Japan then, first time in the northern hemisphere for 5 months, first time in a non English speaking country for 3 months and the first time we’ve spent £20 on a dorm room - ever.
More importantly, the final stop on our travels.
We kicked off with a few days in Tokyo, from where I wrote my last entry, before heading off round the country on a 14 day rail pass. Said rail pass cost us the princely sum of £350, compared to our 6 week coach pass in Oz which cost £200. At first glance a bit pricey but this does get you access to all but the fastest of Shinkansen “bullet” trains, (there is a class of faster train but this travels at the speed of light and costs more than a small car) also crucially, you are not subjected to horror of “She’s the Man” on DVD.
Alarmingly the pass itself is a small piece of silver card, emblazoned with the warning that the pass will not be re-issued if lost and therefore inspiring hourly checks that the damn thing has not fallen out of your bag, been left on a train and or spontaneously combusted.
Key stops over the two weeks were:
- Kyoto. Kyoto is the old capital of Japan and as such is blessed with a myriad of shrines and other historical sites. The shrines are striking places, impressive for their tranquillity as much as their architecture. At times quite humbling. It was also nice to be back in a country with a history that goes back more than a couple of hundred years and was not at any point conquered by the British!
Kyoto was also the first place that it became apparent that we were unusual (insert joke here ) by being backpackers, finding ourselves as the only western faces in our hostel. Luckily our fellow guest took us out for “Tempura” (deep fried something) making us honorary Japanese for the night.
- Nara. Notable for more shrines, the world’s largest wooden building and Dan kissing a deer.
- Hiroshima. Hugely evocative and not an easy place to sum up. However the modern day city was a vibrant, positive and fun place. From Hiroshima, we also spent a day on Miyajima island, where we saw a floating shrine (above) and inexplicably trekked up another mountain.
- Takayama. After all the big cities we headed into the countryside for a bit of R&R and a little place called Takayama. Our time there was relaxed, staying in a Buddhist temple, wandering about the town and playing chess in the park. All very Zen.
- Nagano. Notable as the gateway to the ‘Japan Alps’ and also because we intended to stay here but actually didn’t…
After 12 hours of trains we arrived in Nagano, where we thought we had booked a hostel. However on showing some locals the address, we were greeted by bemused looks and referred to the police. After a chat with a police officer , I say ‘chat’ - his English was as good as my Japanese, so more accurately “after jabbing my finger repeatedly at the address”, we established that our hostel was in “Nagano Prefecture” not “Nagano City”, with our actual destination requiring another hour on the train.
To add insult to injury having travelled 12 hours (13 with extra one) to trek in the mountains, it rained the next day, resulting in a somewhat less spectacular amble around the local shopping centre.
With that our 14 days were up and we headed back to Tokyo for the final few days of our travels. We spent these visiting a couple of museums, going up some tall buildings, attending the Tokyo Dance Music Festival*, souvenir shopping, eating raw fish and doing Karaoke. Only sumo wrestling eluded us in the generic Japanese activities stakes.
And that was that, we packed our bags for the final time and caught our flight back to blighty..
*This was essentially a bloke in a car park with some big speakers. As such, rather grand to term this a ‘festival’.