Leaving Japan Japan has been wonderful. As a country to visit, it has everything you could want: buzzing cities, scenic countryside, delicious food, breathtaking sights both ancient and modern. The contrast between the extraordinarily large and densely populated cities and quiet mountain villages, between flashy neon lights and peaceful shrines and temples, was stunning. Japan’s also easy to navigate, and the people are friendly and helpful, even though English is not widely spoken. It seems a far more vibrant, comfortable and flourishing place than the prevailing western perception of stagnant economy and aging society would suggest. Highlights of the trip included the
Tokyo showing off its city of the future status - Monorail!
The knife skills (and massive knives*) of the guys at the Tsukiji fish market are something to see. *Not a euphemism
The Edo-Tokyo museum’s exhibits include a statue of the original Shogun, Ieyasu, and some cool samurai armour and kimonos. While the section on post-war Tokyo was disappointingly brief, it did start (definitively so) with the Instrument of Surrender, signed on the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. And quite clearly the Canadian representative cocked the whole thing up, signing on the wrong line, and forcing everyone else below him on the pecking order to sign in the wrong place too, and scribble corrections all over the place. Good thing it wasn’t one of the most important documents of the 20th century.
Tsukiji Market is just enormous. There is aisle after aisle of small stalls selling just about everything that swims, crawls or floats in any sea or ocean anywhere in the world. Most stalls sell just one or two things, having bought large batches earlier in the morning and now breaking them down into smaller amounts for restaurants. It’s a stunning sight, but when you think that this is just one day, and the market is open) days a week, all year round, thoughts do turn to how much we are overfishing the oceans.
We headed down to Tsukiji market on Saturday to check out e biggest fish and seafood market in the world. To fortify ourselves for the sightseeing, we tucked in to a (very fresh) sushi breakfast in this tiny little restaurant, washed down with a 7am beer. Japan is really a very civilized country.
Another (admittedly mundane) area of Japanese technical advancement is the umbrella. Umbrellas in Japan are mostly clear, allowing a lot less bumping into one another on the streets. And lots of bikes have umbrella holders, which seems smart providing there’s no wind. Also, Japanese museums have umbrella stands outside, with individual locks to hold your umbrella safely (although since Japan has the lowest crime rates in the world, it’s not clear why you’d worry).
Dinner at Tofuya Ukai, a kaiseki, or traditional Japanese style multi-course meal with freshly made tofu as the star attraction. Although my 15-year old vegetarian-phobic self would be shocked to hear it, we were a bit disappointed at the limited number of courses which featured the soy-bean goodness. Still, a meal that has salted roasted chestnuts, walnut cream sauce, chrysanthemum petals, chicken, fish, beef AND tofu ain’t bad at all, especially when it takes place in a beautiful converted former sake brewery with gorgeous gardens right in the heart of Tokyo.
Cuteness addendum: more National Treasures
In Nara, the deer are considered sacred animals and National Treasures ™ of Japan. For ¥150, you can buy deer crackers and feed the Treasures. It’s not clear what’s in the wafers, but the term crackers is very apt, since the deer are utterly addicted. As a result, you get a bunch of savvy deer who lurk in strategic locations and are able to identify cracker transactions at 100 yards.