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Japan: Land of the rising sun, but also a land of contrast

Visiting any country for the first time can be overwhelming.

Unless you’re planning to go to one of the smaller countries (such as Liechtenstein), you’re going to have to spend some time planning. You’ve got to narrow down what you want to see. But first-time visitors to Japan are in luck: there is a basic route you can take that will let you peak in at the contrast this land holds.

START WITH DISNEY

Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea are two parks located just north of Tokyo. They are easily accessible from the airport, and I find that they are good way to ease yourself into this culture. They are obviously very tourist-oriented, so they expect people to have problems with the language, and the culture. Disneyland is similar to the other Disney Parks, but designed to accommodate much bigger crowds. All the favorites are here, from Space Mountain to the Haunted Mansion. But the big draw is DisneySea. This is a Disney Park that is unique to Tokyo- you won’t find another in the world. Although DisneySea has got some attractions from other Disney Parks (such as Tower of Terror), it’s packed with it’s own unique attractions. It is also a beautiful, gorgeously detailed park.

TOKYO

Just south of the Disney Parks is Tokyo, a place that absolutely requires some planning. This city is absolutely huge, and you can see everything from the latest high tech gadgets in Akihabara (Electric Town) to Kabuki theater. The city also has Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines scattered throughout. The Meiji Shrine is located in Yoyogi Park, and feels almost secret. You feel an immediate hush as you approach the shrine, and it’s one of those Japanese contrasts: this peaceful, beautiful places is in the center of a huge city. Always pay close attention to the rules for entering any religious facility. Mmany in Japan will require that you remove your shoes, so this is not the place to wear the socks with holes in them! Tokyo also offers every type of food you can imagine. You’ll certainly want to try authentic Japanese food, but if you simply must have a hamburger, you can find it in Tokyo.

TAKAYAMA

Take the Shinkansen (bullet train) out of Tokyo and head for Takayma, a city located in the mountains in the Hida region of the Gifu Prefecture (because the name is common, you’ll sometimes see it referred to as Hida-Takayama. It’s like you’re stepping back in time here, and the Old Town is the best place to experience this. There are wonderful preserved homes and shops here. You can even travel by rickshaw!

KYOTO

Your final stop is Kyoto (in the Kyoto Prefecture). If you want to spot a real Geisha, this is the place to come. Geisha’s are highly skilled entertainers, who dress in beautiful robes, and wear heavy makeup. If you’re lucky enough to attend a gathering that includes a Geisha, you’ll have a unique experience that you’ll remember for life. You can sometimes spot a geisha in the Gion and Shilo-dori sections of the city. It will usually be early evening, or dusk, and they’ll be hurrying to an appointment. If you spot a geisha during the day, it’s likely a tourist who paid to be made up. If you do encounter a geisha, treat her politely and with respect.

FINAL THOUGHT

Japan is a place where contrast is always visible. Modern buildings often sit near old temples. You can stay in historic Ryokans that include the latest gadgets. Regardless of where you stay, you’ll want to use a service called Takkyubin (tack-you-bean). This is a luggage delivery service that quickly and effectively moves your luggage literally from hotel room to hotel room. So if you start your stay at a Disney resort hotel, when it’s time to move to a Tokyo hotel, you simply fill out the Takkyubin paperwork. The hotels will coordinate moving the luggage. That way you don’t have to struggle with large bags when traveling by train. Just carry a small overnight bag, and wait for the rest of your luggage to appear (usually the next day).

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