Blog: My nostalgic trip to Japan and thoughts thereof by Greg Pampling
In August of this year I undertook to travel to Japan in order to visit many friends and acquaintances whom I had not seen for a number of years. I had been living in Japan until 2009, after which I moved back to Australia in order to pursue work and other opportunities. However I had always harboured a desire to go back and visit Japan, to see how people were getting on and to appreciate the tremendous Japanese hospitality of which I had grown so fond while living in Japan. I also wished to see if any discernable changes had taken place in Japanese society following the events of March and whether this had affected the provision of services and so forth. After arriving in Fukuoka on August 25th , I travelled throughout northern Kyushu, taking buses, subway trains, and express trains from Tenjin in the centre of Fukuoka City all the way out to the remote countryside of Oita Prefecture.
What I can report is that all public transportation to and from my destinations was exactly as I recall – efficient, clean, and quiet. Furthermore, the cost of tickets and other fares were offset by the JR Rail Pass that I had purchased before undertaking my trip, which meant that I could take any JR train, on any JR line from Kyushu all the way up to Hokkaido, and I would not have to pay for local tickets (of course, the Nozomi and Mizuho Shinkansen trains are exempt from this arrangement but there are plenty of other Shinkansen trains available to catch!). While in Kyushu, I savoured the best that Tenjin had to offer in terms of its famous local delicacy – ‘tonkotsu ramen’ (a pork-based noodle soup, which is actually Chinese in origin but has been thoroughly mastered by the ramen chefs of Fukuoka), while in Yufuin, located not far from the hot spring resort town of Beppu in Oita Prefecture, I walked up and down thoroughfares with small shops selling all sorts of Japanese handcrafts while pausing under willow trees near the banks of the river that intersected the centre of town. It was also a Sunday, which meant that many families from Oita, Fukuoka, Kumamoto and many other prefectures both near and far were enjoying the sunny weather and the ‘quaint’ atmosphere of Yufuin (it being so unlike the hurried, sometimes frenetic pace of life in Japan’s larger cities.)
My journeys then took me to Kyoto, a place I had lived in back in 2008 while on a scholarship from the Japanese government. Anyone who has been to Kyoto in summer will tell you that it is not the most comfortable place to visit, given that the city itself is located in a valley which receives none of the ocean breezes or squalls that help to make other Japanese cities a tad less ‘muggy’, but it was just this type of feeling that I craved, that sense of your shirt being slightly stiffened as a result of the amount of sweat that has poured out of you only to evaporate as you move from one air-conditioned venue to the next. This sensation, I think, best describes what one experiences walking the back alleys and narrow streets of Gion, Higashiyama, and Shij? at midday, followed by a relaxing sit down later in the afternoon on the banks of the Kamo river, all the while watching pedestrian and vehicle traffic make their way across the many bridges spanning the river. The sights, the sounds, the sheer physical presence of history in Kyoto will, I think, draw me back again year after year until I’m satisfied that I have fully absorbed it all.
Upon leaving Kyoto, I journeyed to Tokyo. Tokyo, truly one of the world’s most astounding cities, is, I can say, unchanged, and runs on a 24 hour basis with an energy and vibrancy that come roaring out of the subways and echo off the ubiquitous neon signs that decorate Shibuya, Shinjuku, Harajuku, and Ginza. Tokyo is still as big, as brash, as exciting a city as it ever has been and functions exactly as it always has – very efficiently. The people are, despite the enormity of the city around them, still very much polite and courteous, open to asking where you are from and wanting to know more about you. The cuisine in Tokyo is of such quality and variety that, having tried it once, you will judge all other cities by what they can offer that matches Tokyo in terms of service and taste.
From my journey across Japan, which included a visit way up to the city of Kushiro on the edge of Hokkaido’s east coast, I witnessed a country carrying on with the daily process of life as it always has. Japan has such an enormous degree of regional distinctiveness, and coupled with a culture that truly appreciates you as a customer, means that no matter where you go you will experience the best in hospitality and accommodation that money can buy (and even some that it can’t). I have resolved to return to Japan as much as I can over the next couple of years, for it is an endless source of fascination and one of the truly marvellous destinations for travel.
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