This is a brief-but-wordy overview of my adventures in Japan – if you would like to find out more about this amazing country, or for help planning your own journey, do give me a call on 01473 231181;
Japan is one of those places that everybody needs to visit. It is an experience. The cities are hectic and yet make perfect sense, the countryside is wild and yet appears beautifully manicured. And the FOOD! From the cheap udon dishes at the mall food court, the karaage (fried chicken) skewers in the marketplaces, to the delicious assortment of steaks, curries and tonkatsu found in restaurants – I didn’t have one disappointing meal, so if you’re a bit of a foodie it’s definitely worth a visit!
It may look small on a map, but don’t let that fool you! Japan is home to some enormous cities (Tokyo being the largest city in the world), meaning sights and attractions tend to require quite a bit of travel. Kyoto was a particular challenge – we had two nights booked in this wonderful city, but with the timings of our flight in and onward journey, only one full day to really explore. Buses are plentiful but slow and busy, subways are better but can’t take you everywhere, and taxis are convenient but will eat into your budget if you use too many. With this in mind, we picked out our must do sights, planned our route, and set our alarm nice and early. We were doing well on our plan – walked around Kyoto Imperial Palace and grounds, were almost deafened by cicadas, explored the side streets of the downtown district, tried all the street food along Nishiki Market and picked up a couple of kawaii souvenirs along the way. Things took a bit of a turn when we headed to Fushimi Inari Taisha, an important Shinto shrine famed for its thousands of vermillion Torii gates. We started following the trail of gates, dodging spiders and stopping to take photos along the way, not really thinking about where the trail was taking us. It wasn’t until we reached the Yotsutsuji intersection that we realised we were halfway up Mount Inari! We had somehow managed to climb a mountain and not realise! With limited time in Kyoto, we decided to turn back and not complete the climb, but it was already too late – it was starting to get dark, and by the time we got back to the main entrance other sights and attractions were starting to close. Not wanting to end the day disappointed, we headed back into the city. Two crazy shopping centres and a delicious tonkatsu bento later, it was time to head back to our hotel for some well-deserved rest.
Next up: Tokyo, via the Shinkansen bullet train. This should be a must do on everyone’s itinerary. Travelling at nearly 200mph, you speed through some stunning landscapes (you may even spy Mount Fuji if you’re lucky, although it was too misty for us). There is space for luggage although it is limited; travelling with anything bigger than a medium-sized case could be an issue, so my advice here would be pack light, or utilise the fantastic luggage forwarding system throughout the country. When you arrive into Tokyo Station, be warned – it is a labyrinth of platforms, and took us a little while to actually find an exit! Tokyo, much like Kyoto, requires careful planning due to the sheer size of it. There are multiple transport companies running different lines throughout the city, many different areas of the city with sights and attractions, and if you’re not careful you can lose yourself very easily! With the city being so big, where you stay also needs to be factored in – we stayed in the Minato ward, near Hamamatsucho station, Tokyo Tower and Roppongi Hills. This worked well for us with the places we wanted to go, but there are certainly more convenient places to stay dependent on your priorities in the city.
Fresh off the bullet train, we were all set to explore – until the typhoon hit, that is. With the outer bands of wind and rain hitting Tokyo, we decided to stay close by and headed for the Hard Rock Café, only a twenty minute walk away. The hotel concierge offered us umbrellas, which we politely declined as we were wearing our rain coats. This, it turns out, was a huge mistake; we were the only two people out without umbrellas, the rain seeping through every stitch of our supposedly ‘waterproof’ coats! A couple of daiquiris and a brief Japanese lesson from a very friendly Bolivian named Cheri (kanpai!), we braved the rain again. Moral of the story – if anyone offers you an umbrella, you take it!
Following the typhoon the weather brightened up completely – it was 30-odd degrees from then on and we packed as much in as possible! The next few days were spent at Tokyo Disney. From the moment we booked the flights I started planning to go to Disney, the rides we needed to do, the must-see shows and parades, the food we just had to try. One thing I didn’t really account for was quite how busy it would be, even though we were visiting mid-week and out of the school holidays. There is no off season at Tokyo Disney, unless you plan to be there before opening each day, you will not be able to use the Fastpass system to get on the rides. Prepare to queue! That is where the negative points end. Both Disneyland and DisneySea were celebrating Halloween when we visited, which meant there were some seriously impressive costumes on display! You will want to bring your spending money too, as there is so much cute Disney merchandise on sale that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. I bought almost 10kg of things, either for myself or friends and family, thankfully I’d packed light and had flights with a high luggage allowance! Although the parks were busy, everyone was so friendly, polite and patient – the complete opposite of the USA Disney parks. For example, when it was time for the parade, everyone sat on the ground so people behind could still see. I really loved Toyko Disney, and can’t imagine not visiting both parks. If you’re really pushed for time and can only choose one, I would recommend checking out DisneySea. Disneyland is fantastic, don’t get me wrong, but it’s very similar to the other Disney parks in the world (pretty castle, It’s A Small World, Thunder Mountain rollercoaster etc). DisneySea is completely unique, beautifully themed, and has some amazing rides and shows on offer – the Indiana Jones coaster is the best in either park. It’s strange seeing Indy speak Japanese, but that’s all part of the charm!
After a few days in the ‘Disney bubble’, we jumped straight back into the hustle and bustle of the city. Shopping at Shibuya was an experience – we crossed the famous Shibuya Crossing with hundreds of others and got well and truly lost exploring! We walked from there to Harajuku’s famous Takeshita Street, lined with boutiques selling everything from high-end fashion and beauty products to Halloween costumes for your dog. The street is only 400 metres long, but you can easily spend hours dipping in and out of all the shops, trying the snacks on offer and stopping for photos. Once we made it to the end, we had a walk around the side streets and stumbled onto Eddy’s Ice Cream, and had possibly the best ice cream I’ve ever had (and I’ve eaten a lot of ice cream in my time!).
Learning about life and space at the Miraikan, finding out about Gunpla at Diver City, visiting the palace and getting lost looking for a coffee shop in Chiyoda, and exploring the suburbs on the way to the Ghibli museum. I feel as though we barely scratched the surface of this rich, fascinating and beautiful country. There are so many things to love about Japan, the history, the culture, right down to the little things; the robo-toilets and ‘privacy’ noises in public restrooms, the songs the stations play when the train doors are closing, the vending machines every few hundred yards so you’re never too far from hydration, the cutesy characters advertising everything from clothes to fire safety. All too soon it was time to fly home, but I can’t wait to return!
If you want help planning your own Japanese itinerary, give me a call on 01473 231181!