Trip EndNovember 9, 2017 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 12 °C
What an amazing adventure we had in Japan. It certainly exceeded already high expectations. There's not too much more to add about yesterdays flight home. We departed Narita around 7.30pm on Wednesday night and arrived in Melbourne around 8am Thursday morning. It all went as well as you'd expect for a overnight flight, despite the fact that it was a relatively bumpy ride. Luckily the plane was only around three quarters full, so as soon as the guy in front jammed his chair back as far as he could, I could move elsewhere. I managed a couple of hours of 'half sleep', but by the time we slept at 11pm on Thursday night, I'd been awake nearly 40 hours.
For the first time I can remember, we actually purchased a fair bit at the airport before heading home. The benefits of a high weight allowance and direct flight home I suppose. We picked up some plum wine, wacky flavored kit-kats (like melon and cheese), Japanese pastries and a couple souvenirs.The trip both felt like it went for ages, and flew by at the same time, such was the business of our days there and amount of experiences we squeezed in. I figured as I often do, I'd wrap this blog off with a summary of our time in Japan, with a few short lists -
Kristofor's Top 25 of Japan
25. Shinkansen: The infamous Japanese 'Bullet Trains' were about the most impressive I've ever been on. As punctual and efficient as all Japanese trains, these get up to speeds of around 320km p/hr and took us great distances around the country in no time. Extremely comfortable and roomy as well.
24. Geisha Show Kanazawa: I still don't entirely understand the current 'Geisha' concept. We are assured that currently, there is no sexual aspect or prostitution that relates to services offered by Geisha. However, it seems peculiar to pay substantial sums to hire a traditionally dressed up lady to privately play the flute for you or tell you the latest knock knock joke. The show we visited in Kanazawa started off slow, but there was some laughter and amusement (and a near concussion for me) to be had from interactive game playing.
23. Kyoto Train Station: It would probably come as a surprise that a train station made its way into my most significant Japanese experiences. Away from the platform, it had a jaw dropping 15 story open air concourse building with a dozen escalators, shops, restaurants and sky walkways.
22. Iwatayama Monkey Park: We didn't see a tremendous amount of wildlife in Japan, so the opportunity to see these (semi) wild monkeys overlooking Arashiyama in Kyoto was a memorable one. The snow monkeys are essentially lured from the wild to this mountaintop spot at the prospect of being fed. You could get up very, very close and they seemed relatively healthy at least.
21. Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine: Of the many Shinto temples we visited throughout Japan, this one in Takayama was probably the most memorable. Allegedly dates all the way back to the fourth century, it sits up on a hill overlooking the city.
20. Owl Cafe & Owl Village Harajaku: A truly memorable experience to get up so close to these magnificent creatures. There were a total of 8 owls in total, which you could pet, hold and feed. Whilst the owls all appeared in good health, it was a little sad to see them tethered in captivity.
19. Kenroku-en Gardens, Kanazawa: Known as one of the three 'great gardens' of Japan, these were a picturesque gardens including a lake, rivers, well maintained trees, ponds and lanterns. Arriving in the setting evening sun (wrong lighting) probably didn't do this spot justice. Whilst beautiful it also felt a little small and overcrowded.
18. Mount Takao: A pretty spot about an hour west of Tokyo accessible by JR Rail. We took a cable car, chair ride and relatively easy hike to the summit here which offered spectacular views, a nice suspension bridge and a couple temples. The main track was staggeringly crowded for a week day though.
17. Harry Harajaku Hedgehog Cafe: A memorable time getting to meet, hold, pet and feed worms to these spiky little critters. Less concern about their freedom, as they have all the companionship, space and food a little Hedgehog needs.
16. Arashiyama Gardens: A famous and huge garden system located in the west of Kyoto. Most popular features included temples, lookouts and a bamboo forest. Also offered some really pretty autumn leaves. The area surrounding the gardens was extremely touristy and crowded.
15. Kanazawa Castle Ruins: We enjoyed a beautiful sunny day exploring the ruins of the Kanazawa Castle. Whilst there are a few original spots, the majority of what stands here has been reconstructed after being destroyed by fire. Still a really enjoyable look at what it would have looked like hundreds of years ago.
14. Tokyo Sky Tree: Who could resist the opportunity to travel up the Second Tallest Building in the World. Offers spectacular panoramic views of Tokyo.
