Yes…I have had the song in my head ever since my wife and I booked flights to Japan. Having conquered Europe over the cold Christmas holidays, it was time for another well-earned break and what better place to head than ‘The Land of the Rising Sun’. While I have visited the country previously for the sole purpose of hitting the ski slopes, this time I was heading over ready to immerse myself in Japanese culture.
After battling some nasty weather early on in Hakone (I can tell you a typhoon makes for a night of little sleep), we arrived in the traditional city of Kyoto. Being the former capital of Japan, Kyoto is a city full of tradition and culture with over 1600 temples and shrines…yes that’s 1600! Fortunately for us tourists the city was spared from bombing during WWII which allowed us to get an intriguing insight to traditional Japanese buildings and culture. From 5-storey wooden pagoda’s to Golden Palaces and a never ending set of Tori gates, Kyoto has some truly inspiring buildings and landscapes. One of the highlights for me was walking through the stone lined streets past a myriad of shops and stalls to the Kiyomizudera temple – the central attraction for the city. From the top of the hill it’s a beautiful sight back past the large wooden structure hanging off the edge of the mountain over the city and being there for the sunset was amazing!
While Osaka also had some wonderful buildings (one of which was surrounded by a deer park where the inhabitants roam as they wish amongst the buildings), I was also keen to check out Universal Studios. Unfortunately it didn’t live up to expectations mainly due to the overwhelming number of people which caused waiting lines to be over 3 hours!!! Most importantly I was able to find a small Aussie bar where I was able to watch my beloved Brisbane Broncos take on the Cowboys in the NRL Grand Final. Didn’t get the result I was hoping for but watching an exciting game like that while proudly sporting my teams jersey in a small bar (with a bunch of other tourists who also didn’t think their holiday plans through enough) is an awesome experience I won’t forget. The night-life in Osaka was very exciting with swarms of people gathering through the streets around the famous ‘Running Man’ for dinner and drinks.
Hiroshima. The site of the infamous A-bomb. A city once completely destroyed by one of the biggest events of the 20th century has since recovered in remarkable fashion. Hiroshima has a strong focus on advocating peace and reflecting on the events of WWII. Although we were only in the city for a short time, it was hard not to appreciate the beautifully landscaped gardens and immaculate memorials that are dedicated to the victims of the bombing. Of particular note is the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims. An elegant piece of architecture thoughtfully dedicated to telling the stories of victims and emphasizing the sheer scale of the bombing. The A-bomb dome building is also a hauntingly beautiful building.
Our final destination before heading back home was the big smoke Tokyo. A crazily busy place with an abundance of skyscrapers and even more bars tucked away in every other corner of the city. Combine this with Tokyo Disneyland, I had grave concerns that afterwards I’d need a holiday to recover from my holiday. While it was great to experience the hustle and bustle of this metropolis….I was in need of some quiet time! Luckily this came in the form of a traditional Japanese cooking class. Heading to the outskirts of the city we met with our teacher who took us through the local markets to purchase the ingredients for what would eventually become our lunch. She welcomed us into her parents tiny 2-storey home and taught us the art of making fresh gyoza and sushi! It was a great way to finish off our time in Japan and I’m very thankful to have had the opportunity to experience the way local residents live. And yes…..my cooking was awesome!
So what did I learn from all of this you ask? Well firstly the food on offer is amazing!! I can’t say I was much of a fan of the Japanese breakfasts however the options for dinner are second to none.
With so much to choose from including ramen, noodles, okonomiyaki (Japanese pancakes), gyoza and of course sushi, all of which is made fresh in local stores, my tastebuds certainly got a good workout. Not to mention washing each meal down with a cold pint of Kirin! The subway system is surprising easy to navigate. Having limited knowledge of the local dialect (very, very limited) I was impressed with how efficient and easy it was to use the intercity bullet trains and local subway systems. And yes, people really do cram into the trains like a tin of sardines! The locals are impossibly nice. We spoke with school students who wanted to practice their English, shopkeepers and hotel staff were falling over themselves trying to help us when our ability to communicate failed and our experience of the cooking class was incredible.
I had an awesome time in Japan. It’s a great place to visit and no doubt I’ll be heading back there some time in the future. I’ll be heading to Singapore for my next trip where hopefully I’ll be able to share more amazing stories.
By Michael Ellis – Associate POWE Architects
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Any views or opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of POWE Architects.