Category Archives: Japan

The ‘Go To Travel’ Campaign in Japan during the Pandemic, Travelling Safely while Supporting the Travel Industry

There is a pandemic raging right? Economies are hurting and much thought is being given, to just how to manage the spread of the virus and prevent the economy from tanking. These are tough times.

The ‘Go To Travel’ Campaign is an initiative that was started here in Japan to prop up the travel industry. It gives really good discounts on trains, hotels and travellers can get discount coupons to apply to purchases at restaurants and other eligible shops. It is oh so tempting because the deals are really good across the country. All this is happening during the pandemic though.

In my last post I mentioned how crowded downtown Karuizawa was when we were there. I was so shocked at this because I just did not think people where using the campaign, given what is happening with the pandemic. Imagine my surprise when we tried to eat out at a few places for dinner and were told we had to wait an hour. I was already wary of eating out anyway, so we agreed to take the food to go.

The campaign seems to be working but I and many others worry if it will lead to more people getting the virus. We really hope this won’t happen. People here, for the most part, are pretty vigilant about wearing their masks, though it is not always easy to social distance in these packed areas. It makes me wonder about what it really means to travel safely and responsibly at this time?

The campaign will run until the end of January I believe, so it will take us through the colder months and over the long holiday period at the end of the year. We are already seeing the numbers creeping up, so again I am left wondering about the impact of this since it seems to be a catch 22 situation. It is really tempting though for those who have places they want to go and see. Travelling is very expensive here in Japan, so getting a 30% discount on the Shinkansen and hotels push many people to go for it. My knee jerk reaction at the start of the campaign was that I needed to make use of it. After pondering it for a moment, I decided not to because I have travelled extensively here and I do not feel I can enjoy social distancing in many tourist destinations.

It’s a great time to travel in Japan now though, especially for those who can go out about on weekdays. The country is closed to tourists and many people may not have the time to travel on weekdays.

The ‘Go To Travel’ campaign is pretty attractive for us travellers and it keeps money flowing into the tourist industry here. Hotels and other establishments have certain protocols in place such as checking one’s temperature, providing sanitiser in different spots and have statements asking everyone to wear a mask. This is what travelling safely and responsibly during the pandemic looks like. It is also good that the industry can support itself to a certain degree with domestic tourists and this government run initiative. Is anything like this happening anywhere else in the world?

Social Distancing While Enjoying Autumn in Karuizawa, Japan

Alas, I jumped on the Shinkansen (bullet train) and went to see some friends in Karuizawa. The need to get some fresh air in the countryside and catch up with them, made me travel a bit during the pandemic after all. Of course, I had my mask on, we all wore them and spent time away from downtown Karuizawa which was teeming with people. Ahhh! The fresh, clean and crisp air in the countryside was oh so welcomed and Autumn was on supreme display.

There is such simple pleasure in walking around an area with almost no one, looking at the changing leaves and enjoying the nice fall weather. It does a body so good.

While walking I came upon this beautiful wedding chapel. They go all out here in Japan when designing these buildings. The caretaker who was cleaning welcomed me warmly and even opened it up for me to walk around and see inside. Kindness is beautiful.

Karuizawa is only about an hour and 20 minutes from Tokyo station on the Shinkansen. I visited in winter once and it gets lots of snow and is pretty cold because of its location. There is much to see downtown Karuizawa which we avoided because there were just too many people. We instead went for a nature walk with my friend who is living there to just enjoy hiking away from people. It was the perfect thing to do given that we were social distancing. We had the trail all to ourselves and it was wonderful.

The leaves had already fallen in many places but we still enjoyed just walking and chatting. This is actually a pretty safe thing to do at this time, it calmed some the anxiety I felt when I first decided to visit. We made our way slowly but surely up to a beautiful waterfall where we spent some time just sitting and soaking up nature.

This short trip opened my mind a bit more to what travelling responsibly during this pandemic can look like for me. It also helps that this is a country where most people are used to wearing masks. I have concerns about the distancing on the Shinkansen, so I am not going to be doing this again soon. There were no efforts to seat us in the reserved cars, in ways that facilitated social distancing and the train was at capacity. Perhaps I am hypercritical but I expected to see something out of the norm with this. Nonetheless, I am happy I took this short trip before it got colder and things possibly change, where moving around is concerned.

All in all, hiking and enjoying time in the great outdoors is perfect for social distancing and travelling safely during this pandemic. If I had a car I would do more of this.

