|Heian Jingu Shrine, Kyoto (Photo by Robert Montgomery)|
What followed were 10 sleepless but delightful days as we walked our Ryokans' bamboo matted floors with our alert baby each night (she had a bad habit of falling asleep in her carrier during the day); and hit the streets in the daylight hours for temple-hopping, department store openings (we loved to go early in the morning and see the ritual of all the clerks lined up and bowing to the first customers), castle tours and market strolls. Having our baby daughter with us proved to be a boon; every where we went, we were surrounded by admirers cooing "kawa-ee" (cute) and "genki" (feisty) at our precious bundle. Those who spoke English, came up to us to chat about the baby. We were even invited to a stranger's house for dinner (an unusual event in this usually stand-offish nation). It was a remarkable experience, and one that has made me a lifelong fan of Japan.
That incident that almost derailed our trip was, of course, just a blip in history, especially compared to Japan's recent crisis. I don't blame those who have been cancelling their trips in the months since the tsunami and nuclear crisis. Too many discrepancies have arisen between what the Japanese government is telling its people (and would-be tourists) and what outside experts and local, unofficial monitors are saying about the scope of the nuclear contamination. A very disturbing article appeared just this week.
So would I go now? I think I would, though I might not bring my daughter this time as I do have worries about the radiation. Maybe I'm being too cautious though. There are no longer any State Department advisories warning visitors away from the country (and that's not just the case with the US, but also with the governments or Australia and the UK); and prices have never been better, important for this usually pricey country. The New York Times ran a lengthy piece recently about the 50% discounts that are standard in hotels across the island nation.
And my guess is that traveling there now is probably a bit like heading there with a baby. What I mean is: you're likely going to be greeted with great affection and thanks. Tourism is an important industry in Japan and its taken a beating. Those who are heading to Japan are finding a more gracious and open welcome than usual.