Categories
Japan Travel

FROM THE MOUNTAIN TO THE SEA

My friends live in a small and quiet town, and go to work by bike, the house is surrounded by rice paddies. Odawara is a city in Kanagawa Prefecture with 200,000 people west of Tokyo.

As it was Sunday, he was off duty so we went to Lake Ashi by car. There we took a boat across and headed to a mountainous and touristic region called Hakone, famous for the sulfurous hot springs. Due to the sulfur, the smell of rotten egg dominated the environment, we took a cable car to the top. The only view I had from Mount Fuji was from here, a little far away, but at least I could go back and tell everyone I saw the mountain. One ritual of tourists was buying eggs cooked in the hot springs and eat on the spot, due to the sulfur the shell was black and the egg tasted like even eggier. They were not very cheap – half a dozen eggs cost $5!

The traffic was very bad, single lane and steep, it was a parade of cars. There were many big and beautiful cars for a country so lacking in space.

We had western food on the way to the beach and went to Enoshima, an islet between Odawara and Tokyo, 4 km in circumference. The place is beautiful and pleasant to ride, with some surfers on the beach. We crossed on foot the 600 meters long bridge to the islet full of shops and typical foods and climbed a tower. There was a temple on the islet and a procession with about 50 people, probably Shinto.

That day wasn’t as hot as yesterday. After we dropped another friend off near her house on the way to Odawara, we stopped to eat noodles at a local restaurant. “Ramen-house” is very abundant here and the food here is better than the Japanese food in Brazil.

Categories
Japan Travel

The Impersonality of the Technology

In the morning I left the hostel before any employees has arrived but, as instructed, I paid my fee through a machine. Nothing more practical – but nothing more impersonal either. Technological life makes human contact as little as possible.

The heat was unbearable, about 38ºC and very humid, giving you the feeling of being in a sauna. I have never sweated so much! It was the worst heat of my life, I was wet with sweat all day.

I met my friends at 10:00 a.m. in Akihabara, also known as Electronic Town for its hundreds of electronics stores. They were a couple of friends who moved to Japan with their daughter to work. We went to buy a camcorder that had not yet been released in Brazil and was well priced here compared to other countries. I have done some research on the internet and knew this was the best place to get it. I bought one of JVC that was turned out later to be over the USD 500 customs limit in Brazil.

After the purchase, we went by subway to have lunch near Ueno park, one of the most famous in Japan, in a beautiful and chic Japanese restaurant, Bambo Garden. After lunch, we met another friend from Brazil, and we went to walk in a park which was very green and had a lake and annexes such as zoo, cemetery, museums and temples.

In the middle of the afternoon, we went to Harajuku, the meeting point of young people and teenagers, there were many strange “types”, young people dressed as dolls, cartoon characters and “punks”, today I know it is called Cosplay, I found everything very artificial.

After walking a lot we arrived in Roppongi, a neighborhood known for the nightlife, with another public, more mature. We strolled a little through the neighborhood and said goodbye to my couple friends who were leaving for another city, to Otawara, northeast of Tokyo.

I had a dinner at a restaurant with those sushis and sashimis on a conveyor belt at the counter, like luggage at the airport, just choose what you wanted to eat and grab it! After the dinner, we took the train to Odawara (almost two hours from Tokyo) and went to sleep at another couple friends’ home. Makio came to pick us up at the station at night and we went to eat again in a “ramen house” (noodles).

My friends’ house, like any Japanese house, has a “tatame” and it was not a big place, but it met well the needs of the couple who spent more time working outside.

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Categories
Japan

Tokyo, The Eastern Capital

Arriving at Narita airport in Japan at the end of the next day due to the timezone, I was impressed by the organization, cleanliness, education and attention of the Japanese people. As soon as I arrived there was a sign with my name on it, I was surprised after all I wasn’t expecting anyone. The lady told me that one of my bags had been lost. I actually brought very little stuff with me, other than luggage for a friend who had moved to Japan.

Talking to someone else, I was informed that they located the suitcase in San Francisco and it would be sent to Narita the next day, the staff apologized to me many times but it the U.S. staff’s fault. For me it was very convenient, the airport staff was going to send it straight to my friend’s home, it was her luggage and she could even save money!

