How do I get to hunt and fish whenever I want and spend money on hunting trips all over North America? It is really quite simple. My wife likes to travel to faraway and exotic places in the world and this year I planned a trip to Japan through our favorite tour company, Odesseys Unlimited. What an exciting experience as we traveled by tour bus, trains and rode the bullet train several times. We liked that.
The trip lasted 14 days and we visited a total of nine cities and towns, some located in the mountains. The seacoast surrounding the island is where the majority of the population lives and it was in some of these cities that the bombing during WWII took place. In these cities the buildings all look new and have earth quake protection on the outside of the sky scrapers When we traveled into the towns in the mountains, they were untouched by the war and we saw and felt the Japan of decades ago.
The first thing we noticed was how clean the cities were. This was absolutely amazing and we never saw a scrap of paper anywhere or a cigarette butt(s) all over the sidewalks and streets. Greenery was along the streets and sidewalks all trimmed and maintained as if we were in a garden. Civility was very prevalent by the population and this is something we are not used to in our country. The cleanliness and civility of the population is the result, I was told, of the Shinto religion observed by 80% of the Japanese population. Besides being very civil, the population was well dressed and groomed unlike much of our population we have in our cities. The police seemed to be non existent as we did not see any and took note of this fact.
Tokyo is a vast metropolis compromising 23 wards and 26 cities with a population of over 13 million residents, and 844 square miles. It is also the center of the Greater Tokyo Area, which has a population of more than 35 million, the most populous metropolitan area in the world.
We started out our excursion in Ancient Tokyo at the famed Meiji Shrine, a peaceful enclave of temples and gardens dedicated to the late 19th century Emperor Meiji and his wife. Built in traditional Shinto style with low wooden buildings surrounded by square courtyards, the shrine is one of Tokyo’s most popular attractions.
The next stop was the Asakusa Kannon Temple, which contains a golden image of the Buddhist Kannon, goddess of mercy. According to legend, two fishermen dragged the statue from the sea in 628… but visitors cannot see it since it is hidden from the public. However, you can make your way to the front of the temple to bathe yourself in smoke from the incense cauldron. It is said that the smoke brings good health. Since my wife and I are both in our 70’s, we breathed all the smoke we dared without passing out. We need all the help for good health we can get at this stage of our life.
Outside the temple there was time on our own to explore the Nakamise Shopping arcade. It was filled with stalls selling local dishes, Buddhist trinkets, and popular souvenirs. A close friend of ours is Buddhist so this was a good opportunity to buy him something special from the country. Food stalls were everywhere and since lunch was on our own, we checked them all out. They did not take American dollars but our guide told us to plan on one dollar to equal 100 yen. When we bought anything we just held out a handful of Japanese yen and let them take what they wanted.
After almost a full day of touring we headed back to the hotel. We were still feeling the affects of the plane trip over and needed a nap before dinner. There was more exploration to do. Our entire group commented on the people and how courteous they were. Everyone has respect for the other person and no one was rude, crude, ill mannered or ill tempered like it is in our country. This was a refreshing experience.
At breakfast the next day, the hotel served a European style breakfast along with traditional Japanese food. We ate the western style in the morning. In the afternoon and at dinner it was Japanese food. Lunches were easy, but the evening was really different. Fortunately I ordered hot sake with the evening meal, so my inhibitors were not working and I was ready to try anything. We found some food had a bland taste, but after watching the locals in restaurants, we saw that they would stir wasabi into the soy sauce and then dip the food into the mixture. It added a lot of flavor and by day three we were eating raw fish right along with the natives. I have no idea what it was, but it all began to develop a unique flavor with each course. Comments were made in our group that as long as it did not move, eat it. When we added some hot sake or plum wine to the meal, we were ready to conquer anything.
We visited the Imperial Palace District. Surrounded by moats and ramparts the palace is home of the Imperial Family. Called Kokyo, the huge complex dates to the 15th century, when territorial disputes required massive fortifications and complex societal norms demanded elaborate palaces to reflect the high positions of the feudal lords. When completed, the Imperial Palace was the largest district in the world. From the lovely East and Outer gardens we saw the ruins of massive moat and walls that remain.
Next we traveled to the gallery of one of Japan’s preeminent calligraphers, Koshun Masunaga. Here we learned about this ancient art and browsed the collection. A demonstration of the art form was given and we were rewarded with drawings that depicted each of our personalities. This whole presentation was truly magnificent as this lady is recognized throughout the world for her talent.
Lunch again was on our own and it is interesting that the menus are outside the establishment on large billboards with pictures and the price. We studied the pictures, priced the meal in yen, but we could not read the description. Going inside, we looked around at what the locals were eating then made our selection. I saw the waitress deliver a noodle shrimp dish to a gentleman at the next table. When she came to our table, I just pointed to the gentleman next to me and she brought the same thing after laughing.
That afternoon was free time and the ladies wanted to go shopping. This was an experience out of the 1950’s. There were very well dressed clerks there to help us with anything we wanted at each department of the store. This was a first class department store. Plus all of these young ladies were very pretty and well dressed. The ladies on our tour had a great time in the store and the guys just wandered around in amazement. This was shopping like I used to see in the big department stores in our home cities when I was a little boy. The employees were there to help you whether you could speak the language or not.
Back near the hotel was a tram that circled Tokyo bay. All information and signs were totally in Japanese and the train or tram was totally automatic. You bought a ticket to where you wanted to go and then slid it into a machine that collected the ticket. That let you on, then when you got off at the stop you had purchased, you slid the ticket back into another machine, and it ate it. In other words you were done.
My wife and I were standing there trying to figure things out. I wanted to go, but my wife said we would get ourselves lost. Actually, this was not a problem because we carried a card with the name and address of the hotel on us, so if that happened, we could show a cab driver and he would take us to the hotel. We did not worry about getting robbed or rolled. This is Japan, and you could go out on the streets after dark.
After dinner, we crashed.