Nipponese Dreams: Japan

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Mount Fuji on a spring afternoon

If there was an international competition for weirdness, Japan would surely do well: raw horse meat, green tea flavored Kit-kats, bizarre fetishes, obscure dishes made from fish genitalia (Shirako), and I was only there for a week. One wonders where it is all going to end.

Many of the clichés are true too. It is the most modern of nations, everything works, everyone’s on time, and politeness is a rule. For some it is all about the Geishas, sushi, temples, and Mount Fuji, but for others it is the big cities such as the hyper-modern Tokyo that will take your fancy. Often, it seems, Japan simply has it all.

For a city of its size, a cool 15 million people (that’s 14,000 per square kilometer), Tokyo is absurdly clean and very welcoming. It feels like you could eat your dinner directly off the roadside. On Shibuya, one of the busiest streets in Tokyo, you can see up to 3,000 people crossing the road at the same time, like a horde of efficient Asian ants scurrying about their business.

It is full of Geishas too, these decadent women with powdered faces and bright red lipstick who have acted as hostesses and courtesans to Japan’s rich and powerful for centuries.

Japan offers some of the most wild and wonderful cuisine in Asia and it is well worth getting up at 4am to visit some of the huge outdoor markets to see the first fishermen of the day haul their catch to the market-stalls. Aside from the incredible freshness, there is something slightly astounding at staring into the eyes of a giant blue Tuna, twice the size of a human. It tastes pretty damn good too.

Mount Fuji was the highlight of the trip for me. Standing at over 3, 700 meters, beautifully symmetrical it has long been an inspiration for Japanese artists, musicians and poets. Simply put: it’s one of the most stunning mountains you will find anywhere. Breathtaking.

Simply grab a bus or a train from Tokyo and it makes for an epic day trip; if the mountain really gets you, stay for a few days longer. For hardcore climbers, the best season to go is July to August but for the view, and what a view it is, you can visit the whole year around. The surrounding lakes and the nature are stunning too. Rent a bicycle–an electric one for the lazy–and take a long ride and think about life. It is deeply energizing and will give you unforgettable and unique views not only from the Mount but from all its surroundings.

1215_japanIf you prefer culture to modernity, Kyoto has the edge over Tokyo. Formerly the imperial capital of Japan, the city is steeped in history with thousands of Buddhist temples and Shrines, not to mention a fair smattering of UNESECO World Heritage Sites. It is full of Geishas too, these decadent women with powdered faces and bright red lipstick who have acted as hostesses and courtesans to Japan’s rich and powerful for centuries. For many they are exotica personified. Don’t rush either, Kyoto needs at least a few days for you to explore its romantic charms and, once there, it is quite possible that you will never want to leave. Somehow staying in this city feels like going back in time.

For those Based in the PRD, this incredible destination is less than four hours flight from Guangzhou, Hong Kong or Shenzhen, though flying from Hong Kong is normally a touch cheaper. If it is not Tokyo you want, then other cities such as Osaka may be even cheaper.

As a tourist, the cheapest and fastest way to move around Japan is having the Japan Railway Pass. You can get it online at http://www.japanrailpass.net/, and they will deliver it to your house anywhere in the world. Once you are there, this pass allows you to travel inside Japan between virtually any cities without any extra fee. Go to Japan and feel the mystery; you won’t regret it.

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