Top Ten Countries Countdown. Number 6 – Japan [Part One]

Well I wouldn’t still be living here if I didn’t like the place, would I?

Cherry Blossoms line a Kyoto street

Cherry Blossoms line a Kyoto street

The Golden temple, Kinkankuji

The Golden temple, Kinkankuji

Cosplay at the Manga Museum, Kyoto

Cosplay at the Manga Museum, Kyoto

My visit to Japan was in 2011, in April not so long after the March 11th tsunami and earthquake which had caused so much devastation. However, this first time I didn’t head north of Tokyo. I flew into Kansai Airport and enjoyed an amazing week in Kyoto. Tourists at the time were scarce in Japan, only natural I guess, so accommodation wasn’t so hard to find.

Let me start that I don’t think I like a place better in Japan than Kyoto. Kyoto is just brilliant, another city up there with the best cities in the world (oh I think I can feel another top ten coming on). It’s a friendly place – I stayed out K’s House in Kyoto, and I have to say it is possibly the best hostel I have ever stayed in in my life. This is where I first encountered the special toilet seats and just how clean people like places to be hear.

The toilets at the hostel, like many in Japan, have the special heated seats for cold bums, and bidee functions too. As if that wasn’t enough the staff at K’s House Japan kept the place incredibly clean, absolutely spotless. There were free tours to the Geisha district, I saw a Geisha performance at a theatre, I met so many people at that hostel too, it was really a magic week. I knew straight away that it was not a mistake to come here when I got to Kyoto.

There’s even a train museum in Kyoto, not to mention wonderful temples, with the crowning glory being Kinkakuji, the golden temple in a lake, almost like the Japanese answer to Amritsar’s Golden temple in India. Everywhere people wanted me to be in pictures, it was a strange ol’ experience, one I will never forget. It’s got a wonderful culture Kyoto, a great soul. There was the Manga Museum as well, that was really special with lots of cosplayers and exhibition on this artform, so very very popular in Japan. The Arashiyama Bamboo forest was also a highlight, a delight to explore and walk around for a few hours on paths weaving their way through the tall bamboo.

Then there were day trips. One to Nara to visit the amazing Nara-Park, and the impressive Todaji, where in sits a giant Buddha. Takarazuka was another day trip from Kyoto, where I visited the Osamu Tezuka museum one cold, rainy April’s day. Tezuka created ‘Astroboy’, known originally as Atomu, and is a national treasure. His museum was a lot of fun and very interesting. He created many more comics than Astroboy – Black Jack and a comic/animation version of Hitler in the 1980s.

But I couldn’t stay in Kyoto forever. Well maybe I could have but that ship has sailed now! I went across to a place called Takayama in the Hida district. With a wonderful, old-world feel and beautiful streets, Takayama lights up a couple of times a year for a festival. At other times of the year, like when I was there, there is a museum which showcases the floats of the festival amongst other things. Actually I had only just missed the festival, which is held around the middle of April each year. There’s also something of a curiosity museum showcasing things from principally 1955-1965 and the Takayama Showa-kan. It’s full of movie posters, houses set up from that time period, and some amazing nostalgia as well. Well, hard for me to be nostalgic about it I guess, I hadn’t been born, but I did enjoy the place.

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Inside a kitsch museum in Takayama

Inside a kitsch museum in Takayama

It’s pretty quiet at times, and one of the best things was the accommodation. I stayed at the Hida Takayama Temple Inn Zenko-ji, part of a temple. It was really cheap and I had my own room. There is an impressive prayer room as well and it’s a unique and special place to stay.

Hiroshima was a fair hike southwards, in fact it’s near the very south of Honshu. It’s another place that will take your heart. There’s the A-Bomb Dome, the only building (or maybe there is one more) remaining after the nuclear bomb was dropped. Not so far away, over the river, is the humbling Peace Memorial Museum, which visitors to Hiroshima should not miss. You’ll find out just what the people of Hiroshima went through that fateful day in 1945.

There are a lot of beautiful parks in Hiroshima, and April is just about the perfect time to visit the city. Not to mention the cherry blossoms are out in full force too! It’s really beautiful, so why not take a short boat ride to Miyajima and see the temples and pagodas there, and take a wonderful walk around the island. Several interesting shops can be found as well, but this is a most beautiful island, with a big red gate standing out in the ocean which can be walked to when the tide is out. It’s justly famous as a place of great beauty.

At the baseball, Hiroshima

At the baseball, Hiroshima

The A-Bomb Dome, Hiroshima

The A-Bomb Dome, Hiroshima

Miyajima

Miyajima

I headed up to Tokyo from there, but I had an afternoon in Osaka. There I only visited the Aquarium, not too far from a big Ferris wheel. The Aquarium is outstanding, full of fun and oh so many fish. A little different from the places I usually visit, but well worth it.

And then it was time to head to the big smoke! To Tokyo, the Daddy of all cities…

But you know what? I think that’s best saved for the next blog! The next blog will feature Iwate-ken, Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagano and a couple of other places. Seems I have a bit to write about when it comes to Japan… see you then!

3 comments

  • Thank you for this little trip to Japan, your pictures are lovely. Those temples look so interesting, i wish one day i can go to Japan. Is there any place where you can “see” traces of ancient Japan? I mean medieval Japan, at the time of the Samourai and all… The Tale of Genji is one of favourite book and i wish i could see that Japan…

    • Jameela – thanks for reading! You’ve hit upon one problem with Japan. They are rightly very proud of their history, but even the really ancient places that still exist today have been restored many times and look rather new! Japan’s history has encountered earthquakes quite frequently, don’t forget so a lot of has been periodically destroyed and things have traditionally be made with the view that one day they may need to be rebuilt, from scratch. The temple at Miyajima is very old, but has been restored and repainted regularly for example.
      Look at Yokohama for an example. This city encountered a major earthquake back in the early 20th century, and everything being built of wood back then, the subsequent fires burnt the place down. Virtually the whole city was rebuilt. You can see traces of history and Samurai stories retold through books, manga and Kabuki Theatre. To see stuff as it once stood 500 years ago is not so easy!

  • Pingback: My Top Ten Country Countdown (Part One) | Andy's World Journeys

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