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Japan

Curious what backpackers do in Japan? Discover travel destinations all over the world of travelers writing a travel blog on FindPenguins.
  • So we quickly realised that four days in Kyoto is no where near long enough. You could spend a lifetime visiting all of the temples and historic monuments, not to mention all the shopping and fantastic places to eat! We spent the morning strolling through the Zen gardens of Namzen-ji which dates back to the 13th century. The Zen gardens have to be one of the most peaceful places that Tina or I have ever visited. Afterwards we headed into Kyoto city to kick off the souvenir shopping as we only have one week to go before heading home. Tomorrow we head off the to the five lakes district to stay in a Ryoken from which we are hoping to have some good views of Mount Fuji.Read more

  • Today we did a 20k cycle around Lake Kawaguchiko (with spectacular views all the way around) including a brief stop at at the local Sunday market. Being a Sunday, there were lots of people out and about around the lake having picnics, fishing and playing baseball (which is an national obsession). After the ride we had took a paddle ride to the middle of the lake for a few more photos.

  • As we sit in this bus which left exactly on time, with assigned seats, a clean toilet on board, and seat belts, I've decided to write a little something about Tokyo.

    The stereotype of Japanese people being very disciplined and orderly - couldn't be more correct. There's directional arrows on the ground for walking traffic which people follow, there's areas to line up to get on the metro which people don't divert from (unlike the crowds that form at the Montreal metro stations), they even line up outside at bus stops to allow for whoever was there first to board first (unlike when I used to run up to the door the second the bus pulled in).

    Of all the countries I have recently visited, Japan has elicited the most positive remarks. Almost everybody says "I want to go there!". Jack has had similar responses and now we understand the westerners interest in visiting Japan - the culture is different enough to feel like you're a long way from home, the language and writing is enough to be slightly challenging, yet all the luxuries you could ever want while away from home are readily available. There's public (and free) washrooms everywhere outside and they're clean! In other countries, I've had to pay to use public washrooms in which I felt dirty squatting, with no toilet paper that you can't flush. We walked through a fancy building downtown yesterday to check out the architecture and used the washroom (public access). It had heated seats, 3 different bidet options, the water from the bidet was warm (Jack made me try it), it had the fake “flushing sound”; I didn't want to leave! And if you think it's just because we were in a fancy building, we also used the washroom in the metro station - no heated seats this time, but all the same bidet options with a speaker on the wall with a motion sensor to play the sounds of a waterfall when someone was sitting there. Shy pee-ers, fear no more! And yes I've just rambled on about washrooms, but they'll they you a lot about a country!

    The people are incredibly polite, bow constantly, and yet have a surprisingly limited English. As we walked up to the bus we are currently on, the bus driver wasn't standing at the door, he was next to the luggage area. He ran up, litteraly ran the few steps to the door and apologized by bowing about 3 times for not having been at the door to greet us. They are mostly soft spoken. The tickets for our bus were sold out until later in the afternoon, so we were given standby tickets for the next bus. There's a “standby standing area” which is right next to the ticket office, and we were told to wait there and they would call our number out if we get a seat. 5 minutes later, at the time we were told to listen for cancelations, a lady leans over the counter and starts almost whispering something in Japanese. I was standing no more then 3 feet away and could barely discern a syllable. After she repeated herself a few times, still barely a whisper, she asked to see my ticket, and decided to skip whoever she was calling, since apparently this person was supposed to have heard her by now, and gave us the tickets. I was so happy to be the white chick randomly standing in front of the cancelation area, it got her attention enough to score me a seat!

    We've managed to get a handle of the metro and subway lines, which I'm sure you've already assumed are incredibly organized and efficient. We grabbed a 24 hour pass, allowing us to actually go out the two evenings we spent here! We usually crash in the evening deciding to stay in, but this forced us to make the effort. We visited Shinjuku on our first evening and Shibuya the next. Think Time Square on steroids but for blocks! Lights and advertisements everywhere! Mostly only written in Japanese, so clearly us white chicks were not their target audiences. And since these two areas were the nightlife spots to be - plenty of sexualization of random things like the famous Robot Restaurant, Maiden cafes were the waitress are also “professional company” dressed in maid outfits, or the Bunny cafe (girls with little clothing and bunny ears). There were what seemed to be fetish clubs determined by the photo in the advertisement showing a man starring at feet from the other side of the glass… If I had the guts, and if I had done more research into knowing if it was something I was ok with supporting, I would have loved to explore the Japanese “sexual” culture better. It is fascinating to me how the sexualization of anything childish seems to be a widely accepted phenomenon.

    My mother kept telling me to “be zen” and find “zen places”, assuming she meant gardens and temples. Tokyo had plenty of temples, shrines and gardens to admire, but the amount of people at each of them made it just a little less zen. Still, I could really appreciate their attempt at balancing this urban area with more nature and culture. As usual in Asia, their temples and shrines are beautiful and ornamental; but in Tokyo, they are also incredibly clean and appear to all have been painted or repaired in the last month! Not a scratch anywhere, all the details in the carvings intact… With everything looking so new, it was a little bit hard to find the spirituality I usually enjoy feeling when presented with something that appears older, more usage, less presteen. Still, very beautiful.

