COLOUR OVERLOAD – JAPAN’S AUTUMN

Been – seen – will go again! Does that adequately sum up my November 2022 return to Japan for its autumn last month? Hardly! I’m sure I will be blogging about this three week trip for months to come. My husband has commented – “There wasn’t one thing I didn’t like about that trip” – satisfied customer!

I have more than three thousand photographs and a mountain of notes to go through before I can adequately share the highlights of our trip. The card on my Sony 7iii camera filled up fast as I was swept up by Japan’s glorious autumn scenery. A formatting problem stopped me from using the second card in the camera, but fortunately I had also taken along my Sony 6400, so I switched my good lens onto that and kept snapping. My iPhone provided backup.

Japan’s autumn of 2022 was a photographer’s dream, and I had to reassure my Instagram followers and Facebook friends that I hadn’t boosted the autumn colours – they were real, they were magnificent.

Going to Japan in late autumn was a risk weather wise – but we only had one day of rain, and one morning when I felt a little chilled – the only day, I might add, where I had failed to include a proper jacket and beanie into my day back pack. A little silly of me, given we were heading into the mountains. We enjoyed sunny days for the rest of the trip.

This was my fourth trip to Japan in the last 20 years. When we moved into our retirement, we planned to step up our exploration of Japan with at least one trip a year.

Covid put that plan into deep freeze. A booked 2020 trip was hastily cancelled as Covid spread around the world, and Japan closed up shop to international travellers.

We hoped to get back there in May 2022 for the Japanese spring, but Japan’s doors remained firmly closed. By mid year, strictly controlled organised tours were being allowed in – not our cup of tea. I love researching, planning and booking my own trips – something I have done since my late teens. Japan is one of the best countries in the world for doing your own thing, with a superb public transport system, reasonably priced accommodation and food, stunning scenery, and some great experiences for travellers. Not as cheap as Bali and other Asian destinations, but cheaper than Europe and Australia.

We continued to wait – would independent travellers be allowed back before the Japanese winter? As the yen plummeted, we purchased some, confident we would get back to Japan and thinking the exchange rate was as good as it gets. Wrong. The yen kept dropping!

In OCTOBER, it suddenly happened – Japan’s doors began to open, with a creak! I quickly launched into action to put together an autumn itinerary. We could just fit in a trip before Christmas!

Visa free, independent tourism was back – though there were a few hoops still to jump through. Visitors were urged to upload a special app to enter quarantine and visitor information onto. We were assured this would get us through the border formalities a lot quicker. Drove us a little nuts entering all the info it needed, but it was achievable. I understand that entry has been further simplified since November.

We visited our doctor for a fifth covid vaccination, and for me a steroid injection into a troublesome knee. We packed a heap of quality masks as Japan is remains very mask conscious. These were small considerations for us, eager to get back into Japan.

The line to pass quarantine and other border formalities at Tokyo’s Haneda airport was long, but we were through in under an hour on an early November morning. A bit too early for the JR (Japan Railways) office at the airport, where we planned to validate our three week Japan Railways Pass. It still hadn’t opened for the day. So we paid a small fare to board the Tokyo monorail into central Tokyo, where we sorted our rail passes and began the first day of our long awaited holiday.

Remember that troublesome knee. We averaged 8 kilometres of walking a day, according to my little Fitbit. And many, many steps. Plus a challenging hike on the famous Nakasendō trail – also called the Kisokaidō. It was one of the five routes of the Edo period, and one of two that connected Edo (Tokyo) to Kyoto. I’m not sure how my knee held up, but by the last several days of our holiday, I was reduced to hobbling.

Within a week of my return I was at my GP and passed onto a specialist, who declared I need a total knee replacement.

I have a theory on this. Clearly I overdid things with this wonky knee of mine as we explored more of Japan. It also happens that I visited a Kyoto shrine, where I was told to rub a certain small statue and place a wish related to health. Yes, of course – I wished for a better knee. And now that is coming true. A new one awaits me! I might revisit one day and wish for a few of my wrinkles to disappear!

The knee replacement operation is happening in March, and a three month recovery period wipes out plans for a spring May visit to Japan that we began to talk about as soon as we arrived home. I guess we will be back there again for a autumn visit 2023 instead!

Ahead in the coming months: Blogs on Yokohama, Tokyo, Nikko, Kyoto, the Nakasendo trail, Takayama and Hida Furakawa, Tsumago, Uji, Matsumoto, and the pronunciation challenger Amanohashidate. Never heard of Amanohashidate? It’s a little seaside heaven on earth, and a must visit in Japan. How is that for a teaser!

In the meantime – I wish all my fellow bloggers and followers a very Happy Christmas and peaceful New Year!

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