RSS feed


So send me few $$ I will use toward the hosting of the blog. Thanks! Via Paypal.


In the summer of 2009, Nicolas Rapp decided to take a break from his Art Director job at The Associated Press to attempt a one-year overland travel around the world in a 1996 Toyota Land Cruiser. He was back in New York in February 2011 after traveling 15 months and 37,000 miles.

Visited countries


April 2020
« Mar    



Click to see the map


  • A country of ninjas and striking beauty

    Posted on January 11th, 2011 Nicolas 52 comments
    Kinkaju-Ji hall in Kyoto.

    Kinkaju-Ji hall in Kyoto.

    I have to say, I don’t think the picture I took in Japan really reflect the beauty of the country. But I will still try to share these images with you, and you will have to use your imagination. In my last post, I was still in Osaka, on my way to Kyoto. Later on, I arrived in Tokyo where I spent five days visiting the city. Since, I made it back to the United States and I am in Los Angeles since Saturday. My American adventures will be for the next post, but I just wanted to let you know, dear readers, that I was back for good in the USA.

    Nijo castle, Kyoto

    Nijo castle, Kyoto

    When I arrived in Kyoto, I check-in a small “Ryokan”. A Ryokan is a traditional local accommodation, similar to a guesthouse and nicer than a hotel, as it allows you to sleep in an old wooden Japanese house and benefit from the knowledge of the family running it. (Guesthouse Roujiya , 3,000 yen per night in a dorm)
    I stay two nights in the city, and most of the time I am out in the snow visiting temples and the oldest neighborhoods.

    New Year's pilgrimage in a Kyoto temple.

    New Year's pilgrimage in a Kyoto temple.

    Even so it is cold, I am lucky to visit these sites in the wintertime. It is really stunning to be able to enjoy the view of the temples, shrines and lakes under the snow and frozen in ice. This is really something to not miss and I am glad I decided to stop by Japan even so I am without my trusted vehicle. The fact that the country was closed to the outside world for so long really helped Japan to develop an architecture, a culture and way of living very different from the rest of the world.

    The most handsome visitor ticket I got so far during my trip.

    The most handsome visitor ticket I got so far during my trip.

    The first day I spend visiting some temples in the heart of the city. The most gorgeous to discover is probably the Kinkaju-Ji with its gold hall seeming to float on a lake. The evening, as all the others night, I spend time finding cheap restaurants. Food prices are high, and as I mentioned earlier, you cannot find accommodation at least than US$30 in the country.

    The Kinkaju-Ji in Kyoto.

    The Kinkaju-Ji in Kyoto.

    The second day I go for a hike up in the hills in the city periphery, in the area called Arashimaiya. There also, the snow covers trails and bamboo forests. It is a very peaceful walk uphill, which concludes with the Adashino Nembutsu-Ju temple where thousands of statues cram the ground.

    Adashino Nembutsu-Ju stone statues.

    Adashino Nembutsu-Ju stone statues.

    On the sidewalk in the Gion District.

    On the sidewalk in the Gion District.

    In the hills above Kyoto.

    Following a trail in the hills above Kyoto.

    Kyoto at night is charming as well, especially the east part of town where the historical center lays. In the Gion district, it is easy to get lost in the narrow alleys packed with old houses and traditional restaurants. Once in a while you can spot geishas, who are women dressed traditionally and trained to entertain men with conversation, singing and dancing.

    Alley in the old Kyoto.

    Alley in the old Kyoto.

    As always, people are very nice, and I meet residents quickly in one of the hole-in-the-wall restaurants. Soon I am sharing drinks with smiling strangers and ordering food by pointing to dishes I see on people’s tables.

    Back in time on the Kamo-Gawa west bank.

    Back in time on the Kamo-Gawa west bank.

