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Journey to Far East
(19 March – 7 April 2006)

Posted on Sunday 23rd April 2006

Three weeks of annual leave are finally done and dusted. 🙁

I visited Hong Kong and also went to Japan for 4 days. It was a great experience to visit Japan, especially as it was my first time in this beautiful country.

I wasn’t too sure about going to Japan at first. The idea only came to me just a week before I set off for Hong Kong with my parents.

On the day I was flying over to Japan (Monday 27 March 2006), I was still hesitatant about whether I should go or not but when I arrived, at Kansai International Airport, I suddenly felt that I would like my stay in Japan. I ran down to the airport rail station, claimed my 4-day train pass and jumped into an express train heading off to Osaka where I would.

The first day in Japan was basically trying to settle down and prepare where I wanted to go over the next couple of days. I brought a travel book with me from England and also some information that I found on the internet, so I was ready for my adventure in Japan.

On day 2, I left my hotel room early but tried to avoid the rush hour in Osaka. I thought my train pass would allow me to use some of Osaka’s main rail transport but not with underground trains (subway). I managed to ask a Japanese lady to show me how to get a subway ticket, and my first stop was Osaka Castle.

The Osaka Castle is a massive, beautiful building, surrounded by hundreds of Sakura trees (cherry trees). Unfortunately, the cherry blossom was not ready for me when I visited. There are 7 floors inside Osaka Castle. Each floor shows the history and the background of the Castle itself. On the first floor there was a little gadget which stamped a picture of Osaka Castle on paper. Kids just loved that gadget and I managed to get myself two copies of the stamped picture. I thought it was a very nice and thoughtful idea.

I left Osaka Castle, walked through a huge Castle park and caught my next train to see my next attraction – Tennoji Temple. It started to rain when I arrived in Tennoji. I tried to walk as fast as I could so as not to get soaking wet. The Tennoji Temple is a beautiful traditional temple. There were not too many people visiting the temple so I managed to take quite a lot of photos within the temple area. There was a courtyard garden, which I love very much. I just wish I could take the whole garden back to England with me and transplant it in my own back garden.

The local Japanese people are so friendly and polite. For lunch, I stopped at a restaurant on the main street in Tennoji. There were lots of restaurants, coffee shops and noodle bars in Tennoji. I went into the restaurant, I was quite happy to sit next to the front door but I was invited to go and sit further inside the restaurant, with the traditional low table and cushions. I cannot speak a word of Japanese, and as a result, I pointed at the mid/high priced menu and hoped it was something I would be able to eat. The meal arrived, it had a bowl of clear soup, a bowl of rice, fish and some peeled orange. The meal was delicious! I only wish I could have told them how very much I had enjoyed my lunch in Japanese.

I went back to the train station, caught another train to a place called Namba. Namba is a place full of shops and restaurants…I walked through a shopping street. There were so many things to buy, it was just amazing. I was impressed even more when I came upon an Apple Centre on the main street, and of course, some other designer shops on the same street too.

It came to the evening time of Day 2 and I headed to my hotel back in Osaka. I had a short rest then looked for my first evening meal in Japan. In my travel book, there was a restaurant in Osaka recommended by the writer. So I asked the hotel staff if they could locate the restaurant and direct me. They advised me to use a taxi, but I decided to walk with my map instead. This gave me the opportunity to see what the nightlife was like.

Day 3, I took an early train to Kyoto. The journey was about an hour from Osaka to Kyoto. The weather in Kyoto was not brilliant. It was very windy and cloudy. Outside Kyoto station, there is a bus terminus. I had no idea how the bus system worked, so I followed the people queuing on one of the popular bus routes. I looked around and saw many people holding a business-card-sized bus pass, so I asked around if I could pay for the bus fare on board. I was told to buy a bus pass from the help desk. To make sure I didn’t get thrown off, I bought a one-day bus pass and went back to the busy queue awaiting the arrival of the bus.

The first destination I visited was Ginkakuji. Ginkakuji, the Silver Pavilion, is a Zen temple at the foot of Kyoto’s Higashiyama (eastern mountains). The temple is formally known as Tozan Jishoji. The first impression I soon had when I arrived at the temple was that it had a huge, beautiful garden. The garden is set in traditional Japanese style – white gravel, ponds, stepping stones, bamboo fences, Pine trees, etc.. Although, the place was full of tourists, it was still very calm, peaceful and quiet. The stone pavement went all the way from the temple to the mid-level of a nearby mountain. Standing at the mid-level of the mountain, looking down at the whole site of the temple with Kyoto in the background was just unbelievable and wonderful.

