Truly the cherry on the cake of all our holidays so far, was our trip to Japan, especially so in the cherry blossom season. The hanami or cherry blossom festival is a once in a lifetime experience for all travelers with a wanderlust. I’m as excited as Marco Polo after discovering so many more treasures here even in this century in this “land of the rising sun”.
The Hanami or viewing of the flowers (hana) is a custom thats been celebrated for over a century in Japan. Cherry blossoms (Sakura) are transient, the trees bloom for two weeks in spring and really are a source of immense beauty and joy to the beholder. Within two weeks they will be gone, symbolic of so many other things in life that are temporary and so the Japanese people believe in celebrating the Sakura season and savoring the moments with great joie de vivre picnics in the parks and along riversides. So enjoy some great Sakura sites like Shinjuku Goyen and Chidori-ga-fuchi moat in Tokyo, Osaka Castle Park and the banks of the Motoyasu River in Hiroshima. Night illuminations dotted with pretty lanterns impart a special dazzle to the cities.
The Shinkansen or the bullet train experience really gives superfast a new meaning; kind of feels like being in a aeroplane on land. The best of safety, punctuality, technology and cleanliness all in one. Achieving this in a small curvaceous country prone to volcanic eruptions and still maintaining since 1964 a zero accident and mortality rate, with over 300 million users a year is no mean feat! You must try them all, the slower trains like Hikari have more stops, Kodama zooms at 270 km/h and then a Nozomi at 300 km/h. Thats Tokyo to Shin-Osaka (515 km) in roughly 2 hours & 22 minutes. Unbelievable but true.When another bullet train whizzes past you…Whoa! Thats a whole new feeling as well !
The forerunner of technology and modernization, Japan boasts of the most peaceful and ancient Buddhist Temples and Shinto Shrines. We visited all the iconic ones, especially in Kyoto. The Kiyomizu-dera on the hillside where one can appreciate fine views of the city of Kyoto and the Higashi Honganji Temple in the city centre are an oasis of serenity and devotion. Around the city we visit Kinkaku-ji or Golden temple with zen gardens and Fushimi Inari-taisha with over 10,000 vermillion red Torii gates.
Matcha is the green tea or the daily elixir that you find everywhere you go in Japan and some unique matcha flavored sweets, even ice creams to my surprise! If you are trying matcha for the first time, chances are you might not quite like the flavour because it doesn’t taste like the green tea you are used to. Its a finely ground powder of specially grown and processed green tea leaves(with higher chlorophyll content so they are very bright green). But their health benefits really surpass the weird taste if you can get to like it. The traditional Japanese tea ceremony we take you to witness centers on the preparation, serving, and drinking of matcha as hot tea in a meditative and spiritual style.
Japanese food: The variety of food available is unending from ramen and udon noodles to yakitori and sushis. Every city has its own specialities to offer like Okonomiyaki or layered savoury noodle pancake in Hiroshima and Kaiseki dori, a collection of dishes and courses in Kyoto. When in Osaka, relish the Gyozas (dumplings) at Dotonbori or some Ikinari steak in Tokyo. Food markets like Nishiki in Kyoto and the small alleys around the shrines are places you can sample a vast varieties of local food (mostly on a stick!). Bento boxes at stations and in the trains make sure you never go hungry, but eat many small bites of healthy food like the locals.
Arigatoo gozaimasu or thank you very much in Japanese is a term you will hear so much all the time in Japan and its been ringing in my ears since i came back. It conveys their humility and hospitality. They bow down to you and use the title of “San” as a mark of respect, holding on to age old customs and traditions, yet marching ahead in technology. Discipline and integrity is a way of life here and every citizen strives towards the goal of excellence. So many lessons to learn from this country maybe one tour won’t be enough?