“THE WORLD IS A BOOK AND THOSE WHO DO NOT TRAVEL READ ONLY A PAGE.” ~ SAINT AUGUSTINE
A Little about Japan
Both Nippon and Nihon Japan’s earlier names, literally mean “the Sun’s origin”, that is, where the sun originates,and are often translated as the Land of the Rising Sun. Japan is an archipelago, or string of islands, on the eastern edge of Asia. There are four main islands – Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu.There are also nearly 4,000 smaller islands, too! Japan’s nearest mainland neighbours are the Siberian region of Russia in the north, and Korea and China farther south. People first came to Japan about 30,000 years ago. At the time, the main islands were connected to Siberia and Korea by bridges of dry land, allowing people to cross on foot. The first society, called the Jomon culture, arose about 12,000 years ago. Around the same time, the Ainu people arrived by boat from Siberia. The Jomon and Ainu survived for thousands of years, hunting, fishing and gathering plants.
In 300 B.C., the Yayoi people came to Honshu Island from Korea and China.The Yayoi were skilled weavers, tool makers and farmers, and they were the first people in Japan to cultivate rice in flooded paddy fields. In 660 B.C. Japan’s first emperor, Jimmu Tenno, came to power. For many years following, Japan was governed by a string of emperors, until the 12th century A.D. when military rulers, called Shoguns, took control by force. Europeans first arrived in Japan in 1543, bringing with them a range of new technologies and cultural practices, including the Christian religion. But in 1635, the ruling Shogun closed Japan to foreigners and forbade Japanese to travel abroad, beginning a state of isolation that would last more than 200 years. In 1868, the Shoguns were overthrown and emperors returned. This was a time of great change and modernisation for Japan.Japan became a Constitutional monarchy in 1947.During World War 1 (1914-1917), Japan fought on the side of the Allies (Britain, France Belgium, Russia and the USA). But in World war II, Japan’s military leaders sided with the Axis powers, joining forces with Germany and Italy.
Day 1 – 22nd May
I booked my Japan tour along with Jessy(My travel buddy) and her friends (who became my friends) Dr Alvin and his wife Rachel and their two adorable kids and Rachel’s parents John and Ivy and her friend Shiby. We were already in touch with each other in the whatsapp group created by Jessy.The trip was booked in October itself with Neem Holidays.After a long wait the D-day dawned.Shiby,Jessy and self decided to take a cab together and we got a bit delayed while searching Shiby’s home but we reached well in time to the airport.
While I was getting hyper,Jessy was quite impervious to the situation somehow I always admired her nonchalant attitude and have to take lessons from her.Dr Alvin and his family had already reached the airport.After completing the formalities of security and immigration we had ample time left so we enjoyed some home tea made by Ivy and some snacks since we knew dinner would be late.
Meanwhile we browsed around the airport and on Shiby’s recommendation Jessy and self bought a neck pillow which was quite useful for the long flight ahead.The boarding started at 7.30 pm and the flight took off in time at 8.30 sharp.We got our seats together and enjoyed each others company.Nippon Airways has very good in flight entertainment,very sincere and polite staff and good food.The first experience of Japanese hospitality was superb.They served the drinks at around 9.30 and dinner was served at 11pm.
Day 2 -23rd May
We landed at Narihata Airport, Tokyo at 8 am.
After collecting our luggage we had our first experience with the high tech toilets of Japan.What they have done in Japan which I find is quite inspirational , is they have brought the toilet out from behind the locked door.They have made it conversational.People talk about it 🙂
It took us a bit of time to get accustomed to the hi-tech toilets,we were quite a pro by the time our trip ended.
After freshening up we met our tour manager Aditya and the local tour guide Mr Santo San for Tokyo. San is added to names either male or female as a mark of respect.
We got into the coach, any kind of eatables and beverages were not allowed in the coach.It was a comfortable coach and the coach captain very pleasant and well mannered.
