While I greatly enjoyed my trip to Japan, one thing kept occurring over and over again that really surprised me for this day and age: A picture that was supposed to represent an area in a guide book was nothing like the real thing or in some cases mislabeled. While once in awhile is acceptable, this occurred so much I had to ask myself if these writers or editors had ever been to Japan?! Here are a couple of examples for your enjoyment and my venting about it, lol.
Oh boy the Gion District. I remember reading all over the place to go to the Gion district and that it was the “Geisha District”. I don’t know about you but when someone says Geisha I think traditional, old-timey Japan. Not to mention the only picture we get of the Gion District is of Ponto-cho Alley is nothing like the rest of the area. To compare, first is a picture of Ponto-cho and next is a street view of one of the main shopping areas where you can find the Nishiki Market.
I’m sorry but these are no where near similar! Gion is a Huge shopping area. Buildings are tall, lots of traffic, lots of shops. It is very modern compared to other areas of the city. It was however a great hub while staying in Kyoto, which I’m assuming is why everyone talks about it.
Now back to Ponto-cho Alley. This is where all the awesome restaurants and bars are. You walk down at night, with lanterns lit and the creek running by, it’s great! We also saw Geishas walk by on 3 different occasions, so it is totally possible to see them.
Hida Folk Village vs Shirakawa-go
This was one of the worst examples of no one caring if they were misrepresenting something. The guide book and even the posters in the area all show this beautiful scene. This is Shirakawa-go. Not Hida Folk Village, and not Takayama itself. It’s about a 50 minute bus ride away. Even our hosts at the hostel pointed it out on the poster they had and told us it was Shirakawa-go. Yet in the book it claims that this is Hida Folk Village. While they do have the same style building, Hida Folk Village is much smaller and no where near as picturesque. It’s more like a pioneer living history village where Shirakawa-go is an occupied, preserved town with original buildings. So if you want the real thing, go to Shirakawa-go. But Hida Folk Village did have cool museum displays and the best mochi I had all trip!
What the Books Are Good For
One thing that the books did very well was ranking which areas and sites to prioritize. Things like Arashiyama, or Nazen-ji Temple in Kyoto are high ranked and listed as a “Don’t Miss”. I found almost all of these to be true, so go ahead and use those recommendations to help plan which sites you want to see during a first trip there.
A Note About Expectations
When things were not as they were expected to be I was still able to get over it quickly, not get too hung up on it, and embrace what it actually was. I would say I was fairly practiced at this before my trip, so it wasn’t new and it didn’t take long for me to move on from a shock and still have a good time. It was even expected that this would happen at some point.
It then made me sad to overhear a conversation between some younger girls staying at the hostel about their experiences not living up to their expectations. This had particularly to do with Harajuku street scene, that apparently wasn’t as vibrant as they had been lead to believe. They had built up so much expectation for cosplay and fashion, both of which are very fad-driven, that they had a disappointing time. I guess I was surprised that they would put so much stock into something that would obviously change very quickly. It was like they got a lesson in expectation and impermanence at the same time!
So I hope that helps in planning a trip to Japan. Remember that if you can avoid clinging to expectations, you will have a much more enjoyable time living in the moment and embracing what is. Even when the books lie, lol.