Two Weeks in Japan – Part One

14 Aug

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This post is late. Very late. In fact, it’s a year to the day since our two week holiday in Japan ended and I’ve only recently got round to uploading all my photos. However, a few people have recently asked me for tips and advice about travelling to Japan, so I thought I’d sling together a post to relive my adventures and help anyone else who is thinking about it. And if you’re thinking about it, you MUST do it. Japan was a wonderful destination, and the culmination of a long-term dream for me.

Planning

We knew we wanted to go for two weeks, so I began to research itineraries to allow us to see more than just Tokyo. Japan is a long-haul flight, after all, so it made sense to combine several parts of the country.

There were two main restrictions. Firstly, we didn’t want to spend all our time travelling between places. For my boyfriend Dave, whose holiday allowance was significantly smaller than mine, I knew it would be important to build in some rest time. Secondly, budget. Japan is known as one of those more expensive destinations (although I don’t think that’s entirely true – more on that later) and we didn’t want to break the bank.

There are lots of itinerary suggestions out there  and one I found particularly helpful was Ben Matthews’ Japan on a Budget for 2 Weeks. Like many travel sites, Ben recommends using the JR rail pass to make significant savings on train tickets. The pass needs to be bought outside Japan and, when you arrive, you exchange your voucher for the actual ticket (we did ours at the main rail station in Tokyo when we arrived). When you want to start using it, you have to activate it, and it only lasts for a set period, during which time you can take as many eligible trips as you like. We could have bought a two week pass to cover our entire holiday, but I liked Ben’s suggestion of just getting one week and arranging our travel around this.

Using a one week rail pass and mimicking Ben’s itinerary (Tokyo – Takayama – Kyoto – Hiroshima – Miyajima – Tokyo) meant that we couldn’t squeeze in Mount Koya, which some friends recommended, and it gave us one less day in Kyoto than perhaps I would have liked. However, it meant we had more money to spend on accommodation and experiences whilst in the country, and we weren’t wasting any days of the rail pass.

We shifted Ben’s schedule slightly, like so:

Day 1: Arrive in Tokyo

Day 2: Tokyo

Day 3: Tokyo to Takayama (First day of JR pass)

Day 4: Takayama and then on to Kyoto

Day 5: Kyoto

Day 6: Kyoto

Day 7: Kyoto

Day 8: Kyoto to Hiroshima

Day 9: Ferry to Miyajima, then Hiroshima to Tokyo (last day of JR pass)

Day 10: Tokyo

Day 11: Tokyo

Day 12: Tokyo

Day 13: Tokyo

Day 14: Depart Tokyo

This post might be quite lengthy as I go into some detail about our trip, so I’ve divided it up to save your eyes. I’ll start with our first few days:

Tokyo – Days 1 and 2

Pretty much all my research said that July and August are the worst times to visit Japan because it’s so hot. Well, they’re right. I didn’t have much choice because of school holidays, but if you’re there for the summer, be prepared for it to be incredibly humid and in the mid to high 30s in the daytime.

Even though we knew it would be roasting, Dave and I were still rather floored by the heat on our arrival. We took a comfortable train from the airport, managed to get our rail passes in the mercifully air-conditioned JR office, then navigated the subway to the Minato area where our first hotel was located. Minato is a really quiet area with lots of office blocks, so not great for nightlife, but it was perfect for our first jetlagged days when we just wanted a rest!

On our first afternoon we ventured out into the sweltering city to visit a tiny shrine. The beauty of the small park, guarded by the biggest crows I’ve ever seen, was in stark contrast to the glass and concrete urban landscape surrounding it. It was our first taste of Japan’s characteristic ancient-meets-modern environment – but it wasn’t to be the last.

Desperate for some respite from the humidity, we stumbled into a small restaurant filled with local office workers slurping their noodles at lightning speed before disappearing out the door. The old lady working there took pity on us looking befuddled in front of the ticket machine and helped us order our meals. Many restaurants in Japan have this kind of ordering system, so be prepared to pick something and hope for the best!

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On our second day, we visited the historic Meiji Jingu shrine, a huge park and shrine complex in Shibuya. We also took a stroll around the iconic Harajuku district, famous for its cool and unusual fashions and the wealth of shops catering to a young audience. Yoyogi Park, just nearby, was full of people running, dancing and waving flags. I was impressed by the dedication of the Japanese women to maintaining their complexions – many were wearing full on tights and gloves even in 36 degrees!

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Our evening meal was a memorable experience in Shinjuku’s ‘Memory Lane’ (Omoide Yokocho), also known as ‘Piss Alley’. This narrow street is home to a range of yakitori restaurants, serving grilled meat. The one we chose served such unusual delicacies as chicken’s vagina – although I stuck to the safe options!

A trip to Takayama

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Takayama is a mountain town that has preserved many of its traditional buildings. It’s super touristy, but I’d recommend it as a side trip for a few reasons.

Firstly, the train journey was the most beautiful I’ve ever taken. You have to switch to the slow, local train to go up into the Hida mountains, and the track runs by a rushing river and through a lush forest. On the way down, we were lucky enough to sit right behind the driver, giving us an almost 360 view of the gorgeous scenery.

Secondly, Takayama’s old streets give a real sense of what life was like in rural Japan of the past. The shops sell a wide range of hand-crafted goods and I wish I’d had room in my suitcase for all of them!

Thirdly, the Hida region is famous for its beef and Takayama is a great place to sample it. In town, the Kihachiro cafe serves fluffy buns filled with it, and the restaurants cook it in a myriad of ways. We cooked our own on miniature grills, accompanied by a special sake tasting menu.

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Staying in a Japanese-style hotel with an onsen (bath) on the roof was also pretty cool.

Part Twoof the post –> Part Three

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4 Responses to “Two Weeks in Japan – Part One”

  1. Little Miss Traveller August 14, 2016 at 4:52 pm #

    Very interesting to read your Japanese posts

    • catherinequeenwrites August 14, 2016 at 6:26 pm #

      Thanks so much for reading 🙂 I love your blog and will be catching up on your travels.

      • Little Miss Traveller August 14, 2016 at 6:28 pm #

        That’s great! We’ve not made it to Japan yet but it’s high on our ‘to visit’ list so it’s really good to read your posts.

  2. Susan Galvin December 16, 2016 at 4:36 am #

    Helping post for a nice trip!

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