If someone had told me a year ago that I would be standing under a cherry tree in Japan next spring, I probably wouldn’t have believed it. Japan was never really on my bucket list. Why was I still on a plane to Japan a few weeks ago? This is probably mostly my friend’s fault. Unlike me, it had been his wish for many years to visit Japan. This is probably because he has a great passion for animes and mangas. Unlike me, he grew up with Naruto and co.
I suspect that Japan is not necessarily at the top of many of your lists. Maybe this post can convince you a little that Japan is definitely worth a closer look.
Impressions from Kyoto and Nagoya
Japan is new, unknown and incredibly exciting. In no other country have I seen such contrasts between modern and traditional as in Japan. A distant country that lives very differently and has completely different habits than we cultivate here.
Finally arriving in our first city, Kyoto, we were overwhelmed by jetlag. So we only managed to visit the Gion quarter that day, which was very close to our Ryokan. A Ryokan is a traditionally furnished room. Ryokans are the hostels in Japan. If you are in Japan, you must stay at least once in a Ryokan, otherwise you will miss out!
This is the traditional district of Kyoto. In general, Kyoto looks much more traditional than other cities in Japan. Gion is also known as the Geisha Quarter, as many people live there. With a bit of luck, you can meet Geisha on the way to work in this neighborhood. If you don’t find any, you will still see many Japanese women dressing up as geisha during the cherry blossom season and taking their photos there. Gion has an old town character, as there are many wooden houses, tea rooms and paved streets.
As you can see on the group picture, the Japanese have no problem at all with being photographed. On the contrary! They are always very happy and open-minded, which is really nice and cordial. It’s not like us where we are still asked to delete the photo because the person doesn’t want to be photographed. With this picture it was like that that that I asked originally only two of the girls whether I could make a photo of them. They were so enthusiastic that they immediately brought their girlfriends in and made this beautiful picture!
On the second day we were greeted in the morning by a traditional Japanese breakfast. I shot you a food diary that will be online soon. There you can see the exact breakfast. But I can already say so much: At the beginning I was really shocked and had eaten almost nothing except the rice. Over time I got more used to it. Japanese traditionally eat a bowl of rice every morning with different side dishes (tofu, fish, egg, pickled vegetables…), salad and miso soup. But as I said, you will see more details in the Fooddiary!
On this day we decided to explore some Kyoto and the Japanese culture. We also came across our first 100¥ shop, which is well known and popular all over Japan. They can be compared to our one Euro Shops, where everything really only costs 100 ¥. At the current rate, that’s about 0.74 €. In contrast to our shops, where you usually only find some scrap or bits and pieces that you actually don’t need at all, the 100 ¥ shops are a real paradise! Once you’re in Japan, you’ll love Bentoboxing or Masking Tape, you should really visit these 100¥ shops. There’s always a very wide selection and you have to remember that it only costs 100 ¥. But there are also many, many other things to discover. For example sweets, household appliances (especially for the kitchen), crockery, garden articles, things from the beauty area like fake eyelashes, nail polish and soo many more. You can spend your time there very well.
On this day we mostly walked along the Kamogawa River, which is 31km long and flows through Kyoto. It is also called the heart of Kyoto, because around it there are cycle paths and footpaths and the cherry trees bloom splendidly in spring. The cover picture, for example, was also taken there.
In general it was already blooming very nicely in Kyoto, but it should become even more beautiful in the course of our journey! In Kyoto the buds were just beginning to bloom, which looked really nice. Occasionally the trees were even completely bloomed and in full splendour! Then you realize how many different kinds of cherry trees there are in reality. By far even more, than with us!
By the way, you can see things in Japan that you probably won’t see anywhere. For example, a man riding a bicycle with a cat on his back. She didn’t really seem to mind that either.
If you don’t visit temples and shrines in Japan, you’ve probably done something wrong. They exist in abundance in Asian countries and are just the counterpart to our churches (only much more beautiful, I think). On this day we went to the Fushimi Inari-Taisha – one of the most famous and oldest Shintō shrines in Kyoto. The special thing about this place are the Torii, which are arranged one behind the other like an avenue. These Torii are all donations from individuals, businesses and families. It’s really impressive to walk along them.
Again, we met many Japanese who dressed traditionally and took photos of themselves. The traditional costumes made the whole place even more magical. It was a pity to walk along the path so that the characters were on the other side. Only if one turned around, one could marvel at the characters in the avenue. That looked a lot nicer!
If you walked further, you also came to the cemetery, which also looked beautiful. The area was also surrounded by many bamboo trees. These and many other tree species grew much higher than here in Germany.
It quickly became clear to us that it was very important for the Japanese to be able to write down their wishes and hopes in any form and then attach them to such sites. Either in paper form, on mini-Torii, through a coin toss in the wishing well or as a small prayer – everywhere you have the opportunity to pray for your happiness and desires.
This place was so beautiful that we forgot a bit about time and didn’t return until the afternoon. Actually it was planned that we would visit the Kaiserpalast in the afternoon. We learned, however, that you were only allowed to enter the palace if you had registered at the Imperial Household Office in Kyoto beforehand. Of course, we didn’t have this permission, so we didn’t have a palace either. But we could once again enjoy the cherry blossoms in the park that surrounds the palace. And no: These cherry trees and their beauty never get boring. You can never have enough photos!
