First stop was in Kyoto. It took us 22 hours to get there on a ferry. Cheap and comfortable. If you don't count the continuous desire to puke.. We were there bright and early in the morning and found our utterly lovely hostel easily. After dropping off our stuff, the first sight on the list was the famous golden pavilion. For me it has always been THE thing to see in Japan so it was really incredible to visit the site and the see the iconic temple. Since the weather was beautiful, we decided to take a little walk and find the castle of Kyoto as well. Kyoto is one the oldest cities in Japan and thus holds some amazing historic places and buildings.
After doing all this very predictable stuff it was time to get pretty and go out. It was Christmas Eve after all!
The 3 days we spent in Kyoto we're beautiful in every way possible: city-wise, weather-wise, food-wise and spending a Christmas in Japan-wise. Christmas is not quite the extravaganza that we're used to back in the West but rather a holiday for couples to spend eating cake and cuddling. Works fine for me! The utterly romantic Christmas Eve was a nice change from what I am used to; first of all to be part of a couple (who saw that coming) and a quiet night with a beautiful dinner and gifts, while still kind of missing the peeps back home. Ah, like Virgin Mary herself, I treasured up all these things and pondered them in my heart!
From Kyoto we took the very first night bus (first of the many to come) of the trip to Hiroshima. At first the modern, completely rebuilt since the atomic bomb in 1940's city felt a bit cold and foreign, especially after the atmospheric, narrow old streets of Kyoto. After exploring more Hiroshima truly does grow on you. The city represents a very unique community feeling of being revived from the horrid tragedy, people seem to appreciate the dynamism of the city and overall, at least to my experience, the pulse of Hiroshima is very different from other big cities in Japan.
As any proper tourist, we toured the Hiroshima peace park to learn more about the atomic bomb dropped in the city centre and on the jollier side of the town we had some nice drinks, good food and even managed to check out the new Bond flick (what a disappointment btw!).
Japanese people, at least in the North, tend to describe the residents of Osaka as of something a bit quirky and nontraditional. Personally the welcome we had in Osaka was the best out of the whole trip. People did not stare at my blonde hair like it was something out of a fairy tale but rather complete strangers went out of their way trying to help us find our place for the night while babbling on about the sights in Osaka with an impeccable English. What a lovely change I thought!
Unfortunately we had mere two days to spend in Osaka and at this point we're a bit tired to follow complicated timetables, that I apparently tend to create to other's dismay. Control freak, me? Oh no, age is catching up with me. Anyways, these two days in Osaka were devoted to chilling. So we went to check out the aquarium (it had a whale shark!) and saw the city skyline from a massive ferris wheel! Altogether had a very relaxing two days, only to mount another night bus once more.
I don't even know why I highlighted the name of this place, or why I am bothered to tell you about it. This was a city we were stuck for a day. The original plan was to go there and catch a bus to hiking route near by the coastline but due to the holidays we were unable to follow through with this plan.
So there we were. In the ghost town of Japan apparently. Not kidding, there was nobody around. The city quickly turned into a creepy maze of suspicious streets, old rusty looking shops and weird introverted old people mumbling in the dark corners of the alleys. This sounds so surreal, but it is true. We checked out the park, took a nap in the sun (sleeping outside in January, what!) and then returned to the train station to satisfy my craving for a sub and to ensure our departure as soon as possible. Even now the city gives me the creeps! Hrrr.
From the lowest of the low to the highest of the high! New Years rapidly approaching, on the the Eve of this event we took yet another night bus to Tokyo, picked up a car and drove to the magnificent Mount Fuji, the pride of Japan. This is definitely the most memorable way to celebrate the new year for me so far. On the eve we had an amazing dinner at the only organic restaurant I have so far been able to find in Japan (the food and the place was incredibly nice) and afterwards headed to the biggest shrine in the area for the traditional celebrations. The event gathered hundreds of Japanese people, and us: the wonky foreigners, to pray for good luck for the oncoming year and to celebrate it's arrival. A magical night all in all.
After this beautiful experience however, it was go time! The next morning saw the start of our hike up the legendary mountain. The gods of weather were in our favour and even though during winter times one is only allowed to hike up to the 5th viewing point, the hike was something I would have liked to miss while in Japan. Slippery slopes but gorgeous sights!
The final stop of our travels, and for my misfortune the final stop of Andrea's travels in Japan altogether, was the capital city. We had both been to Tokyo before but still felt there was much more to explore in this gigantic city. We saw many of the famous sights, most notably we caught the speech of the Emperor who is only speaking to the public twice a year, and enjoyed them as well but to me the most enjoyable part of our time in Tokyo was meeting up with some friends from Akita and chilling just the two of us.
As Andrea was not the only one leaving after the fall semester, we were also not the only people from AIU in Tokyo at the time. We managed to find Alazne and Naz by accident the very first morning at McDonald's (in a city of some 14 million people we run into them, yeah that's likely) and later on got together with the "Dream Team" as they guys preferred to call themselves and Tara and her sister from Australia. Some serious good times.
After all this travelling and incredible experiences, it was time to get back though. Back to different continents. I may guess that the reason for the lack of update from here might have something to do with the blues that followed the separation. But let's not dwell in this fleeting misery of mine, since spring break came and went and soon (if it only was even sooner) I'll be heading back to Europe again.
So this is what happened in December and January. Haha. 4 more days to catch you guys up all the way to June! Next chapter: El Torka de Magnifico arrives in the land of the rising sun. Til then!