Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The sun may rise in the east....

I have now been in Japan for a few weeks. First impressions were, in contrast to China, Clean, modern, efficient and expensive. Exactly what I was expecting. Its harder to go 'native' than in China because western comforts far from being a rarity (as in China) are more common. Before I delve into what I have been doing, I shall point out some Japanese quirks...

1. Food, Although relatively normal they have some right proper odd foods, ie whole strawberries with cream in bread. This is just bizarre...

They also eat poisonous fish, raw horse etc. I will go into this in more detail at the relevant time.
They do have eating sorted, whether you are in a group or alone. Alone you sit at the bar/cooking area and watch them. This is great for loners like me, no longer do I feel a social outcast at meal times.

2. Fashion - (as expected) people here dress quite ridiculously from time to time. People my age often dress like 8 year olds, in princess costumes etc or just odd clothes. There are plenty of people who dress normally too, but when its weird its extreme.

3. Toilets - Almost the same except for all the fun gadgetry on the side. The seats are often heated, has a French style bidet squirter that can be adjusted for strength of water splash and temperature.

4. Automatic doors - More a pet peeve than a quirk. The automatic slidy doors open too slowly. They don't start opening until you are inches from the door. I've had some close instances where I almost walked in to the door.

5. Umberellas - Whether its raining or sunny you will see about a 1000 umberellas.

6. Shoes - Shoes come off almost everytime you enter a building, from the Temples to Restaurants and Hostels/Hotels.

7. Lastly, Onsen/Sento (baths) These are dotted around everywhere. Due to Japans volcanicity plenty of rich mineral water seaps out of the ground, where a bath house will spring up. Unlike a swimming pool in England, you enter naked and most baths are segregated, although some communal ones do exist.

(They also drive on the correct side of the road [left] and obey traffic laws, oh my days)
If I think of anymore I'll add them when I need to.

Onwards to travel times. After leaving Korea, I got my boat and slept on the floor overnight. Ariving in Shimonoseki I saw all it had to offer, it was nice but boring. I saw some clowns, the aquarium and climbed a hill to see it and Kyushu Island.
I also went to the fish market, which was fun seeing all the fresh food being made into Sashimi. Shimonoseki is also famous for its 'Fugu' Puffer fish to you and me. It is the poisonous kind that if prepared wrong, you die. You will most likely know of this fish from the Simpsons episode where Homer eats it and thinks he is going to die. I of course ate it too. It was nice... and I have lived to tell the tale.

Next stop on the tour was Hiroshima. I don't think I need to point out quite why Hiroshima is most famous. I visited peace park and the A-bomb history museum. I was impressed by the unbiased portrayal of the events leading up to the A-bomb, as a historian who has studied this I felt it was quite a balanced report and gave both sides. The Museum itself housed roof tiles, pieces of clothing and other artefacts from the aftermath of the blast, including pictures and written records. It was quite a harrowing experience seeing the damage and suffering caused. Hiroshima itself as can be expected for a city rebuilt is quite modern and clean. Despite the sadness of the museum I liked Hiroshima. I also ate the 'speciality'* food here which is called Okonomiyaki, a sort of sandwich dish made up of a pancake on one side and a omelette on the other with noodles/seafood inbetween.

* I say Speciality food here because many places also claim Okonomiyaki as a speciality. (There is a photo on picasa)

Continuing the whistle stop tour, I moved on to Osaka. Osaka has been my favourite place so far in Japan. Bigger than Hiroshima, it has a sense of excitement/fun that Hiroshima lacked. In fact I liked Osaka so much I went back after Kyoto. Its more bright than Hiroshima, with neon everywhere. The station is huge, comprises about 3 massive department stores and an underground maze of shops and restaurants. It is topped in ridiculousness only by Kyoto's architectually interesting station (more on this later)
In aspects of sites to see, I saw Umeda Sky Building, The Castle, museum of housing, Ebisu Bridge and Amerika Kure. I also went to the aquarium, this hosts a massive tank depicting the pacific, it houses a Whale Shark and a giant Manta.

Amerika Kure and Ebisu Bridge are two spots where the cool kids hang out. Amerika Kure so named because it replicates american culture; musically and fashion wise. Ebisu bridge is smack bang in the middle of Dotombori, the 'nightlife' area and a massively long arcaded shopping street. I just stood in these areas for a few hours watching people, silly fashions and restaurant staff trying to entice customers while I waited for the sun to go down and the neon lights to take full effect.

Kyoto is next. This the old imperial city for quite a long time. It is host to mostly Temples, Shrines and Palaces. It also rained heavily. I saw some temples on the first full day but gave up halfway through as I was soaked to the bone.

(this shows rain pouring off the top of a temple)

The next day I got wet, saw the Imperial Palace gardens, Saw a market which was dull compared to others I have seen. I gave up for lunch, had a hot Caramel Chocolate at starbucks and thankfully the rain stopped. This allowed me to complete the 5km walking trek of Temples/Shrines in the eastern part of Kyoto. (I skipped a few cause once you've seen one temple you've seen them all)

I have forgotten to add that on this second day, I also explored Kyoto's train station. This is another grand looking building surrounded by shops and restaurants. It is 11 stories high, has a skywalk running above the concourse and has steps leading all the way to the top floor.

After Kyoto as noted, I went back to Osaka. From Osaka I made a day trip to visit Nara, specifically to see the largest wooden building in the world. (2/3rds the size of the original!) Here I am in front of it...

There were lots of deer around, who were amazingly tame and friendly despite the warning signs depicting otherwise...

After Nara and a night out in Osaka it was time to venture to Kawaguchiko, at the foot of Mt. Fuji. Lucky with the weather (as with Everest) although cloudy it was clear to see my second iconic mountain of the trip.
On day two I cycled around the area, seeing Bat Cave, Lake Saiko and Lake Kawaguchi with views of Mt. Fuji.

Kawaguchiko's famed dish is raw horse, or 'Basashi', in my haste to try it, I forgot to take a picture. It was very tasty, not chewy in the slightest and distinct. The other famous dish is Hoto noodles, thick noodles like tagliatelle, but thicker and wider.

After Kawaguchi I headed to Ito, on the peninsula to relax for a few days. It is a spring town and my hostel itself is a traditional 100 year old building with a 'Onsen' in the basement. My room also smells of Salt 'n' Vinegar crisps oddly enough.

Thats all for now, Hope you enjoyed this mammoth post of Japan. Nagano, Kamakura and Tokyo still to do. Less than 2 weeks of asia left :(. More Photos on the Picassa/facebook pages.

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