We started at about 10 am from the Airport.Our first day was at Asakusa.Asakusa retains the vibe of an older Tokyo, with traditional craft shops and street-food stalls along Nakamise Street near the ancient Sensō-ji temple. Mid-19th-century Hanayashiki Amusement park has rides and cafes, while riverside Kuritsu Sumida Park hosts regular festivals and firework displays. A trendy upscale dining scene is developing along the waterfront, while backstreets are lined with casual Izakaya bars.(informal bars and cafes.)
We crossed the Tokyo Gate at about 10.45 am.Tokyo Gate Bridge is a truss cantilever bridge across Tokyo Bay in Kōtō, Tokyo, Japan. It opened on 12 February 2012 with an estimated total construction cost of ¥113,000,000,000 for the Stage II section of highway including the bridge.
We were dropped at the Mega City Web Toyata Car Showroom for an hour.It is Part of Odaiba’s Palette Town complex, Mega Web is a mobility-focused theme park where you can explore Toyota’s latest models and learn about its newest technological developments. The park is divided into three sections: Toyota City Showcase, History Garage, and Ride Studio, each offering a different perspective on the company. We Began by wandering through Toyota City Showcase, inspecting the latest display models, and enjoying test rides before heading over to the history garage to get a feel of the company by learning about their most historically significant designs.There were big queues to try out the futuristic cars,I gave up but Jessy was determined to try one ,the experience left her nauseous and giddy.I browsed around and took some photos of the awesome cars.
We came out of the showroom at 12..25 pm. We thereafter saw an exact replica of the Statue of Liberty,miniature in size . It’s a bit of NYC in Japan !!!
At first glance, one might think that the world renowned Statue of Liberty has been moved to Japan, but it’s really just a smaller-sized replica in Odaiba, Tokyo The Odaiba Statue of Liberty is made to seem much larger than it is in photos due to its proximity to a walkway, and with a suspension bridge in the background, it’s easy for the average person to assume they’re looking at a picture of New York. However this uncanny replica in Odaiba stands at only roughly 40 feet tall, about 1/7th the size of its New York counterpart. Originally erected temporarily from 1998-1999 to pay tribute to Japan’s ties with France, the statue was returned for good in 2000 due to its popularity.
The statue overlooks the Rainbow Bridge, the unofficial name given by local residents. With glowing lights, sometimes in rainbow colors for special holidays and events, it creates quite the striking scene behind the Statue of Liberty, and is one of the prettiest views in Tokyo day or night.
As if one Statue of Liberty replica was not enough, Japan has at least a couple more scattered about the country, although none are as grand as the New York original.We took some photos of the statue and also at Love point a cute little selfie point.
Next we explored the Aquacity a shopping mall on our own and were advised to pick up plugs and other knick knacks.This was the only time when we could have lunch on our own so we decided to try out Japanese food we walked in Tsuki Sushhiko at about 1 pm.It’s a cute and quiet place and we enjoyed the sushi and prawn salad accompanied by warm and cold SAKE.
Therafter we visited the Samurai Statue The first group photo in Japan was taken with the Samurai Statue as the backdrop.
The Majestic Samurai
Later we sampled the delicious green tea flavoured icecream known as Matcha.
Jessy took the Matcha and I took the gold flavoured one and we enjoyed both the flavours.
We also posed for innumerable photos in the well manicured lawns and the well pruned trees.
Thereafter we made our way to the Imperial Palace.
The Tokyo Imperial Palace is the primary residence of the Emperor of Japan since 1868 earlier it was located in Kyoto.It is a large park-like area located in the Chiyoda ward of Tokyo and contains buildings including the main palace, the private residences of the Imperial Family, an archive, museums and administrative offices. The main area itself is not open for public. This is perhaps because the Imperial family themselves still live in the premises. This is why the main area of the Imperial Palace is closed for public, except on two specific days of the year, which is January 2nd for New Year’s Greetings event and December 23rd which is the Emperor’s Birthday.
However, there are guided tours of the palace grounds offered regularly throughout the year.Entry to the buildings are not allowed.The tour itself spans for about 75 minutes but would be held in Japanese. Foreign visitors can ask for English audio headsets.