13. Shibuya Crossing: Famous as being the world's most busy road crossing, there was a special buzz about the entire area around Shibuya. Flashing lights, towering buildings, booming advertising, weird Pachinko machines and seas of people every way you look, we had a great time exploring this area.
12. Disney Sea: Was still enjoyable despite being hammered by typhoon Lan the day we were there. We were thoroughly soaked before we even arrived, but thankfully most of the rides were undercover/ indoor. A great place with loads of original rides.
11. Daitokuji Busdhist Zen temple: Not the most visually spectacular place, but certainly a memorable and enjoyable experience. A real haven of calm and peace and still essentially untouched for hundreds of years.
10. Disney Land: Whilst Disney Sea probably had more adult rides, this was the bigger park, with the better vibe, more to do, and better weather on the day. Would have been even better if two of the main adult rides weren't closed on the day. Still spent a good eight hours here and the time flew by.
9. Fushimi Inari Taisha (1000 Gates): Famous spot in Kyoto with a countless number of vermilion torii gates that wind up mount Inari. Plenty of temples, viewpoints, shrines, steps and people on the way to the top.
8. Hida Folk Village: Most countries have them, a 'historic recreation village' which includes dozens of homes, buildings, tools and a snapshot of the lifestyle of the Japanese people over the years. Set in a really picturesque spot, this would have been even more striking if not for the downpour of rain. Really enjoyed exploring the historic buildings here and learning about Japan's history.
7. Nijō Castle: Dates back to 1601, the spot of the rise and fall of Shogunate rule in Japan. The Ninomaru Palace had several spectacularly designed rooms designated for different waiting areas for different classes of people that would visit the Shogun. Whilst most has been recreated it was probably the best example of Japanese Art we saw on our trip.
6. Hiroshima Memorial Museum & Gardens: An insightful, educational, fascinating and at times harrowing look at the impact of the bomb dropped in Hiroshima during world war two. The museum offers an excellent account of what occurred and amazing array of relics from the blast including a tricycle, watch, lunchbox and clothes. It was also amazing to see the remains of the Genbaku Dome, the shell of the only building to withstand the blast.
5. Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavillion): A striking zen temple in Kyoto. This brilliant golden leaf coated structure, on the edge of a lake was one of the most beautiful buildings we saw on our trip and a real symbol of Japanese architecture (despite again, being a recreation after the original was burned down).
4. Myōryū-ji (Ninja Temple): A place I knew little about before our trip, this was an amazing place to see. Sadly, no photos were allowed inside. This Buddhist Temple had countless sliding doors, trap doors, booby traps, hidden rooms and ambush spots. Nearly every stair, room, door and wall within moved. A real ingenious labyrinth, puzzle and maze.
3. Lake Kawaguchiko (Mount Fuji): The absolute most stunning and striking autumn leaves I have ever seen. We were fortunate to enjoy beautiful weather and clear views here for our hike around Lake Kawaguchiko. We enjoyed views of Mount Fuji from all angles and an enjoyable return trip on the Mt.Kachi Kachi Ropeway.
2. Miyajima Island: Gorgeous 'sacred' Island about an hour or so from Hiroshima. Understandably famous for its giant floating 'Grand Torii Gate' which changes with the tide, along with the neighboring Itsukushima Shrine, which dates back to the 12th century. The island offers countless hiking opportunities, most notably the views from the summit of Mount Misen. Dozens of peaceful, friendly deer roam around everywhere, undeterred by crowds.
1. Himeji Castle: Arguably the most famous castle in all of Japan, and one of the most in Asia entirely. Probably the greatest 'wow' moment for me, even from a distance. The Castle towers above the neighboring town and it was quite awe-inspiring getting to its gates. A little empty and underwhelming inside, but it's overall grandeur, size, gardens and craftsmanship made it the most amazing spot of the trip for me.
Top Five Hotel Experiences -
1. Hotel Century Southern Tower, Tokyo
2. Kyoto Tokyu Hotel, Kyoto
3. Fuji Views Ryokan, Lake Kawaguchiko
4. Ryokan Iwataya, Takayama
5. Remm Roppongi Hotel, Tokyo
Top 10 Culture of Japan
+ Nature of People; Genuine, honest, warm, polite, respectful, friendly, welcoming, kind (near always). Everyone is always acknowledged with a simple, respectful nod.
+ Cleanliness; Absolutely the cleanest spot I've ever been. Felt like you could eat out of many of their gutters. Almost zero rubbish, graffiti or dirt anywhere.