    The long-distance buses are all full because of the New Year’s holidays, so I have no choice but take a ticket in the bullet train leaving frequently for Tokyo. At $150 it is costly, but it is also a very convenient way to cover the 500 km (315 miles) between the two cities. There’s a train leaving every seven minutes, and in less than two-hours-and-a-half, I reach the capital.

    Walking in the business center in Tokyo at sunset.

    Walking in the business center in Tokyo at sunset.

    This is an experience by itself to take one of these trains reaching speeds of 300 km/h (188mi/h). Even with such frequency, the train is crowded and I have to stand for much of the trip. We can only wish the train system would be similar in the U.S. The landscape north of Kyoto is stunning

    Training in a Tokyo park.

    Training in a Tokyo park.

    The Audi tower in west Tokyo.

    Audi tower in west Tokyo.

    In Tokyo I use the modern subway to reach my guesthouse (Sakura Hotel, 3,150 yen a night) and discover the dorm where I will stay for the next few days. From there, I leave every morning to explore the city neighborhoods. It is an interesting place, and I find it quite difficult to select the places to discover at first because of the city many centers. Regardless, it is great to go back and forth between the modern and traditional areas and spend time in the many parks. I meet David – a Canadian guy – at the guesthouse, and we go together to discover the city restaurants and bars.

    Temple in Tokyo.

    Temple in Tokyo.

    The temples are crowded due to “Shogatsu”. This is the most important holiday of the year, and families gather together to visit shine and temples. The tradition is to go to at least three of these places, and there are long lines you can spot from far away all over the city.

    Omikuji – Fortune papers tied outside a temple.

    Omikuji – Fortune papers tied outside a temple.

    People pray and read their fortunes on pieces of paper they find in wooden boxes near the shrines. Then they tie the paper in knot on lines outside the temple.

    Crowded street in a Shibuya street.

    Crowded street in a Shibuya street.

    But everything is not a traditional sight in Tokyo, and young people know how to have fun. You can spot many of them around Shibuya where you can barely walk down the streets packed with people in their twenties wearing fashionable clothes.

    Fashion in important in Tokyo.

    Fashion is important in Tokyo.

    I frequently end up at nightfall in the Golden Gai area, a network of small alleys packed with tiny bars and small restaurants. Many businesses there don’t accept foreigners, but if you hang around long enough, you can find fabulous places.

    The Golden Gai area. Dozens of bars in each alley.

    The Golden Gai area. Dozens of bars in each alley.

    Mysterious place.

    Mysterious place.

    Ninja cocktail.

    Ninja cocktail.

    With my new friend, we can spend hours there speaking with locals. Japanese are very kind people, and the younger ones tend to speak more English. We are very curious about the intriguing culture of the country and we never stop asking questions on subject as crazy as ninjas… Nights finish after the last subway and we walk for hours to go back to the hotel and avoid the horrendous taxi fees.

    A bar in the Golden Gai area.

    A bar in the Golden Gai area.

    What we learn is that ninjas – and Kunoichi their female counterparts – were some kind of mercenary spies who probably disappeared in the 18th century. The barman explains everything about them to us, and even creates an original ninja cocktail to conclude the night. Few days after I would come back and noticing he was serving this new cocktail to other clients. This is how you leave your mark in a country.

    Drawings were always a great way of communicating while I was traveling.

    Drawings were always a great way of communicating while I was traveling.

    Soon it is time for me to prepare my bags. Sadly this is the last foreign country I will be before going back home. Of course there are mixed feelings about going back, but I try to not think about it much. One of the followers of the blog, Scott, found a way to get me a very cheap flight ticket to Los Angeles arriving during the week-end and I say good-bye to Asia as my plane take-off in the afternoon.

    Tokyo at night.

    Tokyo at night.

    Later during the week I hope to update you about my trip back to the western world, so stay tuned!

    Be Sociable, Share!

52 Responses to “A country of ninjas and striking beauty”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Zelgerath Unown. Zelgerath Unown said: RT @Trans_World: New blog post: A country of ninjas and stricking beauty [...]

