Lost in Wonder – Journey through Japan

Traveling quick through beautiful Japan gave me a brief but wide overview over one of the most wonderful countries I had been to so far.

Highlights:
  • Seeing all mainland areas of Japan, from the very south (Kyushu) to the very north (Hokkaido).
  • Discovering not only Nagasaki’s and Hiroshima’s dramatic history but also their historical ones as the only trading post with the West for centuries (Dejima, Nagasaki) and the home of Itsukushima shrine on Miyajima (Hiroshima).
  • Taking a traditional sand bath as well as soaking in Onsen and Sentō, hot springs and bathes
  • Being pushed deeply into my seat as the Japanese bullet train Shinkansen raced overland.
  • Being very moved visiting Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombing sight, museums, parks and memorials – but even more by being hosted by a Hiroshima survivor.
  • Experiencing the mix between modernity and tradition at every corner, for example seeing countless women wearing kimono in Kyōto.
  • Kyōto Castle, pavillons, parks, bamboo forests, temples, shrines, nightlife, Geishas, andandand – but mostly wandering through illuminated parks by night.
  • Seeing the great buddha at Tōdai-ji in Nara.
  • Visiting traditional houses and beautiful streets in Takayama – and catching a glance of the Japanese Alps.
  • Omotenashi, the Japanese tradition of great hospitality.
  • Discovering the culture blend of Hakodate with its’ proximity to Russia as well as catching a glance of the wild beauty of Hokkaido.
  • Tasting Japanese food be it Sushi, ramen, okonomiyaki, or tempura (to name a few).
  • And most important: Meeting many very interesting Japanese!
Tour Map Japan

Tour Map Japan

18 days, more than 4,000km, 13 destinations, uncountable temples and shrines – that are the facts of my journey through Japan. However, another way to describe it would be this: Finding amazing culture and history, friendly people, beautiful nature, and exquisite cuisine everywhere! Rather the second shows that Japan was a wonderful experience I really do not want to miss but rather repeat.

But where should I head to in this large and culturally loaded country, having just 18 days? Of course there were some hot spots not to be missed: Nagasaki and Hiroshima as remembrance to the most terrible attacks in the most terrible war; Kyōto as the most important cultural place; Tokyo with its reputation of being the craziest metropolis and point of exit. Besides those I had several second priority destinations about which I wanted to decide on the go. In the end, the trip was exhausting but what I saw and whom I met was worth the ride.

Having bought a Japan Railway (JR) pass I decided to discover as much as possible of the country, leaving my normal traveling style at rest for now and instead moving quickly – staying at the surface instead of diving deep in at a few locations only. I felt that this was not going to be my only visit in Japan so for this first visit I wanted to get a good overview. Due to the limited daylight in late fall, I even adopted a new traveling routine: Getting up very early (for me) and sightsee, then traveling on to the next location by nightfall or shortly before. That way I only missed out on watching the countryside go by in the trains many times. However, as most of the areas the Shinkansen (Japan’s high-speed “bullet” train) passes through are densely populated, it was not the greatest loss, I think.

Traveling in Japan is very easy, especially with the JR Pass. For approx. 350 Euro I could use every train for consecutive 14 days (also available for 7 and 21 days – as well as for single regions only). As train fares in Japan are really expensive, the pass makes a lot of sense. Buses are also available and cheaper but also much slower. Fare information is in English and nearly all train personnel speaks basic English. I read a lot about hitchhiking being fairly easy, too. If one decides to go by ferry from South Korea, booking some days ahead (best is around 14) makes sense as there are huge discounts available by then (I paid 30 Euros traveling overnight to Japan from Busan using Camellia Line).

At the end of my stay, I often had Japanese looking at me with open mouths while I described my route: From Fukuoka – where my ferry arrived from South Korea – I traveled to Nagasaki. My host proposed to take a sand bath and enjoy the laid back atmosphere in the south, so I made it to Kagoshima and Ibusuki. Kumamoto was next, boasting one of Japan’s finest castles. Then Hiroshima in central Japan before heading on to Kyōto and close by: Nara, home of Japan’s famous Great Buddha. During that time, two ideas started growing and eventually, I realized both of them: Seeing the Japanese Alps (from Takayama) as well as to get at least a minimum impression of Hokkaido, Japan’s northern island. From this northern point, I turned back south, stopping in Utsunomiya in order to visit Nikkō, another cultural hot spot. My final destination was Tokyo (I admit, I was not in the condition to do much sightseeing there anymore!).

Describing Japan turns out to be difficult as there are so many specific traditions, styles, destinations, and personal experiences I would like to share. But that would rather become a small book than a blog post. Thus this time I let pictures speak for themselves and supplied them with much more detailed info than usually.

In the two upcoming posts I want to dig a little deeper into my personal highlights and what has been very memorable to me (rather thematically than chronologically this time). So just in case you miss some colors in this post – wait for the next one…

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