I never imagined that the first post in my blog would be about Japan!
There were so many interesting trips I went on since the time I decided to catalog my travel experiences. But I never really got down to ‘business’. The lazy writer in me refused to get to the writing desk even for the most adventurous trip of my lifetime, the famous and treacherous Chadar trek on the frozen river of Zanskar in Ladakh!
So, with Japan I do my blog’s Shree Ganeshaay Namah! May the Bappa inspire, conspire and fire me onto the blogging highway.
So, Why Japan?
This was the moot question almost everybody posed to me, before I went to Japan. And after I was back. And so I have two sets of answers – one for before, and another for after. So, please bear with me.
Logically or rather more commonly, I suppose a European destination or the USA or if budget was a concern (which it always is) any other South East Asian country would probably be the most likely choice for people like us, who don’t do so much foreign travel (the budget, you see. And the fact that India has so much to offer and we are never really done traveling through India. No sooner is one destination off the list, three more interesting ones take its place).
So, when I had the whole world to choose from, I went for a place that is on the wish list of so few. Why?
Well, if truth be told, the first carrot that hooked me was that there’s a Disneyland in Japan!
However childish that may sound, I wanted this ‘foreign’ vacation to be centered around Gia, my eight years old daughter. Friends had suggested that we should give it another two to three years, when Gia was aged about 10 or 12 to slate a US Disney trip. But a mother’s promise to her daughter had to be fulfilled.
So that got me reading about Japan. Little did I know that my research was the little big key that opened Alice’s door to Wonderland.
Well first things first, Japan does not just have one Disney Park, it has two!! The Disneyland and the Disney Sea, which happens to be unique and the only one of its kind in the world.
We’ll definitely read more about Disney Sea as my posts progress. But suffice to say, as I read on and on I was hooked, lined and sinkered to the Nippon world.
Every blog post, every website I read enticed me to visit this amazing country of manga, bullet trains, technomania and cute mascots.
However, all the words of praises and beautiful descriptions about the country notwithstanding, there was still an X factor about it that kept evading me. I was sure it was there somewhere. But it still had to come out and hit me, then grip me and finally possess me (which is what generally happens when I obsess about visiting a special place).
And then it happened. Out of the multitude of tabs and windows I had opened emerged a place hidden by a blanket of snow.
Though I had read and compared itineraries of dozens of bloggers and trip review sites, I hadn’t found a single mention about this place. Or maybe I missed it. It was the call of the mountains that leapt out of a Google Search page.
It spoke about the Japanese Alps! Alps… In Japan? That sounded interesting. I had never related Japan with snow. That shows our, correction – my – ignorance about a whole country, doesn’t it? More than that, it shows how little and how formulaic is what gets written about this country.
Well, my curiosity was piqued to a point where it led me to the almost dreamlike stretch of 90 kms of the Japanese Alps, called the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route! And it was the Alpine Route that nailed my Japan trip.
So, the Alps fall in the central part of Japan, which is fondly looked upon as the roof of Japan. Blessed with a pristine Alpine climate and scenery right out of a landscape photographer’s annual calendar, the beautiful Chubu region (Central region) is flanked by seven beautiful cities that surround the Japan Alps (my good fortune that I could visit four of these).
With every change of season the Chubu resets to a new kaleidoscopic pattern – from the myriad colours of spring blooms to the lushness of summery greens, the red and yellow of the Autumn, to finally a carpet of white wintry snow.
The X factor that I was looking for came in the form of Yuki-no-Ohtani, which literally translated means the Towering Wall of Snow. The snow walls carved out to make the roads motorable in spring climb up to a height of more than 20 metres! That’s like a 10 storeyed building. And we were at the end of spring! Probably the best time to traverse the Snow Corridor! Plus, to add to the beauty was the amazing one shot chance of experiencing Japanese prowess at technology and transportation.
Because, to traverse the Alpine route one has to change some seven different forms and five modes of transport taking you from an elevation of 7 metres to 2450 metres! Taking you from the base of the mountains to the top of their tallest peaks in marvels of Japanese engineering that dates back to 1971. Boring through tunnels, hanging out from ropeways and suspended in trolleybuses.
Reason enough to pack my bags, don’t you think? But there was still the moolah part to be looked at.
Japan is expensive!!
Apart from the iconic Mt. Fuji, the second almost legendary thing about Japan is that it is very costly!
And to think we were trying to avoid US for being expensive ;-). But by now I was head over heels in love. I had to visit this place and get it out of my system.
I got a few estimates from a few friends in the travel business. The costs they proposed sucked the breath out of my nice round cheeks. And they had not included even half the places I planned to go.
But where traveling is concerned there’s very little I won’t do to make a trip possible.
I decided to shred through the briefest of details and get a hang of the entire trip before I actually started out on one. I read. More and more. Met people who had visited Japan. And believe me, they were so few. And nobody had been to the places I had in mind. The Alpine route especially worried me no end, because it was a tricky one. Very time bound, not much first hand info about it. And the extreme climate to consider.
But because Seekers are Finders ♥, I started looking for ways to minimize my costs or travel smartly. And slowly the costs started falling in place, making me feel better and confident that I could manage the trip well within my budget.
So yes, Japan is expensive, but not that much that you come back a pauper. The costs are quite comparable to Europe or US or Australia- New Zealand (of course, you can do two trips to any other South East Asian countries in that much budget but that’s a different issue).
Also what helps is that Japan, which is not all out to woo foreign tourists, on the flip side is extremely tourist friendly. It has got so many travel passes and plans which are very cost effective. And which are not even available to its own citizens. The greatest savings come in the form of the Japan Rail Pass, which gives you unlimited rides on the superfast Shinkansens (bullet trains) and other affiliate train, buses and ferries running all across Japan! You can opt for a 7 or a 14 days pass.
So, if you plan your travel well and to the last detail, you can tame the tiger.
Stay tuned for the next part of the Japan series, solid reasons for making that Japan trip you never considered.