This is a quest post by my 16-year-old son Dennis.
This past July I went to Japan with my dear grandparents to experience the culture and natural landscape of this beautiful nation. We spent three days in Tokyo on our own and then joined Globus tour to continue our trip across Japan. Follow me as I share my day by day experiences and travel “wisdoms” to help you plan your future travels to Japan.
All good trips require good preparation, and this trip was not an exception. In July when we visited the weather in Japan oscillates between two extremes: intense heat and rainfall. To prepare for this I packed mainly clothes that are very light and comfortable, such as shorts and tank tops. Be sure to bring a lot of spare clothes: the humidity is unbearable and you may have to change several times over the course of the day. Most importantly: have an umbrella with you every day on your trip. They protect you from the rain, and they can provide shade against the scorching sun. If you don’t want to bring an umbrella onto your flight, one is easily purchased virtually everywhere in Japan. As always when traveling, make sure to bring shoes that you would feel great with after walking all day in them. Make sure to leave lots of empty space in your bags as well: there are MANY things to buy in Japan! There is an endless amount of confectionaries that all make wonderful gifts to friends and family, and there are so many presents unique to Japan that you would hate yourself for not being able to bring home. I for one purchased a lot of new clothes and knick knacks so I thanked my father profusely for his expert packing skills.
Japan Survival Guide
Now, on to how to survive day to day. Japanese is in no way related to western languages so it is a great deal harder to make your way around than in Europe. However this is offset by the fact that many Japanese people speak English (more or less), and the extreme kindness of the Japanese peoples. Do not worry about making a fool of yourself trying something new, or asking for help! In the food department, as Japan is a collection of islands, there is seafood abound. I wasn’t a big fan of fish before I went to Japan, but now I can consume large portions of any type of edible marine animal! However, each “state” of Japan (they are called “Prefectures”) has a particular proud distinction, and in many cases that distinction is food, so what you eat might vary day by day as you travel between places. Pork-haters beware: pork finds its way into almost any food item so always ask SEVERAL times if a particular dish contains pork or not.
DAY ONE. Tokyo
My first day exploring Japan was in Tokyo where we flew direct from Boston. Me and my grandparents wisely decided to get a private tour guide for the first couple of days to allow us to settle into Japan at our own pace. We started our day by going to Tokyo Tower.
The view from the top is impressive and the entry fee is relatively cheap. The lower floors are packed with things to see and buy (an Aquarium and an anime-themed park are the highlights). Next, we went on to visit Odaiba, a large artificial island in Tokyo. Among other points of interest on Odaiba are many, many different shopping malls and National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. Also notable is a gift from France, a miniature sized Lady Liberty that is worth a photograph. (My grandmother went to experience traditional Japanese bath house-onsen-in Odaibo. Read about it here).
We then visited Akihabara, a MUST experience in Tokyo. This Tokyo street in is an anime-lovers paradise, but the bright lights, explosive advertising, and hustle and bustle can be universally enjoyed. For all you anime-aficionados: the shops here sell everything from old manga to dvds to action figures to old-school toys. Even those unfamiliar with the anime-culture can find something interesting!
For an extensive list of Tokyo experiences, check out this Get Your Guide link.
DAY 2. Nikko.
Day two began with a train ride from the grandiose Tokyo Train Station and a car ride up to the mountaintop town of Nikko.
It is a very picturesque place and for someone who had only been to Tokyo so far it gave me a different look at Japan. The spirit of ancient times permeates the atmosphere and along with the magnificent views make for a magical experience. Be sure not miss the Shinkyo Bridge, a bridge that was only used by Imperial Officials, as it is an absolutely breathtaking sight. The Kregon waterfall is also an impressive view to behold (it may not always be possible to adjust the plans due to weather, but note that an unfortunate fog obscured the view during our visit).
The greatest view of the day has to go to Sannai: this registered World Heritage Site holds many temples and shrines that go back to the 8th century, and the air has this special “ancient” quality that simply mesmerizes.
