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Japan 2011

Japan 2011 Tuesday 26th Ashley and I spent the day previous in Busan on the beach. On Tuesday afternoon, we made our way on the subway over to Busan International Ferry Terminal. We got on the ferry at around 8pm. Our room was shared between 8 people. There was a Japanese family of four, and a Korean couple, as well as Ashley and myself sharing a cabin. The sleeping arrangement of bed was an interesting, yet practical one. I made my way to the sauna and hot tub. Deliciously relaxing. Our first Japanese experience came when trying to buy food at the restaurant. We needed to exchange won for yen and then pick our dish, trying to decipher the Japanese. Luckily some of the foods had pictures. The time consuming part was remembering the Japanese text from the menu and pressing the correct vending-style button to order you meal. The staff were all Korean, as was the ferry line. An interesting mix of cultures. Back in our cabin, the Japanese family helped us with our sightseeing guides. The mother spoke English and translated the information her husband to us about all the temples and areas of Kyoto to visit.

They were very friendly; the 9 year old daughter helped me with some pronunciation from my phrase book. The ferry didn't leave port until after 11pm. The mother explained to us that the journey was too short for an overnight trip. We leave very late and then wait for the Hakata Port, Fukuoka, Japan to open at 7am. Arriving in Hakata, we got on a bus to the train station. Our first hurdle was trying to get money out of an ATM. We didn't change any coinage before leaving. The great thing about Korea is how much English is worked into their language over the last 50 years of US military living there. I took for granted that most ATMs in Korea have an English option. Not so in Japan. A Japanese girl who spoke English helped us with withdrawing money; very sweet she was. We purchased a ticket to Hiroshima and went to eat some breakfast. Come 11am, we got onto the Shinkansen bullet train. About an hour later, after enjoying much of the green mountainous scenery and houses, rice fields and bamboo forests, we arrived in Kagoshima....

Yes, we didn't realize we were not in Hiroshima until asking at Information how we should get to Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. No wonder she gave us a confused look. We got on the wrong train; about an hour south of Hakata, 2.5 hours south east of Hiroshima. The most southern west point of Japan before taking ferries to the islands.... Not where we wanted to be. But God showed up again and helped us via a fluent English speaking Japanese girl working at the Information Desk. She took us to the ticket office and explained our situation. They girl at the ticket office went to the terminals where you deposit your used tickets. She and another girl, took out 3 drawers containing a few hundred tickets EACH, and over the next hour, they ceaselessly looked for our tickets. Once found they called Hakata station, confirmed we did buy the tickets there. We received new tickets to Hiroshima and would receive a refund when

arriving at Hiroshima. How amazingly awesome!!!?? Ashley and I were so thankful we gave the girls hugs and got a photo with them.

Back on the train, we eventually arrived in Hiroshima 2.5 hours later than intended. We got on a tram and got off at the Peace Memorial Park. I thought the Atom bomb dome was a dome monument built in remembrance of the dropping of the atomic bomb. It's a building left as it was hit by the bomb. The city is built up and looks like any other city all around this one destructed building. It was quite beautiful, with the rubble lying on the ground. The metal structural bars were bent and rusted. Grass grew around the building. It was like a piece of history saved from that moment, while the rest of the city developed and changed. The Children's Peace Monument was incredible too. There were millions and millions of paper cranes in a rainbow of colors and patterns. Small chains of cranes. Cranes assembled together to make bigger cranes and swans. Mosaics with words and the symbol of peace made from cranes. It was fantastic.

We arrived on time (of course: This is Japan after all!) at Kyoto station. Not knowing how to get to our hostel or where the nearest subway was, we got a taxi; even though they are expensive (like UK prices) We couldn't check in to our hostel until 9am; it being 7am at the time. But the hostel owner was there eating breakfast and told us to make ourselves comfortable in the kitchen/living area. We charged up various electronics, and I ate breakfast and made ready for the day. We checked in at 9am. We were sharing an 8 bed dorm, which smelt of unwashed, slightly damp clothes. Not so pleasant, but fret we did not as we left to catch a bus to the Kyoto Imperial Palace.

The bus dropped us off not where we expected, so we shared a taxi with a Swiss tourist also with a 10am appointment. The tour was an hour long and was as a typical tour is. Full of tourists wandering around in an enclosed area waiting for their tour guide/shepherd to usher them. However, this 'sheep' kept getting pushed along by a Japanese guide/security guard for loitering and taking too many photos.

The gardens were beautiful. The cedar wood used on the roofing gave the extremely humid air and lovely scent. We chatted with the Swiss tourist, who told us we must go to Nijo-jo Castle, so that's where we went after getting on a bus to Ginkaku-ji (the Silver Pavilion). It was gorgeous inside. The pavilion was small and not as silver as the golden pavilion was gold. The grounds were the most impressive sight. The Zen raked gardens were exquisitely raked. The perfection around every tree and rock was breathtaking. I can see why so many meditate around such places. It is very tranquil, well, once you remove the throng of noisy tourists. The streams and lake and trees and moss covered grounds were truly luscious. The shade was cool and refreshing from the humid sun. The air felt fresher walking under the trees. There was bamboo all around the park. We ate some lunch outside the pavilion, after doing some souvenir purchasing. I really would have preferred to drink my kiwi juice and not have any noodles, but I wasn't allowed to sit in the restaurant without buying something. Ah well, the noodles were tasty, even if I wasn't hungry for them.

