I’ve spent a very relaxing first week in Japan. After a quick and overwhelming introduction in Tokyo, I moved onto Mie Prefecture to stay with my friends Flo and Kioko in a little town called Suzuka. They have been fantastic hosts, allowing me to crash at their home and allowing me to see a bit of Japan that I would not have seen otherwise. Flo and I drove to Ise Jingu, one of Japan’s most sacred Shinto Shrines. The pouring rain and misty air added to the already impressive sight. After drinking more than my share of Sake and Beer that evening we managed to make our way to Nara, Japan’s ancient capital, the next day. Here we toured the Todaiji Temple and the Horyuji Temple, some extremely impressive and ancient wooden buildings.
While I do enjoy seeing the sights, over the years I’ve learned that its the culture and psyche of a country that most interests me. Flo and Kioko enabled me to see a bit of the ‘inside’, going to the local $1 sushi joint and spending time with her family in Yokkaichi. Kioko’s father is an avid hiker and he spent time explaining areas in the Japanese alps I should see during my travels. We nibbled on fresh apricots from her parents garden. The highlight of my days in Suzuka was most likely the local Onsen (bath house) in Suzuka. Traditionally the Japanese did have showers in their homes and relied on public bathhouses. Today the Onsen tradition is still alive and for the equivalent of $7 spent a few hours in this oasis that included an array of hot tubs, saunas and my favorite, a salt room where you can scrub down and work off your dry skin. Onsen are all over Japan so this will not be my final visit.
Today I validated my 21-day Japan Rail Pass and am on my way to Hiroshima, my first stop on my tour of Western Honshu. I rode the Shinkansen, a train that travels at over 200mph and covered a lot of distance in 2 hours. I’m checking into a hostel tonight and looking forward to meeting other travelers and starting my journey. Sayonara!