Although being only two and a bit hours from China, in all other respects the two countries couldn't be further apart. China, in it's unrelenting economic growth is often chaotic and often polluted. Beijing, for example, a lot of the time has a smoggy skyline like something from Dickensian London. It has mile after mile of construction site, and an overcrowded transport systems (traffic jams like I've never seen before). Tokyo on the other hand is clean, calm and organised. Of course, Tokyo hasn't always been like it is now, and has no doubt had it's share of development side effects in the past. The current characteristics of both cities, and indeed countries, merely reflect their stages of development. It would be hypocritical to criticise China for focussing on growth more so than environmental issues; our developed countries have all done it at one stage or another.
Anyway, here are some of my favourite bits of a country I will no doubt go back to, if I get the chance:
Wet Osaka. I arrived in monsoon season. If it wasn't raining, it was mainly cloudy. Umbrellas were a common site.
The skyline from the tops of buildings was pretty spectacular, both during the day and at night. The clouds on this particular day were pretty amazing:
Catching the skies just after a storm and just before dark gave great results, such as in the next pic. I saw a similar sky in London last Autumn, but it didn't have quite the same depth of colour.
Osaka, like most cities, has it's own brand of taxi. These, I have to say, are not my favourite. Interestingly all the drivers were dressed impeccably, either in bow ties or ties. I sensed that taxi drivers in Osaka are probably treated with a lot more respect than in some countries, and treat their customers in the same way. This kind of respectfulness and politeness was Japan all over for me.
Kyoto was one of the most beautiful places I have been. With its hilly surroundings and streams and river running through the middle, it is a breathtaking place. Holding the Kyoto Earth Summit there in 1997 was genius. Who could not sign up to stopping climate change, when in such an environmentally beautiful place. It would be like holding a meeting to get people to grow cocoa beans in Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. The shame, of course, is that several leading countries have failed to ratify the treaty.
A bit of afternoon fishing anyone? This bird was in a stream at the back of some houses. I can imagine waking up and looking out of the back window on to this lovely backdrop. Nice!
This I think the next bird is a Crane. There were several of them, and other huge birds, that looked like Eagles, fishing along the main city river, most of the day.
We visited some Imperial Residence Gardens, which were spectacular, as were most of the government buildings, gardens and temples I saw.
I took a train up one of the mountains. It wasn't the Bullet train, that came later. But, I managed to get near the front and get this shot, which I like.
My final image of Kyoto is the Golden Temple. Again the gardens here were breathtaking. It's amazing how buildings and gardens in Japan are developed in synch. In creating temples, etc, the gardens are given as much consideration as the building interiors and exteriors themselves.
So on to Tokyo. I took the Bullet train from Kyoto, which is something I have wanted to do for a long time. The scenery on the journey is amazing and, I'm no train spotter, but the Bullet itself is pretty spectacular too (and cheaper than Virgin of course). Anyway, when you arrive in Tokyo it is like any other huge city. Lots of people everywhere and blocks of blocks of buildings.
Equally as impressive by night. I didn't stay there all day by the way...
As with most major cities, parks and green space have an important function to play. This particular one was great. Lilies cover the lake at this time of year and produce an amazing backdrop. These chaps seemed to be enjoying it anyway
As in many parks there are a few interesting characters. This fella was no exception. I'm not sure about his outfit, but it seemed to work for him...
Here are a couple of my favourites, which I've saved for last:
As I say, I loved Japan and hope to go back one day. Next up is Yangshou in South China (next week) and then Thailand or Nepal in October. For now, Japan remains in my memory and will do for a long time to come.