November 30, 2023
A close up of the Sakura blooms. The colors of the Sakura can either be while or pink.

If you are planning to visit Japan, it is best to secure a visa first before purchasing a plane ticket and planning a tour, whether, it is a “Do it yourself”, packaged tour or for official reasons.
There are many travel agencies in Baguio that can assist you. Next, register at the Japan website for entry details and requirements. This will save you time as you go through quarantine, immigration and customs. Be sure to have your QR code ready or vaccination card details printed as you will be going in with a long queue of visitors from all over the world.

The four-kilometer long tunnel of scarlet torii gates featured in the “Memoirs of a Geisha”

Japan is efficient, but its best to have all your documents ready or put the data on your mobile phones. You can also rent a pocket WiFi prior arrival or upon arrival at the airport. Cherry blossoms or “Sakura” season for this year started second week of March up to the first week of April.
Japan is amazingly vibrant with pink and white Sakura trees during these two months. How I wish Baguio can plant more bougainvilleas all over the city. It will be a welcome site to see them in full bloom during the summer months or towards December.

The Nishijin Textile Center where delicate Kimonos are made.

With blooming bougainvillea’s, it can be similar to the blossoming of the Sakura trees during the spring months of Japan. I recently saw Vangie Ram’s posting on Facebook featuring the blossoming bougainvilleas and jacarandas at several places in Baguio.They are beautiful.
Can you imagine Session Road, Magsaysay Road, and Harrison Road teeming with bougainvilleas? They are easy to maintain, propagate and are very attractive and colorful.

It had been almost 38 years since I last visited Japan as a scholar of the Japan International Cooperation Agency. I wassent by the Department of Tourism for a two-month course on tourism promotions with about 20 other scholars from other Asian countries. We studied Japan tourism systems, promotions, programs, Japanese culture and traditions.

The tulip garden at Odaiba near the Gundam Base building.

Kasi ambisyosa ako, I even took a short course studying Japanese. Kaya lang hindi ko na maalala yung mga pinagaralan ko, walang praktis eh. The two-month course consisted of a month of lectures and country presentations. The succeeding month was devoted to tours of Japan, from Tokyo to Kagoshima. Not to be forgotten were the lava spas and onsen baths. This Japanese tradition is probably the reason why Japanese people are generally slim. The hot baths are guaranteed to make you lose weight in five to 10 minutes. The hot baths are however not advisable for those with high blood pressure.

The back view of the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto.

Japan remains to be safe, hospitable, clean, disciplined, efficient and busy nowadays. It is said that you can easily find things that have been lost or forgotten, and sometimes they even ship these found items to you.
On that aspect, I take pride in our honest taxi drivers. My experience then as a student was quite different from my experience now as a tourist.Most memorable in my recent tourist experience in Japan are the extremely high tech toilets. They have two types, the “Squat style” and the “Western style”.

A sweet couple wearing the traditional kimono at the Zen garden temple.

The toilets are neat and clean, be it public places or those in hotels and restaurants. These toilets have heated seats and an array of push buttons that wash, air and dry you. They even have sounds that camouflage. Men still ride the efficient trains with their coat and tie. Many young men and women proudly wear their kimonos.
You will see a lot of them in tourists areas. There are kimonos for rent. Instead of colorful autumn leaves, this time we were regaled by the beautiful Sakura trees or Cherry blossoms. And because we visited during the Sakura season, there were thousands of tourists everywhere you go enjoying the blooms in parks, temples and the prefectures.

The water bus/boat ride to Skywalk and Diver City.

In fact, even Ueno Park, which used to house the Panda bears are now converted to a Sakura park since the pandas were returned to China. What I am most amazed this time is walking for at least an hour to reach temples and shrines, registering about 15,000 to 20,000 steps a day. It maximized my daily exercise. We climbed temples high up on the mountains. It was like climbing the Baguio Cathedral stairs from Session Road several times.
Our Malaysian guide Janice Kobayashi explained that Japan is 70 percent mountains. The estimated population is 127 million. They have nine regions divided into 47 prefectures.

A Shinkansen bullet train experience.

We visited Osaka, Nara, Kyoto and Tokyo. Our first glimpse of the Sakura trees was exciting. We found Sakura trees everywhere we went.The well preserved century old temples and shrines awaken our love for culture, history and preservation. There was so much respect for heritage. The Japanese cuisine and lessons in Sushi making complete with Yakuta ensemble were remarkable.
Walking to places we watched on Netflix movies like: “Memoirs of a Geisha” was astounding. The vermillion colored Fushimi Inari shrine was so mesmerizing. As we walked through the four-kilometer long orange colored tunnel with its torii gates, I could imagine the young Chiyo running through it with her “geta” or Japanese sandals. What we failed to find or to see was the famous bridge where the young Chiyo met the chairman.

The travel tour group from the United States and the Philippines at the Sakura lined Ueno Park.

Movie set lang siguro yun. We walked through the Gion Geisha district, but did not see a Geisha. We were however entertained with a green tea ceremony by 17-year-old Maiko named Tomifuku, an apprentice Geisha. She danced for us and played a game similar to rock paper scissors.
Risa Shinoda explained the difference between a Maiko’s hair and a Geisha’shair (Geiko), their age differences, skills and appearance.

Seventeen-year-old Maiko named Tomifuku after the green tea ceremony and demonstration with my sister Teresa, her daughter, Mylene, and my daughter, Reggie.

There were no cell phones, Facebook and Instagram during my trip as a JICA scholar. My memories were recorded in fading photographs and a number of phone cards for a homesick mother of two children then, Nashi and Deke. It is ironic that I am now traveling with my daughter Reggie.
My sister, Teresa Yra, invited me and my daughter Reggie to this “once in a lifetime” all-expenses paid tour of Korea and Japan. Reggie and I were both excited and frustrated. Excited because we finally got our Japan visa and frustrated because we were not able to get a Korean visa. Obtaining a Korean visa is extremely difficult. The appointment line to obtain a visa was ginormous. We just had to forget our dream to visit Korea.

Reggie with the beautiful Cherry blossoms at the entrance of the Todai-ji temple.

Our Japan trip was more than enough to compensate for the loss Korean experience. We landed in Osaka, stayed overnight. Narawas the first prefecture in our tour. It is the oldest capital city of Japan.We toured via a private bus. We traveled with 20 other tourists from the United States including my sister Teresa and her daughter Mylene Brodit. Our efficient driver was Ota. (To be continued).

Malaysian tour guide Janice Kobayashi with my daughter Reggie.