Big in Japan
After 50 years, I am apparently ready to set my foot on Japan's soil.

The original plan was to get there with an organized trip to visit an Omoto monastery and other places that had some special significance in the history of Aikido.

This idea unfortunately failed because the organizers, despite their best efforts, did not manage to get enough people on board. So the trip was canceled.

Oddly enough, this motivated me to get there no matter what, so - thanks to JTB Italy - I put together (a bit hastily, to be honest) an alternate plan, and here I am.

(Bonus content: hints and tips about a trip to Japan).
Day 1 - Oct. 29th, 2013

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This is, to be precise, more like day 2. Or day 1.5 or... Japan is +7 from where I live, and the two legs of the trip together take over 13 hours of "subjective time". So while I have started my trip on Oct. 28th, most of the day has been spent in Lufthansa's care, and at my arrival it will be early morning in Tokyo.

Unfortunately it was raining, which put a damp on my activities, and a darker tone to all the pictures.
I managed to visit the Japanese Sword Museum - but pictures are strictly forbidden inside.
Here is what I managed to capture while wandering in Tokyo: Gallery Day 1

Day 2 - Oct. 30th, 2013

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This has been my first intercontinental flight so far, and I am glad to discover that I can cope with Jet Lag with almost no problem: I managed to stay awake most of the time since I left Turin ( slept maybe one hour on the plane, and another couple on the bus from Narita to Tokyo). This allowed me to go to sleep at the "right" hour according to the local timezone, and to get up the morning after at 6:30.
Today was dedicated mostly to a guided tour of Tokyo. I had some doubts about this, too - because usually guided tours bore me to tears.
It actually worked very well, probably thanks to the infectious guide, and all was well... until the very end. After the visit to the Tokyo Tower, the Tea Ceremony, the lunch and finally the boat trip we were supposed to traverse a Market district and rendez-vous at the Asakusa Kannon temple... but I got lost and missed the bus by a wide margin.
I got back to the hotel without much of a problem, but unfortunately I couldn't call the guide to reassure her I was fine.
Here are the pictures for today: Gallery Day 2

Day 3 - Oct. 31st, 2013

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Second guided tour - this time to the Yokohama area. This tour is mostly dedicated to Buddhist and Shintoist shrines. All in all I liked this a bit less than the first one, because we spent most of the time on the bus (the various stops are far from each other) apart from the fact I prefer to walk (and take pics, which is almost impossible through the windows) our schedule was at the mercy of traffic, so in some cases we had to rush through a given area (like the Chinese quarter in Yokohama) in order to make it in time to the next one.
The shrines and the garden were gorgeous, though, so it was still worthwile.
Here are the pics for this day: Gallery Day 3
Day 4 - Nov. 1st, 2013
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Today was a "free" day - i.e. the only one where I hadn't scheduled anything in particular. My own plan was to visit a shodo store in the morning, and then spend the afternoon at the Hombu Dojo, hoping to take part in as many classes as possible.
The morning was totally wasted. First of all navigating Tokyo Metro is not too difficult, unless you are born with the GeTLoST gene like me.
I tend to get impatient (afraid of being late) and make even more mistakes, especially using Google Maps.
Anyway, in the end the shop was closed, despite being abundantly after the opening time.

Hombu Dojo was way better. Apart from the fact that I will probably be covered in blue bruises tomorrow.

Enjoy: Gallery Day 4

Day 5 - Nov. 2nd, 2013

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Today's tour should have been a chance to see the brilliant autumn colours on the sides of Mt.Fuji. Weather put a damp on this, and again - just like the day before, the balance walk/sit-in-bus-to-get-driven-somewhere didn't work well for me.
It was still nice though, the guide was very enthusiastic and the places were still gorgeous even under a gray sky.
Also: I was very tired after yesterday's practice, and had to load lots of stuff in my backpack (my main luggage will be sent to Kyoto while I spend 3 days in smaller towns in the area so a very long walk would probably be worse for me.

