Oh the places I've been and the things I've seen
I have been many places. Here are some of the ones I felt strongly enough to write about.
TOKYO [East Capital]
is the capital of Japan. It is a simply immense city with a huge population
that mushrooms on a daily basis with the influx of commuters. With it's pollution
levels (noise, particle, chemical), overly salty food, it is a constant assault
on the senses. Many areas of Tokyo are somewhat distinct in their own right.
There is the rather affluent Ginza [Silver Pedestal], the big-business Shinjuku [New Lodging(s)], the (supposedly) risque Roppongi [Six Source Tree(s)], the notorious Kabukicho [Sing Act Entertainer(s) Town], the ostentatious Akihabara
[Fall Leaf Raw], and so on. As can be expected, pretty well everything is
overpriced (no haggling in the East, either). The city is constantly annoyingly
loud. There are some 'needles' within the 'haystack', but typically you are
very hard-pressed to find any delicious food. In fact, pretty well all the
food has a very strong salty taste. This is basically some tradition they
have in the East of Japan. They have a very good transportation system. It
is also highly priced. And most of my friends detest the level of service.
But I personally feel that the schedules are quite convenient. You can find
a great variety of non-Japanese food here also. But, it is frequently made
to the Japanese 'specification' (too salty). If you like to observe drunkards
stagger about the streets in search of their way home, this may be the place
for you. Every weekday night, their clumsy ballet begins at about 2330h and
ends at about 1330h. Oddly enough, public transit (exclusive of taxi service)
is not 24 hours. It starts at about 0500h and ends at about 1300h. So, that
last train is bound to be crowded and it is prudent to be mindful of whose
'spew-path' you are in. Japanese are actually, to their credit, quite good
at 'holding it down'. Although it is a very big town, it is not as built
up as Hong Kong. Due to the fact they are subject to so many earthquakes
each year, the Japanese build tall buildings sparingly. If only because
of the extra cost in making them earthquake-resistant. Tokyo is also where
many of the big businesses of the East have their offices. Tokyo also has
a plethora of places to visit. Not only shrines and temples, but also quite
a few museums
--both public and private. To put this into perspective, if you went sight-seeing
at a different attraction in Tokyo each day, it would take slightly over
3 years to see them all (at least according to my contacts). If there is one
word that typifies Tokyo it has to be 'politics'.
Theme bars are
so cool! (Nanba)
OSAKA [Big Wooden] is
the 'real' capital of Japan. Not officially, though. Never was, perhaps never
will be. But it certainly feels like one. Among other things, the 'stomach
of the nation' is there. It is very hard to go 'wrong' in terms of dining
in Osaka. Everywhere will have properly flavoured food. The people are typically
more straight-forward than the 'Easterners'. Both have a well-developed disdain
of the other. This is one of the more interesting Japanese traditions: The
Osakaans ridiculing the discursive and political ways of the Tokyoids; and
the Tokyoids pontificating against the brashness of the Osakaans. This is
one of the things I find so appealing about them. Their dialects
are also known for being colourfull, if not straight-forward in nature. Not
that much in the way of tourist attractions. But the ample supply of good
food more than makes up for it. Osaka seems to be the business town. The
most famous dish to origionate from Osaka is 'takoyaki' [fried octopus].
NIKKO [Sun Light] is a wonderful
little town in Tochigi prefecture. It is the site of one of Japans national
parks. On a good day, the scenery is quite breathtaking. It is a site so
revered, that Japanese are instructed to visit it at least once in their
lifetime. Normally from the city of Nikko, a bus is taken into the mountains
to see some more really beautiful sites. I do reccomend seeing this place,
it is definitely worth the trip. However, in the summer, the many trails
are far more navigable.
This area is
known for it's rocks
UTSUNOMIYA [Roof Big-city
Shrine] is famous throughout Japan for fried dumplings (gyouza). Being in
Tochigi prefecture, there is also a healthy supply of delicious rice-crackers.
It is a small city in terms of Japanese cities. Not too many high buildings.
