Above: Wakayama Castle


Seeing most of our travel in recent years has been in Europe and most in connection with our music tours, we thought we should next time we have the opportunity to go over seas we should go somewhere we’ve never been before.

Japan! That was an easy decision: but when I thought about it, it didn’t seem easy at all. I have always thought them an inscrutable people, polite but remote, their language incomprehensible, and their culture, both modern and ancient, very distant from ours.

How were we going to cope, both of us such conventional Westerners? Worse still we arrived in the middle of the worst typhoon to hit Tokyo in many years. The was no rain when we got off the plane – were we in the eye of the cyclone? No it was a lull in the downpour of heavy rain that dogged our first few days


Above: Shibuya Crossing at Night 

The first Japanese eye-opener was at the Narita terminal having our Japan Railpass validated. The Japanese are sticklers for the correct process and we found we had ten minutes before closing time to book all the seats for all our train travel for the next two weeks. The young lady dealing with us spoke flawless English, though still apologised for its inadequacy, and was as fast as a bullet train, her fingers flying over the booking calculator all the time laughing. We were done in 10 minutes and the door was softly closed behind us on the dot of 8.30. Efficiency+exactness+laughter=perfection!

Our hotel is 13 levels high but looks as wide as a little old Balmain terrace – same goes for the room we have. Tiny, and for the first time in my life I got claustrophobia. The window doesn’t open, the aircon seems to have only hot or cold, there is one metre between the wall and the bed for all the furniture and there is no room on the other side of the bed nor at the foot both of which are bound by wall. But the bathroom, though still minuscule, is superbly organised and everything works perfectly.

We are staying in Ginza, an old geisha district, but now slick hip and stylish with an amazing wide thoroughfare through the middle called Chuo-Dori with every smart world brand in colourful vertical signs on all the sleek up to the minute towers with glass fronts that line both sides of the street. On weekends it becomes a pedestrian space and most surely be the most elegant shopping street anywhere. We dived out of the rain into the outside lobby of the great Mitsukoshi department store, but found the doors closed waiting for the 10.30 opening and crowds of people waiting to be admitted. On the stroke of 10.30, two elegant female assistants stepped forward from inside the great glass doors, opened then and stood back while the shoppers teemed in. As they did every assistant standing In front of their counters bowed to the waist over and over again as the shoppers swept past. Sally of course pulled out her phone to snap the sight, and then we headed for the basement levels where the arrangements of every conceivable food delicacy have to be seen to be believed. Most of it has to be regarded as art as much of it doesn’t even look like food, or not food you feel you should sully by putting it in your dirty mouth. Some of it was quite grotesque – after all, it was Halloween. After an hour or more of entranced gawking, we agreed to come back in the evening and buy select delicacies for dinner back in our cell.

Another amazing Tokyo experience is the trains; not the bullet trains, that’s yet another. No I mean the subway and the surface trains of the so-called JR line (Japan Rail). Between them there must be at least 30 lines that intersect the Tokyo metropolitan area. The map is a riot of colour as every line is named and colour coded. They all cross each other endlessly and to get anywhere you have to master the impossibly complicated map. Verging on the Aspergers spectrum as Sally suspects, this is easy meat for me and after an hour or two of intense study, I feel I am an expert and guide a hopelessly lost wife with confidence up and down stairs, escalators, up lifts, down corridors, across concourses, into tunnels, finding the right exit (up to 20 or more for larger stations) and onto multi-coloured trains. During our five days in the city, I believe we were either on or getting to trains or getting off to find another train for more hours of the day than any other activity. But anyone fearing it will be too hard, don’t worry, every sign is in English as well as Japanese.

The hype these days about Japan is the food, asserted by many experts including Tetsuya Wakuda, who might just be a bit biased, that it’s the world’s best, combining Japanese finesse with all the great European and other cuisines. But being a musical traveller, I was determined we should visit Tokyo’s premier concert hall, the Suntory Hall, built by an industrial baron. For many years it has welcomed the great orchestras of the world whose world tours always include Suntory Hall.