  2. I love the pictures Nick! :-) I was in Tokyo and Sapporo in the winter of 95. Memories! It was interesting being in Sapporo which was covered in snow and see the pictures of springtime in Japan with the cherry blossoms! But every season in a country holds something special and different. I really enjoyed the pictures you posted of the alleys. Somehow it reminds me of the medieval and quaint alleys of Brussels Belgium.

    Be blessed, be safe and Enjoy your journey across our great country! :-) :-)


  3. What an awesome time you had in Japan. I am so happy that you enjoyed it as much as I did. Seeing your photos really took me back in time. I need to get back there soon. One of my best friends from college lives in Tokyo and makes a really good reason to go visit again!! So glad you arrived safely and can’t wait to read about your adventures as you cross the US back to NYC.

  4. Nick
    In this amazing journey of yours which is your favorite country you visited.

    Amazing pics from Japan.


  5. I’m glad you had a good time in Japan and was able to cover the many places in the limited time available. The sights in Kyoto look awesome with the snow, it is a rare thing to see as it usually doesn’t get that cold!

    Those familiar places look so different under snow cover which is amazing! It looks like you managed to go to some places I haven’t been to either, so I’m happy for you. I’ll get my chance next time I go/when I start working there!

  6. Are you relieved and sad that your journey is almost concluded?
    Or has American life already sucked you and created a crazy network of a million things to do?

    Have you received offers for work back in NYC?

    Thanks for sharing your trips with us. Looking forward to your cross country adventure (as I have done so 8 times and look forward to it again this summer)

  7. Wow! What a ride. Everyday I checked for new postings. I worried when you looked too thin, ill and when you were traveling through dangerous spots in Africa. I learned much about different cultures, markets, and places of worship. Some of your photographs were gorgeous. You’ve had the equivalent of a second college education, picked up more than a few strategies about getting along in this world, and made some new friends You made the most of everywhere you went. There isn’t a large enough budget to cover that experience. Welcome back to America. I’ll still be watching as you travel cross-country.

  8. Donna in Ft Lauderdale

    I’m so glad you posted this last out of country post, we did need to have the end pictures and beautiful they are. It appears you had alot of great sightseeing time there. Good way to end it before coming back to America. I will look forward now to your post on arriving in LA. Welcome Home Nick!!

  9. Amanda from Amish country in Lancaster PA

    Welcome Home Nick !
    I have sooo much enjoyed following your posts since before you started your trip from day one when it first appeared in the news on the web. I can’t tell you how much I have enjoyed what you shared of your trip. Although there were times I was afraid to check for a new post for fear you might have disappeared. But for the greater part it was an Awesome journey. I prayed for your safety a lot and often wondered what your mother might be experiencing. I’m as sad to have your “transworld expedition” end as I was when “LOST” ended. I sure hope you will consider writing a book on your adventures. I’ll be the first in line to make a purchase.
    Best Wishes in your future.

  10. Your pictures are fantastic. What an amazing excursion you have been on. If you are in the LA area are you close to Venice and Santa Monica?

  11. I don’t know the story of those stone statues at the temple in Kyoto, but those faces are amazing. Wish I could be there to see them all. When will your truck arrive? Has your father arrived yet? When will you begin your cross country trek? Travel safe!

  12. Charlie A. (Santa Clara, Ca)

    Good times Nick, thanks for more amazing pictures. I cant wait for my autographed copy of your yet to be written New York Times top ten best selling book.

    Cheers Mate.

  13. Dear Nick:

    From where I sit these are actually great photos. They capture a great deal for me…through your eyes and experiences it is as if the world has come full circle, Great photos. Glancing at your drawings I now wonder if during those quiet moments in the deserts, sand flats and so on, you took time to sketch what your eyes experience (another book, :) ? Looking forward to Brooklyn. Stay safe. Hugs

  14. Genial!

  15. Nick, I meant “salt flats”. But, were you not in a sand storm somewhere??? LOL

  16. From where I sit, the pictures are amazing, as always. I still think of all the ones we haven’t seen. Hope things are going well in LA and again, be safe driving, there’s alot of bad weather across the country!

