A quick trip to Tokyo for a for a SACLA conference and some sightseeing (check out the Shibuya timelapse video below 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.
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:
[Please keep reading after the slide show for more awesome info!]
All pictures in slide show I took myself.