By-by Kyoto

It was a great time. My feet are still hurting from all the walking in the hills with those temples and shrines. We went to a tea ceremony, saw geishas and I was on a sake and tuna diet.

Now we are packed and will head to the train station for the next adventure: a three day “Onsen” splash. Staying in a traditional Japanese ryokan guest house and soaking in the famous mineral springs of Kinosaki. I do expect miracles from that ;) Maybe. Or so…

I might not have internet for a while. That is a pleasant change.

See you later…

Kyoto – Imperial Capital for nearly 1100 Years…

I know that you guys are not exactly history buffs. But being a capital for about 1100 years is heavy stuff! Not many other cities apart from Beijing can match this!

Kyoto has great charm. Despite a population of slightly less than 2 million the atmosphere is laid back. Not as hectic as in Tokyo. There are a lot of cultural places here. 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites! In one town! And I am so fucking happy that “my” Pirin National Park is one. Here they have 17! OK, so be it. They deserve it even :)

When I look at the Western world and Japan the background is so different. Japan is not an old culture. They came from the Kamchatka region and the Amur valley in Russia less than 2000 years ago. Tough cookies even back then.

During these few days I gained a lot more insight ito noadays Japan. I have always known many Japanese people (business people) in Europe (less in the US).

Japan at one time in the seventies became the big hitter in Asia and the West – and famous for what the Chinese did later: come – see- copy. But they soon improved on that – as the Chinese do today. Japan became number one in Asia and one of the leading economical powers in the world.

And there was a lot of talk about them. In the US and Europe. We were frightened by them. We perceived them as a threat to become second/third world countries. I remember saying in the late seventies that they deserve to be number one on the planet because they work harder than anyone else, even the Germans!

This is the past! When have you heard the last time that Japan is a threat to our Western economies? I bet, you can’t remember.

And this is exactly the current situation in Japan. They have worked their asses off to achieve something. Now that they did, they have become soft. And only use toilets with preheated seats (sorry, my Japanese friends, that was very unfair – but still true). A country where the “old” people are still scarred by the hard work they did all their lives and where the young have become egoistic…

One of the interesting things in Japanese culture is that even in the emperor’s palace there were no paintings of actual people (like we have them in Europe since more than 1000 years). It is landscape or general scenes. No individuals, no portraits. Because the individual did not count in relation to the whole. That was everyone’s attitude.

They were a nation with common values. Now they are being torn apart between traditions and Western life. I did not want to say that now, because I have been saying this for a long time without having been in the country. Sadly, being here confirms my impressions.

The Japanese are still one of the most hard-working and caring people around. I love them! Enough for now!

 

 

Kanazawa

The third biggest city. Home of the Maeda Clan who was the second most powerful family in Japan for centuries.

A town also with a picturesque old quarter – as Kanazawa was the only big town not bombed during WW II.

And one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan: Kenroku-en.  Unfortunately, my camera battery went dead after a few shots.

 

 

Takayama, Hida – A very special Region

Takayama proved to be a marvellous choice! I would call it an absolute MUST for everyone who visits Japan. It is a small mountain town with tradition, and when you enter it you feel time slowing down. And people are outgoing and real. For this very reason it is a rather popular holiday destination for Japanese from all over the country. Despite the tourists it is so peaceful there. The atmosphere just absorbs them.

Takayama reminds me much of Bansko 15 years ago. Soon I will post a few pictures.Time went far too quickly. If I had known what to expect from Takayama before I would have booked a longer stay.

Takayama used to be the “capital” of the Hida region. Nowadays Hida is famous for its beef. They make more fuzz about that than about Kobe beef. I will write a separate thing about my beef experiences there.

I am pressed for time. This afternoon we went to Kanazawa at the seaside. The third biggest town on Honshu and with a very interesting history. It boasts one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan – and some of the best seafood. We sampled both today.

Sadly, our hotel here was the first one that cannot provide a plug adaptor and so I use my notebook as long as the battery lasts.

Tomorrow we head on to Kyoto…

 

The Heart of Japan

Public transport in Japan is outstanding. You all heard of that. But the truth is even better than the image. Sheer perfection. Whether it is the metro in Tokyo or the trains in Japan. Spotlessly clean. Comfortable. Extremely well staffed. Everyone friendly, helpful, smiling!

We took the “bullet train” from Tokyo to Nagoya (the Toyota town). There we switched to the “Panorama Hida” express, that goes into the Japanese Alps, and therefore has panoramic windows so that passengers can enjoy the views! And in addition: the windows were squeaky clean! How many time have I travelled through beautiful landscapes without seeing anything because the windows of the bus or train were dirty like shit!

On the way to Nagoya we passed Mount Fuji, the legend.

Here we are along the river Miya-gawa – that would lead us to our goal TAKAYAMA.

 

After setting up shop in Takayama we felt like finally having arrived in the real Japan. A town with a strong atmosphere. Slow moving. Hundreds of small breweries making Sake. At the same time famous in all of Japan for its festivals in spring and autumn when the town becomes horribly crowded). The door to the high Alps.

