My dad tapped me on the shoulder and pointed out of the window. It was a foggy day, but the little rural houses and dense green vegetation still looked pretty as they whizzed by. However, there was something else to look at further back. Above a thick bed of cloud rose Mount Fuji. It seemed as if it was floating above the fog, almost Godly, and even in the exceedingly average weather, it looked incredibly beautiful.
A while later we pulled seamlessly into Tokyo, where the trip had begun a week ago. Following the passengers disembarking came the train staff, who turned and bowed back to the train. Whilst on the surface, it seemed like a meaningless gesture, to me it represented all that I had grown to love about Japan; not only the incredible level of respect that the Japanese show to everyone and everything surrounding them, but also the little (and large) nuances in their modern way of life compared to ours/mine – in some ways familiar, but in many ways so completely alien.
Starting in Tokyo, our trip gave us some amazing and totally unique experiences. We visited the gargantuan Shibuya crossing, watching thousands of people appearing out of nowhere as the lights went green, but disappearing after 30 seconds. We feasted on some delicious sushi from a conveyor belt in a touchscreen-operated restaurant, and strolled around the beautiful Golden Gai in the evening. Our next stop, Kanazawa, completely juxtaposed Tokyo in its tranquillity and tradition. Famous for its manicured gardens and rich history, we saw a whole new side of Japan, and learnt lots. One of my favourite parts of the trip was visiting a ninja temple there. It was like something from Tom and Jerry, rife with escape hatches, booby traps and hidden rooms.
Kyoto, again, was completely different; boasting 17 World Heritage Sites and very characterful and animated streets. We even managed to coincide with a street festival, with hundreds of food stalls selling everything from cucumber on a stick to Taiyaki (sweet, pancake-like snacks filled with bean paste or chocolate). However, what struck me was not the weird and wonderful food, but the fact that at every corner of the festival there were friendly volunteers working at recycling stations, with eight different categorised bins. There was a perfect balance of fun and festivity alongside social responsibility and community.
Our final destination was Miyojima, a small island close to Hiroshima. We stayed in a traditional Japanese Ryokan, complete with Onsens (hot spring communal bathrooms) and a nine-course meal every evening. The island was gorgeous with wild deer wandering around aimlessly and the iconic red Torii gate standing majestically in the ocean. On one day, we paid a visit to the harrowing Hiroshima museum to fully appreciate the tragic stories of those who lost their lives, and looked at the memorial site too. From Miyojima, we returned to Tokyo and stayed a few more days before flying home.
Japan used to interest me with its cool, high-tech reputation, but after my trip I have learnt to appreciate so much more; the amazing history of samurais and geishas and shoguns, the food that stretches so much further than sushi and tempura, and above all, the diversity of lifestyle, areas and people. All of the experiences that I have mentioned don’t do Japan half its due justice. My time there really was eye opening, and I hope that one day I will be lucky enough to return.