First stop in our amazing tour was the Todai-ji Temple, the largest wooden building in Japan which houses the largest bronze statue of Buddha measuring about 16.3 meters. We were keen on feeding the deers at the Nara Deer Park.
We eagerly bought our deer crackers as we prepared to feed some of the 1,000 Sika deers scattered and roaming the streets and the park. Crackers were priced at Y500.
In feeding the deers, you have to be careful as the deers could smell the crackers from a distance from your pockets and hands. They will try to nibble at your hands or nip your sides or buttocks. Aray!
So, we ended up throwing all the crackers to them as they would walk with you until you give them the crackers. They are super friendly though. Park maintenance are quick to scoop tiny little remnants from the deers. It is said that if you bow ahead of the deer before feeding them, they will bow back.
At the Fushimi Inari Shrine, we experienced a walk through the famous orange tunnel featured in the “Memoirs of a Geisha” at Gion Shijo. Though we were not fortunate to meet a Geisha, we met a Maiko, an apprentice Geisha.
Again, I could imagine “Sayuri” the adopted name of the grown up Chiyo putting on her white powder makeup. Risa Shinoda, explained the ceremony and mentioned that instances like this were beneficial. It was sad to hear that the Maikos and Geishas, just like the rest of the world, had no income during the pandemic because there were no tourists.
Geisha and Maiko performances are quite expensive because they are special. We then walked to another temple filled with Sakura trees on the way and ended up in a bamboo forest. Our reward was a cone of Macha ice cream. It was like an ice cream macha festival.
Almost everyone wanted a cone of Macha ice cream. It is however discouraged to eat while walking. But like all good tours, we had an unforgettable experience. Eight of us in the group got lost after dinner. Six were senior citizens and two were young ones. The group departed for the bus after dinner and failed to count the number of people following. A fork in the road was the culprit. It was a good thing young Reggie, who was trained in disaster management took the initiative to look for the bus in the multitude of people and voila found the bus parked near the temple. This is a lesson for all tour guides, to always count the members of your tour group before proceeding to the next destination. It is also imperative to leave your contact number or calling card with the group, or scribble the number of the hotel for everyone’s reference.
The next day was a visit to the Kyoto Golden Pavilion or the Kinkakuji Temple passing thru Arashiyama, the Zen garden of Tenryyuji Temple, the Sagano bamboo forestand the Nishijin Textile Center for lessons in kimono weaving. Then, there were more temples to see and more walking.
The fourth day was a visit to one of the architectural wonders of Shiga Prefecture. This was the Miho Museum owned by the late Koyama Mihoko, who was one of the richest women in Japan. The museum was named after her.
The structure was designed and built by Architect I.M. Pei, covering over 247 acres of property. Most of the structures were built underground. There is a section of the museum devoted to spirituality. One can get lost in this meditation room searching the galaxy of stars for meaning and purpose.
Next stop was Hakone Castle. Then an exciting 15 minute ride via the Shinkansen bullet train running at a speed of 300miles/hour. The “Onsen” hot spring bath experience was something else. A traditional Japanese Kaiseki banquet dinner wearing a traditional yukata was awesome. According to our guide Janice and Wikipedia “the way to wear the kimono, a wrapped-front garment with square sleeves and a rectangular body is for the left side to wrap over right.”
The 5th and 6th days were visits to Mt. Hakone, an active volcanic zone where there are encounters with active sulfurous fumes. The ride via the Hakone Ropeway or cable car gave us a good view of Mt. Fuji. Fortunately, it was not rainingbecause just like our Mt. Mayon, Mt. Fuji can also be elusive. Last stop was the famous Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo.
This crossing is named “the busiest pedestrian intersection in the world”. It is featured in countless films, magazines and blogs. An estimated 1,000 to 2,500 people cross theintersection every two minutes.
And if you have watched Hachiko the movie, this is also where you can see the statue of “Hachiko” the loyal dog who waited for his owner for nine years to return. There were also visits to Asakusa Temple, where the largest paper lantern is found. There were small shops along the way and we found Ninja shoes or “farmer shoes” for Nashi and Deke.
We also found cute Japanese Tabi socks and Japanese bags usually carried with kimono outfits for Jackie, Anna and Eli.
Of course, if the papa has ninja shoes, my seven-year-old apo, Eli Dominic, should also have one. Next on the list to visit were Ueno Park, Tsokiji market, the Imperial Palace and the towering 333-meter Tokyo Tower. The tower, like the Eiffel tower in Paris, gives a commanding view of Tokyo and small shops on the floors. The Ikaji fish market was a discovery because it was here where we to taste the best “wagyu” meat.
In fact, the man selling “wagyu” must have been so exposed to tourists that he even knew how to pose.
Reggie enjoyed the different kinds of mochi “Japanese rice cakes” with a variety of flavors.
Our last few days were spent visiting the small authentic Japanese restaurants in Tokyo, the Don Quijote store (Japan’s large-scale discount store chain.), the Odaiba (Japan’s artificial island) where you can see the RX-O Gundam full-scale Unicorn (robot) at DiverCity towering at 19.7 meters, tulips, the Skyway, etc.
We went to Odaiba via the glass-topped Water Bus, which circled the Tokyo waterways. We disembarked at the entrance of Skyway passing thru the replica of the statue of Liberty and hundreds of Sakura trees. We had good timing because we witnessed the five-minute lighting of the massive Gundam robot structure towering at 19.7 meters.
In the Diver City Gundam Buiding is where you will find the collection of robots dating as far back as 1979 to the present. This is also where you buy the best selections of “do-it-yourself” robotics. If you have kids, they will enjoy a visit to this place. It is exciting even for senior citizens.
While the rest of the group went back to the United States via the Narita Airport, three of us headed back to the Philippines via the Haneda Airport. There are still so many unexplored destinations in beautiful and amazing Japan.
My son, Deke, and his wife, Anna, experts in exploring Japan’s “off the beaten track” destinations had tried so many adventures.
Our deep gratitude to Charmane “Shane” Muto, friend of Maika Rica Galulo and my daughter Reggie, for the assistance given to us and for letting us experience what the locals do. Shane is a Filipino Japanese who works and stays in Tokyo. She brought us to special places in Tokyo which were not part of the packaged tour and of course we enjoyed the discount store Don Quixote.
She also introduced us to the Pasmo Card, “a rechargeable contactless smart card, electronic money system, used for public transport in Tokyo. This system started on March 18, 2007. Pasmo can also be used as a payment card for vending machines and stores.”
At the end of the day, our unexpended balances in our Pasmo cards were used to buy items at their 7-11 stores. Japan is truly and amazing and beautiful country.
I will end this article by singing with David Fenton, “I’m turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so”.