Watashi no Nihon Ryokou - My Japan Trip

It seemed like every morning we were throwing belongings into bags and charging off to the train station, wrestling too-big suitcases into the passenger cars and barely finding room for them in the overhead racks.

The first two weeks of my trip to Japan consisted of a tour of the country by rail that took us from the medium-sized port city of Sapporo, located in the cool northern island of Hokkaido, down to the pleasant backwater town of Yatsushiro in Kyushu. Along the way we stopped in Otaru and Hakodate in Hokkaido; and Aomori, Akita, Yamagata, Nikko, Tokyo, Nagoya, Takayama, Kyoto, Nara, Himeji, and Hiroshima in Honshu.

The last three weeks were spent in Yatsushiro and the surrounding areas, including Minamata, Mt. Aso National Park, and Kumamoto City. We spent a night in Fukuoka before returning to the states.

It felt like we jumped out of the plane running and never stopped till we hit the plane back home. It was exhausting, grueling, torturous.

It was the best time of my life.

Every day there was something new to see and explore, to learn about. I saw the thriving city of Hiroshima, which for some reason I'd expected to be nothing more than a wasteland. I saw the ancient burial mound of Prince Kanenaga, one of the most influential figures in fourteenth century Japan. I saw Tokyo's tsukiji, the largest fish market in Japan. I climbed up and peered into an active volcano whose lava was a funky green color. I explored Nikko, home of the most authentic old-style buildings in all of Japan-and coincidentally, a famous tourist site. I wandered through dozens of shrines and temples, including the Todaiji near Nara, home of the Daibutsu, a fifty-three foot bronze buddha which is housed in the largest existing wooden structure in the world.

I fed tame deer and took cable cars up to mountaintops. I explored a seven-story electronics shop in Tokyo that was only one of many such retailers in the Akiharaba electronics district. I learned to write Japanese calligraphy with a brush. I shopped at several arcades, "shopping streets" that consist of partially enclosed alleys that can extend for miles.

I ate soba, sukiyaki, ramen, sushi, sashimi, tempura, and curry, and discovered that unagidon, baked sea eel on rice, is my favorite dish in the world.

I immersed myself in Japanese pop music. I went bowling. I played video games. I watched NHK and the news and anime and dramas and comedies.

I rode a bicycle through a maze of machis, down the narrow passageways between houses and out onto streets clogged with tiny cars.

It was breathtaking. The whole country was breathtaking.

 

[This essay was originally written in thanks to the Institute of International Education, without whom this trip would not have been possible. - Heather Aubrey]
Photos of the entire trip, posted February, 2005.