The end of my Asian trip was Japan – I flew up there from Guam. While I enjoyed my time in Japan, the trip was too brief with too many stops, which made for a trip that, while fun, was exhausting.
Originally I had planned to fly from Guam to Hiroshima, but a mere two weeks after I bought my plane ticket, United put in a seasonal halt to the flights from Guam to Hiroshima, so I was sent scrambling. Since the plans for that part of my trip were vague, I made a decision that both delighted me and, ultimately, caused me a bit more traveling that I really wanted to do, but not too much.
I flew to Fukuoka – a city that was about one hour south of Hiroshima by train. In retrospect, had I been sane, I would have flown to Osaka, because that’s where I ended up spending the night, but then I would have missed several things, like meeting up with friends that I made last summer in Hiroshima.
The main thing I would have missed was flying to Fukuoka – airport code FUK. What makes it even better is flying from Guam: GUM ✈ FUK.
After landing in Fukuoka, I grabbed a taxi to the main train station, got my Japan Rail Pass, a seat reservation, and then I had 50 minutes to kill before my train to Hiroshima.
I might as well try to wrap up all my feelings about Japan’s bullet train system in one setting: Wow. I used to think ICE trains were nice, but Japan’s bullet trains are nicer. Trains stop at exact positions on the platforms, seat numbering makes sense (I have never understood how seats on ICE trains are numbered) and seats always face forwards (take that Deutsche Bahn!). The whole Japanese high speed train system makes Germany’s look sad (never mind what it makes America’s “high” “speed” train system look).
I arrived in Hiroshima at about 1:15 – ready to face lunch, which I did. It was nice talking to another expat about life abroad, his in Japan, mine in Germany. Later I met up with another Hiroshima friend, before heading to Osaka for the night. The reason for hotel hopping my first two night was because hotels were scarce these two nights – hotel hopping sucks, but I did it.
After Osaka, one night Kyoto – dumped my suitcase at the hotel before heading off to see Kinkaku-ji and Ryōan-ji. I had way too little time in Kyoto – I can understand why its such a destination – but my evening wanderings made me think that Kyoto might be OK during the day, but at night the city center is dominated by foreigners. That might sound a bit off, as a foreigner, but I want to experience Japanese culture, not Japanese for Foreigners. Does that make sense?
My last two nights in Japan were in Tokyo. I headed up there, hoping to see Mt. Fuji along the way, but I did not: the clouds were low and while I enjoyed the landscape, the most famous mountain in Japan eluded me.
In Tokyo I took a one-on-one personalized tour of the city – a small fragment of the city, actually. That said, taking a six hour tour of Tokyo in hopes of doing justice to the city is pure folly. I saw a bit of the city, I enjoyed my tour – which hit the financial district, the political center, a bit of spirituality, and a commercial center.
After that I was exhausted – and ready to head home on Monday morning.
But not before encountering Tokyo’s rail system. My hotel was directly outside Tokyo Station, which must be the world’s biggest, most complicated, busy, hectic, frenetic, confusing, and crowded train station. I have never seen anything like it before in my life. After finding the right platform to catch the circle line, I watched a train pull in, disgorge the entire population of Bloomington, Indiana, before the entire population of Laramie, Wyoming, boarded the same train.
Naturally, I did not make it onto this train — sorry about the lack of photos, but my hands were full.
What was more amazing about this experience is that a mere TWO MINUTES later another train pulled in and the entire process was repeated. This time, though, I was prepared, and I managed to get on the train – travelled for three stations and connected to the Tokyo Monorail, which left about every three minutes and was completely stuffed to the gills.
It’s an impressive system with an impressive number of people.