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Japan, not a mysterious country:
Surreal but nice...

Because of the Sars trouble in the beginning of 2003, the trip we booked to Tibet was cancelled. We though that Japan would be a good alternative. Asia was the target en Japan is definately something different..

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We have asked Passaat to work out a trip for the two of us, based on our wishes and requirements. We agreed on a proposal in the central area of Japan, visiting about 10 different locations in 3 distinct regions. The trip was arranged in a perfect way: well prepared and with useful instructions. We had a great holiday and we have only one remark... The country is not as mysterious as we're used to from other trips. Life itself is not an attraction on it's own, which is the case in for exampel Nepal. But... we saw great and strange things as you can find below.


We flew via HongKong to Narita Airport near Tokyo. From here we could get fairly quick to the hotel, but we immediately saw how enormous Tokyo is... 2 centimeters on the map, is 2 kilometers to walk, and back, at 35 degrees celsius! Although it's hard to understand the Japanses signs, travelling via the subway went smoothly. For me it's unbelievable that in such a modern country almost nobody speeks English...

The first ryokan (traditional hotel) was located in Asakusa in the north eastern part of Tokyo, well situated near the museumpark of Ueno, the Asakusa Kannon temple and the Sumo area. In the city centre you can find the Imperial Palace, the shopping area of Ginza and the largers fishmarket in the world.

More pictures of Japanese gardens

This is what a traditional room looks like. In this kind of rooms we slept the entire holiday. Tatami floors on which you should not walk on with your slippers (shoes stay in the entrance). Also they have very thin matrasses and strange blanket covers that are placed in the room after dinner.

Pachinko is a strange gambling game where little iron balls are launched and steared by the player. The goal is to have them fall down in a small hole on the exact right time. Huge multiple story halls with very loud music are located everywhere.

On the following pictures you see the cycle of the average tuna in Japan: The Tsukiji fishmarket is where they come in on the harbour side, on the other side of the huge area big filets are transported directly to the sushibar for the most fresh food in the world...


After Tokyo we went to Mito in the north. Only one day, which is enough for this town. We went here especially for the botanic garden with old shogun villa. A beautiful stopover on our way to Nikko.


When we arrived in Nikko it was raining, which lasted for about a week.. This was a pitty but at least the temperature was doable. Nikko has a beautifull park where all shrines, gates, pagoda's and temples are located. Also for Japanse people this is a very popular location, a one day trip from Tokio.


Using todays prices for all the goldplated carvings, millions of euro's are invested in the temples in Nikko around 1600. Expensive and nice, but it also works great against influence of the weather...


The Japanese Alps are situated in the west of Honshu Island. Beautiful surroundings, also a very popular place for Japanses people. Actually we were the only western people during the 5 days we spent here ! Rain all the time, not as bad for us as for the locals, as they only have 7 holidays a year. The picture below is taken from the famous bridge, on the day we left the place, when the sun was shinging again...


Besides the traditional ryokan, we also slept in minshuku's. It kind of looks the same, but this is more in the house of the people themselves. Also the food was very traditional: a lot of small dishes mostly consisting of rice, fish and miso-soup. In the evening, but also in the morning... The region is known for it's hot spa's (onsen) but these were a bit too hot for us...


The biggest surprise we had during the holiday was the visit to the beautiful village of Shirakawa-go. This one is placed on the Unesco world heritage sites list: about 130 traditional houses with layered cane roofs. All houses are built in the same direction (for the wind). It looks like an open-air museam, but as it's a real village with real people it's much better than that ! We spend a night in one of them, which was very special !

It was truly great. we walked and filmed a lot here. Interested? Here you can find more pictures of Shirakawa-go


Takayama is situated in the Gifu prefecture, but the Hida area, a part of this prefecture, is more known around the world. Here live the hand massaged cows which deliver the Hida Beef. Unbelievably tender! The city of Takayama is nice with some special places of interest, but the beef is reason enough to go here...

Here you can find an overview of five different Hida Beef qualities


In Nara we visited another Unesco world Heritage site. You can see it below: theTodaiji temple. They say it's the bigges wooden building in the world (about 52x56x45 meter). Inthere you can find the biggest bronze Buddha of Japan, about 15 meters high. A lot of the religious buildings are located in Nara Park, where deer walk around freely.


Like in Nepal we saw a lot of pagoda's in Japan. For the tourists they are just called 5 story pagoda's on all the maps, which makes them easy to recognize.

Japan is a very big country (3.500 km long, 150 million inhabitants) and in the history they were always very independant. You can still notice this when looking at cars: it's a market on it's own where models are created just for Japan or Asia. Many models we saw we had never seen before. Toyota creates limosines that are bigger than the bigges Mercedes and Daihatsu seems to make nice little sportscars.

More pictures of Japanse cars


Koyasan is the religious centre of a certain Buddhist movement. In this mountainvillage you can therefore find many monasteries, shrines and temples. We stayed a night in a monastery and were able to visit two impressive ceremonies. We also visited a cemitary with 10.000's of tombstones. Also very impressive.

Here you can find 15 other pictures of this semitary


Kyoto is known mostly because of the convention named after it. Not sure if that's the main reason but this place was much more touristy than all the other places we vivites. Here we saw about 15-20 other western tourists a day, where in other places we were the only ones for days...

The Gion area in the eastern part of Kyoto is known for it's perfect dinner possibilities, nice little old streets and geisha's. In the evening when they go to their 'work' they look even more dressed up, but of course we did not bring the camera then...

As this was the end of a 3-week holiday we were kind of tired of visiting all the temples so here we took it easy, also because it was 35 degrees all day. We had relaxed breakfasts and enjoyed the people, surroundings and excellent food !

Although we saw the most strange and unexpected situations, the trip was different than we are used to. Not different than we expected as we did not have much time to prepare and create an expectation. It was not the tradition-wise culture-shock people told us about, but neither a very hip, trendy, techy country. A bit like we're used to in some parts of Europe: rice paddy's between the house of ll different kids and colors, all wires above the ground and nobody who speakes English... It reminded us a bit of Belgium...

Tokyo, Nara and Shirakawa-go definately belong to the highlights of a trip to Japan. Of course Japan is a very expensive country, but as the euro now (September 2003) has a very profitable exchange rate, the trip was about 30% cheeper than it would be a couple of years ago

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