A look back to Japan

Coming out of my shell 

Ten years ago I left the country for the first time.

I went to Japan, of all places!

At the time, I’d never even been to your typical Romanian seaside. I mean, even Paris seemed far away and exotic and unreachable!

I remember asking my brother how flying feels like: “It’s really just like riding the bus, only it runs smoother”.

A flying bus, 10 km up in the sky. Nice..

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So I went to Japan and had the best 3 weeks of my life till that point.

Ten years ago I left the country for the first time.

I went to Japan, of all places!

Admittedly, I didn’t have much to compare with, but that’s OK.

It was a year of firsts: getting my first passport, first time flying, first time in a hotel, and first time riding the metro..

First time eating Japanese, first time playing on origami or ikebana or wearing a yukata..

First love is what it was.

I didn’t worry I’d get lost in the airport , I didn’t think about all those Crash Investigation documentaries on Discovery..I had zero worries in the world.

And I was 20. Well I guess that’s why…

Revisiting my past

Then a year and a half ago, I returned to Japan.

Through the eyes of someone who had seen 20 other countries in the meantime, it was like returning to your first love..

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Fushimi Inari, Kyoto

Back in Japan for a week, I revisited some of the places I’ve been to before, and I got to see new places too.

I ate a lot more of the local food, and I enjoyed it immensely!

My first time

The first trip to Japan was cultural, organized, it took three weeks, and I didn’t pay a single cent out of my pocket. (I’ll tell you about it on a later occasion )

I saw museums, visited an island full of deer, I am sure I felt the building sway from a tiny earthquake.

I had a home-stay weekend and we lit firecrackers on the street in front of the house..

I wore a yukata and tried my hand at ikebana and slept in a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn).

The second time

When I returned in 2015 I had company. We spent 1 week between Tokyo and Kyoto, and felt immensely nostalgic.

We  did some of the classic visits to shrines and castles.. But we also drank Japanese whisky and went to Robot Shows.

We mixed visits to the Tokyo fish market with playing paparazzi at a traditional Japanese wedding.

We ate the street food and rode the bullet train.

I saw mount Fuji in fiery sunset colors!

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Mount Fuji at sunset

We also went to see a Japanese festival in the mountains and froze our assess off!

Now this I have to tell you about.

Kurama Fire Festival is one of the most unique fall festivals in Japan.

Held in the mountain village of Kurama, north of Kyoto, it offers pretty amazing sights of people carrying  5 meter long torches, some weighing as much as 100 kg! 

They light bonfires throughout the night.

The procession is very animated and, well, it gets crowded quickly.

Silly tourists as we were, we decided to dress like for the city. In a mountain village. Yeah.

No surprise when, even with all the blaze from the torches, it went from chilly to damn right cold!

And the last train was a bit after midnight..and the place was completely blocked with no way to go back to the train station..

Kurama Fire Festival has people carrying  5 meter long torches, some weighing as much as 100 kg!

I am not proud of it, but I will confess: I shamelessly went to one of the policemen and lied about not feeling well in order to get out of there.

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Kurama Fire Festival, Kyoto

Japanese  people are known for their super politeness, so of course the policeman personally escorted us to the station, clearing the blocked route for us! 

Two things I am embarrassed of from all my travels, and this is one of them..

Don’t be me. Just get the extra sweater..

My past revisiting me

Then, last weekend, our guide from the Osaka trip came to Barcelona. Life takes random turns like that.

It was nice to see someone from my past travels.

Who would’ve thought Yunko would even remember us! But apparently she also kept a warm memory of our dinner together.

About that: Our tour in Osaka was a walking tour of the city, the castle and a few other things, ending with a train ride  back to Kyoto, our base for the week.

The guide, Yunko, lived in Kyoto and so we went back together, then decided to invite her for an okonomiyaki  dinner.

She was obviously surprised by the invite –  I guess not many tourists thank their guides by taking them to dinner – but I am glad she said yes.

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Because I could finally relax and confess I actually, kind of, sort of, spoke some Japanese (after all the years that had passed and dusted my  language knowledge).

She shrieked with happiness and we started talking in Japanese, which was one of the highlights of my trip.

Last weekend, I could not really talk Japanese to her anymore..

I mean, I could understand  what she was saying, but only half-assed anglo-franco-spanish words came to mind when I wanted to answer..

(I must  go back to my study and fix the damage)

I noticed Yunko was not taking too many pictures in Barcelona, and she soon told us why:

In Japan, she says, all mobile phones have the camera sound on by default. It’s for discouraging  the creepers in trains, to take pictures without consent..

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We didn’t have Japanese phones, so we took pictures.

In Japan, all mobile phones have the camera click sound on, by default.

This meant her phone kept doing the click sounds, which could get  embarrassing and annoying.

Culture shock much?

I’ll make Japan a Trilogy

I kind of envy what Yunko is doing now. Professional travel guide back in Japan, spontaneous wanderluster in her private life.

She just took off for 40 days to see Europe. With barely any plans, she improvised along the way.

That’s how she got to Barcelona – and she bought her flight to the next destination just the day before leaving Barcelona.

I think I’ll make Japan a trilogy and return Yunko the visit.

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And why not, maybe even climb Fuji this time.

 

Happy wandering!

 

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