Photography and Words Alifiya S.
Gently swaying in the wind, a flower came to rest on my palm. Upon close examination, this delicate flower had a pale pink pigment in comparison to the vividly coloured flowers I was used to seeing back in my country. Curious, we walked and followed these fallen petals and it felt as though nature had unfolded its own wonder, like a curtain lifting to show the final performer on a stage. Our gaze fell upon a row of neatly arranged trees, blooming with the very same pink flowers, which added a conspicuous element of splendour to the garden. This pink flower, also known as Sakura, is the national flower of Japan.
Philosopher’s Path, Kyoto
Osaka Castle Vicinity, Osaka
My husband and I chose to embark on a trip to Japan during the Sakura season. I remember discussing intensely, the choice of a country that would be cemented as the choice for our first trip together as a couple forever. I grew up watching Studio Ghibli (which is the Japanese equivalent of Disney Pixar) and reading books by a Japanese author, Haruki Murakami. Very much enchanted, I was adamant that our choice be The Land of the Rising Sun.
Japan is a country of magnificence. One will be familiar with household brands such as Sony and Panasonic which speak of the country’s leading front for technological innovations. It is not just known for its megacities, with colourful neon signs, but like a circulatory system, it electrifies the city’s arteries with its world-renowned bullet trains.
Dotonbori District, Oskaka
Japan is a contemporary country. In contrast to its first-world cities, the outskirts and villages have preserved the Old Japan, where one can feel the aspects of the Japanese culture. On one hand, it may impress the city lovers, however, in equal part, it does not disappoint art lovers.
Exhibits at Hakone Open Air Museum, Hakone
As a tourist, sightseeing at scenic places is like the main dish in an array of courses. The appetizer, in this case, was the hospitality of the people. Once, my husband and I were lost and our portable WiFi router ran out of battery. Unable to connect to Google Maps, we stumbled upon a group of schoolboys who were having lunch and asked them for directions. Hoping that they would be able to communicate in English, we tried to explain our destination. They gave us a puzzled look, packed up their lunch swiftly and requested to walk with us to the destination. Feeling embarrassed about disrupting their lunch, my husband and I insisted that a verbal explanation would suffice. Determined not to misguide us because of our language barrier, they ushered us for about twenty minutes before bidding us farewell. We were overwhelmed with gratitude. Similar acts of kindness followed us throughout our journey. Just like how an appetizer stimulates one’s appetite, this act of kindness by the locals was what made us fall in love with the country even more.
Osaka Caste, Osaka
Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavilion, Kyoto
Fushimi Inari Shrine
Nara Park, Nara City
Speaking of appetizer and main dish, you must be pondering about the food in Japan. Is any of the food even Halal? Typing this with great pride, Yes! Japan has Halal restaurants which serve authentic Japanese food and some of them even have prayer facilities. According to Japan-Guide.com, tourist associations and businesses have ramped up efforts to better cater to an increasing number of Muslim tourists.
However, be aware that these Halal restaurants are often crowded, even during off-peak hours, with long queues of people outside the vicinity. As a heads up, make your reservations in advance.
Near Shinjuku Gyoen National Park, Tokyo
If you miss your local comfort food, there are plenty of Indian, Pakistani and Mediterranean restaurants located near most tourist attractions. If you are in Dotonbori district in Osaka, be sure to visit Ali’s Kitchen, founded by a Pakistani man who has visited 43 countries and speaks a wide array of languages.
Having the opportunity to meet eccentric and larger than life individuals was certainly not listed on our planned itinerary but meeting a character out of a novel was like icing on the cake. In the Gion district in Kyoto, while admiring a row of teahouses, a woman dressed in an elaborate red checkered kimono with a tight-fitting bow, walked past me. Her features were marked out separately with a distinct colour in contrast to her white base mask pigmented on her skin. It was inevitably the notable geisha that is so profound in the Japanese culture. This reminded me of a book that I had read; The Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. Despite the ideological differences between our worlds, I was thrilled to have seen one in real life, even if it was a fleeting moment. For our next trip to Japan, meeting a Sumo Wrestler and watching a live match would definitely be on the agenda.
Gion street, Kyoto
Based on our experience, we can recommend a list of places that would expand your itinerary further (you would probably have to sacrifice your sleep though!). Your trip to Japan would be incomplete without visiting Mount Fuji, an active volcano which is considered a sacred mountain in Japan. Even catching a mere glimpse from the train would fill you with awe and admiration for Mother Nature. You can do so by visiting Hakone, which has been designated a Geopark by UNESCO, via Lake Ashi.
Lake Ashi, Hakone
A glimpse of Mout Fuji while travelling on the Romance Car to Hakone
If you want to add some masala to your vacation by experiencing the country like a local, try booking an apartment via platforms such as Airbnb. We stayed in an Airbnb apartment in Tokyo and Osaka and managed to explore the local neighbourhoods. In Mount Koya, we opted to stay in Ryokan, a traditional Japanese guesthouse which is an ultimate way to experience traditional Japanese culture.
Ryokan (Traditional Japanese Inn) at Yochi-In, Mount Koya
If you are planning to visit Japan anytime soon, you can seek advice on your itinerary or make any other general enquiries at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our in-house contributor, Alifiya.S, would be glad to help you!