Together with hubby and my sister, I was in Japan about a month ago. It was really my sister who was dying to go and I just went along with her to return the favor when she accompanied me to South Korea.
Japan: Sister as South Korea: Me.
My sister is into mangas, animes, Jpop and Jdoramas. Of course, I also dig Jpop and a little Jdorama, but I am mainly into Kpop culture and Knobelas. Whenever I watch jdoramas, I fall asleep halfway through the episode — I dunno, the way they speak lulls me to sleep. Even then, I love Hana Yori Dango (1, 2 and the movie) and the doramas of Kimura Takuya. Jpop is mainly Arashi for me [but love Utada Hikaru!] and so many Jpop artists the names I do not remember. Except for these, I don’t really like Japan because when I think of it, I think of the war and how my lola fled and left my mother who was only a few months old when the Japanese arrived in Bohol; how my lola got almost killed when she was washing the uniform of a Japanese soldier and she was accused of having lost a pin. So yeah, when I think of Japan, my brain has a programmed memory that the country must be scary and the people scarier. Lol.
So, I went there with no expectations at all except for climbing the Tokyo Tower [waahhh, those dramas!]. The good thing with having no expectations is, you get amazed by the most little, ordinary things.
We were on a small tour group of thirteen people. During our five days, we went to a Japanese garden in Narita, The Peace Park near Mt. Fuji [because we couldn’t go up the mountain due to weather conditions], Lake Ashi in Hakone, Uwakudani Hell Valley in Hakone, Fuji-Kyu Highland Amusement Park [near Mt.Fuji area] Tokyo DisneySea, Tokyo Tower [wouldn’t miss it!], Imperial Palace, Asakusa Temple, Nakimasi Shopping District, Akihabara [electronics] district, and of course Ginza district.
The Japanese Garden was so tranquil and so beautiful. I also see those Japanese gardens on TV. When I was there, I felt I was in one of those featured on TV.
The Hakone Peace Park gave us the best view to watch Mt. Fuji but what brought my attention was that there were statues all over the park and names of countries that were injured by Japan during the war were embedded on them—but there was no Philippines there!!!! We were supposed to go up the fifth station of Mt. Fuji but due to weather conditions, it was closed that day [it was the last days of spring when we got there, and we had high hopes, but, that shy maiden hid behind the clouds all day].
Lake Ashi Cruise was funny. We boarded a pirate ship and cruised around the area. Japanese looking pirates were going around the ship, hehehe, weird seeing Japanese pirates —I only know the pirates from the Caribbean. We got off the port where we took the cable car to Uwakudani Hell Valley.
Uwakudani Hell Valley is an active volcanic valley. The place smokes of sulfur. They said if we eat the black boiled egg cooked in its hot springs – the eggs smells of sulfur by the way, we add 7 years of our lives. We bought it and spit it out as soon as our brains processed the taste on our tongue as we took one bite. Yucky, seven years lesser? Nah.
Fuji-Kyu Highland Amusement Park. It’s also called “King of Coasters” because it boasts of high, complicated, roller coasters and other thrill rides of all kinds. There were several roller coasters and as we checked them out, we got dizzy just watching it from below. I was disappointed with myself for failing to muster the courage to ride at least one of them. My husband was discouraging me; my sister was convincing me that we’ll just ride the ones in the DisneySea [chicken!]; even the tour guide told us she hasn’t tried any too because of fear! So, what did you expect me to do? I missed my friends Eds, Bambi and Manay that moment. I bet if they were there, we’d end up riding one and shouting our lungs out like we did in Singapore.
Tokyo DisneySea! This is my third Disney Resort [after Anaheim,CA and Hongkong]. What can I say? If there was anything I was looking forward to in our trip, it was DisneySea. Love it, love it, love it. I think I will never be too old for Mickey and his gang.
