To quote Apolo Ohno, “Japan, not only a mega-busy city that thrives on electronics and efficiency, actually has an almost sacred appreciation of nature. One must travel outside of Tokyo to truly experience the 'old Japan' and more importantly feel these aspects of Japanese culture.”
Japan was a country I always struggled to appreciate, as my father was in the RAAF during the war, serving in Borneo and New Guinea. It was time I put to sleep the prejudices I carried. Rob and I joined a tour to explore this ancient country.
The brilliance of Japan’s engineers in designing the infrastructure while responding to the huge transport challenges of moving around a population of 39 million living in Tokyo alone is to appreciate the scope of their achievements. Tokyo was fire-bombed during the war. Almost all of the city burnt as homes were built with wood pre-World War Two. The engineers, the architects, the builders have created a technologically savvy country, designing complex high tech train lines, train stations, bridges, tunnels, and roads on so many levels.
I found Tokyo far less appealing than the countryside. The countryside is beautiful and eminently restful after the pace of Tokyo. Leaving Tokyo the fast train took us to a speed of 320km/h. We moved between cities, avoiding the challenges of traversing high mountain peaks while travelling through numerous tunnels. Engineering brilliance again; close to 200 tunnels link the cities and population of Japan. From Tokyo, we visited Nagano where we strolled through old streets with beautifully preserved old buildings and visited the famous Matsumoto Castle.
From Nagano to Takayama, appreciating the beauty of the countryside, rice paddy fields tucked into odd corners of villages along the way, the orderliness of Japan featuring everywhere. Takayama was a highlight of the trip when we visited the Hida Folk Village, an open-air museum exhibiting 30 traditional houses from the region. This is a UNESCO heritage listed village.
Kanawaza has preserved many of its buildings, handicrafts and art museums from the Edo Period (1603-1868). A trip to the Kenroku-en Garden another highlight. Japanese gardens are intricately planned to present all the features of a peaceful, contemplative mood. Water, space, environment, ethos, peace are inclusive in their designs.
Kyoto, the original capital of Japan, was perhaps the most memorable city for me. It has retained many of its old buildings and carries with it the mystery of the elusive geisha, such an ancient tradition in Japan. Strolling down the old district of Gion in Kyoto we caught a glimpse of two geishas, full white make-up and elaborate kimonos, hurrying into a tea house set high on the Kamo River.
The Japanese take care of their environment. There is no rubbish on the streets. We visited numerous Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, beautifully preserved. It is such an ancient civilisation.
My impressions of Japan following our trip? Japanese food is presented as an art in itself, clever and utterly delicious. Their gardens, engineering, infrastructure, their courteous and polite disposition, their respect for their environment ... one column is not sufficient space to even touch on our impressions of Japan. Add to that a busload of big-hearted Aussies who were there to enjoy the experience. We’re so fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit this complex, clever country.