Tokyo isn’t Japan…

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…although it seems like it has everything. I daresay that Tokyo is usually the first thing that comes to people’s minds when they consider Japan. But it is hardly representative of Japan as a whole. This long weekend, thanks to a couple days off from school, I had the pleasure of visiting Kyoto and Osaka, in the Kansai region. As much as they were similar to Tokyo, they offered something different than the capital.

Both cities, oddly enough, had more people willing to speak English than back in Tokyo, which was unexpected. Where we were staying in Kyoto, which was a quiet residential area, the people there were extraordinarily kind and helpful. Twice, we were physically guided by different women back to the place where we were staying, once they saw that we were not from the area and appeared lost. I’m not sure if this is an example of the close knit residential community or a characteristic of Kyoto more generally, but I was touched by their willingness to help out a stranger without being asked. Not to mention, the mother of the man we rented the house from performed a tea ceremony for us as a gift to welcome us.

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Tea ceremony conducted by our host’s mother in the tatami room of her home.

Kyoto gives off an almost nostalgic feeling with its greenery, running water, and stone paths. I think it is easier to feel Japan’s past in this city, and it is here that I have seen the most people dressed in traditional garb. It is gorgeous, and despite the number of tourists and local residents that crowd the streets, there’s a kind of tranquility that comes from the wide open spaces and separation from urban life. Yes, it involves a lot of hiking and walking, but the sights of Japan other than the expected hi-tech modernization is worth the effort.

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Arashiyama in Kyoto

As for Osaka, I only had a chance to see it for a day, but from what I saw, older historic sites weren’t as far removed from the high rise buildings and all the steel and glass as Kyoto. One of my friends compared Osaka Castle park to Central Park in New York in that it is like a refuge away from the big city life. The grounds were well-maintained and seemingly preserved in time, so I can imagine what it must have been like.

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The outer perimeter to Osaka Castle

I have heard that Osaka is the kitchen of Japan, and that is exemplified by Doutonbori Street which is literally lined with food. There are restaurants with every kind of Japanese food imaginable, and what I tried was delicious. Some establishments even overlook a waterfront. Somehow, Osaka feels more relaxed compared to Tokyo, where everyone rushes to and from places. I never really see long lines of people waiting to eat at a specific restaurant in Tokyo, whereas I saw that in Osaka. Even on the subway, I saw less people running down the steps in a flurry.

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Near Doutonbori

Visiting the Kansai region reminded me that Japan isn’t all about harried salary men hustling, flashing neon lights, and the balancing act of work-filled days and glitzy nights. Just like no state in the U.S. is the same, each part of Japan has its own uniqueness that adds to Japan’s make-up. As much as Japan is a modern country that races against time to continue innovate technology, it is also untouched as it protects the parts that comprise its history and gives it identity.

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