We will stay three nights here. And we are VERY lucky with the hotel. Before our travel I had to change the whole schedule for Japan – and according to our old schedule there were no rooms available in this pearl. It is a mixture of Japanese inn but with the luxury features of a Western hotel.

Next to the lobby you have shoe lockers. That’s as far as you get with shoes. The rest in the hotel is barefoot or with socks (the Japanese, of course, wear white socks – I am barefoot). All floors are with tatami mats. In the room you have suemi dressing gowns that you can wear in the whole hotel incl. restaurant and what have you.

Here I am in my typical “Where is my sake?” position (back home it would be  “rakia” instead of sake)

The hotel has a lot of very pleasant features. Like “rotemburo” and private hot baths on the roof-top.

I just soaked in “mine”:

Here is the view complimenting the hot water:

Now it is 10 pm. We had a modest dinner in town as My felt only like a bit of rice and grilled beef.

Our hotel offers every night from 10.30 till 11.30 pm in its restaurant free noodle dishes! Like a get-together.So, in a while I will be heading some floors down, clad in my “samue” ( it took the hotel a lot of apologies and smiles until they could provide me with a “samue” that would fit my godly stature).

My is already sleeping. She had a hard day. Coping with the colder temperatures here in the mountains is not easy for her. Today’s lows during the night are expected to be 3 degrees C. A bit like Bansko here :)

Tomorrow more…

Izakaya

I don’t want to bore you with descriptions of our visits to the classical Tokyo sites like the National Museum, Mori Art Gallery, parks and temples.

Yesterday, on our way home after a very busy day some signs in a small side street near our hotel caught my eye and I told My that this was the place where I wanted to go later in the evening. It looked like a typical Izakaya – a place where you drink sake and have some snacks with it…

The owner and his chef of course did not speak a word of English so, when ordering cold sake I tried to gesture to him that I wanted him to make the choice for me. This is what he brought and it was not such a bad start:

Next I switched to hot sakes – and as the different appetisers arrived (blind chosen on the Japanese menu) – so came and went the different sakes…

By now I felt very relaxed and very much at home here. I ventured to talk to the other clients in the “gastropub” – and, surprise, I came across two guys who had both lived in the US. They were already at a rather advanced drinking stage – but very nice.

Once we were friends they took pride in recommending different sakes to me. The owner also put his brainpower to work – and the good times continued.

Towards the end I switched back to cold sake – to chill out…

I lost track of time a little – and if the owner would not have thrown us out because he wanted to close we probably would still be there.

In any case: we all parted as best friends!

I hav chosen this as my new home in Tokyo :)

Tokyo – “take 2″

Our area is in midtown Tokyo. A business quarter. But with a lot of small restaurants in side streets. Of course, it rained and I had to buy an umbrella.

Once that was done we strolled along the streets and looked inside the restaurants. It was rather difficult to come up with a decision where to go as all the menus in the windows were in Japanese only (and where there were none, nobody spoke any English)…

My goal was clear: my first meal on Japanese soil had to be raw fish and sake…My would have preferred noodles.

In the end I got what I wanted:

That made my day :) Now I can have other food as well.

On the walk home to the hotel I decided to buy some Japanese beer for a try, from three different breweries:

I was not pleased when I opened the cans. It appears that the Japanese don’t drink “normal” beer anymore. It has to be special “style”, like without carbon-oxide, or with lemon or…or…there is even special “winter” beer. Disgusting! So the beer test is over – it will be sake test in the future…

Now it is Sunday morning, it does not rain and we are on the way to conquer Tokyo. See you…

 

Tokyo – “take 1″

The first few hours in Tokyo were a culture shock. At least for someone like me who comes from “poor ” South East Asia. And I also cold not recognise many parallels to the Tokyo of 1980…

It starts at the airport. Everything organised in a way that even a country yokel like myself would manage. From ushering  people with different passports to (generously staffed) different counters (no queues anywhere at the airport – but maybe because it was Saturday)  to having guys in uniforms patrolling around the luggage conveyor belts advising everyone to check the tag numbers on the luggage to make sure you collected the right one. Everyone very helpful.

The only parallel I detected to 35 years ago was that the level of English language proficiency has not changed much :)

The hotel, in the middle of Askaban, or whatever the quarter is called, a solid business hotel. In the lobby, next to the lifts, trays with items you can take to your room. From instant coffee to one-time-use hairbrushes. But you better don’t take to many items as the rooms do not really have a lot of space for storage. Our double room for the next 5 days has the size of a one man prison cell in Bulgaria. The beds are like on stilts so you can store your suitcases underneath (otherwise you could not move around) – but for Tokyo at about 150$ a night – a bargain. Breakfast not included, of course. The 2 sq.m. bathroom, however, features a toilet with heatable seat, auto-desinfectant and (by choice) either warm water “spraying” from underneath or “bidet function” :)

I have to call it a night now, but soon I will report about our venturing out for the first dinner in Tokyo.

So far, every thing is wonderfully different…