The Tokyo Tower, the same height as the Eiffel Tower, stood proudly in the middle of Tokyo. Unlike the case of Eiffel Tower where a vast park and open space surrounded it, Tokyo Tower has nothing of that sort as it was literally in the middle of a busy district. The short ride above in the elevator was an added perk. The lights inside turned off when we were about to ascend — then the light turned into different shades and effects as we went up, add to that some special sound effects as well. Up above the ground, we saw the whole of Tokyo. There was a glass floor on a portion of the tower and you’ll get to see the ground below – made me lightheaded when we took a peek. We were told that the Tokyo Tower will be replaced by the Sky Tree in about two years. We passed by the SkyTree and it is much, much taller than the current tower. By the way, all transmission and communication lines are carried in the Tokyo Tower [it’s there for a purpose!]. What about Eiffel Tower? Lol.
The Imperial Palace also stood in the middle of Tokyo. It was bounded by a man made body of water so that it will not be that easy to access. We were only allowed to go to one side of the palace-not inside but outside its gate. There were guards protecting the gates – Japan’s Emperor and his family still lives there. There was a huge park in the vicinity as well. A lot of people were lying or sleeping underneath the trees in the park. We spent a few minutes sitting in the park.
Asakusa Kannon Temple is a very popular temple in Tokyo. A lot of persons were there when we made a visit. Our guide taught us the rituals and yeah, I told my sister I’m not praying because he’s not my god, hehehe. Even then, I washed my hands, drank water when I got in. Burned incense and fanned the smoke to myself [why again?]. I forgot why. We got inside the temple and bowed. My sister was seriously praying. So was hubby. Me? I just looked around for geishas hahaha. They said Asakusa district is geisha district and you might see them. I saw the male counterparts of the Geisha in the temple though.
Just in front of the Asakusa Temple is Nakamise Shopping District – where traditional Japanese food and other goods were sold. Even up to this point, I was still geisha hunting because I saw at NHK Channel that the geishas buy there.
What is a visit to Tokyo without stopping at the Akihabara, the famous electronic shops district? I got dizzy with so many gadgets available when they all looked the same to me. My sister bought an external memory because she said it was a lot cheaper than back home. She urged me to buy one too, but, hey I am not a techie person and am still using my 1GB usb, leaving a brand new 8GB usb still in its case four months after I bought it. Yup, I don’t like downloading and accumulating those dramas, hahaha.
Ginza is Tokyo’s most expensive district. It reminds me of that expensive area in Paris too. We spent half the day in Ginza, as if we could afford shopping there. We had lunch in Ginza — pricey, but omo, omo, omo, delicious! Then we also tried ice cream in one of the ice cream shops — yummy as well. One scoop costs 450Yen gesh [already one gallon back here!]. I deeply regretted not trying the Gelato in Italy because it was extremely cold when we were there and I was afraid of getting tonsillitis. So, this time, when the guide said, you should try the ice cream, I tried it [ate ice cream also in Fuji area at 250Yen a scoop, hahaha]. In Korea, I ate ice cream in the cold weather too! By the way, I finally saw a geisha-looking lady shopping at the Takashimaya Mall in Ginza, hahaha [she looks like those geishas featured in NHK Channel].
Opps, we also went to the Toyota Automobile Museum and the Toyota Showcase. Well, I’m not a car person but it was still good to see those ancient cars.
The tourist spots we visited were pleasant of course, but what really made my stay memorable are the following [in no particular order!]:
- The Food. It was not Japanese food per se, but the food in general which we stuffed ourselves during our short stay. My trip to Europe will always bring a grimace on my face because of all the bread we had to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner [until now, I refuse to eat croissant as it brings bad memories, hahaha]. This trip was a total food trip. Our breakfasts at our hotel were all “eat all you can” – we just choose which restaurant to go to either Japanese or Western. Lunch and dinner were spent in restaurants all “eat all you can” too. I will never forget how I pigged out in a high rise restaurant within our hotel vicinity with the view of the Odaiba Waterfront. I ate all I can on the Italian Cuisine [tried different kinds of pasta and pizza, after finishing the Asian Cuisine]. Then, that lunch in Ginza is also etched on my mind. There laid on the counters are different kinds of meat and seafood where we just select which to grill and eat [there were other cooked dishes though]. My sister and hubby went after squid, while I concentrated on pork belly and fish. That and all the vegetables we would make for salad and fruits. My last “eat all you can meal” in Narita will always stay with me too. It’s where I made my own crepes — blueberry, strawberry, etc., with different flavors of ice cream too. Just thinking about the food now makes me wanna go back.
