It is known as the land of the rising sun. It is also known as the nation that excels in CDs, DVDs, walkmans, Nintendo video games, Instant Ramen noodles and the Bullet train. They have invented it all, the Japanese. They are a nation of cherry blossoms. Of terraced paddy fields, of austere monks and avid gamers, not to mention pagodas. They are a nation that produced a film-maker called Akira Kurosawa and a writer called Haruki Murakami.
It is a nation where people are incredibly punctual and immensely polite. Japan straddles the traditional with the modern with supreme ease. There is niceness in the Japanese air. Oh-so-contagious niceness! Here are five must do things in Japan, if at all you get a chance to visit this beautiful country.
This is the world’s highest lookout piercing the sky at 634 meters. The Tokyo sky tree is often called the world’s highest lookout. Hold your heart as the elevator whooshes up at 600 meters per minute. That’s like going up a 181 storeyed building before you can sing half a song. You can go up to 634 meters but peer through the 5-meter glass windows of Tembo deck (350 meters) for a spectacular view of Tokyo’s skyline.
On a clear day, the view stretches to 70 miles. Spiral another 100 meters up to Tembo gallery consisting of a sloping spiral ramp which gains height as it circles the tower. That is the world’s highest skywalk. Look carefully for a cheeky sign: World’s Highest Toilet. Perhaps calls for a piddle in the sky!
See, Eat, Use Gold
In Kanazawa, everything that glitters is gold. Literally. In the city that produces 99% of Japan’s gold leaf, you can buy candles with a hint of gold flakes in it; a mask made of gold that would probably turn a Medusa into Cleopatra in a jiffy, edible gold flakes packed into tiny boxes that can be sprinkled on cake or added to a drink.
There’s storehouse with walls embellished with gold leaf. If you want to get arty, learn the 400-year-old gold leaf art. But do not be fingers and thumbs. The Kanazawa gold leaf is 1/10,000 mm thin. That is 10 times thinner than a strand of human hair. Try holding that with a bamboo tweezer!
Carry your snow boots and pack some adrenalin. In the 56-mile long Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route, also known as the roof of Japan, adventure acquires a new meaning. The Alpine route is not merely about snow and the surreal landscape, but, it is about a journey that includes 7 forms of public transport with 5 modes funicular, bus, trolleybus, aerial tramway and walking. In summer, the big joy is walking through 500-meter snow corridor flanked with snow walls as high as 8 meters.
Make a gigantic snowman, glide through the slopes and etch your name in the snow. Keep an eye out for ptarmigan, the rare snow goose.
Did you know that the first Toyota passenger car rolled out on the streets in 1937? The model A. A. and colour black. The price, 3,350 yen, equivalent to four years of a freshers salary in 1930s Japan. The first Toyota truck tyres came attached with brooms so that the pedestrian was not inconvenienced.
The Toyota commemorative museum of industry and technology in Nagoya narrates the story of a group’s textile and automotive innovation and creation. In the museum, you can spin a yarn out of cotton. Make a car and watch a robot play the violin. Mellifluously.
Have you ever seen thatched roofs that appear like human hands raised in prayer? In the world heritage sites of Shirakawa-go in Gifu prefecture and Gokayama in Toyama prefecture, architecture melds seamlessly with nature. Slanted at 45-60 degrees, the Gassho roofs can withstand heavy snow.
Walk through the village with 300-year-old homes, where only the ground floor was used as living quarters. The two-storeyed attic was purported to rear and store silkworms. In the 300-year-old Wada house, which is open to the public, pay attention to the lacquerware and hay boots and clothes.