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Published: April 26th 2008
Night scene at the 4-chrome intersection
This is pretty low-key compared with Shinjuku!
Top 3 misconceptions I had about Japan:
1. Japanese people speak English - somehow I thought that since heaps of people I know have taught English in Japan that everyone would just be chatting away… not so (at least they had English signs).
2. All of Tokyo is a giant glowing neon lightshow - Ok, Shinjuku is crazy, but other parts were really quiet, peaceful and had heaps of open space.
3. You can buy anything from a vending machine - I think this must be changing as mostly I saw (a lot of) machines selling drinks and cigarettes.
It was with great trepidation and excitement that I headed off on my solo adventure. What had seemed like such an easy thing to do turned out to be much scarier than I imagined. I said goodbye to Mick as he headed back to Mount Isa for work and “real life” while I continued the nomadic lifestyle.
The flight to Tokyo was rather dull but I was excited when we arrived and after coming to terms with the train system I was on my way. It takes about and hour and a half from the airport
and everyone else seemed to take that as a perfect opportunity for some extra zzz’s. I discovered that this is pretty much standard practice in Japan and with a low crime rate and hectic/play lifestyle I suppose it’s just good time management.
The next day I blitzed Tokyo, checking out the old areas of Asakusa and Ueno with ancient temples and Japan’s oldest public park where I enjoyed the amazing cherry blossoms and visited the National museum for an overview of Japanese history and culture. I took heaps of photos and never felt stupid since the Japanese folk were snapping left, right and centre! Across the river from Asakusa is the Asahi building which is a huge glass contraption shaped like a beer glass and with a weird golden structure on top. Afterwards I headed into Ginza and the 4-chrome intersection which looked like you imagine Japan to look. I passed the world’s biggest fish market and discovered a tranquil park in the centre of the city where I had a traditional green tea before checking out the Imperial palace which is set on huge grounds with high walls and moats.
I was up bright
and early the next morning for the Shinkansen “bullet” train to Kyoto. It certainly lived up to it’s name and sounded a bit like a jet flying along the tracks. Kyoto is a beautiful city with a lot of history and is a bit like a maze so I spent a lot time lost looking for temples. It was nice just wandering the streets though. In the afternoon I wandered through the Imperial Palace grounds which are so huge they were impossible to miss before heading into Gion, the traditional Geisha quarters. It was busy and the Yasaka Shrine at the end of the street was selling all sorts of food so I grabbed some meat on a stick and went Geisha-spotting. There were plenty about but I only saw one with the full traditional make-up and I think she was performing.
The next morning was much more successful and I visited Nijo Castle, home to a powerful shogun, which was impressive and had special ‘nightingale’ squeaky floors to warn them when Ninjas were attacking! I also finally found some of the temples including the large orange Heian Jindu Shrine, Kijomizudera the water temple, and Sanjusangendo which is packed
with 1000 statues of the Buddhist “Kannon”. I had just enough time to get back and grab my 3rd helping of Sushi from the supermarket before the train to Hiroshima.
Hiroshima was simply amazing. My first stop was of course the Atomic Bomb Dome and Peace Memorial Park which was basically ground-zero of the A-bomb in 1945. The building is the only remaining structure, and with it’s hollow shell is an eerie reminder of the horrendous thing that happened here. The park was surprisingly lush and beautiful and had a number of memorials to the victims as well as the fantastic museum which gave a vivid account of the events and the people affected.
That night I tried out Okonomiyaki which is similar to Teppanyaki where they cook the food in front of you but was layered tortilla/pancake, meat and seafood, vege, egg and noodles and very delicious with Sake. The next day I caught the tram to the ferry for the sacred island temple of Miyajima. At high tide the whole temple sits on the water including the shrine out in the bay but I came at low tide so had to imagine. The
Torii gate of the Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima island
It is known as the "shrine island" because of the number of sacred sites.
island was great although the psycho deer were a bit aggressive!
After the island it was time to get back for the train to Tokyo and that night I ventured into Shinjuku which is the crazy part of Japan that I was expecting. It was all neon and huge TV screens with Hollywood stars hocking mobiles. The station was crazy (about 2.5 million people go through there every DAY). The late metro back to my hotel was probably the most crowded train of my whole trip! What an incredible and unique country, I wish I’d had more time here to come to grips with it all.
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