Prior bookings are required to join the guided tours of the palace grounds.You can book the tour via their website, fill in the form which is in English.Since we were in prebooked tour which did not include the palace tour we were contented to take some photos from outside.
Later we boarded the bus to the famous and the oldest temple Sensoji Temple.
Sensoji Temple and Shinto shrine
Sensoji Temple in Asakusa is the oldest and most famous temple in Tokyo with a history going back 1400 years.This temple is dedicated to Kanon the Buddhist goddess of Mercy,and is incredibly popular with millions of people visiting each year.The story of Sensoji goes back to 628 when two brothers went fishing in the Sumida river,That day they did not catch fish but they did find an unusual object in their fishing net a small golden statue.even though they threw the statue a number of times it kept coming back to their fishing net.They showed it to their local chief and together the three of them made a small grass hut to enshrine the statue and this was the start of the Sensoji temple.
The Main Buildings.
The main entrance of Sensoji is the Kaminarimon(Thunder Gate) which with its enormous red and black Chochin lantern(Japanese Paper Lantern) has become a popular symbol of Asakusa.
This is the outer gate of the temple and it enshrines two statues of the gods of Wind and Thunder.After passing through the Kaminarimon we entered the Nakamise shopping street.This is the approach road to the temple’s main buildings and is lined on both sides with traditional souvenir shops.We found lots of eatables shops also one looked like our very own vada pav.I bought some Matcha sweets(300 yen for a quarter kg).The next is the Hozomon(Treasure House gate) stands at the northern end of Nakamise.This is the inner gate of the temple.
Three large Chochin lanterns also hang inside the gate.After passing through the Hozomon gate we entered the main part of the temple complex with the main hall in front of them and the five storied pagoda on the left.In the main hall the statue of Kannon is enshrined, however the statue is not actually on display.Its hidden from public view,every time somebody tries to view something bad happens.
The Five Storeyed Pagoda stands at 53.32 meters high.This Pagoda has the relics of the buddha’s ashes in the topmost story donated by Sri Lanka.Two huge star sandals ward off evil spirits.They are called O-Warangi.
We followed the rituals of the temple by washing our hands from a huge cauldron of cold water from the dragon’s mouth and then purified ourselves with the incense Dyan.
Washing our hands and Purifying with the Incense
After offering prayers we clapped our hands two times for our prayers to be fulfilled !!if you want to donate you can do it at the entrance.After exploring all the main buildings and the Five Storeyed Pagoda.We found some interesting structures.
The Five Storyed Pagoda
A small offering of 5 yen coin is done and choosing randomly 1 strip of paper from the box hoping for good fortune.If its bad it can be left in the temple tied in a string.
A short walk to the east took us to nearby Asakusa Jinja Shrine which is smaller and quiter.The shrine is dedicated to the two brothers and their chief who established the Sensoji temple,We found brightly coloured rickshaws and handsome rickshaw pullers to take you around if you are unable to walk.We found a number of tourists enjoying the ride.
Soon it was time for dinner at Aryas restaurant an Indian restaurant,for dessert there were piping hot jalebis.(Have a terrible sweet tooth),
We finished dinner by 6.30 pm.Our hectic day ended with finally checking into our hotel “Comfort Suites Tokyo Bay”.The hotel was luxurious and we also had a cup of welcome coffee while we were waiting for our room allotments.
Day 3 –24th May( Yokohama & Kamakura)
We left for Kamakura at about 8 am after a sumptuous continental breakfast.We did try some of the Japanese delicacies and we reached Kamakura at 11.30 am.
Kamakura is a seaside Japanese city just south of Tokyo.The political center of medieval Japan, modern-day Kamakura is a prominent resort town with dozens of Buddhist Zen temples and Shinto shrines. Its most recognizable landmark is the Kotoku-in Temple’s Great Buddha The Great Buddha of Kamakura (Daibutsu) is a bronze statue of Amida Buddha which stands on the grounds of Kotokuin Temple. With a height of 11.4 meters, it has long been the second tallest bronze Buddha statue in Japan.
