Your Japan Itinerary
The most important thing to know about Japan is that each city has it’s own, never to be repeated Kit Kat and delicious doesn’t come near describing them. You’ve sampled green tea Kit Kat, for cultural reasons, in Tokyo, dived into blueberry cheesecake Kit Kat in Osaka and sworn off them because the diabetic coma is coming on and the train pulls into Kobe and it’s a choice between seeing Kobe castle or creme brûlée Kit Kat. No choice. It’s a plot against the Jews. And a big part of the plot is the train itself. Every station has little shops selling exquisite Japanese delicacies and just in case you’re dying of hunger after finishing off a crate of your delicacies there a girl walking up and down the carriage with lots more for you. In the train you’re sitting in an armchair that’s more comfortable than the special extra padded one your grandmother had, the one you weren’t allowed to sit on. The train is going faster than a slow Boeing so as Mt Fuji disappears you see peasants from The Samurai working their rice paddy in the middle of a chrome and glass city, then seaweed farmers and a Japanese navy boat thrown in for good measure. In Japan you can’t go wrong, just step out into the street and food, shops with things you’ve never seen before and beauty is waiting for you. We went to the film studio where they made The Samurai in Kyoto. We got off the train and walked down a winding narrow lane and there was a bakery where we stopped to sample the goods. We went back in 4 times, ate one of everything, and agreed we’d touched baking heaven. Japan is like that.
Where to go? Starting from the north is the island of Rebunto in Hokkaido. Swiss like in it’s beauty the local specialty is a fish you cook yourself with some kind of miso, sake paste. I still think about it. In the middle of Hokkaido is Noboribetsu a hot spring town where you get sprayed, rolled, steamed, snow frozen and broiled like a lobster. The most fun you’ll ever have being tortured. In the back of nowhere is Beie and I went there to see the world’s greatest landscape photographer Shinzo Maeda. I came close to changing my mind about Shinzo because Beie is so exquisitely beautiful, so uniquely scenic that I thought hey, I could do this and one day I will. A week in Beie with a camera and a pushbike and a knife and fork for the local digestables is on the top of my list.
South to Tokyo, it’s shopping where The Loft in Shibuya is the best for exotic and Yodobashi for everthing else including Italian food that may be better than Naples, The Yakasuni shrine is great if you love history and want to see World War Two from the we came in peace point of view and for purple haired punk rockers and octopus like you’ve never tasted it’s Yoyogi park on a Sunday. Actually the best thing about Tokyo is a day trip to Nikko to Tokugawa’s shrine, a bit overwhelming but in a good way.
Another off to the country trip out of Tokyo, but a staying overnight one, Is Hida Takayama. It’s the Berrima of Japan, a preserved wooden mountain village where the thing to do is stay in a ryokan and throw snowballs at each other.
Back on the train for a few light snacks and off to Kyoto where a month would be a good start. The highlights are Ryōan-ji, the rock garden, Kiyumizu temple up on stilts in a mountain, the Golden Temple and the red torii gates, all unmissable. But the best, where you’ll be the only ones there is the Moss Temple, Saihō-ji. Everything is hundreds of years of cultivated moss. You have to apply a month earlier, sit on your haunches for half an hour pretending to write calligraphy before they’ll let you in but once you get past the Buddhist priests and the cramps have worn off it’s unforgettable.
From there Kobe’s worth a visit. All new after the earthquake it’s a bit like Darling Harbour. OK that sounds bad but it’s a Japanese version which means a steam bath for your feet, a Jurassic park hothouse garden and Kobe beef.
Off to Miyajima Island and the deer, the fried oysters and the giant torii gate coming out of the water and then south to Kyushu. The things to do there, well, the best things to do, are getting buried in volcanic sand in Kagoshima which will prepare you nicely for the kamikaze airfield, the night markets along the river in Fukuoka are great too, as is being chased by monkeys in Beppu another hot spring town. But my personal favourite is the Peace Park in Nagasaki where the bomb went off. The communist block countries donated their finest examples of Stalinist art to support world peace and the place is wall to wall big bosomed, fist clenching statues of fiercely peaceful giant women. It’s great. There’s plenty more in Japan, Art Island is unforgettable for it’s concrete, yep, concrete and Ritsurin Park in Shikoku is Japanese garden art at its best but the main thing to know is that you can’t go wrong, the food, the people, the prices, the scenery, everything is great. And best of all, of course, the Kit Kats.