What I love about Japan
Everybody I know who’s been to Japan say they love it. There’s a great deal to love. Everyone who’s yet to get there say it’s at the top of their wish-list.
Japan is like no other country. It’s a modern society, with a strong regard for history, a love of simplicity and a keen appreciation of beauty.
My last trip there . . .
My last trip started with a conference in Tokyo, but took the shinkansen straight afterward to Kyoto. I’d arranged to stay with two different local couples through my international homestay organisation. This was a chance to experience daily life, and my hosts were extremely welcoming.
The first hosts lived near the very large Lake Biwa. On a perfect sunshine day, while his wife went to work, my host took me right around the lake for an nine-hour sightseeing tour. There were so many sights – temples, shrines, a castle – we didn’t even stop for lunch. That didn’t matter though, because I’d been given a generous cooked breakfast to start the day and then a beautiful home-cooked meal in the evening.
I met another host for an afternoon’s sightseeing around Ohara. At Kokusaikaikan station, Yoshiko was 90 seconds late and came scurrying up to me with sincere apologies for keeping me waiting. On this chilly day, Yoshiko drove us to Ohara where we went to a tea house/foot bath. Fantastic. We sat outdoors, drinking delicious hot ginger tea, with our bare feet under the table soaking in hot spring water. The base of the pool was lined with pebbles fixed in concrete and there were plates on the table that showed reflexology points so you could work your feet across the pebbles.
The second homestay host couple, in Kyoto’s Tofokuji district, had me and an Israeli couple to stay. Another generous home cooked Japanese dinner, complemented by some foie gras which had been left by recent French guests. Our host dressed us in traditional kimono (and yukata for the man) to cap off an amazing evening.
After Kyoto, I took a few days in Kanazawa where I spent a while wandering the famous Kenrokuen gardens. When heading there, I’d noticed a bar promoting a live afternoon jazz performance. I stopped in on the way home and was made very welcome in this tiny venue, even though I spoke no Japanese and they no English. The audience numbered four, including me – the same as the number of band members. It was easy listening jazz – flute, piano, percussion and later vocals. An excellent, intimate and serendipitous experience.
Cherry Blossom Footsteps references
In my novel Cherry Blossom Footsteps, the whole first half is set in Japan. Main character, Lauren, is on her first overseas trip. Starting in Tokyo, she gets around many parts of Honshu – north and south. She goes clubbing in Roppongi, negotiates the Tokyo rail network, attends a wedding in Matsushima and contemplates a Zen garden in Kyoto. Along the way, she debates the merits of the Japanese imperial system and follows tales of Shogun warriors.
Lauren steps from the vibrancy of Tokyo to the tranquillity of meditation in a countryside temple. She encounters many locals and makes new friends among her fellow travellers. There’s even some unexpected romance in one of Japan’s most revered settings.
Japanese lifestyle is celebrated throughout the first half of the novel. It explores the elegance of the culture and the warmth, gentle spirituality and humility of the people.
Lauren’s journey follows some of my first trip to Japan, and first experience of independent travel. The story is based on quite a few of my own adventures.
The place to visit
Everyone who’s read the novel has said it’s made them want to visit, or revisit, Japan. All have told me it has inspired them to get to Japan as soon as they can.
See my other posts in this suite What I love Hong Kong and What I love about Macau.