Long before we left Sydney, I looked up the website to see what concerts were scheduled for the time we would be in Tokyo, prepared to schedule our trip around good prospects. As luck would have it a concert with the NHK orchestra, Japan’s best, with Christophe Eschenbach was scheduled but on the internet from Australia, no seats could be booked. I contacted Ben Ross, son of Fe and Don and a Tokyo resident. He reported it was sold out but his wife Naoko resourcefully got on to an online auction and found us two excellent separate seats. The hall is quite hard to find and our pocket wifi took us on a merry dance to get us there from the subway. Inside it is spacious and clad in elegant pale timber. Eschenbach offered an all Brahms concert – symphonies 4 and 1. The elderly Japanese gentleman beside me told me the Tokyo audience can’t get enough Brahms, and the orchestra clearly lapped it up – the performances of both symphonies were about the most incisive AND expansive I’ve ever heard. A large string section of 60 gave a deep rich sound with strong exact rhythms and perfect security at all times. The typical classical wind and brass sections led by a superb first flute for the gorgeous sad solo in the last movement of the 4th, were all you could want. After a lifetime of listening on and off to Brahms, I was struck by the large part in both pieces for the double bassoon who worked like a Trojan all night, belatedly recognising the origin of the characteristic grumbly sound in all his orchestral music. The concert came to a thrilling conclusion when in the final thrilling bars of the 1st, strangely played after the interval, with the whole orchestra going fff, the timpani, during fantastic ffff rolls, lost one of his sticks, which luckily fell on the drum and it was back in his hand for the final flourish in an instant!

To cap a wonderful evening, as we caught the subway back to the hotel, we decided the afternoon snack wasn’t enough and dropped in at a smart looking sushi restaurant a few doors up from the hotel. We sat at the counter in front of one of the two chefs and watched transfixed as he sliced chopped, squeezed and turned the variegated seafood into incredible shapes and then placed them in front of us. The tastes, colours and textures were divine, incredible plus a Pouilly fuisse chardonnay to wash it down. We left an hour later agreeing it was the most delicate and flavoursome meal we’d ever had – The Golden Rice Sushi.

Scrolling through the internet, Sally came across an organisation called Tokyo Free Guides that offers free guiding for tourists. She applied online and immediately had a response from a lady of a certain age called Ryuko – maybe in her 60s. Sally asked I’d she would b available the next day, Friday, and the deal was done. Ryuko agreed to guide us from 10 to 3 pm and we chose the Ueno/ Asakura district to the north of the city, full of older precincts, parks and cultural institutions. It’s a very impressive arrangement and the only cost to us was her bus or subway fares and lunch. She spoke perfect English, has done this for years and sees it as a sort of civic contribution as well,as being a pleasant way to get to meet visitors to her city. She can answer any question you throw at her and you takes you at a cracking pace anywhere you want. She took us to a nice restaurant for lunch high up over Ueno’s busy streets. Over lunch at our questioning she explained their very practical booking system which allows the volunteers to select guests they think they would like. For us the whole experience was most enjoyable and a great way to learn in a more intimate way about Tokyo. Another big thumbs up for Japanese generosity.

It was Ryuko who recommended the first ancient garden we visited on our Japan sojourn – she also guides in two or three of them. This is one of the most revered – originating 400 years ago but in its present state benefiting from the generosity of the Mitsubishi organisation. Unlike many, this garden is not integral to a shrine or temple but is redolent of the old Japanese virtues of peace, order, and integration of spirituality with nature. Equivalent in size to a large city block, it is based around a lake with three small islands in the middle. Gnarled ancient Japanese pines, many propped up with wooden poles surround the lake. Special stones, or rocks, have been brought from all over Japan to border the garden in seemingly haphazard ways, yet like every beautiful vista in the garden, the aesthetics are so elegant that you can’t help feeling that human intent has merged with nature. The maple and fruit trees, in contrast with the pines, are turning golden, pink and burgundy, though we are told autumn has come late this year and it will be mid to late November before the full autumn glory is reached.

One day, the first really clear sunny day we had, we decided to do a day trip up to the Hakone district where there are beautiful lakes, a cable car over the mountains and the best views to be had of Mt Fuji. All this turned out to be true and in many ways it was a lovely scenic day, but travellers beware: the travel time on the bullet train, then the oh so slow bus, then the pirate ship cruising the lake, the cable car (called the Hakone ropeway), then the interminable straphanging funicular down the mountain, then two more trains to get back to Tokyo – all this meant that 90% of the day was in crowded conveyances, much of it standing.

