Saturday, 23 December 2017
Make sure you don't miss Mount Fuji either in a blink or go to the bathroom and you'll miss it moment as the infamous Bullet Train takes you past all the iconic Japanese landmarks on your way to another one. As Kyoto is more than just a jumbled version of the capital city of Tokyo, it's also another perfect mix of so old and so new. So Kyoto shows you the traditional and the future of a country steeped in legend but still stepping towards its legacy.
So whether you're going it 'Alone In Kyoto' like the beautiful French dance duo Air's instrumental track which will make for the perfect, atmospheric soundtrack for this trip, or if you are partnering with the one you love for a journey that will be as beloved as the one you have already taken, Kyoto has it all pillar to post.
The beautiful city is painted in poetry and immersed in your every inspiration. Once you step off the train and into this new world you will be surrounded by some classic culture and possibly the kindest strangers you'll never meet. The bullet's chamber of a train station almost acts like a moat seperating two parts of Kyoto, old and new. And with no place like this home in the world, let alone Japan you're about to witness one of a kind places all throughout this town. It's much more than just your lovable, local Family Mart's and Lawson's on each corner you take your JR pass.
This city has shops and boutiques for days upon miles of blocks and side streets. It may not be Harajuku but the market here is so long and be warned densely crowded that you'll end up walking (if you can call the slow saunter that) like something that resembles a penguin after fish. The only walk you'll take longer than that countless corridor is up more stairs than Penrose outside the downtown hub.
Because even though the white and red Tokyo rivalling, Kyoto Tower gives you a grand view of all this city beholds, if you want a real lay of this land then it's time to climb a mountain. And for all the stunning shrines that surround every part of Japan none is quite like the pillar pilgramage you will take to the one stand out Shinto shrine. The fantastic Fushimi Inari-taisha is tradition personifed. A real wonder of the world and your eyes which take your breath away, if you're walked to the point of exhaustion lungs haven't done so already. The head shrine of the God Inari sits at the base of the mountain of the same name. But as beautiful as that shrine truly is your trail is far from over. As those iconic orange torji take you to many smaller shrines all over the mountain that all told take up to two hours to walk, but will end up being something out of one day that your memories will remember for the rest of your life.
Tradition takes every corner here like your camera. From shrines like the Kiyomizu-dera and the Kinkaku-ji to the influential Imperial Palace to the bamboo and monkey world of the amazing Arashiyama whose bamboo grove walk is only rivalled by the torji trails of the Inari. But in all this beauty the Nijo Castle is something else entirely as you take off your shoes and walk the gravel silent grounds of something so moving the words you should keep to yourself just don't do this historic monument of ancient Kyoto justice. But your silence in the stirring presence of a service will be the respect this dark wooden place of times gone golden deserves.
But whether you're in the mood for a Philosphers Walk perfect from the hallowed cherry blossom of Japan, to the Autumn season. Or if you just came to this anime world for the magic of the Manga Museum from 'Akira' to 'Your Name', you need to save room and time in one of this country's big-three cities top two points of interest. The testament to this town in itself, the To-ji Buddist temple is boundless beauty like the cobbled canvassed roads, streets and walkways that lead you there in vintage shop (and we aren't talking about old tees, dungarees and throwback jerseys) unison and buildings of that same vein, screen door tradition.
By now you'll have probably found a decent place for dinner as this cities exploration eats at the soles of your sneakers. And every street has something amazing to eat. So much so that the food coma you'll go through after will demand the same bed rest that the days itinerary will have done to the rest of your body from your knees down. So the night calls for ample time to let yourself relax and rest and recuperate in one of the many individual, hallmark hotels this town has to offer for you to lay your hat. And to that end could we make a personal recommendation however of the SHE Kyoto hotel? In a country whose Murakami 'Norwegian Wood' love for The Beatles is to the letter, by the book this warm and welcoming place wherever your from tells you "SHE loves you". And when it comes to this perfect mix of traditional and modern aesthetic you'll love her too.
