A Sunday Afternoon in the ByWard Market (Ottawa)

A Sunday Afternoon in the ByWard Market (Ottawa)

Tokyo feels much more like a regular big city than the other Japanese cities we have visited so far. And when I say big city, I mean a city with dozens of districts, crazy shopping, and Time Square-like lights and billboards. To be honest, I miss the beauty of Kyoto with its traditional ways and simple beauty.

I haven’t mentioned yet how smoking is still quite prevalent in Japan, and it feels like this is even more noticeable in Tokyo. Every restaurant has a smoking area (although enclosed) and so do trains!! There are still smoking wagons on every train which is very odd for North Americans.

Also, in Tokyo, the Japanese do not seem to follow the same etiquette as in Hiroshima, Kyoto, Nara or even Nikko. We have been refused entry in many restaurants which did not seem reserved and were certainly not full. I have felt, on more than one occasion, like the locals preferred not to deal with us. We are far from boisterous and are always very polite, so I’m not sure what problem they see with us, but in the end, we simply do not feel welcome.

And, there is the problem of rubbish. This is not a Tokyo problem, but a Japan one where bins or recycling containers simply cannot be found. There are some, although very few, in stations and are solely for the purpose of recycling your plastic bottles. We have gathered that eating in public is not acceptable so if bins are to be found, they will be right beside a vending machine or restaurant. But, what is really startling is that everything you buy, and I really mean everything, is individually wrapped in plastic and then put in plastic bags, so rubbish accumulates quite quickly and for tourists on the go, our pockets are full to the brink every single day. There must be a more ecological way to buy groceries and trinkets, but we haven’t found it yet.

Furthermore, we are not sleeping well. Since everything is so expensive in Japan, we had to find more affordable accommodations which meant we would be going the Japanese-style route with mats on the floor. What seemed like a fun idea at the time became a sort of body torture after a few nights. In Hiroshima, we had some sort of mattress on the floor so although it was hard getting up and down, once down, we slept fairly well. In Kyoto, we had a kind of box spring on a bed frame but as we had extra futons, we piled them up on our beds and slept quite comfortably. But in Tokyo… we only have a very soft, very thin futon that is directly on hardwood floors. I have bruises on both my hips from sleeping this way and my whole body feels like knotted muscles every morning.

I really am trying my best to enjoy every minute of this trip, especially as chances are very high that I will not come back to Japan and that since our daughter is starting University next September, she may not be as inclined to travel with us in the future. This being said, I realize that when one is not sleeping well, everything else is that much more difficult.

We have had some amazing adventures in Tokyo, but was I to redo this trip, I believe I would find a homestay in another city and travel as a day-trip to Tokyo, even doing it twice if I felt like it. With bullet trains and great ground transportation, it is easy and quick enough to travel from one city to the next. (And we have found a teleport station in Tokyo so travel can really be lightning fast 🙂 ). This is my opinion, of course, as I’m sure others would prefer the big city lights on a daily basis to a more subdued area, weary bones or not haha.

Kyoto is an enchanted city with its beautifully manicured gardens and perfectly presented time-honoured Geiko. Not many traditions have withstood the test of time like that of the Geisha culture which has roots in the 18th Century.

On our first night in Kyoto, we went on a guided tour of the Gion district where we learned about this culture, be it rather quickly. Kyoto is the heart of the Geisha world and here, in Kyoto, Geisha are called Geiko. We learned about how the apprentice period when they are called Maiko, is brutal but necessary in order to preserve this tradition in its purest form.

I realized that many Japanese girls aspire to become a Geiko which, to many westerners, have a somewhat sexual and negative connotation. Here, they are the epitome of perfection and are treated like Hollywood stars, hence the attraction for young girls.

I also love the fact that most Japanese, or so it seems, have a very flexible and inclusive view of religion. They are surrounded by Shinto Shrines and Buddhist Temples with a touch of Catholicism to close the loop. Our guide herself came from a Buddhist father and a mother who’s family would trek to Shinto Shrines every day to ask the gods for prosperity while she, herself, went to a strict Catholic school. I believe it is the fact that they are surrounded by so many gods that this society is so accepting when it comes to others believing in another specific god.

We have visited several shrines and have asked for health, beauty and prosperity, all in the name of living like a local. And those treks to shrines are not to be taken lightly. For those who choose a daily shrine visit, there is absolutely no need for the gym. Most shrines are constructed on hills and you must climb several flights of steps to get to the main gate.

Also in the name of local traditions, we attended a tea ceremony in full kimono attire then went for a samurai experience where we dressed as ninjas and had lessons in katana fighting, ninja star & blowdart throwing. We all loved it. Their technique is flawless and they are amazing teachers. We all would have taken hours of training had it been possible.

And this is thanks to Marc, our friend with whose family we are traveling, for I don’t think we would have gone for such a thing as a samurai experience had it only been our family. But as Marc had done a lot of research prior to this trip, we know that this was the best and most accurate place to try such an experience.

On the other side of this coin, we have also been finding it a bit difficult to follow his full schedule, trying to keep up with the busy pace, not wanting to disappoint anyone. I seem, however, to be disappointing many as I am much more exhausted than normal and quick to get upset when I have to run at someone else’s request. This being said, I strongly believe I should be more patient (I did buy a ‘patience’ amulet hoping it will help 🙂 and accepting, especially when following a large group. We are the ones who chose to leave the planning in someone else’s hands and we now have to contend with it. I really hope our friendship will survive.

As I am writing this, I am sitting in a train bound for Tokyo. In Tokyo, my family will have its own apartment, one, however, with beds on the floor as well as a traditional kitchen with cushions on tatami mats.