Symphony World Travel - Fetcham
Japan – A stunning and unique destination
My journey began in Tokyo, the most exciting metropolis in Asia where traditions from centuries past exist side by side with the ever –moving elements of the latest in urban culture that radiate their own special heat and energy. Most of the clichés are true. Tokyo in my impression is neon-wrapped, a hectic playground where trains are never late, vending machines are everywhere and food doesn’t always lie still on your plate, but amid the bright signs and adverts there is also a Zen-like calm, often just a few steps away from the chaos.
It only took me just under 3 hours on the 200 mph bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto, the cultural heart of Japan an area spared from the air raids of WW2. On my journey, I visited Hakone, an area of natural beauty and a UNESCO site, and then enjoyed the spectacular view of Mt Fuji, Japan’s spiritual home from Hakone ropeway. The mountain is covered in snow most of the year, with the official climbing season limited from early July to mid September. The climb was worthwhile but not easy, as a saying goes “There are two kinds of fools, those that never climb Fuji and those that climb it twice.”
Later that day, I reached Kyoto, the ancient capital for 1,200 years. Kyoto has numerous shrines, temples, palaces and villas, repositories of Japan’s long history, while up in the low mountains that enclose the city small villages huddle under forested slopes, offering fascinating glimpses of rural life. You can still find geishas in the old Gion district, kimono weavers, sake breweries and numerous craftsmen and storekeepers who are still carefully maintaining the old ways and keeping alive the flame of Japan’s traditional culture.
While I was in Kyoto, I also took a trip to Nara, visiting its scenic parks, historic temples and museums. As a solo traveller, I felt really safe, including all my journeys on the highly efficient public transport. It was not unusual to see children riding alone on the subway and trains, some would even use this time to catch some sleep. I also learnt that when belongings were lost, they were returned intact the very next day.
As I travelled further south I found myself in Hiroshima, a city remerged from the atomic bombing, the peace flame burns in front of the memorial cenotaph, never to be extinguished until all nuclear weapons are abolished. A short distance from Hiroshima is the beautiful island of Miyajima, home to the Itsukushima shrine a must see for all, standing alone in the sea. This Shinto shrine is a world heritage site and is known as one of the ‘three views of Japan’.
Miyajima Island is a romantic place, as many couples enjoyed staying the night at one of the islands’ ryokans, a traditional Japanese Inn. Numerous superb hot spring resorts, known as ‘onsens’ are in fact ryokans built on the site of a hot spring. There are about 55,000 ryokans in Japan, a standard room in a ryokan, like the one I stayed in, will usually contain an undivided room floored with tatami matting, while sleeping on a ‘futon’ bedding laid out by maids. I was served with a traditional evening meal and breakfast to set me up for the day ahead.
My final stop was time spent on the beautiful island of Okinawa, where I took the opportunity to relax on one of its many beautiful beaches, and snorkel to see the sub tropical coral reefs under the clear emerald sea. There are more than 150 islands stretching a chain of 250 miles in the Ryukyu Islands. Environmental awareness is extremely important to these islands. During my time on Okinawa I saw no litter or bins as litter is taken home to process. This is an exact example of the remarkable social cohesion that Japan enjoys intertwined with its heart warming hospitality and makes it such a pleasant place to live and to visit. Japan awaits you…
If you are undecided when to visit Japan, spring is spectacular when the plum and cherry blossom trees burst into bloom, from the first days of February when the plum blossoms debut in Okinawa to the last days of May, when the last cherry blossoms fall from the trees of northern Japan. Spring is a time of rebirth in the name of nature and human celebration throughout the land with numerous flower festivals being held everywhere. Spring is one of the most popular times to travel and planning and booking early is imperative.
Summer is the playtime in the land of nature, a season of rice planting and total greenery. It is a season for visiting Mt Fuji, enjoying the fireworks almost every night and the large scale festivals that will linger through into September, but by October Japan is enjoying the crisp cooler days of its distinct autumn.
Autumn brings swirls of changing leaves, vivid hues of crimson, gold, bronze and yellow that paint the hills and mountainsides in carpets of colour, a wonderful time to visit. The Momji maple tree turning a blazing red is not to be missed.
Winter offers not only snowfall a skier’s paradise but sunshine and blue skies as well as cheaper prices and a quieter time to travel.