Top Ten Best Things About Japan:
10) Night Life
8) The Australians
7) The Subway
4) Shinto Shrines
3) Buddhist Temples
2) Convenient Stores
Japan was amazing and also a completely different experience than Russia. The best part about Russia was the people, I really spent most of my time hanging out with local people, and that was really awesome. I was lucky to meet some people who knew English and were studying to be translator so we didn't have too much of a communication barrier. On the other hand, my trip to Japan was definitely more touristy. There was a huge language barrier which made it a completely different situation. So we played the typical tourist role, going to seeing all the sights, etc. but it was amazing.
Japan is so different than the states. One of the first things I noticed was that it kind of reminded me of ocean city during peak tourist season... ok ok I know that sounds crazy, but it really did. There are just soooooooooo many people in Japan with soooooo little land that the entire country is just packed together. It looks like the beach where there are hundreds of houses trying to get as close to the shore as they can.
When we arrived in the port we were greated by a huge welcoming committee with a band and a fire boad that gave us a little water show. It was the most exciting docking experience we'd had all trip. Once we got on land, we immediately went to the subway station to get to Kyoto and see some temples and shrines. Although our initial experience with the Japanese subway was a little confusing, it ended up being SOOO easy to navigate. It was amazing how easy it was for us to get around the country. Literally, getting around Japan, knowing NO Japanese is easier than navigating New York’s subway system!
We arrived in Kyoto and found a nice restaurant and outside of it, there was a huge display case with realistic plastic replicas of all of the dishes they serve there. So a waiter came out and we pointed to what we wanted and he took our order!! It was crazy, every restaurant in Japan is like this! (or at least has picture menus) But the food looks so real, its actually an art there and it makes it so easy to order. After we placed our order we go in the restaurant and sat at a low table on little pillows on the floor. Then I had my first sushi ever!!! It was amazing; I am completely in love with all Japanese food! I have to admit, I was a little startled by the tiny dab of wasabi that they put in between the fish and the rice! But I instantly fell in love with sushi!
This is a picture of my actual first meal in Japan
After lunch, we walked around the city to the largest wooden structure in the world, a Buddhist temple. The architecture is amazing and we took off our shoes and walked into a breathtaking, absolutely gorgeous, room. There were straw mats with people kneeling and paying homage to huge gold Buddha in the front of the room. After spending some time in the temple, Krystal, Keekan, and I decide to leave the rest of the group and take a bullet train to Tokyo!!!
The bullet train was very cool. The station was huge, like an airport, and so easy to get around. We bought some sake and got on the train. Once we arrived in Tokyo we went to Rapongi, a newer part of the city where a lot of backpackers go. We found a hotel for the night and headed out to checkout the Japanese night life. We partied ALL night and when we finally decided to go home we walked out of the bar and to our surprise and it was broad daylight!! We partied till 6 am!! I think that was actually the first time I partied until the sun came up. Good thing we spent the $$ on a hotel room!
So we slept for a couple hours and then woke up at 8 am and went to see kabuki theater, which was an amazing cultural experience. Kabuki is traditional Japanese theater. All of the actors are male (even for the female characters) and they wear traditional costumes with crazy makeup and play these old string instruments. The performance was four hours long with four individual plays. We stayed to watch two of them. I seriously left the theater feeling more cultured than I was when I went it. It was a really neat experience.
The next day we visited Hiroshima which was one of the most intense experiences I have ever had in my life. The first thing we saw when we arrived was a beautiful park filled with little monuments commemorating people or groups that died. We saw the A bomb dome. which is one of the only buildings still standing (reinforced to ensure that it would not crumble) and it was just breathtaking. And then we came to the memorial mound where the ashes of 70,000 unidentified and unclaimed victims are held... that is the first time it hit me. I can’t even describe the experience except it was difficult to breathe, it was just so overwhelming.
The picture here is of the main memorial and the Cenotaph, which holds the names of all of the people killed by the A-bomb and reads "Repose ye in Peace, for the error shall not be repeated." In the middle, you can see the eternal peace flame and the A-bomb dome. The arch over the Cenotaph represents a shelter for the souls of the victims. After we made our way through the park, we walked around the museum dedicated to the atomic bombing. If you EVER go to Japan you MUST go to this museum. It left a huge impression on me. I don’t think I will never be the same after seeing it. There are so many artifacts from the victims, stories of how people were so desperate for water that they drank black rain and had diarrhea for three months, people sucking the pus from their wounds, coughing up something black.... all of these little kids clothes and their stories, poems survivors wrote and pictures they drew... it was so powerful... I can't even describe what I feel even now just writing about it, it was amazing.
Its quite remarkable how peaceful the memorial is. There is no animosity toward the States or direct reference to how horibble the people who decided to do this to them were. It was just a focus on peace and making sure that this never happens again to any country in the world. While it was a very powerful and sad thing to visit, it also gave off a sense of peace and resolution to protect future generations from the same fate. It was really a beautiful thing to see.
That night we went to Kyoto, and were just walking around town when we stumbled on an amazing Shinto shrine all lit up with Japanese lanterns. There was no one around, so we could just walk around it and explore. Because I am taking a class on Asian Religions, I had been leaning about Shintoism and their shrines, so it was really cool to actually understand what I was looking at. We saw where they pray and their Kami mirror (which is the most sacred part of the shrine) and the bells that they use to summon the spirits.
The next day was by far the greatest day. We went on a tour of Kyoto to about 10 different temples and shrines.
The first stop was the Nijo Castle which had 'nightengale' floors. This means that when you walk on them they squeak to warn the emperor of intruders. Next, we saw Kinkakuji, the golden temple, which is a Buddhist temple completely covered in 22 karat gold leaf. We also went to Sanjusangendo Hall which has 1,0001 buddhas in it, all lined up 500 on each side with one HUGE Buddha in the center, probably like 10 feet tall. When you’re in these temples and shrines you can see why these people worship there, they are quite inspiring. They really bring you to your knees, it is just amazing. I don't even know how I can ever describe what I saw in Japan. Pictures will never do it justice. There are just no words to describe the feeling of being in the presence of something so old and sacred.