Part One: Japan in Pictures

I’ve always loved Japan. I used to dream of it after watching too much anime and borrowing my dad’s novels by James Clavell. I would read Gai-jin and Tai-Pan and watch endless episodes of Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z, which in retrospect didn’t help my naive impressions of Japan. I was transported by historical, fictional and cartoon versions of  the country. In my head it was a world of meditation gardens, of white herons and of geishas in many-coloured kimonos.

231026_634676868042_2899311_nEmpty Sake Barrels on Miyajima Island

All the different forms of ‘my Japan’ distorted and intertwined themselves into a seething mass of rights and ritual, tea ceremonies and Yakuza; of hari-kari, seppuku, samurai, ninjas and honour and heritage; of maple trees, unagi, bamboo,  antiquities and ancient history.

250135_634569822562_2888633_nMaple trees in Kyoto

This bewitching country has always been top of my travel wishlist, wedged improbably and inelegantly between Vanuatu and Ushuaia, and, in 2011, I managed to make it there, at the tail end of a long trip with The Boy.

It was everything I had expected, if possible more and, I suppose, in measures it was less. It was shockingly expensive – we struggled to eat reasonably and to pay for the metro tickets after the soft introduction of bargain basement Thailand and Vietnam. It was staggeringly beautiful – the floating torii gate that appeared to me like a living doorway between the earth and heaven in Miyajima will stay burnt into my mind’s eye forever.

246669_634676304172_4420378_nThe Torii at Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima – Heaven’s Gate

Never have I felt more Godzilla-like as I wandered around Shinjuku and was surrounded by pocket-sized, lilly-white lovelies in Oscar-worthy make-up, pristine silk blouses and kitten heels. The business men in their sharply tailored suits and hair so stiff it looked like lego glanced at my dusty boots with politely-concealed distaste as my feet, feeling ashamed of their shabby appearance, tried to hide behind my travel-stained backpack.

226304_634455052562_96851_n

Japan was, to be truthful, also in turns a very strange place. Men would read explicit hentai – cartoon porn – on the metro on their daily commute and there were new breeds of bizarre hotel like the Cuddle Café, where patrons would pay by the hour to sleep and be hugged by a stranger.  I wrote a little about the oddities of Japan in a previous post about mental bentos, but, despite the intermittent other-worldliness of Japan, it’s a place I still yearn to return to, if only for the incredible food.

231173_634568949312_7925756_nTempura prawns and green peppers with miso soup, Nara

Last night Jun Tananka, a chef of Japanese heritage, transported me straight back to my 2011 trip with his plates of miso salmon, umami lamb and tempura shitake mushrooms. As I scoffed these delights I reminisced about the similar morsels that I had once eaten at the pop up sushi stands that stood alongside Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo like rows of painted beach huts.

There will be more on that tomorrow, as I try to put Jun Tanaka’s flavours into words, but for now here’s a collection of my Japan in pictures, from down town Tokyo and the deer-filled park in Nara to Osaka’s bright lights, Hiroshima’s prayer cranes, Kyoto’s temples and the bamboo forests of Arashiyama.

225236_634677162452_8005649_nTuna heads in the fish market. My foot is there as a reference to show their terrifying size!

227957_634455516632_671407_nGrannies on the Metro, Tokyo

227216_634456050562_4502138_nThe Glico Man in Dotonbori, Osaka

229061_634568709792_4109798_nSchool children admiring the view in Nara Park

248999_634675371042_7803631_nPaper prayer cranes in Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park, each crane has a special significance, which you can read more about here.

225525_634676204372_4079479_nThe torii, Miyajima, off the coast of Hiroshima. Once, not so very long ago, women weren’t allowed on this island and old folk would be shipped off it to die to keep this shrine island pure from death and contamination.

227215_634573310572_1906221_n

227403_634573320552_1905114_nThe bamboo forests of Arashiyama

225828_634569253702_466575_nTemple gardens of tranquillity, Kyoto

225836_634573205782_8025778_nKinkaku-ji Zen Buddhist temple, Kyoto. The top floors of the temple are coated in gold leaf. It was reportedly the home of retired shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, and made a Zen temple of the Rinzai sect after he died in 1408.

229136_634570012182_5810063_nCycling around Sannenzaka’s wooden houses and temples along one of the oldest streets in Kyoto.

I know I’m not alone in my love and fascination for Japan. In fact, Frankie, a wonderful writer and blogger I met last year while dog mushing (which you can read all about here), also  dreams of visiting as you can read in her 2014 travel wish list. I would love to hear from people who have been to Japan and what their favourite places or experiences were.

Fingers crossed, there will, hopefully, be more to come on the food and the fish market in Part Two: Jun Tanaka’s Japanese Feast. 

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