A Short Train Ride Through Japan
ID # 1781
Hello and Konnichiwa!
My name is Maura. When I was in high school, I lived on American military base in Japan. During that time, I experienced many cultural events and tried my fair share of Japanese food. In my three year stay, the thing that struck me the most were the people I met and the cultural traditions I got to see firsthand. Since you can get almost anywhere in Japan via the train system, you can experience some of this culture just by stepping off of a train and into a town. Let’s set off on a train ride!
Station 1: Hakone
I visited Hakone a few times in high school. Hakone is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park and contains a salt spring, shrine, and a number of spas (onsen) catered to Japanese and foreign tourists vacationing in the area. In order to get to Hakone, you must take the train all the way up and then take a rope-way, a cable car, and a switch back train all the way to a special spot on the mountain. From there, you can take a bus up a very windy and scary looking road to your destination. The name of the station in Hakone with the special hot spring eggs is called Owakudani. You will know when you have arrived in the right place because it will smell strongly of sulfur. Here, people hard boil eggs in the hot spring. The sulfur and extremely hot water in the hot spring turns the eggs completely black! I was told that eating one of these eggs will add seven years to your life (so I ate two!) In the picture below, you can see the piled up black egg shells. How many years do you think were added on by these shells?
Station 2: Sapporo
One of my favorite parts of culture is the food people make to feel comfortable. Comfort food is just as popular with Japanese people as it is here in America. One of the most popular forms of B-Class gourmet is actually popular in America as well: ramen. There are thousands of different types of ramen in Japan. Of course, we are all familiar with instant ramen. You may be surprised to find that ramen in Japan was not traditionally instant. Regionally, different styles of traditional ramen are available. The four major ramen flavors are shio (salt), shoyu (soy sauce), tonkatsu (pork), and miso (miso soup base). In Sapporo and other areas in Hokkaido, you will find a special kind of ramen that is famous all throughout Japan. Sapporo ramen is a miso based ramen with a thicker soup than many of us are used to seeing. Like other types of ramen, it is topped with a variety of different toppings, like bamboo, pork, or egg. In a city near Osaka called Shin-Yokohama, you can go to the Ramen Museum and try ramen from all of the different regional distinctions in Japan. You can also make your own instant ramen package while you’re there. One skill you should work on during your stay is your use of chopsticks. You won’t typically find forks at a ramen restaurant. Did you know that there is a different way to count chopsticks than other types of objects in Japanese? What is a type of American food that varies from region to region?
Station 3: Shibuya
When you think of Tokyo, you probably imagine a big city that looks a lot like New York. In reality, Tokyo is more of a regional area or metropolis. There are dozens of cities that belong to Tokyo. The city of Shibuya is more than likely the city you imagine when you picture Tokyo in your head. With lit up billboards and gigantic crosswalks, Shibuya is a grand city to visit. Shibuya is one of the biggest shopping shopping districts in Japan and is surrounded around the country’s busiest railway station. One of the stories of the Shibuya station is so famous that it has changed the way people meet each other in one of the biggest cities in Tokyo. In 1924, a professor at the University of Tokyo took in an Akita dog as his pet. Every day, Hachiko would greet his owner at the train station on his way back from work. Even after he died suddenly at work one day, the dog, Hachiko, returned to the train station to wait for his owner every single day at the same time. This went on for 9 years. One year before the dog died in 1935, a bronze statue was placed in the dog’s honor at the station. Since then, several movies have been based on Hachiko’s story (even an American movie starring Richard Gere). Because the Shibuya station is so large and busy, people have a tradition of agreeing to meet at the Hachiko statue. Because the statue is so small, people will meet based on a particular part of the dog’s body. I’ll meet you at the tail at 1:00PM!
Station 4: Kyoto
Kyoto is one of the most famous areas in Japan for much the same reason that Tokyo is famous now: it was the capital at one point. The charming aspect of Kyoto is the way that certain areas seem to still be frozen in time. Kyoto contains 2000 “religious places.” It is hard to see them all in one day, so you should devote at least a week to your stay in Kyoto. Some of the quarters in Kyoto still resemble traditional housing quarters. If you go to the right place, you may even see a Maiko (a woman dressed much like a Geisha). Several different festivals take place in Kyoto and are famous around the country. Thousands of people will go to Kyoto for the Gion Matsuri, where they can see a giant parade down the Gion district. When you go to a festival, you will see hundreds of people dressed up in semi-traditional clothing. Of course, you have probably heard of a kimono. In reality, the kimono is a very thick dress that is only worn on formal occasions and is very warm to wear in the summer time. Instead, you will see girls wearing yukata (as shown in the picture below). Around the waist, you will tie your obi. Some people buy pre-tied obis to hook onto the back of their robes. The art of the obi tie is very elaborate and is a skill that is still preserved by some people in the country. Do we have any traditional clothing we would wear to an event in the US?
I’m very glad you could go on this train trip through my memories with me! If you have any questions about my experiences in Japan, please feel free to leave a comment. Arigatou Gozaimasu! (Thank you very much!)