Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

On the surface, Hiroshima, Japan, was like any other large metropolitan city. Traffic streamed down the broad boulevards. Trams trundled noisily past on tracks set in the middle of the street. People hurried along sidewalks under a searing sun. Yet from the moment I set foot in Hiroshima, I felt wrapped in a cloak of peace.

War leaves its marks on cultures as firmly as it does on individuals. The devastation suffered from the A-bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima at the end of WWII might easily have left the Japanese a bitter, resentful, war-mongering people. Instead, they have become the nation most passionately devoted to nuclear disarmament and world peace.

This quest for peace pervades everyday life in Japan. On the Limousine Bus from the Airport, an announcement instructed that mobile phones be set to quiet mode. The hour-long ride was eerily silent, without a single phone ringing or word being uttered. Passengers on trolleys are prohibited from talking on their cell phones or playing music. In other destinations around the world, I endlessly wait for crowds to clear so I can take a decent photo. But at the eternal flame and Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima, Japanese tourists queued automatically, patiently waiting for their turn to pay respects or snap a photo.

The Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima is a must see when visiting Japan

The Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima is a must see when visiting Japan

The Atomic Bomb Dome sits just a few hundred meters from the hypo-center of the devastating nuclear blast. The bomb was detonated 600 meters above the ground to cause the maximum possible destruction. A conference was underway in the building that day; everyone in attendance was instantly incinerated. Thousands of children who were in the city center, helping to tear down old wooden buildings to create fire breaks, were also killed. Almost everything within a three-mile radius was flattened. Remarkably, the Atomic Bomb Dome survived. Read More

Entrance to the spectacular Kiyomizu-dera Temple in Kyoto, Japan

Click on title to view photo in large format. I’d been walking half a day in scorching heat when I arrived at the gorgeous entrance to Kiyomizu-dera Temple in Kyoto, Japan. I looked up the steep steps and questioned whether I really wanted to tackle yet another temple complex. Perhaps the entrance was all I needed to see. In the end, I wiped the sweat off my brow and plodded up the stairs. A bit further on, past several smaller, pretty temples, I rounded a corner and found a ticket office. Again, I considered whether I should just call it a day, but something made me pull out my wallet.

Beyond the ticket window I stepped out onto the broad Kiyomizu Stage, which hangs over the front of the Main Hall of Kiyomizu-dera Temple, and got my first shock. Read More

In Kyoto, Japanese wear traditional Yukata as everyday attire

Click on title to view photo in large format. Many Japanese still wear the traditional Yukata, a casual cotton version of the more formal silk Kimono, as everyday attire. I found this to be so in Kyoto more than in any other place I visited in Japan. The streets were full of Yukata-wearing men and women. And while those in the city center were likely authentic, I learned that many Japanese rent their ensembles at one of Kyoto’s ubiquitous Kimono rental shops. For a price between 3,500 and 6,500 Yen ($32-61), both men and women can be outfitted in the cotton undergarment, robe, obi (belt), wooden sandals, hand fan, and a carry bag that makes up the national costume. Additional fees buy Read More

Senso-ji Temple, said to be the heart and soul of Tokyo, Japan, is most spectacular at night

Click on title to view photo in large format. Senso-ji Temple, located in the traditional Tokyo neighborhood of Asakusa, is said to be the heart and soul of the city. During the day, huge crowds of locals and visitors flock to the site. On the approach to the main hall, they light incense at the giant urn and allow purifying smoke to waft over their bodies. At the top of the main hall steps they pause again to pray, bowing reverently three times.

While Senso-ji temple is a beehive of activity during the day, the most spectacular time to visit is at night. After dark, the crowds have dispersed and the temple structures are Read More

Using the Metro in Tokyo, Japan, can be a bit daunting. I’ve ridden subways in cities all over the world, from Shanghai to Paris to New York City, but none is more complex than the system in Tokyo. Even the official map of the system looks like so much spaghetti.

An underground station of the Metro in Tokyo

An underground station of the Metro in Tokyo

The single most confusing issue is that not all lines are operated by the same company. Some are owned by private railway companies, while others are operated by the city. Tickets are not interchangeable between the city lines and private companies, so you need to plan ahead. Decide ahead of time which lines you plan to use, in order to purchase the correct ticket. Read More

Japanese girl with umbrella shelters from the sun in Hama-rikyu Gardens in Tokyo, Japan

Click on title to view photo in large format. Japan’s weather ranges from brutally cold winters to sweltering summer sun and monsoon rains. This Japanese girl with umbrella in Tokyo’s Hama-rikyu Gardens already knows how to use her umbrella against sun and rain. While the practice of carrying umbrellas makes for precious photos, Japanese tend to be much shorter than me. As a result, Read More