Sharman and I returned from Japan one month ago today. I would've preferred to have written this post earlier, while the trip was still very fresh in my mind but unfortunately, life got in the way. Since returning to HK, I've started my new job, commenced my second year of university and have had two friends visit. It's been a good but crazy month and I haven't had time to fully reflect on the highlight of my summer.
This trip was my first trip to Japan, though certainly not my last. We were there for two weeks and for much of the time, I was toying with the idea of what it may be like to live there. It's beautiful, varied, filled with friendly people and well...has baseball.
Our trip in a nutshell was: Osaka -> Tokyo -> Hakone -> Kanazawa -> Kyoto -> Nara. We covered a triangle outlining Central Honshu, the largest and most populous island of the country. Six places, all with their own personality.
Instead of writing a play-by-play of our trip as I've done so many times, I'd like to try to recall the five most glorious moments of the trip. In chronological order.
1. Nippon Professional Baseball Game
Without a doubt, this was the event I was most excited about before the trip even began. We saw a home game of Japan's worst team, the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, who took on the Hiroshima Carp at Meiji Jingu Stadium. It was similar enough to MLB that it gave me the baseball fix I've been craving for three years, but different enough that I could view it as an ethnobaseballcologist (bear with me on the word invention). The Swallows came away with the victory, at and the end of the game saluted the fans like actors at the end of a performance. This whole day was even better for having a visit with my old college friend Cali, who lives in nearby Chiba. Good times all around!
2. Japanese Baseball Museum and Hall of Fame
Let's just get the baseball ones out of the way first. This was a museum we almost didn't go to, so I'm very thankful fate twisted our way. I found every room in the museum fascinating. From the history of baseball worldwide, to Japan's achievements in the game, to the Hall class of 2014, to reading through many of the different plaques of enshrined players. One of the players to go in this year was former Mariner Kazuhiro Sasaki, so seeing a player I have fond memories of honored in his country's most prestigious way was quite a treat.
3. Resorpia Hakone
We stayed at one fairly nice hotel on our trip for two nights and the hospitality itself ended up being the highlight of our stay in Hakone, partially because we never got a clear view of Mount Fuji. The Hakone area is renowned for it's onsen, which are essentially hot tubs using naturally heated geothermal water. There was something about a delicious shabu shabu dinner wearing Japanese garb, followed by a soak in the onsen that put me in a heavenly state.
Super artsy Kanazawa was one of our favorite places and the Kenroku-en garden was the city's main highlight. We went on a day with perfect weather yet somehow, despite its ranking as one of the country's three great gardens, it was not overrun with tourists. In terms of pictures per hour, the three we spent here probably rank tops on the trip. Around every corner was a glorious eye feast of greenery, water and harmonious arrangement.
We spent one of our Kyoto afternoons traveling around the Arashiyama district. Here we saw the magical Bamboo Grove, which is stranger and more beautiful than fiction. After that, we walked around what was probably my second favorite garden after Kenroku-en, the Ohkouchi Sanso Garden. Denjiro Okochi was a movie star in early samurai films, who used his riches to design a beautiful Eden-like surrounding for his Kyoto home. Not only was it a gorgeous stroll, the garden provided the best panoramic view we ever had of the city. To end the day, we walked around a lovely riverside park and ate some scrumptious Japanese barbecue.
Despite the richness of our two weeks, I felt like I only got a small taste of what the country has to offer. I will return soon, Nippon.