East Bound

I traveled to Japan in late March, with my wife and son, to visit my oldest son who is living over there. It was an incredible, nearly three-week journey that left us with impressions that will last a lifetime. We spent four days in Tokyo (including a day trip up into the mountains, to Nikko), followed by a couple of nights and a full day in the mountain craft center of Takayama. From there we moved to Osaka, day-tripping to Nara and Kyoto. Then it was a couple of nights and a full day in Hiroshima — a very sobering place to be — and four days in the western Kyushu town of Omura, where my son lives. From there we also visited Nagasaki, about one hour away by train.

We went nearly everywhere by train — local train, subway and bullet train. The trains are often crowded, but the crowds are quietly polite rather than boisterous. We rode in a few cabs — every one immaculate, the drivers all dressed in business suits and very courteous.

The cities were very clean. Trash and litter were hard to find.

We ate like kings, though not high on the hog. To find lunch or dinner we would just wander the streets and side-streets of wherever we were until we found a place that suited us — usually a very small, hole-in-the-wall noodle shop — and the food was always excellent. We enjoyed the places that used ticket machines — outside, or just inside the entrance there would be a machine with pictures and descriptions of the menu. You insert the proper amount of yen, push the button of your choice, and the machine offers a ticket. Give the ticket to the chef, and within a couple of minutes your food is delivered to your table or spot at the counter.

No tips — not anywhere, not for anything. Stuff costs what it costs, and that’s it.

We were lucky that our trip coincided with the brief bloom of cherry blossoms —  sakura  – in western Japan (they were blooming in Tokyo, too, by the time we got back there). With my sons friends and associates we experienced hanami —  literally, “flower viewing”, a picnic under the cherry trees. Actually yozakura, since it was at nightime. Very beautiful, and the food and sake were excellent as well.

I saw some woodworking and furniture, but nothing like what I had hoped to see. I guess I have to plan another trip, this time just to find and meet furniture and tool makers. I can’t wait!


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