We love Japan! I'm not even sure I can explain why. I didn't have any huge expectations really- I thought it would be interesting, but busy and crowded and, erm, full of Japanese tourists!
|Water trickling in a zen garden, Kyoto|
Our first day, wandering along the 'Path of Philosophy' in Kyoto, was one of my favourite days of the whole trip. In the very first temple we visited I was struck by a sense of calm. It was so quiet and peaceful, padding around barefoot on the wooden walkways that divide up gardens of gravel, moss and dwarf conifers. We sat on tatami mats drinking cups of green tea, with the sound of water trickling over bamboo, the smell of incense and cedar wood, and the view of maple leaves overlapping in a criss-cross starry pattern above us. The gardens were stunning- everything picture perfect, not a leaf out of place, the gravel immaculately raked, the trees pruned and the moss trimmed. I wouldn't have expected to like them so much (not exactly being a neat freak myself!) but there was something very affecting about it all. A zen like state remained with me all day, happily ambling from one beautiful temple and garden to another.
|Sushi in Kyoto|
|Electric city in Tokyo|
From Kyoto we sped to Tokyo by the bullet train- expensive, but something that we felt had to be done while in Japan. It was on time of course (trains run almost the length of the country between the cities about every 6 minutes!) and just as smooth as expected. We stared out of the window as countryside and towns passed in a blur. Like everything in Japan it was very quiet, and businessmen dozed beside us for the 140 minutes it took to cover 400 kilometres.
Tokyo itself has so many aspects to it that it's hard to get to grips with in just a few days. It's massive, more like a group of cities all merged together, but with plenty of green spaces as well. We tried to get a taste of some of the sub-cultures at work, from anime obsessed 'geek chic' teenagers in the electric city, to 'cosplay' (costume play) groups who meet up at weekends to dress as manga characters, to the gucci shopping 'ladies who lunch'. There's a bit of everything here, and it's all fascinating. The bright neon lights of Shinjuku were just how I imagined from 'Lost in Translation', with karaoke booths and huge TV screens everywhere. Just around the corner was an area of really cool little beer bars where a young after-work crowd spilled out onto the streets in the summer evening.
|Neon lights of Shinjuku in Tokyo|
|Japanese maple leaves|