  17. Ms. Marti~Nashville, TN

    Nick, great to see you having a wonderful time!! I wondered how you did communicate sometimes in other countries, now you show us that drawing pictures helped you. LOL I really like that! Pictures are worth a thousand words! As your photographs tell us such a story also. You must be having so much fun in LA that you were just too busy to keep up with the blog.

    How many people did you meet up with at the coffee shop? I’m sure it was very interesting for all of you to finally meet after a year of communication. Hope everything keeps going well for you when you get your truck and start your next venture across the US. There is so much more fun to be had here, as you well know.

    Forge on my friend!

  18. Nick,

    Thank you for taking us along on your wonderful adventure. I hope to one day see some of the sights and places you have been too…..and if I don’t make it to all of them, I feel as if I’ve been there because of you. What a fortunate man you are to be able to see so much of this world, that I feel sometimes we forget is there. You are truly an inspiration, and I wish you nothing but the best…Welcome back to the U.S.A!

  19. It has been great following your adventure around the world. As a former Geography teacher, I have especially appreciated your comments about the peoples and cultures you have encountered.

    I live in southern Indiana and as you drive back across the US, it would be a pleasure to meet you.

    Thanks for sharing your trip.

  20. Nick, Thank you for sharing your incrediable journey on this earth going around the Sun. Everyday I checked your site and what a delight to see all your photos of people and places. As a sixty seven yr old female, there will not be the opportunity to travel the world physically for me, but you have made it happen for me and my, how I have enjoyed it! Looking forward to the book you must write, hope to see you on some TV interviews. Enjoy our great country the USA.

  21. Nick, welcome back to the US. Thank you for sharing your adventure with us. I have been following you since day one and will be sad when the adventure is over. Have a blast crossing the country and meeting many more interesting places and people.

    Robin G.

  22. Welcome back Nick! Cant wait to read the rest of your travel adventure. If your ever in Minnesota lets chat over food and tea.

  23. Nick,
    Great post. Loved the pictures and your insight to the country.

    Wow, last post of your overseas travel! No more looking forward to “Where in the world is Nick today.” Thank you for taking me on your journey to places I can only dream about, and through your eyes, re-visit countries I’ve traveled to.

    How wonderful to be able to finish your US road trip with your father. Very special for both of you.

  24. Nikko!!

    First of all thank God you are back in the states happy and healthy! I am sure a bit tired but nonetheless safe! It brought me great saddness so see that your travels in the foreign came to an end. I had the best time looking at your postings and looked forward to them everyday! I am grateful that shared this adventure with many of us! Your travels were amazing and I appreciate you making me a part of it!! Thank you for sharing a year (1 1/2) of your amazing life with us. Such an experience no one can take away! Thanks again!!

    Be safe on your way back to NY.

    Take care and keep on trucking :)


  25. NIck,

    Beautiful pictures! I also love your drawings. The picture of the “mysterious place” was interesting. Stay safe


  26. Hi Nick,

    It’s been great taking the time out of my day to read your website, I forget that I’m at work lol. I’ve been following you since day one when I saw the post on MSN. You must do another journey or “Expedition” maybe by motorcycle, or by boat, I have one of each! Glad you made it safe to the US if you happen to come through Kansas on your way home let me know!

    Take care

  27. Hi Nick,

    What an amazing journey you have taken and those pictures in Japan take me back to when I was their, I hope to get back their again. I live in L.A. and the weather has been crappy, hope it clears up for you, as an Angelino (born & raised) I hope you enjoy your stay here. There are some great places to see around town the only major down fall is our traffic but besides that I feel it’s a great city to see. Take care and safe journey back home.


