Many apologies for the long lull in blog posts. Between traveling, my new job with the World Health Organization, and our kayak arriving (blog posts to come), Mason and I have neglected our blog.
For the holidays, Mason and I spent a lovely two weeks in Japan. It was our first visit to Japan, and we truly made the most of it!
We flew into Narita Airport on December 22, 2015, and we spent one night in Tokyo before heading out to explore other regions. We stayed in the Shinjuku neighborhood, and we devoured our first traditional Japanese meal (with our cameras, eyes, and mouths)!
Kyoto is an amazing city, full of history, serenity, and charm. Once the capital of Japan, Kyoto has temples and castles around every corner and is known for its pottery. We purposefully did not do a lot of research before this trip, as we were looking to be relaxed tourists. However, next time we go to Japan, we plan to spend more time in Kyoto, and prepare ourselves with more research about the historical city. We stayed in a fantastic airbnb rental in the Higashikawaracho neighborhood, and we were able to walk almost everywhere.
Key places to visit: Inari (orange arches), Kiyomizu-dera, and Kinkaku-ji.
Our landlord’s daughter lives in Osaka, so we had the chance to see a slightly more current and authentic side of the city. We spent time singing karaoke, playing arcade games, and getting lost in the crowded streets and markets.
We stayed in the Shinsaibashi neighborhood. There were great restaurants right outside of our airbnb and a very active nightlife, and the metro was just around the corner.
An easy day trip from Osaka, Hiroshima is a must see. We were surprised to see how restored the city is, and we found the Peace Memorial Park and Museum to be very moving. Throughout the city, there were a few distorted looking trees with signs announcing that they had survived the A-bomb. We found these trees so beautiful and yet, such a sad reminder of the realities of an atomic bomb. The memorial’s main focus was to discourage the use of any atomic bombs in the future, and the theme of the origami crane was a heartwarming depiction of peace.
A very wonderful man that we met here in Pohnpei was visiting his parents in Himeji, Japan while we were on our trip. We met up with him and his girlfriend for a fantastic day trip to Himeji. The two days we spent with “local” people who knew their way around and spoke the language were two of my favorite. Yoshi took us around the city of his childhood, and we visited a temple off of the beaten tourist path. To get to Engyo-ji we took a gondola up the side of the mountain, and Yoshi taught us the proper way to pray in a Japanese Buddhist temple. He also introduced us to the basement levels of the Japanese train station, where you find stalls and stalls of food. Like I said, life is better with someone who knows their way around!
Per Yoshi’s suggestion, Mason and I made a day trip to Hakone. Known for its hot springs, Hakone is a quaint town and pristine national park tucked away in the mountains west of Tokyo. Because we visited Hakone so close to the new year, we were not able to make a reservation in an onsen (hot spring), but we were able to explore the wonderful national park via hiking, gondola riding, and pirate ship sailing, and we enjoyed major views of Mt. Fuji. On our next trip to Japan, we plan to spend a few nights in one of the Hakone hotels that offer private in-suite onsens!
We ended our trip back in Tokyo for five nights. We celebrated New Year’s Eve and Day in the city, and we stayed near the Ueno train station.
Our New Year’s Day was spent exploring the city, enjoying a traditional tea ceremony, and visiting a temple (as we were instructed is the traditional thing to do to ring in the new year). The Ueno neighborhood is one of the oldest parts of Tokyo, and offered a fantastic glimpse into the everyday Tokyo life of many. During our time in Tokyo we went to our first (and probably last) comicon (with a million+ other people), went to our first and definitely last cat cafe, went shopping (but found out we are a bit too tall to buy clothes in Japan), and took our time to enjoy the cleanliness, friendliness, and practicalness of this huge city. It was the perfect end to a fantastic first trip to Japan. Japan is a very special place, so different from what we are used to in the U.S., and we can’t wait to go back!
We flew out of Narita on January 3, 2016. It is easy (and free with the JR pass) to get to the Narita airport from Tokyo Station.
Japan might be the easiest country to travel around in. The high speed trains go everywhere all of the time. We purchases the JR pass before our trip (a must for any tourist visiting Japan). Reserving seats was easy, and the JR pass allowed us freedom to choose day trips on a whim.
To be honest, we were very taken with the trains, as you might guess from this video we made:
Music: “Black Tar Heart” by Dywane Shivers, courtesy of noisetrade.com
Where to stay
We used airbnb for the three locations we stayed in (Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka). We found great places to sleep, in great locations, and for great prices. The airbnb app works really well in Japan, so it was very easy to communicate with our hosts. We HIGHLY recommend using airbnb for any travels to Japan.
- Buy a sim card for data. You can buy a sim card with a data plan at any corner store. They are cheap, made for tourists, and a must.
- Splurge on good food–it is worth it.
- Leave yourself open for the possibility of day trips that you didn’t plan on before leaving for your trip. That is how we made it to Hakone!