Japan is a fascinating enigma. The size of the Great Britain but with only
one third of the land usable due to mountains, this is still the world's
third largest economy (after USA and China) - in spite of being embedded in a long term recession
- with a GDP that equals Britain, France and Germany.
Japan is dedicated to high technology but also loves and maintains
ancient traditions, a contradiction that is far more interesting to
a visitor than the regular sights of Tokyo and Kyoto. Blue-suited, gold-rimmed
salarymen (office workers) step out of their Blade Runner office buildings
after work and stoop into dark little akachochin bars where the staff
all shout 'irrashaimase!' (welcome!) and knock up another batch of fried
grasshoppers or whale sashimi to go with the Asahi Dry.
After getting totally and acceptably plastered the salarymen will return
to their tiny apartments by train, taking off their shoes before venturing
onto the tatami mats. The wives will be waiting up late with a pretty
porcelain cup of green tea, before heading for the futon (mattress)
on the floor. There but for the grace of God...
Tokyo is the traveller's number one target, a huge, congested by dynamic city, with a deliberately confusing road system designed to prevent invaders
from reaching the Imperial Palace, and consequently no effective centre,
so a tourist just has to get used to the superb underground train system
in order to get from the Ginza, to Asakusa, Shibuya, to Shinjuku, to
Roppongi and wherever else.
Thus Tokyo is a city that needs a lot of walking and watching if you
are to find the charming contradictions and pictures that lurk along
the busy streets. And don't forget to walk on the left of the pavement!
The other great draw is Kyoto/Nara, south of Tokyo, but that's a more
traditional sightseeing experience, with ancient gold and red temples,
tea houses, Zen gardens and the rest.
Kamakura, on the coast and about an hour from Tokyo by train is one of Japan's oldest capitals (but hardly even a city now) dating from the 12th - 14th centuries. This ancient and attractive town, generally jammed with tourists, is scattered with more than 70 well-preserved Buddhist shrines and temples including the famous Big Buddha pictured above.
Takayama Matsuri (Spring Festival) is considered to be one of the three most colourful and historically interesting events in Japan. It's located a train ride from Nagoya.
Celebrated twice a year in spring April 14 -15 and autumn October 9-10, Takayama is one of the most colourful and varied festivals we've seen in Japan, but very crowded of course.
Kanazawa, a large, modern city on the west coast of Honshu (Japan's main island) is scattered with cultural and architectural relics from the days when it was the centre of the wealthy and sophisticated Maeda clan.
Without doubt the finest remnant of those feudal days is the magnificent Kenrokuen Garden, a 17thC creation that belonged to the adjacent castle and is now a showpiece of classic, controlled and laborious Japanese gardening style and one of Japan's finest natural works.
Kawasaki, a name that normally resonates 'motorcycles' is a town less than an hour from Tokyo by train and a place that resonates with 'genitalia' in early April when a local Shinto shrine holds a colourful and hilarious one day festival to pray for safe sex - the Kanamara Matsuri or 'Festival of the Steel Penis.'
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