The Trip To Japan – Tea Ceremony

I spent the night in Kyoto in a small backpackers hostel, near Gion. It was my first night at a backpackers hostel but I found the experience quite enjoyable. I met a few interesting people and I really got to rest my feet, after what I calculated to be more than 12-13 kilometers of walking in Kyoto.

In the morning, I started to walk again and just wandered around the wonderful traditional Japanese houses until 12:30. At 13:00 it was scheduled the first tea ceremony at the tea house I just discovered the other day. I was pretty determined not to miss this.

So, at 12:30 I was again at the entrance of the small tea house, looking for the schedule. Everything seemed identical with yesterday. Today was Thursday, so it was supposed to be opened. So, only half an hour until the event. Enough time for a small walk. I breathed deeply, turned on my heels and I was almost bumped into a young lady on a bicycle. Didn’t hear her coming and noticed she had a small flower in a flower pot.

I smiled and wanted to give a Ohayo Gozaimasu salute, when she asked in a crystal clear English: “Are you here for the Tea Ceremony?”. Definitely, my odds were much more positive than yesterday. “Yes” I answered with joy. “Well, I wait you here in half an hour” the young lady said.

Tea Ceremony House

After 30 minutes here I am, opening the door of the little house. Took off my shoes and made my entrance in a room  covered with tatamis, traditional Japanese mats. Inside there were another 3 persons, a lady in between ages and a young couple. I sat down and introduced myself. The lady proved to be from Australia, mate, and the young couple from Great Britain.

The house was made on wood, an old traditional house, almost identical with the ones I photographed the other day on Shimbashidori street. On one of the walls of the first room there was a small and simple floral arrangement. The room was continued with another one, on which there were some tea tools, like pots and other things I couldn’t name.

tea-ceremony-utensils

We chatted a little and then a young lady in kimono entered and saluted.

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The Trip To Japan – Kyoto

After 3 days in Tokyo, on Wednesday I decided to go to Kyoto. As always, I made loose plans, the main idea being to get to Kyoto as fast as I can and then take it form there. I chose to ride the Shinkansen, because between Tokyo and Kyoto are more than 450 km (some maps are crediting this distance with around 500 km) and a trip with the bus would have taken 7-8 hours. By Shinkansen I was there in 2 hours and 15 minutes. Just for your information, the average delay of trains in Japan was last year within 6 seconds. That’s right, 6 seconds.

The Shinkansen ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto costs 12.700 yen, or around 125 USD. That’s one way, by the way, and there’s no discount for round trip. So, the transportation to Kyoto and back to Tokyo costed around 250 USD. I left my hotel before 9 AM, took the JR Yamanote line from Shinjuku, and changed for Shinkansen at Shibuya. At 11:30 I was in Kyoto.

The Nozomi Shinkansen is impressive.

Nozomi Shinkansen entering Kyoto Train Station
Nozomi Shinkansen entering Kyoto Train Station

Not only from the outside, with a very snaky appearance but also from the inside, where it looks more like a plane than a train. You won’t feel more vibrations than in an usual train and the only clue that you’re going with 300 km/h (a apart from the mind blowing scenery running before your eyes) is that your ears are clogging a little when you enter tunnels. A little bit like the feeling of starting to go down for landing when you’re flying.

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The Trip To Japan – Tokyo

Tokyo is an incredible urban agglomeration. It’s much more than a city, it’s an urban conglomerate made of 23 wards, with a core population of 8 million people. Adding the adjacent urban structures and we have the world’s most populous metropolitan area, with 35 million people (significantly more than my entire country, Romania, which holds 21 million people in its boundaries). Of course, you can learn that by reading Wikipedia. So why I’m starting with this info? Because the most powerful sensation you have first time in Tokyo is this overwhelming feeling of human presence. Huge, unstoppable, continuous human presence.

There are people everywhere: in the subway, in the trains, in the cars, on the streets, in the hotels, in the malls, in the restaurants, in the gaming huts, in the offices, everywhere. Silent, huge and powerful presence. 35 millions of people. And I was one of them for about a week. Welcome to my first post about my trip to Japan. It will be a mix of touristic information about Japan and my personal ramblings about what I saw.

Tokyo Transportation

Tokyo has several subway lines and a lot of surface trains. In fact, most of the transportation in Tokyo seemed to be built around trains. Although there are a number of expressways, the most important way for getting in and out of the city is by train. There are several subway lines, such Oedo and Ginza lines, and several surface trains, such JR lines, one of the most popular being JR Yamanote line. Train lines are everywhere, at the ground level or suspended, sometimes getting over each other for several levels.

Suspended train lines in Shinjuku
Suspended train lines in Shinjuku

Expressways are going up to the 8th or 9th level, while trains are going up to the 4th or 5th level.

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The Trip To Japan – First Impressions

Today is my last day of my trip to Japan, I’m leaving tomorrow for my beloved Auckland. I’m having mixed feelings right now about this trip, but I guess it’s normal. It is by far the most challenging trip I ever had, far more challenging than the trip to Thailand, and much more demanding than my trip to New Zealand.

