Japan 2023
Japan 2023
by pragerfan
October 22 — November 1, 2023

I went to Japan for 10 days towards the end of October, 2023. The trip was a truly amazing experience.
As the coast of Japan comes into view, Mt. Fuji welcomes us to the Land of the Rising Sun. Mt. Fuji stands over 12,000 feet high. I did not get up close to Mt. Fuji on this trip, but I hope to when I return to Japan next year.
I am welcomed to Japan by a sign at the airport. One thing that stands out above all else is how friendly and gracious the Japanese people are. This hospitality was shown so many times during the entire visit. It is not only to please foreigners — hospitality, kindness, and gratefulness are part of the Japanese culture, people, and are even built into the Japanese language itself.
My first meal in Japan was ramen (of course!) at the legendary Ichiran Ramen chain shop. The chain is known for its famous broth, which should be ordered rich or extra rich. Eating is in individual stalls, and they give you a paper to mark your ramen preferences so they can prepare it exactly how you want it.
I stayed at the Dormy Inn in Ikebukuro for the first few days. Like everything else in Japan, there is no such thing as a bad hotel experience. The Dormy did not disappoint.
Breakfast at the Dormy. Everything is fresh and good. The Suntory "Craft Boss" drink (Milk Tea) is from a vending machine. Vending machines are ubiquitous in Japan. I was rarely without a "Boss" to drink while seeing the sights and interacting with the people.
In Japan, the supply of manga, video games, stickers, kawaii, and just toys in general is literally endless.
The culture of cute (kawaii - かわいい in Japanese) is a major sub-culture in Japan. It is visible everywhere. Even trains can be cute! You can buy cute things in nearly any store and for everything not cute there is usually a cute version decked out in Hello Kitty or Kuromi or Cinnamaroll or other Sanrio themes and characters all of which are impossibly cute, because no one does cute like the Japanese.
At the Sanrio cafe in Ikebukuro, even food and drinks are cute! Here we have a Hello Kitty strawberry smoothie and a My Melody Parfait - such a kawaii way to begin your day!
Lighting can be very cute as well, as seen here in this Hello Kitty light at the Sanrio cafe.
Someone once joked that "Pokemon" in Japanese means "Americans will buy anything" (it actually is short for "pocket monster") but Pokemon is also huge in Japan as well. At the Pokemon Center in Sunshine City shopping plaza — a quick walk from the Dormy — there is an endless supply of Pikachu. This of course is exactly as it should be. I took one of these little guys home to fulfill a quest I'd long had to add a Pikachu from Pokemon Center to my Pikachu collection.
Japan can be all business, too. Here we see morning rush hour at Ikebukuro station — endless mass of people. While mostly consisting of suited Japanese businessmen and women, you'll also see kids in their school uniforms riding the trains on their way to school. The Japanese are well-dressed. Anyone who isn't is more than likely to be a tourist!
Often during rush hour, trains and subways are standing-room only. A couple of times I just waited for the next train instead of trying to cram onto packed cars.
The entrance to Senso-Ji Temple in Asakusa. Whether this spot is seen by tourists because it is popular, or popular because it is seen by tourists, is another question entirely. Notably, the gate is a little smaller than I'd expected.
The Buddha evokes tranquility as is seen in this "pocket shrine." Shrines and temples are very popular in Japan and a great way to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life with its big buildings and machines.
Kokeshi dolls in a small shop. These dolls are all handmade which is reflected by their price. They show a different, perhaps more sophisticated, kind of cute from kawaii cute.
A beautiful view of the Japanese countryside from the window of a JR Shinkansen. The Shinkansen are some of the fastest commercial rail services in the world, with train speeds topping out at about 180 m.p.h.
We are greeted by a torii gate at the entrance to the ascent up to the Kiyomizu-Dera temple in Kyoto. Spirits are said to pass through torii gates and for that reason they are considered sacred. It is early in the morning. The weather throughout the trip was perfect, except for one day of afternoon thunderstorms. Otherwise it was in the upper 60s/low 70s for the entire time.
I walked through this old Kyoto neighborhood on the way to Kiyomizu-Dera. It was like walking into a postcard or onto a movie set.
Another street in the Kyoto neighborhood on the way to Kiyomizu-Dera. To walk here feels like a step backwards in time.
The main door to one of the buildings in the Kiyomizu-Dera temple complex. The bright orange, green, and yellow hues are stunning.
The temple complex at Kiyomizu-Dera. These buildings date back centuries.
One of my favorite photos from this trip. My dad said he wants this as his back yard but that it would take an army of gardeners to maintain it. He's probably right!
A boy looks out over the valley near Kiyomizu-Dera. There's not much I can add to a picture like this. You just have to see it for yourself.
Looking back on Kiyomizu-Dera from one of the other buildings in the complex and the city of Kyoto in the distance. This view has been made famous by Japan tour books and guides.
The red lanterns contrast brightly with the green and brown of the surrounding buildings and forest.
The pagoda at Kiyomizu-Dera. It was a privilege to take these pictures.
This isn't just any shinkansen. It is the Hello Kitty Shinkansen. It only runs once a day between Shin-Osaka and Hakata. Like all shinkansen it is very fast and tops out at 180 m.p.h. My original plan was to catch the Hello Kitty to Himeji, spend quality time at Himeji Castle, and then return to Kyoto. As it was I missed the Kitty but did manage to catch it back from Himeji.

