On June 28th, 2008 I departed for Japan. I was a part of the People to People Student Ambassador Program, and someone who had never been outside the U.S. I was so excited; it was so surreal that I was participating in something so much bigger than myself. I have never been to such a fantastic, advanced place such as Japan. Everything is so intricate, every detail so breathtaking. It is the perfect mix of city (Tokyo, the Las Vegas of Japan), and wilderness (Miyajima, a little island that takes less than an hour to boat to).
Tokyo was just amazing as people think it is. It’s almost like an amusement park; there is so much to do. Shoppers can spend an entire day in the Oriental Bazaar (Omotesando, Harajuku district) and anime/manga fanatics can entertain themselves at the Suginami Anime Museum. And just a little outside the city part of Tokyo one can find serenity in the Meiji Shrine, covered in trees and wilderness. Night-owls can immerse in the bird-eye-view of Tokyo at night in the Tokyo Tower, a sight that can never be forgotten.
Hakone is the place for the outside adventurer. The trek up Mt. Fuji was the highlight of Hakone, even though I almost fell to my doom up the summit (right after the guide stated that falling would be very dangerous). While venturing up you’ll reach the level of the clouds (my straight-as-a-board hair became frizzy for the first time in my life). You can then head straight to the Hakone National Park and ride in the Hakone Komagatake ropeway. If you look down the view is simply astounding; with every couple of feet ascended you go through a puff of clouds, but can still see the trees that cover the mountains.
Gifu is for those seeking the traditional part of Japan (especially the city of Takayama). A fantastic, extravagant sight can be seen in the Festival Floats Exhibition Hall, in which ornate, intricate floats are on display. This hall is located next to the Takayama Jinya National Historic Site. This site offers a look into the Japan of a distant past; old fashioned toilets, torture chambers, and purifying stations can all be found within its boundaries.
Kyoto is more secluded than any of the other places visited. One can take a short boat trip to the Itsukushima Shrine on the Miyajima Island. It was the most interesting shrine we visited; wild deer roamed the island and tiny green crabs traveled the moist, but water dried dirt. The breathtaking Kinkaku-ji Temple (The Golden Pavilion), Nijo Castle, and Ninomaru Palace all offer a look at the Imperial Japan.
Hiroshima is a piece of living history. It is both the site of the tragic atomic-bomb dropping and the Hiroshima Peace Park. It was one of the most emotional places we visited; the memorial museum contains sights that are unforgettable. It only becomes more emotional when visiting the Sadako Sasaki Memorial, dedicated to the young girl who suffered from radiation poisoning and set out to fold 1,000 paper cranes.
Perfection, serenity, and adventure can be found all over Japan; just when you think you've seen it all something else pops up. The culture is so invigorating and unforgettable. My two weeks in Japan were incredible; I experienced parts of Tokyo, Gifu, Hakone, Kyoto, and Hiroshima. It was an experience I will never forget, and one I hope to return to soon. Nothing I have ever experienced was like visiting Japan. It is a place I will never forget, and a place to be enjoyed by all travelers.
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