Discovering Japan

Osaka Castle in japan
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Japan is a place that perfectly shows that tradition and technology can seamlessly flow together. Our first afternoon was in Shinjuku, an energetic neighborhood full of a variety of restaurants and karaoke bars. One of the highlights was the National Garden of Shinjuku, which is one of the best places to see cherry blossoms.
 
The next day we visited Asakusa, where we explored the Senso-ji Temple, the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo. Upon our arrival, we saw that the front door had a symbolic lantern surrounded by statues. Along with the lantern we enjoyed the 200-meter shopping street where one can buy yukatas, informal kimono, kokeshi dolls and other souvenirs. At the end of the street the temple of Senso-ji rises majestically.
 
Later that day, we went to visit the most famous crossing of Japan which is in the Shibuya district; this is where several successful movies were filmed. One of the attractions, besides crossing the intersection, is the statue of Hachiko, an Akita dog. The dog became famous when he died after waiting for his owner for ten years at the entrance of the subway station of Shibuya. We walked to Yoyogi Park and Meiji Jingu Temple, where we enjoyed a pleasant stroll between the forest and the lakes; unfortunately, the Meji temple was under major maintenance due to its 100th anniversary.
 
The next stop on this Asian adventure was Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan. Going to Kyoto was like traveling back in time. The first thing that attracted our attention were the people who were wearing traditional garments, most commonly in the Shushu-Inari Shinto shrine. The main feature of this historical shrine are the doors of the orange shrines scattered throughout the mountain park.
 
Later, we visited Gion, known as the most famous geisha district. Here we were able to enjoy the typical Japanese architecture of tea houses, restaurants and bars. In the northwest area of the city, we visited the Kinjaku-ji Temple, known as the Golden Pavilion, where the contrast of the golden building with the garden was magnificent. Not far from here, we found the Arashiyama bamboo grove, which is a must see. Walking down this path was a unique experience due to the sound of the wind blowing through the bamboo.
 
Our final visit in Kyoto was Nijo Castle, which is one of the best architectural examples from the feudal era of Japan. This castle is surrounded by stone walls and moats. We explored the interior of the castle; we were asked to remove our shoes to preserve the original floors. The main feature of this feudal building are its corridors called nightingale floor. The floor screeched like singing birds when we stepped on it, which was used as security measures against assassins. The walls and ceilings of the palace are hand painted with mythical animals, such as dragons and tigers. We also ate the best matcha (green tea) ice cream here.
 
We headed south to our next destination in Japan, Osaka. We stayed in the Namba district, which is the best place to experience Osaka food culture. The well-known Dotonbori district is where food lovers will find high quality food. As a suggestion, some must-trys are Tokoyaki (grilled octopus), dumplings, teppanyaki or okonomiyaki made from flour base and a mixture of grated cabbage, squid, octopus and vegetables.
 
The Umeda Sky Building is a must see. The building offers a 360° view of the city from the observatory that can delight every photographer. Our experience began with the spectacular escalator that took us to the Floating Garden Observatory on the top floor.
 
We ended our adventure in Japan at Osaka Castle, an ancient temple. This historic building was destroyed and rebuilt several times over four centuries until the late 1990's. Currently, Osaka Castle holds an eight-story museum that has a permanent exhibition on the history of the castle and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a proud samurai warrior. One should start the visit from the top and make one’s way down to the bottom floor. The fourth and fifth floors were our favorites, as this is where the exhibition of samurai armor is located. The armor was braided and hand painted with extraordinary details.
 
Our Japan vacation was full of adventure and great times! We can’t wait to visit again!
 
April Vidauri & Courtney Lavarnway