Last week I went to check a wedding list from some amazing couple that is getting married (yes, you know who you are) and they had chosen all items from a possible weeding trip to Japan. While I won’t buy any from the list, they already have their gifts, I decided to write something they asked me about: What to pick when you are planning a trip to Japan?
Tokyo, the technologic and the traditional
I have a thing for big cities, but even if you don’t, you should never avoid Tokyo. Some people say it is too big and too modern, but when you get there you just have to love it.
Ok, they don’t speak English (most of them) and the transport is chaotic, but you can find everything you want in Tokyo and you should spend there at least two full days (on a short trip.)
What to see in Tokyo? At least I’d visit:
- A Sumo match (or a training at a beya)
- Check the skyline from Sumida river, from the Skytree at night (but you won’t see the Skytree) or from the Metropolitan Government Building at Shinjuku (for free, but it won’t be at night)
- Get lost at the temples and parks. Which temples in Tokyo? At least Meiji-jingu near Harajuku and Senso-ji in Asakusa
- Go shopping for crafts, technology or whatever you like in Ginza, Akihabara, Shibuya, Harajuku. Just pick the place according to your likes and go crazy
- Dinner at a themed restaurant, from Alice to a Ninja place or even the Roboto experience.
- Have the freshest sushi for breakfast at Tsujiki very early in the morning
There are lots of other things you can do. I’d avoid the maid cafes and any “fake” experiences, like tea ceremonies, but that’s up to you.
Kyoto, the home of geishas and Unesco World Heritage
I fell in love with Tokyo, but Kyoto has lots to offer too. It is way more tourism-ready (almost everybody speaks English there) but these amazing places make it really worth the visit:
- Nijo Castle, the home of Ieyasu Takagawa
- The vast collection of unique temples: Kinkaku-ji, Ginkaku-ji, Kiyomizu-dera, Ryoan-ji…
- Gion, not that big and somehow crowded with tourists and shops but still impressive (please try not to dress up as a geisha)
- The kaiseki style, expensive but amazing ‘haute cuisine’
I would spend at least 2 full days in Kyoto. There’s much more: Fushimi Inari Taisha, the bamboo groove at Arashimaya, the manga museum… but you’ll need more days for that or forget about #slowtravel.
One day trips and half day trips from Tokyo and Kyoto: what to pick
It will take you half a day from Tokyo to Kyoto by train (train is about 3 hours, but you’ll need to add check-ins and check-outs and getting to and from the stations.) Jet lag is a nightmare too, specially if you are travelling from Europe, so count at least one lazy day. If you are there 7 real days, you only have left 2 full days at most, so pick wisely.
Nice trips from Tokyo are:
- Kamakura, just 1 hour away from Tokyo and nice for a 1 day trip without leaving your Tokyo hotel. It was another capital city land there’s plenty there to visit on your own, just a sample:
- Daibutsu or the big buda
- Hasedera temple and all the beautiful jizos
- The zen temples at kita-kamakura (Engaku-ji and Kencho-ji for example)
- You can even check the beach and enjoy its bohemian vibe
- Nikko, a little farther, but easy for a half-a-day trip and Unesco World heritage. Mainly a temple area with plenty to see, but if you feel like hiking there are some amazing places nearby too.
- Miyajima and Hiroshima. Two interesting places, each on their own, but most people tend to do it together on the same day.
- While I didn’t visit Hiroshima, it is on the way to Miyajima and they say the Peace Memorial Park is a must-see. You can also go for Okonomiyaki, they have a full area full of restaurants that specialize on this japanese dish.
- At Miyajima, it would be amazing to spend the night and watch the Itsukushima temples and the floating torii by night. However, you can also spend there half a day (please check the tides for the pictures) and visit the Daisho-in temple too.
Other short trips you can do from Tokyo or Kyoto:
- Nara, mid-way from Tokyo to Kyoto and vice versa
- Osaka, a one day trip to see Dotonbori at night and its castle
- Hakone, two day trip to see mount Fuji, the lake area, the museums and sleep at a Ryokan and bathe at a traditional onsen (or just one day to see Fuji and eat the black eggs)
Extra: things you should try at any of the places listed above:
- Meet interesting people and karaokeing all night long
- Buy crazy stuff at some Hyaku-en shop (all for 100 yens shop, better than it sounds) and a conbini
- Try a new dish every day, even if you don’t know what it is
- Go for beer and food at an Izakaya
- Find an onsen and relax
I might be missing something, just let me know when you are back ;)