Travel Bucket List: Japan

japa-MMAP-mdI’ve been fascinated by Japanese culture for a very long time.  For ages, it was all about geishas for me; books, movies, I collected kanzashi (geisha hair ornaments) and geta (geisha wooden sandals) and tabi (socks worn with geta).  I learned about Japanese cooking and tea ceremonies and flower arranging and art.  I became completely captivated by Re-Ment miniatures. This obsession halted a little bit with our fire; I lost the collections I had put a lot of money (as well as my heart!) into.

A couple of years ago, though, I started learning Japanese.  Unfortunately, partway through Japanese 1 I was hospitalized and my three months in the hospital put a kibosh on that, temporarily, but I am starting again now, as kids are going back to school, I’m going back to Japanese 1, starting over to learn another language in hopes that one day, I’ll be able to put it to good use on my travels!

So, what do I want to see when I get to Japan?

Okunoshima

This is an island where tourists go to be smothered by bunnies.

I’m not kidding.

The island, located in the inland sea of Japan, and accessible by ferry from the mainland,  was used during WWII to produce poison gas.  Yuck. During that time period, the island was actually removed from maps because of the top-secret goings-on there.    The first theory of where all the bunnies came from is the bunnies that were brought to the island to test the effects of gas.  Those who worked in the gas factory, however, insist that all rabbits were killed when the factory shut down.  I like to believe that some kind employee chose to free them rather than put them down.  The second theory is that a schoolchild who visited the island, brought eight rabbits to the island and freed them.  My issue with that is where the heck did the kid get eight rabbits?  Why take them to the island and free them?  Weird.  I like the former story instead.

Today, the island offers beaches, a golf course, a campground, walking tours, historical tours of those WWII factories, and stands where you can buy food for the enormous colony of bunnies there.  Yeah, you know I want to be there cause of that last part.

 

Miyajima

I learned about this island from a video game.

day-74-31 (1)No, seriously, I did.  Richard and I were very into a historical Samurai game for a while and the graphics of various regions of Japan were spectacular.  One area featured a floating temple, and when I looked it up – lo and behold – it really exists!  And is remarkably beautiful.

The Istukushima Shrine is a Shinto temple.  The 37-building main shrine was begun in the year 593 by Saeki Kuramoto and the 19-building outer shrine, built in the Shinden style of architecture, was completed by Taira-no-Kiyomori in 1168.  And when I say these architects were geniuses, I really mean it.  Their amazing creations, lasting more than a thousand years, built of wood, on an ocean – it just blows my mind.  It is believed that they built the shrine over the ocean as a reference to the Buddhist belief of Pure Land – during this period of history it was thought that when people died, their souls were carried across water by boats to the next world, Gokuraku Jodu – the Pure Land.

In addition to the temple, machiya-bigI’m also fascinated by the idea of visiting Machiya-Dori, the old town area on the island.  This is a little touristy, but like the old towns in Canada and the US that are so much fun to visit and learn about history, I think I’d really like it!.  This is a strip of shopping and gallery destinations, but the architecture is kept to the “old style” of Japan and it is even lit by lanterns at night!

There are a number of Ryokan on the island, which is where I’d like to stay there.  In contrast to modern hotels, Ryokan are designed to give tourists a taste of traditional life in Japan; the floors are tatami mats and you sleep on futons, behind sliding rice-paper walls.  Most give you the opportunity to experience traditional Japanese baths and offer traditional cuisine as well.

My last – and almost favourite – reason for visiting the island is the tame deer population.  Deer are considered sacred in Shinto, and are greatly respected by the local populace.  They are fed by hand by tourists and locals alike, giving those who visit a chance to get up close and personal with the sweet, fuzzy Bambis:

 

Kyoto

It is from reading books about Japan and set in Japan that I fell in love with Kyoto.  It is an incredibly beautiful city, once Japan’s capital, and is full of exquisite temples, castles and castle ruins, museums and theaters.  And, according to legend, it is home to the most beautiful, well-trained, and elegant geisha in all of Japan.

While we aren’t rich enough or influential enough to gain access to a tea house in Kagai – Flower Town – many of the geisha perform “tea ceremony plays” at Ryokan and hotels in the city.  In addition, there are two festivals, one in the spring and one in the fall, where geisha perform publicly.  That, of course, is when I would love to attend!

Tokyo

shibuyaWho can complete a trip to Japan without visiting it’s most famous city of Tokyo?  You know, the ultra-modern, highly technology-oriented city that everyone sees in the movies, with all the crowds and bright lights?  Yep, that one.  There are a few things I’d like to visit here, not the least of which is Miraikan, the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation.  Or maybe I just think my computer geek husband would love that place (he would, I’m sure!)

I think we would need at least a couple of weeks in Japan to see and do the things on this list, and in reality, there’s lots more I’d love to see and do there!  We have our concerns about travel to Asia, in particular in regards to Richard’s height, as we’ve been told that there isn’t room for people taller than 5’10 or so in many places (What we will do with eight more inches of husband, I’m not sure, exactly).  I’m hopeful we’ll figure it out though, because Japan definitely tops my travel bucket list!

What did you think?