Eating the superbly prepared and presented food is one of the most easily appreciated delights of discovering Japan. Only once were we disappointed during our Tokyo stay. Our last day was solidly wet all day and included a rather gloomy wander ( with another voluntary guide) through the Imperial Palace gardens under umbrellas. I had booked a special treat for dinner at one of Tetsuya’s top recommendations, the world famous teppanyaki Udai Tei – he spent half a page extolling its mind-blowing virtuosity. We set out in the pouring rain to walk 20 minutes to our destination, Sally very dubious about the whole idea. I realised it would be costly so steeled myself to as much as $300 for the evening. It was hard to find but find it we did like drowned rats, and were greeted at the street by a charming hostess. A glance at the menu options at the door showed the cheapest option would cost $350 each, not including drinks. I never made a faster decision – we were off into the night before Sally even knew what was happening! Eventually, even wetter, we found a lovely modern/ traditional place where we had a delicious multi-course dinner for about $80 each, a far better way to cap our Tokyo stay.


Bullet Train at Kanazawa Station

Situated on the mid-west coast of Honshu and noted for its maritime culture, Kanazawa proved to be a fascinating place. Nearly three hours on the bullet train was more like a magic carpet ride and we drew into ultra modern Kanazawa station on the minute. As with most major Japanese cities, the station has everything – malls, high rise hotels, department stores and everything in between. Just as well as the weather on our arrival was foul – like Tokyo only worse – and trapped us (at least Sally) in shopping mode – new shoes, new bag while yours truly minded the luggage. It was almost dark when we made it to the hotel – sleek looking in the reception area, but again a tiny room with locked window encouraging claustrophobia. But this hotel had the advantage of its very own onsen, Japanese for bath house where men and women, separately, go through the naked cleaning and bathing ritual. I found it very pleasant, if a little disconcerting. Sally couldn’t wait to enjoy the experience but unusual circumstances made it VERY disconcerting for her, but that’s a story to be told by her at another time.

The next day, our only full day in Kanazawa, mercifully stopped raining, though the clouds were low. It turned out to be perhaps our best day in Japan yet. We headed for the Kenruko-en Garden, one of the supposed three best in Japan. The autumn colours were splendid and the paths wandered through an extraordinary variety of small vistas including two small lakes, a quite steep hill over looking the whole garden, avenues of exotic tiny trees, some with leaves in brilliant red and others in various hues from soft yellow through to pinks, oranges and burgundies, all contrasted with the bright greens of the pine trees.

Across from the garden was the contemporary Art Museum, much praised In the blurb in our Lonely Planet guide. It is a big airy building, all white and glass panels with high ceilings. The exhibition filling it, I don’t know whether it was permanent or not, was devoted to the idea of new ways of living for the new age. Much of it celebrated a link between Danish and Japanese design and was full of fanciful and fabulous as well as more serious concepts. A Danish artist called Helman(?) Lehl (?) had lived on Okinawa in a beautiful beach house for many years and during this time had been disturbed by the huge amount of detritus washed up on the beaches, all cheap plastic bottles, rope and other rubbish. He was so concerned about this ruination of the pristine landscape that he decided to draw attention to the issue by creating an art collection based on this colourful rubbish and published a book devoted to the amazing series of art works. We turned into the next large room and there it all was, in great hangings, pillars, installations and extravagant chandeliers, distorted and exaggerated in crazy mirrors around the walls of the huge room.

There was another exhibition of his of found stones he discovered quite by chance somewhere in India, none larger than a fist but all with extraordinary coulours and tracery. Apparently these are mostly agate. The museum was full of droll and serious exhibits, superbly presented, always in English as well as Japanese. I could have stayed there all day.

Almost next door is the DT Suzuki museum, a permanent tribute to the famous Japanese philosopher and exponent of Japanese Zen Buddhism who lived a very long life from the late 19th century until 1962. It is housed in a beautiful purpose built house in a lovely setting on the side of a wooded hill, exuding a peaceful contemplative atmosphere with a shallow infinity lake and paths through the woods. Perhaps the most notable teacher of Zen Buddhism of the 20th century, he fell foul of many colleagues with his mid-century glorification of Japanese swordsmanship and its association with militarism.

