24 hrs in Kyoto

Click here for the photo portfolio of Osaka and Kyoto.

今日は! Enchantée! Nice to meet you! Schön dich zu sehen!

The expression “to jump off the stage at Kiyomizudera” is the Japanese equivalent of the English utterance “to take the plunge”. There it´s obvious what meaningful role Kyoto plays in Japanese culture as even in the language.

If you ever get in contact with a piece of Japanese history, you´ll definitely catch up the name Kyoto 京都市. Its roots go widely back in earlier centuties, in times of cruel wars and peaceful periods, where shoguns ruled the country alternately with the tenno (emperor) and were samurai’s controlled the streets. The city is a guarantee for originality and quality in Japan, as the imperial residence was located there for over 1.000 years. All historical lines come there together, as the European cradle of culture is Rome or Athene.  It´s literally the symbol for sophistication, so popular that you find phrases like “Quality of Kyoto” inside kimonos. As I told you in previous articles Kyoto wasn´t destroyed by the bombs in World War ll, so you will find a temple or a shrine around every corner you pass. Japanese religion is mainly a mixture of buddhism and shintoism (a polytheistic nature religion), so you will see monuments of both beliefs. In the famous Gion-district, where the atmosphere is the same as in earlier centuries, Geishas in colourful clothes step on their getas 下駄 (traditional wood sandals) tuneful on the pavements.

As we arrived at the local train station we recognized that Kyoto is apart from all that predominantly one thing: very touristic. You see there as many Westerners in one scene as you won´t find easily in Tokyo. It´s organized in tourism centers and bus lines, guides will lead you in the right direction or if you don´t know the way, you just have to follow the masses of people. You see officers standing at the sidewalks, trying to overlook the busy crowds, kouban-stations (police boxes) in every street and, of course, the bunches of vending machines provided for dehydrated tourists. The time we visited the city was still in the very hot arid period, so we stood under every tiny shadow spot we found. The assemblies of people were actually quite an amusing picture: Sweating Western-looking folks with exhausted faces and water bottles in hand, who were not used to the heat, and perfectly styled Japanese in their long, wide kimonos and yukatas that seemed to not even feel the strong sun (was a little upsetting, too).

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First big postcard-monument we visited was actually a little outside the town, set in the Eastern surrounding hills: The wooden Kiyomizudera-Temple 清水寺, which is a definition for several buddhistic buildings next to each other. Kiyoi-mizu (清水) means in fact `clear water´ as the temple is named after a waterfall inside the temple-complex. According to a legend the water has healing forces so that you´ll be in health and wealth by drinking it (That explained the queue of Japanese in front of the little basin aside to it).  Before you reach the temple itself you have to come through a very, very touristic street, full of shops where you can spend your money on talismans, Geisha dolls and Japanese traditional sweets (be careful trying them).

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After struggling coming through the crowd you get a first glimpse of the temple. Several impressing, light-red gates are located there and after hiking a little up the hills you see the main wooden terrace, placed on pillars 13 metres above the ground. It´s a curious but also rather affecting feeling standin on that huge ancient pillars in middle of a green forest and having a thrilling view on the city. On the terrace there´s a holy prayer hall inside the temple that is isolated from the public. Buddhistic monks sell joss sticks and prayers tablets there, tourists take photos and inhabitants pray for fortune and health.

The path of the temple continues afterwards into the forest and leads, accompanied by noisily shrieking cicadas, to a shrine of shintoism. It´s called Jishu-jinja and dedicated to a god of love. According to that it is very famous for a superstition: There are two big stones 18 metres apart from each other next to the shrine. If you go with eyes closed from one stone to another, a new love will be ensured for you. It´s a myth mainly practised by female Japanese students and tourists (did it as well).

After experiencing that old Japanese temple-complex we got back to the station and went for our second destination. Unfortunately we had only 24 hours for visiting the city (which is far too less) so we had to hurry up a little bit. Our next historical building to visit was exactly the opposite quarter of Kyoto: The utter West. It took us quite some time to get to it, but as we´d arrived it was totally worth it: The Golden Pavillion is said as to be the most popular monument anyway in Kyoto and it did not get its name without reason. Originally called Rokuon-ji 鹿苑寺 (roe-deer garden temple) it got its term Kinkaku-ji 金閣寺 (golden temple) after its gold-covered surface. The three floors unite different Japanese and Chinese style epochs and the top is dominated by a bird of Chinese mystery, the Fenghuang.
The Pavillion is spotted next to a big lake inside a Japanese traditional park. It´s very admirable strolling through it, especially in the evening when the sun is reflected red and orange in the temple´s surface.

