DISCLAIMER (from the prettier one of us two weird douchebags)
In this case – as I am getting pretty lazy lately – most parts of the article are a 1:1 translation of Matthias’ report, so my comments are added in brackets, marked with a “S”. And sorry for the long delay. We were busy!
For the original (in case you do not trust me – which I could understand – and want to translate the original yourself) find Matthias’ report here.
Once again, a lot of time has passed since the last detailed travelogue. And of course a lot has happened in the past few weeks, something you don’t want you to miss. Having arrived in Seoul in the meantime, we have the opportunity to look back on the second part of our extended stay in Japan.
NISEKO (part 2)
Without further ado, I would like to talk about the arrival of our friends from Frankfurt. On 18.2. Frieda and Dorian finally reached Kutchan in their chic Japanese camper. The joy of our reunion was great and Steffen and I had prepared a very “special” welcome gift for the two of them. As regular vistor of the Krautfest (S: That roughly translates to “cabbage festival” and is a yearly town festival dedicated to cabbage in our little hometown Echterdingen. Yes, it is as weird as it sounds!), the two are well acquainted with the Swabian mentality and customs, and in turn are endowed with remarkable regional customs and (drinking) culture. In short – they were very happy about the 4 liter whiskey plastic bottle we bought and enjoyed sharing it with us. Of course we went skiing together… but only two days later. We had more wonderful pow days in Moiwa and Rusutsu, sometimes with fantastic weather. Spectacular in Rusutsu is the dazzling indoor amusement park and the famous backward skier. A crazy guy who has mounted his bindings on his skis backwards and in a very strange outfit and equipped with colorful ribbons only drives backwards down the hill (S: Since 30 years). Especially in Rusutsu we could finish the days with visits to the onsen of the local hotels, in which we just sneaked in. Right now one can probably still speak of an insider tip, however, the plans we saw there suggest that the number of visitors in the area should increase exponentially if one assumes that the vast amounts of planned hotels are really built. So we have a good reason to come back quickly in the coming years. After Frieda and Dorian said goodbye and went to the north of Hokkaido, we enjoyed the last days in Niseko before we headed back to Sapporo at the end of February.
SAPPORO (part 2)
Actually intended only as a stopover on the trip to Nagano, we were forced to extend our stay in Sapporo. A heavy snowstorm brought train traffic to a halt for several days. As a long-term traveler, however, we saw it quite relaxed, after all, we felt quite comfortable in Sapporo and the hostel and so we submitted to our fate and enjoyed the involuntary break. We unfortunately had to cancel the planned station in Nagano, as there would not have been enough time left until our next – already booked – stay in Aizu. To pass the time, we thought it might be a good idea to drive to the nearby ski resort in Teine. Skis and luggage already were stored at the station anyway. It all sounded very simple in our imagination: Drive to the station, get the equipment, drive to the ski area, enjoy the day, done. In truth, it was more like an odyssey: Lots of fees for the lockers, changing into ski gear in the middle of a Japanese train station, being rejected at the counter because of missing ski bags, being admonished by the bus driver in this regard, moderate conditions in a small ski area. That was then the bitter reality. The next day we decided therefore to minimize our efforts to leave the house.
On 5.3. we left Hokkaido and used the Shinkansen for the first time towards Aizu, a ski region in the rather otherwise known prefecture of Fukushima. Due to poor reputation the area tries to get tourist with simply unbeatable offers which, of course, was a perfect match with our Swabian hearts. So we landed as “ambassadors” for the region in what is probably the most luxurious accommodation of our trip – at the 4 star Grandeco Resort Urabandai. And for lack of alternatives, we also got the 5-course menu in the in-house French restaurant. Of course, we also enjoyed the huge room, the traditional Japanese bathrobes and the onsen to the fullest. And we also liked the ski area. The beautiful landscape and the amount of snow can compete with Hokkaido. But at the beginning of March the temperatures were already spring-like and so we let the last days of skiing (67!) of our trip end rather comfortably.
