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Published: December 6th 2007
Let me just clear my throat, I have something to announce...: "I LOVE JAPAN!" Everything about it (apart from customs)! It's awesome!
I've even forgiven my 'Midnight Express' welcome to this captivating and incredible country. Before leaving Bangkok, I had laboured carefully and patiently to unpack and repack my disaster of a backpack into a military precise formation of perfectly arranged gear. So when asked (it was more of an order really) to "walk this way" to an interrogation room by a stuffy and accusatory expressioned official, I knew what was coming. A series of loaded strategic questions and then, before my very eyes, the uncerimonious dumping out and studying of both my backpack's contents. "You smoke marijuana in Thailand?" -"No.", replied I. "What is this?" asked Officer 1 holding a scented bag of coffee with an embroidered picture of a cup of coffee on it. - "Its a bag of coffee." "What is this?" asked Officer 2 holding a small wooden jewelry box. "It's a wardrobe." "OK now, you go."
So with my backpack now hanging irregularly with clothing stuffed back into it and the odd sleeve or sock escaping out over the top, I left Osaka and
Wedding In Japan
I wish I had the bride's email address - what a moment...
headed to the historic city of Kyoto. The first thing I noticed outside, in Japan, was the temperature. Its autumn sinking deeper towards winter here and it is cold. Almost Scottish cold lest I forget such a sensation. So for the first time since those cold nights in the van in New Zealand, its back on with the Berghaus cagoule and woolen jumper. Farewell fair sunshine!
There were many things I liked about Japan before I arrived. Like the place names, which to me, sound incredible: Sapporo, Nagoya, Yokohama, Osaka. And the words: Shogun, Samurai and the perfectly named 'Shinkansen', better known to the rest of the World as "The Bullet" high speed train. In those few days in beautiful Kyoto, I observed, absorbed and learned many new things about Japan and the Japanese people. I've never met such a polite society and people with the utmost respect for their fellow countrymen and visiting tourists. What a nice bunch!
In Kyoto, I stayed in a traditional ryokan, a place made of wood where the bedroom door slides open like your patio door and the beds are matresses on the wooden floors. Everyone wears slippers around inside, everything is
spotlessly clean and it was nice to lounge around the room in a proper kimono. Ordering food is tricky as the majority of the Japanese people do not speak English and why should they? I usually opt for somewhere with pictures so I can point, nod and smile when I've reached an understanding with the polite waiters.
Kyoto really wasnt what I expected. For such a big, sprawling city, I didnt have to go far from the city centre to find peace and quiet sidestreets. My ryokan was on one of these and I felt perfectly safe walking around the dark shadows when coming home in the evenings. After taking in one too many temples in SE Asia, I didnt want to indulge in these historical nicities too much in Japan; however, on seeing some pictures, I couldnt help myself and as an additional bonus, I'd heard that the gardens around most of the temples were beautiful, which I now feel is quite an understatement in adoration of their perfection.
To get a little diversity in Kyoto, I ventured into the downtown shopping area where I realised that the Japanese are eagerly anticipating Christmas. Sure, theres not many
Christians around here but that doesnt matter to these guys. The shops here are fantastic and the people who work in the department stores are impossibly well groomed and turned out. One of the most exciting things about the young generation of Japanese is their incredible sense of style and fashion. From the business men looking great in their perfect suits through to the teenage goths and trendy twenty-somethings, almost everyone looks spectacularly and eccentrically wonderful. I cant really think of a better piece of turf for people-watching than the chic urban streets and avenues of Japan.
I visited several gardens and temples and really enjoyed my short time in Kyoto but deep down, the real pull and fire behind the selection of visiting Japan was with the prospect of experiencing some kind of other Asian dragon altogether. The time on this trip is quickly drawing to a close, but I have a feeling that one of the best cities on the itinery has been saved for last. It's time to jump on the Nosomi Super Express Shinkansen and dive in head first to the magacity that is Tokyo...!
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