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Around the Globe with Kay in Japan

Posted on 2/28/2017 12:47:00 PM in Traveler Insights

While Kay would have preferred blue skies over Himeji Castle, cherry blossoms lent their lovely hue to the scene.

While Kathryn V. didn’t visit Japan with O.A.T., you can experience the sites she describes in Kyoto when you join us for Japan’s Cultural Treasures. She first published this account on her blog at

By Kathryn “Kay” V., 4-time traveler from Walpole, MA

I’m not sure why, but Japan was never a country on my must-do list. Having just spent a week there, I’ve got to say that I’m very impressed and would come back if the opportunity ever presents itself. Our first port of call was Fukuoka in southern Japan—the region that suffered a major earthquake just days after we left (I was in northern Japan by then and didn’t feel any of the quakes). Hopefully the “Ring of Fire” will settle down now for a while.

From Fukuoka I was off on a bullet train to Kyoto, the imperial capital of Japan for more than 1,000 years. Three days wasn’t enough to see this beautiful city with its many temples, shrines, and gardens. We were on the go constantly and barely skimmed the top what there is to see.

On the way to Kyoto we stopped at the Himeji Castle in the town of Himeji. This beautiful example of a Japanese castle is stunning. Blue skies would have been a nice contrast to the white walls, but even in cloudy conditions it was quite a lovely site, especially with many of the cherry trees still at, or just past peak. Completed in the year 1346, the fort/castle was built to withstand invaders and has a long history of power-struggles. Fortifications included a wide moat, high surrounding walls, 997 “shooting holes,” massive gates, and special windows to prevent entry of arrows, bullets, and intruders.

This geisha displayed remarkable poise for her young age.

Our first night in Kyoto included a Japanese dinner with geishas. The dancer was just 18 years old, in training for the past three years. After the performance they came to the table to converse and to aid us with things like pouring our drinks. Apparently, spoiling people is part of the job description.

The Golden Pavilion at the Kinkakuji Temple, built in 1398, was perfectly good until a crazy monk in 1950 burned it down. This is said to be an exact replica, and all that remains of the temple that was originally built as a retirement estate for one of the shoguns and then turned into a Buddhist temple after his death.

The Golden Pavilion at Kinkakuji Temple is aptly named for its generous layers of gold leaf.

We walked up a hill to another temple that was lined with shops and the streets filled with tourists. Visitors from China, South Korea other parts of Japan like to rent kimonos to wear and take photos in. It all made for an entertaining environment.

The Miho Museum, in the hills outside of Kyoto, was a delight. The museum was designed to be in harmony with nature and it exceeds that goal with 80% of the building located underground. When one arrives and picks up a ticket at the entrance, you then walk along a cherry tree-lined walkway, through a cool tunnel and finally to the main entrance that is oddly reminiscent of the pyramid at the Louvre. Turns out that’s because the museum was designed by the same architect: I.M. Pei. I loved the building, the landscape, and the art on display.

Dressing in kimonos and posing for photos is a popular pastime in Kyoto.

On our way back to meeting the ship in Shimizu, we stopped at a beach for a view of Mt Fuji but it was not to be. Completely socked in by an overcast sky.

The rest of the time in Japan was spent in Tokyo, Aomori, and Otaru. I loved the fish market in Tokyo and so much more. Mostly I liked the efficiency and quirky things about the country. For example, the bowing. People bow as if a part of their being. The conductor on the train bows when entering a train car and turns back to the passengers upon leaving the car at the other end to bow again. Lots of bowing and it felt so respectful. The box lunch on the train where someone like me conjures up visions of a ham and cheese sandwich, but ends up with a hot steak and rice lunch that’s delicious. One gets the box, pulls a string to initiate a chemical reaction, waits five minutes, and then eats a hot meal. Do we have such a thing at home?!

Vending machines are everywhere and very cool. Actually, cool or hot—items are distributed at the proper temperature.

Best of all are the toilets. With controls on the wall or vanity (flush, bidet…) and a warm toilet seat, what’s not to love? Directions are on the cover. Who knew one needed instructions to use a toilet? In public restrooms (which have the same fancy equipment), there is the added feature of playing the sound of a toilet flushing. Apparently women used to flush constantly to block the sounds they may be making. To save water the sound of flushing is played instead. By the way, I’m told that more people have these high-tech toilets then own a computer. Crazy! But, did I mention the warm seats?

Contrast Japan’s dynamic culture with the timelessness of Kyoto with O.A.T. during Japan’s Cultural Treasures.

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