Just a few more shots to end the series…
Minoh and Nara are two smaller districts on the outskirts of Osaka – both ideal locations for day trips from the city.
We stayed in Kyoto for five days, which gave us plenty of time to travel all around the city on foot, by bus and by bicycle. Kyoto is a fantastic city for bicycles, everything is flat and you can get from point to point very quickly.
The image sharpness of the horizontal shots are soft due to WordPress resizing them in this standard gallery format. You can click on the images to improve this and make them larger – especially recommended for the wider panorama shots.
Living in Korea for the last 2+ years has somewhat prepared us for our visit to Japan. And by prepared, I mean that it minimalized any culture shock. Although the two countries have their deep divisions in history, there are undeniable parallels in their cultures. Their mutual influence, interconnectedness, and proximity have created some similarities, while they remain entirely distinct.
I won’t compare the two, but coming from South Korea has inevitably caused us to draw comparisons and differences that might affect the overtone of this post.
Let’s make it simple. I’ll list off what I love about Japan.
-Order. That might drive some people crazy, but when you have so many people and so much going on around you, it’s nice to know that people are going to behave in a civilized and respectful way, even to complete strangers. People don’t push and shove to get on the bus, and they are generally aware of their surroundings. It’s a universal courtesy and I love it. In some sense, it restores my faith in humanity as a direct contradiction to the “ME FIRST” mentality. If they can be polite in overcrowded places like Japan, people can be polite everywhere. It’s the choices we make about the kind of people we want to be.
-Mixing the old with the new. When you think of traditional attire in any country, you wouldn’t expect to see people wearing it in the street. But arriving in Japan in the sweltering heat of summer, I was surprised to see so many men and women dressed in Yukatas (casual traditional Japanese clothing.) I saw Geishas and Maiko’s discretely scuttling the side streets of Kyoto, appearing and disappearing from doorways a few short blocks from each other. I had never expected to be treated to such a vibrant part of living history. The flipside was the fierce, stylistic edge that can be found ubiquitously throughout the streets of Japan. Many women were dressed to kill, and many of them were busy checking each other’s’ appearance as well. It reminded me of Montreal, where as a new arrival, I voiced concern about why so many people were staring at me. “Because they’re checking you out” I was told. People staring at other people out of interest in fashion and uniqueness. This is Japan.
-The transportation system. It can be expensive, but do you really need to take the super-highspeed bullet train? If you’re modest about your travel plans – or even better, if you’re traveling only within one province – it’s not that bad. We went from Osaka to Kyoto for 600 Yen (roughly 7 dollars for a city about 90 minutes away.) Despite the generally high price for public transportation, the convenience and extensiveness of it can’t be beaten. The entire world should be looking at Japan as a model. Even though everything in Japan is in close proximity, it’s still an amazing standard.
-Cycling is a huge part of everyday life and alleviates so much road traffic. People need more exercise and where you’re going most of the time is not even that far away. Cycling is so pervasive in Japan that they have to regulate where you can even park a bike. Bikes and people share small sidewalks and no one is griping about it because everyone is respectful and that’s the way it is.
-History. Everything you could imagine about the history of Japan in front of your eyes. Glorious and astounding.
-Price. Almost everything. But just get over it, you’ll have a better time. And eventually you’ll realize, as long as you’re not buying everything in sight, it’s really not that bad. If you’re coming from Canada or the US, the cost increase might seem incremental, but I hazard the assumption that you too, will find it most worth it. I would suggest that you don’t come to Japan as a backpacker on a backpacker’s budget.
It’s too good to budget for eating at McDonald’s twice a day because you want to afford the subway tomorrow.
-Everything is small. If you like to eat a lot, get used to smaller portions at high prices. If you take an American size XL, don’t plan on shopping.
-Almost no English. Jeju Island, where we live is also like this. With basic Korean we get by, but even in the big cities of Japan, you will get minimal to no English. So it’s good to learn basic phrases, and be prepared to skip a lot of restaurants because unless there are pictures on the menu, you’re not going to have any idea what you’re getting yourself into. Everyday things like transportation are not a problem, (everything is translated) and despite the complexity, you can easily get the hang of their amazing, integrated transportation system. Just ask an attendant, they’re incredibly helpful. I’ve been told taxis are a different story when it comes to English though. But man, those taxis sure do look like a classy ride.
I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves from here on out. But really- if you ever come from the west to see Asia, do not miss out on Japan. It might be among the costliest of your destinations, but it will also be amongst the most memorable.
Since we had 12 days, we made our itinerary simple. Osaka, Kyoto, then Osaka again to make some day trips out to Minoh and Nara. The pictures are posted chronologically in 4 different posts.
Next: Japan Part I – Osaka