Wednesday, May 30, 2012

10 things I wish I did in Japan

Or rather, 10 things I wish I also had time for on my last trip to Japan and will definitely do on my next visit.

1) Eat more street food
I actually only ended up having tako-yaki (octopus puffs) outside Osaka's closed Civil Rights museum. But considering street food can be a great way of experiencing a culture, I would like to try more. 

2) See whether a new profession is as fun as a rollercoaster
Japan has some pretty zany theme parks. But one of the most unsual is Kidzania - where kids can have a go at a range of professions before committing 20 years of their life to it. I'd be lying if I said that some days I wonder whether being an ambulance paramedic may be more interesting than my current job, and it seems here at Kidzania, I can give it a shot for a short while.

Plus I'd get paid, in 'Kidzo's' which I could then use to purchase merchandise and meals in the park. Like lots of the really fun stuff in life, it's limited to 2-12 year old kids, so I would have to be happy and watch on like the parents do. Luckily Hello Kitty doesn't have any fingers to count numbers on, so I would be welcome at Puroland, where everything is touched with a little kitty magic (provided my retinas will recover from the cuteness overload).

3) Overnight hike along Kumano Ancient Road
A series of pilgramage routes that comprise the Kumano Ancient Road - traversing mountain passes and stopping in at tea houses, onsen and ryokan for overnight stays. Sections range between 40km and 70km and today are still popular with buddhists seeking enlightenment, or just a relaxing way to be at one with the countryside.

4) Find balance in Mr Miyagi's hometown
Okinawa is the birthplace of karate, but is also one of the most beautiful places in the world for diving, snorkelling and surfing. I'd like to learn from the best in karate and surfing and see whether, under such tutelage, I can finally engage those core muscles.

5) Pure country living and silk industry
Shirakawa-go - A UNESCO listed heritage village in a mountainous region that, for a long time, was fairly isolated from traffic with other cities. The distance has been breached with modern transport and technology, but what remains is an industry around mulberry trees and silkworms. A fan of both the fruit and fabric and of remote rural areas, this sounds great. To stay in a minshuku (family home that takes in guests, a situation I imagine is much like a B&B if your aunt decided to change her place into a mini-hotel overnight so everyone ends up sleeping in the living room) would round out the picture nicely.

After years of the nation being stigmatised for a tradition of eating whale meat, in a small pocket of Japan, businesses have turned what was once whale-eating into whale meeting. 

7) Archers on horseback and picnickers on wheels
Tono Valley - what's that? A lush, green valley rich in folklore and best explored by bicycle? That has an annual festival showcasing archery on horseback? I am so there!

And eat Chanko Nabe - basically a hot pot of meat, rice and veggies. A tour of a sumo stable shows where the athletes live, eat and train. I'd love to see a sumo match - not so much because I like watching grown men compete in strength, but for the tradition (and to watch the crowd, who would be as interesting as the competitors).

9) Get handy with a set of nunchucks, Ninja-style
While there's a restaurant in Tokyo where you can be served by Ninja's, in Nagano prefecture there's a place that you can learn their secrets. Iga-Ninja Park is aimed at kids and explains the history and skills of the assassins, famed for their stealthy movements.

10) Hang out and chat with the cosplay kids at Harajuku I would love to follow a Cosplay kid for 24 hours - from when they wake, apply their make-up, travel to meet friends and then shop, eat and travel about - in essence, find out what like is like as a fictional character in a real person's body.

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