Category: Japan

Japan: The Everyday and The Obscure

Flying into  Osaka from Singapore, after a long flight from Adelaide, South Australia, Anya and I were greeted by very long cues at customs. Tourism was back to normal after the years of Covid and evidently the Japanese weren’t  prepared for it. It took us two hours to get through customs, after which we had to walk to the adjoining railway station to buy a ticket to Nara, south of Osaka. Late in the day, this was the sight which greeted us: 


Standing in yet another cue, we finally got a ticket and discovered we had to change trains on the way to Nara and it was rush hour. At the station where we had to change trains we greeted by another intimidating sight. Amusing how arriving in a strange country, the simplest tasks such as making one’s way on the public transport system, becomes an adventure in itself. Also easy to see how sometimes foreign tourists lose each other at these stations especially during the busy times of day. 


So too, the everyday for the people living in the strange new landscape is the obscure for the first time traveller. These drink vending machines for examaple are absolutely ubiquitous in Japan; they can be found in many a side street and even in small villages. Some of the drinks are to quench thirst, others are caffeine hits. 

It took us some time to work out how to use them! 


Amusing image of a ‘big boss’!


Cash – notes and a bewildering diversity of coins – are commonly used in Japan unlike other modern nations which have become pretty much card economies. At the drinks dispensers to the check outs at supermarkets, from buying tickets at bus and railway stations, it is normal to use notes and coins – which are fed into a machine and the change delivered within a very short space of time.


Rooms in Japan are often very small (unless you can afford a luxury room in a big hotel). Rental apartments, our preference mostly, are few and far between.

This was our first decent sized room in Japan, the only drawback being the bedding – thin matrasses on the floor and and total absence of chairs or anything to sit on. 


This place had somewhere to sit ok but….the ‘chairs’ were not exactly inviting, although I must say, after a few days we started to actually get used to them – in the same way we got used to sleeping on a thin mattrass on the floor and having to organise our stuff in a small room. 


We went on long walks whereever we were. Invariably, at the outer margins of the towns and cities, there temples…….




Another idiosyncrasy we soon noticed during our walks were the graveyards, often quite small and seemingly scattered about in the oddest places – sometimes in people’s backyards and in this photo near a railway station. Death in Japan involves a complex set of rituals conducted by Buddhist priests and attended by family and relatives. It underlines the prominent role played by tradition in this ultra modern society. Family and extended family graves are commonplace. The bodies are cremated at a lower temperature than is normal in western nations, burning away the flesh and leaving the bones. The ash is unimportant and usually tossed away; the bones are seen as the essence of the departed soul and it is these are consigned to the earth with a column placed on top. 


Pedestrian crossings are sacrosanct. When the lights for the crossing turn green, the traffic comes to a grinding halt. It is unthinkable that a driver try to creep over the crossing when a space appears between the people using the crossing. A far cry indeed from Australia (which in any case has very few pedestrian crossings) and The Netherlands (where you have to be very careful before venturing to use the officially designated crossing). It was something we appreciated during our long walks around the Japanese cities and towns and demonstrates all the advantages of a nation with a strong civic culture.  


A poster for the latest regional elections in Japan which returned an unprecedented number of young people and women. 


The Japanese cusuine is based on fish, noodles and rice. Personally we prefer the spicy cuisines of India and Thailand. Still, eating out in Japan is an experience….




An advertisment for cosmetics. I’m not much interested in advertising, but this one caught my eye…


Whilst the railway stations in the cities are usually frenetic, in the towns it’s the opposite: vault like places, empty, silent and unbelievably clean.




The Todadji Temple

Constructed between 745 and 752 BC by Emperor Shomu to mark the adoption of Buddhism as a state religion. Buddhism was imported from China along with so much else, including the language. At this point in time, Nara – today by Japanese standards a small town – was the capitail of Japan or leastways, where emperor Shomu chose as his seat of power. Shomu was striving to emulate the example of the Chinese emperor and create a powerful centralised state with he and his familyl at the top.

The Todaji Temple, even by today’s standards a large temple, was in its day one of the largest temples in the world with the largest statue of Lord Buddha. It was in other words, an architectural declaration of the Emperor’s power and preeminence. In the meantime, many other temples were built in the precincts of Nara – which can still be visited today ( of the orginal Emerpor’s palace only the gateway remains).  Intended to underpin the rule of Emperor as the supreme leader of Japan, the Todaji Temple was in its time, the largest temple ever built. However grafting the Chinese tradition on to Japanese society ultimately failed. The centralised rule of the emperors collapsed before the rebellion of powerful landlords – backed by a new class of warriors unique to Japan: the samurai. 

Todaji became a magnificent relic and Nara slipped into the mists of anonymity. Today the Todadji Temple is one of Japan’s ‘must see’ sights and this year, with Covid now a memory, it will be visited by hundreds of thousands of visitors, especially during the summer. Besides the main temple – a commanding wooden structure – there are extensive surrounding grounds with other impressive temples and thousands of deer. 

To see the temple and surrounding grounds at an optimal time, Anya and I got up early one morning in late March and walked to the temple at 7am. 







The presence of hundreds of deer in the surrounding grounds of the Todaji complex is a great drawcard for the tourists and especially the children. 

That the deer have always been a part of the temple complex is attested to by these ancient columns inscribed with early Japanese scrift (borrowed from China) with carvings of deer at the bases. 


In mating season however Bambi is somewhat less friendly as these signs, posted around the Todaji grounds indicate…..