We ended the trip by going apple picking. That was also perfect since we had the place to ourselves. When we paid to go in we got knives, a sanitised tray and hand sanitiser to use as we pick and eat delicious apples. Yum!

When the Supermarket Becomes the go-to Spot

I was never excited about shopping at the supermarket and nothing has changed now. Why not just have your groceries delivered you ask. Well…

A supermarket is literally two minutes from my place.

Delivery options are not as widely available here as in other places.

I like picking out my own fruits and veggies.

This social distancing thing isn’t fully understood and practiced in supermarkets here I find. In the last week, markers have appeared on the floor showing how far apart to line up for the cashier. Two weeks ago, I ran out of one to get away from the swarms of people milling around and congregating in different sections. They were taking it ‘easy like Sunday morning.’ Supermarkets in Japan are often small with very narrow aisles. My paranoia was in activation mode.

I went to that supermarket, about 1km from my house at around 11:00a.m. It’s the one with a good variety of local and international products but I am on hiatus from there. They have some good avocados and mangoes there though 😦

In these times, I have developed vampire like tendencies. I exercise at nights when less people are out and stay home during the day. Oh what joy it was to discover that the supermarket nearby still opens until 10 p.m. I even went in to confirm it the night I walked by. Since, mostly families and older people live around this area, everything is quiet by around 9 p.m.

Do you know the luxury of going into a supermarket in these times and having it all to yourself? This was me the other night. At a round 9:30 p.m. I strolled into the supermarket decked out in my mask of course. There were like two other people in there. Oh the joy of taking my time to pick out things I went for; others that just called out to me (you know how that goes).

Though there is this upside, the downside is that quite a bit of the fresh veggies were all gone. I went to the baking aisle and they were all out of flour, vanilla and other stuff. Apparently, some influencer has been giving tips on baking goodies in these times, so it’s now trendy. I give it two weeks before this runs it course. In the same way the panic toilet paper buying ran its course a month or so again, this will happen too.

I like the lengths that supermarkets are going to in order to protect their workers. They are all wearing face shields with masks and at the cashier a nice firm piece of plastic separates them from the customers. Cash is still king here, so we do exchange money which of course can transfer the virus. Now scrubbing hands like crazy, washing my glasses and face are a part of the routine after returning home. It is often easier to just jump into the shower.

I am learning to content myself with the basics at the supermarket nearby. To be truthful, they have more than that but if you are a fan of certain things, in certain places, you may understand. I mean things like good cheese, mangoes, avocados, teas…

The problems of the privileged I tell you. I am able to buy food and I am grateful. I am learning to be content with my smaller supermarket with less people where I can shop at nights when less folks are there.

These are the times where I count my blessings even more and cultivate contentment.

Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) are Still on Show in Japan

It is amazing how spring has come with the cherry blossoms in full bloom, on schedule and they are doing what they do every year. In Japan, sakura trees are everywhere and can be enjoyed when they bloom in spring, by just strolling down a street or looking out our windows in many cases.

The wonder of sakura trees in full blossom never ceases year after year. Your nose could be running and your eyes itching with crazy spring allergies, however, you can still enjoy the perfection that are these blossoms.

circa spring 2019, pretty as a picture ain’t it

I am sharing these pictures that I took one idyllic spring day last year as we strolled around Chidorigafuchi, one of the most scenic spots in Tokyo. It’s nice to think back on that day: people boating, some having hanami (picnic under the cherry blossoms) and pushing against too many people to get around. It seems like another world but these pictures bear testament to this other reality.

The cherry blossoms are here this year like always. This year I am enjoying them on my way to the the supermarket or on my daily walk to stretch my legs. They are just as beautiful and especially soothing this year.

One day, I stopped in awe of the beauty of creation, when I saw the beautiful and oh so delicate and fluffy pink blossoms, with the clear blue sky in the background. I can enjoy these little things now when everything feels heavy and uncertain. We don’t need to look very far to enjoy and appreciate some of the simple beauties in life.

I am grateful I can go outside and enjoy what is on display, even while wearing a mask and not knowing when true freedom of movement will return.

So, I hope you can look at these snapshots and be drawn into the beauty they represent, to have even a small period of respite from what is going on around us.

Stay well. Stay safe. Stay home if you don’t need to be out and about.

Tokyo has ALL the Bright Lights in December

I always marvel at how much focus is given to lighting up parts of Tokyo for December, since Christmas Day is a working day. A Google search of illumination in Japan or Tokyo will show many areas where people go to enjoy creative and beautiful light shows every year. It is quite fun to go from place to place throughout the month. Many ‘instagrammable’ opportunities are provided.

