My Travel Resolution.
discover hidden myths, taste diverse food and sleep below a sky full of shooting stars and galaxies every night
I want to be honest about my reasons to go to Japan. Japan was not a country, which was on top of my travel wishlist. But sometimes things are different from what you think. And you almost get forced into happiness. If I had already known before about my trip, how wonderful Japan is, I would have traveled there earlier.

It is one of those countries where you cannot get out of the astonishment as it has so much to offer. It is more than I could ever have guessed and more than I could take in my 2 weeks while traveling Japan. Japan is a land of delicious food, beautiful nature, and the friendliest people.

After 15 hours flight to Japan, I swore to stay awake. But somehow I get so tired from fatigue that I fall asleep. I wake up without orientation, with a pounding headache. Below me shine the lights of Tokyo Bay.

A half-full backpack, the passport and tourist visa, 1 ticket for the Shinkansen and 1000 Yen, that's all I have beside my excitement. I've been waiting for 20 years.

I leaf through the Japan Experience travel guide on my table. And now I do not want to get out of the plane. What if things go wrong? What if my big dream is a bubble and I get back with a case full of disappointment?

Tokyo || City of the Future


With the stream of the other passengers, I let myself drift through the airport. As I walked out of the corridor, an airport employee bowed in a friendly fashion. Thank you for visiting Japan! A canvas shows a kitschy Mount Fuji with cherry blossoms. I am a bit confused by the surreal level of friendliness offered to me at every corner.

After a colorful coffee break, I take the train to Tokyo Station for a walk in the Imperial Gardens. The maples are splendid! It's really ideal. I leave towards Akihabara! On a whim, I let myself be guided and go drink a beer. It is done. I made little hearts out of my beer and put on cat ears. Tokyo is a great metropolis with an oasis of tradition.

One of those shelters is Asakusa, a neighborhood where the Sensoji temple is located, the oldest in the capital. The main entrance is the door of thunder or Kaminarimon. On the other side are two gigantic traditional straw sandals (warajis). Each weighs half a ton and is an offering of the inhabitants of the city of Maruyama, in the Yamagata prefecture.

In front of the main worship hall I see many people reading their luck on little pieces known as omikuji (divine lottery) that are drawn at random from some drawers. If the prediction is unfavorable, the piece of paper is tied to some wires so that bad luck gets stuck in the temple.

For the evening, I go to Yorakucho, to enjoy the Izakaya! Before, I see Godzilla and look at Christmas lights, it was a long time. The meal is very good and the atmosphere noisy and happy. It's really great! I go home nicely. I have to prepare to leave for Aomori tomorrow morning.

Aomori || Land of Ski, Sashimi and Spas


Today we are not going to spend all day in Tokyo. Only the morning. At mid-afternoon we have to take a train to the north and the rest of the day will be spent traveling. Luckily, the suitcases are kept at the hotel until the time our train departs. Tower Records awaits me, in Shibuya. In Japan Tower Records still exists. But the one in Shibuya, is the larges and I'm going to make sure to go through all the floors where Japanese music is sold.

But first we have thought to deviate a bit to visit another place. From the Shibuya station we walk to shrines that are facing each other on the same street, one dedicated to Hachiman, god of war and agriculture, and the other to Inari, deity of fertility and rice, among other things. And I say deity because we do not know what sex Inari has.

Sometimes she is represented as a woman, sometimes as a man, sometimes with an androgynous aspect. In any case, her emissary is the fox, so we can see the typical statues of foxes that are in all the sanctuaries dedicated to Inari.

We return to the station and we approach the exit where stands the statue of Hachiko, the famous dog who-after the death of its owner-never left the station where he waited for him every afternoon to return from work, and kept waiting until the day he died too. There is another Hachiko statue at the University of Tokyo. That we have not seen, but we know that represents the reunion between the two.

Two children come to us and ask us if we speak English. We say yes and then they do not ask permission to ask us some questions as homework for their English class. Then they argue to see who will ask us, but the discussion does not last long. The issue is solved as always those things are solved in Japan. Jan-ken-pon. Stone, paper or scissors, and the lucky one is already defined.

Although the ritual of jan-ken-pon ends up losing all sense, when after answering all the questions, we end up answering them again for the second child, who has been waiting at the side. We crossed the avenue through the Scramble Kōsaten, the shifty crossing of Shibuya, but at this time it is not as crowded as at other times of the day.

On the other side, the access to the Sentā-gai pedestrian street still hangs the decoration of Tanabata (the festival of the stars) that was held at the beginning of July. The Tower Records building is about three or four blocks from the station. I put disks out of control in my shopping basket and cross them off my list of "wanted".

I like Japanese music, and the cover art of many albums in Japan is beautiful. Before returning to the station we went through a bookstore and a branch of Mandarake, a chain that sells used manga. I'm looking for three titles that I have not been able to get in any of the libraries we've gone through so far.

The Shibuya branch is in a subsoil. It's a dark cave, and all the first shelves are loaded with BL (Boys Love), in amazing amounts. It's at the bottom where all the rest of the manga genres are and, as expected, they have the three titles I'm looking for. They may be used, but they look as if they have never been opened.

At 15:30, after searching our luggage at the hotel, we have to take a train to Omiya, in Saitama, to connect with the Shinkansen to Aomori. We already have a seat reservation on all the long distance trains that we will use from here on. When one travels north, it is advisable to reserve seats beforehand, especially in festival season.

In some high-speed trains you can not travel without a seat reservation. Booking simply means asking for a seat number. Those who travel with the JR pass do not pay any additional. At the Omiya station where we will take the Shinkansen, we buy an ekiben. The ekiben are snacks (bentos) but those that are bought in the stations (eki).

Some come in very nice boxes, wrapped in decorated paper. The variety is huge. They tend to be different depending on the area in which one is, because some include local foods and bentos typical of the season.

We arrived in Aomori at nightfall. We have some time left until our connection, so we go around the city a few times. We walked along the waterfront and entered the Nebuta Matsuri museum. There is no activity and the lights are off, but we can enter the main hall and some small floats of past festivals, which were exposed in the museum, remain on.

