My Japanese Heaven – Part 2 of 4 – Treasures of the Japanese countryside

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Tourists tend to snub Japan (except maybe for the Chinese). Their reasons? A different language, alphabet, driving habits. The atomic pollution… I also think that people have preconceived ideas such as Japanese people looking so serious all the time, the cost of living that’s supposed to be very high, scary driving conditions and intimidating public transportation and signs…

All of this is bullcrap, let me tell you! Of course, I wouldn’t take a swim in the ponds around Fukushima, but for the rest…

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The best thing I did, against EVERYBODY’S advice was renting a car. They all said it wasn’t practical because I wasn’t used to driving on the left side of the road, the signs would all be in Japanese and parking would be a nightmare… Boy am I glad I didn’t listen to them. Besides the somewhat expensive highways, it was the perfect choice and here is why:

  • Japanese people are as polite on the road as they are in life. The driving experience is very relaxing.
  • Maybe it’s because they don’t own as many cars as we do, but traffic is pretty light everywhere.
  • No cops anywhere
  • Even if you’re not used to drive on the left, don’t worry. You’ll hit the curb once or twice and you’ll learn :0)
  • 2000 Kilometers cost less than the train pass would have. Gas is even cheaper than in the US.
  • Parking is extremely easy to find and use, even in the larger cities. Every hotel offers parking.
  • An Ipad with a mobile connection allowed me to go anywhere, anytime and find my way home easily. Just make sure that you bring a power cable. Using Google Maps or Maps will drain the battery really fast.

I truly think that to get to know a place, you need to let yourself get lost in it. Having a car allows you to see and experience things that public transportation simply never could. Even using a town car and a driver cannot provide the same experience. There is also something to be said about this incredible feeling of “danger”. Not knowing the dos and don’ts, not speaking the language, driving a car that isn’t yours in a country that isn’t yours… Even getting gas feels like an adventure!

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As for lodging, I had not made any reservations (wanted to be as free as possible) and was always able to find very good hotel rooms anywhere I was for less than 60€ a night. Food is quite cheap too. You can always have a very good meal (and you guys know how much I eat) for around 20€. Often less.

Now, the very best travel advice I can give you is this: load photos of the things you want to see and do onto your phone as you are preparing for your trip. Wherever you end up, you’ll be able to make yourself understood when it counts and you won’t miss a thing. Want to find a specific temple or castle? show the photo. You want to eat a particular dish? show the photo. You need a hooker for the night? Show a photo! (just kidding! You know I’d never do that…)

Here are a few pictures of mount Fuji (taken from the lake region) + the mountain villages West of Fuji and the wild monkeys I found swimming in the lakes near Nagano. The lady in the green dress is the owner of the best tempura restaurant on earth. I ate every meal at her place during the three days I stayed in the lake district near Fuji. The guys in the black and white picture are fellow photographers (locals) that I met at 5:30am one morning after it had snowed all night on Fuji. I couldn’t understand them and they could not understand me, but they offered me a cup of hot tea and I used the pics on my phone to make them understand I was from Bordeaux. I could write about this encounter for ever, but all you have to know is that it was probably one of the most beautiful human experiences I have ever had… 4 guys, 1 passion, 1 mountain, a cigarette and some tea… Heaven!

Next Monday, Part 3/4: Kyoto

60 Comments Add yours

  1. Sho says:

    Your photos are fantastic! I can only imagine how exhilarating it must have been to just set off on a drive, not knowing exactly what you will find, but lending yourself to the kindness of strangers.

    Also, I never knew that there were that many monkeys in Japan.

    1. My French Heaven says:

      Sorry for the late response. Yes, I like to plan my trips, but I never make hotel reservations ahead of time. I want to be free to change my itineraries at the last minute… Yes, tons of monkeys in the mountains. They are really cute too 🙂

  2. pastedreams says:

    Beautiful pictures! Maybe next time you can climb Mt. Fuji. It’s killer but you feel very accomplished afterward 🙂

    1. My French Heaven says:

      One day I will ☺️🎎🎌

  3. Que de merveilles !!! Cela fait longtemps (hélas) que je n’étais pas venu voir ton blog … quel plaisir de pouvoir me replonger dans tes photos.

    1. My French Heaven says:

      Merci Mathias! J’espère que tu vas bien!! Et bonne année au fait… 😉

      1. Oui, oui, tout va bien (sauf mes dents … du coup, ta soupe à l’ognon sur ton autre post, m’attire encore plus 😉 … et bonne année !!!! 🙂

  4. Marie Keates says:

    Beautiful photos. Now I need to go there 🙂

    1. My French Heaven says:

      You really would love it Marie!!!

  5. I say this with complete sincerity: I have never seen more beautiful photographs of the Japanese countryside.

    1. My French Heaven says:

      Oh you are so kind my dear friend! It means a lot!! Thank you!

  6. I’m blown away by these photos. Absolutely stunning.

    1. My French Heaven says:

      That means a lot coming from you!

  7. Lynda says:

    I have a dear Japanese friend – there are many things about her that I admire that reflect Japanese culture that I really admire – like the way she is with her children , what she cooks and how she serves things, etc so Ive always wanted to see her country! Lucky you! Your photos are stunning as always.

    1. My French Heaven says:

      You really should go Lynda. A truly special experience 🙂

  8. Absolutely breathtaking photos. A lot of those facts are the same for South Korea which I visited last year as well. Looking forward to reading more about this journey!

    1. My French Heaven says:

      Thanks Sonya. I understand a lot of the Japanese culture comes from their Korean ancestry… Very special people 🙂

  9. Gorgeous photos Stephane. They’re making me feel nostalgic and bring back so many wonderful memories. Hoping to visit Japan again later this year.

