In the Spring of 2015, I had the chance of going to Japan for only about five days. I went with my friend and the coder of this site, Adeeb. We went to Tokyo and Kyoto, but five days only allowed us to really visit a few tourist sites, not much of actually experiencing the “real” side of Japan. In the fall of 2016, Adeeb and I went back for over two weeks. This is our story.
We landed in Tokyo, and were to go to Okinawa in the morning, but a typhoon delayed our flight for a day, so we spent two days there. The first thing that jumps out at me when I land in Tokyo is how much order there is to the city. There is no trash in the streets, perfectly clean. The train runs on time, every time to the very second it is supposed to. Homeless people are not to be seen to the untrained eye, although I’m sure there are some. This is an interesting phenomenon that is pretty unique to Tokyo.
We then left for Okinawa. We were supposed to originally be there for three days, but the typhoon made it so we were only able to stay for two. Ninety-five degrees with ninety-percent humidity; being outside for long periods of time was simply unbearable. The nature there was great, and it was a beautiful city, but outside almost every bar and restaurant where we were staying read “No Americans Allowed”; you can imagine the frustration this created.
Ah, yes. Nature. Nature in Japan is something to behold. There is so much of it outside of Tokyo. Yet, no matter how much there is, it is always strongly controlled. Moss grows where moss is supposed to. Trees are placed and trimmed exactly how they are supposed to, and fields of grass are perfectly square, cut to perfect length. While Tokyo is perfectly in order in terms of man and man-made creations, outside of Tokyo is perfectly in order in terms of nature.
Adeeb and I traveled across the Kumano trail, only in reverse. We went to Kii-Katsuura, explored the small port-city famous for it’s raw tuna, traveled to Nachi, explored the old temples and buildings there, spent a night in Hongu, a tourist town, and then finally ended up in Shirahama, a city famous for the beaches it provides. While we didn’t quite plan properly for this trail, it was still a lot of fun and excitement.
After we finished exploring the old temples and ruins of Nachi Taisha, we discovered the busses quit running. We were stuck at an old temple surrounded by nothing but forest and a single windy road that scales a mountain. Adeeb scared me and said that forests in Japan are famous for bear attacks. I still don’t know if he was ever serious or not. We trekked several miles down the road until we got a driver that kindly drove us to town.
The next town we went to was Osaka, and the first thing we visited was Osaka Castle. It was an absolutely beautiful castle surrounded by an absolutely beautiful park. The architecture was magnificent. Adeeb and I discussed castles and the difference between eastern and western castles. We both found it interesting how western castles were more utilitarian in nature, while eastern castles were more about being symbolic icons.
We stayed in the poorest neighborhood in all of Japan while visiting Osaka. Shinsekai. I couldn’t resist the grungy, punk-rock atmosphere, and spent an entire night walking around by myself, documenting a story of the area with my camera.
We then landed in Tokyo, and took much-needed rest by relaxing at Edo Castle. It was a 15th century castle that was burned down in a great fire, and now all that remains is the foundation surrounded by a park. Standing on old ruins or historical sites always fascinated me. It unlocks my imagination as I think of what people, battles, or celebrations happened to be there years ago.
Going back to Tokyo the second time around was a very rewarding experience. We got to go to some of the less tourist-oriented areas and simply relax and enjoy everyday life. Ramen shops, bars, markets, and street food.
Using English is the “in” thing to do in advertising in Japan, and this ends up with some pretty hilarious results. I am not quite sure why it is so cool to use English there, but I suppose there are some people in America who are deeply in-love with Japanese culture and would be interested in a product if an aspect of Japan was included in an advertisement. To each their own.
Making a return to Japan gave Adeeb and I a greater perspective on Japanese society and people. There are many things to love about the country. The people are nice, although a bit shy. Food is plentiful, cheap, and tasty. Destinations are clean, maintained, and beautiful. All-in-all, I can say that this trip was enlightening, memorable, and fun. I’ll remember it.
To another day, Japan.