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Japan Photo Essay: Kanto and Kansai

Let me say this:

So far, Japan is my favorite country. I’ve been to virtually all of the South-East Asian countries, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China. But, Japan is the first country that give me this kind of excitement.

The country itself is not very big in term of land mass, however, it’s so rich and I won’t be able to sum it up in just one post. So, today, I’ll talk about two of the most important regions of Japan: Kanto and Kansai.

Tokyo

This is the most important city of Japan, the heart of Kanto region. With so many people living in Tokyo metropolitan area, this is the most populous city in the world. Try to be at Shinjuku Station at 6 in Friday afternoon, and you’ll surely understand why.

That statement is without no reason: Shinjuku Station is the busiest station in the world. Tokyo has one of the most extensive subway system I’ve seen so far, barring Beijing and Shanghai. Who needs bus anyway, right?

Train ticket in Tokyo starts at　around $1.5 for the shortest ride. It’s a bit expensive, yes, but then again everything in Japan is more expensive than, say, SEA and China. However, to think about it, the intra-city transportation here could be cheaper than even some third world countries. For example in Myanmar, the best way to get around the city is by taxi, which translate to around$5 per ride, just because of the lack of public transportation.

While Tokyo is a concrete jungle, there are some oases in the middle of it. There are many parks could be found in Tokyo. Or better yet, the Shinto shrines are one of the best way to escape from the hustle bustle of the city.

Practically, some of the biggest shrines like Meiji Jingu not only offer beautiful temple, but also a lush jungle! No wonder a lot of people go there, whether for picnic, excursion, or just laying down in the grassfield.

In the older area of Tokyo: Taito ward, which includes Ueno and Asakusa, cultural point of interests could be found. Asakusa, especially, is really popular for foreigners.

If museum is your thing, then Ueno will serve you well. Around the park, practically all the museums you could imagine are there. However I’ve yet to find the museum that could walk me through the history of Japan.

I found Nanjing and Hong Kong museum are two of the most impressive museums I’ve ever visited. And I hoped that I could find a museum like those two in Tokyo, which sadly I couldn’t.

Things get even better when considering not only the city center, but also the outskirt of Tokyo. One of the greatest things there is the Mt. Takao.

It’s easily reachable from the Shinjuku station by taking the Keio Line trains. It’s a perfect way to spend a day in Tokyo. A hike up to the summit will take around 1.5 hours.

It is said that one could see the Mt. Fuji from here. Just my luck, it was raining and I couldn’t see anything further than the city of Tokyo. Nevertheless, it was so nice hiking Mt. Takao!

On top of all those things, ending the day with a bottle of sake is perfect!

Yugawara

Japan is famous for its hot spring (onsen), and sure enough I went to a small town just for the onsen. The town is called Yugawara, in Kanagawa Perfecture, just south of Tokyo.

It’s famous for its onsen resort. Sleeping in a futon on top of tatami floor, which is the way of ryokan: traditional Japanese inn. On top of that, dipping your body in the (very) hot spring is so relaxing.

I was lucky. When I was there, it was the festival time! It was the Yukake Matsuri, where people spraying onsen water to the procession along the way. It was fun!

This is the best thing about Japan, everything is connected by the rail system. It’s so easy to go everywhere even from a small town like Yugawara.

Interlude: Shinkansen

Taking the local train to another small town called Atami, I then took another local train to the capital city of Shizuoka Perfecture which called… Shizuoka!

Immediately in the station building, I looked for hostel there. Sadly I couldn’t find any, which prompted me to go to another city. So how did I get out from Shizuoka…

First impression: expensive! It was almost 円１００００ for about 300km ride. It only takes 1.5 hour though! Impressive!

Thinking about it, taking train between cities is a great way to travel. First, you don’t have to go to airport, which usually is located well outside of the city center. You also have to be in the airport hours before the flight, which makes flight that takes minutes becomes hours!

With train like Shinkansen, it’s so comfortable and drop you right in the heart of the city. Have I told you that you could just go to the station and take the next train?

Kyoto

Kyoto is one of the cities in Kansai region. It’s the old capital of Japan, before it was moved to Tokyo, then Edo. And sure enough, this city is the epicenter of Japanese culture!

Kyoto city itself is very organized. It follows the grid pattern, which is usually found in a new, well-planned cities. Why then, Koyto, built in 8 century AD, has this kind of city organization?

To answer that question, we have to consider the situation of the world back then. Back then, one of the most powerful empire on earth was located in Japan’s neighbor: China. Yes, it was the time of arguably the most prosperous dynasty of China: the Tang Dynasty.

Being the powerful empire that it was, Tang had very strong influence radiating from its center, the capital city: Chang’an (present day Xi’an). Hence, Kyoto was built with Chang’an in mind: grid pattern city organization.

Cultural center of Japan is not an empty title. There are more temples and shrines in Kyoto than I could even imagine!

One of the most famous temple is the Fushimi Inari: the temple with literally thousands of red Torii gates in its path leading to the hill summit.

The hill in Fushimi Inari is also a great spot to overlook the city of Kyoto. As always, sunrise on sunset will enhance the experience multiple fold!

Osaka

This is the great thing about Kansai: moving between big cities is so easy! With just 30 minutes local train ride from Kyoto, one would end up in the capital city of Kansai: Osaka.

Observe this: how people ride the escalator. In Tokyo, people will ride the escalator on the left, whereas in Osaka, it’s on the right. Funny, ain’t it?

One of the biggest attraction of Osaka is, of course, Osaka Castle.

Osaka Castle is located in a large area in the very center of Osaka. It just like the castle you’d find in samurai movies!

Whereas Tokyo has Mt. Takao, Osaka has Minoo. Minoo is a quasi-national-park located just 30 minutes from Umeda in central Osaka. One could hike and follow the river in Minoo forest and be rewarded with a very nice waterfall.

This is one factor why I like Japan so much: it’s easy to find and access hiking trails!

Interlude: Bus

Even with the invention of fast train like Shinkansen, Chinese CRH, and Maglev, buses prove time to time again to be a bang of the buck transportation option.

So bus it was, the transportation that I took to go to catch my flight in Nagoya from Osaka. It costed me 円２５００ to get to Osaka to Nagoya station, where I could use train to go to Nagoya’s Chubu Centrair Airport.

The bus, called Willer Express was so comfortable. Light years ahead of all buses I’ve ever taken. Where else could you get a thing that will cover you head and give you privacy and great environment to sleep in? Talking about the feeling of being an astronaut…

Epilogue

Everywhere I see in Japan, it’s beautiful. The nature, the people, the culture, the cities, the hospitality, everything!

What I’m impressed the most is how Japanese take customer service and hospitality very very seriously. As a guest, you couldn’t get any better hospitality than in Japan.

If I could stay more than just two weeks in Japan, I will.