As riding the Hello Kitty shinkansen was more important than seeing the castle, I only spent a half hour in Himeji. Next time, I shall see the castle properly.
Seating on the Hello Kitty Shinkansen is appropriately very kawaii! How could it possibly be otherwise?
Hello Kitty can take you to many cities in Japan! Kawaii!
The Hello Kitty Room on the Hello Kitty Shinkansen. I believe this is car #1 — the cutest place on wheels.
On my way back to Kyoto from Himeji, I stopped for a bit in Osaka to see Shin-Sekai (lit., "New World"). The Shin-Sekai district hearkens back to the video game era of the 1980s and 1990s.
One of the streets in Shin-Sekai. Plenty of food, shopping, and video games!
There are three types of shinkansen. Nozomi (のぞみ), Hikari (ひかり), and Kodama (こだま). The Nozomi is the fastest in terms of time and only has very limited stops. The Hikari is fast with a few more stops, but is still considered an express train. The Kodama stops at every station along a route. JR pass riders may ride the Kodama and Hikari trains. They may ride the Nozomi train but there is an additional fare. As a visitor, it isn't really necessary to ride the Nozomi. The Hikari is more than adeqate.
Ascending Mt. Inari with "10,000 Torii Gates." The gates seem to stretch endlessly up the mountain. Mt. Inari rises to 764 feet above sea level.
Entering the torii gates from one of the rest areas to continue ascending Mt. Inari.
A view of Kyoto from just past halfway up the mountain.
The sign that indicates one has reached the top of the mountain. While certainly no Mt. Fuji, still, this is still a pretty demanding hike.
Komainu (狛犬) spirit dog statue guarding the entrance to a shrine.
A remarkable bronze(?) Buddha seen in a Kyoto neighborhood near Mt. Inari.
A beautiful red torii against a blue and white sky — purely and unmistakably Japan.
A pocket shrine in the Nishiki Marketplace. For the last days of my trip, I stayed at the Hotel Gracery in the Nishiki Marketplace.
Four paper lanterns. I do not remember exactly where I took this picture.
One of the major temples at Nara. I went to Nara to visit the deer park, temples, and shrines.
Many lanterns are seen on the approach to the main temple of Nara deer park.
While the deer look adorable, they can be aggressive if you feed them. If you don't feed them, they generally leave you alone. Watch out if you're sitting down to eat though — they may just walk up and snag a bite!
The imposing but inviting main temple at Nara deer park houses five Shinto deities.
A new lantern contrasts with an older lantern. I have heard that older lanterns covered in moss are actually more prized than new lanterns.
Flowers on the grounds of the Imperial Palace in Kyoto. I am not sure if they are cherry blossoms ("sakura", さくら). But they appear to be.
As it did on arrival, Mt. Fuji once again greets us on departure from Japan, this time from the Kyoto-Tokyo shinkansen, heading back to the airport.

I will write later on my deeper reflections about Japan. But for now, it suffices to say that I loved every minute of this trip. I was heartbroken to leave Japan, and I cannot wait to return.