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Mentally, All Our Bags Are Packed

Written by Jeff Drake
11 · 17 · 18

Wow, the time has flown by! Too busy doing the tour to take time to blog. It can’t be helped. It seems to be that every time we travel, I am forced to blog about the trip mostly after we return to the states, rather than during the trip itself. That’s okay, actually. It will allow me to better organize my thoughts and correlate our journey with photos.

Right now we just finished our last tourist activities of this trip. We visited a castle this morning and have a couple hours before our farewell dinner, which I am going to use working on my blog… because there is much I want to share about this trip! So, I’m shooting these blog posts to you from the hip, so they may seem a bit haphazard.

It has been an interesting trip, but we both agree that is not up to the usual standard of expectations we’ve had from our previous OAT tours. I can’t fault our guide, Hiroshi, who has done a phenomenal job of keeping track of everyone, herding us all through some very crowded trains and subways, and doing the best he can to answer all our questions. For this, hats off to Hiroshi! That said, we were bummed to discover that we were only going to get one additional “local guide” on this trip.

Usually, OAT provides multiple local guides to describe particular cities or geographical areas that we visit. We love that! It’s unfair, I think, to expect a “country guide” to be an expert on every town we visit. In our case, Hiroshi was an excellent country guide and while he tried to answer our local questions to the best of his ability, he really was not the expert we needed or wanted. This meant that many times Hiroshi just got us safely to the place we were supposed to explore (e.g., a garden, museum, temple, etc.) and then we went off on our own to do the exploration. He would impart his knowledge to us when he could, which was appreciated, but there were questions he could not answer. On a couple of occasions I saw other tourists with hired local guides explaining all the stuff we were missing. I wasn’t happy about that. I kept thinking, “We could have done that!”

Thus, taking into consideration our experience on this trip, we have come to the conclusion that Japan is definitely a country that you can do on your own. You don’t need a full-blown tour company to show it to you. Granted, transportation in Japan is a bit off-putting until you actually get out there and figure it out, but once you do, getting around is easy. It really is!

Thinking of the places we’ve visited on this trip, we both agree our favorite place is Kyoto. I’m glad we got so spend 5 days here. It really wasn’t until Kyoto that I felt I was finally seeing the Japan I was expecting to see. Tokyo was very interesting and fun, but being the huge, populated city that it is, it will never be a favorite of mine. I’d go there again, of course, as there are many things we missed seeing there, but not for more than a couple of days probably. More on Kyoto shortly.

As far as Hakone and Kanazawa go, they too, were interesting, but we were kind of stuck in hotels that were not very centrally located, so venturing out was awkward. The areas these towns are in are beautiful, but I had a hard time separating Kanazawa from Tokyo in my head. That’s where we did an optional tour to Gokoyama, a hill town. I mentioned this experience previously, I believe. We also visited an old mountain town where we had our local guide. That was great, as usual! But no local guide in Gokoyama and we both missed that. The town of Gokoyama is here:

While in Gokoyama we learned how to “pound mochi”! You’ve heard of “pounding sand”? Well, it’s just like that, but with rice flour instead. Then we got to eat the results. Lisa has pics of me pounding mochi which I will post after I can get the photos off her phone/camera. Here’s the ancient device that is used:

The rice flour is pounded while a girl takes water and between hammer blows, throws water on the mix so it doesn’t get too sticky.  I wonder how many girls had their fingers smashed while learning the cadence?

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Jeff Drake

Retired IT consultant, world-traveler, hobby photographer, and philosopher.
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