24 hours, 7 days or even 1 month are far too little to get the feel of this wonderful historical city. It´s really a pity that I´ve got to see only such a tiny insight of it as I´m sure there are a thousand other things left to discover. You never can actually see everything as a tourist, but I really hope that I have another chance one day to visit Kyoto and fill out some of the empty spaces I didn´t see. Kyoto is something unique all over Japan and has its own, deep-cultural but also kind of tropic flair. I really enjoyed traveling it (as you´ve maybe noticed).

If you don´t only want to read my experience, you have here the chance to see it: I´ve created a photography portfolio of Osaka and Kyoto.

If you´ve come so far, thank you very much for reading!

いってらっしゃい! -Have a good journey! -À tout à l´heure! -Halt die Ohren steif!

The one who wanna have a full passport

V

Being a piece of the puzzle

今日は! Enchantée! Nice to meet you! Schön dich zu sehen!

My prospective teacher in my school I´m going to attend in Yokohama clarified me one day the fundamental cultural difference between Japan and Europe. He said: “Europe is an individualism society. Japan thinks in crowds.” That is basically everything you have to know before coming to Japan. Forget the bunches of tourist brochures and the must-see sightseeing destinations. You will come along with these two sentences if you know how to handle them well.
It sounds very simple but that is what´s noticable in every company you will be here, whether on the train, in restaurants, schools, convenience stores and other places where you get in connection with people. You will notice it in conversations and actions as Japanese will always apologize for leaving the lift before you, never (!) jump the queue or mainly let the other go first. They consider themselves as a part of a big  honourable circle that has to be treated respect- and careful. The great basis of social japanese codes of practise is to maintain the balance of Wa 和, meaning Harmony. That old Asian concept basically demands that the group´s belongings have to be over your personal interests.

Wa has to be valued.” -Shotokutaishi, Japanese Prince

Here the single person always will first regard the conditions of the group before striving for their own wishes. Their biggest anxieties are to disturb the harmony and rules or to interfere with somebody´s plans.
That all might sound a little weird for an European whose ambitions are always a bit more single-handed. We consider us naturally more as individualists  who are independent from others. Some of “us” may consider society as the ones above and are more likely to stand out from the crowd. We´d like to develop on our own as self-sufficient (Please keep in mind that that´s now ALL generalization!). To be only a little part of the puzzle is not urgently that what Westerners dream of.

But do not forget that Japanese behaviours have developed for huge amounts of centuries and that they don´t exist without reason. To explain that we have to have a little glance into Japanese geography.
You wouldn´t have  expected it so far but  most of Japan´s landscapes are just mountains. Yes, that´s right, about 80% of all the surface is covered by elevations. As there it´s not that easy to live in, that areas are sparely populated only by some farmers. So you have to imagine that enormous number of people (about 130 millions) into only 20% of the Japanese surface. To portray this in a picture: Take about half the U.S. population, crunch it into California (ca. Japan´s area size) and then minimize the surface to about 20% of it. Then you roughly have Japanese dimensions.
So maybe now you can imagine that it is important to take care of each other in Japan just because of the density of people living here. To organize and to handle that demands huge efforts of administration rules and also the willingness of people to pay attention to the other´s interests. The millions have to get along with each other. Otherwise that huge social building just could not exist.  So these being-part-of-the-group lifestyle might seem strange for a Westerner but on the other hand it´s very important to keep the public in harmony and safety. Just by experiencing the underground in the rush hours, being into those immense crowds on the train, when you cannot fall over because everyone stands so tight, makes you realize what it means to be part of such a gigantic community.
And Japan is used to it. The Japanese folks are used to the rush hours, the endless queues and the big assemblies of people they´re walking through. If I´ve got an overlook over the city´s skyscrapers or walk through one of Tokyo´s districts, everyone with its own character and subworld, I sometimes marvel how it´s possible to provide for that gigantic population. Just how to feed all that masses must be a huge effort to manage. So it is kind of understandable why there are employers for everything and everyone in Japan: People how work as guides, as waiters or who just direct the way you have to go next. That may be annoying at first sight but it is absolutely necessary. I often think of all the people living their lives next to each other, door beside door, and kind of admire that such a fireproofed society is possible.

