Wow! It’s been over a month since we came back from our Japan trip and it’s just now that I’m finally sitting down to blog about it.
As someone who grew up obsessed with anime and Japanese culture, I’ve always wanted to travel to Japan. So when it finally happened, it felt like a dream that was too short-lived.
And now that I’m back, I miss it sooo much already…
I want to go back. And stay there. Forever.
Of course, part of this feeling is due to the fact that we were on vacation mode. So we were feeling super relaxed.
Then again, it’s because Japan really is that awesome. The food is good, everyone is polite to absurd levels, I felt super safe and just never had to stress about getting up in someone’s face for being a jerk.
This was also our honeymoon 🙂
Planning our Itinerary:
We planned our itinerary by first talking to friends and people we knew who knew Japan.
We also got our hands on the National Geographic Traveler Guidebook to Japan, read up and picked out places that were interesting and matched our friends’ recommendations.
Originally, we considered going up north and taking a sleeper train to Hokkaido but that would have taken up the whole trip. So in the end we decided to travel southwest along the main island of Honshu. This allowed us to see a more diverse side of Japan.
By the way, the JR Rail Pass is really amazing. It allowed us to quickly and easily travel pretty much wherever we wanted.
I’m so glad we found out about it because you can only purchase it ahead of your trip, outside of the country and only if you have a foreigner passport.
This was how our Japan trip played out:
Day 1-3: Tokyo
Day 3 (half day): Hiroshima
Day 4: Miyajima
Day 5: Kurashiki
Day 6-10: Kyoto
Day 10-11: Back to Tokyo
Day 12: Day trip to Kamakura
And here are the highlights of the first half of our trip!
Ohmygod. Tokyo really is one of the most unique places I’ve ever been to.
Everything felt completely novel, thrilling and so darn funny.
At times we felt like we were in a sci-fi movie from the 70s. Other times, like characters inside a video game.
But always, we felt immersed in a long rich history of tradition and culture.
Our first few days were spent reuniting with old friends we’d amassed from random times in our lives.
And then we explored Tokyo together.
It sounds almost like a caricature, but during those first few days we experienced an earthquake, ran into sumo wrestlers at the fish market in Tsukiji, and saw three geishas get inside a taxi.
Apparently, geisha sightings in Tokyo are quite rare nowadays.
[At the fish market in Tsukiji]
[Crossing in Akihabara]
[Somewhere in Ginza]
[Our Airbnb place in Setagaya]
Other Tokyo highlights:
- Our first “breakfast” in that crazy ramen restaurant in Shibuya. You order your ramen by pushing buttons on a machine, and then you sit in these stalls with dividers between you and the next person. Supposedly, this is done so that you can stay hidden while you slurp away at your soup.
- All the amazing food that we ate. Mmm.
- Even their 7-Elevens had great food.
- Everything beeped, chimed and talked to you. From elevators to cars and washing machines.
- The maid cafe in the geeky district of Akihabara. Not gonna lie, that maid cafe was a real rip-off. But nevertheless, we had a riot of a time.
- Visiting my first cat café in Shinjuku. Meow!
After three days in Tokyo we took the bullet train to Hiroshima.
It was our longest train ride. About 5 hours. We deliberately did this so that as we made our way back to Tokyo, our train rides would get shorter and shorter.
By this time jet lag had really taken its toll on me.
But since we were only in Hiroshima for one afternoon, I had to snap out of it and drag myself out of the hotel to check out this city whose history has always haunted me.
We first visited Hiroshima Castle. You can climb to the top of the castle and get a great view of the city.
It’s quite impressive considering that it’s actually a replica of the original castle.
As you may have guessed, the original castle was completely destroyed by the atomic bomb in 1945.
Today the city of Hiroshima is very modern and rather indistinct.
Save for the dark remnant of history in the form of the Atomic Bomb Dome.
On August 06, 1945, the first atomic bomb ever to be used in war was dropped over Hiroshima.