Then we go along the main street and go through a kind of beer garden outdoors, mounted at the entrance of a group of bars and restaurants. Some young Japanese people shout at us from a table! And they greet us with enthusiasm. We are running out of time in Aomori. In a few minutes we will have to pick up our luggage through the lockers and take another two trains. Tonight we sleep on the train, traveling to the very center of Hokkaido.

Hokkaido || The Capital of Flowers


When you think of Japanese winter, you tend to think of Sapporo, the ice sculptures, the snow festivals. There are several winter festivals in the north of Japan that I would like to attend. But there is another winter moment as fascinating as that, the one that I most want to see is the Oshōgatsu, or Japanese New Year.

We arrived at the Asahikawa station very early in the morning. We cannot check-in yet, so we leave the bags in a locker and enjoy the day. We already informed the hotel that we will be arriving after 8 pm. The Asahikawa station must be one of the most beautiful places we have seen so far. They have set up an outdoor beer patio that I suppose will be temporary, for the summer.

From the other you have access to a terrace with tables and a beautiful park that overlooks the river, full of flowers. And we are in the central zone of the island of Hokkaido. The two places where the biggest flowers are found are Biei and Furano, a few minutes from Asahikawa.

Biei, although there are also fields of flowers, is actually distinguished by its hills painted green and ocher, in which many advertisements have been filmed. There are several trees known for the advertisements in which they appeared, and to which they have been named.

From the Biei train station there is a tourist group that crosses part of the fields and passes through some of these trees, but you must have a previous reservation. You can also rent bicycles. But we chose to walk to the tree of Ken & Mary, known for appearing in a Nissan advertising campaign. We find it at least curious that one of the attractions of the place are famous trees.

From the Ken & Mary tree we go to the Hokusei-no-oka Observatory Park, where in addition to a beautiful view there is a park covered with lavender plants. We return to the station to take the train to our next stop. We are careful to calculate the times, because trains are not very frequent. In some sections of the route there is only one way. We arrived at time to take the panoramic train and we got off at a station that is only operational during the summer months.

Actually, more than a station, it is a roofless platform in the middle of nowhere or not so much, because it is the closest station to one of Furano's best-known flower plantations: Tomita Farm. It is not casual, that station is enabled in summer exclusively for people who want to go to this nursery to admire one of the most famous landscapes of the region, a hill where the flowers form colored strips.

In Tomita Farm there are several areas with melon plantations and different types of flowers, although lavender predominates. We walk the painted hills. I try lavender ice cream. There are enough tourists - not as many as we have seen elsewhere - but few from the West. The majority are Koreans.

The traditional tourist routes do not include Hokkaido Island. They do not usually include anything that is north of Tokyo, except for the city of Nikko. But northern Japan is beautiful and worth visiting at any time of the year. Its fantastic landscapes, especially during the autumn, when the trees change color. Its snow festivals, its onsen with outdoor thermal baths, surrounded by white in winter.

The summer matsuri, which are in quantities, and many of them the most popular and impressive in Japan. We traveled to Furano to make sure we were at the stop time to take the bus that leaves at 1:45 pm. Near the town of Furano there is a village of just a few blocks. The best way to go is by car, because the collective has a horrible frequency. We have no choice but to accommodate ourselves.

If the frequencies to some of the places we have already visited brought us complications to plan our itinerary, the frequency with which collectives from Furano to Rokugo operate is practically a nightmare. In the town of Rokugo, and in its surroundings, Kita no kuni kara was filmed, a very popular Japanese series that was broadcast for more than twenty years.

Within the various film sets that were used there is a group of recycled houses that can be visited today. For its construction, although they are mostly made of wood and sheet metal, all kinds of materials were used from the carcass of a collective, through ropeway cabins and safes, to plastic bottles, egg boxes, window frames of different types and car windows, among many other things.

We had lunch at a place specializing in soba noodles that also served as a film set in some chapter of the series. The place has walls full of tickets, plane tickets and personal cards of the people who have visited it. And it eats very well.

After lunch, we still have plenty of time until the bus leaves. We decided to walk to the forest of Rokugo, where part of the series was also filmed. Already in the forest, we learned that you have to pay entrance to see the house where it was filmed, and we are already very fair weather, so we decided not to enter and we were content to walk around the woods for a while.

Back in Rokugo, we make time in a business where they sell glassware (a local craft) and at 5:15 we take the bus back to Furano to arrive just in time for the start of the festival that we will attend night. When we get off at Furano a group of women is already in procession down the street that ends at the station. They carry a mikoshi, a portable shinto sanctuary, in miniature, which is usually seen in the processions of the matsuri.

The food stalls have been set up on the side streets, and there are long wooden chairs and tables, where people sit down to eat and chat. Meanwhile, on the main street, many are already preparing for the main course of the festival. Furano is in the exact center of Hokkaido, and has a festival to celebrate it.

The Heso Matsuri, in which participants paint faces on their bellies and hide the head and part of the trunk under huge hats. There is no better way to understand it than to look at some photos. We return to the station to take the last train back to Asahikawa. We wonder if we will get to climb, but in some mysterious way we all enter and we can travel without problem. And so we said goodbye to Furano.

After giving us a treat of color, we return to Asahikawa for check-in. The accommodation we get is very economical. It is a little away from the station, but we are going to stop at a small apartment with a large room, with an integrated kitchen, a private bathroom, and a comfortable three-module armchair where one can sit and read or watch television.

Despite the kitchen, we decided to dine at a Japanese chain with national-style options, including a vegetarian burger with lotus root and other vegetables.

Matsushima || Haiku and Trains


We do not buy many things, but I take a small bottle with marumo, some round algae from the area. We take a train that will cross the Seikan tunnel (the longest underwater tunnel in the world) to the city of Aomori. It's not that you really notice it. It's like traveling through any subway tunnel, except for the fact that you know it's 250 meters below sea level and 100 meters below the seabed.

Matsushima is half an hour by train from Sendai in Miyagi Prefecture. It is a coastal city, famous for its bay dotted with islands, some so tiny that they barely manage to accommodate a young tree. There are ferries that make routes for several of them. Unfortunately, we are with enough time to go on an excursion, so we are happy to cross the waterfront and cross to two of the islands that can be accessed by bridges.

