Japan, the great

How did I end up in Japan?

Japan was not initially on my radar while I was travelling, but after 3.5 months on the road, I found myself with a few weeks to fill in, as I was fed with countries that needed visas, after the Vietnam episode, and also due to the fact that I was given some wrong info by the Chinese embassy in Barbados. At the time, I was based in Hong Kong, as I was trying to get a visa to New Zealand and Australia to spend Christmas and New Years Eve there. The options were South Korea or Japan. Most backpackers tend to stay away from Japan because of the cost, but really, when was I going to back that side of the world again, and how could one turn down a chance to see the great Japan, so off to Japan I went.

The Journey

I had just returned to Hong Kong 2 days before from my birthday trip to Kota Kinabulu, when I decided to head off to Japan. The plan was to fly into Osaka, and fly out of Toyko, doing this allows you to see more of a country in a short time, as you don’t waste time going to back to the entry point. I booked the cheapest option to Japan which was transit through China. Even though China allows you to transit through their airport to other destinations without a visa (unlike New Zealand), I was still nervous. I am always on edge while passing through some of these airports, but the journey was smooth and all went to plan.

Air China earned a place in my heart with the duck they served on the flight, the only draw back I got stuck in the baby section. I had manage to remain healthy for the last few months, but as I heard the coughing and sneezing I started to get worried that my luck was running out. My body and germs do not do well, and airplanes and germs go together.

First Impressions

Once I got off the flight, it then occurred to me, how late I had entered the country. Armed with my directions oh how to get to the hostel I decided to ask the assistance desk to make certain I was taking the correct train. I was not prepared to ramble at that time of the night. The lady at the desk spoke perfect english, and confirmed I was headed to the right train. I had to switch trains to get to my destination, and even though I though I had it covered I decided to ask a gentlemen on the platform. He was wearing a black suit and looked like he worked for the station. I was wrong. He turned out to be a very drunk “salaryman”. Male office professionals in Japan are called “salarymen”, and they tend to all wear the same black or dark suits with white shirts. After indicating to me, I was on the right platform, he continued on to speak to his friends, who appeared more drunk than he was, then, they started pointing at me and laughing. Who knows, maybe I looked funny.

As I approach the street the hostel was on, I came to a Y and stopped, not sure if to go left or right. Then I saw a lady from a restaurant pointing me right. She obviously saw my bag and knew. I found Japanese to be helpful, even with their very limited english and unlike other parts of Asia, where being black creates chaos, they stare politely. As for the drunk “salarymen”,  that’s part of the culture. At night, I looked forward to seeing them out and about, crazy happy and laughing in the street, or pass out sleeping on the train.

Hiroshima Peace Park

Hiroshima Peace Park

Street hostel was on in the day

Outside the hostel


What I got up to in Japan

In most locations, I try to do one major item, Formula 1 in Singapore, safari through Kruger National Park, South Africa etc. In Japan, that was not the case. I spent most of the time wandering around and soaking up the culture. Walking down the street in Japan is an experience. There is so much culture, in the way persons are dressed, the atmosphere, the excess use of gadgets, the love of manga and anything animated, and just the crazy number of persons on the street. The only place where I have seen that high level of population was in Hong Kong.


The cities I took on:

Osaka, Hiroshima, Miyajima Island, Kyoto and Toyko

The highlights:

Hiroshima Peace Park

Very popular with tourist as its the location of the atomic bombing in 1945. A park has been created in memory of those who were killed. The park is very well maintained and there are so many features to dwell on. There is a separate monument for the children who perished, and there is a huge bell you get to ring for the peace of the world. Of course, the tourist in me had a go. The main attraction for me was the dome, its basically the remains of the only building left after the bombing which has been preserved. I believe it has UNESCO status, and is cornered off obviously for safety reasons.


Dome - Hiroshima Peace Park
Dome – Hiroshima Peace Park

I took the tourist bus to get there, basically the bus circles the city near the tourist attractions, and you get on and off at will. These buses are a great way to see a city, and they are usually cheap. Once I was finished, I just wandered off walking towards the city, and I came across some lights attraction. I probably spent and 1 hr just walking the street looking at the various lights designs, then I realised the tourist bus would have stopped running, and I had no clue where I was or which direction I should be going in. I continued wandering anyhow, and came upon a street fair as such, with some fabulous street food, and what appeared to be some type of ceremony with pledges or something like that. By the time my feet had enough, I was very lost. I stopped and ask a policeman for some directions, it took him what felt like 5 mins to tell me, go straight and turn right. Pointed in the right direction, I found my way. That morning I had gone to tourist information desk at the station for some help in finding accommodation for  the night, the ladies did help me find a room, and I had dropped my bag off before hitting the streets, and hadn’t been back. When I got there the lady at the desk started hugging me, saying she thought something had happened to me, because I took so long to get back. You have to love them. This hotel was the most authentic Japanese place I had stayed in so far, and that night I robed up in a kimono.





Miyajima Island

Sunday is tourist day, every one and their momma goes for the day. I got a tram and tickets from the main station in Hiroshima and it took us direct to the causeway for the ferry to island. The island is usually very crowded but there is enough to do for the day, plus there are shops for buying souvenirs and loads of treats, and the best moon cakes. You get a map when you enter the island and it shows you attractions on the island and how to get there. You can head to the north side of the island, and get away from some of the tourist, but be prepared to walk. It was here that I first saw the yellow leave tree and a torii gate. The island is also known for the many deer that live there, for some reason they like to eat paper, and I have been told they have eaten persons ferry tickets.









I chose Kyoto as I wanted to see the geisha, and unlike what some persons in the western world thinks, geisha are not prostitutes. A little town with some lovely architecture and little cobbled type side roads, called Gion, is where you will find most of them. In the evening lots of persons come to get a sighting. I walked back and forth and through all the little roads just trying to get a good glimpse, and every time I saw one, I would stop until they were out of sight. I didn’t approach them for a photo, I am always conscious of persons privacy, especially as I know first hand how it feels. There were persons in Kuala Terengganu hiding behind cars taking my photo, and I am sure in Kota Kinabalu there is a preschool class who all have a photo with me. I had to restrain myself a lot in Japan, because one of the most exciting things about the culture is the way they dress.


Also in Kyoto, is the golden temple, it must be the most photograph temple in Japan, it is simply beautiful. As mentioned before, I was there of the changing of leaves season, that made for an even more beautiful backdrop. My favourite photo of the trip came from that visit.



I also made a stop at the emperor’s residence, but you couldn’t get in the compound, and even though the park surrounding it was nice, and had the biggest yellow leave tree, I though it was a waste of time, time I could have spent in Gion, looking for a geisha.


Other fascinating things about Japan:

Of course, the fast cars and trains. I was on a train that was going so fast, I was scared, and it was not the bullet train. I got off and wandered around the town for a bit and got another one. No, I am not the least bit embarrassed by that.



There is a noodle museum, I didn’t go, but the thought is very entertaining.


There are large amounts of bicycles and vending machines on every corner, all lined off perfectly.



The advertising, even on gaming consoles has a perverted feeling to it, that I can’t really explain.



Read the 2nd part to the Japan adventure here:





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