Japan: Land of the Rising Sun.

Trip Start Sep 11, 2013
Trip End Oct 19, 2013

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Flag of Japan  , Kinki,
Thursday, October 3, 2013

So after 2 weeks of traveling in South Korea we headed for Japan. Our first stop is Beppu, in the southern province of Kyushu. We had some great views of Mt Aso before arriving in Beppu. The custom officers decided to have a look through all our luggage which felt more that they wanted to know more about why the hell we decided to go to Beppu of all places than that they suspected that we were carrying anything illegal. So why did we decide to go to Beppu. Beppu is known as a hot spring resort town. All hotels here have, one or more, private or public hot springs (Onsen). We were staying in a traditional Japanese Ryokan. A Ryokan is all about tradition. When you arrive in a Ryokan you are greeted by a female okamisan. You take of your shoes and put on the slippers provided. When you get to your room you take of the slippers. In the first part of the room you leave your luggage. In the main room that is covered with Tamata mats there is a small low table with chairs that have no legs! Not so easy for westerners that are not used to sit like this! At the back there is a veranda, luckily with regular chairs (!), and a view over the well maintained garden. In the evening when you go out for dinner the okamisan makes up your bed. This means that the small table is moved to the side of the room and 2 Futon mattresses are placed on the floor with a blanket on top. After tea it is time for a dip in the onsen. You put on a yukata (kind of kimono) and then you go to one of the Onsen. Our Ryokan had 3 separate private Onsen. First you take a shower to clean yourself before going in the Onsen (natural hot spring). So much better than a regular en suite shower! In Beppu people spend a day to visit several of these Onsen and they walk around town in their yukata. We also visited one of the public Onsen to have a sand bath. In the Onsen you put on a thick yukata and you lay down on hot sand. A lady covers you completely, except for your head, with a load of hot sand. You immediately feel all your veins pulsating and you lay there immobilized with sweat coming out of every pore in your body for 10 minutes.  But it feels actually quite nice. After the sand bath you wash yourself and take a bath in a regular Onsen. It was quite an experience. Like I said Beppu is full of natural hot springs there are also several of these so called Hell Holes that you can visit. They are natural hot springs that all have there own color and theme. The Hells themselves are quite beautiful although a bit small but located in the suburbs of Beppu. Also cooking food in or using the steam of the hot springs is quite popular here. We tried a boiled egg and I must say it does taste different from just a regular boiled egg. The thing they could do without here are the small zoos in some of the Hells. You don't need to breed crocodiles or keep a hippo just because the temperatures are ideal to keep or breed them here. But we are not only here for the Onsen and the hot springs. One of our main reasons to go to Beppu is to visit the ancient stone Buddhas of Usuki. They are not very well known but that doesn’t mean they are not impressive. The Buddhas are all carved out of rock, some 1200 years ago, that was formed by one of the volcanic eruptions of nearby Mt Aso. They are well preserved and beautifully carved and as it is not very busy with people you feel a kind of tranquility and serenity. Well worth a visit. From Beppu we took our first High Speed train, the Shinkansen, to Hiroshima. And yes it goes fast although you don’t really notice that you are going that fast.  I don’t have to introduce to you what Hiroshima is known for. Just to give you the details: August 6, 1945,  8.15 am, 1st Atomic bomb dropped. When you walk around town nothing reminds you anymore about this horrific event. But when you walk around the Peace Park it all becomes alive. The A-bomb dome is the only building that reminds you of what happened on that early morning of August 6 1945. The museum gives a good overview of the impact that the Atomic bomb had on the day itself and the years after it was dropped. A whole city ablaze in seconds and tens of thousands of people died in an instance. The total number of people that died because of after effects goes well into the hundreds of thousands. The Cenotaph in the park contains all the names of people that died. The Memorial Mound is a place where most people were cremated. The Peace Flame will burn until all nuclear weapons in the world will be extinguished. Just watching the news will make you realize that this flame will burn until mankind does not wander on this planet anymore. But the most impressive sights in the park are the round Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic bomb victims where you have a 360 degrees view in photographs  as seen from the hypo-center of where the bomb exploded. And the other one is the Children's Peace Monument. This monument is erected for all the children that died due to the impact of the bomb. It tells the story of a little girl that got leukemia and believed that if she folded a thousands paper cranes she would survive.  She finished her 1000 paper cranes but unfortunately the girl did not survive. Children all over Japan still come here today to donate these colorful folded cranes and are on display at the monument. It was quite a memorable morning to walk around the park and at times you would get the shivers of what has happened here. Let’s just hope that we don’t make this mistake again. But there are other things to visit in and around Hiroshima as well.  Hiroshima itself is now quite a vibrant city with a couple of old tram lines that makes it easy to get your way around town. We visited the re-erected Hiroshima Castle, enjoyed some good Sushi and Sashimi and a day later we went to the immense popular island of Miyajima with its floating Orange Torii (Temple Gate). The Torii of Miyashima stands at high tide in the sea so it appears to be floating. At low tide you can actually walk to the gate. It is quite a sight but for us a bit overrated. We did a nice hike up to Mt Misen on Miyashima Island where we had some nice views. From Hiroshima the Shinkansen brought us in a couple of hours to the cultural heart of Japan: Kyoto.  Kyoto used to be the capital of Japan before Tokyo became the capital. We rented an apartment for 4 nights instead of staying in an hotel. For 2 days we rented a bike to see some (as there are over a thousand temples you can visit) of the temples, shrines, castles and old neighborhoods in Kyoto and one day we went to Nara which is another beautiful city in the area. I won’t bother you with all the details about the temples. Just look at the photos and you’ll get an idea of what there is to see. Actually the most beautiful artifacts are inside the temples but as they are sacred you are not allowed to take pictures. Biking in Japan is also an experience. There are hardly any bike paths and the pavement is shared between pedestrians and bikers. This means that when you bike you just slowly have to zigzag around the pedestrians.  Quite an effort if you are used to bike fast in the Netherlands! Kyoto is also known as one of the food centers in Japan. And we have to agree. We had the best food here in Kyoto. As we had an apartment  on one day we just went to the Nishiki food market and bought all kinds of small things to eat at several food stalls and as it as all ready to eat you don’t need to cook or prepare anything. You just start to eat. And it was delicious. Also the small restaurant we found near our apartment served the most exquisite dishes. So basically this is what we did in the first 10 days on our trip in Japan. More in our next blog.

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erik on

Geweldig mooi allemaal. Maar waar zijn nu al die locals gebleven?

Aurelie on

Wow! The strength of the nature, of the History, of the culture, are so present in Japan. And it’s photogenic, especially the temples! It’s really tempting to go there!

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