I had a lot of things to do here and every day was filled with challenges. I wasn’t bored not even for a single second. But I’m happy to leave now. And maybe the biggest reason for being happy to leave now is the fact that I didn’t know the language. Despite the fact that I can read a little katakana and hiragana, I can’t extract too much meaning without serious knowing of Kanji. This was a huge handicap. In Thailand everybody seemed to know English and also seemed happy to talk. Here, even if somebody knows English, and even if people are most of the time very kind and willing to help, it’s very difficult to have a normal conversation. I understand that is my task to learn the language of the country whether I’m staying in Kyoto or Bangkok and I will be sure to do that from now on. But the frustration is still there.

Another reason for being happy to leave is my raw food diet. As I predicted, I had to make a lot of compromise regarding my way of eating. It’s almost impossible to keep a raw food diet as a visitor in Japan. Not only fruits and vegetables are horrendously expensive (it’s a volcanic island, after all, with little or no agriculture) but it’s quite difficult to find them, at least in central spots of Tokyo, where I was walking. Although I managed to keep a rough 50/50 balance between cooked and raw food, I still had to make big changes to my diet. And that was not ok. My body reacted extremely good to this change, I had no health problem whatsoever, which means that in the last 7 months of eating raw I improved a lot my body digestion capacity. But the fact that I can safely eat now cooked food doesn’t mean I have to. On the contrary, I miss the feelings of clarity and balance I have when I’m on my regular raw food diet.

I’m going to write more about this trip, as I’m just arranging my notes and mind maps, but I felt the need to write something about it while I’m still here. And since I’m not going to write anything descriptive or conceptual, I thought it would be better to just post some photos. Those of you who are already following me on Twitter have already seen those photos.

The following posts about this trip to Japan, which I guess I’ll be able to publish once I will be back in Romania, next week, will not follow my regular chronological pattern, there will be no day one in Japan, day two, and so on. Instead, I’ll write about places, ideas and feelings. There will be for sure posts about Tokyo, Kyoto, Tea Ceremony, Nikko and Odayba. There will be a post about Japan – the aftermath, because I leave this country with a huge feeling of growth.

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The Trip To Japan, What To Read And More

Tomorrow I’ll leave for Japan. It will be a 7 days trip followed by a two days stop in New Zealand. I always wanted to go to Japan. As a teenager I was fascinated by martial arts, by the samurai life code – bushido – and by the Japanese culture all together. As a student I started to learn hiragana and katakana by my own although my chances to go to Japan were nearly zero at that time.

Despite the fact that I had this deep wish to go to Japan, something always seemed to interfere and I had to postpone this. I postponed it so much that I barely thought I will always step foot over there. But one month ago I decided it’s time to do it. No more delays, no more excuses no more nothing: just buy the tickets, book the hotel and go. As part of my goals for 2009 this trip was suddenly simply unavoidable.

The main reason for going to Japan, apart from my all life wish, is to stretch myself, to pursue my personal development path. If you’re new here you may want to check out a full post I wrote about travel as a personal development tool. After I got back from the trip to Thailand I was so dismantled, so puzzled yet so refreshed and energized that I just couldn’t avoid to travel anymore. It’s part of my lifestyle now.

What To Do In Japan

I don’t plan my trips. I usually book the plane tickets and the hotel and this is basically all I know for sure in advance. Sometimes I take one or two guided tours just to get a glimpse of what they can offer. In Thailand, for instance, I booked a guided tour for the Floating Market in Damnoen Saeduk and I was pretty happy with it. In Japan I will only have a one day guided tour to mount Fuji, the rest is at my will. I will stay in Tokyo for the most part although I don’t exclude some one night stops in other cities, especially Kyoto.

I would really like to get some of the sakura zensen feeling (the cherry blossom celebration) but it seems I will be a little on the edge with that, from my information the climax of this was last week. Sakura zensen is one of the most interesting things to see in Japan, both from what I read and from what I heard from other people who were already there.

I will definitely visit everything would raise my interest and I won’t limit myself only to Tokyo, although I have this feeling that Tokyo itself will be really overwhelming.

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iPhone as a travel mate

Initially, this post was written during my first trip to New Zealand, September 2008. But since then I had several other long trips, including Switzerland, Thailand and Japan. Each of these trips added some value to the way I’m using my iPhone, so I felt the need to share what I’ve learned during those trips. You’ll easily find which application was used in which trip, but I guess the most important is to find some help and make your travels more enjoyable.

During my first trip to New Zealand, which is more than 20.000 km away from my country, Romania, I had the chance to use my iPhone as a travel companion. What follows is a compilation of what I tried, learned and used during that trip and the nex ones.

Maps

The first and one of the most important things about iPhone as a travel mate is the Maps application. Although I don’t have permanent internet access (I followed Apple’s advice about turning data roaming off, “to avoid substantial roaming charges…”) but I do have a decent WiFi access at my bed and breakfast facility here in Auckland. Every time I have to go to an area I don’t know yet, I open Maps and try to familiarize myself with the surroundings. I suppose that if I have data access everything would be even simpler, because I can just use the GPS facilities and find my way out in real time. But even without the GPS functionality, the Maps application is extremely useful. In the picture below you’ll see the very beach where I took the sunrise picture in the first post about the trip to New Zealand:

You can even see the tree under which I sat while I took the photo. I admit. sometimes this is spooky… But sometimes is just useful.

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