Trip Start Sep 11, 2005
22Trip End Dec 26, 2005
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Before I started doing any serious research into Japan, I knew there were a few places I definately wanted to see: Tokyo, Osaka, Mt. Fuji and Hiroshima. But when I started to look further into the place, one name kept cropping up time and time again: Kyoto, the country`s "cultural and spiritual heart" one one-time capital. "Allocate as much time to it as you can" said my Lonely Planet. So I added it to the itinerary and set off from Tokyo, intending to base myself there even when exploring the surrounding areas. After all, it sounded great.
A quick bullet train trip later (I have a rail pass with allows me access to every train - including bullet - except for the super-super-fast Nozomi as many times as I like during a 3-week period) and arrived in Kyoto that evening
1) The best of these places are far apart, and as someone who likes to walk from place to place this posed a problem
2) I`m really sick of temples and shrines. Especially when there`s so much concrete around them.
So I had a look around them for a bit, and after a few hours it became obvious that I was just going through the motions - having a look at places just because I felt I should. I resolved then to move on a bit for one of those places I was actually enthusiastic to see - Osaka. And given that my dorm was being used by a class of American religion students (on a university course rather than because they were really into it), giving me a literal "new kid in class" feeling I decided I`d do the cliched thing and stay overnight in Osaka in a capsule hotel and leave my big bag at the Kyoto hostel.
A 15-minute bullet train ride the following morning (rail pass, coming through!) and I was in Osaka. It`s what I came to Japan to see - Blade Runner-ish cities and modernity. It`s like a smaller, more livable Tokyo and there`s not much to see in terms of specific sights (there are things like the Umeda Sky Building and aqarium, but you wouldn`t exactly come all the way out here just to see them), there`s as much to be gained from wandering the streets and looking around as there would on any set itinerary.
I set about finding a capsule hotel for the night and looked for one mentioned in the book. A task made all the more difficult because the map printed in the Lonely planet had now street names on it! A quick visit to tourist information was all it took to get me pointed in the right direction.
The capsule hotel itself is a lot like a dorm room in a hostel, only instead of students you get salarymen. And adverts for TV porn in each pod. It`s not at all as claustrphobic as you might think, although if I were another inch or two taller there might have been problems which feet poking though the door. The hotel had a slightly seedy feel about it - after all, it`s not exactly the sort of place most people would stay in if they can help it
The following morning I contemplated going back to Kyoto. There wasn't much more to see in Osaka, and considering the fact that I like to leave a place while I can still say I enjoyed it, I moved on to Nara. Nara is another old shrine-y ex-capital, and my hopes for it weren't high. It turned out to be very nice, however - although well developed by tourism, the main sights are scattered around a pleasant hillside which made for a nice few hours hiking about. And for whatever reason there's tame deer absolutely everywhere which seem to be at ease with all the people milling about - I swear I saw one wait for the lights to change before crossing the road.
Then back to Kyoto for my last night. I think my main problem with Kyoto is that it's a location like, say, Hangzhou in China - it's a good spot to take in slowly and relax a bit in. But then I wasn't much in the mood for relaxation, so I guess the timing was all wrong...
(there, that`s better. I knew there should be more to say after visiting three cities)