Monday, April 21, 2014

Tales from My Travel Adventures: Impressions of Japan

I'm writing this in reverse order a bit. I've recently been to Mexico City and then Japan with no real time to write and reflect in between so in the wee morning hour of my slightly modified schedule, I decided to a least write about my most recent visit to Japan.

I finally made it to Japan! This is a country I've dreamed about visiting since I first read manga. I've wanted to see this place that I've imagined after reading about geisha, ninja, samurai and all the countless manga that captured my imagination.

After arriving at Haneda airport close to midnight, we took the train to Shibuya where we were met by our airbnb host. Stepping out of the Shibuya train station, I was immediately reminded of BladeRunner (starring Harrison Ford) with towering buildings peppered with neon signs and larger than life video displays of Japanese advertising. When we arrived at Shibuya, it was almost midnight and it was still busy and a bit overwhelming. I thought I had been to big city before but this sprawling train station (one of the biggest in Japan) was nothing compared to what I had been to before.

Here's the thing that was a wonder for me. Here I was: in a foreign place, late at night, not quite being able to navigate my way around and : it still felt safe. Such a stark contrast to my first time arriving in New York City when I took the Amtrak Train.

Everything in Japan has some sort of cuteness, even the adult sections that I saw still had this level of cute that is just pervasive here. I totally get it!

Japan (at least from what I've seen) is an interesting juxtaposition of newness and tradition. Shibuya is a modern metropolis: the city itself seems alive with all its lights and sounds. Yet the people here that go to work or school wear what look like uniforms. Then there are a few that I can only describe as Japan punk: colored hair, stylized ward robe and outrageous shoes. There is food and shopping everywhere and its open very late (my kind of place).

From there I went to Kyoto: land of temples and shrines and geisha. The city is huge an the station even more enormous! You could spend a full day just exploring and shopping in the station.  There is part of Kyoto that is modern and then the part of Kyoto that I imagined from tales of samurai, ninja and geisha. The shrines are beautiful monuments of architecture, simplicity and majesty surrounded by the peace of nature, tho at the time we were there, often interrupted by the raucous tourists and school children that came to visit as well. It was jarring at times - being in such a quiet reflective place and then having all the people and noise.

I took a short visit to an onsen to get a taste for the hot baths out somewhere scenic. It was such a beautiful day to go and even tho I only spent a few hours, it was well worth the visit. Kurama is a small town, still very much a rural Japanese town located alongside mountains with breathtaking views. It was magical.

The train system is crazy! Its like the lifeline for the bustling metropolis. Seas of people navigating through it every day all the time. Stations that have 35 or more exits. It gets you everywhere.

The food is just amazing. I didn't even try everything that I wanted to.

One of my best days was spent in Ueno Park when it was nice and quiet. We were in search of cherry blossoms and only found a few trees but it was so much fun to walk through the place, eat soft ice cream, watch my niece and nephew play with their newly bought Totoro plush toys and explore the nearby market. That evening I made some new friends when I connected with someone through a mutual friend. I was able to teach kizomba and even though it was a small class, we had so much fun and I got to meet several people who share the same mind set as I do about dance and how it can break boundaries and cross music genres.

These are just a few of my impressions from my one week stay. I left feeling like there was so much more to do an I will definitely be back. In the meantime, I am back in Seattle, in the comfort of my own bed, dreaming of all my wonderful experience and looking forward to more.

Took a TON of pictures in my facebook album: Adventures in Japan.