The usual reception in the land of the rising sun is not a warm hug or a pat on the back. Instead, it is a polite greeting, through which you receive a sophisticated business card. This is how Japan introduces itself while offering us its kind welcome.
The ancient town of Takayama was our first destination after we hurriedly saw Tokyo on a shinkansen (high speed train). We arrived in town in the evening and spent the night in the cold lodgings of a temple, hoping the monks’ old heating wouldn’t die.
After we woke up we bazzled at the sight of the town covered by a mantle of fresh snow. It looked as if time went back for centuries: monks busy sweeping the entrance floor and little shops selling huge ammounts of sake to people trying to warm up. We explored the town and in the evening, after resting our feet in a thermal spring, we tried the unkown local food in a restaurant where nobody could speak a word in English. Noticing we were in trouble, the merry gang of customers at the table close to ours allowed us to try their meals and so, among delicious food and weird conversetions in Nippo-Italian-English, we discovered the joyful face of Japan, hidden behind formalism and composure.
The journey continued fast on the shinkansen towards Kyoto and the first impact with the ancient imperial capital was quite shocking after the quieteness in Takayama: a huge metropolis with historical treasures behind every corner. It was the beginning of the new year and many Japanese people were still wearing their traditional clothes. Red lamps were everywhere and at nightfall everything brightened up, leaving us dazzled by the contrast of Japan’s two souls: modernity and tradition.
Kyoto is a town with many sides: there are the huge shopping malls, where sweets are wrapped like jewels, and then there are thousands of temples crowded by feasty believers. Kyoto is the silence in its bamboo woods and it is the many crowded buses, the zen gardens and the high-tech bathrooms. Before we could even start to understand its many contrasts we were already on the road towards Hiroshima.
At our arrival our mind was crossed by scenes of war and destruction. But truly the town was peaceful and did not remind us of its hurtful past until we reached Genbaku Domu, the atomic bomb dome, a creepy skeleton of what has been. From there on, we went on slowly, silently, stopping in front of the flame of peace and entering the Peace Memorial Museum, the eyes fulll of tears and a single thought echoeing in our heads: “Never again!”
Thoughtful, we continued towards traditional Japan’s pearl: Miyajima island. The sight of its red torii (the traditional door) welcomed us and the whole sanctuary was like floating on the sea. We ended our trip with a relaxing bath in an onsen (hot spring) and a walk to mount Misen to have a look at the amazing landscape. We were ready for our next destination: Tokyo.
The Japanese capital city surprised and conquered us: the crowd at Shibuya‘s intersection, the Imperial Palace, the fish market at dawn and the electronics hub. The town is a dedalo of underground rails where dark lolitas and serious clerks coexist with statues of cartoon characters.
To enjoy Tokyo you have to walk through it, maybe with a hot cup of soba or an Italian gelato bought in the European corner in Omote-Sando. Tokyo also is the majestic Fujiyama, whose beauty really deserves a closer look in Hakone, where it mirrors itself in the lake.
Comeback was close, but not so close we had not time for a last bowl of ramen and for greeting the land of the rising sun with a glass of sake before leaving.