After 4 weeks in Asia in 4 different countries, we’re finding Japan to feel the furthest from home. Not in a bad way. The people have been wonderful. It’s more a combination of the little things. The respectful bows we receive (and give) are much deeper. The products in the supermarkets are less familiar. The subway fares are a little tougher to determine (the turnstiles locked us inside the station yesterday due to an insufficient fare). Toilets with heated seats and fancy control panels. Tatoos are taboo. Schools are in session on Saturdays too. There are vending machines everywhere on the streets where you can buy beer, cigarettes, batteries, etc. (yet we never see anyone using them). The traditions and customs are more apparent, such as taking your shoes off before you enter private and some public areas. We had to take our shoes off at the entrance to our Hostel in Takayama and wear slippers throughout the complex. It’s definitely a foreign culture to us. With that said, we’ve been impressed by the cleanliness of the cities and the beauty of countryside.
Sights Visited: Tokyo, Takayama & Kyoto
We must admit that we’re already experiencing what we’re calling “Tourist site fatigue’. This is not to be confused with “Travel fatigue” as we’re still enjoying the overall experience. We’ve just seen so many temples, shrines, museums, parks and gardens that it’s leading to sensory overload. We found Tokyo to be more comfortable and less overwhelming than we’d prepared ourselves for. We were fortunate enough to catch a Sumo wrestling tournament as they only occur 3 times a year in Tokyo. It’s quite the show. Takayama was much more intimate, relaxed and laidback. It also had several Sake breweries that we visited. Kyoto has some amazing sights that were spared during World War II and consequently it’s a crowded tourist mecca. However, we did discover a cool walking tour (Johnnie Hillwalker’s) that took us to some quieter, less touristy sites.
Accommodations: Grand Hyatt Tokyo, K’s House Hostel Takayama, New Miyako Hotel Kyoto
Food and Drink:
The freshness and quality of the sushi we’ve eaten far surpasses anything we’ve eaten back home. We’re also enjoying numerous noodle dishes (Soba, Ramen & Udon). We were introduced to “Hoppy” on Hoppy St. in the Asakusa section of Tokyo by a friendly Japanese family sitting next to us. Hoppy is a non-alcoholic malt beverage that is mixed with Shochu, a Japanese distilled beverage, and Ice in a chilled glass mug. It’s rather refreshing on a hot day. Given that many Asians are germ conscious and wear surgical face masks in public, we were shocked when the friendly Mom encouraged us to sample the drink from her glass. We then, of course, had to order one of our own. We had one of the best meals of our trip in the Ponto-Cho section of Kyoto. We had a 9 course “Momoyama” meal in a traditional, shoes-off, Japanese restaurant that was quite memorable. We also sampled some Sake with our meal.
We’ve relied on trains to move around Japan as we purchased a 14-day Japan Rail Pass. Locally, we’ve taken buses, subways, taxi’s and boats to get around. It’s taking a little more effort to figure things out in Japan as English is a little harder to come by but it’s still manageable.
Midori Nakazawa provided us with an extensive list of suggestions of things to do and see in Japan, which we’ve taken full advantage of (such as Hoppy St. & Ponto-Cho). Arigatō Midori…Thank You so much!
For Your Amusement:
It’s no surprise to hear that Asians often pronounce the sound for “L” with that of an “R”, but it was amusing to see it spelled that way on the “English” menu at a Japanese restaurant in Kyoto. Anyone for a grass of wine? We’ve also got an example of product unfamiliarity. We bought what we think is a tube of toothpaste. It was located near toothbrushes and seems to have the right shape. We’ll find out for sure when we open it soon. Here’s a look at the packaging. And finally, there’s some good news if you’re planning to attend the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Highlights: Shrines, Temples and Sumo
Next Up: More of Japan – Nara, Hiroshima, Mt. Aso, Hakata, Kobe & Osaka