Wednesday, 27 September 2006

The land of the rising sun

Just over four years ago I went on the best holiday I have ever had. It has long been a dream of mine (and, curiously enough, of my husband’s too) to travel to Japan and after a few years of thinking about it, we just went ahead and booked it. It was just after 9/11, airfares were cheap and we shamelessly took advantage of this to get on a plane to the Far East.

I have been fascinated with Japan for as long as I can remember. My great aunt is a fan and her house is totally decorated in Japanese style and I always loved looking at all those beautiful things. Also, I love the food – and in Mexico it’s been available far, far longer than it has here in the UK – and sometime in the late 90s I read “Memoirs of a Geisha” which actually fuelled my desire to see this amazing country.

We are very lucky in that we have Japanese friends living in Japan, so they were very helpful in organizing our itinerary and also as a place to stay. We were there just under 3 weeks and we saw so much, a lot of it thanks to our local friends. Not many tourists get to stay in a Tokyo family home, a city center mini-apartment or a sprawling traditional style home in the foot of Mt Fuji!

The whole trip was one amazing experience after another: the food, the people, the architecture, the history, the landscape, the shopping, the music, the cities, the service, the technology, the language, the vending machines, the menus, the public transport... there was nothing that I wasn’t amazed by and even something so mundane as visiting a public restroom in McDonalds was worth of note (three words: heated toilet seat!).

The country is a land of contrasts: extremely high tech gadgets living alongside traditional rituals, cutting edge architecture next to ancient buildings (and looking good!), the newest gadgets along with the most old-fashioned manners. I had some of the best meals of my life here, some of the most impressive service and without a doubt, the best souvenirs I’ve ever brought back from anywhere. I saw places of extreme beauty and museums that showed the raw horror of the Atomic bomb. I met some of the most polite and friendly people I know and rode on the most punctual trains in the world. I saw ancient temples built entirely out of wood with no nails and some of the most modern skyscrapers designed to withstand earthquakes.

And yes – we even saw Tokyo Disneyland! We ran out of time to visit the Hello Kitty theme park, though. I was truly gutted.

I always hate coming home from a vacation but this time I was really, really sorry to leave. I knew that there was so much more to see and felt sorry that I couldn’t. I then got home and spent about 6 months working on the scrapbook album I’m most proud of and which gives me great pleasure when I look at it again.

Whenever conversations turn to “where would you go if you won the lottery”, others say a world cruise, the Caribbean, Australia or South America. Not me – I would definitely go back to Japan and immerse myself in this most fascinating and amazing of places again.

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