Japan. Not an instant recall for a vacation is it? The language barrier seems to keep most at bay. Well I couldn’t disagree more. Me and my husband were looking for an offbeat destination and zeroed in on Japan. Five glorious days in this fantastically majestic country and it was love.
We landed at Narita and took the bullet to Kyoto, approximately 4 hours of travel time and one of the most picturesque cities of Japan. In our stay of two days we covered, Gion - Geisha district, Kinkaku-ji (Temple of the Golden Pavilion), a Zen Buddhist temple and the iconic Fushimi Inari- the shrine sits at the base of a mountain also named Inari which includes trails up the mountain to many smaller shrines which span 4 km and take approximately 2 hours of uphill trek.
From Kyoto we took a 55 min train ride to Nara. If you plan Japan, you must include Nara in the itinerary. The city is beyond comprehension. Take the scenic bus ride to the landmark Todiji Temple of Nara. It’s a spectacular sight which houses one of Japan's largest bronze statues of Buddha and right on the premises of Nara Park there is a huge herd of deer! It is a sight like nothing I have seen in my extensive travels across the world.
The deers walk about with you in all shapes and sizes – right from the young to the old, looking for some fodder to be fed. You can buy the feed from there itself and be a part of this experience. They are not just in and around the park but you see them on the streets just as comfortably as the locals themselves! Mind you, it’s an enthusiastic bunch albeit harmless.
The rest of our stay at Nara was rather uneventful. The next morning, we took the train back to Kyoto from where we were to embark on the last leg of our trip. It was with a heavy heart we left all this behind and boarded the bullet to Tokyo!! Tokyo was almost a cultural shock from the gentle spiritual space of these two countryside cities and get into the vibrant bustle of the digitally morphed space of this city!
The rooms got tinier, streets got louder, spaces got crowded and small. The cars are custom ’boxed’ to fit in the parking as space is a huge constraint. From their tall structures, psychedelic nightlife to cyber boom – Tokyo has much to offer. There is something else that no other city in the world has – The Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo’s beating heart. It is rumored to be the busiest in the world with near 3000 people crossing at a time. The aerial view is spectacular like a board game where people just branch off in all direction at the change of a light! Its super fun to just get in the center of it all and just move with the crowd, for the fun of it! Do it, I dare you!
Since this was my first trip to the country, there were many awestruck and gaping moments for me. We travelled a lot by the metro and the trains. We noticed that all the metro railings has braille scripts. I have seen braille being used at a lot of public places but never to this extent. The public washrooms have warm seats, they have bassinets for mothers to relieve stress free. So much thought has gone into making the country citizen friendly that it just blows your mind.
That pretty much sums the visit, although there were also some basic learning markers I want to share for a heads up. Carry a lot of local currency. Not just because it’s an expensive country but because majority do not accept cards, yeah I know it sounds strange for a country so digitally advanced but a fact. Also keep in mind since a lot of inter-city travel is by train which is expensive, it’s advisable to pre order a JR (Japan Rail) pass online prior to travel. It takes a couple of days to arrive but is cheaper in comparison to buying on the spot or paying in currency all the time.
An important tip is don’t tip! It is considered rude to tip and of course not appreciated. Just pay what you need to and move along. Another interesting fact to know is you will not find garbage bins easily, read barely. They believe in the philosophy that your garbage is your own. Just as other personal belongings. You are expected to carry it back and put it in your own dumpsters. Japan has everything for all types of travelers. I personally recommend that you add it to your bucket list, I guarantee there will be no disappointments!