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11 Jul

Japan tradition – mindfulness – on time

My expectations before starting a 14 days trip to Japan were unsorted. I thougth it will be loud in the cities, a not transparent society, high tech everywhere and sushi. Yes, there were all prejudices you can imagine – but Japan surprised my in every way for the better.

Tokio was full of clouds when we landed 11,5 hrs after leaving Munich. Organised as we are we had the Pasmo cards with us to enter the subway to the city centre. Arriving at Akasaka-Mitsuke station it was only a 3 minutes walk to the Prince Gallery Hotel and up the 31st floor with a magical view from our spacious room. In the far we could barely see the Skytree. We hoped for the weather to clear up and started immediately to explore the city. We were lucky and so we went up the 450 m to see Tokio and its dimensions from the Skytree platform for the first time. We saw the Asakusa shrine from the Skytree and agreed that we go there to get a first glimpse of Japanese religion tradition. In fact we could imagine how deep religious affiliation was present in daily life. Do not miss to try the fortune boxes. Shake the silver looking case where wood sticks with a symbol are in it. Now look for the symbol on the wall of boxes and open it to get your own fortune to take with you or leave there if it is not as good as you had wished to be demolished over night.

m art v sion japan impressions asakusa shrine

Where should we get a first taste of Japanese food? Well, we just tried the first restaurant that looked good to us and it was a surprise. Ladies only were working and cooking. No Shushi but ramen and fried fish. Good enough to start our metro ride back to the hotel. It is very easy to find the right line and the right direction. Look for the station you want to go, look for the lines that are leading there. Look for the color and letter sign and follow the signs. Attention! You need to be aware where you want to leave the underground station. It can happen, that there is a 750 m walk under ground and if you missed your exit, you have to walk all the way back. Good travel guides tell you where to leave for what attraction. But there are everywhere “you are here” maps to give you an orientation and if you are looking at for more than 30 seconds somebody will ask you if they can help you. The G&T at the marvelous bar and a wonderful view over the night lights of the city let us forget that we are 24 hrs on our feet.

m art v sion japan impressions gandt bar

The next morning we choose to get our coffee and a sweet bite at Dean & Deluca to go. Not aware that there are only very view bins in the city to get rid of the cup. So we had to take it till we had walked to Fuji Film Square complex. A stone-cast away is the 2121 design museum and we saw “The Hurdler”. The concrete building itself half under the ground is worth visiting. Onwards to the Mori Museum we passed the National Gallery and saw a visitor line up of 80 min. Thinking we are smarter we decided to come back tomorrow to see the Alfons Mucha exhibition. At Mori I recommend to buy the combi ticket for the museum and the Sky Deck. If you are lucky you can get a glimpse of Fuji-San from there. Where to go to eat? Finally we found out that in a lot of business buildings and first and foremost in metro stations or Tokio station there are hundreds of restaurants, kiosks and fresh merchants (fish, meat, fruits, herbs, vegetables, sweets, …). Look out for a line up and under guarantee you will get quality food and of course Matcha Tea. The sky completely cleared up totally and we started to the Excel Air Service to see Tokio from a helicopter. It was magical and a perfect sunset with mount Fuji in the distance. Back into town near Tokio station we were told to go to Nihonbashi to get a bite. After our experience – stay away from it. Better go down to B1 (basement of the station) and experience the diversity of the food corner.

m art v sion japan impressions museum

Day 3 and NACT surprised with a visitor line up of 70 min. We thought it won’t be so bad not knowing up to that point that Japan is on time, in time all !! the time. Every train, subway, bus, … are dead centre on time. We as Germans are a bit ashamed that we as a high technology nation are not able to cope this. In Japan that makes traveling very easy. You can totally rely on every schedule and time scale. Well if you are in line of a museum it is not so funny. But there is no pushing, jumping the queue and no moaning. As everywhere patience and tranquility is the only option for the Japanese. By the way the city of Tokio is very quiet. The cars are quiet, the people are quiet, everything even the cars are super clean and tidy.