Oshima, the first island we visited, is very close to the station and is connected by a short red bridge that had to be rebuilt after the tsunami. This small island, which at some point served as a retreat for monks, houses a Buddhist temple whose pillars are decorated with colored bibs. We wonder what the symbology behind those bibs will be.

Part of the waterfront can not be traversed, they are doing work. Maybe they still drag some arrangements, fruit of the damage caused by the natural disaster, or maybe not, maybe it's something else. The truth is that practically it is not even noticed, that just a few years ago, an earthquake and a wave of almost 10 meters devastated the entire coast and caused a collapse of the terrain.

It reminds us, however, a sign on the way to the second island. We see a huge sign that recommends running on high ground if we feel tremors. Through a long pedestrian bridge, 250 meters, we reach Fukuura Island. On the island there are several trails and scenic spots. One of the trails leads to the Bentendo temple, which is closed, but we were fascinated by the enormous amount of wooden darumas that have been left on the stairs, in the outer galleries and on the temple railings.

You can also go down to a solitary and quiet beach. The tide has left enough trunks on the beach, but we sit down to rest for a moment. I take off my sandals and put my feet in the water. I do not recommend it, as there are some very annoying bugs that bite. But the most impressive thing about the island are its beautiful views of the archipelago.

On the way back, before continuing our tour, we stop for a few seconds at the ticket office on the island. It is very hot and the air conditioning is good. Tanabata or the festival of stars - which takes place in Sendai approaches. Next to the ticket office they have already placed a bamboo branch, with the typical tanzaku, strips of paper on which wishes are written where children can hang their wishes, generally associated with success in their studies.

Before taking the train back to Sendai, we passed by the Zuiganji Temple, the most important of Matsushima and the entire region. The temple is being renovated, and you can not visit its main attractions. In compensation, they allow entry to pavilions and buildings that are not usually open to the public. We decided not to enter, but we did cross the road to the temple, flanked by caves in the rock, which at some point served as places of meditation.

We returned to Sendai after 5 in the afternoon. But in some corners we can already see bamboo canes. There are also many young people in yukata. In several galleries and nearby businesses they have hung the typical serpentines of the festival. The place to see them is the Ichibancho and Chuo streets, of the commercial district.

And that is that tonight there are hanami near the river. Once again, the fireworks open the festival. But the place where the fires are launched is a bit far from the station and our hotel. We have been walking, and my feet are beginning to suffer the consequences. We do not want to overdo it, so we give up the flowers in the sky, and we go to the hotel.

After a renewing bath and a pair of konbini bentos - tonkatsu, omuraisu and we replenish energy. As we do almost every night, before going to sleep, we check our mails in the room, download the photos, and leave a message on Facebook, commenting something about our experience of the day.

Japan Travel

Niigata || The Capital of Salmon


Niigata does not usually appear too much in the more conventional Japan tourist itineraries. The Joetsu Shinkansen line is a bullet train line that connects Tokyo with Niigata, in the Sea of ​​Japan. This line allows us to make the journey between both cities in just over two hours. All this despite the fact that its maximum speed is only 240 km/h, although there were services in the past that circulated faster.

Famous for the quality of its seafood and fish, both sea and river, Niigata is one of the main producers of edamame, koshihikari rice, sake, echigohime strawberries and nashi pears from the Shirone region. As a curiosity, the city was chosen by the United States to launch the second atomic bomb, but due to the weather, in the end the bomb was launched in the city ​​of Nagasaki.

The Sado island is an interesting regional destination. Just a two-hour ride by ferry from Niigata Port, it is the biggest island after the four main islands and Okinawa, possessing a rich cultural heritage due to its history. I visited in Niigata a town called Murakami, a one-hour train ride from Niigata City by the Uetsu main line.

Murakami is a small town located on the coast of the Sea of ​​Japan and is especially known for the quality of its salmon. Because of its location, it is a perfect day trip from Niigata. Murakami offers me the opportunity to enjoy that Japan of yesteryear that I like so much, with authentic machiya or traditional style shops and houses that open their doors to visitors to show them their living rooms and interior gardens in the Choninmachi neighborhood.

It also allows me to enjoy the ancient residences of samurai that show me what life was like over hundred years ago, of craft techniques that have gone through several generations, of gastronomy and spectacular sake and thermal baths in which to soak and relax. I learn more about the traditional lacquer technique typical of the city called Murakami Kibori Tsuishu.

From the hand of the young craftswoman I can see in this small shop how wood articles, a typical Murakami handicraft, are carved and lacquered in the traditional varnished lacquer. The difference between Murakami lacquer and another type of lacquer is that in the case of Murakami, first wood is carved and then painted with lacquer, thus achieving very elaborate designs and a spectacular shine.

The Sennen sake Kikkawa store is the most famous shop of Murakami salmon products, without any discussion. It is located in an authentic machiya of more than 130 years old and the shop hangs a traditional noren curtain with the salmon kanji. The store is so famous that the image of its exterior was used in an image of a JR campaign.

Since then, the facade of the store has become one of the top instagram worthy places in Japan where many tourists take a photo similar to the advertising campaign and upload it to Instagram. Due to its age and design, the store is an example of the traditional architecture of the city.

And again, I cannot forget to reach the innermost end of the Sennensake Kikkawa store after seeing the great variety of products made with salmon. There awaits us a surprise: the warehouse later. From the ceiling hang a thousand salmon face down that are fermented and dried in this way to make shiobiki-zake or salmon cured in salt. This preparation is typical of Murakami and its inhabitants are very proud of it.

In Murakami I try one of the local specialties and one of the most famous ingredients of the city, Murakami rice or Iwafune-mai rice and salmon and especially shiobiki-zake or salmon cured with salt. Then I walk through the alley of the black fence or Kurobeidori, a narrow street surrounded by a traditional black fence in which I really travel in time and feel in the Japan of yesteryear.

I find along the way the beautiful Anzenji temple. I also entertained myself by taking pictures of the lights and the colors of the leaves, and this is that traveling alone gives a lot of time to dedicate the time you want to the things you want.

