The Land of the Rising Sun (2018)

‘THE LAND OF THE RISING SUN!’

Since the last time this newspaper hit the shelves, I used our time off in August to tick another place of the list with a 9,000 kilometer trip to a place I’ve always wanted to visit – Japan. And most thankfully it certainly didn’t disappoint.

By Jonathan Foley 

Even with the twenty hours it took to get there and with the fact that an unseasonable heatwave as well as the threat of looming typhoons, this was without the best place I’ve ever visited so far. And here’s why.

As we all know, Japan is a country rich in culture that juxtaposes the traditional world with that of fast-paced modernity and technology. In Letterkenny, people are already well used to such Asian foods like Chinese and Indian, but a sampling of Japanese delicacies is highly recommended. Out of this world! 

Upon arrival at Narita International Airport, I had a few days to explore the capital city of Tokyo. I was amazed at how reliable and quick the rail transportation was, how immaculately clean the streets were and how courteous and polite the hospitality of the natives was. 

On my first night in the city, I wandered around taking in the sights and sounds. For dinner, a reliable curry was ordered and, God save me, I nearly fell off my stool at how savory and tantalizing it was; even if it was a dish I’d ordered countless times before. 

I was too young to remember but my mum once told me that when I was a toddler, our family went on a trip to the Isle of Mann. ‘Mammy Jean’ recalled that as rocky as the boat journey was, I caused little fuss (times have changed!) as I’d become mesmerized by the lights off in this distance.

Perhaps that was a subconscious thought within me the following evening when I wandered around the streets of Shinjuku where the city’s neon lights illuminate the sky in a most eye catching and spectacular manner. So much so that New York City’s Times Square would be envious of it.

The more traditional side of Japanese culture was experienced when I left the capital on a bullet-train for a small town called Takayama. A quiet town but certainly a place to appreciate the older customs of the country. 

The buildings were of a typical Japanese architecture with their slanted roofs and sliding doors, dining took place with chopsticks and sitting on the floor while while onsen baths were a lovely bit of relaxation; especially after having spent a humid night sleeping on the floor in a traditional robe. 

Maybe it’s only the Nineties Kids who will get this but for anyone who ever played Street Fighter II on the games consoles, it was like hanging out in Ryu’s gaf (background in his stage) before spending the morning at E. Honda’s bath-house. Best way I can describe it really. 

In Kyoto, three days were spent sleeping in a capsule – in fairness it was some size – as well as heading off to explore the bamboo forest, the golden shrines and the Fushimi-Inari gates. All great stuff but the heat was a challenge, I have to say. 

This part of the trip was also a wonderful opportunity to reunite with an old friend as my classmate at university and still a proud Carrigart woman, Evelyn Cullen and I reacquainted for dinner, drinks and a good aul catch up. 

She’s been living there for two years now and it was heartening for us two to gab away in our dulcet Donegal tones in a city so far away from home. We even pulled out the green and gold flag and gave a rendition of ‘The Hills of Donegal’ for the locals.

After we said our goodbyes, I was back on the road again towards Hiroshima and later Osaka. The former was a nice place and what was noticeable was how new it was but of course, that’s due to recovery system they put in place, after the USA’s atomic bomb attack there in 1945.

For its part, Osaka was a very eye-catching city too. It’s not as well known as Tokyo but it’s just as clean, polite and maybe even a bit more laid-back than the capital. And the karaoke bars are great craic even if I did butcher a few Westlife and Vengaboys numbers. 

Overall, one of the best things about visiting Japan is its safety. Crime rates are very low and I myself had a bemusing moment at the world famous Shibuya Crossing – the busiest junction in the world with 3,000 people (on average) crossing it at each light change. 

I’d sat down for a breather to watch the crowds, left my glasses down and walked off without them. Moments later, I rushed back through the crowds in the hope they were still there. 

Not only were they still there but some kindly soul had spotted them, folded them up properly and I think even cleaned the lenses for me. There they were. Sitting perfectly well and perfectly safe. 

It’s also a great place to channel your inner-geek if you love gaming, gadgets and arcades but top of the list has to be their courteousness. They never hassle or pester you to buy anything and will help you in anyway they can. Bowing and smiling as they do so. 

Vivid memories  for me are of people helping me navigate the subway system or when ordering food in restaurants, but most of all, I’ll never forget watching rival baseball players – in a professional game one night in Hiroshima – bowing graciously at one another every time an opponent did something right like reach a base, for example.

As I quipped to a friend in a text at the time “there’s something ya might not see when the Club Championship starts at home next month!” A safe, fulfilling and spiritually uplifting adventure. If you ever get a chance to go there, definitely do it. 

Arigato zaim ashitia!