(To book a guided Nikko trip from Tokyo, check out Get Your Guide link).
Food wise, be sure to try the local dish of Yuba. You can find Yuba in practically all the menu items – from Yuba ramen to Yuba hamburgers. Yuba is a fermented soybean that is specially processed and could be traced back to the ancient Buddhist vegetarian monks in the area. Although it wasn’t my cup of tea, my grandparents absolutely adored it!
DAY 3. Kabuki Theater (attempt), Hama Rikyu Gardens.
Day three began with our group attempting to watch a traditional Kabuki Theater.
Kabuki spectacles go on for many hours, so people usually watch in acts. Tickets must be purchased on the day of the show, by waiting in line, and we were unfortunately unable to get them. Word to the wise: if you plan on watching such a show come VERY early with everyone in your group (one person in line can only buy one ticket). Bring personal entertainment as well because you may be waiting for hours! With that out of the way we visited the beautiful Hama Rikyu Gardens.
The gardens are a magnificent sight: if I had more time, I could spend hours there. There is a quaint tea shop inside with an enchanting scenery. With the gardens all viewed we retired back to our hotel to prepare for the day ahead.
DAY 4. Meeting up with our Globus Group. Yoyogi Park. Taito District.
Our day began with us joining the rest of the Globus tour group- as we began the group part of our trip. Our first stop was Yoyogi Park in Shibuya.
This nice park featured several temples as well as a scenic walking paths to a revered well. We continued on to one of Tokyo’s many tea houses for a classical tea ceremony. A practiced professional demonstrated his craft and served each of us a teacup full of traditional green tea and a sweet. I was even given the honor of preparing some tea for our tour guide!
After drinking our fill of Green Tea (which quickly became my beverage of choice in Japan) we went for some free time in Asakusa, located in the Taito district of Tokyo. A real hustle and bustle gives the area charm, and the temple and labyrinth-esque shopping scene offer plenty to see. That night our group went on a walking tour of Tokyo. Within a walking distance to our hotel (we stayed in Tokyo Hilton Hotel in Shinjuku area in downtown Tokyo) we found ourselves in a narrow street that was packed with small restaurants.
This was no tourist attraction: I could feel that this is where only Japanese people go to eat. I highly recommend exploring Tokyo by foot at night: it is generally safe as long as you stick to crowded locations and can give you a completely different vibe of the place.
DAY 5. Kamakura. Mount Fuji.
The day began with the group leaving Tokyo and heading south along the coast on a bus to Kamakura where we visited a Buddhist temple, complete with an enormous statue of Buddha himself.
The 750-year-old Great Buddha statue offers a lot of photo opportunities, and the surrounding park and temple are fascinating as well. The rain started pouring at this point, which made me thankful for my umbrella I brought with me everywhere. From there we proceeded to the town of Hakone for a scenic boat ride on Lake Ashi.
I highly recommend this cruise: the views are amazing, and on a non-cloudy day you can see Mount Fuji in all its glory! The air itself offers a feeling of wonder that made me feel giddy, with a quiet body of water around us and Japanese structures sticking out from beneath the mountain tops that stretched above the clouds.
I purchased some delectable Mount Fuji cookies from a gift shop: these are only found for purchase near Mt. Fuji and make for a wonderful treat for friends and family (or yourself!). From there we made our way to one of my favorite places on this trip: Hakone Open-Air Museum.
The many varied structures that you can explore at your own pace, combined with a surreal fog made for a wonder of a time.
Inside, you can find an exhibit dedicated to Picasso featuring many of his ceramics:
The gift shop is pleasantly well stocked as well and there is an entire modern fashion store where I purchased myself a unique t-shirt.
To end the day I went to our hotel’s bathhouse (we stayed at Fuji View Hotel in Lake Kawaguchi area) and enjoyed a traditional Japanese bath: outdoor pool in a completely naked (gender separate) zone. Thankfully I was the only one there and had the entire bathhouse to myself, which was a liberating experience that relaxed me to my core.
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