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


A Short Trip To Asakusa And Tokyo’s Oldest Temple January 19, 2008

Today the weather was great, still pretty cold but very sunny. We took the opportunity and visited the Asakusa district of Tokyo’s Taito ward which houses Tokyo’s oldest temple, Senso-ji. Until now, it was the most tourist heavy area I have been to in my (few) days in Japan, but the ancient temple building and its pretty garden area are really worth a bath in the masses.

Nearby is Sumida River, which flows into Tokyo Bay. You can see all pictures of this trip in my Asakusa picture gallery.


So It Has Come To This – My First Few Days In Japan January 14, 2008

Wow. Only four days and yet so much to tell already. First of all, my excuses for being a little late with my first post, I didn’t have internet access in my apartment for the first couple of days and I spent the first weekend on a trip (more on that in a minute) and of course I also didn’t want to blog while being at work, so, this will be rather lengthy.

I have much to cover already, so I’ll get right on topic. I’ll keep things short on my arrival and all that and like to focus more on my first tour to the west coast of Japan. Both Martin (a fellow student) and me arrived on Wednesday morning at Narita Airport (that’s the big one, right), after traveling for almost 22 hours (including hours of waiting for continuation flights and buses at Helsinki airport and Narita airport). We left at 10:45 AM in Frankfurt, Germany and arrived at 10:00 AM in Narita, which means we sort of skipped one day ahead. Talk about having the worst jet lag you can imagine. The airport was amazingly empty, but still, my first impression was: Wow, we’re in another world. We took a shuttle from Terminal 2 which ran fully automated – no driver. It sort of felt like the introductory sequence of the Half-Life computer game where a similar shuttle takes you to Black Mesa. After claiming our baggage we had to wait 3 or 4 more hours for a bus which took us to the RICOH R&D office building. We were heartily welcomed by Ms. Hirano who works for RICOH and were introduced to the rest of the staff. After that, Ms. Hirano took us to our apartments in Soka (that’s a city north of Tokyo which belongs to the Saitama prefecture). I will dedicate an own blog post to the Leopalace apartments, because I think they are amazing, so at this point let me just say that they are really, really, good. The first two actual work days at RICOH were just fine, the people are great, but I was still suffering from severe jet lag and had problems keeping attention when I was being explained something. Luckily, there wasn’t really that much work to do (yet). Okay, I will just skip ahead to Friday now and talk about our first trip we took from Friday to Sunday!

The first trip we already planned when we were still in Germany. Actually, I have to give all the credits to Volker Hudlet here, because he did all the planning and organization, mostly because he is really good at it and because he has already been in Japan for two months. The idea was to first visit Kanazawa, which (according to has one of the most beautiful Japanese gardens of all Japan, the Kenrokuen. Without needing to see other gardens, I can agree on that.

Kenrokuen Garden, Kanazawa, Japan

We took a night bus on Friday evening, which was a 7-8 hours ride over night from Tokyo Station to Kanazawa. The ride was — literally — a pain in the back. The bus was not very comfortable so I didn’t get any sleep, but actually I didn’t mind much. I sort of got used to sleep much less here than in Germany. There is simply too much to see and too few time to sleep much… Anyway, we arrived at Kanazawa station in the morning and immediately took off to see the city and the Kenrokuen. Kanazawa StationUnfortunately, the weather played bad on us, it was cold and rainy. No problem though, the Japanese convenience stores (which you find almost at every corner) also sell umbrellas. On our way to the gardens, we came by the market area where all sorts of sea food was being advertised. Trust me, looking at that sea food, the word ‘fresh’ really deserves a new definition here, as some of the “food” was still alive and breathing… For all pictures of Kanazawa, go here.

In the afternoon, we were already heading back for the station and took a train to our next destination: The beautiful mountain city of Takayama. Because we arrived in the evening and were pretty tired from the Kanazawa tour (and the bus ride without much sleep), we only took a short trip through the town to get some of the best Chinese food we had ever experienced. At this point I have to say how well you can eat in Japan. For only 700 YEN (that’s roughly 4,20 Euro) we got a cup of rice plus some dish you could choose (I took the meat balls), a cup of soup and as much White Tea (I think it was Jasmin flavored) as we would want. After dinner we headed back to get some sleep at Zenkoji Temple Inn. Zenkoji Temple Inn, Takayama, JapanYes, you heard me, we booked a room at a real Buddhist temple! Some temples do that for a small “donation” (that’s what they call their fees) in order to collect money for maintaining the old buildings. It was really, really great. We got to know some other people stopping by from Australia, a family with their kids and a woman who seemingly was on a trip through a couple of countries.

The next day, that’s Sunday, we took off to visit the city of Takayama in more detail (the evening before we were too tired and didn’t see much because it was dark already). We decided to take a Sake (that’s Japanese rice wine) brewery tour first, and we weren’t disappointed. I have to say, Sake is a really tasty beverage. The tour guide didn’t speak English (actually, you won’t find many people in Japan who do) but did a pretty good job at reading the English descriptions of the tour spots from her cheat sheet. At this point I have to mention how great the people in Japan are. Everyone is so helpful and gentle. If you stop somewhere to check your map, someone will finally come over and try to help you without you even asking him or her! I also have the impression that most Japanese people like Germany (and Germans) a lot. After the Sake tour, we went on a walking course to get some really beautiful impressions of the landsight. Takayama is located in the Japanese Alps and can get pretty snowy (and cold!) though. We left for Tokyo again in the afternoon.

Takayama Old House District

The next night, back in my apartment in Soka, I slept like a stone.

View Kanazawa picture gallery

View Takayama picture gallery