This trip I did without a guide and it was a succession after another of going to places that I found interesting. In this way I came to the banks of a river surrounded by trees with fire-colored leaves that undoubtedly was the best moment of the trip. I took the opportunity to take a lot of photos and try many things and also to sit down for a sushi on a bench facing the river.

When I arrived back in Niigata, the first thing I did was find where to sleep. In that area the forests are very leafy and the dirt beaches, hidden between the slopes created as protection against the tsunamis and the Pacific do not make them the most ideal place to sleep in Japan. So after an hour looking for a worthy setting I find a free camping area and, like everything in Japan, perfectly clean for public use.

The only interesting thing I found was a natural market next to one of the big rivers in the city where I used to buy some sweets to take to Hiroko as a travel gift, or from Omiyage as they say around here. I eat a precooked combination dish of rice patties with seaweed, famous onigiri. All in all, I enjoyed my trip to Niigata due to its diversity of travel destinations.

Toyama || The City of Rivers and Glass


I leave Niigata in the rain for Toyama. In the information office of the station I fill my backpack with brochures, including an original map of Japan and calendar which indicated the days when it was expected that the colors of the trees would acquire their best tonality. Something without a doubt very Japanese.

I buy bentos for lunch on the train. The choice is difficult but I come to decide. And finally, the shinkansen! 2 hours of train to cross Japan, from the South coast to the North coast. I arrive in Toyama, and it is still raining. I enter the hotel, and discover a charming establishment with tatami floor everywhere with traditional bathtub in the rooms.

I go back around the shopping arcade and sit in a cafe too kawaii, honey cake and vanilla ice cream balls with a beer. I go back through the hotel to cover myself a little more. Armed with my super-umbrella, I take the bus to the Toyama Municipal Folkcraft Village. These are small museums each presenting a section of local crafts or culture.

I visit the Thatched roof folk Art museum housed in a traditional Gassho house that introduces me to the traditional life in this kind of house. There is even an irori (focus) in action, I am delighted! Then I tour the Folk Art museum before climbing to the observation point at the top of the mountain. It's raining all the time and I do not see the mountains behind Toyama but it's still very pretty. I stop for a coffee before going back down. I visited a museum dedicated to trout sushi, a typical dish of the region.

I then visit the Clay Doll Studio, where I reasonably fall on the memories, the archaeology museum where I do not understand much, the museum of ceramics arts, the Gyujin gallery which contains beautiful prints and I end with the Museum of Folklore which houses many curiosities and representations of the very broad aspects of the culture of the region. From the snow boots to the work of the rice fields, everything is there.

I then take the bus to the train station. Then I walk to the Fugan Canal Park but in the gloomy weather I take refuge in the Toyama Museum of Art and Design. Well if the weather was nice, I probably would not have entered but it's informative. I leave then towards the hotel, and on the way I stop at the Daiwa in front of the hotel to do some shopping.

I go in search of a restaurant. I end up in an Izakaya and taste some sake. I test local specialties, but for once, it's not a success. I am not a fan of Toyama's phosphorescent octopus. Fortunately, the other dishes are good and I feast. Back at the hotel I dip into the Onsen!

Japan Travel

Kanazawa || Cradle of Geishas and Samurais


Following the planned route by train to Takayama, the train took me the next day to the sea of ​​Japan, on the other side of the Honshu island. The colors of autumn and the vision of the high mountain alternated that day with the darkness of the long tunnels until I reached Shomyo Falls. It's the ski slopes that stop me. It's magic! I did not see so much snow even in Switzerland. In short, I am happy.

I decide to go down to the sea. The snow vanished to give way to a blackened coast. I go down to Iwasehama then go along the sea stopping at the sandstone of my desires. Oh yes, it's still raining. I then take the Shin-Minato bridge that I had spotted on the Internet. It is too beautiful! Downstairs there is a lobby with lots of people so I stop. Apparently, there are auctions of crabs.

After verification, it is indeed a fish market specializing in crab. I leave after finding a temple in Takaoka on the map. Then I visit the Zuiryuji of Takaoka which is a Buddhist temple and it is under a pouring rain that I leave. I had seen that in Tonami there was a tulip garden. Obviously, as I am curious, I go there. There is no one to welcome me, so I go around freely. There are actually lots of tulips.

After a coffee break with a kotatsu (Heating table), Kanazawa, the little pearl of Ishikawa, is my next destination. Going down in the direction of Kanazawa, the second stop was the Yamato Soysauce factory, a family business that has been engaged in making sake and sauces of soya, miso and wasabi, to which it has recently added vinegars for sushi.

Sake is a rice beer that has digestive and medicinal properties, so it is considered the secret of the longevity and flawless skin of the Japanese. The sauces, meanwhile, are the quintessence of Japanese food and the key to its aroma and sweet-sour taste. Both these condiments and sake and its sweet variant, the amazake, are made from the fermentation of rice and soybeans with a fungus called koji.

Next, I head to Higashi Chaya-gai, the geisha neighborhood. A chaya is a tea room where these refined artists dance, sing and play the shamisen, a small guitar with three strings and a long neck. The cobbled streets, the wooden houses, the tea rooms, the geisha and the geiko who walk with their shamisen (three-stringed lute) and the decoration led me to think that I had taken a shortcut to the last century.

Kaikaro is the most famous house. In it I can see classic elements of Chaya architecture, such as kimusukos, wooden lattices that let in the sun but prevent pedestrians from looking inside. Both the old castle and Kenrokuen gardens, considered among the three most beautiful in Japan, are a true wonder.

In the park, beautifully maintained, many Japanese are in traditional dress. The topiary, twine pulling up or branches that hold in horizontal planes, is very common. They call it niwaki, an expression that could be translated as the art of sculpture applied to trees. Its objective is to achieve a cozy environment that in some cases borders on perfection, as in Kenrokuen.

The first fortnight of April, when the cherry trees bloom, is the best time of the year to visit Japan. The vision of Kanazawa, however, would be incomplete without visiting the samurai neighborhood. There, near the canals and surrounded by a wonderful garden, stands the house of the Nomura family.