Of course that all has it´s disadvantages, too. If there is anything you can´t be in Tokyo, it´s being alone. There is always someone next to you, probably a stranger. You always have to keep up that friendly face and you´re rarely undisturbed. If you come home exhausted after a long workday, you must expect to be shut in a big crowd or that you have to wait at the cash desk. That´s something all the people here have to be prepared for.  You´re always in public.
That can be very irritating. Especially if you´d grown up in the countryside (like me) where you´re sometimes  lucky to meet someone anyway, it can occur a real culture-shock (after the initial euphoria dropped). I stuck in that shock after some time but I simply got more or less used to it. But my little hometown and Tokyo are simply different universes!

There´s another thing that justifies the importance of Wa: The climate. The conditions are extreme here in Japan for various reasons I´m shure you already know (and I don´t want to bore you with). There are about 1.500 earthquakes every year, not to mention all the whirlwinds.
Currently, as I´m writing this post now, there is a taifun passing over Tokyo. It´s kind of strange how normal everyone behaves.
Earthquakes and tsunamis, taifuns and eruptions are the other components the Japanese population has to get along with. There are often strong winds and gales racing through the streets, branches are flying around, the raindrops fall horizontal on your face. Sometimes trains cancel and hundreds of people stuck at the stations. Misty weather comes as fast as it goes, you literally cannot see your hand in front of your face. And the next day the sun is shining. Everything is clean, no rubbish is lying around and employers go to work as nothing would have happened. Crazy world.

So I suppose individuality is a relative term here. It´s not that you can´t be self-sufficient in Japan, but it´s just more difficult to stand out of the crowd here than in Europe, as there we do not have that strong feeling of homogeneity. But for good reasons as I´ve shown you already.

So that was a long one, but it´s been important to go a little deeper if you want to understand Japanese structures of community. It´s just a completely other way of thinking how society works. Thank you for reading and leave a comment if you want to!

いってらっしゃい! -Have a good journey! -À tout à l´heure! -Halt die Ohren steif (love that expression)!

The one who wanna have a full passport

V

A little glimpse of Osaka

今日は! Enchantée! Nice to meet you! Schön dich zu sehen!

If you´re thinking of the ancient parts of Japan, apart from all the glitter and electronic, you´ll have probably pictures of shrines and temples in mind, of Geishas and Sakura (cherry blossoms), Mount Fuji and Buddha figures. Just to tell some stereotypes. Unfortunately the majority of that old traditional heritage was destroyed during World War II by the Americans, so you won´t be able to see a lot of that in Tokyo, Yokohama or Kawasaki.
Only the Southeast of Honshuu, the biggest one of the 4 major islands of Japan, was spared from the bombs. So you still find there ancient japanese wood houses, a huge number of temples and traditional old towns. The most famous and greatest there are Kyoto (京都市) and Osaka ( 大阪市), whereas Kyoto as the old Imperial capital of Japan is actually the symbol for ancient Japan anyway. If you walk down the streets in the famous Gion-district, you feel like you´re in another century, probably in the Heian-or Edo-peroid where Kyoto was Japan´s capital for over 1.000 years.

A few days after we (my family and me) arrived in Tokyo and got into our new apartment, we took a shinkansen-train to Osaka to explore the old face of Japan. It was the first time I went with a shinkansen and I was quite excited about it (although the tickets are rather expensive). Speeding up to more than 250 km/h we were in Osaka after about two hours. We decided to stay there and visit Kyoto by train because of the better and cheaper accommodation possibilities.

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So we arrived in Osaka and knew little about it. We´d heard that it was for a short time a capital city as well and that it was popular for its comedy and cabaret scene. As soon as we were at the station we immediately noticed a difference between Osaka and Tokyo: People were dressed more relaxed, there were (surprisingly) more Western tourists  and most obviously there was an extremely hot tropical weather. Japan´s summers are generally known as very hot and muggy but being at the geological height of Northern Africa increased even that effect.

We had only short time to look around in that kind of obstinate city but the impression I got was easy-going, non-touristic and way more provincial than Tokyo, even if that sounds odd for a town with more than 2.6 Million inhabitants. You just realised that you are in a completely other part of Japan. The streets were clean but not focused on good-looking and the whole ambiance was at least more original-japanese.  People had a darker skin colour than the residents of Tokyo (which is not very difficult) and seemed generally more relaxed. We weren´t able to watch a comedy show there (we wouldn´t have understood anything anyway) but I could understand why it´s quite a good space for cabaret and humorists there.