They even give you a smartphone loaded with travel info and walking maps to to see you for the rest of your trip where there's more to explore. So don't sleep in and make sure you're all charged up because between places to pin like the Shimogamo Shrine and the Koda-ji there's so much to see temple to shrine in a buddhist city that has to be seen to be believed. And we'll leave the rest of that up to you because like Kyoto itself and it's place in Japan, the beauty of this city and country isn't what you are advised to see, but what you actually discover yourself. And when it comes to this wonderful and soulful place you really may just find yourself right here. TIM DAVID HARVEY.
Thursday, 20 April 2017
The moment you touchdown in the inspired Incheon Airport (boasting high-end boutiques and facilities. Ranging from a cinema to a mini-orchestra...and a shower), you really get a beat of this beautiful place. Even if you are on a long layover to another part of Asia or Australia you can catch a quick break here provided you're not red eyed. And all it will cost you is the time you want to pass too. Nothing is wasted here as the Free Korea Transit Tours offer you a different view and guide of the city for you frequent fliers depending on the time of day. And the coach will get you back in time for your connection...don't even worry. But from temple to skyscrapers take it from us, you're going to want to visit this place properly.
Because there's so much in Seoul. From the steps of a place steeped in history to the illuminating future as bright as the neon that shines like the windows of every office block as sky scraping day turns to night. And then that's where you can get your fill of all the food that this classic city has to offer in every corner you turn. And so what if your eyes are bigger than your belly...lets eat. And make sure you look out for some Korean BBQ, because nothing is hotter than that.
Unless your after the latest fashion. Because Seouls trading shopping district is a grand design. So if you're part of the clothes horse race then you can keep running through the sales until the day pales. As 24 hour opening times mean you can shop until the clock drops. And you can find it all here in this extended mall of a town. Fendi, coach...boyfriends with no free hands.
But if you're part of the, 'why buy what you can online crowd' than Seoul's sites are where it's at. And no landmark takes you higher than the N Seoul Tower planted like a skytree in the heart of Seoul's downtown district, offering you an outstanding view of the whole city it captures from it's tallest point and peak.
And there's a lot to take in that shines from sunrise to sunset like the beer tower like gold of the 63 Building. Many travellers spend their whole lives seeking out the wonders of this world for their Instagram memories and scrapbooks, but Seoul provides a formidable, famous five world heritage sites. Including the Changdeok Palace, the Hwaseong Fortress, the Jongmyo Shrine, Namhansanseong and the Royal Tomb of the Joseon Dynasty. That's a lot to cross off your list by the bucketload.
An arsonist may have burned down the iconic, traditional Namdaemun gate in the middle of this cities roads, but the people of this town that restores you built it back up, brick by brick. Even in the shadow of terrorism or the tyranny of the north, South Korea's Seoul still finds the light like seeing the iconic Mt Bukhan in the beautiful background of anywhere you stand.
There's so much history here no matter who or what tries to take that away and fron the ashes of fire Seoul rises again and again like phoenix. Now a pillar in this modern world and the cultures it connects like the bountiful Banpo Bridge and the majestic Moonlight Rainbow Fountain thay comes alive in the nightime. This city keeps growing street to skyscraper, sidewalk to stadium. Like the Dongdaemun Design Plaza that's modern art architecture and the Asian giant eatery Lotte World sponsered area where you can do more than just grab a bite.
But our place to pick and make a pilgramage to our the sensational Sevit Floating Islands which was the stream that lead to the changing tide of the Korean Wave culture reaching the wide world. This another highlight in a history making place that's about to hold and host the 2018 Pyeong Chang Winter Olympic Games, two years before Japan neighbour Tokyo hosts the biggest five ring flame event for the first time since 1964. But why wait? Right now it's time to make memories in a city that won't just have a place in your heart, but a home in your soul. TIM DAVID HARVEY.
Wednesday, 22 March 2017
Planted at the best vantage point in central Tokyo. The Tokyo Skytree offers the most vivid view of this magnificent metropolis.
Like a pin point dropped on a real world version of Google Maps, the white and grey structure that comes alive in the night time in a hue of blue (or the traditional Japanese color aijiro), shows that this capital of Japan is sprawling and seemingly never-ending.