The Bronze Buddha
The statue was cast in 1252 and originally located inside a large temple hall.However, the temple buildings were destroyed multiple times by Typhoons and a Tsunami in the 14th and 15th centuries. So, since the late 15th century, the Buddha has been standing in the open air.
We paid “¥20 and visited the interior of the statue and took several photos inspite of it being very crowded.
Inside the Buddha Statue
We left the place at 12.25pm and we were now on our way to Yokohama.and reached at about 1 pm.We had a contemporary lunch meaning food was served in plates and there was no buffet but if you wanted more helpings it was served.We finished lunch at about 2.30 pm and thereafter proceeded to the Red Brick Warehouse. Formally the Customs Inspection House for Yokohama Bay’s shipping activities in the early 1920’s, these handsome red brick buildings have been converted into one of Yokohama’s most popular family or date spots. Inside the building there are many unique shops and restaurants. Outside, throughout the year, numerous events take place. October Beer Fest in autumn, a skating rink in winter, and concerts during the summer. Situated right on the bay, the views are beautiful.
YOKOHAMA RED BRICK WAREHOUSE 1st Building
The 3rd floor houses a hall with approximately 300 seats used for theater performances and concerts. It can be used as a party space as well. The 2nd floor is a multi-purpose space used for gallery and other events. The 1st floor has 5 shops including “Akarenga (brick) Depot” that sells brick goods, “Yokohama Glass” where you can experience glass craft making, “SHOBEY＆Masuda Gama” that sells silk products and Yokohama Yaki pottery and “Camera wa Suzuki”. Every winter, a skating rink decorated with illumination opens in the Akarenga Hiroba, attracting many people.
YOKOHAMA RED BRICK WAREHOUSE 2nd Building
Houses approximately 40 shops each having unique concepts. You can feel close to the ocean from the open cafes, restaurants, food court (“Picnic Court”) and variety goods shop on the 1st floor. The 2nd floor has many characteristic interior, jewellery and variety goods shops. More restaurants, cafes and bars can be found on the 3rd floor. The cafe “Chano-ma” themed on “21st century tea room”, and “Bills” famous for “the best breakfast in the world” are especially popular.
We quickly explored both the buidings and we did quite a bit of window shopping and left for Chinatown and reached Chinatown at 4 pm.
They say that you can find a Chinatown in virtually any country. The Chinese being the largest foreign minority in Japan, and China and Japan having a history that goes a long way back, it’s unsurprising that there are a number of Chinatowns in Japan (all of which are in port cities(Yokohama, Nagasaki, and Kobe), Yokohama Chinatown being Japan’s (and Asia’s) largest. Only about an hour (at most) away from Central Tokyo, this Chinatown has about 3,000-4,000 residents, most of which are not newly arrived immigrants but their descendants, so not all of them can speak Chinese. Expect a lot of sumptuous dishes here! Everywhere you go, you’ll see Chinese restaurants, some seemingly trying to outdo each other with their ornate fixtures.Most restaurants have an all-you-can-eat course, and for anywhere between ¥1,500-4,000, you can order all the dishes you want. While some impose a time limit (usually 90 minutes), some restaurants don’t. On the menu are plenty of hearty dishes: various types of dim sum, meat dishes, vegetables, fish, soups—you name it.If you can save some of your appetite to try the snacks and street food, go for it. (Alternatively, skip the all-you-can-eat course and go from one shop or stall to another, trying different things.) The smell of the food wafts through the streets, making the food too tempting to pass up. With large nikuman (meat buns), shumai (pork dumplings), shouronbou (the Japanese term for xiaolongbao, steamed buns with soup inside), tea, fried sesame balls, egg tarts, and more, Chinatown has so much food to offer that you’ll probably want to try everything! Food aside, Chinatown is, naturally, a good place to shop if you want something Chinese-related: traditional clothing like the qipao(One piece Chines dress), charms, lanterns, incense, medicine, spices and seasonings, panda memorabilia, jewellery, and more. Some shops also have fruits that are less commonly found in Japan.
