TRAVEL is one of the best forms of education, better than school. You get to see new things, eat new things, encounter new people, experience a whole new culture, an unfamiliar season, or an entirely different language. That was exactly how I felt about Japan in December last year. It was my first time there, and after 17 days, I decided, without a doubt, that Japan is the top travel destination. That sounds like a line you would find in any travel guide, but it’s truly how feel. None of the places I’ve been to—London, Australia, New Zealand, Maldives—beats Japan.
The beauty of Japan lies in so many things, too many that I struggle with where to even start. Do you start with the wonderful shopping or the great food, the Zen-inspired gardens or awesome beauty of Mount Fuji, the clock-work precision of the high-speed bullet trains, the hot-springs, magical Disneyland, or the centuries-old temples in ancient Kyoto?
Oh, there’s also that amazing aquarium in Tokyo, the largest in the world, where I must have come face-to-face with close to a hundred species of marine life! I would also be including Studio Ghibli here, except we didn’t get to go because my father, our chief travel planner, hadn’t known that we had to reserve spots a month in advance.
But missing Hayao Miyazaki’s creations couldn’t quite count as a disappointment given everything else that this beautiful country offered us. As a teen, I wasn’t necessarily thrilled at the prospect of visiting temples, but when I actually got there—Sanjusangendō and Kinkakuji in particular—I was mesmerized.
At Sanjusangendō, the longest hall in the world, I saw rows and rows of Buddha statues, each of them seemingly identical, but their faces were all different if you walked up close to look them in the eye. The bigger, solo statues that guard these endless rows of statues are probably more fun to gaze at. With their pupils studded with crystals, you aren’t quite sure if they would suddenly come alive and whisper to you.
At Kinkakuji, the famous golden temple, this feeling of light is equally profound. That day when we visited, we were approaching dusk. It wasn’t exactly sunset yet, but the light had an intensity about it, and it played a game of ebb and flow, brighter some moments, dimmer others. Who would have thought that a 14-year-old teen would have been transfixed by all this? But he was, much to my surprise.
My other transfixed moment was when we were on a schooner cruise across Lake Ashi where I beheld Mount Fuji for the first time. Such a majestic mountain, so beautiful, so symmetrical. But my favorite view of Fuji-san, as the Japanese call it, is when we were on the Shinkansen from Hakone to Osaka. It seemed to lord over us in the train, such that all we seemed to see through our window was Mount Fuji and just a little sky and smatterings of village houses.
It’s hard to believe that at the start of our 17-day trip, we felt as if we had so much time to take in all the beauty of Japan and stuff our faces silly with sushi and soba. But as each day passed, the culture, the cuisine, and the natural beauty of this country greeted us with the same old konnichiwa, but always colored with something new. The same dip in the same onsen the second, third, and then the fourth time, was still as rejuvenating as always, but each time, I would sense something different. One time, the sulphur stung the nose more aggressively, another time, it was more muted. But each time I went, it felt like a place I would love to return to again and again. I suppose Japan is like that. I want to return soon.
Jerome Lye, Secondary Three
For more essays by Jerome, visit Jerome Writes