Hiking in the Cinque Terre

Friday, February 13, 2009

Destination: Japan

Exactly this month, in the year 2000, I embarked on a journey that forever changed me. This journey was not going to be a package tour or luxury cruise or anything that required too much planning. I had a starting destination in mind: Japan. I would fly to Japan, where I would meet an American contact, and then I would travel around Japan for a month or so. After that, I didn’t exactly know where I would go or what I would do next. This was going to be challenging for sure. I was going to be traveling by myself. It’s something I had done for a brief two or three weeks back in the 90’s, but this longer solo journey wasn’t something I anticipated being totally comfortable with. However, what drove me most was the freedom of the open road and the excitement of experiencing and seeing something I could have only dreamed about. I had purchased the requisite backpack from a fancy outdoor catalogue. I had gotten my standard vaccinations. I had my passport, some traveler’s checks, a debit card and a Lonely Planet Guidebook. I was ready to go. Overall, my journey lasted six full months, created a lifetime of memories and enabled me to meet my wife, Kade. I am very grateful, fortunate and lucky to have experienced this. Read and scroll to see this journey in the proper sequence. Here's a map.

A meal I ate in Sendai, Japan

A Geisha in Kyoto!

w/ Uzbek friends

Kyoto temple

Kyoto temple

with some other travelers I met and had a drink with
Gernot from Austria and Anja from Germany

Ground Zero: Hiroshima

Japan was a fabulous place to begin my journey. I was captivated by the enormous size and bustling life in Tokyo. To me, it outranks New York City in terms of sheer vibrancy and hustle and bustle. Tokyo, NYC and Hong Kong are currently the three main engines of the business world. The Japanese mass transportation system, from the buses to the metro to the world-renown Shinkansen (bullet train) made moving about more practical, more convenient and more intriguing. I certainly had my moments when I was overwhelmed in Tokyo, but the pulsating atmosphere of the city was powerfully seductive. When I had my fill of Tokyo, I took the Shinkansen up to Sendai and saw the Northern part of Japan. I then hopped back on the train and whizzed through cities and by Mt. Fuji, eventually stopping in the ancient capital and cultural mecca, Kyoto.  One of the temples I visited was the Nanzenji Temple, and one of the lovely parks I explored was Maruyama.   By an act of divinity (so I thought), I overheard Uzbek spoken in a handicraft center and turned around to find an Uzbek student I had taught in 1994 and had since lost touch with. To me, this chance meeting confirmed “God’s hand” in my life. Another fascinating thing about Kyoto is that I tried one of the public bathhouses (onsens), which is a unique part of the Japanese culture. Believe it or not, I even rode an elevator naked! You had to have been there! Other than Tokyo, Sendai, and Kyoto, I had one other place I wanted to visit: Hiroshima. I toured the A-Bomb Museum and, for the first time really, contemplated what might have gone on during that part of WWII. After a thoroughly good time in Japan, it was time for Hong Kong.

I bought this for my mother when I was in Kyoto.

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