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at the Omi-Cho market that apparently rivals the Tsujita fish market in Tokyo which we missed. Not only the seafood, but the bewildering variety of fruit and veg (the ubiquitous persimmon and nashi apple/pear). I bought a cup of halved fresh figs having a wonderful depth of flavour, but the real mouth bursting experience was a single massive oyster I bought at one stall. I saw these huge gnarled pieces of rock the size of a small pineapple and wondered what they were until I saw a woman buy one for 5000 yen ($6). The stall owner went away and brought it back opened with a giant oyster inside, perhaps 12-15 centimetres long. I gaped, bought one and ate it with chop sticks in three pieces dipped in the offered lemon juice. What a taste explosion! I let nothing pass my lips until dinner so I could savour the after taste.

The exquisite Japanese cuisine has now become a national pastime and everyone partakes of it. One of the eating phenomena is the restaurant floor, or two, at the top of every department store and now at the top of modern hotels. These might contain 20 or even 30 restaurants of every different style of Japanese cooking plus plenty of foreign fusion styles too. All of them, cheaper and more pricey, seem to be full, with rows of chairs outside each one; people waiting for up to an hour to get in. At least in the smarter stores and hotels, these are not takeaway el cheapos, but both casual and more formal fine dining places, many where the diners sit at counters while the wizard at the hotplate does his stuff.

In Kanazawa, on the top floor of the 5 star station hotel, we entered a place where each table had a little double bowl deep fryer heated by a tiny flame the diner can adjust. The waiter then pours an aromatic stock into the bowls and we are given an array of raw vegetables, condiments, pickles and thin slices of pork or beef that we each cook to our taste in the stock. To the uninitiated like us, it’s a bit messy, but delicious and we left very satisfied.


Inside Kyoto Station Complex

I imagined Kyoto, from what I had read that it was the ancient capital of Japan and a repository of great traditional temples and gardens, to be a place where you wandered through winding lanes like an old Japanese painting. How wrong I was! It is a large ultra-modern city with vast hordes of people straining even the most up-to-date infrastructure. To me it seemed even faster and more futuristic than Tokyo. The vast station complex with its huge open air atrium and an 11 storey outdoor escalator seemed to be lifting us to the moon (we had a full moon on our last night as we flowed endlessly up to the sky). Everywhere we went, even at the famous traditional sites in the woods and gardens on the outskirts, were so crowded with people that walking was often reduced to a frustrating shuffle.

In Australia we might decry the obsession with the selfie, but it’s nothing like the tourist sites in Kyoto with all the young, many dressed in Geisha-like gear, sporting phones on selfie sticks, posing and clicking en masse. 95% of the tourists seem Japanese, the trendy youth, the families and the old and the common feature is that everyone seems happy and relaxed, completely oblivious to the crowds.

We worked out the public transport system pretty quickly, mostly buses, which are very well organised but the crowds queuing and the traffic congestion especially around the station makes city travel slow and strap-hanging. Several times we visited the central shopping area around Gion and Kawaramachi-Shijo. If you can tolerate the crush of people, this is a fascinating area with the giant, elegant department stores, the labyrinth of lanes with every kind of shop and food outlets and the great market (which we missed). On our first day in Kyoto, we asked Maria at our ryokan (more about that later) where we should go to find dinner. Without hesitation, she said Pondo-Cho and told us to get the 207 bus to Gion. The swarms of people strolling and shopping were to us almost overwhelming. The rows of lights along the streets, the brightly lit shop fronts and the melodious chimes for all the street crossings made it all seem surreal.

Pondo-cho is unique. A long narrow walking street, maybe a kilometre long with the houses on one side opening on to the river, it is full of special interest shops, exclusive geisha destinations, dining clubs and intimate restaurants. We strolled along for a while, peeping into the establishments, nodding at each other and shaking our heads. I said, maybe here, or maybe there and mostly Sally said I don’t think so. Eventually she said ‘what about here?’ As almost always, I say ‘OK’ and we ducked into a tiny place where there was a counter beside the little kitchen. There were 4 or 5 people at the counter and I spied two tiny eating rooms near the river balcony where each held four people sitting on the floor. We took our place at the counter next to a woman who kept on shouting to the chef, ‘longer, longer!’ I thought she meant she wanted her meat cooked more so I gestured to the charming old Japanese chef accordingly, who quickly got my more empathetic approach to her demand. It turned out the couple sittiing next to us were Marie and Trevor who ran a scrap metal business on the Gold Coast and clearly had more money than sense. Sally was more impressed with Marie’s many facelifts than I was with the voice. I was rather won over by Marie as she guessed I was about 57 and nearly fell off her chair when Sally ungallantly told her the truth. However we had the most wonderful culinary experience in that little place with a long series of tiny dishes of every kind served to us, but the delicate tempura of fish and vegetables were the stand out to me. We drank a superb French Chablis and left knocked out by the subtlety of the food and its welcoming atmosphere. Much to their surprise, we returned the next night and had a different but equally delightful experience. When I asked the chef what the name of his establishment was, he help up a battered old frying pan with a friendly smile.