    1. My French Heaven says:

      I know how much you like fish. You’d have loved the fish market in Tokyo. Maybe you already know it…

  10. Living in Asia nearly 5 years we had hoped to make it over to Japan. From our expat friends here -they all love it, although expensive it is beautiful and polite! After the pushy crowds here in Shanghai it was the one thing that they really noticed.
    Sounds like a fantastic trip and really makes me hope to go one day.

    1. My French Heaven says:

      You really should! They are indeed much more polite than other cultures (despite the geographical closeness) 😉

      1. Yes I hear that. I have had some Japenese students and they are so polite and hard working too.

  11. Gorgeous photos. I’ve always been fascinated by Japan, though have never been. It’s all those links with Impressionism, Van Gogh, artists enthralled by Japanese prints and nick-nacks, blue and white china and negative space. Japanese inspired gardens are everywhere, and we all use Japanese invented gadgets. In the Victorian age Scotland had many links with Japan, building ships for its navy and lighthouses around its islands.

    1. My French Heaven says:

      You know I wanted to bring so much china back Dorothy, but I had to settle on chopsticks. Bowls are just to heavy… 😉

  12. Linda Duffin says:

    How phenomenally beautiful! And what a wonderful experience. Good for you for getting out there on your own – by far the best way to see a country, meet its people and learn about its culture. Boo to package holidays!

    1. My French Heaven says:

      Boo indeed! These days you can spend a week in Greece or Morocco for less than 500€ What the hell can you possibly get for 500€? Anyhow, I feel very lucky indeed. Thanks L!

  13. Beautiful pictures! Such a rich and fantastic experience that might be!

    1. My French Heaven says:

      It really was Milica. Thanks 😉

  14. Stunning, as usual! I always look forward to your pictures for a peaceful little walk through this beautiful world which surrounds us… Also, I lived in Japan for a couple of years and your photos transport me back through time to a bit of “home.” Thanks for sharing!

    1. My French Heaven says:

      You are so lucky Angela. I don’t know if I could live there full time, but I certainly wouldn’t mind going every year. So many other places to see though… 😉

  15. I really liked your fantastic advice about showing the natives the photos of what you want to do or eat! That advice could be used anywhere one travels! Superb photos, too. ~ Kathryn

    1. My French Heaven says:

      Yet another reason why I couldn’t live without my beloved phone 😉 Thanks for the comment Kathryn!

  16. Hi. I’m fairly new as your blog reader. I’m Japanese and live in Tokyo.

    Thank you for a beautiful post. What a great way to travel. I would love to drive around the country; I’ve seen too little of it.

    1. My French Heaven says:

      You are so lucky dear Ayaco! You have such an amazing country!! I hope you read my next post on Kyoto next Monday. I think you’ll like it very much indeed 😉 🙂

  17. ladyredspecs says:

    Picture postcard perfect. Absolutely agree anout getting out amonst the locals, it’s the very best way to get to know a foreign country and its people

    1. My French Heaven says:

      Thanks Sandra! It means a lot coming from you!

  18. sabine says:

    Such an overwhelming photo book – your pics are a-ma-zing! (I wonder how long it took you to portrait the apes…)amusing read also.
    Great post!!

    1. My French Heaven says:

      Thanks Sabine. It was quite easy actually as there are hundreds of monkeys everywhere on that mountain. They come down every day to warm themselves up in the hot springs and lakes…

  19. What a pleasure it must have been to encounter polite drivers. 🙂 Your photos of Mount Fuji are beautiful, and the baby monkeys are so adorable. 🙂

    1. My French Heaven says:

      Yes, it was a nice change coming from France 😉

  20. I really appreciate the descriptions and advice you offer. Great suggestion about using photographs to help with communication issues. I also enjoy that you get off the beaten track and make connections with people. Thanks for sharing!

    1. My French Heaven says:

      They always say that people make the country. It couldn’t be more true in Japan. Truly great human connections I made there. Very special…

  21. Amazing photos and great advices. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    1. My French Heaven says:

      You are most welcome!

  22. agnesashe says:

    Your photos of Mount Fuji are serene, but the monkeys entirely steal the show! The photo where the monkey is examining its wrist is more than just cute – as it has its eyes cast down the image has a gentle, poignant quality. Beautiful.

    1. My French Heaven says:

      Oh Agnes, you would have loved those monkeys!! I thought I was in a remake of planet of the apes 😀

      1. agnesashe says:

        Question is – were they well behaved? Once in Sri Lanka I felt a tug and turned round to find a monkey had unzipped my backpack and was about to take my lunch!!

  23. Supremely jealous. Beautiful description.

    1. My French Heaven says:

      Thanks N!

  24. Angeline M says:

    Fantabulous post! The photos are wonderful, and your description of the trip makes me yearn for an adventure like that.

    1. My French Heaven says:

      I love that word “fantabulous”. Makes me think of Eddie Izzard 😉

  25. Wonderful! Thank you for transporting me to such a beautiful place. What an adventurer you are, Stephane!

    1. My French Heaven says:

      I wish I had more adventures dear T, but this one was worth its weight in gold…

  26. You make me want to go back to Japan!

    1. My French Heaven says:

      Good! You should!

  27. What wonderful photos! Great to hear more of your trip. Japan seems to be a bit like Marmite, as we say in UK – you either love it or hate it. I know people who’ve been and love it and others who don’t like it at all. Look forward to more next Monday!

    1. My French Heaven says:

      Hi Kay! I think I like Japan more than Marmite though 😉

  28. Glorious! Thanks a LOT for making me add yet another place to my never-ending list of places I wan to see, either for the first time or again…and again…and… Those monkeys are adorable, although I know monkey behavior often isn’t.

    janet

    1. My French Heaven says:

      They were very well behaved 😉

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