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Funny fact by the way: In Osaka the people always stand on the right side of the escalator not as in Tokyo. The both cities do not like each other so the local folks do that as a protest to show their independence.

The only big thing we explored in Osaka (apart from delicious food) was the Osaka Castle or Osaka-jou (大坂城) but that was impressive by itself. It´s a huge multi-storied fortress, built up in the 16th century to defeat attackers and to show the force of the former monarch as well. We went the stairs up to a history museum which is inside the Castle and after that to the looking platform on the top. There we had an overwhelming view over the city and a nice place to take photos. That rewarded the heat and the long stairs as the temperatures were extraordinary that day.

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In the evening the weather was a bit more bearable and we went to look for some good food spots. The cuisine of Osaka is known all over Japan and abroad, especially for udon  (うどん– thick noodles usually in some sauce) and oshizushi (押し寿司– kind of “pressed” sushi). And we really had some very good Japanese dishes, even if we didn´t find a traditional restaurant immediately in our area.

I actually liked the more relaxed informal atmosphere of the city. It was rather a welcome change to the more high-end side of Tokyo (depends on the district of course) though it was once not that easy to find something appropriate for us to eat (and we were hungry). It is just something that doesn´t appear on the top of a foreign tourist´s bucket list but that does not mean the city isn´t worth a view.

いってらっしゃい! -Have a good journey! -À tout à l´heure! -Halt die Ohren steif!

The one who wanna have a full passport

V

Getting off from Europe

Well.

Okay. Is this stuff working? Right.

今日は! Enchantée! Nice to meet you! Schön dich zu sehen!

Welcome to my new fresh-opened website (I´m still excited)! Nice that you found your way through the million different pages that exist. I hope that you enjoy a little what you find in here.
There are hundreds of thousands different websites online and every day they´re getting more. And now there´s another one. Another site where you can read into the crazy thoughts of an overflowing teenage mind. So thank you for visiting my site, I´m honored that you spend a little of your leisure time with me!

You might wonder why an Austrian girl writes a travel blog about Japan in English (and you may have noticed the little influences françaises as well). So I should start with introducing myself, shouldn´t I? My name is Victoria, I´m a 16-year-old girl grown up in the countryside of Southern Austria (and no, that´s not where the kangaroos come from). In the middle of a green periphery I used to spend my time with ordinary daily life activities including music, sports and literature.  After some more or less unadventurous school years and struggles what to do with my life I recently got offered a huge chance to fulfill a big dream of me: To go abroad for some longer time and to experience a completely different culture. It has been my dream since I was a child to see as much of the world as I can. So you might not be surprised that I was literally over the moon as I got the opportunity to spend (probably) half a year in Asia, more accurate Japan and more exactly in the biggest centre of population in the world: Tokyo 東京, the city where you find high-tech buildings and ancient Asian traditions.

So the main purpose of writing this blog is to share my experiences with some people and to shorten the distances a little bit between the Asian and the Western world. At first sight Japan might look quite Western-adapted, but the society, the lifestyle and even the mind of people is completely different. It´s like entering a second life when you´re getting off the plane, checkin out your new environment and try to adapt to (or just understand) the new habits here.  At least if you stand at one of Tokyo’s huge crowded train platforms and feel like an illiterate because you can´t read anything you realise that some frightening new années de pelèrinage are beginning right here.

Tokyo is a labyrinth in order.  You can go everywhere there, whether to one of the popular big sightseeing streets or a twisty little alley, you will always find someone who can help you. Or at least tries to because the English skills of the inhabitants are usually not on the top (one good reason to study more Japanese). You could have therefore some difficulties to start here but as soon as you are more into the local behaviors you will not have any trickinesses.
I had gone to Tokyo several times before I actually settled here, so I know more or less the touristic side of the city. But I´m not yet used to some more hidden interesting places and I´m looking forward to exploring them in these huge Asian labyrinth. And I would love to share them with you!

So let´s jump into the materials and please apologize btw my non-perfect English as I´ve just written school articles in that language so far. It´s a possibility for me to improve myself by trial and error. I hope it´s quite understandable and proper to read.

Okay let´s get started and stop beating around the bush!

いってらっしゃい! -Have a good journey! -À tout à l´heure! -Halt die Ohren steif (love that expression)!

The one who wanna have a full passport

V