Our Japan

Trip Start Jan 16, 2009
Trip End Nov 20, 2009

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Flag of Japan  ,
Thursday, July 16, 2009

How did we decide to go to Japan? I think it's a good question as we both (especially me) are planning to travel a longer time in Asia and the money we spent in Japan in three weeks would have allowed us even a few months in the cheapest countries in South-East Asia or for example in India. However, as I had studied in China and Aapo in South Korea, both having also visited each other, we both agreed that it would be a good time to visit the third giant of the region, comparing and getting better understanding of what North East Asia is about. The main thing that made Japan possible for us though, were the few brilliant clicks in the net bank, after which you were loaded with the student loan. Our travel plan for Japan involved experiencing the most interesting cities, which we considered to be Tokyo and Kyoto, while also getting off the most beaten path and heading to the nature in the north of Japan's biggest island, Honshu.

First we had a few days in Tokyo, which is really a huge city. We visited different kinds of places ranging from skyscrapers and science museum to fish market and sumo museum. Unfortunately we were unable to witness a live sumo match as there weren't any tournaments during that time. After Tokyo, we took a night bus to Kyoto, the former imperial capital of Japan, which is one of the few big cities in Japan that survived relatively well from bombings during the WWII. Kyoto is all about the old temples and shrines, but we actually had got some kind of an overdose of temples as we've both seen so many of them during the last six months, and with our limited knowledge of Japanese history and Shinto religion, we didn't really get excited seeing another new temple. Kyoto is anyway a nice city and totally different from the busy Tokyo, which is built completely after the war.

After visiting these cities, we activated our Japan East Rail Pass and headed north to Oku-Matsushima Peninsula near the city of Sendai for some hiking and beaches. We camped there a couple of nights and there is definitely beautiful nature and nice beaches as well as some interesting run down fishing villages. After Oku-Matsushima, we continued our way up north by train, walking and hitchhiking, ending up camping again by a crater lake Towada. The lake was very attractive but we were unlucky with the weather as it was raining quite a lot, and after a couple of nights in a tent we continued to north again, to the city of Aomori, stopping in a couple of small cities on our way. After Aomori, we took a train towards Niigata, intending to take a boat to the island of Sado. Yet again, the bad weather kept dogging us so we didn't really see any point in going camping to the island so we stayed a couple of days in Niigata before returning to Tokyo one day earlier than planned.

Japan is indeed a very interesting country and it is very admirable how people obey the rules and respect each other. For example the hostel we stayed in Niigata never locked its doors even if the owner and the guests were away for hours - don't know if that would be possible in any other country in a city of almost a million inhabitants. You could also frequently see signs on the streets that say "No smoking on this street" or "Please don't smoke when walking". Coming from China, it was also striking that even in the countryside where Western tourists are probably not seen too often, no one stared at us, let alone asked taking photos with us which would have happened in China all the time, especially when one of looks like a Viking and another one like a monkey with funny hair and beard. Another thing where you can sense the utmost respect between people is the politeness whenever buying something in a shop or ordering in a restaurant, and that politeness even gets stressful as you don't know the language and are unsure if you are being polite enough. Huh.

Japan also has some more or less famous specialities that are definitely worth trying. For example, being located on a volcanic active area, Japan is dotted with onsen hot spring baths, where you can take sauna and enjoy the warm sulphur baths. These spas turned out to be our favourite rainy (and hangover) day activities, and they are somehow similar to Jimjilbang saunas I visited in Seoul some four months ago. The capsule hotels are another Japanese speciality, created for the businessmen who missed the last train home. Basically the name tells it all, it's like a hotel but instead of an own room, you get a 100cm*100cm*200cm sized capsule to sleep. After sleeping in one of those, you wonder why would you actually need a whole room anyway. Another world famous Japanese thing is of course the fresh sushi which is just delicious. You can also enjoy it on a budget and Japanese style in a small merry-go-round restaurant where there is a conveyor with small plates of sushi on it going around the bar and you just pick the ones you like the most. How nice and effective is that!

So despite the bad weather and expensive price level (still not as expensive as Finland, I reckon) Japan was definitely a positive experience, quite similar to South Korea but still on a way very different. Now I'm going back to Beijing where I'll wait for Aapo for a couple of days and then we're going to continue our way down to Southern China and provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan.

There seems to be some kind of a problem with uploading photos so I'll try it again some other day..
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