Travelling from Laos to Japan throws you head first into bewildering jumble of polar opposites. Although technically winter, Laos is still hot, humid and dusty. Things run to their own schedule (if at all) and outside of a couple of major centres, travel is slow, difficult and dangerous. Even modest villages are quite noisy with construction on every corner, frequent wedding parties and un-muffled motor vehicles.
By contrast, in Shinjuku, just a few minutes walk from the busiest train station in the world (2 million passengers a day) we walked along an empty sidewalk next to an empty road. Trees in the park adjacent were showing the first cherry blossoms of the season. In peak hour and the weekends it was a different story, but such peace and quiet in Tokyo was an unexpected delight.
After a few days in Tokyo, we caught a skinkansen to Nagano. The trip highlighted my favourite things about Japan. Namely, the food, trains and efficiency. In Australia, train stations are a last resort for culinary delights, risked only by those too hungry or drunk to care. By contrast, the Japanese invented the bento box. A beautiful, hand crafted lunch box to take on your journey. The store underneath platform 29 must have had nearly a 100 different varieties of bento box, all wrapped and shaped differently and containing a multitude of taste sensations. Alas, I could only buy one!
A short bus ride got us to Hakuba, popular destination for foreign (mostly Australian) and local lovers of winter sports. Friends and family were duly met, and typical ski holiday activities involving food, drink and merry times at night and skiing during the day were undertaken. Unfortunately I twisted my knee during a minor burst of enthusiasm (on a green run no less!). However with stoic determination I set forth and continued to enjoy myself immensely.
Eventually the snow times ended, and it was time to catch a different train back to Tokyo. Along the way we stopped at Matsumoto and visited the oldest castle in Japan. It was full of dark passageways, bottlenecks and trapdoors and felt like a perfect home for ninjas. On the walk back to the train station, wandering down tiny back alleys and temples we watched a heron stalk and catch a trout from the canal. In the rippling water, larger shadows could be seen, no doubt happy it was their comrade and not themselves that became bird dinner.
From Matsumoto, another train efficiently and quietly sped us back to Tokyo where we valiantly found enough time for more beer and food in-between enjoying the many sights.
Japan, 5 stars. Would visit again!
- Tokyo Flea Market ($2 kimono’s, hand crafted knives and old Nintendo’s)
- Bird song chimes when pedestrian crossing lights go green
- 3 used video game stores and no one had a copy of Mario kart
- We had to leave