And, for some, it is also a satellite community for those who must work in
the long bridge
TAKAMATSU [High Pine Tree]
(ShiKoku) [Four Country] is the largest city on the island of Shikoku. It
is famous for the sanuki category of udon noodles. Normally taken in a soup,
they are considered the most delicious of udon noodles. Being in the West
of Japan, they ARE delicious. In fact, because the major industry on the
island of Shikoku is agriculture, you can usually find quite good fresh food
there. Takamatsu is a rather large city. Enroute to Takamatsu from Honshu
(the main island), you can get a small glimpse of the local industries: Shipbuilding
(A simply vast facility), and and oil refinery (the largest in Japan, so
I am told).
NAGOYA's [Name Old Shop] big claim-to-fame is 'pachinko'.
Pachinko is a form of gambling peculiar to Japan. Some have compared pachinko
to a combination of poker, billiards, and slot-machines. Like all forms of
gambling, I just don't get it. Nagoya is also famous for a type of spring
chicken called 'kochin'.
It is really delicious and tender. I have had it as both sashimi (raw) and
don (as a topping over hot rice). This is a fairly big city.
Shiver me timbers:
A diesel galleon
HAKONE [Box Root] is more
of a region than a town. But basically, it is a park area. Centred around
Lake Ashi, there are a limited number of trails and boat rides. The boats
are diesel replicas of more ancient ships. During the trip a recording will
inform you of all the noteworthy sites on the lake. This area is most famous
for its boar dishes. The transportation system is quite well organised. And,
on any day, you can make a circuit of the area on a convenient day-pass.
The view of Mount Fuji can be quite breathtaking on a good day. Another 'breathtaking'
feature of Hakone are the volcanic sulphur mines.
During the summer,
Life's a beach
ITO [This East] and ATAMI
[Warm Sea] are relatively close together. They are both onsen (hot-spring
baths) towns. Tokyoids flock there when they can to soak themselves in geothermal
heated water. The whole area is peppered with onsens. ITO has the distinction
of having a local micro-brewery (these are still quite rare in Japan). ITO
is also close to Usami, where I was certified as a SCUBA diver. The area
has plenty of diving-centric businesses.
So, two ninja
meet on the street...
IGA UENO [This Celebration Upper
Field] is actually exactly what you would expect for a town where the Japanese
feudal spying tradition was started and made famous. If not for the poorly-hidden
ninja museum, ninja manhole-covers,
ninja stencils on the local rail-cars, and the local legislators who now
take to meeting clad as ninja, you would never know that this sleepy little
town nestled between the Iga and Koga mountain ranges was the birthplace
of Ninjitsu --the Japanese contribution to the world of espionage. True to
form, it is acknowledged by most, if not all, Japanese that to admit you
are a ninja will dis-credit yourself as a ninja. Even if you are not a fan
of historical covert operations, this is a really worthwhile place to visit:
All the exhibits are painstakingly laid out and well organised. Not only
that, they are completely bi-lingual (Japanese and English) --even the movie-skit.
My only complaint is that the gift store could be a bit better stocked (more
variety). They have a live show afterwards that is basically some demonstration
of ninja skills. Although the dialogue is only in Japanese, it is really
well done. And, understandable through the universal medium of sight. IgaUeno
also has a castle. Of all the castles I have been in so far, it has the best
view (Matsuyama might have given competition, but when I went there, it was
hazy). This is definitely a recommended place to visit.
North of Sendai
SENDAI [Sage Observatory] is a quiet
little town North and East of Tokyo. It is primarily a Ski resort town (in
winter). And, in this capacity, competes with Nagano.
[Long Field] is another small town that has seems to be famous for only two
reasons: Internationally, it was once (and likely continues to be) the training
and competition place for winter Olympic games in Japan; locally it is the
home riding of Maikiko Tanaka
--one of the more famous modern politicans in Japan. Unlike Koizumi, when
she makes mistakes, her ratings are not affected. She tries her best to speak
in the local Nagano dialect, but years of schooling in Tokyo have taken their
toll on that ability. I'd vote for her, though.
MATSUMOTO [Pine Source]
is a small town on the eastern side of the Japanese alpine mountain range.
It is a nice cosy little town. And great for a stay over (The food at the
ryoukan was really delicious). Staying over is normally a good idea as it
will take you the better part of the day to pass through the alps.
are put in
KOBE [God(s) Door] is a sea port town.
