I recently took a trip to the land of the rising sun – Japan. I have been there a number of times and now is a perfect time to go if you are able to. The exchange rate is extremely in favor of US visitors meaning hotels, gifts, and meals can be had for a bargain. As a matter of fact, the Marriott that I used pay $180.00 for back in 2011 you can now get for less than a $130.00.
One of my favorite places in Japan is the city of Nagoya. If Tokyo is compared to NYC then Nagoya could be compared to Boston or Chicago. It is a decent size city, that is not overly crowded but offers much to do and it is centrally located so you are an easy train ride to places like Kyoto and Hiroshima which are also wonderful cities to visit.
Japan is still a tobacco friendly country. Unlike many places in the world, you can still sit in a pub or even a restaurant and enjoy a cigar, or as the Japanese call it – hamaki which translates into “rolled leaf”. Of course when you do fire up hamaki, the Japanese are very inquisitive as they tend to smoke cigarettes a lot more. On numerous occasions I have been asked,”.. ahh you smoke hamaki?”. Of course I always respond with “aye” and if I have an extra one I offer it to my new found friend. If they accept they are curious to how to smoke it and of course the next hour or so is a journey through cigars and learning Japanese.
If you don’t bring your own you can always find a cigar shop somewhere in the cities, but they are not as prevalent as in the US. You will also find mostly Cuban cigars, but there are some name brands from General Cigars and Altidas on the shelves. I always opt for the Cuban as it is something I cannot have yet legally in the US. Nagoya has one of my favorite shops , the Kanau Cigar Bar. This place is a small pub that offers live music on the weekends and has a decently stocked walk in humidor. They offer meals and have some great desserts along with Cuban Coffee.
Besides the cigar shops, I always like to take in a walk through a Japanese garden. They are so peaceful and offer the ability to take in some tranquil solitude in the midst of an otherwise busy and hectic day. Zen is perhaps what we feel as cigar smokers, when we sit in our moment, pondering the day, cleansing our minds and relaxing in the moment. Yes I think that may be it – peaceful solitude.
Some of my favorite places to visit in Nagoya is the Nagoya Castle that dates back to 1612 and was constructed on the orders of Ieyasu TOKUGAWA in order to secure an important position on the Tokaido road and to ward off attacks from the direction of Osaka. But in 1945, the WWII air raids during the air raids destroyed most of the buildings including the main and small donjons, and the Hommaru Palace. Three corner towers, three gates, and most of the paintings on the sliding doors and walls in the Hommaru Palace survived the fire, and have been handed down as Important Cultural Assets. There Castle has been undergoing restoration and currently thepalace is being restored using material and craftsmanship similar to the time of the original construction.
If you take a short Bullet Train ride outside of Nagoya you can to one of the most beautiful places to visit; is the old city of Kyoto. Kyoto was once the Capital of Japan and if you talk to Japanese in Kyoto they will tell you that the Emperor who currently resides in Tokyo is “just visiting Tokyo and will return to Kyoto soon”. The city was one of the few untouched by the raids of WWII and offers plenty to see and as you stroll the ancient streets and pathways. There are numerous gardens, temples, shrines, and palaces that simply put you in awe. Of course you may just want to walk up the mountain area and discover small shrines and gardens. Yes this is one city that you can truly feel one with nature.
If you head a little further south on the bullet train you will come to Hiroshima, one of only two cities in the world ever to experience an atom bomb. But what is truly amazing is how life and humans go on. Here is a city that just over 70 years ago was decimated and other than a few remaining relics and the museum you would not have known. Home to Mazda Corporation and a bustling city it has completely transformed itself. This is a great city to stroll about puffing on your favorite stogie taking in the many sites such as the Atomic Dome -the only standing building from the blast that flattened everything around it. Take a visit to the museum and note the two clocks in the window. The 1st is the time since the last nuclear test somewhere in the world and the second is the time since the dropping of the bomb in 1945. I have to say I was taken back when I realized we as the human race seem to keep building and testing more atomic weapons. Well inside you will see many relics and history of what happened.
If you are more adventurous you can always take a trip to Mt. Fuji and trek to the top. I have not done that myself but I did make it up a few levels just to say I touched her.
If you you head north out of Nagoya towards Tokyo you will come to Yokahama and Yokahama bay. It is in this area that you will find a small beach town called Kamakura. The Japanese call this surf city Japan and there are a few surf shops along the winding road. But even cooler than that, this is where you will find Daibutsu (the Giant Buddha). This is just an amazing structure standing just shy of 13.5 meters tall, made of solid bronze weighing in over 93 tons and dates back to 1252 AD. I just wanted to sit down with the Buddha and enjoy some hamaki.
Wherever I roamed in Japan I was always welcomed with a smile. There are some places in the inner city’s that prohibit smoking in crowded section of the public space and that is clearly noted on the pavement. But for the most part you can enjoy your cigars in pubs (izakaya) and I am sure it will open a conversation and you will make new friends as I have.