Japan – Outbound October 2016

Past Journey – Outgoing – October 2016 – Japan

On October 11, sixteen bright-eyed and bushy tailed Ambassadors gathered before sunrise to leave Asheville for Ota Gunma, Japan. 27 hours later they arrived in Ota to be met by their hosts for a six-night homestay. A visit with the Ota Gunma mayor and tour of a coffee processing factory. The highlight of the Ota club visit was a day trip to the shrines and temples of Nikko a UNESCO World Heritage site. 260 steps to the top later, we were humbled.  During the weekend “free” days, some of the Ambassadors got to see Mt. Fuji up close and personal.

After the Ota home stay, we took a bus to Tokyo where we visited the Imperial Palace grounds had a traditional Japanese “box” lunch “Paint by the numbers?” We “ate by the numbers” and pictures!!  We were met by some West Tokyo club members who showed us around. Later that afternoon, the bus dropped us off at a Machida City train / subway station where we were met by our hosts. After three nights with the West Tokyo club, we took the Shinkansen (bullet) train to Hakata where we got a local train to Nagasaki to be met in the evening by our home hosts.

Nagasaki was no more than a tiny fishing village until being opened to foreign trade in 1571.  Until the mid-1800s Nagasaki flourished as Japan’s only open window to the outside world. Our seven-night homestay in Nagasaki was filled with many exciting things. We visited Shimabara and soaked our tired feet in an outside hot bath while we ate dinner, drank beer and watched the sunset.

We visited the Peace Park and Atomic Bomb Museum. We visited an elementary school where we split into groups of one or two and spent an hour or so with students in their classrooms, even having lunch with them.  Many high fives and tears as we left.  We had dinner at a hot spring spa where, after dinner, six of the Ambassadors spent an hour in one of the baths. Men separate from women.

Several of the ladies were dressed up in kimonos by their hosts. Nagasaki is one of the three top cities in the world with beautiful night views. We were all treated to see the view from the top of Inasamachi. Magnificent!!  Then, we went to Kyoto on the Shinkansen (WOW!! that is one fast train and clean. Actually, ALL of Japan is very clean) where we had a two-night hotel stay.

Some members of the Nara FF Club met us the following day and showed us the sights in Kyoto, including the Golden Pavilion and Kiyomizu Temple.  For several thousand years before the 1850s, Kyoto was the capital of Japan. On Sunday, we were met again by members of the Nara Club and began a hop on / hop off train trek to Nara (the original capital of Japan), visiting Gekkeikan Sake Brewery, one of the oldest Sake factories in Japan, and Fushimi Inari Grand Shrine, with its thousand “gates” (arches).

Monday we visited Nara Park complete with its hundreds of friendly sika deer, temples and shrines.  After many nights of sleeping on the floors on futons, using the Japanese toilets, eating fantastic Japanese food, enjoying hot spas / baths, riding trains, cabs, buses and subways, seeing beautiful Japanese sights and countryside, the weary Ambassadors began their long, long trek home on November 1.  32+ hours later they arrived at the Asheville Airport.  A truly memorable experience!

– Jack Mullen, Journey Coordinator