It is close enough to Osaka to be another worthwhile place to dine. The speciality
here is a type of beef that is as smooth as silk. Apparently the secret is
in the beer. Not the beer that you drink, but rather the beer that the cow
drinks and is massaged with up to 3 times a day by the farmer. A good version
will cost about 100 USD for about 100~180 grams of meat. Outrageously expensive.
But, amortised over your entire lifetime, one little splurge is not that
much. You can find cheaper is you are good at hunting. Kobe also had a really
interesting (and long) shopping center underneath train tracks.
NARA is must-see place in
Japan. Not only is one of the old capital cities, but also it is home to
many deer. The deer are considered messengers of the god(s) and rove about
freely. You can also purchase deer-biscuits that are very appealing to the
deer. So much so, that one deer was interested in proceeding to eat my jacket's
pocket after I had exhausted my supply of deer-biscuits. Noteworthy to visit
is the DaiButsu --the (or one of the) largest statue of Buddha in the world.
It also has a nice collection of private and public parks and guardens. If
you are up to braving the aggressive elderly women (obasan) and chilly weather,
the OmizuTori festival is quite nice to watch. It is where fire is used to
'light the way' to the temple. According to local beliefs, if any of the
burning embers falls upon you, you will be 'full of vigour' for a year. I
was supprised how many vigorously jocked for a good position to catch some
burning ash. There were personnel evenly stationed with fire extinguishers
to limit the amount of vigour (should someone become alight).
This temple is on
every 10 yen coin
KYOTO [Capital City] is the modern
name for HeiAnKyo [Level Safe Capital] (it's name when it was a capital city).
It is one of the first capitals of Japan. Apparently, the town planning was
done in accordance with fung-sui principles (but nobody seems to know or
care of which school the fung sui was from). The local dialect is very formal
and polite. A close, personal friend remarked that is to be expected from
the 'City of Graveyards' (there are quite a few of them in Kyoto). The JR
(Japan Railways) Kyoto station is a magnificent structure. It is close to
the Kyoto Tower --a structure every one in Kyoto seems to hate. If you ever
see a typical Japanese titanic monster battle take place in Kyoto, observe
that, no matter which monster wins, the tower will be destroyed. In such
an ancient city, the tower really is an eyesore.
MATSUYAMA [Pine Mountain]
in Ehime [Love Princess] prefecture has two claims to fame. Famous for his
novel 'Bot-chan', Natsume Soseki (pen name for 'Kinnosuku Natsume') was a
teacher here. He is still exceptionally famous: His picture graces every
1000 yen banknote. That is something for other countries to really take note
of (literally). The other thing Matsuyama is famous for is the Dogu [Path
End] onsen/spa. It is proported to be about 3000 years old. And the first
onsen in Japan. Some feel that there may be older; but, the Dogu Onsen was
the first to be noted of in a book.
From this place:
One of Japan's
MIYAMOTO MUSASHI [Shrine Source Military Warehouse] in Okayama
[Hill ridge Mountain] is the birthplace of Japans most famous swordsman.
Not only was the city (re-named) after him, but the railroad station is the
only one in Japan to be named after someone. An interesting aside is that
this was not his 'real' (original) name: Miyamoto Musashi was a name given
by himself to himself (academics are still not certain about his real original
name). Musashi is generally famous for his swordplay. But, in going to the
Musashi Museum, you can also see what an accomplished painter and poet he
was. While I was there, I was sure to get a copy of the famous Five Ring
Book. In the West it is widely believed that Musashi wrote it. Apparently,
it was actually penned by someone else based on the works and personal history
of Musashi. It is actually a really pleasant town with nice friendly people.
It has a Dojo (training hall) where you can glimpse their combatants going
at each other with their bamboo training swords. There is also a larger arena
for such competitions. It is really interesting from an architectural point
of view because it resembles a samurai hat (not unlike what Musashi would
have normally worn). Yet, I did not expect to see a huge hat in the midst
of a small farming community. It also has an onsen, for those so inclined.
It is a beautiful rural area. So, if you are travelling there, best to be
mindfull of the train schedules (although, I remember a ryoukan available
across from the onsen). When I visited this quiet little shire, it reminded
me of my homeland. Especially how the most renowned warriors tend to come from the most boring places.
