Japan has always been on my Must-Go list. Over a decade of being exposed to Japanese culture through language & cultural studies, not to mention that all the anime, manga,and Japanese friends I’ve had over the years have built up my desire to go to an almost fever pitch.
So at 10pm on the 31st of October 2014, a mere decade after making the decision that going to Japan would definitely happen, my girlfriend and I boarded a flight to the rising sun– an adventure that we could hardly believe was really happening.
At around dawn we woke up, peered out the window to see Japan rolling into view. Just past the coast was something that explained more in one viewing than all of my research into Japanese mythology than anything else: the forests of Japan, swathed in morning mist.
Suddenly I found myself taken back to the stories of forest spirits and demons and lonely samurai wanderers. An instant reminder that I wasn’t in Sydney any more.
Japanese bureaucracy is beautifully efficient. Have your documents sorted, make sure you’re in the right line, and you’ll be through in no time. What was expected to take us a good hour just waiting for customs and immigration to get through with us was done in about 20 minutes, including the time to get our bags, and, after a bit of a wait to get our rail passes, it was off on the first of many…many….MANY trains we would take during our stay. Getting anywhere requires a bit of planning. Getting from A to B can be a chore when you look at just how many different lines each train rail company runs.
Japanese trains are amazing. I never thought I’d be praising public transport but I love it. While walking from platform to platform can be a bit of a slog, the trains themselves are very regular, punctual to an almost unsettling degree, and full of quiet and polite Japanese people who are far better than we Westerners are at realizing that personal space is a purely mental thing.
My girlfriend and I are staying in Asakusa (pronounced asak-sa) in Tokyo for this leg of our Japan trip, then back there again at the end of the month. We chose the location for a few reasons: great-yet-cheap hotels, very tourist friendly, close to pretty much everything, and more dripping with history than an encyclopedia.
No more than two blocks from our hotel is the Sensoji temple complex. This includes two incredible entrance gates, Sensoji Temple itself, and a beautiful five story pagoda that overlooks it all.
Despite the heavy rain we were quickly approached by a group of students wanting to practice their English by taking us on a tour of the temple complex. Explaining the history of each structure and their mythological basis. We gave them each a couple of Caramello Koalas as a thank you gift. I think we made some friends here already.
Later that night we hit up the Shinjuku district for dinner and a wander through the night life. Shinjuku is everything I imagined and more from a night-life district in Japan; strange, alive, crazy, and pure Cyberpunk. I feel like I’m walking through the opening chapters of Neuromancer around here.
All in all a pretty packed first day in Japan.
Stay tuned for the week one round up.