Well, it seems that the trip to Japan took longer than I expected.. Or in better words, it took me two months to get myself to put up pictures and descriptions here. Maybe, this could be a sign that the dark days of the blog downfall are over, and that I will post here a bit more frequently from now on.
With that said, I'll try to summarize the experience-rich Japan trip in a few words and many pictures.
PART 1 - OSAKA
The base for the first few days was the city of Kobe, where we gratefully accepted accommodation at the place of my friend Ryo, who spent a year in Prague as an exchange student several years ago. Kobe is famous for Kobe beef, and a big earthquake in 1995, but we didn't really spend much time there, other than the nights. The city's proximity to the many jewels of Japan's Kansai region is extremely convenient though.
Osaka is one of the largest cities and business hubs of Japan. That means lots of people, lots of concrete buildings, but also a castle:
The castle is especially popular with school children on field trips. Or maybe they're just happy to get out of the classrooms.
Downtown Osaka and its entertainment district.
PART 2 - Kyoto
Most visitors to Japan have two highlights on their itinerary. Tokyo (where we didn't go), and Kyoto, where we went twice! Kyoto is ancient Japanese capital. Today, it's a large, bustling city with a population of over 1 million people. However, ancient temples, shrines, gardens and palaces are scattered around the city like pebbles, and today 17 of them are recognized as Unesco sites. For that reason, more than 40 million visitors per year come to Kyoto, taking away the serenity of the city and adding headaches on crowded streets and buses.
The Golden temple is one of Kyoto's most famous sights. That builds the expectations quite high, and many visitors are surprised that the temple is rather small, simple and underwhelming. Nevertheless, it is still nice.
On the Eastern side, overlooking the city, Kyomizu-dera is the other super-famous temple. It is also super-overcrowded.
Kyomizu-dera means "The temple of clear water", or something like that. Indeed, people come here for the magical effects of its waters.
The dark, narrow streets of old Kyoto are supposedly the place where the Geisha traditions survive until present day. Guidebooks issue warnings that to actually see real geisha is extremely unlikely..
But look, there they are! We must be really lucky!!
As it turns out, some of the weirder businesses in town offer tourists to dress them up as geishas and release them to the streets. An ideal way to make all heads turn and be in the spotlight for one afternoon.
It is rather difficult to persuade the real ones to pose for cameras.
Yet another famous sight, a zen garden at Ryoan-ji. A tourist to Japan has to be prepared to appreciate detail and perfection on a minimal scale, as none of the structures are huge, magnificent, or dwarfing.
Instead, 15 stones carefully positioned in a formation where it is never possible to see all 15 of them at once from any place. To see 15 would mean perfection, and the builders did make sure to send out the message that perfection is not for everyone.
PART 3 - Nara
Nara, not far away from Kyoto, was Japanese capital even before Kyoto. Today it is a small town, which gave us hope that it wouldn't be nearly as crowded as Kyoto. However, as we were unlucky enough to visit Japan during a long holiday, where almost everyone goes traveling, there were still plently of tourists. Most of them came to see a large buddha statue, seated in this large (world's largest) wooden building.
The little details were cool.
The park around the temples is full of tame deer, which run around and beg for food.
Most tourists come to Nara by bus. They get off in the parking lot, then walk to the Daoan-ji with the big buddha, then walk back. Very few of them venture outside of this main route. What that also implies for the poor deer who hang around the route, is a strange twist of the Pareto principle. A little fraction of the deer gets an overwhelming share of attention from tourists, who literally throw food at them and try to stuff it in their mouths.
Outside of the tourist routes, there is a number of temples and gardens, which remain virtually empty.
Making of tea cakes, or something along those lines.
PART 4 - Hiroshima
Who wouldn't know Hiroshima. The site where the first atomic bomb was dropped in August 1945 is a place of much more serious significance than the begging deer in the park.
The city has been completely rebuilt. The last standing structure and reminder of the bombing is this former industrial, almost directly under the epicenter of the blast. While several other buildings in the center of the city survived, they were torn down. Of particular interest to me because it was designed by Jan Letzel, a Czech architect.
The city before the bomb...
.. and after the bomb.
The city has been completely rebuilt, and is now quite nice and spacious. Also has charming small parks..
Full of hungry turtles.
Itsukushima shrine on the Miyajima island, just outside Hiroshima. It is one of the most popular tourist sites in Japan.
Japan is a big country, and transportation can get pretty damn expensive. However, the Japanese railways offers one-week tourist passes, which are good for any train travel anywhere in the country, including the famous Shinkansen. Despite their lightning speed, we still spent quite a few hours criss-crossing the Honshu island.
PART 5 - Takayama
A small town in the Japanese Alps, which offers a relaxing escape from the bustling concrete agglomerations in the lowlands.
Interesting to my fellow Czechs may be the fact that it is not too far from the site of the greatest Czech heroics - Nagano.
On the last day of the trip, we took advantage of the unlimited train travel and went to look at another Japanese symbol - Mt. Fuji. The problem with Mt. Fuji is that it's often covered in the persistent clouds and mist. This was indeed the case on the day of our visit, but with little photo editing on the computer, a mountain is clearly visible.
PART 6 - Food Section
While not designed for tourists, Japan has a very useful gadget that make eating out a lot easier - most restaurants display the dishes (made out of plastic) it the windows. All that the poor tourist has to do is to lure the waiter outside, and point at the desired dish.
Fresh produce market in Osaka. Fancy an octopus?
Sushi doesn't get any more authentic than this. A problem with sushi in Japan - it is not adjusted to the Westerners' tastes, and some bits are just too much. Most notably, uni sushi, made out of sea urchin ("sea hedgehog"). I still felt it in my stomach the next day. Of course, it is considered a great delicacy in Japan.
PART 7 - Oddities Section
We all know that Japan is odd. With its great passion for manga comics, crazy toys, cute things, sexuality in the least expected places..
See what I'm talking about? Japanese toy shop has truly unexpected things on offer.
Furniture shops, for a change, cater to geeks who are into the aliens.
Pachinko hall, or the most popular way of gambling.
Your typical Japanese chicks in downtown Osaka.
Found this sign in Takayama. Why Housenka? Did someone intentionally look up the Czech word for Catterpilar to put on their sign? Is it simply a word that sounds interesting for the Japanese? That question will probably haunt me for a very long time.