The previous post was about the first part of my travels in Japan with Shiori. Half way through my parents, flying from the USA, finally came to visit me!!! We had decided since they’d already seen much South Korea back in 2004, that we should meet up in another country. Although my dad had already been to Japan, my mom and I hadn’t. So we met up in Tokyo. From January 13th onward, Shiori and I explored more of Japan with my parents.
Overview Part 2 of the Winter Break:
We stayed in Tokyo for another day and also visited Kamakura. Then we rode the shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto. We spent a few nights in the old city and visited Hakone before flying out of Osaka to Korea.
More of Tokyo…
Tokyo Fish Market
My dad wanted to see the fish market. It’s not your normal fish market, being the most famous of ten massive fish markets in Tokyo. Unfortunately we didn’t get there early enough to see the famous bidding process that goes on for the largest and the king-sized tuna and other prime catches. Since coming to South Korea I eat more sea food, and Japan is no different. It really gives you a glimpse into market life of wholesale fish. I kept thinking how much food was being brought and sold to feed millions of people and this is only one of hundreds of thousands of markets in Japan, let alone in all of the world… Hmm, think on that.
Imperial Palace Gardens
The same day we visited the fish market and Asakusa we also visited the Imperial Palace, or rather, what’s left of it. None of the main structures are left. You can see the massive stone walls and stone foundations. Everything has long since been destroyed. So now much of the inner palace area is open to the public with beautifully cultivated gardens.
Similar to Kawagoe, Asakusa is also a very traditional area of Tokyo, dating back to the Edo Period, but much more popular. The main attraction is the Sensoji Buddhist temple with tons of little traditional shops along a street leading to the temple. While impress and beautiful, I found the amount of people crazy. It was one of the places we visited on the last day in Tokyo.
Kamakura is another traditional town on the coast outside Tokyo. At one point, it was the political heart of Japan. Of course, it’s home to many beautiful Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines…
Hakone is one area of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park (where you can see Mt.Fuji, one of the major symbols of Japan). Unfortunately we almost didn’t go to Hakone, because large parts were closed due to volcanic activity. We followed a pretty prescribed route that took us into the mountains via bus, then railway, then cable car and finally boat. We stopped off at a modern art museum and took a boat that looked like a pirate ship across Lake Ashinoko, the caldera of Mount Hakone where if there weren’t clouds in the area, you could see Mt.Fuji. Early in the morning were were able to see Mt.Fuji from the bullet train, however by the time we made it to the viewing areas, it had vanished into the white of the sky. *tear* So the second photo in the slideshow below is what we would’ve seen if the clouds hadn’t rolled in.
I’m a sucker for the traditional “cultural” stuff and history. I found Kyoto to be a really fascinating city. It was really great to get to see all the different sides of Japan: from the more remote mountain town of Nikko to the bustling Tokyo downtown and the strange Tokyo night life all the way to seeing the traditional and historic sights.
We stayed at a very nice ryokan, a type of traditional Japanese inn that originated in the Edo period, when such inns served travelers along Japan’s highways. One perk of traveling with your parents is that you can travel in style. The room we slept in had traditional tatami-matted floors with a communal baths downstairs. Some of the major sites that we got around to seeing were: Fushimi Inari Shrine one of a number of shrines in Japan with the hundreds of red gates (most only have one or two red gates per shrine); the Higashiyama historic area; Nijyo castle, the residence of the first shogun of the Edo Period which later became an imperial palace and is one of the best surviving castles from Japan’s feudal era; Hokokuji Temple and Nonomiya; Kinkaku-ji, better known as the Golden Pavilion, a literal gold-plated pavilion of a Zen Buddhist temple. What I found crazy was that the Golden Pavilion was burnt down numerous times throughout history, including in the 1950s by a crazy monk, and they rebuilt it a perfect replica, lacquer and gold to every inch of the structure.
We also toured the most famous geisha district of Gion and met and ate dinner in the company of a maiko (geisha apprentice), a very rare, expensive, and memorable experience. Here in this part of Kyoto, the tradition of becoming geisha (or geiko, as they prefer to call themselves), is still kept alive. Young women (not as young as in the past) enter the “employment” of the geisha houses that pay for the extensive and very expensive training of these young entertainers. Many drop out in the first year, and if they do, they must pay back the house for their training thus far. We came to find, while talking with this young woman that it’s a very difficult life, but one she chose freely. Although at 14 and 15 years old, how well can you really predict what you want in life? This girl was in her 3rd year of a 5 year training to become geisha. She was only 16 years old!!! She spoke lightly of the harsh conditions of eating, sleeping, and the rigorous training in the arts such as instrument playing, singing, dancing, and other skills that must be mastered before she debuts as geisha.