We got back on a bus and made our way to the castle. The bus didn't take us directly there, so we walked the rest of the way. The humidity and sun's heat made the walk slightly less than a comfortable stroll. At this point, really wishing my cameras and water bottle weren't quite so heavy.

The castle was excellent. We had to take our shoes off to walk around the wooden floors inside, which sucked as I got a big splinter in my foot by the end of the walk. There were some lacquer paintings and on the walls, but, as I later learned from a student from Hong Kong staying at the hostel, the humidity is such that most are not on show.In fact, during the summer, the museums close altogether to prevent risk of damage to the paintings. The garden and small zen lake were beautiful. We were walking around it as the dark thunder clouds rolled in. What a relief from the heat. A few minutes later followed the lightning and heavy storms. We ran to the bus stop, only across the street and were completely soaked. I did have a plastic bag to protect my camera.

We got back to the hostel and took and shower and changed ready for a medley of Japanese performances at Gion Corner in Gion. The show was an hour long, comprise of a tea ceremony (Chado), flower arranging (Kado), music (Koto or Japanese harp), court music (Gagaku), a short (Kyogen) ancient comic play, (Kyomai) Kyoto style dance performed by Meiko (the highlight of my trip!), and (Bunraku) or a puppet play with 2 or 3 people moving the puppet. The whole show was delightful. It's a taste of all things Japanese for all us budget tourists. Instead of paying a lot for a tea ceremony, or a dance or play, you get to experience just a taste for a much cheaper price.

We walked around Gion. The streets were traditional Japanese housing. We made our way to a relatively inexpensive restaurant and had some sushi, amazing wasabi, too much saki to finish and a selection of vegetables and rice etc. Very tasty without being too filling. An early night in bed by 9:30. I did not move from the moment my head touched the pillow until 7:30am.

I woke up because my face hurt from lying on it all night. How wonderful are the most basic of our daily routine when desperately need them.

Sleep, a toilet, food, water. Grateful were we for a bed, that wasn't moving. We started out at around 10am. A little late, I thought to get and see all I wanted to, but we managed to see everything on our list. We handed our key in, and the hostel owner was nice enough to let us leave our bags there until we came back in the late afternoon for them.

We got on a bus and made our way to Ryoan-ji temple. It had a very beautiful Zen garden within the temple. The lake upon entering the grounds was covered with lilies and lily pads. Had I had my paints, brushes and canvas, I dare say I could have given Monet decent competition. They were so incredible and vivid in color. I couldn't get over the gorgeous moss covering the ground where the trees were. It was just like a velvet carpet. So tempting, I had to step over the barrier and wriggle my toes in the moss. We walked to Kinkaku-ji the golden pavilion, not far from Ryoan-ji. We didn't go in as it was highly congested with tourists and expensive admission. One of the most popular sights of Kyoto. I took some photos of the outside buildings and structures.

Then we went to a café and had some lunch. I had Japanese tea and green tea rice cakes on sticks, and Ashley had curry.

After eating we got on a bus and made our way to the Southern Higashiyama walking tour. It is 5km from start to finish, but we walked about halfway before detouring off back to our hostel. Not enough time to complete it. During the walk, we went into several shrines, temples, and pagodas.

The streets were narrow and cobbled; the buildings were traditional and made of wood, mostly. Lots of interesting shops to see: selling Japanese souvenirs, kimonos and wooden shoes, sake sets and pottery, jewelry and clothes; sweet treats and restaurants. I got a few photos of girls in kimono, but not full geisha made-up faces. Ashley asked to have some photos with 2 of the girls. Then, they wanted to have their photo with us. We stopped off at Shore-in, Chion-in and Yasaka-jinja temples. Chion-in was the largest and most impressive. The Buddhist meditation room and shrine was covered in gold and ornamental designs. Yasaka-jinja was more festive, with lots of orange décor. We got back to the hostel in the late afternoon and recharged ourselves and electronics. We got on a bus back to Kyoto station. There I ran to a post office to write the quickest of post cards to mail before they closed. Please appreciate this, all of you lucky people who got a post card. Running with a heavy backpack is not so much fun. We had several hours to kill waiting for our nighttime bus back to Hakata port, which we spent eating more sushi (this time from a supermarket) and spending the last of our yen on souvenirs.

Back on the bus and back to Hakata

Walked to the ferry port and waited for the ferry. Got on the ferry and immediately dropped my bags and made my way to the sauna and hot tub room. Oh wow. No feeling greater than after a wonderful travel to soak aching feet in hot water while looking out the window at the sea. A great way to end the trip. It was glorious. I've been wanting to go to Japan for a very long time, and I'm so blessed to have had the funds and companion to go there. I hope you enjoyed the glimpse of my travel experience. Walking around shops in Kyoto was slightly surreal as I recognized many ornaments and styles from the things at home that Mom and Dad picked up during their stay in Japan. I will go again, if the opportunity presents itself. The spring and autumn most definitely.

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