- The Bathroom/Comfort Room. Yup, Japanese bidets are known worldwide, and all I have is praises for it. I love the sounds it makes when you do your business. I love the warm toilet seat too, lol. I want it, I want it, I want it! The toilets there do not smell too. You will never have a clue what the previous occupant was doing [1or 2?].
- Tokyo DisneySea. When I went to Disneyland in LA, we were only there for three hours and I did not get to see many shows and rides because the lines were very long. In Hong Kong, I was with my nephews and nieces and on the two days that we were in the park, I was mostly baby-sitting and taking them to the rides they wanted. This time? We were there an hour before it opened! We stayed whole day. It was only me and my sister [because Hubby does not have a say and just followed us around]. We were very ready with what shows to watch and which rides to try because before we left for Japan, I had already browsed the website and studied everything. We had a schedule prepared, hehehe [told you, DisneySea was the only thing on my mind when my sis said we were going]. So, you could say, it was only in DisneySea that I got to “play” to my heart’s content.
- Pink Salmon. The fish. From where I come from, I don’t get to eat pink salmon that much; there aren’t any in our local supermarket. In Japan, it was there in every meal I took – raw or cooked, I loved it. Now, Pink salmon = Japan.
- Water. Japan boasts of free drinking water everywhere. We are not used to not bringing along bottled water during tours, but in Japan, the vending machines do not generally have pure drinking water, but of vitamin water, soda water, etc. We asked our guide and said that the plain water is there everywhere free for all to drink, so the bottled water usually contained some additions. Thus, during the tour, we relied on the free water and did not buy the bottled ones. Singapore and South Korea also have potable water, but in Japan [at least to where I have been], drinking fountains were everywhere; it was effortless to look for water when you go thirsty.
- Pocky. Yes, Pocky, those chocolate sticks. I am not one who can eat chocolates. Every time I take several bites thereof, I always end up with tonsillitis. In Japan, their chocolates don’t have that bite in the throat. I ate 1 million Pocky sticks but no tonsillitis at all. I already told my friend and dentist, Manay, about this. I brought her Strawberry Pocky sticks and we ate it together. She definitely agrees that it doesn’t leave a sting on the throat. She said maybe they were using a different kind of [expensive] sugar. Now, I’m combing supermarkets for those chocolates made in Japan because I can eat them, hahaha. Ohhh, I miss munching Pocky sticks. [I also get tonsillitis eating ice cream, but in Japan, did not also, huhuhu].
- The Systematic, Efficient and Convenient Japanese Way of Life. Everything was systematic, efficient and convenient in Japan. I don’t know how to explain it exactly, but it’s not like our chaotic and compromising life here. Even the most little details are taken consideration – such as providing a baby seat in the toilet cubicles in anticipation of mothers who carry babies. Their smoking rooms have some kind of machine that seeps the smoke out of the air [not like the smoking rooms elsewhere that even the smoker will get out as fast as he can cause of all the suffocating smoke]. I am not a smoker but my husband used to smoke before he shifted to the electronic cigarette. He checked out the smoking rooms there and he was impressed. Seems like everything is there for a specific purpose in Japan– even those annoying concrete walls they have in the highways which prevents me from enjoying the view, were there to lessen noise pollution [gesh]. If I had anything to envy from the Japanese, it’s their convenient way of life.
After our trip to Korea almost two years ago, hubby, my sis and I swore we will be back for a winter trip in the future because we love the place. Even after our European trip, my hubby was still consistent that he would just prefer to go back to Korea than go anywhere again [I had to drag him with me to Japan]. Now? The three of us can’t decide which one we like more, Korea or Japan. My sister says we’re going to Osaka when we go back [but me says, after our winter trip to Korea, hahaha].
Seriously, I’m happy I went to this trip. It changed the way I saw Japan. During her introduction, Ms. Ayumi, our competent and worthy tour guide, obviously very defensive of her country from tourists like me, stressed that during the war, Japanese people also suffered; she said it is not the country which is bad, neither the people, but the government before. I smiled [sarcastically] when she said that on our first day. After the trip, I realized she was right.