Roppongi
Roppongi

The display at Tokyo Midtown Mall in Roppongi had me and a friend in rapt attention for a good ten minutes. The lights change and there are quite a number of patterns in the different segments. It’s truly a work of heart and worth checking out. My pictures of it weren’t good. See a peek on this page https://jw-webmagazine.com/tokyo-midtown-christmas-illumination-2018-78648051c128/.

Shibuya Blue Cave Illumination

I like that there are different spots to get out and enjoy with others. It makes the season more festive even though Christmas Day isn’t a holiday. Many malls have massive, well decorated Christmas trees and of course Christmas sales.

The ‘mas’ in Christmas is strong in Japan. Fun facts, Christmas Day is one for couples to go out on a date and many people order KFC, so it is often sold out. I am serious, you actually need to order in advance if you want it.

Even though it’s nippy here in December, there is still much to do and enjoy both indoors and outdoors. I am going to enjoy another Christmas/Winter illumination later with a friend, cause why not.

Travels in Japan: Hiroshima

Hiroshima is a must visit place in Japan. Nagasaki should be the same.https://thisgracedlife.com/2019/06/27/travels-in-japan-nagasaki/

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum showcases the horrors that people experienced after the bombing. Steel yourself for the graphic images. It’s only 200 yen and it has been recently updated to accommodate more people. The entire park is worth spending some time viewing and reflecting on the events that took place there less than 100 years ago. Get to the museum early because when there are many people they may stop admitting people way before closing time. You may have to wait and it maybe a bit crowded.

Visit the Hiroshima Castle to get a taste of that aspect of the culture. It’s 370 yen to enter and it’s worth exploring. The grounds are really beautiful as well. It’s a nice place to sit and enjoy nature for a while especially in spring and fall.

Many people rush through Hiroshima in a day or two but there are many wonders to discover by walking its streets. Okonomiyaki is a staple of Hiroshima and worth trying. Also ride the trams from place to place and see more of the surrounding areas. Payment on the tram can be tricky so watch others or ask the conductor.

Of course no visit to Hiroshima is complete without a stop at Miyajima.

Everybody who visits Hiroshima has a shot like this LOL!

A short ferry ride from Hiroshima is where you will find Miyajima. It’s known for the tori in the picture above and the deer you will encounter there. Spend a day exploring the island on foot and ride up the ropeway to see a view of the city, on a clear day.

Whenever I visit – I have been 3 times- I enjoy trying out the different seafood on offer by different vendors. It’s definitely a place to walk and eat again and again. Go in the back streets, enjoy the different architecture, see how people live and soak up the moment.

Visiting Miyajima after the Hiroshima Peace Park reminds you of how people are living and thriving despite the horrors of the past. You can enjoy nature in many different forms and see another side of Japan that you may not see on the beaten track.

We stayed at a nice airbnb that is centrally located the last time I visited. The other times I stayed in hotels. Shop around and get the best deals. Book months ahead because Hiroshima is always popular. Every visitor wants to visit and many Japanese students go there on school trips at different times of the year.

Things cost generally the same as other places in Japan so plan accordingly

Travels in Japan: Nagasaki

I have been in Japan for years and have planned to visit Nagasaki many times and it just didn’t happen. I finally made it happen earlier this year. It was worth the trek from Tokyo.

Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum – https://nagasakipeace.jp/english/abm.html is a good place to spend a few hours learning about the tragedy that befell the city.

Nagasaki Peace Park is also a place to explore and learn more about the bombing and it’s focus on promoting peace.

Nagasaki Peace Park Fountain

Getting around the city is easy since there is a tram that passes by its many sights. Unfortunately, you have to pay with cash or buy the local IC card. It doesn’t take Suica or Pasmo.

I recommend spending at least two days there to explore all its wonders. There are many historical churches there.

Urakami Cathedral in the distance

There is also a museum to remember the Catholics who were killed for their faith there. The Twenty Six Martyrs Museum is very educational.

Read more here to know how to enjoy your trip to Nagasaki – https://www.keirinkai.or.jp/nagasaki-walks/sights/points_of_interest.html

The quickest way to get to Nagasaki is to fly there. It can be pricey at times but if booked ahead deals can be had. It takes way too long to go their by shinkansen. Another cost effect way to get there is to fly to Fukuoka and then go to Nagasaki by train from there.

Nagasaki is unique and a Japanese city like no other because of its history as a port city. It had a range of foreign influences and this is present in its sites and foods.

I am glad I finally got the chance to visit.