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Thinking of Japan

Buzz Poole
03/15/2011 - 12:42

<p style="text-align: justify;">In the autumn of 1999, I spent my final semester of college in Japan, taking classes at Kansai Gaidai in Hirakata, in Osaka prefecture. About equidistant between the city centers of Osaka and Kyoto, those five months filled me with experiences and memories that I will never forget. I had traveled to Japan about a year and half earlier and loved it, wanting to know more of a country so adept at folding the bleeding edges of technology, design, and fashion into centuries of history. In fact, when the semester ended I moved to California, thinking I would tie up some loose ends and then return to Japan to find work. I haven&#8217;t been back since, and while I&#8217;ve lost touch with all of the Japanese and international students I befriended at the university, I can&#8217;t shake thoughts of them today.</p>
<p><p style="text-align: justify;">During that semester I traveled extensively, checking out temples and shrines, fire festivals, hot-sand baths and frigid mountain streams, but if nothing else, my time in Japan taught me how to be a barfly. Once I had purchased a bicycle I was mobile and it only took me a few days to discover a bar that caught my attention because it was ornamented with Grateful Dead paraphernalia. Yuki, the owner, ran an American fashion thrift shop out of the space during the days and at night re-arranged the clothing racks to reveal a small bar where he played videos, poured generous drinks and served up homegrown edamame. I spent several nights a week at Yuki&#8217;s, meeting his friends and improving my Japanese, not to mention building up my tolerance for Johnnie Walker Red. Yuki&#8217;s gang liked me, especially because I had actually seen the Grateful Dead, many times. For them, this was almost as amazing as Bob Weir himself stumbling into the bar for a few rounds.</p>
<center><img src="http://www.exodus.co.uk/assets/images/trips/fullsize/21147.jpg" alt="" width="480" height="320" /></center><br />
<p style="text-align: justify;">Of all the tradition and history I soaked up when in Japan, touring castles, attending screenings of classic Japanese films and going to my Japanese friends&#8217; homes for dinner, one of the more memorable outings came about near the end of my stay. One evening, Yuki and a few of the Japanese regulars announced they had a surprise for me. By then, my Japanese had improved to the point of passable, and we would converse through a pidgin Japanese/English/sign language. I couldn&#8217;t imagine what was in store, and all they told me was to be ready at a certain time on a certain day. When the night arrived, Yuki picked me up and as we made our way to Osaka he revealed that we would be attending a Grateful Dead cover band concert. As cover bands go, this one wasn&#8217;t particularly good but the night was unforgettable, and a true surprise.</p>
<p<p style="text-align: justify;">>For the past few days we&#8217;ve all been watching the shocking and scary footage of the powerful earthquake, the crush of the tsunami waves and smoking nuclear plants. It might seem misplaced, relating these memories from over a decade ago, but as with any tragedy where there isn’t any way to change what has happened, and what is happening, we need to keep thoughts, prayers and wishes positive, and <a href="http://www.google.com/crisisresponse/japanquake2011.html">donate money</a> to help support relief efforts.</p>

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