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September 17th 2016
Published: September 19th 2016
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Fukuoka – This was my entry point on the island. A friend of mine that I worked with at Accenture lived there for a few years on the JET Programme and loved it. She sent me a bunch of recommendations for Fukuoka, along with the rest of the country.

I left a sunny Seoul to arrive in a rainy Fukuoka. It was a welcome change, given I hadn’t seen rain in over 4 months. Los Angeles doesn’t get much rain. Come to think of it, the last time I saw rain was in Pittsburgh in June. Either way, it was nice to see. I took the subway to downtown and got off at the exit closest to where I thought my hotel was. I booked a small independent hotel. I asked a guy at the information desk where my hotel was and he gave me directions. When I got outside I started walking the direction he indicated. However, the first left was basically right there at the exit. I ended up walking straight for a while and decided to ask directions. I stopped in a store and asked a woman if she knew where my hotel was. She was able to get a sense of what I was asking and I was able to get some hand directions out of her, which basically put me back where I started. I came to realize that my hotel was effectively right around the corner from the subway. One thing that was cool was that the crosswalk beeping sounded like it was from a Nintendo game.

I checked into my hotel and found it was nothing special at all. It was basic and small. However, the bathroom looked like it was a single piece installation that contained a shower, sink, and toilet for the 23rd century. All over Japan the toilets had sprayers that oscillated and cleaned you so you didn’t have to wipe. You can even set the temperature. I found that everywhere I went there was a different kind of toilet and a unique way to flush it. Toilets must be big business in Japan. After unpacking I set out to walk around the downtown shopping area before finding a sushi bar. The restaurant I went to had a bar that had a moving track that the sushi was placed on and you just pick up whatever plate you want. What I thought was cool was when I checked out – the guy came over and scanned the plates that must have had RFID tags in them. He then just printed out the check. I haven’t seen this in the US, but I’m surprised that you don’t see more things like that or portable credit card readers like you see everywhere else.

Hiroshima – I only stayed a night in Fukuoka. It seemed like a nice city, but I only had 12 days in Japan, as I booked my flight to New Zealand for the 8th. I did this because the woman at the counter at Incheon Airport in Seoul told me that Japan required you to have an exit flight before entering. This turned out to be wrong.

I activated my Japan Rail pass and was off. The Japanese train system is amazing. You cruise at 200 mph and the trains all ran on time. Though I bought a regular pass, I must have got upgraded to first class to Hiroshima.

I got in to Hiroshima and my hotel, The Sheraton Hiroshima, was right beside the train station. Since I was there early I just checked my bags and went to head downtown. I came to realize that my Japan Rail pass also got me free access to the hop-on-hop-off bus that goes around Kyoto.

The first stop was the Hiroshima Castle. It had been destroyed during the bombing and was completely restored. The inside was basically a museum and there was a good lookout of the city at the top.

Next it was onto the ground 0 area where the bombing occurred. Hiroshima was basically a wooden city and was completely leveled during the bombing, apart from a few buildings that were made of concrete. Most of those were destroyed apart from the concrete shells that remained. I had exited the Hiroshima Castle and saw my hop-on-hop-off bus pulling out. I ran to catch it but the bus driver wasn’t going to let me jump on after he took off. So, I decided to walk to the bombing area. I was a short walk anyway. On the way I decided to stop at a McDonald’s at a gallery close to the bombing area. I could help but notice the irony of how I was eating McDonald’s practically at ground 0. After that I walked to the area and saw the A-Bomb Dome. The A-Bomb Dome had been blown out, apart from the shell of concrete and a medal frame that held the dome up. It was the closest structure to ground 0 that was not completely blown away. Interestingly enough, there was a guy in the basement when the bomb went off who survived. Everyone else was killed in that building.

I walked around the park for a bit and stopped at this one part that had a bunch of literature on the bombing and nuclear bombs in general and the forces that were released during the bombing. It’s hard to believe how that Hiroshima bomb pales in comparison to modern day nuclear weapons.

Next I was off to the museum that showed the Hiroshima before and after the bomb and the ongoing devastation and cleanup.

Osaka – I’m pretty sure I got upgraded to first class again on the Japan rail train on my way to Osaka. So glad I didn’t buy the full first class ticket. Osaka is Japan’s third largest city and considered the food capital of Japan. Osaka took some getting used to. First it is easy to get confused. There is the Shin-Osaka train station and the Osaka train station. Both are relatively close to each other and rather large. Secondly, there are multiple subway and train lines that operate in Osaka, and in Tokyo for that matter. The subway stations are massive and I felt like half of my walking was easily in the subway stations getting from one line to the next.

