If you have noticed a lot of posts containing photos of Japan recently, it is because I went there for 10 days to see my younger brother who lives/works in Utsonomiya.
I've finally got round to collating some of the highlights of my visit.
Day 1 - Utsonomiya
After arriving at Tokyo airport and meeting up with my brother, we went to his home town of Utsonomiya which happened to be celebrating Matsuri, which I believe is just a local towns festival except, they have them in every town and loads of people get involved. Different groups of people (businesses, schools, charities, kids, sports clubs) dress up wearing the same clothes and carry around 'floats' while beating drums and listening to music.
I visit my first shrine where I learn it is customary to wash ones hands before entering.
I found my first Tori, which are the red arches typically entrances to Shinto shrines that are almost synonymous with Japan.
We stumbled upon a nearby little shrine, and when I inquired what it was for worshiping, I was told, it was the 'drinking/alcohol' shrine.
In the evening we went to local outside bar where I experienced my first earthquake. Not too much of a shake where we were, but apparently a 6.3 at the epicenter.
Day 2 - Utsonomiya / Nikko
We took a train to Nikko which is a lovely place set in some beautiful scenery/surroundings that people like to go to. It's been compared the the lake district.
On the train we passed lots of rice paddies. A bit different from the english countryside.
Nikko, is a world heritage site, and is home to a number of shrines and temples.
We walked past a huge lake in some wonderful weather.
Eventually reaching to the old British embassy, which is now a museum about the first ambassadors and the early English influence on japan. There we had english style afternoon tea with a lovely view (forgive my panorama attempts).
We then traveled back to Utsonomiya where we had some traditional Japanese food. Ramen and Gioza.
Day 3 - Yoyogi park and Tokyo
Tokyo was interesting.
It had some beautiful gardens and of course shrines and temples.
We checked into a capsule hotel.
This was my cosy room. Room 34.
In the evening we went to the robot restaurant. Which is hard to describe and just has to be experienced. It's not really a restaurant. They have some food, but you mainly go for a crazy show featuring actors and anamatronic machines with lots and lots of lights.
Even in the bar area, every inch of it is covered in screens, mirrors, or led's
Day 5 - Tokyo IIdabashi
We visited a nice park. Got lost a bit.
These are sake barrels, from different distilleries and they often have them at temples. [more info here]
We went to Tokyo Dome. Which as well as where the Tokyo Giants baseball home games are held, is a music venue as well.
Next to Tokyo dome was a massive shopping Mall that had both a rollercoaster and logflume actually inside it.
And in the evening we went to Golden Gai, which is place with couple of dozen really small bars.
Day 6 - Edo Wonderland / Nikko
Back to Nikko, as one place I really wanted to visit was Edo Wonderland. The Edo period was a period of cultural isolationism which after ending, Japan opened up to international trade/involvement. It was also a great time to be a Ninja. This place was basically 'Ninja World'.
The town is setup to appear as it would have done during that period. We watched a Ninja show and I learned that I am scarily good/accurate at throwing Shurikens at targets, winning a pair of rubber nun-chucks for my efforts.
Day 7 - Quiet day in Utsonomiya
Back to Utsonomiya for a quiet day and some souvenir shopping.
By this point I hadn't worked out all the buttons on the toilets which invariably had heated toilet seats. Something you don't need in 34 degree weather. I did accidentally press a button which played bird noises and noticed others that played music. presumably to mask the sound of doing ones business.
This guy is big here
Different fabrics women can chose for their traditional dresses.
Day 8 - Climbed a mountain in Kyoto
It is famous for having the path up the mountain lined with 'Tori' (the red arches from Shintoism'. There were thousands of these things and it was a much bigger climb than I was expecting. If my Apple watch is to believed.. the equivalent of 53 flights of stairs.
Day 9 - Bamboo forest, Tea Ceremony and Buddhist temple
I really like bamboo, really want to get some for my garden. So was interested to hear about the bamboo forests of Japan.
During the tea ceremony we were told how people dedicate years to learning the art of tea making and the symbolism of various parts of it. We even got to make our own matcha green tea.
Day 10 - Nara / Todaiji Temple
On my last day in Japan we went to the Buddhist Todaiji Temple in Nara a place famous for holding a huge Buddha as well as being inundated with hundreds of deer.
At most of the historic shrines temples, you can buy charms for every occasion including good health, wealth, fertility, and even passing your driving test or school exams.
I am incredibly grateful for my brother and his girlfriends hospitality and guidance during my visit to their country.
Japan is a place of great contrast, steeped in history and full of wonderful people.