Our last week in Japan has been one of our most enjoyable so far. We travelled on from Kyoto to reach Nara, a sweet little town, with a huge park area filled to the brim with deer that attempt to steal your food (they’re very sweet at first, and then a little annoying..).
Nara is known for its huge Buddha statue, in the Todai-ji temple. The building it sits in, the Daibutsuden, is the world’s largest wooden building, and the Buddha itself is over 15 metres high. Many of the temples we’ve visited in Japan have been jaw-droppingly beautiful, but the ambience has been ruined by the fact that everyone else also recognises this fact, and the place is packed. We visited the Buddha on the rainiest day imaginable, and got there super early, so benefited from the quiet solace the lack of crowds created.
From Nara, we visited Himeji, further along the south coast, primarily to see the castle there. It’s a beautiful building, but unfortunately this was one of the noted experiences above. We trailed along behind a crowd of other people exploring the grounds, and what may have been a zen experience with less people, felt a bit like being on the tube at rush hour. Our other day in Himeji was spent hiking round a nature forest trail, and then visiting a children’s centre where Otis could play. It was a beautiful space round a lake, and fulfilled our love of walking, something that has been lacking in our experience here so far.
Hiroshima was our next location, and one of our favourite places we’ve visited. The Peace park and Memorial Museum are beautiful commemorations to an atrocious event (obviously the world’s first nuclear bombing).
However, it was our visit to the island of Miyajima, just off the coast of Hiroshima, that really made the experience for us. We hiked to the top of the mountain and experienced the most spectacular views we’ve seen in Japan so far. There’s a great area at the summit that’s under cover where you can relax, have lunch and take in the surrounds. There wasn’t so much relaxing for us, as Otis wanted to do laps after being unleashed from the sling. He waved, and said hello to everyone on each circuit, covering different climbers who came and left, and meeting their replacements on the next round.
We’re now in our last stop prior to Okinawa, in Kagoshima, at the south of Kyushu, in the south west of Japan overall. Again, we’ve spent time today on an island off the coast, Sakurajima, a volcano that regularly spews out volcanic ash, but provides for amazing views off the coastline. Now that Otis is on the move, our hiking was broken up by his walking stints as time out of the sling, which invariably means walking plus foraging for pebbles and anything else he can find. It’s a peaceful place to amble, with black kites winging past, a mixture of volcanic rock and plants that have grown over the ageing lava, intermingled with drift wood that has collected over the years.
So, why has the last week been one of our best? We’ve seen some truly amazing sights in Japan, but have found ourselves hankering after some of the experiences we had in NZ and Western Australia. We couldn’t work out quite why we were feeling nostalgic about these times when we were in such a great country. The food here is ridiculously good. The people are so friendly (particularly to Otis). The shrines and temples we have seen have been stunning, and the cities have been great fun, with winding streets and tons of character.
Ultimately it comes down to what you’re driven by, and also what experiences you can make the most of when you’re travelling with a baby. When it comes to what we are driven by, beautiful views and outdoor experiences (and for me the sea in particular) is where our hearts lie. We’ve had to forgo some of our original plans in Japan that may well have ticked these boxes because we were idiots, and didn’t realise we needed international driving licenses for car rental here. Train travel has meant more central locations, and more city experiences, which we like, but leave us hankering for more.
Japan, I imagine, comes into its own at night-time too. There have been areas we’ve wandered through when we’ve been out for a quick drink and an early dinner with Otis, and you can feel the buzz in the air, and the fun we’re missing out on, the ultimate consequence of travelling with your baby. In NZ and Australia, our evenings were spent outside, having a few drinks at our tent or campervan, and it didn’t really occur to us that others were having a nightlife, as we were quite content with ours.
The last week gave us a glimpse of the outdoor world of Japan. Beautiful landscapes, being by the sea again, and having some early evening meals outside in the sunshine, all felt like what travelling should be about.
More than that, the last week has been about us as a family. Otis has mastered walking. He’s started some hilarious habits as a result, like bringing you various gifts from around whatever flat we’re staying in, and doing dance moves as we get ready for breakfast in the mornings to music. We’ve laughed so much in the last week, and appreciated each other without some of the stresses that travel (particularly in cities) can bring.
I think what it makes us realise is that it’s not about tick box experiences for us when we travel. It’s about being together and Ben and I both getting to appreciate Otis’s milestones when they happen. It’s about having some downtime to just appreciate an amazing view, and to allow Otis to forage around and walk in whatever direction he wants, because we don’t have to be anywhere in a hurry.
Following Okinawa (where we’re squeezing in a cheeky bit of diving), our next plan is to be in the same place for two weeks. Recently we’ve been moving at quite a pace, with jam packed days, with so much to see, and we’re a bit frazzled. We’ve got 2 weeks in an island off Cambodia to do just what makes us happy. Be together as a family. Appreciate those amazing views. Let the little man forage around. And not have to be anywhere in a hurry. Bliss.
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