There are two temples in this China Town which we skipped since we were mersmerised by the colourful market. Just try not to get lost wandering around Chinatown, as the streets and alleys are winding and numerous, and you might have trouble distinguishing one area from another!
We stuck together as we were scared of getting lost at one point Shiby and self took a wrong route but better sense prevailed and we got back and safely took the known route and reached the coach.We didn’t buy much although others in the group came with arms festooned with shopping bags.We had to literally restraint Jessy from buying those dainty umbrellas for ¥1200 which would be quite useless in Mumbai rains ! We left China town at about 5.30 pm and reached Osanbashi Pier
Osanbashi Pier is the port for Yokohama’s oldest pier and one of the first gateways for trade with Japan during the modern era.Today it serves cruise ships and offers stunning views of the bay and the Yokohama cityscape.
We found lot of people doing photo shoots we also spotted a bride and groom for a photo shoot.
The area is a popular walking and jogging spot for the locals.
We stayed there till sunset and headed for dinner to an Indian Restaurant “Herbal Spice kitchen”.
There are not many Indian restaurants in Tokyo and they are expensive so its better to go on a trip with all expenses paid.One or two local meals and one starts yearning for Indian food that’s my experience at the same time I want to try local food too !!! Later we returned to our hotel “Comfort Suites Tokyo Bay”.We had access to free coffee and lime juice till midnight I opted for lime juice this time .Next to the reception is a convenience store Lawsons where you can buy stuff for, at very affordable rates.We were thankful to get into bed after an hectic day ,as the next day was a long drive to Hakone.
Day 4 – 25th May (Hakone & Mt Fuji)
We were down for breakfast at 7 ,we experienced the unique Japanese efficiency, as it tends to get crowded during breakfast time and as there are many large groups staying,you have to wait in a queue and they give you a token with a table no.You are supposed to keep the token on the table and then go and help yourself.Only tea /coffee if asked is served at the table.We left for Mt Fuji at about 8.30 am.
A break was given after two hours as its mandatory to give the driver a break after two hours, it also acts as washroom break for the passengers. After 10 minutes we resumed our journey and reached Mt Fuji at about 11.50 am.
Japan’s Mt. Fuji is an active volcano about 100 kilometers southwest of Tokyo. Commonly called “Fuji-san,” it’s the country’s tallest peak, at 3,776 meters. A pilgrimage site for centuries, it’s considered one of Japan’s 3 sacred mountains, and summit hikes remain a popular activity.
Some Shots around Mt Fuji
Although the place was crowded we managed to take photos from the viewpoint.
We left the place at 1 pm and after an hours journey we reached at Gotemba at a restaurant called “India” for a contemporary lunch.
Gotemba is famous for premium outlets and also for a pagoda built by Indians for the Japanese.It’s a small scenic city at the foothills of Mt Fuji and most of the treks to the mountain start from here.
Thereafter we hurried to Hakone for the Cruise with Lake Asahi Cruise.The ship interestingly looked like a pirate ship.
While driving to the cruise area we saw garages which practised Car drifting and modified cars. Hakone is famous for its hot springs called “onsen” in Japanese.A Shinto shrine is dedicated on the left where king Ashito came o pray.When the king clapped he could see the seven headed dragon under water.The ship runs between three ports of Hakonemachi-ko, Motohakone-ko and Togendaiko.We got down at the second port Motohakone .We enjoyed the cool breeze.The cruise started at of 3.30pm and ended at 4.15 pm lasted for about 45 mins. We stood at the edges and enjoyed the scene.
The Beautiful scenery captured from the Boat
After the cruise we checked into the Kuratake-Inn.Fujinomiya.Earlier we were advised by Aditya our tour manager to carry only our small bags as it would be only a one night halt.So we left our bigger bags in the coach.The rooms here were smaller and there was a very tiny lift to take us to our room on the 5th floor.After settling down we went down for welcome drinks.I did try some wine while Jessy was high on whiskey on the rocks 🙂 Finally we left for dinner, after dinner we went out for bowling at the mall Aeon and later we just walked around and chatted and returned to the hotel at 11pm.
