Journey to Western Japan
by Marie Defeo
Japan, the land of the Rising Sun, is a country renowned for its historical structures and nature, providing the residents with countless travel opportunities to explore the land. Last winter, two of my Filipino friends and I decided to pursue a seven-day winter adventure in Chugoku and Kansai regions by using "Seishun juhachi (18) kippu." Seishun 18-kippu is a special ticket available during spring, summer, and winter vacations. One ticket is equivalent to five whole-day JR line passes sold for 11,500 yen at every JR Green Window booth. The trick on using the ticket is to make an itinerary beforehand by setting the destination and train routes to avoid missing your ride. Among the places that we visited were Hamamatsu, Okayama, Miyajima, Hiroshima, Kyoto, and Osaka.
Our first two destinations were Hamamatsu and Okayama. Hamamatsu city is located in Shizuoka prefecture famous for its sweet delicacy known as Unagi pie. The pie is made out of pulverized eel bones physically similar to Philippine’s Otap. Unagi or eel pie might not sound appealing, but it tastes better than its name! We reached Okayama late at night on our first day escapade. It took around fifteen hours of travel time from Shinagawa to Okayama station including our stopover at Hamamatsu. Even so, the journey was indeed exemplary, as the three of us happened to enjoy the view from the train’s window while spending some quality time with each other.
None of us three travelers were know-ledgeable about Okayama. Fortunately, one of my friends, who reside around the area, offered us a free whole-day tour. Okayama’s "Kurashiki Bikan Chiku” or “The Bikan Historical Area” truly took us by surprise. We learned that the area is very prominent for its ancient merchant homes and storehouses from Edo and Meiji Periods. Old Japanese structures filled the area with a very primeval atmosphere that enabled us to take a peek into pre-historic Japan. Our day ended by visiting Yugasan Rendaiji Temple that gave us an opportunity to express our deep appreciation for such a gratifying day.
The next itinerary was set to Miyajima and Hiroshima. While we were boarding the JR Ferry bound for Miyajima, some people rushed to the ferry’s deck for a better view of Miyajima’s famous floating gate. Miyajima was probably the highlight of our whole quest. Everything was perfect as if the stage was especially prepared for us. Snow drizzled from the blue sky the moment we arrived followed by groups of deer welcoming us with smiles on their faces. It was certainly nature at its best and weather at its finest, such a remarkable way to celebrate the year-end! Hiroshima, on the other hand, reminded us of its dramatic history during the World War II. Various memorials can be found in almost every corner of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park to commemorate the victims of the atomic bomb incident. After exploring Hiroshima and learning more of its history, we went back to Okayama to celebrate New Year’s Eve at my friend’s house. Before conclu-ding our adventure in Chugoku region, my friend tagged us along at Saijou Inari Shrine to witness the traditional Japanese New Year custom known as Hatsumode - the first Shinto Shrine visit of the year.
Moving on to Kansai region, the three of us decided to spend the night at a friend’s place in Osaka to get ready for Kyoto. Formerly known as Japan’s imperial capital, Kyoto is one of the oldest and most historical cities in the country. There were numerous places that we wanted to explore in one day, but we only managed two: Ryoan-ji Temple and Kiyomizu-dera. Although, things did not go accordingly, we were still able to enjoy the serene ambience of Ryoan-ji’s commendable Zen garden and the scenic city view of Kyoto from Kiyomizudera. The three of us went on our separate ways in Osaka after the Kyoto trip to meet up with friends living around the neighborhood. Osaka for me is like the second home of my few, yet profound treasured memories; the place that introduced me to the other side of the world where I met admirable people who helped me become a better individual. Perhaps because of those encounters, it gave birth to my passion for discovery and adventure.
This extraordinary winter journey marks a chapter that made me more grateful of life and nature. Japan definitely gave my friends and me a marvelous adventure worth sharing. However, there is more to Japan than meets the eye. Nevertheless, the whole experience allowed us to savor some of Mother Earth’s stunning wonders. The world is a vast place with further surprises we have yet to uncover. Our quest certainly does not stop there, as spring season is already on its way along with another episode of an adventure!