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Note: This page is not finished, and some of the pictures are just listed so they can be viewed. But I've got a lot more stories to tell. Please come back in a while to read more.

I've spent close to 2 weeks around 2001 New Year's in Japan. Three reasons I wanted to go there was to visit my friend Michal (aka Mike) who's working there, spend New Year's in Tokyo, and see a bit Japan since I've never been there before. I made plans to visit Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hiroshima, which I did.


Tokyo being a pretty big city (population of over 8 million), I spent the first week there. The streets in a typical residential area are very narrow. When there are 2 cars trying to pass, one of them has to pull really close to one side and stop, while the other slowly tries to pass. And they drive on the left side of the road.

The way of getting around Tokyo is by subway/train. Virtually everyone uses the train system, which is very extensive and covers the whole city, and the service is very frequent (there's a train every few minutes). On some (maybe all of them, I can't remember) train stations there are no smoking signs which prohibit smoking only during certain hours. While the reason is obvious, I thought this was funny at first.

But it makes a lot of sense if you understand the Japanese culture and how their society works. The Japanese are very ordered in their daily routines, and do everything "the way it's supposed to be". One example: there are vending machines on every other corner, from which you can buy pop, comic books, cigarettes, alcohol, and many, many other things. Now, no one worries about minors buying beer or sake or whisky from a vending machine, because everyone knows that it's illegal and you're not supposed to do it. So no one does it, and it's not a problem. It's a lot of small things like this, that make it a very orderly society. Another example: when waiting for a train, I often saw people lining up single file.

The famous Tokyo Tsukiji fish market, the biggest one in the world. Early morning of each day, a fresh supply of all kinds of fish (and everything else that lives in the sea - octopus, crab, or the poisonous fugu, which can be lethal if not prepared properly) makes its way there, straight off the fishing boats. It's known that a single fish is sometimes sold for more than $10,000! But for mere mortals, it's cut (one, two) into smaller pieces at more affordable prices. So me and Mike have bought a tasty looking piece of tuna for breakfast. Since it was probably going to be the freshest sashimi we ever had, we couldn't take it home and freeze it - we had to eat it right then. We've bought some soya and wasabi, but where to go? Good thing there was a McDonald's nearby! Got a coffee each so they don't kick us out, sliced the big chunks into small pieces with my SwissArmy knife, and we've made our own breakfast.

Japanese like cellphones. It seems that everybody has one, and sometimes you can even see someone talking to 2 people at once. There's many stores with huge displays of varieties of cellphones. They also like to read comic books very much. Besides all convenience stores carrying them, there's often a stand setup on a sidewalk with a wide selection of anime comics.

I spent a night in a capsule hotel. That's where you sleep in a 1m x 1m x 2m capsule (or simply a box), with a little curtain pulled over the entrance (or the hole thru which your crawl in). They are stacked up 2 high (with a little ladder to get to the upper one), on both sides of a hall. I wish I had my camera with me that night to take a picture of that. Inside, there's a little TV, radio, and an alarm clock. It's an interesting experience!

New Year's

In Japan, New Year's is a big family holiday and most people stay home (Christmas time, on the other hand, is when they go out partying). So we didn't have too many places to choose from, but ended up in Shibuya (one of Tokyo's downtowns, usually crowded with young people) in a sort of street party. Since the main intersection we were at was packed, we climbed some billboard sign and had an excellent view from up above. And we weren't the only ones climbing on top of things.

New Year's dinner

A big New Year's tradition is a family dinner on January 1st. We were invited by the Sasaki family (Mike's friends) to their house for dinner. Besides all the tradional foods (of which there was plenty - after 7 hours we still had lots of food left), it's a custom for everyone to write out a tablet with a favourite word and sign it with your name. After a few practice tries, I had mine done. Once everyone made their own, we exchanged writing wishes on the back.

And here's a great picture of a New Year's toast!

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Kyoto is Japan's old capital. It's distinguishing features are the many temples all around the city, some old districts such as Gion - geisha district with old wooden houses from 18th century, and being surrounded by mountains all around.

While in Kyoto, I spent one night in a ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn), where, well, you are treated like a king just like in the old days. Every room in a ryokan has a nice view into a garden, and certain order is followed. After checking in, you change into a yukata (a bath robe), and take a hot bath (just like at an onsen). Then, tea and dinner is served by a kimono girl. The dinner was a 9 course meal, and I don't think I have ever seen food prepared as beautifully as it had been there.

Nijo-jo castle

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The A-bomb dome are the (propped up) ruins of a building over which the nuclear bomb has exploded. They are to remain there, in the centre of the city, as a reminder of what happened in Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945.