m art v sion japan impressions national art center

Everybody tells you that a Tokio visit without going to Shibuja is not complete. You can do it but in my perspective it is absolutely not a must. As well as Tokio Hands (which you find in other cities as well and with less crowds). We walked to the Meji shrine were we saw three wedding processions. They were very dignified and bride and groom in their traditional dress. Near by there was a Bonsai exhibition and I was mesmerized by the fact that some were hundreds of years old. The oldest even 500 – incredible. Time was running out but we made it to see the imperial garden short before closing. As everywhere cultivated and looked after and again you couldn’t hear the noise of the city. It was time to get our first Sushi. We were not disappointed. The cook helped us through the menu and showed pictures of what we just eat. Well a water snail or a sea urchin is tasty and compared to a Schnitzel somewhat an acquired taste. The following G&T at the hotel bar gave some release, but we decided to go back on our last day.

m art v sion japan impressions imperial garden

JR Pass – buy in advance in your country online, activate it at the time you first use it. For JR enter the station at the extra walk through and show it to the gatekeeper. To reserve a seat go a day before to the JR ticket office and they provide you with every possible information in the shortest possible time. At the platforms look for your train and see the signs triangle, circle, quadrate that show you which line (marked on the floor you should use to enter your.

m art v sion japan impressions women only

Day 4 of to Kawaguchi Lake and the Hoshinoya Fuji Glamping. We hoped to be mount Fuji very close which we were but as half of the year “he” is covered by clouds. Coffee and Aperitivo at the cloud terrace within the woods and dinner at the restaurant which was served with lots of small details that made it unique.

m art v sion japan impressions kawaguchi lake

Day 5 4:30 pm it got bright outside and we opened the curtain a bit and like magic – mount Fuji in its full contour and a few minutes later the peak was orange illuminated by the sun. We couldn’t believe our luck to be able to see it so close, so clear. As we “really” woke up “he” was in clouds again. Breakfast at the room terrace and tranquility. We took the hotel bicycles and drove around the lake in 1,5 hrs and ended in the Lake Bake to get a onion soup. After relaxing time we got dinner again on our terrace which we recommend strongly to do.

m art v sion japan impressions kawaguchi bake

Day 6 after a freshly brewed coffee on the camp terrace and breakfast at the restaurant we started first with the bus to Mishima and than with Shinkhansen to Nagoya. The Atsuta shrine and one of the grill restaurants on the plan. There is not really to say more.

m art v sion japan impressions nagoya castle

Day 7 was quiet more interesting: Nagoya Castle which will be completely restored in 2018 was impressive. From Nagoya station by train to Magome (incl. a 20 min bus drive) to the country side. After strolling around we started the 8 km walk to Tsumago which is a must, if you are not afraid of bears. But to keep them away there is every kilometer a bell which you are advised to ring loud. So you should be fairly save. Sport shoes are enough if it doesn’t rain, but take some water with you. It was marvelous and – except of the birds – an almost holy calmness. We were back for dinner in Nagoya and ate in an iPad restaurant at the station. All orders are placed on an iPad. Food and drinks arrive immediately.

Day 8 we went to Kyoto. The most vibrating city we visited. Some southern flair at the river with its 100 restaurants and terraces. We checked in at the new Four Seasons which was in every aspect the right decision. Near the city centre but with a huge garden, very relaxed and quiet. Excellent service and the best breakfast we had on the trip. Most rooms are overlooking the city and the Spa is one of its kind. We started to walk to the famous Kiyomizu-dera buddhist temple. Thousands had the same idea, but as always in Japan, with great respectfulness of others, helped to get through. Than we passed the Yasaka Pagoda to see Kodaiji temple, its gardens and the Yasaka shrine. From there we wanted to start a tour through the city, but we decided in Gion quarter to take a taxi back to the hotel to enjoy the amenities incl. an “Elephant” G&T which surprisingly comes from Hamburg, Germany.

