I’ve just returned from a “magical” two weeks visiting several cities in southern Japan – a gift that my husband and I gave ourselves to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. When emailing one of my friends, she asked what I meant by magical. It’s really the only way that I can describe the whole trip because absolutely everything was beautiful and planned to perfection thanks to a group called Samurai Tours, http://www.samuraitours.com/. We seldom book on tours because we prefer to do our own thing but when there is a big language challenge, tons of sites to visit and culture to absorb, we prefer to leave the arrangements to local professionals. Our guides provided us with the perfect Japanese experience.
As soon as you arrive in Japan, you quickly notice that it’s a land of stark contrasts between the old and the new. It is a beautiful and amazing country that is filled with polite people and contrasting sites of modern high-rise buildings alongside hundreds-year old temples and shrines, some with raked gardens. This contrast can also be seen as people stop by a shrine to quickly pray before running off to the trains where they use their cell phones to text (talking on them isn’t allowed) while riding to work or school. Everywhere you turn there is beauty and attention to design and detail – even things such as bento boxes. This you’d expect because of their exquisite display of food at every meal – but manhole covers? These were often decorated artistically and with symbolism. Japan is pristinely clean everywhere you go which is quite amazing considering the number of people who live in Japan and are constantly moving around. What was also amazing was the scarcity of garbage cans. We found it almost impossible to throw away a water bottle or bag that had contained lunch or snacks – and if we did find the bins, we had to figure out how to recycle our items. We once had a woman take a garbage bag from one of the couples on the tour so that she could take it home to throw it away. We loved the fact that people are not allowed to talk on their cell (mobile) phones on the subways and trains. Although we had many very tightly packed rides, there was not one obnoxious person letting us in on his/her side of a phone conversation. In many cities, you see raised/patterned yellow pavement paths that are used as guidelines for blind people.
We noticed that there seemed to be vending machines every couple of blocks and they were more than plentiful in the train stations. So no matter where you go you can buy all kinds of drinks such as sodas, energy drinks and coffee shots as well as snacks and cigarettes. You can even buy beer from a vending machine.
One of the things that brought our group a lot of laughs, were the very technical toilets complete with heated seats, bidets and even a button that provides music.
by Glenda Bland