Amazing Japan

Himej Castle

One of the few castles that has never been destroyed, beautiful shrines, temples and gates right in the middle of a modern city, delicious food, that end-of-the-world-feeling: Traveling in Japan certainly was a great experience. And besides Tokyo, Kyoto and the Atomic Bomb Memorial in Hiroshima, there was so much to see on the way.

Traveling by train was a relaxed way to get from Tokyo as far east as Hiroshima, and as far north as Akita and even a little beyond. Trains really do run on time there, and fast. They are way more punctual than in Germany. Pick up a Bento Box, reserve a seat in first class if you are traveling far and with luggage, and enjoy.

Akita (you may know the dog breed with the same name) is an interesting town in the north, and from there, is is just a short trip to Oga, home of a special tradition, Namahage: “Namahage is a tradition folk event, held during New Year’s Eve in Akita Prefecture, Oga peninsula. The Gods of mountain transform into Oni (Orge) form to give punishments.”

These demons come to punish bad behavior at the end of the year

Oga, in winter, with a grey sky and pouring rain, looks like the end of the world, despite some nice houses. You feel as if you are in a hibernating  beach town.

Sendai is a cool town with a modern downtown area, but also ancient shrines and temples. Take the Loople Bus , hop on and off at the sites that of interestto  you, for example, the beautiful Oosaki Hashimangu Shrine , bursting with colors.

Oosaki Hashimangu Shrine, Sendai

From Hiroshima, you can take the boat to get to Itsukushima Island with a wonderful, bright orange shrine, and the famous sea gate. It is super crowded, but worth the trip.

If you take the side streets and move away from the crowd, though, you can have tea in small restaurants or buy beautiful chop sticks to take home.

Speaking of food, it is certainly worth trying a more traditional sushi restaurant, where you sit in a kind of a pit around a table and leave your shoes in wooden lockers at the entrance. By the way, always be prepared to take of your shoes when traveling in Japan…

When traveling in Japan, always be prepared to take off your shoes.

Himeji Castle, of course, is also definitely worth a stop. Lock you luggage in the locker in the train station which is not far from the castle, and take a tour through one of the few castles (pictured on top of this post) that has not been destroyed during the war or by fire.

Another dish to try are the famous pancakes in Hiroshima, Okonomyaki. Prepared right in front of you, and super yummy.

Okonomyaki, super tasty pancakes in Hiroshima

Although Japan is not a Christian nation, you will find many Christmas trees and decorations at this time of the year. The most beautiful ones I saw were the Christmas lights on an avenue  in Hiroshima.

So, Merry Christmas to you, happy holidays, and a Happy New Year.

I’ll be back with more travel pictures and stories in 2019.

Hiroshima & the Atomic Bomb – Never Again

Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku Dome)

Visiting Japan made it painfully clear to me how much of Japan had been destroyed during World War II. Many of the ancient shrines, temples and buildings made of paper and wood were burnt to the ground as a result of American air raids. I had the impression that the Japanese have made great efforts to rebuild most of them since the war. One of the ruins, however, they preserved: The Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima.

Atomic Bomb Dome

The atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima by Americans on August 6, 1944. The war between the two nations began one day after the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor, 77 years ago this week, on December 7th, 1941 – “a date which will live in infamy”, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said when he asked Congress to declare war on Japan.

The building that is now the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, and since 1996 on the UNESCO’s world heritage list, used to be the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. It was the only structure left standing after the bomb exploded.

The toll the nuclear explosion took was devastating. It not only killed tens of thousands of people instantly, many more died and suffered because of the radiation in the years afterwards. Reading about it in the history books is one thing, but seeing the remains of the dome, and visiting the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum a completely different story. It is not for the faint-hearted. The story of pain, suffering and destruction is told through belongings of the victims, painfully drastic pictures of injuries, and testimonials of the survivors. It is a warning and a reminder that this must never happen again.

Former President Obama visited Hiroshima in 2016. The memory of Hiroshima “must never fade”, he said. Many people still suffer from the consequences of the atomic attacks not only in Hiroshima, but also in Nagasaki.