    Jack says she's enjoying Japan but "needs a sprinkle of chaos in my day to day life" - She enjoys getting culture shock, disorganized bus systems, and feeling outside of her element when traveling. She says jumping onto a bus last minute to have it not leave for another 2 hours is part of traveling for her. Whereas here, because we didn't reserve our seats on a bus leaving at noon, we would not have to be able to leave until 2pm (next available, despite the fact that there's a bus leaving every 30 minutes). And once we did get our last minute seats, which were given away 10 minutes before the bus leave, the bus still left on time. If Jack and I had purchased these tickets ahead of time, there's no way we would have been there 10 minutes early, and they most probably would have given our tickets away. Also, all of our hotels were booked before leaving as per a friend's suggestion that Japan doesn't do well with last-minute reservations. Clearly, she's been challenged differently!

    Conclusion of Tokyo - large metropolitan city, clean, so clean, poeple everywhere, well kept beautiful temples and shrines, well kept parks, not too much of a shock to the system which makes it easily do-able, and on that note - know that I've been eating perfectly fine since we've arrived! Yay for me!

    Oh, and Jack adds that smokers beware! Here they have specific areas for smoking and everyone respects this. No smoking and walking allowed! And vending machines are everywhere, including small residential street, mainly selling drinks and coffee and so forth. That's all.
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  • According to Lonely Planet, Osaka has one of the best aquariums in the world. It certainly is huge taking us almost three hours to walk around the ten meter deep tank. The dolphins, penguins and seals stole the day, but special mentions have to go to the manta ray and jelly fish exhibition.

  • Today we visited Tenryu-ji which is a Zen Buddhist temple first established in in the 8th century. The temple is surrounded by spectacular gardens and a bamboo grove which you have to walk through to reach the temple. Later in the day we checked out the International Manga Museum which has three floors of wall to wall Manga comics and some excellent displays about its history. We finished the day back in the Nishiki markets for dinner.Read more

  • Our last day in Japan was spent visiting the Imperial Gardens in central Tokyo which included a visit to the National Craft Museum and the Nippon Budokan.
    We finished up the day with a Martini (or two) on the 52nd floor of the Park Hyatt Hotel (just like Bill and Scatlett in "Lost in Translation") which had fantastic views of the Tokyo skyline.
    Over the past three weeks we've walked almost 300 kms;
    caught over two hundred trains over 2,000 kms;
    visited at least 50 temples;
    and tried (almost) every food we could find.
    But, our JR Rail Passes (god bless them) have expired and it's time to come home.
    So it's sonyunara to Japan. We've had a fantastic time and will be definitely be back!
    Read more

  • Our last day in Osaka was spent exploring the city's art precinct including a visit to the national ceramics museum which houses items dating back to the second century. In addition to an exhibition of water droppers there was also a enormous display of over two thousand snuff boxes made from every material you can imagine. The afternoon was spent making our way to a rather swanky hotel about half an hour out of Kyoto in a town called Otsu on the shore of the biggest lake in Japan. We will be spending the next four days here as we explore some of the best temples in all of Japan. Tomorrow's highlight will be a tour of a sake museum.Read more

  • We have passed the half way point on our Japan adventure, but still keep being amazed by the sites, culture and food. Today we visited the Fushimi Inari shrine and hiked through the forest which contains over 10,000 Tori Gates (we took lots and lots of photos). Next we visited the Gekkeikan Okura sake brewery to learn about traditional sake making techniques and do a little bit of tasting. In the afternoon we visited the Nishiki markets which sells wide variety of different foods. We had green tea lattes and tried some jelly lollies which were delicious. We had dinner in a little area called Pontoncho where Ian made a mess cooking shuba shuba (a creamy bacon soup)Read more

  • We spent most of today making our way from Kyoto to Kawaguchiko at the base of Mount Fuji. The moment we hopped off the train we had fantastic views of Fuji. Kawaguchiko is in an area known as the five lakes district so we intend doing a bit of a cycle tomorrow around the main lake where we should have some more spectacular views (and photos) of Mount Fuji.

  • We arrived, hot tired and sweaty (I think this will be a theme of our trip!) to be greeted by the scouts of Nagano. After thanking our bus driver and interpreter with gifts of Welsh fudge and love spoons we prepared to meet our home stay families...

    Mr Ando greeted us with a warm welcome from the Japanese scouts and Martin returned the favour with a speech in three different languages - the interpreter was rather puzzled when Martin began speaking Welsh!

    After a slightly shaky rendition of Calon Lan (sorry Brenda and John!!) and a much better version of It's Not Unusual, we met up with our host families to begin our journey to their homes... The scouts staying in Tateshina have a full on day planned tomorrow including visiting a high school to make links, a Japanese cooking lesson and some Japanese Mallet Golf!

    All of the unit have been asked to keep a diary over the next couple of days so as soon as we can we'll get individual stories up on the blog!
    Read more

You might also know this place by the following names:

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