m art v sion japan impressions forest

Day 9 Ginkaku-ji temple, the philosopher path, Eikan-do templeNanzen-ji temple – well it is Japan and if you don’t become diseased by the AFT or AFS syndrome (another f*** temple or another f*** shrine syndrome) you get a glimpse of the Japanese culture with its deeply religious habits. And I can’t say it enough times – all the temples, shrines gardens have there special tranquility/serenity even in the middle of a million people city. Of to more secular desires: Nishiki market and its adjoined shopping arcades will serve everything. A speciality could be grilled sparrow or pigeon, octopus, sea urchin and more – why not. Nijo castle gave a very good and understandable idea (every sign was in english too, which is usually not, nowhere) of how the castle living was in ancient times. Tired and hungry we asked for a Chinese restaurant (yes) and the concierge gave us some relief for the strange question, he said that we do not have to excuse for that strange wish, he is Chinese. At about 9 pm we walked back to the hotel through the gion quarter, but it was “dead”. All activities are at about 6-7pm so we missed that.

m art v sion japan impressions temple 1

Day 10 we started to Nara and the Toshodai-ji buddhist temple and walked on to the Yakushi-ji temple. But than it got amazing – the Todai-ji temple is the largest wood building in the world and the Buddha statue inside the largest of its kind in bronze. A milestone on our trip. Well you can also feed the hundreds of deers in the park, but you do not have to.

m art v sion japan impressions temple 2

Day 11 and 12 promised to be contemplative. But as we arrived in Koyasan and the Fuchiin temple (were we slept) we came down to earth very fast. The friendly staff could not hide the fact that there was no cost benefit calculation. We immediately shortened our stay to one night and survived nevertheless that the joint use showers were musty, the so called Onsen was with out any atmosphere and carelessly places between wooden planks. The food was – lets put it this way – special. At least we really enjoyed the famous cemetery night tour. But be aware of not tripping over the steps of the first two bridges – if so you will die within the next three years. That is what the monk claimed more or less trustworthy.

Day 13 if you are in Koysan it is also worth to see the Kongobu-ji temple and the Danjo Garan complex and the Konpon Daito pagoda. As always every means of carriage on time. Bus, cable car, train and before we arrived at our last stop in Hiroshima, we stopped in Himeji to see the spectacular castle. Our guide said we will arrive at Hiroshima with a very certain emotion and it was. A vivacious city welcomed us, but …

m art v sion japan impressions garden 2

Day 14 … as we came closer to the memorial we were somewhat dither. Inside I never saw so many visitors in a museum or memorial with tears in their eyes as we watched the videos of the survivors of the bomb. Exploding about 600 m over ground at “063096” and killing 140.000 people and many more years later cause of the radiation. 6th of August 1945 8:15 am and the world was not the place it was before. So many had to bear unbelievable misery. Burned skin, loss of beloved ones, brutal wounds, and never ever of the mind.

m art v sion japan impressions memorial

Deeply affected back to Tokio.

Day 15 Yanaka quarter was vivid and you should not miss the Asakura Museum of Sculptures, the Coffeeten, and some more little shops. Ueno is in walking distance and the National Museum of Western Art strongly recommended. The Zoo – if you never saw a panda ok, but you will be disappointed by the rest.

m art v sion japan impressions asakura museum of sculptures

After all the culture, museums, temples, shrines, … we owed our beloved ones to go shopping. We tried very hard, but Japan is not a country with special tourist items, except you are interested in chop sticks. So we made it like the Japanese – we bought loads of well wrapped sweets.

Last year after being in India I claimed that if you have not visited India you have not seen the world. This year I am summarizing the trip to Japan: go there, even with your kids, enjoy the super clean country, the super on time transportation, the way of living social, the way of preparing food and the respectful association with nearly everything. I took some thoughts back home and try to be a bit like the Japanese – not to adapt 100%, but learned how living together possibly could be.

This BBC travel article goes into deep to understand the Japanese social way of mindfulness