I placed an implacable word, an improbable word. I asked for a hotchikisu, a stapler! I am so proud of myself. Here for my unlikely day in the Japanese countryside. It was really improbable and fun. Now its turn to head to the izakaya, and then the onsen!

Takayama || A Trip to the Heart of Japanese Alps


Traveling in the heart of the Japanese Alps is like living a live lesson about the geography of the country. On the other hand, in the case of the train to Takayama, the silence that reigned in the wagons invited the idea that I am participating in some way in a kind of initiatory journey towards the heart of nature.

In Gifu the landscape began to change. It is inevitable that every time I travel to Japan I am invaded by the feeling that the forests of this eastern country seem to be animated. Perhaps it has to do with the Shinto religion, which is venerated by the kami, the spirits of nature. When arriving at Takayama, there were finally the Japanese Alps.

Takayama is a good place to explore the Hida Mountains with the district of Sanmachi Suji, with traditional streets and beautiful wooden houses of the Edo period, dozens of ryokan and traditional lodgings, traditional sake cellars, a market along the Miyagawa river and sanctuaries like that of Sakurayama Hachimangu, that seem to merge with the forest. At the top of the temple, among the symphony of colors of the maples, we see a stone pillar.

If you touch her, says an inscription, you will go mad. We refrained from touching her, of course, but, as we watched her, I remembered the extraordinary things that happen in Murakami's novels, especially in Kafka on the shore, where a mysterious stone gives access to another world. To live the mountain up close I get on a bus that in an hour and a half takes me to Shinhotaka, at the foot of the Alps.

Along the winding road, always on the rise, some passengers disembarked in Hirayu, where, thanks to volcanic activity, outdoor onsen (hot springs) abound. At the end of the journey the village of Shinhotaka appeared, from where a gondola starts. From there, the view is impressive, with a cirque of snowy mountains that seem to besiege Shinhotaka.

On the descent we take a break in the middle station of the cable car, where there is an outdoor onsen. Here there are no monkeys that come to bathe in the steaming water, as in Kamikochi, but the feeling of being in communion with nature is certainly unbelievable.

The Shirakawago village is another essential excursion from Takayama to feel the essence of rural Japan. On the road from Kanazawa to Takayama, there appears before the unsuspecting eyes of the traveler an agricultural town lost in the middle of the mountains whose inhabitants have preserved their way of life for centuries. It is the Shirakawa-go village.

The historical village of Shirakawago was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, together with its neighbor Gokayama in the valley of the Shogawa River. And the truth is that, walking through its streets, one understands this decision perfectly.

In one hour the bus took me there and the first thing I did was to go up to a viewpoint of Ogimachi Castle to see the traditional houses, scattered in harmony among the rice fields of Japan. I see gassho-zukuri houses, which means prayer. On the way back to Takayama, I eat a delicious grilled steak from Hida in a traditional restaurant in Japan. It is not a meat as famous as Kobe. It is so tender that it melts in my mouth.

In Japan hundreds of matsuris are celebrated, but one of the three most beautiful is that of Takayama, in the prefecture of Gifu, whose main attraction is the parade of floats through the streets of the city. Another popular manifestation is the Odori dance festival, which is held every summer night in the village of Gujo Hachiman, to honor the souls of the ancestors.

Men and women wear yukata, a garment lighter than the kimono, and perform rhythmic choreographs to the sound of drums, shamisens and flutes, while they sound the getas (wooden sandals) stomping the ground.

Nakasendo Trail || In the Footsteps of Ancient Japan


The old Nakasendo Trail connected Edo (present-day Tokyo) with the city of Kyoto passing through the Kiso valley. This route was part of the Gokaidō, or five routes that departed from Edo. Today, the stretch between Magome and Tsumago is especially popular with tourists and a nice day trip or a couple of days if we are in the area.

The towns of Magome and Tsumago are two ancient shukuba or rest stations of the Nakasendo trail. Magome was the number 41 station and Tsumago number 42 of the 69 rest stations that were on the route Nakasendo, also called in the past Kiso-kaidō or Kiso road, being in the middle of the Kiso region.

The most common excursion is to go by bus from Nakatsugawa to Magome and from there walk a section of the old Nakasendo route to Tsumago or Nagiso. The stretch between Magome and Tsumago is about 8 kilometers long and is relatively easy to do in about two hours and a half or three hours maximum.

Normally it is recommended to make the route starting from Magome towards Tsumago and not vice versa. This is so because from Magome there are less kilometers of climb and it is less hard. Making the way from Magome we have 2.7 kilometers of ascent to the mountain pass of Magome-toge and from there it is almost all downhill. If we do it from Tsumago, there are 5.3 kilometers of climb, which is much harder. But of course, the road can be done as desired and as best suits our itinerary.

I see the beauty of the area from the pass of mountain or port of Magome-toge to the outskirts of Tsumago, where I pass through stone paths surrounded by nature, going parallel to the stream on many occasions and enjoying small waterfalls.

During my walk through Magome I learn a little more about the life of the inhabitants of Magome in the small Shimizuya Shiryokan museum, with a beautiful exhibition of ceramics, clothing and various items. After visiting Magome, I begin my adventure along this stretch of the Nakasendo route that officially begins at the Magome viewpoint, from where I see spectacular views of the entire area.

Until the mountain pass of Magome-toge the road passes between houses and fields of culture, but when crossing the port, I descend by the mountain and enter in full nature. In full descent I find the Tateba-chaya tea house, an old inspection station on the Nakasendo trail. From here the prohibition of transporting some of the five most important trees in the region was controlled.

Nearby is the small altar Koyasu Kannon, dedicated to the goddess of mercy and especially popular with families in the area. Another point of interest during the route are the Odaki and Medaki waterfalls. The last section of the route crosses Otsumago, a small town before Tsumago that maintains many traditional buildings. In it I can find many minshuku or rural accommodation and traditional houses such as the former residence of the Fujiwara family, an original building of the seventeenth century, although with later remodeling.

And by the way, something that accompany me throughout the journey is the sound of the bells! Every few meters I find a bell that I will have to sound to scare away the possible bears that live in the mountains. Once I leave Otsumago behind, I arrive at the town of Tsumago, another of the famous rest stations of the Nakasendo trail that transports me to the Japan of the Edo period.