The next day we took the bus for the first time. Why do I emphasize this here so much? It was a very interesting experience. There are two types of buses in Japan. At least we had two different experiences, maybe there are more. One is a system that is also used in the subways. The price of the ticket is measured by how far you travel. But this morning we went on a bus that had a different payment system.
The first unusual thing about this trip was that we had to get on the back of the bus. When we got on the bus, we immediately went to the front of the bus driver and wanted to buy a ticket. What we didn’t know until then: one always pays in the buses at the end of the journey. The bus driver ignored us therefore skillfully and we were looked at by the other Japanese only strangely. Confused we sat down and wondered if we had to buy a ticket before the trip and we were driving black. After a sign in English appeared on the screen, it brought some light into the darkness. In this bus you always pay 230 ¥, no matter how far you drove. The catch: You had to pay it appropriately. Of course it’s not that easy if you don’t know that. So Alex and I went to the cash register and managed to scratch 230 ¥ together, but together 460 ¥. By the way, it’s only logical that you always get out in front and can’t drive black with it. After this small, confusing experience we drove to the Golden Pavilion.
I have a very special connection to this temple. Many of you probably don’t know that, but my father is a photographer and has traveled a lot before. Among other things also to Japan. About 20 years ago he also photographed the Golden Pavilion and framed it after his trip. Since then this picture was hanging in our kitchen and as a little child I saw this motive every day. Therefore I was especially happy to see this pavilion, which I had seen so many years in a photo, once in real life. It was therefore also one of the beautiful destinations of my trip.
The Golden Pavilion is called Kinkaku-ji in Japan. It got its name from the upper floors, which are really completely covered with gold leaf.It is common for visitors to be able to buy incense at such temple sites and then put it in a container filled with sand. The smoke is said to have healing powers. That is why the Japanese fan the smoke to those parts of the body that are either sick or simply supposed to stay healthy. Often these are the head and the heart. But men also often fan it to their genitals. 😉
After we already had a bit of cultural program behind us, it should finally be fun. We drove to Arashiyama to visit the Monkeypark there. Arashiyama is worth a visit because it is so beautiful there! There you can see a lot of mountains and from a distance some cherry trees, which stand out between the other trees because of their blossoms. It’s exactly the way you imagined Japan to be.
But back to Monkeypark. If you’re ever in Kyoto, don’t miss this park! Unfortunately you weren’t allowed to touch the monkeys and should keep some distance from them. But you could feed them in the feeding house, which was a lot of fun. They were really incredibly cute and after the visit I understood why monkeys are some people’s favourite animals. But see for yourself:
In Arashiyama you can also have a wonderful picnic because there are so many cherry trees. For the Japanese it is quite normal to have lunch under a cherry tree in spring. You can see that very well in my video.
The last point on this day was the bamboo forest, which was also close by. Unfortunately it was very disappointing for me as well as for Alex. In the Internet on the pictures he looked much more beautiful. Sure, he was impressive in any case, but by far not as beautiful as I had imagined. Moreover, it was just super crowded, which made taking pictures very difficult and it wasn’t very pleasant just to walk through it
There you turn around once and the time in Kyoto was almost over. The day was very rainy, so we decided to visit the covered Nishiki market. It’s like this: When it rains in Japan, it rains really and mostly the whole day. But it wasn’t so bad for us because it was our day to travel to Nagoya.
Back to the market. This is a very traditional market where you can buy food. So if you want to cook typical Japanese food, you will find the right ingredients here. We also recognized a lot of our breakfast. A lot of fish is sold here, but also other food. It is always very difficult to recognize what it is about. All signs are only in Japanese. There is usually no English translation.
The shopkeepers often offer small samples for tasting. Who dares, can experience something! But we are also offered familiar things to try, such as chestnuts. The market is 390m long and covered by coloured glass windows!
We drove on Friday from Kyoto to Nagoya with the Shinkansen. This is the fastest train in Japan. It can go up to 300km/h and usually does. This allows you to get through the country quickly. If you get a Railpass before the trip, you can also use all Shinkansen. What exactly a Railpass is, I will explain in more detail in my Japan-Travelguide.
In Nagoya we unfortunately had incredibly little time. The day before it rained until evening, so we couldn’t do much and only Saturday remained. The problem was that on Saturday we drove directly to Hakone again. Nagoya was really only a stopover, because the Ryokan could only take us three and not four nights in Kyoto. Nevertheless we made the best of it and visited Nagoya Castle.
Although it had a moat, we would probably imagine something completely different and above all nothing so beautiful about a castle. For us the castle was one of the most beautiful places in Japan. It is not the original castle, but only a replica. The castle was completely destroyed in the Second World War except for three gates and three small towers. In 2014 the replica of the castle was completed. The remaining buildings on the site are still under construction.
It is worth a visit! Many of the movable walls and paintings could still be saved from fire and are now exhibited there. In addition the whole area is planted with many cherry trees. When we were there, the places looked more like a big fair. Everywhere there were stalls with food and a small stage show you could also watch.
So that was our time in Kyoto and Nagoya. I hope I could give you a little impression of our time in Japan with the blogpost and the video. You see, there is so much to see. In the next blogpost about Japan I will take you to Hakone and Tokyo.