Student taken with trip to Tokyo

The Kamakura Daibutsu, a huge statute of the Buddha in Kamakura city southwest of Tokyo, is one of many popular destinations in and around Tokyo for foreign tourists and domestic weekenders alike. Photo by Eilis Donohue/The Miscellany News
The Kamakura Daibutsu, a huge statute of the Buddha in Kamakura city southwest of Tokyo, is one of many popular destinations in and around Tokyo for foreign tourists and domestic weekenders alike.  Photo by Eilis Donohue/The Miscellany News
The Kamakura Daibutsu, a huge statute of the Buddha in Kamakura city southwest of Tokyo, is one of many popular destinations in and around Tokyo for foreign tourists and domestic weekenders alike. Photo by Eilis Donohue

If you have one week to go any­where, halfway around the world may not be the most logical choice, but it certainly is an exciting one. Over October break, I went to visit my older sister in Tokyo, who, after graduating college, decided to pick up and move to Japan to teach English. I had not seen her in nine months, and was excited to see both her and a city–and region of the world–that were completely new to me.

I don’t think I was fully prepared for the unfamiliarity of it all. Not since I was a toddler have I experi­enced such complete and utter igno­rance when looking at a street sign or nutrition facts; yet in Japan, I found myself searching fruitlessly for mean­ing in the words all around me. My helplessness to communicate in most situations was both scary and exhilarating. By the end of the week, however, I could find my way around on the subways and through the neighborhood where I was staying, and even recognize some words and characters.

We spent much of the week wandering through different neighborhoods in and around the prefecture. There was no shortage of mar­kets, gardens and festivals to explore. We ate taiyaki, a lightly sweet fish-shaped pancake filled with red beans, in the crowded market streets of Ameya Yokocho; explored vast, lush, manicured gardens tucked right into the city­scape; and learned about the birth of Zen Bud­dhism at the National Museum. We paid a visit to the Kamakura Daibutsu, the Great Buddha, a stately and serene statue in the center of a temple courtyard. We even spent a little time relaxing on a beach, wading in the suprisingly balmy Pacific.

 

Kinkakuji, or the Golden Temple, is one of the most famous temples in Kyoto, a city west of Tokyo known for its abundance of Buddhist temples and stunning nature. Photo by Eilis Donohue
Kinkakuji, or the Golden Temple, is one of the most famous temples in Kyoto, a city
west of Tokyo known for its abundance of Buddhist temples and stunning nature. Photo by Eilis Donohue

Shops were also gearing up for Hallow­een, excitedly advertising pastries shaped like ghosts and cats. The air was cool and the at­mosphere celebratory; a lot of festivals take place in the fall, including one centered around pickled daikon radishes, which we made sure to sample.

One day we set out to climb up Mount Takao, just a short and scenic train ride from the city, with the intent of catching a glimpse of the famed Mount Fuji from the peak–the only way we, recreational hikers at best, would experi­ence the highest mountain in the country (at least this time around). By the time we reached the summit, Fuji had receded into the clouds, but the view of the surrounding dusky blue mountain ranges was worth it.

Trying to fit everything there is to do in To­kyo into one week was folly, but we did our best to hit the must-see destinations. On my second to last day, we took the Shinkansen, the so-called bullet train, through the countryside to Kyoto, a city famous for its abundance of Buddhist temples. It was a Friday, which in Jap­anese is translated as “gold day;” we joined the throngs of elementary schoolers and foreign visitors to see the Kinkakuji, the famous Gold­en Temple–a building completely gilded to its eaves, and set back from eager sightseers on a little island on a lake. I wish I had had longer to explore Tokyo, but I feel incredibly lucky to have had just a little taste of the most populated city in the world.

Small shrines punctuate the landscape in gardens and residential neighborhoods. The architecture of Tokyo neighborhoods makes use of limited space, with bars and cafes tucked into every corner.
Small shrines punctuate the landscape in gardens and residential neighborhoods. The architecture of Tokyo neighborhoods makes use of limited space, with bars and cafes tucked into every corner. Photo by Eilis Donohue
Locals and tourists browse food stalls at a street fair. Festivals in Tokyo are often centered around a temple or shrine, combining religious celebration, food, art and merchandise.
Locals and tourists browse food stalls at a street fair. Festivals in Tokyo are often centered around a temple or shrine, combining religious celebration, food, art and merchandise.Photo by Eilis Donohue

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