This isn’t the end of my travels, but this is the concluding blog post for my 2017 trip around the world. Starting in Dubai on January 4th, and ending in Tokyo December 22nd, I’m so lucky to have been able to travel like this and I hope to continue adventuring.
Holly and I returned to Kishiwada from our Hiroshima/Himeji adventure pretty tired, hoping to take a day or two to rest since we were already approaching the home stretch. I thought I might take the opportunity to jump on the train with my JR pass to see some other nearby towns, but my eagerness to finally go home and general travel fatigue had me lazing around the house instead. On one of those days, our exceedingly gracious hosts took us out for another Japanese dinner. I believe this was “yakiniku,” since we had meat that we cooked over a charcoal fire in the middle of the table.
When I was in Japan in 2004, I got slightly burned by some oil that was being used to cook lobsters in front of our table. This time, I got hit by a few sparks from the fire; so now I think it’s a tradition that I get literally burned whenever I visit Japan.
The food is worth it.
In my opinion, the restaurant meals were just as amazing as what Kaori was feeding us at home!
Our next journey took us to the city in Japan I was most excited to visit: Nara.
Since Hisako lives here, we were able to meet up and spend the day together as she showed us around the city.
Nara is a very cool place, and is particularly notable for the many deer that wander the streets.
Our first major stop was at Tōdai-ji, the “Eastern Great Temple.” We entered through the Great South Gate.
Tōdai-ji was impressive. Not only is it one of the largest wooden buildings in the world, it also contains the largest bronze Buddha statue in the world.
There was no point during my year of travel that I felt like I had seen it all, and as one of the final stops Nara showed quite clearly that there is always so much more to see. There are many countries that I would love to return to, and many more I’d like to explore for the first time. I frequently wondered as I travelled which places I would return to, and which ones I’d never see again. If I never return to a place, did I make the most of my one visit? Did I see enough to be satisfied?
I’m not even sure if a travel lifestyle is what I really want either. I want to see as much of the world as I can, but I feel like I’m forever saying “goodbye for now” to my friends. On the other hand, travelling allowed me to meet amazing people I wouldn’t get the chance to meet if I had stayed home. For the first time in my life, I’ve gone a full year not seeing some of my best friends in person, and I’m wondering if I have to get used to it.
The years 710CE to 794CE are known as the Nara Period in Japan, because Nara was the capital for most of that time. This explains why there are so many historically significant sites here. With the addition of over 1,200 wild deer roaming around, Nara certainly stands out as a unique and beautiful experience.
As we began our approach to Kasuga Grand Shrine, we began to see lanterns in abundance. There are in fact over 3000 lanterns here, which are only lit for certain festivals. It is a Shinto shrine, and is surrounded by the Kasuga Primeval Forest. The forest has been largely undisturbed since 841CE due to the sacred nature of the area.
Continuing our beautiful walk through the expansive Nara Park, we came upon a pond. Having walked for most of the day, we were happy to sit there for a little while looking at the fish swimming by and the deer wandering along the shore. Nara was easily my favourite city to explore in Japan.
The sun was beginning to go down and we had been walking for a while, so we decided to call it a day at this point and found ourselves a cafe. After the cafe we went to a Japanese grocery store because Holly was curious and wanted to see if there was any tonkatsu sauce being sold.
We then sadly said goodbye to our friend Hisako, who we had a fantastic day with. It was difficult to say goodbye. I need to go back to Japan.
Returning that night from Nara, Holly and I were tired and glad we had a day between then and when we would be leaving for Tokyo. We decided to finish our Nara day off right; we spent the rest of the evening with a bottle of wine, playing cards and singing Disney songs in the living room.
It was then time for another sad goodbye. On the morning of the 17th, Kaori and Nobuko took Holly and me out for breakfast before seeing us onto our train into Osaka. Not only was it incredible to see Hisako, Kaori, and Nobuko after so many years, but they made Holly and my trip to Japan far better than we could have hoped to alone. To have lifelong friends as kind and caring as they are, I am truly lucky.
From the central station in Osaka we took our final Shinkansen to Tokyo. We were able to see Mount Fuji on the way!
We arrived in Tokyo in the early evening, dropped our stuff at the cheap hotel we had booked, and went out to dinner with Kaori’s son Yoshinori and his family. They brought us to a shabu-shabu restaurant, so once again I was in heaven.
Since Holly and I are both anime fans, our first Tokyo adventure was to Akihabara, which is the place to be for anime and manga! Holly got some Christmas shopping done, and we both got some stuff for ourselves.
We were pretty tired of being tightly packed into trains, so we opted to walk to Ueno Park on foot through Ameyoko Market. Holly got herself a crepe on the way through, and looked to be thoroughly enjoying herself that day.
The sun was setting, and we were pleased that we had found a relatively peaceful place, so we wandered through the park and down to Shinobazu Pond to see the shrine there.
We weren’t looking for anything in particular, which I find is one of the best ways to find something interesting, when we came across the shrine Ueno Tōshō-gū. A Tōshō-gū is a shrine built to honour the memory of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate which began Japan’s Edo period. Edo is the former name of Tokyo, and was made Tokugawa Ieyasu’s headquarters in 1603. It got the name Tokyo in 1868 when the Meiji period began and the capital was officially moved from Kyoto to Tokyo.
There was a memorial here to the victims of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima with an eternal flame burning that is said to have been lit from the fires the bomb created.
The next day we had planned to see two things, the Imperial Palace and Tokyo Tower.
The Imperial Palace grounds were nice to walk, but it seems we were hoping for too much when we thought we might see an Imperial Palace. The closest we got was a half view of some government looking buildings through a hedge. For me it was kinda worth it in the end though, because hearing Holly rant about how much she enjoyed the Imperial Hedge made my day.
From there we made our way to Tokyo Tower. Was I interested in seeing a communications tower or going up to an observation deck? Absolutely not, but that’s not all there is to Tokyo Tower. Tokyo Tower is the home of the One Piece theme park, restaurant, and stores. One Piece is one of my favourite anime, so I may or may not have brought home some One Piece mugs from the Mugiwara store.
We returned to our hotel area, and ended the night happily eating tonkatsu at a restaurant that happened to have the entirety of the One Piece and Naruto manga on a shelf by the door.
Holly gave us a fun mission to accomplish the next day: find a Japanese pancake restaurant. I think we ended up taking 3 trains to get there, but we had time and were determined to find quality pancakes.
On our final night, we were taken out to dinner by Kaori’s other son Shinya and his girlfriend. We went to a kushikatsu place, which was perfect because Holly was unable to try it back in Kishiwada. The restaurant basically consisted of a bar that circled a small cooking area, and was filled with Japanese businessmen. The food was excellent, and the company even better.
Just like that, it was time to go home.
Holly was done her first overseas adventure, and I am honoured that she chose to face that challenge with me.
My sister drove me to the airport January 4th so I could catch my plane to Dubai, and she was waiting for me with Holly’s sister December 23rd when we arrived home.
After a year of travelling and finding my way through 45 countries, I can confidently say that it was the people I met or reunited with along the way that made it worthwhile.
This concludes my year abroad, but not my travels. 2018 has more adventures in store, and I will continue to share them here. Thank you so much for reading.
I hope it was an enjoyable read, because living it was amazing.