Saturday, September 20, 2008

Japan, the land of rising sun, of grace, power and mystery

My stay in Tokyo and Nikko proved Japan as a quiet SAMURAI, that may not be perceived as so at first, but its economy, politics, food, faith and people makes the journey full of surprises and hidden treasures.

The first things that caught my attention, is the quiet. Let me explain: here I am in the 2nd most crowded city in the world, and no one talking out loud on the subway, nor using the mobile. The maximum you may hear is sometimes a whisper or two between people. You soon realize the rule: “Don’t bother anyone in Japan public places”.

People seem to be early birds as well, since after 9pm I meet no one walking and few cars in the streets uptown. Many restaurants closed at 21h30. Many explain this due to Japanese waking up very early with the early sunset of this country (around 5am).

Japan is also the World´s second biggest economy, but its a changing world, and just on Friday, 29th of Aug., one day after I arrived, the Japan Government unveiled a US$ 110 billion plan to help the economy, and on the following Monday the prime minister resigned.

This was not the only world changing event I witnessed these days in Japan. The first week of September 2008 will also be Historical: The 1st African American confirmed as candidate to US presidency, on the same day that over 40 years ago Martin Luther King’s famous speech “I have a dream….” His opponent didn’t stay behind, appointing the 1st woman, current Alaska governor, as his vice-president candidate.

Tokyo is a modern city, and it´s skyline busy with gleaming skyscrapers, but at times it can be full of contrasts. The neighborhood of Asakusa is one of the contrasts seeing from the pictures you have the new Skyscrapers of they local beer industry, the outdoor shopping and the ancient temple.

Another good surprise was the Disney Sea on the picture below. The magic spirit of fantasy and hope they are able to deliver in a daily basis is so soothing that brings together people from all over, including some friends I made from Phoenix – Arizona, visiting relatives in a US base in Japan.

Nikko, a one day trip that bridges you back to Japan´s past, and is a must see.

The gate to the ancient temple will bring you to ancient figures of guardians, monks, amazing temple architecture and a rest in the shade with newly met friends , like the ones I made from NYC.

Nikko is also home to a mountain range that is impressive, with lakeside views and ONSEN (spa resorts) over 1200 meters from the sea level.

And the best of all is always having a meal with local friends, and the one below was on the Birthday of Koji, member of the Focolare movement there, that works for Unity and Peace in the world.

Lessons Learned in Japan’s Trip?

* Buy a Guide of Japan (Lonely Planet or other) and plan this trip carefully, otherwise it will be the most expensive one you will experience;

* Stay somewhere in downtown Tokyo (Shibuya, Meguro and Ueno are my favorite) to save time & money in subway. But plan a stay in Kyoto, Nikko and/or Okinawa for less expensive lodging;

* Buy a pre-paid mobile (approx. US$ 50) to use locally with the friends you meet and globally sending mails through the mobile e-mail account;
* Have Tako Yaki (yummy balls of squid & flower) near some Tokyo subway station;

* Visit the Disney (Land or Sea) and the Tokyo tower for entertainment and an impressive bird’s eye view of the City Harbor;

* Visit the Harajuku station on Sunday to see the locals in funny costumes (called locally Cosplay) and also stretch the visit to the Harajuku park and the temple in it;

* Spend a day visiting Asakusa station so you can enjoy downtown streets, shops and temple there. You can take a ship between Asakusa and Hamarikyu park in Hamamatsucho Many visitors like
the ship very much:

* VISIT NIKKO and have a hot bath in a ONSEN (Japanese hot springs baths).

* Give up going to Disney just because you have over 18 (it is fun until you are over 90);

* Stay in a hotel alone. If you are traveling alone, hostels are friendlier places to team up with groups to explore;

* Expect the English speaking to be everywhere, and the concierge in the hotel to solve all your plan / problems.

* Touch a Japanese (not even to shake hands) unless he does it first. It’s considered impolite.