Standing at some 2,080 feet, 32 floors above the ground, this broadcast and observation tower also offers you a place to eat, or at least stop for coffee. Eating at the 345 meters high 634 Musashi restaurant offers Japanese cuisine with a French twist. Boasting masterchef Naoya Makimura's Paris/Tokyo culinary skills and techniques, giving this romantic restaurant a Michellin Star. What better way to see this sensational city change from night to day, eating it all up? Because you just have to stay here for a little while. Maybe start your ascension at around 3 to 4pm and stay until nightfall. Sure this wonder of Japan is worth two trips. And the city also does have the Paris Eiffel like, red and white Tokyo Tower. But dusk 'till dawn nothing is like this. And there isn't anything that comes close to actually watching the city turn from glorious day to neon night, moment to moment and all the natural and sky-scraping light in between. As you will dream in neon from the chic Iki sky blue, to the refined elegance of the Miyabi purple, depending on the mood of the night.
The Tokyo Skytree has only been standing since 2012 but it looks made to last forever. Around 1.6 million people came out for it's Skywalk ribbon cutting opening week in May 2012 and the numbers of visitors have hit stratasphoric heights since. This neofuturistic, timeless piece of architecture still honors the traditions of the city and countries cultural past and was heralded as something that revitalized the city of Tokyo for the future, all for the better. Being a beacon and revolution of both safety and security. At any time at capacity, around 2000 people can walk the panoramic floors of this spiral Skywalk, some made of glass. Offering a street view like no other that's not for the feint of heart, but those with the strength of nerve. Don't crack under the pressure though...because the floors at your feet won't.
But never fear for the Skytree isn't looking to get chopped down anytime to soon no matter how sharp mother natures wielding axe is. Thanks to some seismic proofing this tower is structurally sound when it comes to earthquake resistance. The central shaft is reinforced with concrete as this tree takes great root and the internal pillar is connected to the Skytrees outer structure for the first 125 meters above ground level. And oil dampers inside the tower provide assistance in absorbing up to 50% of an earthquakes impact and the ensuing damage it causes. These cushions and a tuned mass damper helps keep this towers center of gravity central to the towers base should the worst happen. So feel free to walk without worry and climb with confidence. That all sounds like this iconic landmark of the modern generaion is worth every last penny of the 65 million yen it cost to erect.
This tripod that provides the majority of the television and radio broadcast to the Kanto region of the city, replacing the Tokyo Tower in this digital age, is more than just a landmark of Japan or even Asia. Second only in size to the Burj Khalifa structure in the ever developing in domination of the skies, Dubai, the Skytree located in the Sumida ward is a sight to behold. And is still the worlds tallest tower proceeding the Canton Tower of China which shadowed Canada's CN Tower of Toronto. Just like this city itself from this spot, standing neighbour to the in comparison pint-sized Asahi Breweries 'Beer Tower' and the countdown Olympic flame to the 2020 games set to be held in this town in four years time, this sought after location and just how vast it appears is incredible. From temple to todays newest structure reaching for the same stars its tallest tower touches. Every expectation is exceeded.
Witness all the wards. From Taito to Chiyoda. Or the famous square of Shibuya (that Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson danced around and made even more famous to the West in Sofia Coppola's classic movie 'Lost In Translation'. Like the car chase/crash scene in 'The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift') to the electric corridors of Shinjuku at midnight, both giving off a core like glow that literally highlights them as places of interest in live, living color like the Rainbow Bridge. But between all the souvenirs you will take and selfies you will make, nothing compares to what you will capture with your own two eyes.
Like the Skytree's lattice work design itself. Epic and endless grey and blue...and green. In this concrete city that is still steeped in as much nature as it is innovation and let's not forget history. But as far as you can see after all the beautiful buildings and straight streets you just may see on a clear day a true wonder of the world. On the horizon that hill like image beyond the clouds is no illusion. It's the iconic Mount Fuji. Your next stop in making your Japanese dream come true.
When it's so clear you can almost see the heavens from here...or what looks like them. So be sure to pack your binoculars or change for the telescope. There's so much more to see in this city of temples and neon. But you should start with this compelling capital cities exclamation point. Inviting and inspiring. Innovative and influential. There's not much in the world that climbs higher. No matter how far you look. Time to see the roots of the future of Tokyo. So old. So new.