Another place that shows what life was like for the commoners of Tsumago during the Edo period is the Shimo Sagaya, a traditional house rebuilt in 1968. This house now also functions as traditional accommodation or minshuku.

Nagoya || Sumo tournament


It's time to start moving around the center of Japan. We take the shinkansen to Nagoya, a city not frequented by foreign tourists. The icing on the cake of this incredible trip to Japan we put with a sumo tournament in Nagoya. The bullet train arrives at the fourth largest city in the country, where we leave our bags at the station.

Nagoya is famous for being the city where Toyota was born, which hosts one of the competitions of this millenary type of wrestling that began as a martial art. The truth is that the inexplicable broadcast of this sport on television made it not a specialty outside of us and from the moment we knew we had the great opportunity we did not want to miss it.

From 8:30 in the morning, the time at which the fights of the youngest wrestlers begin, the competition begins. It lasts until the afternoon, when the heavyweights arrive, the yokozunas. We go to the tourist office, where they offer us a map of the city and they explain us the best places to visit.

We take our bags and go to the hotel, right next to the station. We shower, we rest a little. Before continuing to visit the city, we went down to the reception to ask for the takkyubin service. In the previous trip we did not need it but in this we sent our bags to Nagano, since in the next days we will change a lot of city and hotel.

We begin the visit of the city by the Nagoya Castle. In the castle we can see a museum of objects from its construction in the sixteenth century until its destruction during World War II, after which it was rebuilt in concrete. We go for a walk around Nagoya for dinner. The idea is to walk to the area where the Nagoya Tower is located, which is the city's television tower.

As we were a little late, we decided not to go downtown and walk around the station. The truth is that around the station there are many skyscrapers and good atmosphere. We search by tripadvisor and found a restaurant of unagi! I mean, eel, a delight. Already tired, we go to the hotel. On the way to the hotel we found what looks like a folkloric parade.

Kyoto || Temples, snow, and myths


Also my next stop Kyoto combines modernity and history in a very typical style of Japan. In contrast to Tokyo, Kyoto is almost a small town. What I liked most about Kyoto is the variety of cultural attractions. The Fushimi Inari Taisha, the golden temple, and the bamboo forest are 3 places you cannot miss in Kyoto.

More than 14 shrines and temples in the old imperial city are UNESCO World Heritages. I can only visit 4 of them, as the main part is not in the center, but on the slopes of the mountains that surround the city. I have planned several days for Kyoto so as not to miss the best sights, but I could have spent my entire two weeks here.

It begins to snow as I arrive at the top of the temple complex of Kiyomizu-Dera. There are young women in kimono walking past me, and I shiver at the sight. The promised outlook over Kyoto is unfortunately blocked by the gray snow clouds. But the buildings from the year 1633 alone are worth the steep climb.

Many myths surround the temple. I then stroll through the characteristic little streets of Gion and enjoy the general atmosphere before arriving at the Dragon Temple, aka the Kennin-ji. Its 108 tatami dragons are doing their bit and I take Zen classes along the way. I then cross Gion to Teramachi and complete my collection of souvenirs.

Then, I take the bus towards Kinkakuji. The bus takes 45 minutes! I see the golden temple. It is breathtaking! I am happy that my trip could not be any better and even surpassed my feverish expectations. I get back to the center of Kyoto. Arrived in Osaka, I find the food stalls on the way but I ignore after my double octopus debacle. I go up to the Umeda Sky Building and drink beer to enjoy the view. I dine at Shinsekai and return to the hotel.

Kumano Kodo || Sacred Roads of Japan


Today we left Kyoto. There are several trains and several combinations to get from Kyoto to Kumano Nachi Taisha, but beware, because in some they take a lot of time. There is a train that goes direct. However, in our case, this train arrived later than we had planned, and with it we would not have time to arrive to see the first day the Kumano Nachi Taisha temple.

So we prefer to get up early, leave earlier and also arrive before to the Kii-Katsuura station, the end point of our section by train today. Today I played again early, as we took the first train at Nijo station, at 6:26 in the morning. The total journey from Nijo to Kii-Katsuura, takes about 5 hours and you have to make two transfers in the Kyoto Central Station and Shin-Osaka.

After 5 hours of travel we arrived at the Kii-Katsuura station at 11:35 in the morning. Katsurra is a small and very manageable town. It is not visually attractive but it has its charm, especially for the riokanes by the sea and its good food, especially for the access to fresh fish.

We look for the ticket offices, which are on the street at the station and after getting rid of the backpacks and bring just enough for our trip, we went to find the bus stop. Nothing has loss since it is all in the same central square of the town. At the bus station there are also lockers, I think they are cheaper, but the schedule is smaller. At the train station the schedule lasts 24 hours a day.

With this combination of trains, we had time, without going to the hotel to leave the luggage, to catch the bus at 12:10. We waited sitting on a bench to get our bus that promptly left the town at 12:10 in the morning. The journey to our stop, Daimonzaka, was short, and in about 20 minutes we got off the bus. We had arrived at the beginning of what would be our visit to Kumano Nachi Taisha.

The Daimonzaka slope is a beautiful cobbled path, flanked by huge centenary cedars and camphor trees, which in its 650 meters of ascent contains 267 steps. The road seems to me precious and is ideal for all those who for time can not do any of the complete routes, or partial, of the Kumano way. The Daimonzaka slope, is part of this road network of Kumano Kodo and can serve as an idea to know how is Kumano Kodo.

I have to say that it seemed to me an authentic past. It is also the only pilgrimage route, along with the Camino de Santiago, which has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. In addition, it is possible that you will meet people dressed in the costume of pilgrims of the Keihan period, who dress in the most colorful way.

Cuesta Daimonzaka, literally, means the big door, since at the end of the road we will find a large door that gives access to the Kumano Nachi Taisha temple. At the conclusion of the Daimonzaka hill we will arrive at the beginning of the Kumano Nachi Taisha sanctuary. We will pass under a big red torii and after climbing the last stairs we will reach the great esplanade of the temple, from where we will have stunning views of the mountains and the spectacular nature of the Kii peninsula.