Kyoto’s traditional sites and gardens, usually connected to the temples and shrines, of which there seem to be hundreds, are mostly spread around the outskirts of the city, amongst the hills and woods surrounding the city. While we visited several, we only scratched the surface, but still had some remarkable experiences.

One day we walked the northern Higashiyama district for perhaps five kilometres after being dropped by a bus and walking to Ginkaku-Ji, a beautiful temple once the retirement villa of the emperor in the Middle Ages. We were more interested in the gorgeous autumn gardens that stretched up a verdant hillside with walking tracks and pools shimmering in the flawless sunshine, just about the first day of real sun we have had. The garden next to the lovely little lake features amazing mounds of raked sand, raked symmetrically with elegant traditional patterns. After leaving Ginkaku, we walked the Philosopher’s Path, literally a pathway along a little stream, under the shadow of the mountainside with little trees with autumn leaves along the way. Through a huge pine grove we came to a shrine called Honen-in, deep in the woods, very solemn. There was a room devoted to an art exhibition by an Japanese artist that seemed to me to epitomise the idea of deep Zen-like reflection. The paintings were of sombre natural settings: water, woods, branches of trees, all in dark greys, browns, blacks and suggestions of pastels, greens, blues and lilacs. Each one was overlaid with tiny bits of spatter, creating the effect of a sort of gauze between the viewer and the painting, making it seem even more remote and mysterious. I love them and wanted to take one home.

At the end of the Philosopher’s path, we found another extravagantly beautiful garden and temple called Eikan-do, and spent an hour admiring the colours, crossing the little bridges across the lagoons and watching two or three couples in traditional gear. Even with lots of people around, these secluded and colourful places exude peacefulness and tranquillity and you find yourself just standing and gazing.

It wasn’t all delightful like this. The hordes of people often got us down, despite their good humour. One day we travelled on a bus quite a long way to visit the Kyoto Crafts Museum as we’d met a Danish glass blower at the Frying Pan restaurant and she was exhibiting in another Danish Japanese exhibition at the Crafts Museum. It was all a bit boring and she had only two pieces in it so we decided to cut our losses and move on to the Kiyomuzu-dera Temple, one of Kyoto’s most famous. More crowded buses and then an endless trudge up a long steep hill lined with hundreds of garish stalls. There were so many people we were reduced to a crawl, made worse by lines of cars and taxi trying to make their way down hill. After an hour of this the temple and its surrounds were so packed, that we turned around and trudged back, tempers frayed and (my) feet and knees swollen and sore.

Sally was not happy with our accommodation in Kyoto, and I have to admit, nor was I, though it was I who organised it. I planned that in one city we should stay in a Ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn where you sleep in a futon on the floor and are given traditional hospitality including a multi court meal served in Japanese style. Ryokans are actually quite expensive because of the elaborate hospitality. Our ryokan in Kyoto turned out to be a ‘pretend’ Ryokan with the disadvantages of sleeping on a mattress on the floor, no tables or chairs, but also no special meals or service, indeed no food or drink at all.The only pluses were that it was clean and efficient and the girls at the desk were polite and charming. Spending six days groping around the floor was not a success.

Our day on the western edge of the city in the Arashiyama district was altogether a more pleasant experience. We wanted to walk through the famous bamboo forest and we did (with thousands of others). It was an eerie experience as the day became windy and blew the giant bamboo clumps all over the place, making a wild swishing, sighing sound. At the end of the bamboo forest we came across Omochi Sanso, a private retreat and garden created by a famous silent film samurai actor of the same name. 1000 yen to enter seemed a lot, but it was worth it just to escape the hordes and the garden turned out to be heavenly, in my opinion the most beautiful I saw on the whole trip to Japan. Immense trouble had been taken to juxtapose shrubs, rocks, trees, ponds, paths and vistas. Several tiny tea houses emerged from the paths and at one stage we reached a little ridge only to find we were overlooking a vast valley and stream way below with a huge mountainside facing us with a little temple in bright colours the only chink in the great slopes of pine trees.

