This summer I traveled to Japan with my family for 10 days. Although I am half Japanese in heritage and my children are one quarter Japanese, this was the first trip for us. We really didn’t know what to expect.
We split our time between Tokyo and Kyoto, two very different cities. Tokyo has the largest population in the world (38 million) but you would never know it as everything operates smoothly, efficiently and extremely politely. Although we expected to sightsee in Tokyo, we learned that the city excels more in it’s different neighborhoods and districts (Harajuku was a favorite), each offering a slightly different culture or specialty. Tokyo is also well-known for it’s shopping and food.
Although we are not big shoppers in general, we could not get enough of the food courts in the basement levels of the enormous and often opulent department stores in the Ginza District. We also found them in many train stations. The food choices were endless and the presentations were incredible. Ironically as I walked around snapping photos, I was politely asked to stop as it was against the rules. Funny, as Japanese tourists are relentless photographers!
We tried as many types of food in Tokyo as we could. Here is our breakfast after we arrived on our first day. I could get used to having sushi for breakfast everyday!
And for dinner that night, we snuck into a basement ramen shop and were assisted in paying for our dinner from a vending machine and taking the ticket to the counter. That took us awhile to figure out! The ramen broth was meaty, rich and satisfying. Not anything like the Top Ramen we whip up in 5 minutes at home.
We did a lot of walking in Tokyo, we rode the trains and we did a lot of eating. By the way, June is rainy season (which we didn’t realize) so pack accordingly if you go at that time. It really didn’t damper our excitement in being there. Wagyu beef and more sushi.
After a few days in Tokyo, we took the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto. The bullet train itself is an amazing experience and one we never tired of. We bought a pass before we left for the US that allowed us limited but good access to the trains for one week at a reasonable price.
Kyoto is the city of temples and shrines. We found a few temples on our own when we had a free afternoon but found it more efficient to take a one-day bus tour of some of the more notable ones to visit. Although we usually prefer not to travel in large groups, we knew we had limited time and made an exception.
It was exciting to see people dressed in traditional clothing at some of the shrines and temples. They were very gracious about letting the many tourists take their pictures!
A definite highlight of this region was our one day visit to Nara, known for the largest wooden temple in the world and for the many tame and affectionate deer that roam freely in the park surrounding it.
On our last full day in Japan we took the bullet train to Hiroshima to experience a part of history. We worried that the site, memorial and museum would be very difficult emotionally and perhaps too much for our youngest teenage child. But it could not have been more well-presented.
Ground Zero of the atomic bomb dropped on August 6, 1945 is also known as the Atomic Bomb Dome. This skeleton of a building is virtually the only thing that survived for miles because it lay just below the center of the explosion overhead. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park surrounds it with a number of moving monuments. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum is informative and tastefully documents the events that led up to the world’s first nuclear attack. It’s theme focuses not only on the history but on prevention for the future of all mankind.
A touching part of the Peace Park is the dedication of 1,000 cranes in memory of Sadako Sasaki. She was 24 months old at the time of the bombing but developed cancer at the age of 12 due to the aftereffects of radiation. In Japanese culture, the folding of 1,000 cranes is believed to grant wishes such as recovery from illness. Sadako unfortunately passed away and did not finish folding her 1,000 cranes so her classmates finished for her. Since then, many, many people make pilgrimages to Hiroshima with thousands of folded cranes to add to the world prayer for peace. It is beautiful and moving.
Overall, Japan has left me yearning for more. More time, more culture, more experience, more immersion. It was so much more than I expected with so much more to know.