We find part of the sanctuary in works, but I keep saying the same thing, go ahead because the sanctuary has a lot of corners and places to visit. However, most of the people who arrive, like us, to the Kumno Nachi Taisha Shrine, do so attracted by one of the best-known images of the Kii peninsula. It is the pagoda of the Seiganto-ji temple.

It is striking that being the best known of the Kumano road is the most modern building of the Kumano Nachi Taisha. It was time to relax. We had got up early, slept little and eaten nothing. So we settled into one of the tables in the esplanade in front of the pagoda, and there we did our picnic, with these wonderful views.

I was surprised that there were not many people in the area. I was even surprised that we could take pictures without anyone. We do not know if it is that many people do not visit this area or simply that we were lucky with the time of our arrival at the temple.

We spent a long time seeing the pagoda and the beautiful contrasting image, between the red pagoda, the Nachi waterfall in the background (the highest in Japan) and the green of the Kii mountains. It was time to relax, since we were really thinking that we had the right time to see everything and catch the last bus back to Katsuura.

I even went inside the pagoda, which is not that I have much to see but at least I looked at each and every one of the balconies to see the landscape. Even as we had some time left we made a view that we had not contemplated in the planning of today. We approach to visit the Nachi Cascade closely, at whose feet is the Hiro Sanctuary.

We go down some stairs in the similar style of the Daimonzaka slope, with centenary trees on the sides, and after a while we arrive at the Hiro sanctuary, from where we can contemplate up close, the Nachi waterfall. The Nachi waterfall is 133 meters high and is the highest in Japan. The waterfall is a sacred place and has been revered by the Japanese for centuries.

After this visit we hurry the return step, to finally catch the bus at 3:51. 20 minutes later we arrived at the Katsuura train station. We picked up the backpacks and went to the hotel. Certainly we thought it was closer to the stop, but the road was enjoyable and we enjoyed it. It was still daylight, although the sun was beginning to fall.

When we started to organize the trip we thought a lot about what hotel to choose in Katsuura. In addition, the price difference between the Bed and Breakfast and the Half Board was very low, so we opted for this second option and I think we're right. We got it right because the hotel is a bit separate and we appreciated having dinner included.

We stayed in the old part, the original part of the Ryokan and the experience was very rewarding. We chose the dinner time for the first, at 7 o'clock in the afternoon, and before we went to take a shower and relax at the Onsen. This time it touched me on the outer onsen, and one of the smallest and oldest. And there, relaxed and alone, I was able to enjoy one of the most relaxing moments of the entire trip.

And at dinner and we had a wonderful meal. The dinner was buffet style, but there was everything. I did not know what to choose so I tried a bit of everything.

Osaka || When a potato turns into an octopus


Between the onsen, the dinner and how wonderful were the almost 10 hours of sleep that I got this day, I woke up, the next day, new and with renewed strength. The truth is that I could not imagine before starting the trip, that here, in Katsuura, we would enjoy relaxing and replenishing our strength.

From Katsuura, a 30-minute drive take us to one of Wakayama's most photographed spots, the Kumano stretch known as Daimon-zaka Slope. The road that leads to Koyasan is a mountain gorge among forests of centenary cedars. We are in the Prefecture of Wakayama, south of Osaka, in the southernmost part of the main island of Japan, Honshu. Koyasan is the nerve center of esoteric shingon Buddhism. In addition to the pagodas of Danjo Garan (the complex of sacred temples), here is Okunoin, the road that rises on the Uchinobashi bridge and that for two kilometers is flanked by 200,000 Buddhist tombs and stupas.

These places form a cultural landscape that reflects the fusion between Shintoism and Buddhism. The Kumano Way or Kumano Kodo is, in reality, an extensive network of paths connecting the three great sanctuaries of Kumano or Kumano Sanzan like the Hongu Taisha Shrine, the Hayatama Taisha Shrine and the Nachi Taisha Shrine.

As we have come to walk, we arrive at Hosshinmon-oji and we travel in about three hours the seven kilometers that lead to Kumano Hongu Taisha, a path that crosses rural Japan to the first great pilgrimage sanctuary. On the way we hear shots from neighbors to drive away bears, deer and wild animals.

All routes lead to Kumano Hongu Taisha, located in a delta between the mountains. The Oyunohara door receives us, the largest Torii in the world. This colossal monolith marks the entrance to a sacred area and symbolizes the division between the secular and the religious world.

Not far from this place appears Yunomine , a village in the foothills of the sacred mountains that can boast of having an onsen in the middle of its street that is itself a World Heritage Site. Tsuboyu onsen is a wooden hut with a natural stone bathtub that takes advantage of the hot springs stream that runs through Yunomine.

On the way to the city of Shingu, on the estuary of the Kumano River, we arrive at another of the three great sanctuaries of the pilgrimage route, the Hayatama Taisha. During a conversation as banal as metaphysics about football, the translator who accompanies me tells me that white is the color that symbolizes purity in Shinto: White can become another color, but no other color can turn white.

In Shingu there is another prestigious sanctuary, Kamikura-jinja, which is accessed after saving 538 steps . The summit, at 253 meters, offers an unbeatable view of this coastal city of the Pacific Ocean.

On my program in Osaka is Kuromon Ichiba. It is a sheltered market that offers all sorts of tasty Japanese cuisine. I go around shotengai (covered shopping malls). I start with one that is a market. On the stalls are crab and Kobe beef which are most famous after the gyudon (a bowl of rice topped with beef) made of Murakami beef.

Older ladies do their normal shopping here. While the tourists photograph the fish and seafood. I watch three dancing ball fish in an aquarium until I realize that these are "fugu". I move on to a stand to eat fried potatoes. I hope that I get the potatoes with cheese filling. When I bite, I taste cheese, but the potato, unfortunately, turns out to be in the form of pressed octopus.

I'm not vegetarian, but an octopus is not on my menu. And yet, the same mishap happened to me at a shack in front of Osaka Castle. Only this time it is octopus balls in sauce. It is fate that I have eaten Takoyaki. After all, Osaka is famous for its seafood specialties. The Osaka Castle is not only a perfect reproduction of the original. It is an important contrast to the modern high-rise buildings of the metropolis of Osaka.