If you're lucky,
will pose with
HIMEJI [Princess Route] (Okayama)
[Hill ridge Mountain] has a big castle to tour. The castle is one that has
existed in relative peace. Many other castles suffered damage beyond their
original designers dreams when they were used for military purposes (and
hence, became valid targets) during the Second World War. Himeji remained
unscathed. It apparently has a ghost or two, but that is about it. It is
very well established in terms of tourism: Pamphlets are available in a variety
of the worlds major languages (eg English, Chinese, and Japanese). Guided
tours seem to be present, but only in Japanese. It is one of the major cultural
treasures of Japan. The castle is the most visible attraction in Himeji --but
not the only. There are also Onsen (close to the castle and on the city outskirts),
and I found a really nice little Chinese tea shoppe. The tourism booth in
Himeji station (JR) is quite knowledgeable and helpful if you need recommendations.
In fact, when I dropped by, the lady there was fluent in English (her son
was studying dentistry in Toronto).
Did I mention
the big garden
HIKONE [Beautiful man Root]
is also known for a castle. It has some really nice gardens also. The castle
grounds are laid out interestingly also. One of the buildings added close
to the original structure include a museum with an open-air Noh theatre.
Performances are scarce, though, so you will have to plan carefully if you
want to see any there. The tea shoppe in the museum has some nice snacks.
Rather interesting is the snack that looks like a goldfish (NOTE: Not a real
fish --this is a confectionery) swimming in a hockey-puck sized bowl. So
cute, you may not want to eat it! Hikone is also known for a type of beef
delicacy called omigyu. I personally found this to be on par with the Kobe
beef --but at about a third of the price.
HIROSHIMA [Wide Island] capitalised
on the fact that an atomic bomb was detonated there. There is a museum for
those curious to see the fruits of atomic destruction up close and personal.
The famous dome (attached to a building) has been structurally reinforced
since the original cataclysm, and remains devoted to the idea of "never
again". Hiroshima more famous throughout Japan for a type of 'omelet' called
okonomimiyaki. It is also famous for a breaded, deep-fried clam called 'kaki
[Shrine Island] is a very scenic area rather close to Hiroshima. It is most
famous for its shrine which extends out into the water. This area has onsens
Big Buddah at
KAMAKURA [Sickle Storehouse]
is where another of Japans' large Buddha statues exist. It is quite a nice
place to visit. Very touristy. Lots of temples and gardens. Also quite a
few hiking paths. Hardly challenging by Canadian standards, but some afford
a really nice view. The coastline extending to Enoshima is extremely popular
with the surfers in Japan. You cannot get big waves as in Kochi (much further
away on the Pacific side of Shikoku Island), but it is really convenient
to Tokyo (About 1h or so). A couple of years ago, a British nightclub hostess'
was apparently murdered
here. This shocked a lot of people. Not only is Japan a typically safe place;
but it seems especially safe for foreigners. It also has a shrine (I think
it was the one close to Hase) with a section dedicated to miscarriages (really
'creaped me out'). Although not that easy to find, there are some very nice
tea houses here: Just outside the gate of the Hase shrine, there is a nice
Japanese style one; and, a bit further away from the Kamakura station (past
the Kinokunya and tunnel), is a really nice English tea shoppe. A Japanese
dessert shoppe is also in this area. Kamakura was an old capital of Japan
(during the Kamakura Era) under the rule of a shogun. The shrine
near the Kamakura station is quite large, and is famous for a lotus garden/swamp.
This temple was also famous for an assassination (Kugyo with a sword by the
big tree, for those who need a 'clue'). Some of the trees there are preserved
(uncut) from the Kamakura era (about 300 years old or more).
The walk to the sea-
side of Enoshima
is worth it
ENOSHIMA [River's Island]
is in the Kamakura area. In fact, just a short walk of about one to two hours.
The island is connected by a bridge that has a separate walkway and motorway.
The walkway has several oden
(food-stuff soaking in salty hot water) and other food stands along it. On
some days, a boat ride is available to ferry you to or from the other side
of the island. Barring the boat, the only way is to walk through a path that
snakes like the best of roller-coaster rides. Seems like most Japanese like
to walk to the other side, and then return in the boat. This place really
displays it's sea food. You can meet the meat at many stores. Just choose,
and tell them how you would like it (It seems anyway you want it -- as long
as it is BBQed). Principle fare is mussels and gastropods.