A quick trip to Tokyo for a for a SACLA conference and some sightseeing (check out the Shibuya timelapse video below the pictures!):
This city, despite its beauty, culture, atmosphere and status as a large economic center in Japan, will be remembered above all for one thing: August 6th, 1945. The day I went to Hiroshima was a beautiful sunny day that stood in stark contrast to the sobering thoughts and feelings provided by the Peace Memorial Museum. Most people know of the atomic bomb from history class and books, but the images, diagrams, artifacts and accounts of survivors reverberate at an entirely different volume than any book ever could. 

WARNING: There are a few disturbing images in the reel below. Please click on the pictures for further links to the stories behind the pictures.

     To many people in the West, Tokyo IS Japan. The culture, the food, and the unique style radiate to all corners of the world. Visiting here, it is most certainly easy to see why. The city seems to stretch forever, and every district seems to pop with its own style. Tokyo, meaning "Eastern Capital", officially refers to both the very small central district containing some skyscrapers and the Imperial Residence, and the entire metropolitan area that, together with downtown area, houses close to 20 million people. Below are some of the more well known districts and sights in and around Tokyo.
Shibuya, Tokyo at dusk. [HDR]


       The term "neon jungle" is often overused as a catch phrase, but to sum Shibuya and the other shopping mega-districts of Tokyo, there isn't a better description. The number of lights and advertisements and the variety of images and colors on one street is more than you'd see in a month outside of Tokyo.  This street in Shibuya (one of the more "hip" districts of Tokyo) could keep a shopper contained for weeks. Advertisements abound for everything from shoes to comics, to fuzzy stuffed pets.
          Though generally a popular shopping and night life district for all ages, on any given Friday or Saturday night you might think that it was inhabited solely by the under 25 generation. Its a little expensive for my tastes, but I'm confident that you could buy any designer item in the world without ever leaving Shibuya.


The Mt. Fuji Experience

        "No one climbs it from the bottom..." people told me, Japanese and foreign alike. But for some reason, while sitting Shinjuku Station on the afternoon prior to the climb and deciding which bus to take, saving the 1570 Yen (~$20) and hiking straight from Fuji Yoshida station sounded like a good idea. I had also heard about this "awesome" trail, called the Yoshida Trail. This trail is the old trail used by Japanese pilgrims making the journey to the top of Mt. Fuji before there ever was such a thing as the 5th station road. I figured seeing the old shrines in the woods and climbing Fuji the old style would be great, and 21 km before sunrise wouldn't be too much of a challenge if we started early enough the night before.


To begin with, I have never seen such a remarkable contrast between the new and the old in my life. As a resident of Boston, MA (very young compared to most places in the world, I know) I have come to appreciate and love the mix of new and old architecture, the fast paced world and the puritan historical roots. But taking the founding date of Boston to be 1630, Kyoto is more than double Boston's age (taking the "founding" of Kyoto to be sometime in the 8th century, when the Shimogamo Shrine was established). This makes for unrivaled contrast between the ancient streets that still have many ancient tea houses used to host Geisha entertainment, and the modern streets of today, filled with overpriced merchandise, BMW's, nightclubs and restaurants. This contrast was evident throughout my entire time there and makes Kyoto an absolute must see for anyone looking to experience "old Japan".

Traveling to/in Kyoto

    Please look into buying a guide book before you make extensive travel plans. I highly suggest Lonely Planet's Japan, as it covers the WHOLE country, and is in depth enough to give you the all the information that you need and want. At the bare minimum, familiarize yourself with the Kyoto subway system.

    As usual in Japan, the trains were quite enough to get me where I wanted to go, quickly and for a (err...somewhat) reasonable price. Keep in mind that there are private railways in Kyoto in addition to the JR railways found throughout Japan. The ICOCA (rechargeable electronic money) card will do you just fine and is extremely convenient. In a later post I will write about Japan railways in detail, but for now let it suffice to say that they are efficient and when you get there you can easily figure them out. So lets total it up here. In Kyoto, in the absence of a personal car, you have the following options of transportation:
  • JR Railways -- very quick and efficient for getting you TO Kyoto, but they run through the city; not throughout the city, such as the subway; so not easy to rely on for 100% of travel.
  • City Bus -- Some of these are local buses stopping at every stop. Some of them are tourist buses that take you right to your destination. Inquire at Kyoto Station (from which most of them leave) 
  • Subway System -- AWESOME. Very efficient, fast,  extensive, and well labeled (assuming you speak English or Japanese).
  • Private Railways -- I was confused about this at first, but they really work just like a subway or JR train line. Tap your ICOCA card and head on in! In some cases they are slightly more expensive than the equivalent trip on the subway.
  • Taxi -- Please: make it your last resort. The are most likely more expensive here than your home city. They WILL however be a necessity if you miss the last subway train at 12:00 a.m. and your hotel is more than a few blocks away.

[Please keep reading after the slide show for more awesome info!]
All pictures in slide show I took myself.