The Thousand Torii Gates in Kyoto
Last week, my best friend returned from Japan, and it brought me back to the many adventures we had when I visited him in September, adventures that I have yet to share with you. I think it’s high time I told you guys about Japan.
For the past year, my best friend Fezz was in Japan, teaching English. In early September, I finally carved out enough time and money to go see him, and we had an incredible week traveling the country. Here are my thoughts:
Japan is magnificent. I had never before been overseas, nor had I ever spent more than a few hours in another country. Before I left, I did a ton of research on what to expect from Japan, but all the google searches in the world won’t tell you as much as five minutes on a Tokyo street corner. Traveling somewhere so entirely different from your normal life shows you just as much about your own culture as it does about the one you’re visiting. Every little thing was incredible to me, because it was all so different from what I experience on a daily basis. Several times, I found myself wondering, why don’t we do it that way? Case in point:
Trains are amazing. Japan has one of the most advanced public transit systems in the world, and it’s all based on trains. Tokyo is a city with more than 13 million people, and the vast majority of them use trains to get everywhere. Their trains go everywhere, and they’re always on time. If, for some reason, a train is late, the rail company will issue every passenger a note for work apologizing for the tardiness. That’s how absurdly dependable their trains are. What’s more, they’ve got all sorts of trains, subways, elevated, bullet trains, and they go just about everywhere. While I was there, Fezz and I almost exclusively used trains to get around, and I was continually amazed.
Tokyo and Kyoto show two very different sides of Japan. The first thing Fezz told me when I found him in the airport was, “Remember this moment, because you’ll be surrounded by thousands of people for the rest of this trip.” He was absolutely right. Tokyo is a massive, sprawling city filled with so many people. Every time we were in a train station, it felt like 100 thousand people were flying by me. On every street corner, thousands rushing by. There are blaring, electronic ads everywhere. The pace of Tokyo is dizzying. Every single building is 5-20 stories high, and every inch of space is carefully planned.
Feeding monkeys in Kyoto 😀
Kyoto, on the other hand, is a city of 1.5 million, and it is much more relaxed. In Kyoto, there is a sense of warm friendliness and less of the hustle and bustle that I found in Tokyo. I love Kyoto, and a big part of that is because there is an incredible balance between industrial, natural, modern, and classic there. The city is huge, but it’s located in a valley, surrounded on all sides by mountains. The ocean of buildings melts seamlessly into the lush, green mountainside, with colorful temples peppered throughout. It’s truly a beautiful city, and I felt genuinely welcomed there.
Everything in Japan, except for the people, is massive. I’m serious. We went to Akihabara, the shopping district in Tokyo, my first day there, and it feels endless. Roads full of 5-10 story shops. We went into a 6 story, SEGA arcade, and when we left, there was ANOTHER 6 story, SEGA arcade right across the street. We visited the Skytree mall in the heart of Tokyo, and after shopping and wandering through its shops for hours, we never found the end of it. I’m convinced that Japanese malls just don’t have ends. It’s like an optical illusion.
Japan has amazing history. We visited the Tokyo National Museum and countless shrines throughout Tokyo and Kyoto while I was there. Kyoto, even older than Tokyo, has shrines and temples all over the city. Something that struck me when I arrived is that, as an American, I think of national history as covering the last ~200 years, but that’s only because the United States is relatively new. Japan has been around for millennia. Let that soak in for a second. At the Tokyo National Museum, Fezz and I saw swords nearly a thousand years old, masks used in ancient plays, and maps scribed so long ago, the years only had 3 digits. Japan’s history is rich, and I found it intensely fascinating.
There is nothing like spending time with your best friend. A good portion of my time in Japan was spent goofing off, watching terrible John Cena memes, playing Super Smash Bros Project: M, and talking life with Fezz. Really, I would have traveled anywhere to see him, and the fact that we got to explore Japan was just a bonus. It’s good to have you back Fezz! 🙂