Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Extraordinary Japan (Part 1)


Hubby and I are just back from a 15 day excursion to Japan... and what an excursion it was!  I have delayed writing about the trip since I couldn't decide how many posts it would take to describe the experience we had.  Knowing that I could probably write ten posts and not cover it all, I'm going to start here and see how far I get before lunch...

Fun facts about Japan (aka 'stuff I learned'):

  • Japan is densely populated (127+ million people) .  It is about the size of the state of California, with roughly half the population of the U.S.  So, if you took all the people age 16 and up in the US, and relocated them to California, you would emulate the population density of Japan - to compound the density, Japan has lots of green space like National Forest areas, so the population distribution is geared heavily toward major cities.
  • The capital city, Tokyo, is occupied by 13+ million people.  For comparison, the population of NYC is about 8.5 million.
  • Japanese pride themselves on cleanliness, modesty, neatness and presentation.  Not once did I see graffiti, smell cigarette smoke, see litter on the street, or smell any other offensive odor even on hot days on crowded subways.  Seriously..
  • Beauty is big business in Japan - the Japanese women as a whole are truly the most beautiful I've ever seen anywhere.
  • As for food, Tokyo restaurants received more than double the number of Michelin stars than the cities of Paris and NYC combined!
  • The customer service I experienced in restaurants, hotels, cafes, department stores, train stations, etc. was beyond compare.  I found myself wondering, do they really need all these people working here? The answer was yes.  Everyone I saw working in public areas was decidedly busy helping customers, cleaning, re-shelving, organizing, demonstrating, etc. It was eye-opening.  Profit margins might be a tad thinner due to the cost of labor, but their economy must be thriving with so many people employed.  
  • Tokyo is hosting the Summer Olympics in 2020.
This trip opportunity came up rather unexpectedly and so I only had a short amount of time to do the preparation I typically do for a trip abroad.  I didn't have time to learn the language, although I got a lot of practice saying, "Excuse me, I don't understand Japanese. I am lost. Can you help me find (place)?" in Japanese.  The people were exceptionally helpful, even if they didn't know where something was, they tried to help anyway they could.

We started our trip in the city of Nagoya, which is a modern shipping and manufacturing center, approximately two and a half hours by high-speed train south-west of Tokyo.  Considering the time we had spent traveling and the 13 hour time adjustment, my memory of the first couple of days is a little blurry.  I did manage to find Nagoya Station (the largest train station in the world by floor area) and the most impressive Takashimaya department store attached to it.  Wow is all I can say - just wow.  Who do we need to petition to get a Tokyu Hands or Yuzawaya craft store here???

On the third day, we trained to picturesque Kyoto for sightseeing at the Golden Pavilion and Kiyomizu Temple (not to mention the most amazing lunch at Shozan Resort restaurant).  Kyoto was once the Imperial capital city of Japan and still holds itself in very high regard.  Kyoto has a feeling of refinement and elitism (in the best possible meaning).  The tea ceremony, now celebrated throughout Japan, was developed in Kyoto.  Even the souvenirs found in Kyoto were of a slightly higher grade than those found elsewhere.  It is also the place you are most likely to see geisha, geikos, and maikos going about their daily business, side-by-side with regular folk.

Kinkaku-ji, 'the Golden Pavilion', totally covered in gold leaf,
is reported to contain relics of Buddha

Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto

Kimonos and Hello Kitty in Kyoto

Stay tuned for Part 2:   from Nagoya to Tokyo, by way of Hakone and Lake Ashi.  


  1. Can't wait to hear more and vicariously experience Japan. Cin

  2. Oh, I'm so glad your are blogging about your trip. I eagerly await new posts and your incredible pictures. Thanks for taking us along on your trip (less the jet lag)!