Soon after my wife Kayo and I were married in Tokyo I was reassigned from Camp Otsu in Japan to Fort Rucker, Alabama. Kayo had a mountain of paperwork to complete before she could join me in Alabama. About three months later she arrived by ship in Seattle where my parents and I met her.
We left Seattle around 11 a.m. and as the sun dropped low in the western sky that afternoon as we were in southern Oregon Kayo said to me “Are we about to your parent’s home?” I smiled and said “No, we’ll be there in about three days.” It was hard to realize how large the country was after living the first 22 years of her life in the relatively small island nation of Japan.
This week, I want to go in the other direction and take you on an imaginary trip through Japan to visit several different cities, but also to give you an imaginary experience of traveling through Japan by train. We’ll start our journey as we arrive at Narita International Airport northeast of Tokyo. After clearing customs we’ll board our first train in the airport to go to Tokyo. Actually, if one is going to travel by train for a week or so in Japan it’s a good idea to purchase a Japan Rail Pass in their home country through the Japan Travel Bureau (JTB) USA in our case and we’ll assume we did that so we’ll exchange the rail pass voucher for the actual rail pass at the train station and we’re ready to go to Tokyo.
The distance is 48 miles and will take 54 minutes according to my Japan Railways schedule booklet. There’s plenty to see in Tokyo, much of which appeals to younger people, so we’ll spend we’ll spend one day seeing a few major sites and move on. After spending the night we’ll visit places such as the Imperial Palace, the Ginza shopping district, the Tokyo National Museum or the National Science Museum, Hama-Rikyu Imperial Gardens, Asakusa electronics and camera shops and Tokyo Tower. In the evening we might try a yakitori restaurant or go to a kabuki theater. The next morning we’ll board a “bullet train” to Odawara.
We have a choice between two classes of trains, The Kodama, the local class which stops at every station, and the Hikari which stops at fewer stations but not all Hikari trains stop at the same stations. Our best choice according to my schedule booklet is Hikari 365 which leaves Tokyo at 8:36 a.m. and at Odawara at 9:10 a.m. after making one stop at Yokohama. The distance is 83.9 km or about 50 miles, with at least half the distance being very heavily developed. The last 20 miles or so is near the Pacific coast so there are glimpses of the ocean on the left and a range of mountains on the right.
At Odawara we change trains to a local private line which will take us to the mountain resort town of Gora in Fuji-Hakone National. When we get off the train at Gora which is well up in the mountains we will walk through the station and board a cable car which will take us to the top of the mountain.
After getting off the cable car we’ll walk over to a ropeway system which will take us across the “valley of smoke” with dozens of active geysers down to the shore of beautiful alpine Lake Ashi where we’ll board a replica of the old tall sailing ships which will take us across the lake. As we cross the lake we’ll have a really nice view of Mt. Fuji. This view is my screen saver picture on my computer.
After lunch in the small resort town of Hikone on the opposite side of the lake we’ll take the train back to Odawara and catch the 2:10 bullet train to Nagoya, arriving in Nagoya at 3:23. Our train to Takayama leaves at 3:43 so we’ll need to hurry a little to get to the right platform to board that local express train which will arrive in the mountain resort city of Takayama, surrounded by towering mountains, at 5:24. After a good night’s sleep we’ll two places in Takayama, Takayama Old Town or Hida Takayama and Takayama’s Hida Folk Village.
Hida Takayama is an area that has been beautifully preserved since the Edo Period which dates from 1600 AD.
The streets are lined with many old homes, coffee houses, sake shops souvenir shops and many other kinds of shops, many selling wooden souvenirs, some caved and some assembled.
We have a carved piece of an old man carved in one of the shops in Hida Takayama given to us as a wedding gift by an elderly gentleman from whom we rented a room for a short time after we were married more than 63 years ago. In the afternoon we’ll visit Hida Folk Village where there a collection of centuries old thatched roof houses taken there from throughout. It’s an amazing collection in a beautiful setting.
After spending the night in Takayama we’ll continue on across the island to the Sea of Japan coast to the city of Kanazawa, sometimes called “Little Kyoto” because of its rich, centuries old cultural development similar to Kyoto. In Kanazawa we’re going to visit the ruins of Kanazawa Castle, one of the largest in feudal Japan, The old samurai quarter, the Shima geisha house, and Kenrokuen Garden, one of Japan’s three most celebrated, or three best, gardens. Many in Japan describe it as their favorite garden. We’ll have dinner in one of Kanazawa’s seafood restaurants near the seafood market. After spending the night in Kanazawa we’ll board the 8:05 a.m. train to Kyoto. The train follows the Sea of Japan coast to near Tsuruga where we go through a several miles long tunnel and soon Lake Biwa, the largest inland lake in Japan comes into view and after following the coastline of the lake for about 40 miles we pass through Otsu and on into Kyoto arriving at 10:11 a.m. After checking into the New Miyako Hotel near the station we’’ set out to see the sights of Kyoto starting with nearby Toji Temple founded in 796 AD, where we can see the tallest wooden structure in Japan, the 5-story pagoda at Toji Temple. The rest of the day we’ll visit Kiyomizu Temple, Kinkaku-ji Temple or the Golden Pavilion, Nijo Castle, visit a Ninja house and take a stroll along the Philosopher’s Walk, a cherry-tree lined path which follows a canal which meanders along the base of the Higashiyama Range to the east perhaps visiting a couple of the several temples and shrines along the path. In the evening we may stroll through the geisha district, attend a Noh drama or take part in the tea ceremony.
On our last day of travel we’ll visit Kameoka. We’ll go to Saga station in western Kyoto, board the Romantic Train which will take us to Kameoka through the Hozu River Gorge so we can enjoy the mountain scenery. In Kameoka we’ll make a courtesy visit to the mayor’s office, then visit Anao-ji Temple, Kameoka’s most famous temple, Izumo Shrine which dates from the year 709 AD and the former OSU-K campus, then board a boat for a float trip down the Hozu River back to Kyoto. In the evening we’ll have a farewell sukiyaki dinner at the hotel or have dinner at Kayo’s nephew’s well-known French restaurant. After last minute shopping in the morning at shops around Kyoto station or underground we’ll board a train which will take us to Kansai International Airport located on a manmade island in Osaka Bay for our flight back to the U.S.. It’s received awards and acclaim for its design and engineering as well as its functional layout and eye appeal. I hope you’ve enjoyed our journey
Larry Jones is a member of the Stillwater Sister Cities Council.