Sunday, November 02, 2008

The trip impressions: Japan

Tokyo is a very pleasant city. Lively, pretty and relaxing in a way. There is not a lot of impressive views or monuments, but I've never seen any part of it that wasn't one way or another pleasant. I especially like Ueno and Shinjuku.

Kyoto, on the other hand, has a lot of lovely temples and shrines and one lively and pretty shopping, dining and nightlife area, but is otherwise astonishingly ugly. Walking outside the pretty areas was not a pleasure for the eyes. My advice for all the visitors is to get a bus pass (500 yen a day) and just ride from one pretty area to the other.

Temples are pretty, but they get monotonous fast. If you only get to see one Buddhist temple in Japan, let it be Todaiji temple in Nara. It's really The Temple.

Shinto shrines are often painted bright orange. To ward off evil spirits, one tourist guide said. This probably also explains the Helsinki subway.

Nara conveniently has most of its tourist attractions in one fairly big park. Himeji also has its attractions, the castle and the Koko-en garden, right next to each other.

Nara also has deer, which are mostly cute but can be a nuisance. One tried to eat a cop's baton, got kicked by the same baton on the butt for its effort, came to me, demanded cookies, didn't get any, bit me on the stomach and tried to pull my shirt off. It's lucky it didn't end up as deer filet.

On the way back from Nara a man started talking to us on the train. In English. He told us that he is 75 and has never been abroad, so he figured now it's time to learn English and travel by himself, not with a group like everyone else.

Address system is weird but you get used to it, good maps are available, the subways and railways have all the essential information in English. This is where their English ends, though.

In some hotels and upscale restaurants some people speak some English, but for the most part nobody does, and they are afraid to use the little English that they do speak, too. I usually avoid trying to speak local language (except some polite words) when I speak it as little as Japanese, but in Japan every word of Japanese helps. Especially number words are very useful when trying to explain how many of something you want, because in many places "three" and three fingers held up was not enough.

Finding restaurants with a non-smoking section is a big problem. However, small eateries like kaiten-sushi places are usually totally non-smoking, chain cafes (the best coffee was in Pronto, BTW) usually have smoking and non-smoking areas, and nice restaurants will seat you away from smokers at a non-crowded time.

This nonwithstanding, there are whole streets and blocks where smoking is forbidden. They are patrolled by some anti-smoking police. Once I saw a man come to a non-smoking street with a cigarette. The cop chased him with a portable ashtray, caught him and confiscated the cigarette.

Maybe a thousand pictures is worth a million words?

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