In May 2016, President Barack Obama wrote in the Hiroshima Peace Park guest book: “We have known the agony of war. Let us now find the courage, together, to spread peace, and pursue a world without nuclear weapons.”







Kyoto – Enchanting but Expensive

Kyoto, the old capital of Japan, is a beautiful city with many shrines and temples, and, of course, the Imperial Palace.

It was also the most expensive place to stay on my trip – book early, would be my advice, if you want to get a room in a hotel downtown. And be prepared to stay in the tiniest room you can think of – even if you book the “bigger” one. Mine was 151-sq-foot (14-sq-meter) but I think that included the bathroom. It felt especially small, since you still have virtually every convenience you can think of in a hotel room in there, from water heater to iron to humidifier (no closet, though). Be flexible, is all I can say. Literally.

It is worth it, though.

If you are still jet-lagged and up early – why not take walk or take the bus to the Yasaka Shrine at the end of Shijo Dori Street before the city awakes. You can explore the huge complex, with one temple more beautiful than the other, on your own. The colors are stunning in autumn.


On your way back into the city, you may want to walk along Shirikawa-minami Dori. It is supposedly the prettiest street in Kyoto, and if you are lucky, you see couples in traditional Japanese garb posing for their wedding pictures.

I also visited a little shop close by that has a beautiful exhibition of fabric and art, and sells pieces of traditional kimonos under glass. They are quite durable, and can be used as coasters, or serving plates.

photo: G. Beyer

The shop is called Wa-Glass Ya, and it was located  70 Motoyoshicho, Higashiyama Ward. The website is currently not accessible, but maybe the shop is still there.

And don’t forget to visit Nishiki Market with its many food vendors – maybe you even want to taste the traditional dishes yourself.


Of course, Kyoto has a tower, too – with an impressive train station right next to it.


And last but not least, there is the Imperial Palace. I guess it is a must see, but don’t expect to be alone. Personally, to be honest, I preferred the solitude and hidden charm of the Yasaka Shrine.


PS: Next week, we’ll travel to Hiroshima.


Tokyo – Clean, Safe, and Zen

Two years ago at exactly the same time of the year, I was visiting Japan – and had a great time. Having never been to Asia before, I was a bit worried about not being able to find my way around. But it was really easy, especially in the capital, Tokyo, but also in Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Akita.

In Tokyo, I visited the Imperial Palace (though only from afar, you can’t really go inside) with it’s beautiful gardens, Tokyo Tower, Shibuja Station and Crossing, with dog Hachiko (famous in Japan, everybody has his or her picture taken with it), and the Meiji Shrine,  with its impressive parks, where the gardeners sweep the path to the temple with a broom made out of twigs to keep it free of leaves.

Toilets in Japan can be a challenge

I was impressed by the cleanliness everywhere in Japan – you get a wet towel whenever you eat to wipe  your hands, even if it’s just a coffee and a cake. Toilet seats are sophisticated mechanisms that can be heated, and have lots of buttons – and are a bit intimidating, to be honest.

Suprisingly, there are hardly any trash cans in Japan – they were removed for safety reasons. So you better bring a plastic bag and take your trash back home. Also, there are no paper towels in restrooms. It is custom to have your own little towel at hand – you can buy the plain white cotton ones in every convenience store. I still use the one I brought back home as a wash cloth.

I traveled by train, using the JRPass, which is really the best way to travel in Japan. You have to purchase the pass in advance, in your country of origin, because it is only good for tourists. Plan ahead, because you will get a voucher you have to exchange when you arrive in Japan. The line at the counter at Narita airport was quite long, btw. It was a bit annoying to have to wait to get the rail pass after the long flight, but once you have your pass, you are good to go, even on the Shinkansen, the super fast train.

Also, I felt very safe everywhere. The crime rate in Japan is really low.

And I really enjoyed all the little parks and temples that seem to be splattered around town – you can find your inner zen there and take a break from the city’s rush.

Here are some impressions from Tokyo – next Sunday, we will travel to Kyoto.