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Japan Unmasked
Japan Unmasked
Posted at: 12:01am , 12 Sep 2018 By James Eacott

Japan Unmasked

Continuing with my passion for travel and my objective of visiting at least one new country each year, Japan became top of my list and my 2 week adventure was soon upon me.

I booked a small group tour with spialist tour operator Inside Japan and found a trip that included transport, hotels and tour leader but still gave you the independence to do your own thing. I decided to add a couple of extra days in Tokyo at the start of my trip...and was so glad I did.

Tokyo

After a surprisingly straightforward train journey I found myself in the sprawling metropolis of Tokyo. What a city! Here are some of my highlights.

My arrival day coincided with the National sumo wrestling championships. What a way to start. A stadium full of 15,000 spectators and a constant display of this traditional art by rather large gentlemen! The ceremony around the fights was as interesting as the bouts themselves. A real colourful and exciting afternoon, even with jet lag.

The next day I headed off into the bright lights of Shinjuku, shopping, skyscrapers, neon lights and a busy area. I did find time to visit a cat cafe, yes a cafe where you can pet the cats!

A real must see is the Fish Market, but not for the squeamish. Every type of fish and seafood is on display, alive and dead. A hectically busy market which is open every day and starts early for the Tuna auction where admission is limited. I got there about 830 and there was still a lot to see. Top tip, wear closed in shoes to avoid getting fishy feet and look out for the little trucks whizzing about, they don’t take any prisoners!

No visit to Tokyo is complete without a visit to the Robot restaurant in Shinjuku, a truly bizarre evening.  Music, dancing, fighting robots...a real spectacle. I was slightly disturbed about how much I enjoyed it. It is meant to be suitable for families but I really think very young children should not go. Grab a glow stick and enjoy it!

Nagano

Heading north to the charming town of Nagano, the home of the winter Olympics in 1998.

An early awakening on the first morning here to attend the Zenko –Ji temple and see and hear the chanting monks. A very spiritual experience.

Here I visited a local Onsen. A traditional bathing house with natural hot springs. You can’t be shy here as you can only enter the waters naked having thoroughly washed before. Leave your inhibitions behind....however men and women are in separate areas!

A short drive away was the Jigokudani National Park, home to the Snow Monkeys (Japanese Macaques). This was a definite highlight of the whole trip. Just sat back and watched them enjoy the hot springs, grooming each other and generally just chilling.

Matsumoto

By chance there was a festival in this small town so fireworks, street stalls and processions were happening. A full array of food, toys and handicrafts were on offer.

This town is famous for it’s imposing but elegant “Black Crow” castle.

Takayama

This traditional town located on a river had a wonderful morning market and some great shopping opportunities in its’ backstreets if you can tear yourself away from the sake breweries!

Hida beef restaurants offered this beautiful tender meat. Even the beef burgers in the fast food places were good.

Kanazawa

The Kenrokuen gardens here were the highlight. One of the top 3 best gardens in Japan.  Despite the rain you could still appreciate their beauty.  

To shelter from the rain I went to Museum of Contemporary art.  Quite a large building on many levels made it confusing to navigate but I stumbled across a live art performance by some dancers, very mesmerising.

Hiroshima

A long train journey today by Shinkansen bullet train.

The city although modern obviously has a lot of history. A visit to the A Bomb museum and peace park is a moving experience and not to be missed.

A short ferry ride leads you to the  island of Miyajima and its’ famous floating Tori gate. As the tide goes out you walk out to it. To get the best views of the island take the 2 stage cable car to the top. Quite stunning views.

Kyoto

The old capital of Japan still has a lot of tradition and 17 world heritage Unesco sites.

A highlight here was attending a tea ceremony with a Maiko, a training geisha. She explained through a translator her motivation to take this path in life and was open to answer any questions. She demonstrated her dancing skills as well as preparing the green tea and bearing us all at a drinking game!

The Golden Pavillion on the outskirts of the city was breathtaking. The sun was shining so the gold was at its’ brightest reflecting in the lake.

Other bits and pieces and tips

Transport

Embrace the public transport systems, efficient, clean, comfortable.... Most signs are in English as well as Japanese but there will always be someone around to help.

Purchase a Japan rail pass before you go. This will save you a lot of money on the extensive rail system around the country.

Food

Try it all!

  • Conveyor belt sushi restaurants...there was even one where any specially order dishes were delivered by a train!
  • Ramen noodles, a staple food there, cheap and filling. Yakatori, grilled meat, fish,veg on skewers. I didn’t however enjoy the chicken gizzards!
  • Steak, probably some of the best I have ever had. Melted in your mouth
  • Ice Cream – It’s everywhere, I acquired a taste for the green tea flavour
  • Kitkats – Yes chocolate kitkats in all sorts of flavours, strawberry, black bean paste, pumpkin, chilli, etc etc. It becomes a challenge finding a new one!

Language and People

There is no getting away from the fact that not many people speak English well but they are some of the friendliest helpful people I have ever met. If you stand in the street looking at a map there will be almost a queue of locals trying to help you!

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