October 5, 2023: The fourth trip for 2023 is… the ancient country of Japan! The culture will be totally new to us. But fortunately, we have friends in Tokyo! So what better time to go?
2023 Travel Update
This has been a fantastic travel year as we are working our way through bucket-list items and revisiting old favorites. Our first trip was New Zealand, followed by Central Europe and then a France Encore. Next up… Japan.
Most of our travels have been to Europe or Euro-centric cultures. Even if the language was new, there were enough similarities (and enough English speakers) to get by. Japan, I think, will be a bit different, with the spoken (and especially written) language entirely foreign. Fortunately, we will have some help!
Good friends from Charlotte Detlef and Dagmar live part-time in Tokyo, where he is an executive for a global Japanese conglomerate. They have graciously offered to show us around the town and help us get oriented to the largest metro area in the world. That’s right, with nearly 38 million people, Tokyo metro area is nearly 2x the population of New York or Mexico City. It is about the same population as Delhi, India plus Phoenix, AZ, or Shanghai, China plus Los Angeles, CA. Wow.
So we are very grateful for the help!
As we were so unfamiliar with the history and culture of Japan, I did quite a bit of research in preparation for this trip. Here are a few interesting facts I gathered. For more, download the PDF Itinerary at the bottom of this post!
- Pre-history – people have inhabited Japan for 35,000-40,000 years.
- Mountains – only 33% of the land is habitable, the rest too mountainous.
- Divine Wind – invasion by Kublai Khan was twice thwarted by typhoons, or “divine wind” (kamikaze)
- Isolation – after 250 years of self-isolation, Japan was forced open to trade by an American armada in 1854.
- Economy – Japan is the world’s 3rd largest economy.
- Government – a strong, democratic central government with multiple political parties.
- Emperor – the emperor plays a symbolic role, similar the United Kingdom.
- Defense – a NATO partner, and is dramatically increasing its military to offset North Korea and China agression.
- Religion – 80-90% of the people are Shinto (native), Buddhist, or a blend of the two.
- Etiquette – don’t point with your chopsticks… and about 1000 other rules.
Our Japan Plan
From Tokyo, we will take the Bullet Train (Shinkansen) – hopefully a more peaceful journey than Brad Pitt had. Our first stop will be Hakone, famous for its natural hot-springs resorts (onsen). Then on to Kyoto, the historic capital of Japan for nearly 1000 years. The city has temples and shrines around every corner, and if we are fortunate, we will see a giesha in the Gion district. We will do a day trip to Nara (the holy city of deer), and also to Kobe for its world-famous beef. Kobe is also famous for its jazz; we plan to visit the classic Sone club to round out the day.
From Kyoto, we will zip down to Miyajima, a holy island outside Hiroshima. We will spend an afternoon at Hiroshima’s Peace Park, where fell the first atomic bomb used in wartime.
About these pictures…
You may wonder about the pictures for this post. We’ve not yet been to Japan, so I don’t have any of our own photos to post. In these cases, I usually select from wiki commons, and update the post with our own photos after the trip. This time, I asked Bing’s AI to generate the pictures for me. I wasted a perfectly good half-day in beautiful Collioure, France dinking around with these, I was so entertained. I hope you enjoy!
And no, I did not use AI to write this post! Pure me, grammatical errors and all.
Journey Map and Itinerary
We will travel by shinkansen (bullet train) between our destinations. The map below shows our planned route. The Itinerary below that provides details, including more about Japan’s history, culture, language, economy, and politics, as well as our plans for each stop. The Moon Guide to Japan was a big help in planning, but also dozens of independent blog posts.
I expect we won’t have time to post any Japan Travel Bytes until we are back home for the holidays. Heck, I’ve not even finished posting about our 2023 travels (or even 2022, or 2021, or 2020)! I have dozens of folders of photos from those trips that I’ve not had time yet to write about. When the time comes to slow down our travel, I hope write more.
When I do post Japan bytes, you will find them below, or in your inbox / social media if you are subscribed.
I will post at least once more before we return home… a post about where we go from Japan. After this, we’ve one final trip to close out an amazing 2023. Hint: we will already be in the right hemisphere. More on that in a couple of weeks!
Until then, sayōnara – Mark