In visits to foreign cultures in tourist mode, not knowing any or many individual people, it’s not surprising our most intimate experiences are often through the food. In Japan this is especially so, with such care being taken with its presentation and the frequency of small establishments with the kitchen in full view beside you. One night in Kyoto, we entered an open contemporary place, looking so attractive, only to find that it served only eel. Sally firmly decided salad was the only option for her, but I had a piece of grilled eel almost as long as your arm. Despite eel being a much relished delicacy inJapan, this was a mistake. The oily flavours and smell persisted in my consciousness until the next day.

But like our two visits to the Frying Pan, the food is usually a very satisfying cultural experience. One night wandering through the back lanes of central Kyoto we looked in at a little place where the young chef was at his counter and stayed. All he had was a small mesh cook top and a little blow torch, some sashimi, little cuts of meat and small piles of simple and exotic vegetables. Out of these meagre resources, plus an assistant to wash plates and serve, he fed 16 diners, eight at his counter plus four little tables. We had about six little courses, all carefully placed in front of us by him with the utmost charm.

On our last day in Kyoto, we again retreated to the fiesta on the edge of the city and climbed up to the amazing Fushimi Imari-taisha. It is a Shinto shrine consisting of thousands of vermilion torii, wooden squared gates or arches that you process through, the nearer ones quite massive but get smaller as you climb up into the forest. The path through the arches continues upwards through the forest and finally emerges on to the top of the highest hill where you look down on the whole of the city. Though Sally went to the top, after two weeks of walking up and down endless steep stairs, my knees gave way and I gave up half way up. It is a strange and mesmerising experience that got better the higher you go as the crowd thins as you go upwards.


Above: Wall painting in Emperor’s villa in Nikko

For our last day in the country we decided to go to Nikko, a town in the mountains two hundred kilometres north of Tokyo, noted at this time of the year for its magnificent autumn colours and its fantastic World Heritage listed temple complex Tosho-gu. It meant the bullet train back to Tokyo and two more trains to Nikko, arriving in the afternoon. It was lovely to find we were in a modest town rather like a ski village high in the mountains. With an hour or two before the sun went down, we took a bus to the former Royal retreat, a magnificent traditional all-wooden villa in the midst of another gorgeous garden with a little stream running through it. We loved the elegance of the many simple wooden rooms with tatami floor coverings, looking on to pretty internal courtyards to out the garden.

As our flight left Tokyo in the evening the next day, Sally decided she wanted to walk in the National Park around lakes high in the mountains before we left. We had a quick visit to the famous shrine complex but despite its spectacular appearance, the hordes had arrived early in the day and we beat a retreat to a bus taking to the mountains, labouring up dozens of hairpin bends till it got to a beautiful high lake called Chuzen-Ji. A walk around the lake could have taken a couple of hours, but my knees had given up the ghost so we sat on a crumpled old wooden jetty and gazed at the lovely lake and the mountains surrounding it and talked about our remarkable journey and pondered many thoughts and reflections about Japan and life in general. It was a very special way to end our trip in a slow and relaxed way. Eventually we got up and went to a superb craft shop and bought some lovely implements to take home and finally caught the bus back to Nikko and thence the trains to Tokyo and the airport.

What were our lasting impressions?! A busy, thriving, highly integrated society, charming and welcoming to strangers, but as a friend says, happy to see you leave fairly soon. A lasting impression for me was the ease and contentment of their lifestyle. Smiling and chatting constantly, you rarely see, at least in public, an argument or discord. The cities are immense: from the train you see huge districts rushing by of seemingly endless high or medium rise accomodation towers and blocks. But the people seem completely untroubled by the density of their living style. Admittedly we were mostly in large sophisticated cities but we saw no poverty or discontent even in the poorer side streets.

The fact that most of the thronging crowds visiting the sacred sites were Japanese was fascinating to me. The spirituality of these places is clearly a daily part of the lives of all Japanese. They visit these places constantly, not to worship, but to be there, to partake of that spirituality as prt of their almost daily lives. It is very impressive and clearly is a strong bond for the whole . Some ask how can this be when you remember the cruelty and militarism of World War 2? I think the trauma of the war changed the whole society, no doubt encouraged, even dominated by the post war influence of the US.