Nippon Express – 80 Days in Tokyo

happenings and experiences during my stay at RICOH Software R&D, Tokyo

The Long Weekend: Hiroshima, Kyoto, Nara February 11, 2008

Today (Monday) is a holiday in Japan, so we (Martin and me) took the opportunity and used the long weekend for our biggest trip so far: We visited Hiroshima, Kyoto and Nara. I’ll try to recap what we experienced on these days, but we have seen so much, it’s hard to remember everything. I am here for only a month now, but I am already getting this weird sightseeing overdose where you can’t really remember anymore what you have seen where. But I’ll do my best.

On Friday evening (after work), we took a night bus to Hiroshima. In case you haven’t currently memorized the geography of Japan (how dare you!), Hiroshima is waaaaaay over to the south-west from Tokyo (I think it’s like 800 or 900 kilometers). Going by bus therefore means going by nightfall, because it takes you like 11 hours or something and you don’t want to waste a day for that. Luckily, we booked the “stylish bus” (no kidding). It had stylish seats which gave me the worst pain in the back ever (I really mean my back here). But they were stylish!! Anyway, arriving in Hiroshima, the weather was so bad, I think my mood couldn’t have been any worse after that night with much pain and few sleep. Luckily, the sky cleared out after a while. Anyway, our first target was to visit the island of Miyajima, according to my travel guide one of the three most beautiful places in all of Japan. I forgot what the other two are, but Miyajima is beautiful. We travelled there by Speed Boat from Hiroshima Port (takes about 50-something minutes). Our mood quickly got much better, and the sun finally started shining, giving us some impressive views of the island’s sightseeing spots. Its most famous one is o-torii, a very popular Torii which is actually built off-shore! Usually, Torii mark the entrance to Shinto shrines, which means they’re on solid ground. Another very remarkable thing about Miyajima is that it’s full of tame deer, and they roam the streets completely freely. I mean completely freely, you run into them at literally every corner. (See the Wikipedia article on Miyajima for more background info.) The island has a somewhat mediterranean flair, almost like the Greek islands, just that it has temples, shrines, … and deer.

After leaving Miyajima we went back to Hiroshima City for the rest of the day, to do some sightseeing of a completely different kind: See the A-Bomb Dome and the Peace Memorial Museum. This was tough. I don’t know, but actually standing in front of the dome made my blood freeze. It really lets you realize how terribly unhuman humans actually are. The museum is very good at providing the related historical and political background information surrounding this horrible event. If you actually see with your own eyes the tattered clothes of a child that has been killed by the atomic bomb attack, it becomes more than just something you read in a history book.

In the evening, we left for Kyoto with the Shinkansen.

We stayed at “Kyoto Cheapest Inn”, the cheapest hostel in Kyoto, or at least they claim it to be. It was really cool, we met a guy from Chile — his name is Juan — who was currently touring Japan. Because Juan also wanted to visit Nara the next day, we went together. I don’t know, there is not much to tell about Nara, it is really over-hyped in my opinion. It is a city near Kyoto (like 30 minutes by train) and is famous for its temples, but I think Kyoto delivers much more in that regard. Nara on the other hand has this temple with the biggest Buddha statue in all of Japan, which is really impressive, but that’s about it. The surrounding park area wasn’t particularly interesting either. Maybe, I even suspect some form of “conditioning” here. I have seen so many temples, shrines and pagodas here, it’s hard to get impressed anymore. In the evening, Juans and our ways parted (but we already plan to meet him again in Tokyo next week) because he hadn’t seen Miyajima yet and so he left for Hiroshima that evening (where we had already been).

The third and last day (today) we dedicated completely to Kyoto. Like Nara, Kyoto itself isn’t particularly interesting, let alone beautiful, but it has some very remarkable temples and shrines. I think Kyoto is like THE city in Japan for visiting shrines and temples. It actually has over 2000 of them! One of the more remarkable ones is a golden temple, which is a really beautiful sight, especially when hit by run rays. Another highlight is Kiyomizu-dera which is actually a really huge temple site located on the slopes of a small mountain. You have a very nice sight over Kyoto from there. In the evening, we left for Tokyo, again with Shinkansen. It’s so fast, it only took like 2.5 hours.

Now I’m kinda tired, and I think I’ll go to bed, if you excuse me. For all pictures, see below.

Hiroshima and Nara picture gallery
Miyajima picture gallery
Kyoto picture gallery


Shinjuku – The First Night Out January 19, 2008

So this evening we went to experience the night life in Tokyo, or more precisely Shinjuku, one of the 23 special wards that make up the metropolis of Tokyo. To the unaware reader I should mention at this point that there is no such thing as a city called Tokyo. Tokyo is rather a gigantic merge of several autonomous districts (actually cities in their own right) called special wards which make up the metropolis people call Tokyo. This “core” of Tokyo already has a population of over 8 million people. If you count in all “suburbs” of the Tokyo prefecture (suburbs is really an understatement, they can be really large, too), you already count some 12 million inhabitants.

Anyway, we first went to visit the Tokyo City Hall where the headquarters of the Tokyo government is located. The building is 48 stories high and along with its neighboring buildings (which are just as impressive) houses over 13,000 government employees. We took the elevator to the 45th level in the North Tower to get some impressive view over Tokyo’s skyline at night (see pictures). You could also buy lots of, well, stuff there.

We left for Shinjuku station (according to Wikipedia and several traveler’s guides the busiest train station in the entire world) at 9pm to meet with a Japanese guy called Rene, whom Volker knew from Shinden, the town where he lives. Together we went to a very nice and cozy (but busy!) Irish Pub and had a couple of drinks — I can really recommend “China Blue”, a very tasty cocktail.

Unfortunately we had to leave at around 11pm already because for some reason the subway in Tokyo stops its service at around midnight, and considering the one hour ride you’ll always either have to leave early or stay until the next morning, which we were too tired to do today…

Well, next time maybe.

Visit the complete Shinjuku picture gallery.