My family and I occasionally take a ‘big’ trip. This summer we went to Japan. As our children get older, and head off for college, I realize our family trips are numbered.
This was my opportunity to be with family and revisit a country I had spent time in decades ago. I am still awed by the architecture, culture, beauty and the civility of Japan and its people. We used Airbnb’s to stay in beautiful homes in residential neighborhoods, (my favorite way to travel) in Tokyo and Kyoto. Best of all, for a family of 5, it costs less per night than staying at a Hilton in the U.S..
Some of the ‘must sees’ in Japan are the Shinto Shrines and Buddhist Temples, and, of course, we toured many of those and we were lucky to observe a wedding in progress at a temple in Tokyo. Every temple, every shrine, every palace or castle included a wonderful garden. The cities in Japan are quite crowded, but everything runs on schedule and is both safe and very clean. They have somehow combined the ultra-advanced technical world with ancient traditions.
As with most of our trips, the most memorable moments are the interactions with local people, helping to understand their culture and lives. Three doors down from our house in Kyoto, was a man who wove intricate fabric for Kimonos, table runners, and bed covers. He spoke almost no English, but welcomed us into his tiny workshop and with the help of Google Translate, we learned the basics of his work. His mechanical looms looked to be a hundred years old with thousands of moving parts that clickity clacked like it was about to fly apart.
I love to cook and really appreciate a good kitchen knife. I read about a tiny knife shop in Kyoto named Hayakawa Hamonoten. There was barely enough room for two of my children and I to stand along with the owners in the shop, but it was another wonderful experience. They spent about a half an hour explaining the best uses and properties of each of the knives, then we sat down with the 80 year old owner and received a lesson on how to sharpen the knife with a whetstone. (He sharpens all new knives by hand after purchase). He then inscribed ‘Crisp’ in Japanese on the knife. I walked out awed by the experience with a professional quality knife, all for less than $100.
When we are traveling, we try to get out of the main tourist areas at least for a while. In this case, we visited a rice farmer in the countryside outside of Kyoto. There, we learned how to make mochi, which is an ancient tradition of pounding sticky rice with a wooden mallet until it reaches a dough-like consistency. You then tear off small pieces and eat it as a little ball or fill them with bean paste or other fillings. It involves two people, one pounding the mochi while the other kneads the rice, trying not to get hit as the mallet comes down. The farmer then made us all a wonderful lunch including many delicacies from his garden. After a truly memorable day with the farmer and his wife, we walked across the rice fields to catch the train back to Kyoto. The following day, we took the Bullet Train to Tokyo, a perfect end to our trip.
Photography by: Abigail, Alicia, and Jimmy Crisp as well as our guides, Shino and Emi.