We had a great trip to Japan. Flew over from Shanghai on the 14th and back on the 20th.
Here was our itinerary:
- 2 full days in Tokyo
- Shinkansen bullet train to Kyoto, then 1.5 days in Kyoto
- Local/Express trains to Mount Koya, a Buddhist retreat outside of Osaka, where we stayed overnight in a Buddhist temple
- Fly out of Osaka back to Shanghai
Tokyo was awesome and in hindsight I would have spent an extra day there and cut out Koya (more on that below). We hit several of the major sites and areas:
Stayed in Shinjuku, the neon-light capital of the world. Night photos never do it justice, but this shot from Roppongi Hills gives an idea of how much night-time light there is.
We ate sushi 4 times in the first ~36 hours we were there. It was incredibly good and cheaper by a wide margin than Austin sushi joints. Fifty cents a piece for fish that beats Uchi hands-down. In particular, the tuna was out of this world.
On the first day we went to the Meiji shrine, which was pretty neat in and of itself, but we also had a fun travel moment. Given his propensity to CONSTANTLY touch EVERYTHING around him, Walter inconveniently got a giant splinter in one finger. We found a group of tour guides waiting for the shrine service to get out and were able to get both tweezers and a needle. They all found it hilarious when I stepped back to snap this photo:
On the 2nd morning we toured the Tsukiji fish market. While we got there late after sleeping in, it was still a lot of fun walking through the market. For some reason I was fascinated with the women who sat and counted the days cash, sitting in these tiny little booths in each fish stall.
In addition to that we did the usual at the Shibuya crossing, Ueno, Ginza, Roppongi, etc. We also had a wonderful time catching up with Walter's cousin Sho. He and Walter really hit it off:
Our third morning we took the shinkansen high speed train to Kyoto. Again, brief moment of panic and hilarity as we boarded the first train to arrive at the platform, similar to how you might board the plane at your gate. But trains in Japan run frequently and timely to the minute (if not second!). And so boarding the train at your platform 15 minutes before your scheduled departure is a really good way to get on the wrong train. We realized our error when our seats were already filled and then got off at the next stop to get on our train when it came through 15 minutes later.
Kyoto was very different than Tokyo, but very cool. Much slower pace in general. No more frantic need to walk as quickly as possible everywhere you go. And several moments of absolute calm and quiet. Especially at the Shore-In temple, which I think must be too small for the huge tour buses to hit, and thus we practically had it to ourselves.
Our first evening in Kyoto we walked through the Nishiki market and found a stall with very fresh looking sashimi. We decided to buy some and they told us we could eat at a table behind the counter. We accepted, and added to our order. After a few minutes a couple from LA joined us. We offered to share our uni, they offered to share their sake. It was definitely an experience to remember.
Another Kyoto highlight was the Fushimi Inari Shrine. We spent a couple of hours hiking through the red gates and I never ceased marveling at the sheer size of the shrine and the special atmosphere all of the gates created:
After Kyoto we embarked on an epic pilgrimage to see Mount Koya, a 1200 year old center of Buddhism within Japan. Emperors have been making the trek to Koya for almost that long. It took 2 subway rides, 2 trains, a cable car, and a bus to finally get to the Buddhist temple where we spent the night. The appeal of Koya was as a spiritual retreat and a chance to see Buddhism in action. What we found was a remote village focused on tourism and a temple that seems marginally still Buddhist. Adding insult to injury, by the time I got Walter up and dressed for the 6:30a prayers they had already closed the door! (And for the record, it was only 6:27!)
In any event, at Koya we still got to see an amazing Buddhist cemetery that I think I could have explored for days. Plus we partook in the "traditional Japanese bath," which is more or less like a public bath. They even had a poster listing do's and don'ts that appeared to have been taken from a public bath in Greece. Here are a few photos:
All in all Japan was a fantastic experience. It is worth mentioning that our sushi meal total for the 5 full + 2 partial days was 8 meals. Pretty decent, I think. And yes, for once in my life I think I'm good on sushi for a while. Apparently I tire of sushi faster than Tacodeli.
You can find the full set of our Japan photos here: markandjie.smugmug.com/Gap-Year/Japan/