Welcome to my first post on my adventures in Asia this summer. As you know, I spent about two-and-a-half, almost three weeks traveling through the countries of Japan and Taiwan with my family during the second half of June and into the beginning of July.
While it was probably my millionth time visiting Taiwan (I have relatives over there, so I go often), it was my first time in Japan. I was excited to be going, as I knew little about Japanese culture (aside from shrines, lots of nature, and bomb-ass food) and wanted to see what it was all about. My parents had booked us a bus-guided tour (with thirty or so other passengers) for an eight-day tour around the island of Honshu, which contains the prominent cities of Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. Between each city, we toured smaller ones, and got to see lots of beautiful sights, smells, and of course lots of Japanese food! 😛
Without further ado, let’s start from the beginning!
After a long flight (well, two, as we had to transfer once at Taipei), my family and I finally arrived at Narita International Airport near Tokyo. We were greeted by one of the tour agency members, who ushered us onto a shuttle over to our hotel in Narita, where we would be staying the night and beginning our tour the following morning. It was around 15h00 when we arrived and checked into our hotel rooms (I shared a room with my sister while my parents had another to themselves). We were pretty exhausted from traveling for almost 24 hours, and so we just stayed in the hotel for the rest of the day, had a complimentary (and very nice) bento dinner at the hotel restaurant, and turned in for the night (seriously, I hit the sack at 19h00; I was so damn tired!).
We started the following day by checking out of the hotel, meeting the tour guide and the rest of the tourists, getting on our bus and heading out to check out the Tokyo Bay Aqua Line, a bridge-tunnel that connects two places– Chiba and Kanagawa– together, as before it would take over an hour to drive between the two (the commute has now been reduced to a mere fifteen minutes). Nothing much to see, except drive through it.
Next, we went to Kamakura to visit the Tsurugaoka Hachimangū, a 1000-year-old Shinto shrine in the heart of the city. The tour guide told us that, before entering the place, one has to wash one’s hands with the water provided at a nearby basin by using the long-handled cups to wash each hand individually, starting with the left and ending with the right (shamefully, I messed up the first time, and had to go back to do it correctly; I didn’t want any possible misfortune afflicted upon me, if that’s a thing in Japan!).
Afterwards, we took a short rickshaw ride around the small, naturesque streets of Kamakura; the ride was only fifteen minutes, but it was very peaceful and a fun one to experience. Kudos to the driver for pulling me and my dad around town- it’s definitely a workout!
Once our ride was over, we got off and headed into town. We had a lovely (but filling!) combination of udon noodles and tempura rice bowls for lunch before exploring the touristy shopping and eating streets. We had some delicious purple yam-matcha swirled ice cream, and bought a few fresh mochi as souvenirs (for eating later!). Good stuff. 😛
We left the Tsurugaoka Hachimangū in the early afternoon to make our way to the Hase-dera, a temple also in the Kamakura area. It houses one of the largest statues of the Buddhist spiritual figure Kannon, the goddess of mercy, and also is known for its blue and violet hydrangeas. We weren’t there for very long, but nevertheless, it was pretty and all.
Nearing the end of the day, we took the tour bus to our next destination, Atami, where we would stay in a hotel for the night. What was interesting about this hotel was that (1) its lobby was on the seventeenth floor, as the building was perched over a cliff looking out towards the beautiful, blue-grey sea, (2) it had a hot spring, as well as a sauna, for hotel-goers to use, and (3) we were to wear yukatas, a summer kimono, for the hot springs and sauna, as well as the dinner we were having that night in the hotel. Really old-schooled, Japanese customs, but hey- when in Japan, right? I admit, the yukata was quite comfortable to wear (fyi, the left side of the kimono wraps over the right side- if you do the opposite, it means that you’re in mourning!).
I decided to try out the hot springs and sauna for the first time, as I was interested in seeing what it was all about. Thing is, you have to go completely naked- no clothes whatsoever!- to the communal baths, which at first made me uncomfortable, but in the end, it really doesn’t matter. Nobody cares, as they’re all too busy relaxing and chatting with friends and acquaintances. So, naked all the way! 😉
Had a pretty grand dinner with the tour group that night; besides the abundant amounts of sashimi, pickled vegetables, and miso soup, what made the experience even more interesting was that we had to eat sitting down on the floor, our plates in front of us on the kotatsu, those low, wooden tables that you’ve probably seen in historical Japanese films. No chairs: mind you, it was a bit awkward for me to get comfortable on the floor while eating, but again, it was an experience- and the food was tasty!
My family and I went to a mochi-making demonstration after dinner, where I got to pound some glutinous rice with a wooden stick (fun and super squishy!), then taste a sample afterwards (so good). Decided to use the hot springs once more before bed, this time going with my sister. You can bet that I was super relaxed and tired after that, falling asleep as soon as we returned to our hotel room.
…and that’s it for the first two days of Japan! Stay tuned for the next leg of the trip soon! Cheers. 🙂
— The Finicky Cynic
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