On Saturday, July 12, we took a non-stop, ten-hour flight from Seattle to Tokyo. We will stay at Tokyo for a couple of days to recover from jet lag. Then we will hurry down to Kyoto to see one of Japan's largest matsuri (festival), the Gion Matsuri. The plan is to use Kyoto as the base to visit surrounding places. Then we will go to Hiroshima. After that, we will travel east again into the so-called Japanese Alps to visit some of the traditional towns and villages. At the end, we will come back to spend a few more days in Tokyo.

Red circles indicate cities we will visit.

Sticking to our tradition, we did not join a group tour. We planned the whole three-week trip ourselves and bought a 21-day Japan Rail Pass to take advantage of Japan's excellent train transportation system, including the bullet train or shinkansen, which travels between major cities.

Getting the hotel reservations turned out to be much more time-consuming than we envisioned. Despite Japan's reputation as a high-tech country with the second or third largest economy in the world, the process of reserving hotels online is very inefficient. Ninety percent of hotel websites require you to wait 24-48 hours before they can tell you whether any rooms are available. And this is after you have already given them your credit card number. After many tries, David succeeded in getting the reservations. One highlight will be the ryokan (traditional Japanese hotel) in a village called Tsumago in the mountains.

Another complication is money. From a number of sources, we learned that it is relatively difficult to withdraw money from ATMs in Japan, and foreign money can only be exchanged in special banks. This is very similar to the problems we had in China, where almost nobody outside of the big cities could change our money or traveller's checks. Hopefully we will do better this time.

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Tokyo Part 1
Himeji Castle
Fushimi Shrine
Hiroshima and Miyajima
Kiso Valley
Tokyo Part 2
Japan and the War (Under construction)
Miscellaneous (Under construction)