It was a very big wish of Marvin’s to show me his favorite country on earth: Japan. After three years of language lessons (shoot-out to the patience of Maarten, Marvin’s private tutor), the time had finally come: the land borders opened in October 2022, and we immediately booked tickets to this mystical island.
We chose to start on the southernmost island: Kyushu. We thought it would be fun to explore the lesser-known part of Japan first. In a cookie-cutter rental car, we drove through busy cities like Fukuoka and mountainous natural areas. Everywhere we looked, the trees were red and yellow, giving a fairy-tale feel.
My favorite part on Kyushu was Kurokawa Onsen, a traditional mountain village where we could relax in warm natural pools. Armed with towels, Japanese socks and kimono, we walked from bath to bath. We slept on tatami mats and ate cake-fresh traditional dishes. All around us we saw the work of ancient crafts: woodwork, ceramics, stone, wickerwork. And it was quiet, an advantage of booking quickly after the borders opened to tourists. There was a ceramics pop-up store in the village, where I stocked up considerably on handmade cups and bowls. Marvin made small talk with everyone in Japanese, which led to some very nice conversations.
Halfway through the trip, we took a speedboat of sorts to Yakushima (Unesco), a small island known for its primeval forest. The forests are insane, so is the coastline. Everywhere you can find chill coffee shops with fresh baked goods in the craziest places. The most exciting moment was the mountain route along the coast, where we climbed along extremely narrow paths in our rental car. Wild monkeys and deer showed themselves. We took the island into our hearts.
Time for some action! By train, we traveled first to Kyoto, the temple city of Japan. On bikes, we explored the city with its ancient streets and geisha past. By the way, we saw one maiko (geisha in training) and one geisha. She walked right before us around dinner time in narrow streets lined with restaurants, heading for her company.
Tokyo was especially crazy. So many people, neon, buildings. Full subways and streets, but all so structured. On one street you will find all the tech stores, and on the other you will walk through an old park with temples where history has been written. The contrasts are enormous.
Marvin wanted to show me Japan to share his love in it. Since Asia never interested me much before, the question was whether this piece of Asia would suit me. Well, it worked out. I think this trip is my best vacation trip I have taken in my 32 years. We both secretly dream of going there someday and being enchanted again by the amazing people, culture and nature.