Sunday, August 7, 2011


In celebration of completing an entire year of having a semi-real job, I rewarded myself with a quick trip over to Japan before heading home on August 9th. (aka in like 2 days!?!)

To be honest, Japan was not my first choice of travel destinations when I first began planning this trip of mine. Wanting to stay in Asia for obvious financial reasons, I was struck by a remarkable lack of places that would be safe for me to visit due to political unrest, recent bouts of terrorist activities, visa challenges, and so on. I suppose even Japan has that whole radiation thing, but given a lack of other options, I went with Japan and stayed as far away from Sendai as possible. Turns out it was actually a wonderful vacation!

As I'd expected, Japan was strikingly similar to Korea in a number of ways. I started my Japan traveling in Tokyo (not To-keeee-yo, as I've heard it called all my life), the biggest city in the world. While definitely a cool place to visit, I think my having spent the past twelve months in Seoul, another Asian metropolis probably desensitized me to the whole wow factor of the city... 

Cool architecture, bustling city, fun vibe, and delicious sushi. Win :)

After Tokyo, I headed out west to hike Mt. Fuji. As you know, I've been getting more into hiking in the past couple months, but Mt Fuji was a whole 'nother challenge completely. First and foremost, this mountain is nearly 4x taller than anything I've ever tried climbing before, the top reaching a height of 3776 meters. That's nearly two and a half miles straight up in the air, a little under half of Mt. Everest. I think some airplanes fly at this altitude. Clearly, I had no idea what I was getting myself into...

The whole hike up was surreal. I did a night hike so I started trekking at about 10pm, climbed all through the night, and reached the top just in time for sunrise. Which happened to look like this. Kind of beautiful. 

The whole way up however was pitch black except for the glowing trail of fellow hikers snaking up the mountain. Every now and then, you would look down and realize the stunning clear view of the Kansai region you'd had a moment before was completely blocked by the encroaching layer of clouds. Very, very cool experience!

What I realized along the trail, however, was that climbing Mt. Fuji was not just about the bragging rights and bucket list check mark, it's about the people on the journey with you, the hundreds of other lights illuminating the trail surrounding you. Early on, I started following two Japanese guys to make sure I was headed the right direction out of the parking lot. Maybe fifteen minutes later, they'd noticed my following them and offered me a pair of gloves to wear since the top of the mountain was extremely, extremely cold. We ended up being hiking buddies all the way up the mountain, all without their speaking a word of English besides "ok." Suffering from the combination of exhaustion with a touch of altitude sickness, I would not have made it if not for these two :)

After my twelve-hour hiking ordeal (that was so cool, but will never, ever be happening again!), I headed down to the mountain to sleep, shower, and gorge on Japanese food in the lovely little town of Kawaguchi-ko. After a day of hard-earned relaxation, off I headed to Kyoto...

Infamous Japanese bullet trains, the Shinkansen.

Now Kyoto has got to be the most charming city I've ever seen. The main streets look just like every other city I've ever seen, but a simple turn onto the right alley took you straight to the Memoirs of a Geisha back alleys you'd expect from Japan. Just lovely.

I spent a full two days in Kyoto, wandering the charming cobbled streets of Higashiyama, geisha spotting in Gion, and meandering through the garden lined alleys in Arashiyama. It was impossible to take a bad picture, every street seemed more gorgeous than the last. By the end, I was actually starting to feel overwhelmed by the number of temples and beautiful things, and headed off to Osaka. 

Now, since my departure flight was out of Osaka, I assumed I would be able to occupy myself there for the remaining two days of my trip. Negative. Turns out Osaka is an industrial port city filled with very few touristy things and lots and lots of sketchy people. The nightscape was pretty cool, but I was afraid to stay out late enough to really enjoy it. Furthermore, Osaka's subway lines were very limited in their English labeling, so it was incredibly challenging and frustrating to get around the city. To put it kindly, I will not be visiting Osaka again...

After taking a slew of mandatory evening pictures and visiting one castle, I got bored with Osaka and took a day trip out to Nara, another lovely temple filled, UNESCO world heritage sight-heavy town about an hour to the east of my hotel. 

What made Nara really stand out was that there were about 1200 deer wandering the streets and temples with you. Apparently in pre-Buddhist times, deer were considered the messengers of the gods, and today they're considered national treasures and given free reign of the town. It added a fun quirky flair to the day.

The world's largest wooden building, Daibutsu-den Hall at Todai-ji.

And with that little side trip, I completed my tour of Japan. Turns out Japan is a great country filled with some of the kindest people I have ever met, and I am so glad I ended up spending my summer vacation there! There are a couple things and places I will probably never venture to again, but overall, it was a wonderful experience and a beautiful country. End. 

 - Christine - 

ps. If you're looking for more pictures of Tokyo and Mt. Fuji, click here. If you want to see more of Kyoto, Osaka, and Nara, click here. Enjoy :)

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