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There are destinations you dream of all your life before you finally get there. For me, it was Japan. I have always been fascinated by every aspect of the country, its culture, its food, its art, etc, and I was impatient to set foot on its soil and to get the feel of the place. This trip fulfilled all my expectations, and even increased the fascination the country holds for me. Here are some of the impressions I would like to share with you.
This journey was a bit different, because I made it at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. That meant the museums were closed, tourist spots were almost empty of visitors, and I had to return earlier than I had planned. However, I have wonderful memories of the three places I explored – Tokyo, Hakone and Kyoto.
Tokyo welcomed me with all its contrasts, its energy and its beauty. Thanks to my local French-speaking guide (Nippon Touch), I was able to discover many different facets. Who could avoid being carried away by its beauty, from the monuments of the Kaminarimon Gate, to the Sensō-ji temple, the oldest Buddhist temple in the city, via the Meiji Jingu shrine? These majestic spaces inspire feelings of tranquillity and serenity. As I made my way through the different districts of the city, I was fascinated by Tokyo’s diversity – from Akihabara, the electronics district with its thousands of coloured electronic signs, to Ginza, the calm and chic neighbourhood where I stayed, via the crowds of Takeshita-Dori and the peaceful and almost rural feel of the Happo-En gardens. Finally, dinner with my guide in a traditional restaurant was a true revelation, both in terms of the succession of succulent dishes and the beauty of the place.
A stopover in Hakone
Circumstances were against me for this stage of the trip. The museums were closed and Mount Fuji was hidden by bad weather. However, my local guide (Daiki) managed to make our walk in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park a very peaceful time, with a visit to the Hakone shrine as a highlight. It was a serene and even poetic experience.
I dedicated the final stage of the trip to exploring Kyoto, a historic city with an exceptional heritage. It is very attached to its traditions, and you may still see a young woman magnificently arrayed in traditional costume. Thanks to my photographer, I was able to fulfil my dream of wearing a kimono. This has become largely a thing of the past, but it is a delight to be able to feel the cloth and hear the rustling of the silk. I was able to visit the famous shrine of Fushimi Inari-taisha thus clad. With its walking route several kilometres long, defined by arcades of torii gates and surrounded by magnificent trees, the site invites you to re-centre yourself, and let go of all your doubts and tensions.
Japan more than met all of my expectations. I not only found everything I had pictured to myself – beautiful places, exceptional food, a dazzlingly rich culture – I was also completely seduced by the gentleness and politeness of the Japanese. Every meeting was exciting, and opened my eyes to new perspectives. That’s why I was so disappointed to have to cut my stay short. But no doubt it will be even better when I return.
Some practical tips:
Japan has an efficient and practical railway network, especially the famous Shinkansen bullet trains. However, this mode of transport is very expensive. It’s best to get a JR Pass before you set off.
Even if you use the services of a local guide, it’s best to have internet access. This will make your life easier in many situations. You can either get a SIM card when you arrive, or rent a pocket Wi-Fi.
Kyoto Kimono Shop & Photography : Jade Studio