I checked into the Sheraton but wasn’t able to get any upgrades or convince them that I should have access to the concierge lounge. That was fine as I was just there for a night before heading to Kyoto. I headed down the street to get some Raman noodles, wontons, and Kirin beer before heading in for the night.

Kyoto – the next morning I got up and took the train to Kyoto, the ancient capital. This ride was about 30 minutes. Kyoto is much more modern than I expected. I had some impression that it was just temples and the palace, but it definitely was modern.

After figuring out the subway stop I needed and finding the right subway line I got myself to the Westin. Apparently, there was a shuttle there as well that I didn’t read until I left Kyoto. Being a hot day and kind of drained already, I only went to the Ginkaku-ji that day, before heading to get dinner. I felt like I walked around for an hour before I could find a sushi restaurant. I basically gave up and went on trip advisor and found a place that was just around the block from where I was located. I met a Russian and Canadian and we sat at the bar together.

The next day I was off to see the Bamboo Grove and Imperial Palace. As I got off the subway and headed to a local train I met a girl named Carolyn, who coincidentally lived very close to me in Los Angeles. We were going to the same places so it was nice to hang out with someone for a change. The Bamboo Grove looked just like the pictures. There was a fee to get into the park, which amounted to a 20 min walk. We also checked out the monkey park and talked about working in the entertainment industry. Lastly, we headed to the Imperial Palace. The grounds were huge, but you couldn’t really see inside the temples much. What you could see was sort of basic I thought. After seeing all of that we both headed back to our hotels and agreed to meet in Osaka. I was heading back there that night. I’m not sure how much we walked that day, but my feet were killing me!

Back in Osaka the next day I met Carolyn and she checked into her hotel and I checked into mine at the Westin. It’s hard to explain but it basically it took 2 hours to meet her at the subway station by her hotel, take the subway to my stop, check in, and catch a train to Himeji. Again, the subway stations are huge. So, if you don’t know where you’re going, they get even bigger. We headed to Himeji to see the Himeji Castle. Luckily it was a 10-minute walk from the train station. The castle is huge and is the biggest in Japan. It’s also been used in a lot of movies. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time as we were meeting a friend of a friend back in Osaka for dinner. After walking full speed to the castle and walking through it we walked full speed back to the station and were able to get a train immediately to Osaka. We just made it and had a great dinner with a girl named Catalina, who had been traveling for 15 months and planning to do 20! That’s a lot of traveling. She told us stories of how she got robbed twice and lost her passport once. That night we went to Dotonbori, one of the highlights of Osaka.

One thing I noticed when I got to Osaka was how quiet it was. I noticed that most cars had their engines off at intersections, but I also noticed that no one honked. That combined with no one talking as they went about their business made for an unusual urban setting. I noticed variations of this in other parts of Japan as well.

Tokyo – Next it was off to Tokyo. The high speed train took me past Mt. Fuji. Unfortunately, you couldn’t see the top. Catalina had hiked it a few days earlier and I thought that would be cool to do next time.

Tokyo is just massive. It’s the largest city in the world. It’s very vibrant and there is something for everyone. I figured out my way to my hotel and then headed to Shibuya. When I got out of the elevator I couldn’t believe the amount of people there. It was like Times Square. When the lights changed it was organized chaos as people crossed the street in all directions. It was enjoyable just to walk around and see the lights and stores.

The next day I went to the Tsukiji Outer Market where the fresh seafood comes in. I had sushi of course and then headed to the Imperial Palace. It was by far the most I ever walked in a day. By the end I was almost at 30,000 steps, according to my Apple Health app. After the Imperial Palace I headed to the Skytree, the second largest building in the world to the Burj Kalifa in Dubai. It gave a great view of the entire city. Apparently, you can see Mt. Fuji on clear days.

The next day I stayed closer to the Shinjuku area where I was staying. I switched hotels and did laundry and caught up on phone calls/emails. For some reason I became addicted to Starbucks with biscuits and would try to have one every day. I attempted to go to the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, but it was closed. I ended up going to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building to the observation deck there to view Tokyo at sunset and to see the city light up at night.

I returned the next day to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden to walk through the different gardens for awhile before heading to Ueno to check out the Yaesen area, which is more of a tradtional old Tokyo, and Tokyo National Museum. This was another huge walking day. I ended in Ameyoko before heading back to the hotel

The last day I went to the Meiji Jingu Shrine before gathering my things and heading to the airport. Tokyo has become one of my favorite cities and I’d really like to go back.

Next Stop – New Zealand!!!

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