“Time is precious. Waste it wisely.”
This quote, if you ask me, is the sum and substance of my life with Shlok, my 10-year old son. We love travelling. Would you believe me if I said that together we have seen over 30 countries so far? We just got back from Japan after spending two full weeks in the country, and I can tell you this… a part of me will always be in Japan! It such a beautiful country filled with beautiful people; one can’t help but fall in love with it.
Two weeks isn’t really enough to enjoy the picturesque country, but it is enough to keep wanting to go back to it! We visited 10 cities and we enjoyed to the fullest in each of them.
We landed in Osaka – the third most populous city of Japan. It was our introduction to what became one of our most memorable trips. The first thing that hits you is how everything is perfectly in order in Japan. It is so silent! Everyone follows rules, stands in queues, waits for their turns, respects each other, thanks and shows gratitude. It is such a stark contrast from the hullabaloo we have back home in India. As they every peaceful person makes a peaceful world – Japan, to me, seemed to be full of peaceful people!
Osaka is the food capital of the country. It is popularly called the ‘National Kitchen’. And believe me, we never knew there was so much to Japanese cuisine than just sushi. We stuffed ourselves, on each occasion, with Ramen (noodle soup), Soba (buckwheat noodles), TakoYaki (Octopus balls), Okonomiyaki (Japanese pancakes), gyoza (fried Momo’s), Udon (thick cold noodles), Kushikatsu (fried meat) and so much more. If you visit Osaka, don’t miss visiting the #NissanNoodleMusuem and learn why and how instant cup noodles were invented.
(PS: It was Astronaut’s survival food)
We then went to Nara, the oldest city in Japan. Preserved gardens, shrines, quaint houses – it will transport you back to the Ramayana days. The city has significant temples and artwork dating to the 8th century when it was Japan’s capital. Deer roam in Nara Park, site of Tōdai-Ji temple. Daibutsu, Tōdai-Ji’s 15m-high bronze Buddha, is displayed in a large wooden hall. On the park’s east side is the Shinto shrine Kasuga Taisha, which dates to 768 A.D. and has more than 3,000 lanterns.
We moved south to a lesser-known town called Himeji, which is known for the sprawling, centuries-old, white Himeji Castle, one of the few original castles from Japan’s feudal period. The Himeji castle is a UNESCO heritage site. Himeji and its white castle, has an interesting history, like most Japanese cities. During World War II, Himeji was targeted and bombed by the US.
Despite having over 60 per cent of its built-up area destroyed, somehow, Himeji Castle remained unscathed, even though one bomb was dropped directly on it. Because of this, many believe that Himeji is somehow divinely protected.
Our next stop was at Kobe, which is world-famous for its beef! We discovered that there were a style and ritual to its preparation. All restaurants have a small barbeque at the centre of the table. You are given aprons and tongs and marinated beef (trust me no part of the cow is wasted). And hey, don’t forget to say a quick thank you prayer before you eat, just like the Japanese. Eke daki mas!
You cannot visit Japan and not go to Hiroshima! It is a must-visit not just for its history but to see how a buzzing city once can stamp up on its feet even after the destruction that left the world baffled! The Peace Memorial Park is one of the most prominent features of the city. Even if you aren’t looking for it will, you are likely to stumble upon the large park of over 120,000 square meters. Its trees, lawns, and walking paths are in stark contrast to the surrounding downtown area.
Before the bomb, the area of what is now the Peace Park was the political and commercial heart of the city. For this reason, it was chosen as the pilot’s target. Four years to the day after the bomb was dropped, it was decided that the area would not be redeveloped but instead devoted to peace memorial facilities.
The Peace Memorial Park still gives me goosebumps, and for my kid, it was real life education into wars, arms and atomic bombs, and more importantly, how never to indulge in them.
Japan’s most iconic #ToriiGate photograph comes from a small town called Miyajima, where right in the middle of the sea, a beautiful vermilion-coloured floating Torii Gate stands. It is currently under renovation, so, unfortunately, my plan to click a picture with my flowing bright saree on the backdrop of the bright orange gate could not materialize!
A torii (literally meaning a bird abode in Japanese) is a traditional Japanese gate most commonly found at the entrance of or within a Shinto shrine, where it symbolically marks the transition from the mundane to the sacred. Majestic Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples rule this little island.
Kyoto, the cultural heart of Japan needs a lifetime to fully explore. We took a walking tour in the main Geisha district, understood so much more about these artisans (more than enchantresses) – their tough training, their lifestyles, their dedication to art and pleasing people. Kyoto has the highest concentration of temples – there are over 1600 temples! Not just a temple – a world of temples.
Fushimi Inari, the Shinto shrine with 1000 bright orange Torri gates is open 24/7 and is completely free.
After spending a couple of days in Kyoto, we took a few days trips around Honshu. Amanohashidate, not even known to many Japanese, is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Amanohashidate roughly translates to “bridge in heaven”, because its sandbar resembles a meandering pathway connecting heaven and earth. The narrow sandbar is lined with nearly 8000 pine trees and is considered among Japan’s finest pine tree spots.
However, all this is best viewed when you do the ‘Matazonki’ – the traditional way to view the sandbar is to turn your back towards the bay, bend over and look at it from between your legs.
We also visited Nikko, a city whose waterfalls and lakes left us mesmerised. The Kegon Falls, with its stream coming from Lake Chuzenji, is one of the three great waterfalls of Nikko, next to Kirifurinotaki Falls and Uraminotaki Falls. Remember to take the elevator down to the waterfall viewing spot to get really close to the basin where the waterfalls with a deafening sound.
We ended the trip with Tokyo as our last stop. With its hustle-bustle, glitz and neon, kink and robots, manga and anime, people and culture, metros and money, music and dance, food and play – Tokyo is everything that one can ask for in the capital of one of the most developed countries in the world.
A highlight for us was a visit to Team Labs Borderless instead of Disneyland or Universal studio. It is a digital art museum, which combines technology with art, music and lights. The entire experience adds in layers of mystery, action, adventure and surprise that thrills every sense in your body.
Japan Arigato Gozaimas! You were wonderful. Until we meet again…Sayonara!