+ Japanese Toilets; No toilet experience will ever be the same once you have reached expert mode on Japanese toilet 'showers' - heated seats, water sprays, music and more..
+ Music Everywhere; trains, ATM's, lift doors, traffic lights. Every 9am, noon and 5pm cheerful music appears to designate that time. Sometime it's hard to know where it's coming from!
+ Efficiency of Trains; The rumors are absolutely true. 99% of Japanese trains arrive and depart to the SECOND, they pride themselves on it. The most efficient trains I've ever seen.
+ High Safety, Low Crime; I've never felt as safe and comfortable anywhere in the world. If you left a full wallet in an alley, you'd be more likely to have it returned full than stolen.
+ Cute Japan; Cartoon characters, stuffed animals, drawings, art, everything has a friendly, up-beat, happy charm about it. More cute things than I've seen anywhere before.
+ Vending Machines; are everywhere with cans of anything, including ice-cream. Not just cold though, I will miss my hot cans of (surprisingly good) Emerald Mountain coffee.
+ Japanese Onsen; Yes, getting naked with a bunch of strangers takes some getting used to, but these spa baths are extremely relaxing, with so much more variety than a regular spa.
+ Ryokan Hotels; A unique cultural experience. I loved the tatami, futon mats, yukatas and kimonos. Sleeping on the floor has never been more comfortable.
5 Issues in Japan -
- Lots and lots of sitting on the floor; it's a long way down to the ground, and sitting cross legged or kneeling, especially in a crowd, isn't much fun!
- Small Size for everything; I mean I'm tall, but it could be even worse for some; small doors, clothes, beds, ride sizes (in theme parks). If you're over 180cm look out!
- No Bins; Strange when you think how clean the country is, but you can walk around a restaurant area or market for hours without seeing any bins. Carrying rubbish isn't fun.
- Seas of People; Big crowds can happen at a lot of places, but peak hour trains, some tourist attractions, the swarms of people at train stations can get overwhelming.
- Obligation to Onsen; Whilst the communal bathing thing at certain places meant great Onsen baths, the obligation to do so (lack of showers in some rooms) can be a bit frustrating.
Best of Food and Drink in Japan
* Ramen Noodles - probably one of my favorite foods to come out of this trip, especially the spicy variety. Basically noodle soup, with other things like egg, pork, vegetables etc. The best Ramen was probably a random place at Takayama Station
* Grilled Eel - Best fish of the trip, enjoyed at the Kanazawa fish market. In the first instance, I didn't even know it was eel, but that marinated skewer was incredibly delicious.
* Tonkatsu - Japanese take on a schnitzel basically. Crumbed meat (often Pork) dish found in many places. Our best Tonkatsu meal was just Natalie and I in a mall in Kanazawa.
* Sukiyaki Hot Pot - One of the best meals we had in Japan was an all you can eat (and drink) hot-pot experience in Shibuya (at the #3 rated restaurant of 80,000 in Tokyo). Basically a cook-it-yourself arrangement where you get different slices and types of meat and vegetables, throw them in a pot and mix away.
* Okonomiyaki - A Hiroshima experience and specialty, Okonomiyaki (literally means ‘grilled as you like it’) and is a savory version of Japanese pancake, made with flour, eggs, shredded cabbage, meat/ protein and topped with a variety of condiments.
* Steak - You can get one anywhere in the world, but we had a fantastic experience at Ikinari Steak House in Tokyo on our second night. Pay by the gram, choose your meat type, have the chef cut you a slice and cook it in front of you with many sides on offer. Standing only, but a great meal.
* Canned Coffee - Hot Coffee, in a can, from a vending machine that actually tasted pretty good! I'm going to miss these back home, especially my favourite brand - Emerald Mountain.
* Craft Beer - I loved the Nagahama IPA I found in a restaurant in Kyoto, but the best craft beers we enjoyed with Ben at Baird Tap House in Harajaku, Tokyo.
* Other Beer - A decent standard overall, you can't go wrong with Kirin. I did particularly enjoy the favourite beer of our guide, Yebisu.
* Other Drinks - Of the couple Japanese wines I tried, I found white to be decent and red to be below average but okay. My favorite discovery was a sake-liquor 'Plum Wine'. I didn't really get into Shōchū (Japanese Vodka) or Sake.Read more