I had a conversation with a Austrian guy. He just happened so, to be going to an Onsen with a group of people he met on Coachsurfing. He invited me to come along and as flexible as I am I was like, why not? We jumped in to the eclectic Japanese metro system to arrive half an hour late at the meeting point. It was already becoming dark. There stood an old Japanese woman with a bike, seemingly waiting for someone. We approached here and as soon as we made eye contact we knew that she was one of the people. Actually it turned out that she organized the get together, but that we were the only ones who appeared. The two others didn’t show up. The three of us walked to the Onsen in a rustic neighbourhood. She told us she came there often, because she lived nearby and likes to show people this part of Japanes culture. I got a bit sceptic when she said: “Ok, from now on if someone asks you for your name you are Lee and you are Joy” The Austrian guy started to panic a bit and I was like: I know how much the Onsen costs and as long as I pay in cash there is no problem. Later on it turned out that she had discount coupons, so by acting as other people we paid much less. Our sceptism was unnecessary Hahaha. The Onsen was great!! She learned us all the Onsen practices and etiquette. Use this towel for that, first go to this bath, than move to this place, woman en men first separated, but after that put on this suit to go in to the mixed area etc. etc. Without guidance from her we would have been lost! Lol! The Onsen had an indoor and outdoor part filled with natural hotspring baths. One was even filled with H2 water instead of H2O. This water has a strange structure and feeling to it. In the mixed area you had sauna’s and ice rooms. In the iceroom you can watch large icepicks grow to the top in minutes, before they gave in to gravity and felt on the ground for other icepicks to take their turn to grow. When we sat there one icepick grew more than one meter high. Really relaxing to look at.
This onsen was also famous for it’s sublime massage chairs. I love massages! But most massage chairs only give a fraction of a real massage. I must admit. Even though it is not as good as a real massage, it is the closest a machine can ever get. It was amazing how they could replicate all the pressure points in your neck, your back and even your legs. Wow!
In the onsen and also in 99% of the hostels you are denied entrance if you have a tattoo. That’s crazy!! Even people with a small tattoo are denied entrance. I guess this is because of a certain tattoo covered organized crime organization ;-). Luckily tattoo’s on a dark skin are not that visible and with a bit of towel coverage you will be alright ;-) Hahaha
I visited the Meji Shrine and the Yoyogi Park. The latter is famous for it’s rockabilly dancers. I just so happened to bump in to them. They were performing a show on a square with a soundsystem playing old, jukebox, classic rock and roll. They had their hair combed back like the American 50s movies like they stepped right out of Grease and made these typical rock and roll dance moves. My honest, honest, honest opinion? Lame!! Hahaha Sorry!
I was getting a bit hungry and decided to go back to the subway station, but I heard some sounds coming from across a large bridge. I walked the bridge that crossed a large high way and on the other side I saw that there was a festival going on. Huge crowd, with stands and a large banner at the entrance saying “Earth Day Tokyo”. I spent a few minutes there. Walking from stand to stand, looking at art, food and information all circling around the topic of saving the earth and being aware of our environment. There was even a colorful parade, which passed by. After a small diner at one of the stands, I decided it was time to move to Kyoto.
“Sometimes you have to travel a long way to find what is near” ― Paulo Coelho, Aleph