After a few days we then went on to Fukuoka, my (S: Which means Matthias’) old “home” in the south of Japan on Kyushu. And already the bus ride from our far away hotel there offered the first surprise. Because Lotti, an English teacher on a short break in Fukushima, was also on her way back to Fukuoka and actually she also knew one of my teachers there, Peter Carter – another wonderful coincidence of our journey. At the end of a long day of travel, with a stopover in Tokyo to ship large parts of our ski luggage in a complicated process to Germany, we then reached Fukuoka. While still on the train I tried to contact old friends from my exchange semester and so it happened that we met Katsukawa Sensei, my former Japanese teacher in an Izakaya that same evening, even though he worked until 10 pm and had to ride an hour or so back home while our accommodation was right in the middle of Tenjin (downtown). The reunion with the most passionate teacher I ever had was really great. And for some reason, after that we did not fall directly into the beds in our apartment but continued to move through the city looking for the Fubar, a central point during my study stay. It was a time travel to a place that had not changed a tiny bit in the last 6 years. The next morning I also met Anzai Sensei, my architecture professor at KyuSan for lunch. In general, it was nice to meet so many friends from that time in such a short time, some of them very spontaneously. In between, we visited Hakata and the infamous Nakasu area and I took the opportunity to quickly buy a shirt and a tie for the wedding I was going to attend. It was the minimal equipment for a traveler visiting a wedding, I guess. It was really a special moment to see Oofuji San again on the day of his wedding. What a nice coincidence that it was possible to meet his wife and many of his friends. We celebrated in a chic Italian restaurant and the obligatory wedding games were not missing in Japan. Later we went with the friends to bowling and through the city. And the very next morning after a few intense days, it was time to get back into the Shinkansen to jet through the country at full speed.
(S: What Matthias missed to mention: While he was having fun at the wedding, I made a little trip to one of the famous cat islands that are spread across Japan. One of them – Ainoshima – is pretty close to Fukuoka, so I took a ferry and had a pretty nice day with my feline friends. See pictures here)
With a short stopover in Hiroshima we came to Kyoto, the cultural heart of Japan. We had a few days to see the most important attractions of the city and we stayed in a very stylish hostel. We visited the Kinkakuji, a golden temple with beautiful gardens but also many tourists. The Ryoanji, famous for its rock garden and its contemplative effect. Also the Nijo Castle with its spectacular, typical Japanese complex of sliding walls, tatami mats and arcades. We also drove to the nearby city of Nara to visit the Todaiji, a gigantic wooden temple (S: Actually the biggest purely wooden structure on earth) and to watch the free-range red deer hunting Chinese tourists. In the evening and on the way to the
Kiyomizu temple we strolled through the very traditional and well-preserved district of Gion. And we also made a pilgrimage to the hopelessly overcrowded Inari Shrine. Although overwhelmed by the variety of impressions in a short time and the much more touristy destination, Kyoto is always worth a trip. Nevertheless we spontaneously decided to take an earlier train to Tokyo which was the last Shinkansen ride with our JR pass.
Also for our stay in Tokyo we had planned enough days, after all, no hectic should arise on our trip. So we first recovered from our busy lifestyle and visited a cat coffee in Akihabara. Due to illness, I had to take some small breaks in Tokyo and so Steffen occasionally went alone to Shibuya, Shinjuku, the Meiji shrine et cetera. Together we drove to the Tokyo Skytree to get a nice overview over the city. But to really get an overview over the whole city they should have built it even higher… On the way back to our small apartment we were magically attracted by the German bar “Meine Kleine”: A very bizarre pub, with all sorts of German junk. It is not completely clear to us whether our little touch of homesickness (for lunch we had a Döner Kebab) or expressive wanderlust of the owner was bigger. An absolute highlight was once again the visit to the New York Bar in the Park Hyatt Building. A few days before, we had watched the movie Lost in Translation and now we sat in this dreamlike setting, sipping expensive drinks and enjoying the outstanding view over the glittering metropolis at night. Then we met with Yuta San, an old colleague from my time in Zurich, whom I had not seen for 10 years, in a nice Izakaya. The weather on our last day in Japan was downright unworthy. After the springlike last days, it got disgustingly wet and cold and we therefore decided to leave early for the airport and move on to our next destination, Korea. Another big travel section comes to an end. There are wonderful memories of countless pow days,meetings with old friends from back home, reunion with friends from Japan, endless passing landscapes on the train and the delicious food that we already miss. Nihon, arigatou gozaimasu.