I then go up to Chinatown and ride in Motomachi. I go towards Uji, see the Byodo-in. But before that, I stop in Kyoto. In search of the last gift. I go around absolutely beautiful shops but completely off budget. I will say that they are free museums, it's less frustrating. Then, I head to Uji! I visit the byodo-in, temple which is depicted on the 10 ¥ coins. It is magnificent!

I buy the local flagship product. It is the sencha! I taste the melon-pan sencha! I continue to Dotonbori and continue up Shinbaibashi. Christmas decorations are everywhere, and it's impressive! Once my marathon shopping is over, I find an improbable bar hidden in the basement of a building and enjoy the atmosphere and the beers.

The chef is adorable and comes to chat with us. We are five customers sitting at his bar and he explains a little about his life. He sings the Japanese national anthem, and take pictures with us. He makes the show! And we love it!

Japan Travel

Hiroshima || Kissed by a holy deer


From my next station, Hiroshima, I take the regional train to Itsukushima. It is a small island that is one of the three greatest wonders of Japan under the name of Miyajima. I find the semi-wild deer roaming on the island.

The animals are already accustomed to visitors. In front of the Torii, three deer pose in a group photo as if they were also part of the tourist group. The deer, by the way, is a sacred animal here, since according to legend they are the messengers of the gods.

I console myself with the fact that the spit-spot of the pushy deer on my jacket might bring luck. At sunset, I drive again from the island. The sun glimmers violet through the mountains. The shrine of Itsukushima glitters one more time as a reflection in the water.

I would not like to go back to Tokyo tomorrow, but instead, go for a walk through Japan. My backpack is now filled with Japanese sweets, curry paste, clothes, and green tea. It also contains the best memories of a trip I've ever had.

Mt. Fuji || Hi Fuji!


The next morning, I wake up at 4 o'clock. The sun has not come out, although the Japanese country name actually means the Land of the Rising Sun. I've been bothering my head for months of what I'll see in two weeks. I want to see everything! I would have to move at the speed of light. So I take the second quickest thing in this part of the earth, the Shinkansen.

With the high-speed train and almost 320 km/h, I prepare to travel to Tokyo. Actually, I had to see both the South and the North and of course, the Holy Fuji. The North is now covered in deep snow. And in the south, I have underestimated the length of the route and the prices.

But that does not matter, I enjoy the Shinkansen. I also get a typical Japanese meal in a nice box, which you can buy at every station. I am most pleased with the presentation of the rice with a Umeboshi plum on top. The rice looks like the flag of Japan.

While I was passing large cities, villages, and mountains, I almost had the majestic view of Mount Fuji. The businessmen who are sitting with me on the train are already smiling at how I stick my nose to the glass. The Fuji disappears somewhere behind the facades. I saw the Fuji so close, but only for 2 minutes, but I was closer to it now than in Tokyo, days before.

Japan Travel

Japan, My Love


As I sit in the plane, the airport staff waved in a row on the runway to farewell. Although the friendliness of the Japanese is famous, I am always touched again and again. Japan is something special, whether it is the sights, nature or the people. And I would at any time exchange 2 weeks vacation in Bali against 2 weeks in the winter through Japan.

2 weeks in Japan were not enough, but at least a beginning. Choosing a route was difficult because there is so much to see and there is so little time left during my travels in Japan. You should consider exactly what you want to see and what you want to save for a second visit (you always need a reason to come back!).

Japan is a country with a long tradition and culture. It has beautiful landscapes, quiet temples, beautiful ski resorts, and secluded islands. It is also home to one of the largest cities in the world. This mix of modernity and tradition is something you should experience.
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Kalyan Panja Kalyan Panja Author

21 comments:

  1. Japan is at the top of my list to travel. I think I'd need a month to do so though.

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  2. Japan definitely seems like interesting country to visit! Great post!

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  3. A perfect and detailed post.will certainly save this for my next trip.

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  4. Sounds like you had a wonderful trip. The 15 hours on a plane is a long time so sleep is always good.

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  5. I loved reading your post and learning a bit about Japan! My brother and his family were there last year and had a wonderful experience. Sounds like such an amazing country to visit!

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  6. That sounds like an amazing trip! It's not at the top of my list either, but I would like to go eventually.

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  7. I would love to go to Japan. The thought of such a long flight is really off putting, but I doubt they will move it closer.

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  8. What a wonderful trip...Will definitely bookmark this site when am planning my trip

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  9. I would thoroughly enjoy a vacation to Japan. I've always wanted to visit the gardens there. And I'm sure I would enjoy the Japanese cuisine.

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  10. You ate the octopus! You are very brave. It sounds like a wonderful trip.

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  11. Amazing Itinerary! We're actually going to Japan very soon and we can't wait to discover such a beautiful country!

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  12. Well it IS on my list and your post made me want to check it out! I would have loved to see some pictures.

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  13. A 2 week trip to Japan would be a dream vacation. It is on my bucket list but not at the top. I'm not an experience foreign traveler so places in the UK and Europe will come before Japan. Richard B

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  14. When I will go to Japan I would love to visit Kyoto first. I have read some books that introduced me to the Kyoto of the 15th century, a fascinating world of geishas. I'd love to walk around the old town and try to spot a true geisha.

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  15. I've always been intrigued with Japan. The culture, the beautiful landscape....I'd love to visit!

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  16. Thank you for sharing your experience! It sounds like you had a great time. A lot of Japanese vacation on Oahu. Whenever I would visit I always admired how friendly and happy they were. I would love to have the chance to travel there.

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  17. Japan sounds amazing! I would love to be able to travel to Japan and experience all it has to offer first hand . . .

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  18. Japan is one place that I have never been but always wanted to. Now you have made that even more true!

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  19. I dont remember when is the start I became obsessed on studying Japan's culture and the people. And one thing I realized, I have lots of things that needs to know and learn, its a nonstop learning. And I never get tired of it.

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  20. I’ve been lucky enough to visit Japan twice but I still need to return as thee is so much to see. Like you I am a vegetarian and the first time in Japan I struggled so badly to get something to eat. It was better the second time luckily! Lovely review, I can’t wait to visit again.

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