Day 5- 26th May (Kobe)
Today we started breakfast at 7.30 and after we wrapped up breakfast we took a short walk near the hotel and clicked pictures of beautiful flowers on the roadside.
Beautiful Roadside Flowers
We started for Kobe at 8.45 am and we had a long drive ahead.We had our first break at 10 and resumed with our journey at 10.30.During these breaks we also shopped for some Japanese sweets I bought a box of sesame sweets tasted like our very own “Tilgud”.Our knowledgeable guide pointed out all the main attractions on the way.We had a glimpse of Nagola port,Legoland and Mitsubishi.There are many small scale industries also.We also had a glimpse of the biggest distribution center of IKEA and transportation company Suzosho.On the other side of the road we found lush green fields, farming is done on contract basis for 9 months.We passed by the Nagoya largest Amusement Park in Nagashima resort.Aditya the tour manager also pointed out the Hydrogen plant for futuristic cars in Nagoya.We had another break at 12.30 pm and resumed our journey at 12.45.We covered a distance of roughly 442 kms in 3.5 hours travelling roughly at a speed of 140 kms which we couldn’t make out since the roads were excellent..
The city of Kobe is located on the island of Honshu and is known for being one of the most vibrant cities in Japan. The city is located on a scenic harbour and also has its own mountain which offers sweeping views across the region.
Kobe is also known for its devastating earthquake which hit in 1995 and razed parts of the city to the ground, and now you can visit a range of memorials that are dedicated to honouring those who lost their lives during this challenging period of Kobe’s history.The city is totally rebuilt and there are no remanants of the devastating earthquake.
After reaching Kobe we had lunch at an Indian restaurant “Aarti”
The Indian Restaurant Aarti
Thereafter we visited the Earthquake and Tsunami Museums.
The Great Hanshi –Awaji Eartquake Memorial Museum
The Disater Reduction and Human renovation Institution communicates the experiences and lessons of the great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake to future generations and provides information on preparing for future disasters.We watched a 3 D movie on the Earthquakes and Tsunami. In the 1/7 Theater the special effects,computer graphics and sound on the big screen let us relive the massive quake.Actual artefacts from donors as well as photographers,video footage,and testimonial records trace the path from devastation to reconstruction.The experience left me shaken.After the movie we walked through the photo galleries and artefacts displayed, brought home the fact that none can escape the fury of nature on mankind.A petite and elderly lady demonstrated how isolaters provide safety to the buildings during an Earthquake.The whole experience was humbling but it also brought home the fact that the Japanese can bounce back from any kind of disaster whether man made or natural.
Thereafter we visited the massive Electronics showroom Yamada.We were confused with the mind boggling options and ended up buying nothing.It contains three floors of electronic items.
Instead we spent time at Uniloq a clothing and accessories outlet in a mall.The time was not enough so again did not buy as there was not enough time to look around the huge store we reached at the designated meeting point a signal 🙂 where the coach was waiting we made it to the cut off time of 6 pm though we had to wait for people who did loads of shopping and were late. 🙂
We were now on our way to Osaka and reached for dinner at an Indian restaurant Mayur at 7 pm.We started our dinner with the birthday celebration Mr Vinod Agarwal,the brilliant CA in the group.
We finished dinner by 8 pm and reached our hotel Shin Osaka Washington Plaza.
Our room at the 22nd Floor was awesome and gave us a good view and whatever little time we had we gazed at the incoming and outgoing bullet trains and the other tube trains.We tried capturing the trains on camera.
After checking in we came down and browsed around the shops and I bought a bottle of “Sake” for 1200 yen. and chocolates we returned to the hotel at about 11.30 pm
More about Hiroshima,Kyoto and Osaka in the concluding part.
To Be Continued………………..
“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer”