Today i’ll talk about why Japan is a great country to visit, with the 10 things i have really liked, including the Kyoto temples, and the japanese food.
I have organized my journey with the intention of capturing 2 aspects of Japan,the spirituality of Buddhism and Shinto temples and shrines, and the colors of landscape during the Japanese autumn, a moment during which people like to walk and search for red leaves (Koyo), the so called Momijigari
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1) JAPAN IN AUTUMN: A SPECTACULAR, COLORFUL EXPERIENCE (MOMIJIGARI / KOYO)
During this season i consider Japanese nature to be at its best, thanks to the Gynkyo (or Ginkgo) trees, and Maple trees (Acer Palmatum), which present great shades of colors on their leaves, which range from yellow to an intense vermillion red
What I consider the best period to visit Japan in autumn:
I believe that the colorful moment of autumn in Japan usually lasts around 2 months in the entire nation, but only around 2 weeks in every specific place, since Japan is a territory distributed from north to south, and so, subjected to different climates. For example, while in Hokkaido the weather is colder and autumn arrives earlier, in Kanto it arrives only later
I think the choice of the right period strictly depends by the area to visit. For example the autumn in Kyoto goes from half through the end of November, while in Hokkaido it is more recommended to visit it between September and October
To plan my visit in Japan with the intention of capturing the Koyo, i visited the following pages where i could precisely calculate the best date and the best places:
2) HANAMI, JAPAN IN SPRING: THE OPPOSITE SIDE OF KOYO
If one doesn’t have the chance to enjoy Japan in autumn, it is possible to do it in spring, to enjoy the event of the cherry trees blossom (Sakura), known as Hanami, during which they become full of pinky petals
Probably someone still remembers that Hanami was also represented inside some 80 years japanese cartoons like Maison Ikkoku. In this popular anime, every year, during the Hanami, the main character Kyoko Otonashi used to visit the tombstone of her defunct husband Soichiro Otonashi with her father and her lover Yosaku Godai
However, based on what people told me, it seems that while the autumn colors last enough longer to give enough certainty to catch them, the Hanami seems shorter, resulting in a more risky choice
3) THE JAPANESE EFFICIENCY AND POLITENESS
There are certain things in life that, although i’m aware of, when i see them for real I still can’t believe them.Watching with my eyes how efficient and polite this country is, it’s an amazing experience I will never forget
It doesn’t matter how much crowded a place is, (and Japan is really crowded), I can bet 1000 dollars that noone will ever push me, because they put a great attention while walking
As a further instance, on the subway noone used his mobile, to allow people to have a nap, and most of them, while having the cold, used to wear a white mask in front of their mouth
In every single subway station, platform was controlled by a guardman which supervised the arrival and departure of every single train
Or, as another instance, when an ambulance needed to pass through the traffic, apart from the siren, I heared the driver loudly speaking to the megaphone to ask other cars to step aside by continuously saying in japanese something like “pleaaaaaase we are in a hurry!!!”
When it comes to taking the train, if a timetable says the train is arriving in x minutes, it will do, except if someone has decided to put an end to its stressful life by suiciding beneath a subway carriage (an act referred to as Karoshi)
A last thing i remember is related to the bus driver. Every single bus had a display full of informations, togheter with an automatic speaker to assist passengers with things like the next stop name (both in japanese and in english). Anyway, although that was more than enough, the bus driver constantly talked to passengers through a microphone to furtherly help them, and i noticed that he was wearing a pair of white gloves to keep everything clean. I have never seen such an efficient public transportation system
Ops….Forgot to talk about cleanliness of japanese cities…
Well, japanese people are very clean. I have never felt a bad smell of human sweat inside the underground like usually happens in my city Rome or even in other european cities, and most streets were very clean as well, even around the most crowded places like Shibuya and Shinjuku. Probably the only bad smell i have found was the one coming from kitchens of restaurants.
4) THE JAPANESE KINDNESS AND SAFETY
In Japan, it is popular to see people making a bow to say “thank you” for almost 90% of things they do
One of the scene that shocked me, it was looking at the cleaning-up crew of the train making a bow to every SINGLE passenger getting in the train after they fastly cleaned it at the station.
I personally believe that although the first couple of days can sound strange to do it for a tourist, after a while i really became accustomed with it, and i started to make a bow to everyone in the same manner they did with me
Thanks to the habit of the bow, i managed to clearly understand how important is to “recognize” the effort of other people. Receiving a bow from someone makes you feel important, and it really incites to give your best
When it comes to assist tourists, they are great too. Initially i had a negative impression because noone, and i really say, noone, looked at me while walking. I felt like a ghost. Anyway, whenever i tried to ask for help to find a direction to a place, everyone helped me to death, and sometimes, they even took the initiative by asking me for “may i help you?”, if they clearly perceived that I was in trouble
Finally, it is worth to spend a couple of words about safety in Japan. I think that this nation is one of the safest in the world. I think pickpockets here are almost non existent, even in a great metropolis like Tokyo, and a couple of evenings I even saw young boys traveling alone in the subway of Tokyo. Something like this would be unimaginable in other cities
5) THE JAPANESE FOOD….SUSHI IS JUST THE BEGINNING
In Japan i had the chance to visit the popular Konbini, the japanese word to indicate the convenient stores, most of which were managed by 2 brands, called 7Eleven and Family Mart. They sold from boxes of main course of sushi (usually called Bento), to breakfast pastries, to chocolate, chips, fruit juices, instant soups, and many many more things.
