Clueless in Japan
Clueless is the only way to describe our trip to Japan the first time.
It started a few months before. I had a lot of vacation time saved up and I wanted to start using it. In a phone conversation with my sister, I had mentioned this. She suddenly got very excited and had a suggestion. She had wanted to go to Japan for many years to visit her friend, Tomo. My sister's husband was way too busy to even start planning, so she asked if I wanted to go. Sure, why not?
We made plans; Grandiose plans. We were going to visit every city we could in our ten days. We were going to go to Mount Fuji. It's just a short trip from Tokyo, right?
So, in my perception, I thought Japan was about the size of Oahu, Hawaii in square miles. Why I had this thought, I really have no idea. Being a Geography minor should have clued me in way before this. Just for your own reference, Japan is closer in size to California in square miles and stretched out further. It took us eight hours to go from Fukuoka to Tokyo on the Shinkansen (bullet train).
So, we stayed in Tokyo for a couple of days walking around and seeing the sites. We were even able to meet up with a friend-of-a-friend who showed us a great traditional restaurant and some Tokyo night life. This included karaoke, of course.
Finally, Tomo rescued us from ourselves...
We made another long Shinkansen trip down to Hiroshima. Waiting for us at Hiroshima Station was Tomo, my sister's good friend in Hawaii. Tomo lived in Hawaii for a few years to finish her MBA. Now she was back in Japan and playing tour guide to two clueless individuals.
After a much needed rest, Tomo picked us up at our hotel and showed us the real Japan. Not the Tokyo metropolis that is featured in modern movies, but the countryside, the mountains, the rivers, and the downhome people of Japan.
Tomo started out by bringing us to Miyajima Island. If you're going to be in Japan, this is a must-see. It is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Not only is there the huge Torri Gate and extremely old (and well taken care of) Itsukushima Shrine, but the whole island is an adventure. There is hiking, a gondola to the top, lot's of other shrines and temples, and a lot of roaming deer that will come up to you to try to steal food, paper, or anything loose on your body. The marketplace there is something that I would imagine in the Edo period of Japan. It's a thin street lined with restaurants, shops, desserts, and crafts. For souvenirs, this is the place to stop and see.
Oshima Island had views to take your breath away. We stopped at a lookout tower and we could see far into mainland Japan and out into the sea. We passed by fishing villages, and beautiful beaches. We stopped at a places called Jam's Garden where they serve tea and desserts. They also had a side shop of fresh home-made jam with a plethora of assorted jams.
Another place we saw was the Kintai Bridge in Yamaguchi. It took less than an hour to get there by car. We stayed the night at a traditional Japanese Hotel called Iwakuni Kokusai Kanko with hot springs for bathing (ryokan) where they provided the Japanese robes (yukatas) to wear during our stay. At night, the bridge is lit up in an array of different colors. The food was traditional Japanese and there was lots of sake involved.
There were many adventures in the week that we stayed in Hiroshima. The more we saw, the more we loved the real Japan. On our final night in Hiroshima, we went to a teppanyaki grill where we celebrated my sister's 30th birthday. Other groups saw us having fun and joined in on the party. In all this was a trip that I will never forget.