A trip to remember!
Our journey to the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’ began on a bumpy note. With my wife and two children, I was supposed to kick start our trip by making our way to the Kunming Airport Hotel for an over night stay followed by a three night stopover in Beijing. To our utter shock, the tickets to Beijing were cancelled, cancelled outright and politely, and without adequate conversation.
Nevertheless, despite the initial glitch and after 13 long hours, we landed at Narita Airport, Tokyo. It was already close to midnight and we headed straight to the US Yokoto Air base. Our hosts welcomed us to their beautifully
furnished modern sixth floor apartment. It would be our home for the rest of our visit.
The US Yokoto Air base is sprawled across a massive 136,413 sq mt. Exploring it was like travelling through a small city itself. From their supermarkets, theatre halls, and studios, to Mc Donald’s, the base boasted of everything that was quite American. Despite being in Japan, the base accepted only USD. We soon learnt that we had to pay less within the compounds that outside. Not surprisingly, we made most of the many on-going sales within the base.
As luck would have it, our official tour of Tokyo began from an enviable vantage point. We were offered a chance to take a flight in a Cessna and witness Tokyo’s skyline. It was tempting and we jumped at the opportunity. The urban scene that unfurled before our eyes was spectacular. Works of splendid architecture stood tall and stretched far and wide. Even though the flight did leave us feeling a little dizzy and nauseous, we agreed that there couldn’t have been a better way to catch a glimpse of Japan’s capital.
Next on our list though was the country side. We wished to venture outside of the cities so we set out for Ushiku Daibutsu. It was our first trip outside of Yokota Air Base. Ushiku Daibutsu is a two hour train ride from Yokota and about 40 minutes drive from Ibaraki. At Ushiku Daibutsu, a larger than life Buddha statue greeted us against the backdrop of a clear sunny day.
The moment was awe-inspiring. We could feel the calm around the area. It was as if the setting evoked peace from the land and the air itself. One could feel the soothing effect it had on all its residents as well as visitors. There is something magnificent about seeing a Buddha statue underneath a vault of a blue sky specially if you happen to get a glimpse of the statue miles before you reach it.
The statue stood an impressive 120 metres. If the Statue of Liberty can be an imposing figure at 92 metres, one can only imagine how surreal the size of this Buddha was. Underneath the blue sky, it looked every bit magnificent and serene. What’s more, one could even go and explore the statue from the inside and be a part of different activities.
Inside the statue lay four storeys of its own museum. The various sections of their exhibits also displayed the story of Buddha starting from his birth to his death. The information available was fascinating. Nepal and its artefacts were also mentioned in one of the displays. A collection of hundreds of small Buddhas were also on exhibition.
To the delight of many devotees, there were unique meditation centres and being spiritually inclined, my wife did not want to miss the opportunity and sit for a brief meditation with her friends.
But it was not all about us. We accomodated my son and daughter’s interest to visit Sibusi crossing believed to be crossed by almost one million people every day. We became a part of the millions and what a sight it was! Hundreds of people crossing every few minutes in a regimented manner looked well orchestrated.
Our next stop proved to be mellow and easy paced. The visit to Ashakusha gave us a peek into the Japanese culture. There were Japanese rickshaw pullers clad in traditional Japanese outfit ready to greet tourists and a few minutes’ walk from the temple led us to this tall steel structure called the sky tree. From there, we once again enjoyed an amazing view of the Tokyo skyline.
We also made sure we took whatever tempting tour packages were on offer. A daily coach service from the Yokota Air Base took us near to Mt Fuji. The theme park there offers many fun rides. We took one that gave us an astonishingly up-close view of Mt Fuji.
Upon our return our hosts had a treat waiting for us. We visited a log cabin on Tama Hill, a three hour drive from the air base. The facility hosts several activities such as golfing, archery, barbeque and skating. An over night stay in the log cabin was indeed a great experience.
We returned home nursing a soft spot for Japan and its people. It is a country that despite making great leaps in the
development sector has also successfully preserved its tradition and rich culture.
The author is an educator and loves to explore new destinations.