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  • Shelley Dark

1. planning Japan

Four weeks to lift-off!

Since the wifi should be reliable in Japan, I'm going to post my daily diary while I'm actually in Japan, not afterwards. Hope you approve! And I'll be doing a post like this each week until we go.

I didn’t decide to go to Japan until last November after we returned home from Iran and Oman, when I tried to book for cherry blossom time but found that hotels book out a year ahead.

Then I tried to book for late April into May and discovered that this is the Japanese equivalent of our Christmas New Year break when Japanese people all go home to their parents and families. It’s called Golden Week and usually goes from April 29 to May 5. Every man and his dog in Japan takes his holiday then so pointless to even try. It’s not a time you’d want to go anyway with streets thronged with people on their annual leave. (hint: book Japan a year ahead!)

We decided to slot in between the two, from early to late April. To start the ball rolling, I took the only available dates at a lovely Relais & Chateaux Zen ryokan which had stolen my heart, and once I had that in the bag, for the rest of the trip I was prepared to take whatever accommodation was still available. Within reason of course! I can't let you stay just anywhere!

Usually I do all my own booking for our trips, but I found many Japanese websites are scarily English un-friendly so I wasn’t confident of booking and co-ordinating train trips etc. I did a little googling and decided on a tour company called Inside Japan, a subsidiary of a company called Inside Asia Tours. They provide a meet-and-greet at Tokyo airport, with explanations of trains etc plus telephone support in English throughout our time there. So far so good, but I’ll give you an opinion after the trip.

It’s always hard to decide how much of a country to see in a short time frame. The older I get, the less I want to pack up and whizz around to lots of different places. I started off by googling must-see Japan, made a list of places I thought I wanted to see, and then started chopping down the list to a manageable itinerary. I asked friends who keep going back to Japan. And I made a list of activities I wanted to see or do. Places where we might see late cherry blossom. Gardens. Beautiful shrines and temples. Types of food I'd like to eat. Architecture. Art. Design.

If we love it, we can always go back to the places we are missing this time. My husband John is coming with me for the country parts at the beginning, and as he flies home, our daughter Ange arrives for a design-focussed mother-daughter week in Tokyo.

John and I fly into Tokyo and then train to Takayama (small country town in mountains), train to Kyoto (the cultural capital and old city most people seem to fall in love with), Kaga Onsen (the ryokan I told you about is near here), Kanazawa (just briefly to see Kenruoken garden) then Tokyo. I really would have liked to go to the island of Naoshima with its Benesse art site, Nara, Osaka, and there are gardens elsewhere I would also have enjoyed to see. Next time.

We’re considering doing something this time that we’ve never done before. We’d like to take only carry-on luggage, which means a huge rethink. The temperatures in April are pleasant if cool. It’s a challenge but we’re going to give it a go.

Thank you for your recommendations about books and travel guides I should read. I’ve bought some and borrowed some, but not too much, as I find there's a fine line between informing myself and boring myself so silly that I feel as if I’ve actually been there before I even leave home. It’s nice to leave some surprises.

I enjoyed this ebook by Alex Kerr.

And his other book, Lost Japan. Diane Dursten's Old Kyoto, both of Judith Clancy's books on Kyoto, Rice Noodle Fish by Matt Goulding, Boro (a small elegant book about the practice, driven by poverty, of patch mending clothes) and a couple of Japanese aesthetics and design books from the library. I have in the past read modern Japanese fiction for book club, and haven't really enjoyed it - it's a bit too surreal for me.

I re-read this book by Leonard Koren bought several years ago when I first heard the term wabi-sabi. And I've read about the do's and don'ts of travel in Japan which I'll share with you when I have first-hand experience. After I've doubtless made a few gaffes!

Must go and put my (teeny) Japan wardrobe on the bed! I’ll post the packing list and itinerary soon. Until then, travelling buddies….

shelley dark, writer 

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