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Published: August 10th 2009
The shipyard recently went on summer vacation, so I took advantage of the time and went to Japan for six days. The timing worked out perfectly, since my good friend Jevan also wanted to come over and visit another friend studying in Nagoya for the time being. It was a relatively short trip, but we managed to see TONS. In six fast days, we saw much of Nagoya, Osaka, Nara, Himeji (castle), Tokyo, and climbed Mount Fuji. Before entering Japan, we purchased Japan Rail Passes, which allowed us unlimited access to the JR rail lines all over the country. It was super convenient, and significantly cheaper if you plan on using the train a lot (and we used it a LOT)!
I landed in Nagoya since that's where Jevan and Lauren were, but we only stayed there a short time and I didn't see much. I saw the Toyota headquarters building. From there we went to Osaka and checked in at a very "modest" Hilton Hotel. No big deal... 😊 It was really nice and we were up on the 24th floor with an excellent view. (Jevan found a good deal on Expedia). One night we went up to the
hotel sky bar for a little foie gras and some drinks. I won't tell you how much it cost, but it was pretty awesome. 😉
We went on a day trip to Nara, the old traditional capital city. Most of the historical sites are within walking distance of each other, so we just wandered around somewhat following a tourist map we acquired. There was a 5-story pagoda, a museum, temples, and a tourist info center complete with an earthquake simulator. Another notable thing is that Nara has tame deer wandering around everywhere. If I understand correctly, they are a holy animal in Japanese culture. You can buy them biscuits, but one decided to eat my tourist map instead...
The next morning we headed a little ways out of Osaka to the Yamakazi Whiskey Distillery. It's the oldest distillery in Japan (founded 1924) and there was a free tour through the whole place, showing all the processes and whatnot. There was even a "whiskey library" full of different bottles and casks. At the end you got to taste it, as well.
We also went to Himeji Castle, the largest castle in Japan. It was indeed very large. You
were allowed to wander all throughout the outer grounds, as well as explore inside (with your shoes off). It was all really cool. It served as a fortress and there were barrier walls, gates, archery holes, and even a harakiri ("honourable suicide by disembowelment") room. The castle was six floors high and full of long hallways, arms racks, storage rooms, royalty quarters, secret cubby holes, etc. Like most Asian historical wooden structures I've seen, it was burned down and reconstructed this century.
From there we took off to a hotel near the foot of Mount Fuji. Overall, I suppose this was a rewarding experience, but I had to try VERY hard to keep a somewhat positive mindset. We started hiking at the 5th station at 2400m. It was cloudy, so you couldn't see more than 30 feet or so. Then the rain started... It poured on us for most of the way up and there was basically no view. Also, let's just say I'm not in the best shape of my life... I probably could have done it easily when I was 18, but ascending to 3770m at the summit and back down was pretty taxing on me. In
the end, we did make it to the highest point and got to see the crater. The clouds also opened up a bit on the way down, so we saw some nicer scenery. Of course, by this point I was pretty miserable and just wanted to get back down and dry off... However, I'm still really glad we did it.
Tokyo was next. We didn't really have a set plan here. The first evening we went to a John Lennon museum founded by Yoko Ono. It was full of his old guitars, scraps of paper from writing lyrics, and went through his whole life from the Beatles to his peace campaign to his fatherhood to his assassination. It also had a lot of Yoko's artwork. There was even a telephone that Yoko occasionally phones to chat with museam patrons. (She didn't call us, haha) Later we went through the main music store region and perused through guitar stuff, etc. The selection was incredible, but everything was naturally very expensive. I could only afford to buy some strings after my night at the top of the Hilton, haha!
Jevan has a Japanese friend, Hidiyuki, that he met in grad
school in Calgary. He offered to show us around for the next day, which was very excellent of him. Jevan's lady friend, Lauren, also joined us that day. We started really early (4:20am!!) to go to the biggest fish market in Japan. This is the most interesting time to go when they do the tuna auctions. These tuna mean business! They're HUGE! Not sure what they weigh, but I guess that some were over a meter long. I think Hidiyuki told us they that some sell for over 1 million yen, about $10 000 USD! After the auction, we went to a locally famous sushi restaurant and had the best fresh sushi I've ever tasted (not that I'm much of a connoisseur...) Then for the morning and afternoon we basically explored the busy parts of Tokyo. I saw an intersection fill (and I mean FILL!) with people, shoulder to shoulder shopping alleys, people cramming into subway cars like sardines, promotion girls dressed up in anime costumes, 6-floor electronics stores, just to name a few things. Then we did some good ol' karaoke to close it all off!
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