I could feel water creeping across my socks, slowly drowning my toes.
“Urgh, my feet are all wet,” Ian moaned.
I looked down to see tiny rivers flowing from the seams of his worn-out bluchers, just in time for me to sidestep another, giant puddle.
The forecast for the Saturday of our trip to Tokyo had been intermittent rain, not plummeting sheets, so now we were dodging tiny lakes, unprepared, as we followed Jo-san down to the port to buy our tickets for the Marine Rouge. Why had we thought it was a good idea to do a boat tour of Yokohama Bay in the rain?
“I’m pretty sure it will come down this way,” I said to Ian. We’d been waiting on the curb of the tree-lined avenue that runs from Meiji Shrine up to Omotesando.
“That guy asked the official standing over there and I’m pretty sure she said it will come down this way.”
I heard a voice to my right.
“Do you know if it’s coming down this way?”
I turned to find a brunette standing next to me with a blonde guy by her side.
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure it is,” I said.
“I’m Maria, by the way, and this is Chris.”
“Where are you guys from?”
“We work in Denmark.”
“But I’m Irish,” Chris smiled.
And so there we were – a South African, American, Venezuelan and Irishman – celebrating St Patrick’s Day in Japan.
The ever-so distinctive smell of old books is a Floo powder that transports me to my childhood: the water heater in primary school that I spent most winter mornings propped up against, chasing like a second Timmy after Julian, Dick, Anne and George through hidden coves and mysterious lighthouses; my grandmother’s couch, where I lost entire Saturdays exploring the Enchanted Wood and the Faraway Tree; the back seat of our family’s car, where I dedicated long car rides out to the Magaliesburg helping Nancy solve clues; and the most magical place to exist outside of those pages: The Boskruin Library.
It was a wonderful thing, being raised by a mom who loves books as much as I do. I’d get to spend almost every day after school maxing out my library card and weekends nosing through new and used book shops. Which is why, when I read about an entire neighbourhood dedicated to books in Tokyo, I had to go check it out.
After leaving the snow in Nagano behind, and spotting hundreds of tree lilacs on the drive from Nikko to Ibaraki, John and I were starting to feel spring fever. Which is why, on the last day of our holiday, we decided to head to Saitama for the annual cherry blossom festival in Gongendo Park (権現度公園).
We had checked the park’s website the night before and were thrilled to discover that the trees had officially been declared in bloom. Since cherry blossoms open and fall in the same week, we had got the timing just right. Or so we thought.
More than 1 000 years ago, a Buddhist priest named Shodo Shonin crossed the Daiya River on his way to Mount Nantai and founded the first temple at Nikko. Today, 103 buildings and structures make up an area known as the “Shrines and Temples of Nikko”, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After our drive up to Kegon Falls, John and I headed back into town to see one of the site’s most prominent shrines, Toshogu (東照宮).
Unlike the simple architecture of most of Japan’s shrines and temples, Toshogu is exquisitely ornate, decorated with gold leaf, bright lacquer paints and intricate carvings. The mash up of Buddhist and Shinto elements with a strong Chinese influence is a circus of texture and color, for which appreciation varies according to personal taste: some love it, others hate it. I found it fascinating.
If you’re prone to motion sickness, the road up to Kegon Falls is a challenge. Ascending 400m in just a few kilometres, it snakes around 20 hairpin bends (yes, 20!) before reaching the top of the Nikko mountains. But it’s worth it. On the third day of our trip up north, after arriving just the night before, John and I decided to spend the morning exploring the most famous of Nikko’s 48 waterfalls.
Part of the Nikko National Park, Kegon-no-taki is considered one of the top 3 most beautiful waterfalls in all of Japan. And when you take the elevator down through its bedrock to a multi-platform viewing deck (550円/$4.59 per adult), it’s easy to see why.
At an unbelievable 120 m (394 ft) high, the Ushiku Daibutsu in Ibaraki is certified by the Guinness Book of Records as the tallest Buddha figure in the world.
To put it’s size in perspective, the aptly nicknamed ‘Big Buddha’ is equivalent to a 38-storey building and is three times the size of the Statue of Liberty.
Less than two hours outside of Tokyo, Hitachi Seaside Park is one of the best places to view flowers in Japan. With seasonal gardens that sprawl across 1.9 sq km (0.3 sq mi) of land in Hitachinaka City, Ibaraki, the park is an ever-changing palette of colours all year round.
The first time I heard the song ‘Ho Hey’ I imagined listening to it live in a room full of people singing along. On 8 August, imagination turned to reality as John and I stood amongst a few hundred other people, locals and foreigners, waiting for The Lumineers to walk on stage at Shibuya’s AX in Tokyo.
The Itabashi-Fudoson temple, formerly known as Seiansan Fudoin, is a famous temple in Tsukuba Mirai City believed to have been built by Kobo Diashi in the Heian era. Dating back to 808, the main hall, two-storied gate and three-storied pagoda have significant cultural importance.