In the late eighties, my aunt took a trip to Japan and got me a pair of round-toed flats with a red flower pattern, and a little buckle to the side. I was nine, and these were the prettiest shoes I had ever owned. This, and the captivating tales she also brought back were likely the sparks that ignited my interest in all things Japanese: it seemed like she had visited another, mysterious planet, and I burned to go there myself some day.
It has taken me a little over twenty years to act upon that desire, twenty years during which I seized every opportunity to learn more about the culture and the people and the food, so I think it’s fair to say this is the single most anticipated trip I’ve ever taken. Part of me worried this might lead to some form of disappointment, but I’m thrilled to report that our trip managed to surpass even my sky-high expectations.
In broad strokes, what we did was this: fly from Paris to Tokyo; stay almost a week in Tokyo, where we swapped apartments with a friend of a friend who lives in the Omotesandō area; go to an onsen a little way north from Tokyo, where we stayed at a ryokan (a traditional inn) and bathed outdoors in the hot springs; spend a day in Osaka; go south to Kōya-san, a small mountain town that is a major holy site for Shingon Buddhism, where we stayed overnight at a temple-inn; stay in Kyoto for a few days, where we rented a little machiya in the Higashiyama area; fly home from Kyoto.
I seem to have spent the entirety of our vacation in a state of permanent elation, excited beyond words to just be there, observing everything and everyone, taking in street and nature and temple scenes, browsing shelves in stores big and small, walking, walking, and walking some more, riding gleaming trains, and eating like I gladly would for the rest of my days.
The one drawback is that it’s a little hard to come down from such a high, and already I am trying to find ways to plot another trip. But in the meantime, I would like to revisit a few highlights with you if you’re keen. Not a day-by-day, bore-you-to-sobs, comprehensive report but rather, as is my preference, a pointillist account of what delighted me most: