Winter Break in Japan

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It’s Winter break! Which is the longest for Japanese students (the academic year here officially begins in April). Faced with THREE MONTHS of free time, many exchange students are choosing to explore Asia or go home for a while, but with so much still yet to see in Japan (and an awareness that the rest of Japan is inevitably quite different to the huge and glorious Tokyo) I took to traveling within the country instead. Thus began my adventure to the Kansai region. 

 The Kansai region is the dark blue bit. During a month, I visited Himeji (in Hyogo prefecture), Kyoto, Osaka and Nara.

Hotels are expensive and I am poor. So for this month, I opted to work in two different guest houses in exchange for accommodation and food (a great deal, since the work was easy and only for a few hours a day). My first destination was Himeji, where I stayed in a additional style guesthouse in the countryside surrounding the city. This is what it looked like:

 Okay I used filters, but this place was still stunningly beautiful.

The owners were friendly and my stay was lovely. During my two weeks I was able to go into the city a few times to see Himeji castle which is amazing, and I was also able to explore the local area. Being in the countryside was a strange but refreshing change from living in Tokyo which is pretty much the exact opposite, and I got to know about some interesting local customs, such as building a huge structure out of straw together with all the villagers and burning it so that the ash will help make the farming fields more fertile. Being out in the country, the locals don’t see foreigners often and it was obvious that they were all perplexed as to why I was there, but after realinsing that they could converse with me with a degree of ease (via my limited language skills), in Japanese spirit they were very polite and welcoming and were pouring me sake asking all about the UK and my travels before long. We also roasted mochi on the fire together which was fun.

Oh yeah, the owners of the guesthouse also had an adorable little sausage dog.

After two weeks I departed Himeji for Kyoto, where I stayed in a guesthouse which was less isolated, right in the city centre. Kyoto is kinda like a normal city, not very green and full of shops, except around every corner there’s an insanely beautiful temple or shrine. There are SO MANY TEMPLES AND SHRINES. There’s also one area of the city in which all of the traditional streets have been preserved, which is full of old-style shops and resturants (with lots of food tasters being handed out – basically heaven). I can’t only choose one or two examples of places I visited to talk about because there are just so many amazing examples of Japanese history and art in this one city. But here are a few pictures to hopefully capture some of the beauty of Kyoto…

And Kyoto is also conveniently close to other places in the Kansai region such as Osaka and Nara – so I went there too! Osaka is less rich in historical buildings, but super cool in its own way, as one of the major cities in Japan for art, music and youth culture. It’s actually the capital of comedy in Japan, with tons of the nation’s best comedians having grown up there, and the capital of really yummy, really cheap food (Osaka is famous for its Okonomiyaki and Takoyaki, and if you don’t know what they are you need to hurry up and find some because they might be the tastiest foods ever to have graced my tastebuds). Nara is smaller and a lot less funky, but Nara Park is one of the most famous cultural locations in Japan, home to the biggest, most stunning temple I have ever seen, and a whole load of wild deer that tourists love to feed and take selfies with. Here are some more pictures of Kyoto and Nara…

 (Left=Kyoto, right=Nara)

I was a bit afraid that I would get lonely travelling alone, but the owners of the guesthouses and the other people working and staying there provided great company and I made some really great friends, some of whom I’m sure to see again. I also had some visitors from Tokyo over the course of my travels! So I didn’t need to worry about loneliness after all and I had a fabulous time.

After a month though, I was longing for the streets of Tokyo once more. The Kansai region is filled with amazing and awesome things, but it’s true that there’s really no place like Tokyo anywhere and I needed it back in my life. So here I am again, and I have two more months yet to spend doing whatever I want in the best place ever. I wonder what I’ll have to tell you all about next!

Till then, peace out from Japan.

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