I stayed in Ginkakuji for nearly an hour, and then headed to my next destination. I had originally planned to walk on the Phelodophers Walk, but I went in the wrong direction, which led me to the centre of Kyoto. I cannot remember how many miles I must have walked, and I managed to visit areas, which I hadn’t planned. I passed Kyoto University and a museum/exhibition centre which I didn’t get chance to enter.

I changed my initial plans and decided to go to The Kyoto Imperial Palace and Park, which were right in the centre of Kyoto. The Imperial Park was huge and quiet. I looked around to see if I could find any Sakuri trees. From a very long distance I saw a pink tree standing on a corner of the main path. I walked and saw a small wooden fence surrounding the pink tree. I looked closer, it was a Sakuri tree. This was the first Sakuri tree that I had found and seen in Japan in full blossom. I stared at the tree, for 10-20 mins, it was just so pretty. I took several photos, left the park and carried on my walk into Kyoto. I followed my map, heading towards Nijo Castle. It looked like the Castle was only a street away from the Imperial Park from the map, but it was miles apparently.

I went into the Castle, I didn’t join the presentation tour, I walked around the garden and surrounding areas instead. Once again, the garden area are set in traditional Japanese style, tree branches were pruned carefully to form clouds. I continued walking around the garden and followed the exit sign. Just after leaving the main garden, there was a corner full of Sakuri trees. I guess there were about a hundred Sakuri trees. Many of them were not yet in blossom, I was very disappointed that the blossom was late this year.

I walked a distance trying to find bus No.19 stop to go to Daigoji. The weather was getting worse. It started raining heavily. The wind was also blowing hard and I had no gloves with me, it was absolutely freezing cold. After around 20mins of waiting, bus No.19 arrived. 15mins later, I arrived Daigoji, but it was 4pm. I quickly walked in to the temple, looked around, took some pictures and went back to the bus stop and headed back to Kyoto station.

It was a shame that I could only spend less than half an hour in Daigoji after walking miles to find bus No.19 stop. On the way, I discovered there were many attractions and pleasant areas I hadn’t visited. Then I thought, “I wished my Japan trip was longer”.

There was one more city I wanted to visit, so I jumped into the train going to Nara. The journey from Kyoto to Nara was about 45mins, and by the time I arrived the sky was getting dark, and I knew I would not be able to see any attractions. So I decided to dine in Nara instead. I had another restaurant recommendation by the travel writer so fingers crossed, I tried to find it even when I didn’t have a local map with me. I stopped at the local information centre and asked where the restaurant was. I was given some instructions and a local map. I was also warned that if I didn’t make a reservation with the restaurant, it might not be open. I thought I could not be that unlucky.

I walked through several residential streets. It was dark and quiet. I did feel a bit scared but I still carried on looking around. After walking forwards and backwards a few times, I found the restaurant but it was closed. I sighed and headed back to Nara station and returned to Osaka. Probably because it was night, but I found Nara was not as large a city as I had expected.

When I returned back to Osaka I went back to my room, dropped off some souvenirs (Japanese snacks) that I had bought in Kyoto and Nara, and went back out again for my last supper in Japan. I was having my meal at a food bar near Osaka station. The atmosphere there was really good and cheerful and although I was on my own at the food bar, I enjoyed my evening very much.

I thought the whole trip was a great experience.

Day 4, I checked out of my hotel at 7.20am, and tried to catch the 7.30am train to Kansai Airport but I missed it, so I had to stand on the platform waiting for the next express train. It was a rush hour and I saw many people arriving and leaving the station. Trains were constantly coming and going and it was very busy but there was no chaos at all.

At 8.05am, my train arrived; I got in to the cabin and headed to Kansai International Airport. The airport is located on a man-made island, accessed via a long steel bridge connecting the airport island with the mainland. When I was leaving Osaka, the weather was terrible, heavy rain and very strong winds. I was very apprehensive when the train was on the bridge with the sea below. I thought the wind could blow the train off the rails and we would all end up in the sea. I had no idea why I would have such a bizarre thought, and of course the train arrived at the airport station safely and on-time.

Within 2 hours, I had left Japan and flown back to Hong Kong. Before I had booked my flights and hotel to Japan, I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to go on my own to a country that I did not know and a language I did not understand, but now I look back and I think, I am so pleased that I did go to Japan. It was an unforgettable experience, especially when I was traveling on my own. I smile and I am proud of myself!

SINGLE