  28. Welcome back to the US Nick!
    I am glad you have made it back to LA and I am so happy that many people got to meet with you. I am excited to hear how it went. Are you still planning on meeting the group of older men and women that have been following you together at the retirement home in California. I thogut it was somewhere near LA? I hope so, I would love to hear about that as well. I wish I was able to meet up with you along your travel home but Southern Oregon isn’t quite along the way. Also, I think maybe you should try and make it to those kids at the Middle School in Columbus, OH. They have seemed very interested in your story and your insight and attention could really change their impressionable lives in ways we never can imagine. Just a thought though because I know you have a lot of places to stop. Have fun with your dad and all the new people that you meet along the way. As always, I will be looking forward to your next post.

  29. Jason in Arkansas

    What a great post. I can only imagine that you would have stayed in Japan much longer if time would have allowed. As this being your last foreign post, I tried to think which of your post I most remembered as I kept up with the blog from the beginning. Guess what, there were way to many just to pick one. I, and everyone else that has followed your post from the beginning, and those that picked up on it later on has truely enjoyed them, and has given us something to look forward to on a regular basis. What a joy you must feel, and the sense of accomplisment you will feel once you return to NYC. You my friend are in a group of elite, that many of us only dream of being able to do. I am certain that after following your blog, we will see more people set out on the same venture in the near future. I look forward to your book and hopefully meeting up with you on your route home.


  30. Nick,

    Welcome back to USA ~ We are so glad you made it back safely. What an adventure ~ can’t wait for your book!!


  31. Welcome Home Nick !
    So glad to see you made it back to the good ol’ USA safe and sound! :o )
    Have a fun and safe trip back home with your Dad.
    Thanks for sharing,

  32. Eldon (Las Vegas)

    Nick, you have inspired me! You are a truly fortunate person. I can’t imagine how you feel now being back on US soil. Nothing can ever be the same now can it? Please post if you are going to have a gathering in Las Vegas! I would like to buy you a drink.

  33. Nicolas,
    Well Home to Our Wonderful U.S.A!!! I like many have followed you from the very beginning and am in awe of your amazing journey. I can’t wait for your many more stories and pictures.I think your book shall be my private treasure as I have had such an incredible front row seat.I dont know what I shall do when you get home to NYC as I check your blog almost daily. Hopefully you might keep us up to date for awhile longer. You have become an old friend to us all. We have worried…we’ve prayed…we’ve laughed and we’ve learned along with you on this incredible journey. I can only tell you what a wonderful thing you’ve done by letting all of us have such a personal insight into each and every place along the way. You have made a way of pulling me in and letting me share in every single adventure. (((((Nicolas))))) Thank you for inspiring me every single day. I wish you a lifetime of love and laughter!!! I shall be cheering you across the USA my wonderful friend!!! xo

  34. Nick,
    Following you since Day 1, though this is my first comment. Beautiful Pictures of Japan – I had the opportunity to be there for two weeks all over the country and you’ve summed up many of the cultural experiences I also had. I had two questions: One is what kind of camera gear are you using – not only do you have a good eye but even on the web they look stunning.. and two..
    I am very interested in seeing you AND the LandCruiser in Los Angeles – part of the mystique in your travels is not only you but your trusty steed. I goal of mine is to get a similar vehicle and set it up for such travel (though I don’t think I’ll come close to your adventure) and really appreciate the info your shared on that. I live here (and work at UCLA), and couldn’t make it to your Studio City appearance. Anyway, you’re posts and observations were thoughful, your nonposting periods full of worry and you’ve taken many people with you on a vicarious adventure of a lifetime. Thanks again for this wonderful adventure.


  35. Thanks for sharing such great photos of your adventures around the world. Can’t wait to see what you experience traveling from the west coast back to NYC. Cheers!

