Mitsubishi, Mazda, Toyota, Suzuki – think of these and you’ll think of Japan! But think again… of mountainous landscapes, cherry blossoms, geisha and bullet trains – Japan means all of these and lots lots more.

It’s a place like no other, so many things are so different and every day brings something new to experience. So be prepared! A holiday to Japan will amaze and delight you. You may not like everything, but experience it and enjoy it!

What am I talking about? The food? The lodgings? The crowds? The organisation of it all! Yes all these!

The contrast of Tokyo and Kyoto – two major cities and both completely different. Tokyo was rebuilt completely after the war and is a mass of modern sky scrapers, neon lights, shopping and nightlife. It’s lively and exciting – but somehow, so organised. Queues for buses are orderly, waiting for the ‘green man’ to cross the road (even if there’s nothing in sight!), traffic jams in quiet and patient lines – and no one pushing or shouting in shops or streets, How strange!

img_8338-2Kyoto was completely spared in the war, so the beautiful architecture, upturned rooftops, temples and the unique Gion district are all as they were, preserved for us to walk through and enjoy. Gion is the mysterious district of Japan’s Geisha, or Geiko as they are now known. Mystery and secrecy are preserved, but the strongness of this tradition…. and the curiosity surrounding the Geisha arouses questions which are never fully answered. But there is no doubt there is a beauty and serenity about the Geisha and a poised elegance you can only admire.

And some people go one step further when visiting and hire a Japanese Kimono and a parasol to stroll the streets (taking selfies!)

 

Yes – nearly 99% of people are walking, sitting or standing with a phone – earphones wired and extra power back up in their pockets. Mobile phones are everywhere and across all generations! That was fascinating.

Rural Japan is the real diamond of your visit and there are lots of beautiful tours and villages to choose from. Fabulous UNESCO World Heritage Sites and botanical gardens… with Bonsai, bridges and water features in all shapes and forms. Rural Japan is where you will experience traditional Japanese Ryokans (Inns), sleep on the floor and enjoy your Japanese dinner cross legged, also on the floor! For me, the food is an acquired taste… but an interesting experience!

With all those volcanoes, there have to be mineral springs – hot mineral springs! – a soak in an “onsen” is a real treat. They are all over Japan, free to use and with great facilities – changing rooms, showers and hair dryers. I had three during my holiday in just two weeks.

Japan has renounced war after the terrible tragedies of WWII. This is the relevance of a visit to Hiroshima or Nagasaki, the cities thimg_2963at were wiped out by the most fearful ATOM bomb. People were vapourised, horribly burned and suffered after-effects of sickness and cancer caused by exposure to radiation. It stopped the war – but at what price. The people who survived say they only survived to pass on the message that it should never happen again.

I wandered through Hiroshima’s Peace Park – a beautiful place by the river – the peace bell sounding, the eternal flame lit, and felt the lump in my throat as I looked at the stark ‘Atom Bomb Dome’ against the sky. A concrete ruin, the only building to survive and now preserved, it remains as a reminder to us all that it should never happen again.

Very close to Hiroshima and just a train ride away, I caught the ferry to the island of Itsukushima. The picture in the brochure of the torii gate to the Shinto shrine, known as Miyajama, inspired me to book this trip. I looked at it every day on my kitchen wall (just like Shirley Valentine!) and then, here I was on my img_8476-2way to see it for real!

It….was/is…. Beautiful! Huge, bright red (vermilion) and ‘floating’ on the sea glittering all around it. There are hundreds of shrines all over Japan, but this one is special as it is built in the sea. The idea was that pilgrims were not allowed to walk on the island, so they approached through the gate at high tide, when the sea could take their boats into the interior of the shrine. When the tide is out the gate and shrine are fully visible and we can walk the 500 yards on the beach from one to the other. The island has become a little commercialised, with lots of shops and restaurants – but the torii gate stands or floats out there, stunningly beautiful and never changing.

Sitting here now at home, looking at my English garden, my trip to Japan seems like a dream. My Miyajama picture is still on my wall – but my photos of it are so much more real!

If you think you’d like to visit Japan – think… are you ready? Prepare yourself for a fascinating insight into a people and a land of culture and traditions that go back centuries – you will only scratch the surface. Learn and read as much as you can beforehand because once there, your experiences will be a tidal wave to your senses. Pace your days to relax and enjoy the train journeys, the gardens and museums. Try some green tea from Waitrose…

and ask me to help to plan and organise your holiday!img_3181