Look at: Gallery Day 5

Day 6 - Nov. 3rd, 2013

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From now on I will travel "on my own" for two more days, and reach Kyoto after a detour to Takayama first, then Shirakawago. I am using trains and buses, and I am taking with me only a trimmed down baggage, basically all I could put in my backpack - the rest will be delivered to me by a courier in Kyoto.

Unfortunately the weather is not very good - it was overcast again when I woke up in Hakone, and became worse a few kilometers before reaching my destination. This again has lowered the quality of the pictures, and also reduced my ability to move around for extended periods of time.

Enjoy: Gallery Day 6

Day 7 - Nov. 4th, 2013

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Second "transfer day". I had a bus seat reserved to get to Shirakawa-gō, an incredibly beautiful village where buildings still use traditional methods to build and repair the roofs (all made with straw). On top of that, I will experience a night (including dinner and breakfast) in a traditional, family-ran Ryokan.

The only problem was weather - while rain had stopped in Takayama, it still reached me as soon as I set foot in Shirakawa-gō. Luckily it never became too strong, so I managed to tour the area and take plenty of pictures of the place, a real feast for the eyes.

Celebrate Autumn with Gallery Day 7

Day 8 - Nov. 5th, 2013

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After a few more picture in Shirakawa-gō I took a bus (again, perfectly planned by JTB staff) to go to Kanazawa. There I just walked around a bit and spent some time in their biggest park - there were other things to see there, but I wasn't sure if should try to reach Kyoto before 8pm, so I took an earlier train.
My concern was that my luggage should arrive between 6 and 8 pm at the hotel, and I supposed it was better if I were there to get it myself.
Actually, the hotel staff had already collected it and paid in advance, so there was nothing to worry about (again).

Enjoy: Gallery Day 8

Day 9 - Nov. 6th, 2013

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I actually have two distinct galleries for today: one is a short walk in the very early morning, and the other is the guided tour of Kyoto.
The latter was a bit rushed, because there was plenty to do. In general I regret (a bit) not to have taken more free days during this visit. It's true that the guided tours facilitate access to very important places, and also take care of moving your around the city in a bus (and often cater for lunch, too) but on the other hand you often have to speed through stuff to compensate for delays due to traffic jams or other unexpected events.

Day 10 - Nov. 7th, 2013

Today's visit was to Koyasan - the Buddhism capital for Japan. The first temple was set up 1200 years ago and since then over 150 more temples have been built around it, creating a veritable "mecca" for buddhist. People come from all over Japan to study or just have some sort of pilgrimage here.
I was guest of one of the many temples offering food and lodging to people from all over the world. And I was a bit surprised (again) at how things just seemed to run smoothly despite my extremely basic (read: non-existant) Japanese vocabulary, and the fairly complicated travel plan (three different trains, one cable car and one autobus line, all booked by myself).

Enjoy: Gallery for Day 10

Day 11 - Nov. 8th, 2013

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After a 1-hour chanting ceremony (and a nice japanese-style breakfast) I left the temple and explored the area a bit more.
The Mt Koya main village has a few shops, a fire brigade, but more than 80% of it is devoted to temples or shrines. Very few places where to eat, no hotels (none that I saw at least).
Around 1pm I traced my steps back to Kyoto, and tried (with no success) to reach another Shodo shop.
Neither Google maps nor the efforts of plenty of kind and enthusiastic locals were enough. The actual location is still a mistery to me.

Day 12 - Nov. 9th, 2013

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Last day in Kyoto (and Japan) was mostly free. I had a nice Shodo lesson but for the rest I just kept on chasing shodo shops (finally I found where the one I was looking for was: hiding in plain sight a few hundred meters from my hotel... in the end I got it thanks to Google Streetview).

Gallery for Day 12
Shodo Lesson Gallery

This is a shodo shop that I found accidentally while looking for the other one...