The dome of this building managed to retain its structure despite how the blast came almost directly from above.
Today, the skeletal structure of the Atomic Bomb Dome is part of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. As a symbol of peace, it’s a sobering reminder that nuclear weapons are still very much around.
There is a book that I read in college called Hiroshima by John Hersey which recounts the horrific experiences of people who survived the bombing.
I will never forget some of the descriptions in that book.
If you can stomach it, read it. Because this should never happen again…
Later that evening, we met up with a friend and had Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki (“as you like it” pancakes).
Other Hiroshima highlights:
- Taking a taxi from the train station to our hotel not realizing it was literally at the back door of the train station. We were exhausted, ok?
- Strolling along the river as the sun set.
- Window shopping on Hondori Street.
- Sipping matcha tea latte at that really cute café.
- The Hiroshima train station and its exciting array of made-in-Hiroshima makeup brushes. You know the ones… kumanofude, chikuhudo, etc.
- Quizzing our friend about what Hiroshima people think when looking back at the war and the bomb.
This was my favorite place!
The island of Miyajima is best known for the red gate which seems to float on water during high tide.
It also houses the famous shrine Itsukushima.
To get to the island, we took a train from Hiroshima and then hopped on a short 15-minute ferry ride.
When we arrived, we had a delicious lunch and then walked around the town a bit.
The town is small and touristy, but not in that annoying campy way.
There are several nature trails with breathtaking sights.
Later that afternoon, we took a shuttle to get to the cable cars which took us up the mountain.
This was followed by a second cable car ride.
Once we got to the top of the mountain, we realized it wasn’t the top of the mountain and that we had to go on a somewhat arduous hike.
But once we were for real at the top, we were rewarded with the most spectacular views.
From that vantage, I got a glimpse of where Japanese get their reverence for nature.
The scenery looked straight out of traditional Japanese paintings.
Funny thing happened…
I wanted to find a quiet spot to meditate.
But then this loud-mouthed european guy talking on his cellphone was really killing the mood.
Like what? You hiked and came all this way to the top of this freaking Unesco World Heritage site, you’re surrounded by breathtaking scenery and all you wanna do is blab on very loudly about work and synergy and net profit? Ugh. Go home.
We stayed in a ryokan inspired guesthouse called Mizuha-so located right across from the aquarium. It was lovely!
When we arrived, they gave us traditional matching yakata to wear.
We probably looked adorable. But sadly I didn’t get any photos of us together because Oliver kept avoiding the subject.
While waiting for dinner, we helped ourselves to some tea and cakes. That was a mistake.
Because the dinner was a 14-course dinner that became a long, achingly delicious marathon.
Seriously. We were in pain. But we could not. stop. eating.
I cannot rave enough about how amazing the food was! Everything was carefully prepared and beautifully presented. The food was fresh and the selection featured a diverse array of local cuisine.
The lady who owns the inn and her staff were friendly and made us feel quite comfortable during our stay.
Breakfast again was another long, carefully prepared affair.
At the end, we were expecting the bill to be astronomical but it was actually quite reasonable.
If you are visiting Miyajima, I highly recommend that you stay at Mizuha-so!
The next morning, we had a little more time to visit the different shrines and temples.
We even got to watch a traditional wedding happen at the Itsukushima shrine.
Then there were the deers of Miyajima.
You could almost believe they are domesticated…
Right up to the point they nip you in the finger and then steal your lunch.
Other Miyajima highlights:
- The old wooden temple on the hill next to the pagoda. It’s airy, spacious and quiet. The perfect place to meditate.
- That cute little old man who was so slow at selling me my hat.
- The time that deer almost ate the paper I was holding in my hand, which had the address to our hotel.
- The freshly made star-shaped cakes filled with red beans. Mmm.
- Taking a quiet walk together at night, in our yakatas and wooden clogs.
- Sitting on that bench and looking at the torii gate in the moonlight.
Next up, Part 2 of our Japan Trip Highlights!