  36. Nick,

    Even though I read more than I write (which I believe includes many of us…) I want to say how much I’ve enjoyed ‘going along’ this trip vicariously through your post. To all those who have written, and written often – as each new post crops up on this site, I say ‘thank you’ to you too! It’s almost like we’re a community of travellers through your camera lens and your words, not to forget your ever faithful computer and network gear that you bring along so we can witness not too long afterwards, the fascinating sights and story you’ve experienced.

    Due to the nature of my job, I spend much time in front of a computer and reads first hand on the latest news and events including the blogs and comments that go along with it. Especially with what’s happened recently in Arizona and the many discussions that follow, I find the discussion on this site a ‘breath of fresh air’ with folks candidly relating their desire to travel but unable to do so due to various circumstances and how you’re ‘their hero’ having ventured out to fullfil your dream adventure. You’ve not only given us hope but also the ability to dream again – perhaps not to the extent you have accomplished, but certainly something beyond where we are right now. I also dreamed about being able to perhaps drive around the world, when I first read your story early last year but as most individuals, it’s only a dream….at least for now. It’ll be great if just one of us followers of your story will actually fully follow in your path sometime in the future, perhaps taking a little different route. Now that this is almost coming to an end, is it just me wishing that someone else will help whet our appetite to continue travel this wonderful earth of ours, so that we can continue to vicariously see new places – but through another set of lenses?


  37. Jenni-KIrkland, WA

    Try and aim Vegas for a weekend, please!

  38. Nick, what a great ending to your world travel story. Do a cross crountry with your father. The world is inmense and diverse. I am glad you got to see it. I am glad you made it just fine sound and healthy. I enjoyed your stories and pics. Thanks for bringing a bit of the world to us, even though I have traveled my fair share. You rememinded me of us (my husband and I) when we came back from Asia our friends would ask: “what was the wierdest thing you ate” and we told them many times we did not know what we were eating, but it was really good.LOL… too funny.
    Anyhow, welcome back to the rat race. I loved the yin and yan of asia, something you don’t see in the States.

    Happy you made it safe,
    Snow is waiting for you in NY,,:)
    Take care,,,

  40. Welcome back, Nick! Enjoy your new view of the U.S. Think of it as a victory lap!

  41. Nick,
    it’s been a BLAST! traveling with you across the world. I’ll never be able to do what you’re doing. I’ve said it before and i’ll say it again: you’re the luckiest person i know. (but as we all know, “luck” is 90% work and 10% being in the right place at the right time). the universe has certainly been with you, but you’ve also worked your ass off throughout this trip. as you cross the States, i hope you have the time of your life with your dad and all the people you’ll meet.
    i look forward to the upcoming posts and see this great nation through your eyes.

    happy trails!

  42. Amanda in Houston

    I am glad to know you made it safely to the US. I hope you will have time to continue to share about your travels across the States. Please know that you are welcome and have a place here in Houston, TX if you like. Take care and enjoy your time.


  43. thank you for the great ride, i’ve been with you the whole trip, what a memory you will have thank’s again for the trip.

  44. Found it on the internet!! Will be listening tomorrow morning.

  45. Nick Will be a guest on the “Motorman” Kaplan Show Sunday tomorrow 8-11 am on 790 KABC AM Los Angeles.

  46. Hello Nick & welcome home!
    Just to mention that your photos have shown the details of a world I will probably never see, it’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words & you have shown that to be so true.

    I do have a question, you mentioned the guest house dormitories, how many people in a dorm? Were they single sex?

    Have a safe trip back to New York!

  47. Nick is about to be on air in case anyone haven’t been bothering to listen to the Motorman (pretty good show btw)

  48. Nick, I’m loving your story on radio! I again extend my warm invitation to you at my house here in Dallas.

  49. Good to hear your voice after all this time following you.

  50. Good to hear you on the radio!

  51. It was a good interveiw nick. Glad you had the chance to share your stories.

  52. The people you were hanging out with seem great! i need to check out thease great places someday. Did you call John with you questions! and if so did it help out – or did you find a another way? Just wondering—-thanks karey