Well, whatever thing i bought to give it a try, it was delicious. My stomach has been always ok, and after a while, although at the beginning i was scared to try new food, i had fun by experimenting the most strange things. Even a very simple and common ham and cheese sandwich was very well made. It seemed like whatever thing i bought, it was prepared with great care!
I remember the special jam called Anko, which is made with a sort of sweet beans called Azuki. It tasted like marron glaces, and it was used to fill cakes, confections and pastries. In particular, i found that japanese shops sold 2 popular sweets with the Anko jam, called Dorayaki, (the sweet eaten by Doraemon in the cartoon), composed by 2 small pankcakes filled with it, and the Daifuku, a special confection composed by a glutinous rice skin called Mochi, and filled again with the Anko
Regarding main courses, in 11 days i have eaten sushi no more than 3 times. For the rest, i have enjoyed the typical japanese soups called Ramen, the shrimps tempuras, and other dishes made with pork meat and other kind of ingredients. In one shop i even found a sushi roll made with roast beef instead of raw fish
At the end of my journey, i have concluded that the japanese kitchen is more than just sushi. Countrary to what western people believe, there’s really more to expect and it is really worth to try many different things!
I noticed that most restaurants had the good habit to show a real version of every dish they prepare outside in the restaurant window, so that one can see how it looks like before ordering it
6) MATCHA TEA AND MATCHA LATTE….A SPECIAL JAPANESE TEA AND DRINK
A particular note must be made for the japanese tea. The typical “daily” tea offered everywhere was nothing special in my opinion. It’s brown and roasted and i personally don’t remember the name.
However, i had the chance to try the most popular one called Matcha. It’s so appreciated that even Lipton and Starbuck were selling special cups of Matcha Milk drink in every konbini i found (7Eleven or Family Mart)
The flavour at the beginning was strong for my taste, since it was very earthy and muddy. However, after a while I got accustomed with it, and started to appreciate it, especially with milk.
I can buy it in Italy too, thanks to international exporting companies, although as I expected, outside Japan it seems quite expensive. I have spent 16 euros for 30 grams, with which more or less i will be able to prepare not more than 15 cups
Basically, the matcha tea is not a common bag tea. Instead, it is a very thin powder, obtained from a special genre of green tea (the same used to obtain the Gyokuro). The tea leaves after the harvesting, are kept under the shadow for some days, and then they are carefully crambled to obtain the powder. In this way the powder can be directly mixed with hot water or milk like an instant coffee drink. Then, after doing it, I can choose to drink it as is or to respect the traditional preparation, by using a little tool called chasen to whisk it a little bit until I obtain a typical light green foam on the surface. Following, i can even decorate the foam by adding some more powder on top of it
7) CHA NO YU…THE JAPANESE TEA CEREMONY
Inside some Buddhist temples in Kyoto, I participated to the Tea Ceremony, or, in japanese, the Cha No Yu. They served me the Matcha tea in the manner i described above (by whisk it with the chasen tool), in a special handmade cup. While drinking the tea, i enjoyed the view over their japanese garden. I did it far from weekends, to avoid the crowd
Some example of places where i made the tea ceremony are the temple of Shoren-in in Higashiyama and the temple of Hosen-in situated in Ohara
8) THE JAPANESE SPIRITUALITY…..THE SILENCE OF SHRINES AND TEMPLES
I found both Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples to be fascinating, especially in autumn and in spring thanks to the colors offered by the cherry trees and the maples.
These temples were the realm of nature. People were quiet to better enjoy the atmosphere. While here, I could listen to the deep sound of the great bell of a Buddhist temple, the gentle tweeting of cute birds, the sound of a small stream, or in the dusk the distant and romantic call of crows.
I personally believe that even the most rude guy in Japan dedicates some of his time to pray in a temple or a shrine. In Japan infact, praying is a matter of equilibrium and balance, a concept considered more “pragmatic” than the heaven existence
9) THE RELAXING JAPANESE GARDENS
In this country, japanese gardens can be found everywhere in the same manner our european cities have amusement parks. They are not present only inside temples, but also in the middle of cities, although some of them can still present an entrance fee. I visited some in both Tokyo and Kyoto, and i liked them all. Relaxing, breathtaking and a great subject for photographers wishing to take a nice shot
In particular I visited the japanese gardens of Gioji and Nisonin, both in Arashiyama, west of Kyoto, Shoren-in in Higashiyama, east of Kyoto, Hosenin, Shorin-in (different from Shoren-in) and Sanzenin in Ohara, north of Kyoto (in this case outside the city).
Instead, in Tokyo i visited those called Koishikawa Korakuen and Rikugien, both great
10) DEPARTMENT STORES….THE EXPERIENCE I DIDN’T EXPECT
I was among those blaming Tokyo to be not as much spiritual as Kyoto. In my plan i almost excluded the idea of visiting department stores (depaato), in favour of a more spiritual journey in the temples of Kyoto.
Well, i was wrong.
The last day one of my friends who lives in Japan took me with him to visit a department store next to Shinjuku station. I wanted to visit more garden, but since it was raining, we opted out for some shopping inside a department store next to Shinjuku
Once inside i immediately realized how crazy and funny this place was. Most of the goods sold were great. They had the most incredible things and i promised myself for the next time to leave my credit card at home for reasons easy to imagine
If it’s not clear, i loved Japan, although i realized that their great efficiency also presents some negative aspects. They live a stressful life, and phenomenons like the Karoshi are still diffused. That’s a word used to describe the act of suiciding following a stressful working period, still quite present in Japan. Anyway, i will never forget this experience and i can’t stop appreciating their culture and their habits, which, in my opinion, togheter with the Icelandic culture is one of the most evoluted on the earth
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