Continuing my winding-down segment of posts, I will attempt to pick 10 favorite experiences from my whole trip (a tall order) and re-visit them here. It’s hard to remember everything I’ve done so far these past 10 weeks, but having a blog where I could write down my observations and experiences while they were still fresh in my mind definitely helps me now.
Again, these are in no order since I cannot pick one over another as they each have their own merit and are most of the time unrelated to one another in terms of their ‘sightseeing genre’.
Okay then, here we go:
1) Naoshima Island
A small island dotted with many modern-art exhibitions (many of them plopped in the middle of random beaches), Naoshima was definitely a great experience for me. I went there a few weeks into my trip, and had yet to really experience the Japanese coastal areas, so it was a welcome sight for me to see the Seto Inland Sea serving as a backdrop of Naoshima’s take on modern art.
In terms of majestic sights, I think Miyajima and its floating torii are at the top of the pecking order (maybe beaten only by #10 below). Part of the fun, in my opinion, was the several-hour wait to see the high tide rise and truly turn the area into a floating shrine. The striking colors from the sky as the sun set contrasted well with the brilliant shade of vermilion of the torii gate, and it’s no little wonder why it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the top tourist destinations in Japan.
3) Nagasaki’s Night View
Nagasaki was one of my favorite cities in this trip, in no part due to the stunning night views from nearby Mt. Inasa. The observatory at the top is free (although the ropeway to it is not) and offers full panaromas of Nagasaki below, the ocean to the side, and various mountain ranges beyond. It also has a great design – the floor changes colors every few minutes, and there is a lot of room to take pictures without including some random person’s head (as it does get pretty crowded up there after sunset). I fully understand why the Japanese like to refer to it as the $10 million view.
4) The Path of Philosophy and Kyoto’s Temples
Kyoto itself could fill up this list with any number of top experiences, but my favorite was walking along the Path of Philosophy in combination with some of Kyoto’s best temples. The tree-lined path runs along a canal in northeast Kyoto, and is a great escape from the constant throngs of tourists at the famous temples nearby.
The path passes by many temples not covered in guidebooks or tourist pamphlets, but they are just as serene and elegant in their own design.
Of course, the most famous temples in Kyoto are still magnificent, even when seemingly drowned by hundreds to thousands of visitors. Ginkaku-ji and Kinkaku-ji, the Silver and Gold Pavilions, respectively, are normally considered the top temples to visit in the city, and while I did enjoy them because of their extravagant exteriors, I preferred some other ones, such as Eikan-do and Kiyomizudera. Still, you can’t go wrong with any of these temples as they all contribute to the highly refined manner in which Kyoto has retained traditional Japanese culture.
5) Fushimi Inari Shrine
Still in Kyoto, another of my favorite experiences was walking up Mt. Inari in the southern part of the city through the very famous trail of torii gates. It was especially interesting because of the little fox shrines that kept appearing out of nowhere along the way. The gates create a tunnel-like atmosphere that is amazing for people who have never seen such a sight before.
6) Spending the night in a Buddhist temple on Mt. Koya
Tranquil. That is the best word I can come up with to describe the environment on Mt. Koya, a religious mountain south of Kyoto and Osaka that is home to many of Japan’s Buddhist doctrines. I was there less than 24 hours, but the combination of strolling past temples and peeking inside, eating purely vegetarian food for monks, walking through a thousand-year old cemetery at night, and waking up at dawn to observe the prayer rituals of the monks was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I highly recommend this to anyone visiting Japan who has enough time in their schedule. It is a world apart from the Tokyo-s and Osaka-s of the country, but is equally stunning.
7) The Irozaki Coast in Izu
Forget foreigners, most Japanese don’t even venture far down the Izu Peninsula, but my trip all the way to the tip was a real treat in my eyes. Almost completely devoid of tourists, Irozaki is a tiny area at the southernmost end of the Izu Peninsula that has giant cliffs and capes jutting out into the expanse of the Pacific. The short hike up to the cape and abandoned lighthouse, along with the waves crashing endlessly against the jet-black rocks below were definitely among my favorites this trip, which is why they are on this list!
There’s little more relaxing things in the world than soaking it up in an onsen, or natural hot spring. The Japanese have taken onsen bathing to another level, and I’ve been to quite a few of them throughout the country in various forms, but my favorite was the one in Yufuin, a small town in Kyushu where I spent one night in a traditional Japanese inn (ryokan).
9) Riding the Tokyo Subway System
Sure, this one is kind of random, but I honestly believe understanding the diligence of Tokyo’s rail transport and riding it together with every kind of Japanese citizen is a sightseeing experience in itself. Take my word for it.
What better way to end my list than with most likely the trademark symbol of Japan? I hadn’t made a post about this yet since I just went there yesterday, but Fujisan (Mt. Fuji) lives up to and even exceeds the heaps of adulation it receives from Japanese and foreigners alike. Snow-capped and seemingly perfectly-symmetrical, the tallest mountain in Japan is majestic in every sense of the word. Even though I didn’t climb it this time (I already did 6 years ago on my first visit), viewing the peak and the valley leading up to it from across one of the Fuji Five Lakes was eye-opening. It was a perfectly clear day too (as is largely customary for the end of autumn), and the only wisps of clouds were just off the peak of Fujisan, adding a nice dimension to the scenery. I know now why Fujisan is so revered by this country, and why it so often finds its way into the scenic backgrounds of painting and photographs alike.
And that’s all! 10 surreal experiences for 10 amazing weeks in Japan. Even if the above are my favorites, almost everything was an experience in itself, from the good to the bad, and this has been the best learning opportunity so far in my life. I leave in a few days, and will be spending my last 2 nights with my old host family (who are now like my second family!), but I will try to post again to summarize my journey in general and all the lessons I learned.
Thanks as always for reading.