February 2016 marked the 10th anniversary of my friendship with my best friend, Renita, and to celebrate she suggested we go to Japan. We’ve always loved Japanese culture, people, animation, and we also share the same 'Anime' drawing style. Joined by one of her other friends, the Land of the Rising Sun seemed like the perfect choice.
We landed in Tokyo around 11pm and arrived at our hotel a short drive later; left our bags in the room and Renita and I went out for a walk. It must have been about midnight with the two of us still wandering through the quiet, undisturbed streets. Not a sound or soul in sight. It was serene, astounding and otherworldly all at once. I turned to her and said, "Ten years ago, if somebody told me that we'd be walking through the streets of Tokyo in the middle of the night, I would've said they were crazy!". It was undoubtedly one of the most surreal, dream-like experiences, and most precious memories of my life.
We spent the following day in Tokyo before our flight to Hiroshima. Despite it raining non-stop, Tokyo was utterly amazing! We stayed in Minato, quite close to the Tokyo Tower - a replica of the Eiffel Tower, only slightly taller at 333m. Apart from astounding 360 degree views of the city, Tokyo Tower includes restaurants, an indoor flea market-styled shopping area and a huge store and amusement area dedicated to the anime, One Piece.
Being spring, the cherry blossoms (sakura) were in full bloom. Apparently it’s quite rare to time a holiday precisely to coincide with it so we were really lucky. It was truly such a spectacular sight! Even a gentle breeze caused sakura petals to literally rain down from the trees, with the ground, cars, and even my umbrella decorated with them.
Japan is an awesome place. From the food we ate to the people we met, everything was outstanding. People are extremely courteous and polite, and are always saying, ‘Arigatou gozaimasu’ which means ’Thank you’. Women in particular are very respectful, soft spoken and kind, often holding doors open for men or waiting for them to walk ahead.
The food was out of this world. I had a ton of great meals ranging from baked fish and misu soup to rice omelettes and sakura shrimp fried rice. One feature I particularly liked was each restaurant displays realistic plastic models of their dishes at their entrances. It was actually very helpful, without having to look at a menu, if we saw something we liked - that’s where we ate.
Hiroshima was where the bulk of our holiday took place. Renita is big on history and it doesn’t get more historical than one of only two cities in history that were devastated by a nuclear bomb. Despite it’s unfortunate past, Hiroshima is a very peaceful place with many parks and areas serving as memorial sites. One of which is the only building that survived the nuke and is now a World Heritage Site - the A-Bomb Dome. It was strange walking through the same places that roughly 70 years ago were reduced to ruins and ash, but at the same time great to see how much the world has changed for the better.
Hiroshima, like many other Japanese cities, boasts many beautiful gardens and castles. The original Hiroshima Castle was destroyed by the bomb in 1945, but was rebuilt some time afterwards. We also visited the beautiful Shukkeien Garden nearby. Both places offer a peaceful and tranquil setting to stroll through, relax or take photos.
Our next stop was Fukuoka. Some 280km west of Hiroshima, we caught a ride on one of Japan’s bullet trains - the Shinkansen. Reaching max speeds of 320km/h, it’s a fast, comfortable and not so affordable way to travel between all major cities throughout the country.
Here's a quick video I put together with clips I shot on our train trips.
In Fukuoka we visited a few more shrines, temples, a mall, as well as the ruins of Fukuoka Castle, which was torn down about a century ago - now only the surrounding base walls and a few small structures remain. It’s become a well-known place for sports and family picnics, and on the day we were there, there was a cosplay get-together going on. We also checked out Fukuoka Tower, one of the tallest towers in Japan, at 234m. The view was pretty damn sweet up there. Fukuoka is a beautiful city including many interesting places along the beach.
The following day we took a short train trip south of Hiroshima and caught a ferry to the popular island of Itsukushima, also known as Miyajima. This island is a very busy, tourist hot-spot with four ferries bringing in new visitors every 10-15 mins. It includes a ridiculous amount of souvenir shops, food stalls, temples and shrines - the main attraction being the massive, red Torii gate that is the Itsukushima Shrine located in the water. The island is also home to scores of deer that wander around, innocently harassing tourists for food. They’re cute, friendly and tame but I did see one viciously rip a gift bag from a lady, then it sheepishly walked away as if nothing happened, chewing a piece of the bag while the lady looked on in shock. It was so funny!
Japan is now one of my favourite places to revisit in the future. It’s rich in culture and history, good food and people, and beautiful and exciting places. It was simply incredible to go there, and with my best friend to boot!