Here in Japan it is convenient for travelers to send luggage using the “takiobin” (a type of courier, such as DHL), to the home or to the airport. That way you are free to ride the subway and train more comfortably. I have sent my suitcase to another friend’s home where I would be staying, I have used the company called Kuro Neko (Black Cat), paying about $34. As I needed to talk to my friends, I borrowed the phone from the young and friendly attendant, in gratittude I gave him a can of “guarana” (a Brazilian beverage), he was very surprised and happy.

From the airport I took a train to the subway station, and from the subway I walked to the hostel, it took me more than one hour and half to arrive, it was very hot that night. The rate was USD 20.67 (Yen 2400) including the reservation fee. This time I preferred to make a previous reservation, contrary to my habit of arriving on the spot and looking for available room. The hostel was very clean, and very quiet. I arrived after the check-in time and has found only a sticky note to the entrance door. Next to the message there was the pin code of the door, after the access to the main door, I have found at the reception the bed linen and next to it another door code for my bedroom. Although it was not a warm welcome I felt completely safe and the service was reliable.

I chose the Tokyo Backpackers, an independent hostel, instead of the International Youth Hostels Association (or Hostelling International), because I don’t like this association, it has to have a membership card and it’s more expensive. I tried to find something cheap and easy to access by subway and near the tourist attractions.

That was just for the first night, I didn’t want to make a long train ride to my friends’ home they would be hosting me near Tokyo, one hour and half away, it would take about three hours to get there from Narita Airport. Besides it I had just arrived from a 32 hours trip, apart from the time zone and the fact that I couldn’t sleep on planes. Yes, travelers also have a very tough life!

This is the hostel:

Tokyo Backpackers

2-2-2, Nihon-Zutsumi, Taito-ku Tokyo, 111-0021, Japan

Phone: +81 3 3871-2789.

E-mail: packers@eg-wave.com

Tokyo, meaning “Eastern Capital”, is the capital and largest city of Japan, it has a province status, with a population of 12.6 million people, located on the island of Honshu.

Tokyo’s ascension can be attributed to two men: Tokugawa Ieyasu and Emperor Meiji. In 1603, after unifying the warrior states of Japan, Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu founded his base in Edo (present-day Tokyo). As a consequence, the city developed rapidly and over time became one of the largest cities in the world, reaching a population of one million in the eighteenth century. It became the capital of Japan even when the emperor lived in Kyoto, the Imperial Capital. After 263 years, the shogunate was overthrown in order to restore imperial rule. In 1869, the Emperor Meiji moved to Edo, which had been renamed “Tokyo” a year earlier. Tokyo was already the political, economic, and cultural center of the nation, with the emperor’s residence it became the Imperial Capital, as well as the Castle of Edo which became the Imperial Palace.

Categories
Japan

Japan – A Brief Introduction

Capital: TOKYO

Political System: Constitutional Monarchy

Economy: 2nd largest economic power in GDP

Population: 126,5 million, 10th most populous country in the world

Religions: Shinto, Zen Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Christianity and others

Facts and curiosities:

Japan (this is the entire name of the country), “Nippon” or “Nihon” in Japanese, means “Land of the Rising Sun”, has more than three thousand islands, is one of the richest and most developed countries on the planet, land of technology and people super educated, but bad in English, was the target of two atomic bombs. The largest islands are Honshu (the largest and main), Hokkaido (to the north), Kyushu (to the south) and Shikoku (also to the south), and is divided into 8 regions and 47 prefectures (also called provinces). Situated east of Russia, Korea and China between the East China Sea and the Okhotsk Sea in the Pacific Ocean. Before developing two other writing systems (Hiragana and Katagana), he adopted Chinese ideograms, and currently merges the three writing systems, when he does not use Latinized writing, the “Romandi”.

The Portuguese arrived here in the 16th century, but did not establish a colony. With the restoration of the Meiji Era in the 19th century, imperial Japan underwent profound changes in politics and launched the country into the industrial era, with the end of the Shogunate of the Tokugawa clan in 1867, becoming a major power in Asia and beginning Japanese expansionism throughout Asia. Japan is what it is today, due to this history, the destruction of Japan in World War II only slowed the modernization process.

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