Japan didn’t quite make the ‘list’ when we initially planned our trip, but as we inched closer to it, we knew we couldn’t skip it. The Japan travel bug was planted long ago by our friend Gail Tatabe and she even gifted us some Japanese currency before we left home. We couldn’t bring that back home now, could we? 😉 It was the best decision we made and definitely one of the highlights of this adventure.
Tokyo, Part I
We arrived in Tokyo exhausted and in desperate need of sleep after 14 hours of flying. We headed to the immigration, hoping we could get through and to our apartment as quickly as possible. Yup, that wasn’t going to happen. A very grumpy customs agent was standing guard and wouldn’t let us through unless we wrote our address in Japanese, actual Japanese characters. Seriously! A little baffled, I looked through my messages and thankfully our Airbnb host had sent me the address in Japanese, in case I needed to show it to a taxi driver. Little did I know I’d have to actually try and write it. I would have taken a picture of my horrible writing but wasn’t sure what kind of trouble I’d get into so I’ll let you just imagine it 😉
We headed to the exit but first, we needed to get a sim card. I figured with Japan being so ahead of everyone else in technology, this would go pretty quick. Nope, that wasn’t going to happen. It took a long time to get the sim to work, and by that time almost two hours had passed since we got off the plane.
Our poor little fella was exhausted but not a complaint out of him. At one point he fell asleep while waiting for his confused parents trying to figure out the train system.
Finally, with train tickets in hand, we made our way to Tokyo and an hour or so later arrived at our tiny apartment.
We had only booked three days here as I wasn’t sure how we would like it. I’m not a fan of big cities. Tokyo however, surprised me. I imagined a bit of chaos, lots of noise and rushed people, but we had the opposite experience. It was quiet. People didn’t rush around like crazy. Everyone was incredibly respectful and polite and wait for it… It was CLEAN. You have to look pretty darn hard to find a piece of garbage anywhere in the city.
We spent our three days mainly exploring Shinjuku and Shibuya. By the third day, it was decided that we would come back to Tokyo at the end of our trip as I intentionally had left the last 4 days open.
We had amazing sushi at a little restaurant called Ougi Sushi and Kasm got to experience wasabi for the first time. He didn’t notice the layer of Wasabi between the rice and the fish. His reaction was absolutely priceless. He had this incredibly shocked look on his face as if his head was about to explode and was totally speechless. Thankfully, the wasabi burn, as intense as it is, goes away very quickly!
Not sure what this was all about. They had a cat and a dog and everyone kept wanting their photo taken with the cat! Kasm felt bad for the dog and decided to pose with him 😉
Off course there would a be Pokemon on the street 😉
And you can’t go to Tokyo without experiencing the busiest crosswalk in the world.
After three days in Tokyo, we headed to Kyoto to experience the more traditional Japan. We took a bullet train to Kyoto. Public transport in Japan is incredibly easy. One of the must-dos when visiting Japan is to get a JR Pass and download the Hyperdia app on your phone. You are sure to save money and a lot of hassle trying to buy tickets every time. You can ride any train on the JR Pass except the Nozomi and Mizuho trains. All you need to do is check the time on Hyperdia, show up at the train station, flash your pass and voila, you are on your way! You can also reserve seats but it’s not really necessary.
We spent ten days in Kyoto and managed to get a couple of day trips in. It was nice to have a longer stay as it allowed us to really take our time and enjoy this beautiful city.
One of the nicest walks we did in Kyoto was along the philosopher’s path.
The Suirokaku Aqueduct is a (Western style) aqueduct that cuts through the grounds of Nanzen-Ji temple in Kyoto.
There is no shortage of beautiful gardens and temples in Kyoto.
A visit to the Fushimi Inari Shrine. I’m amazed we managed to capture this photo without a single person in it.
And this is what it really looks like!
We took a detour from the beaten path and ended up walking amongst the beautiful bamboo trees.
More of Kyoto’s beauty.
Our apartment was in the heart of Gion and we took a few strolls in the area. We were very lucky to see two Geishas and they kindly allowed us to take their photo.
Day Trips from Kyoto
A visit to this majestic bamboo forest is a definite must. Standing amid these giants, soaring into the sky, will leave you speechless.
This was an ok day trip. It was amusing to see tame deer. What was even more entertaining, was watching the tourists, who would feed the deer and then freak out when they got a little too pushy. Even though we didn’t feed them, one of them decided to give Kasm a good shove. I guess he wasn’t too happy about us not giving him food.
Himeji Castle & Garden
The Castle is absolutely stunning from the outside but the inside was a disappointment. It’s completely empty! We expected to see a bit of history here and thought it would be furnished to give us an idea what life was like when the castle was at its glory. We walked over to the gardens next to the castle and that made the trip worth it. We even stopped for a traditional tea ceremony and enjoyed delicious tea and sweets.
Our visit to Hiroshima was short but a very powerful history lesson, especially for Kasm. The bullet train had us arrive in Hiroshima in a couple of hours from Kyoto. We stored our luggage at the train station and headed to the Unesco World Heritage Site, Miyajima Island. We were lucky to arrive during high tide. The famous Torri gates look as though they are floating in the sea. We spent the afternoon walking around the island enjoying its beauty.
Our lunch was an experience on its own. We came across a small place serving Okonomiyaki. It is a Japanese savoury pancake that includes various ingredients depending on which province you are in. It looked interesting and we chose to sit at the grill and watch the chefs at work. Not only it was entertaining, the food was also quite delicious.
Our stay in Hiroshima was very short. We only booked two nights and the next day we had a tour of Mazda in the morning and Kasm being such a HUGE car fan, couldn’t have been more excited. The tour is completely free. You get an hour and a half tour of the museum and the assembly line.
It was time to explore the city…
Hey look, vintage video games!
The boys playing Pacman!
We stumbled upon a really cool lunch place! It was one of the best meals we had in Japan. Yup, it was Okonomiyaki again.
We finished our visit to Hiroshima with a walk around the Atomic Bomb Dome, a ruin that serves as a memorial and a reminder to a horrible tragedy that took over 70,000 lives and fatally injured another 70,000+ on August 6 1945. It was cold and rainy which added to the sombre mood.
Time to head back to Tokyo!
Tokyo Part II
The trip was starting to wind down and we headed back to Tokyo for our last four days. One family member was particularly excited about this as he was about to turn 10 in one of the coolest cities in the world 🙂
We booked another tiny place but this time near the Tokyo station, with the intention of exploring different parts of the city.
Birthday celebrations started with a visit to the Apple store. Can you imagine a cooler place than Tokyo to visit an Apple store?
And of course, a very excited 10-year-old got his wish. An Ipod!
Next stop was Nissan Crossing. I would like to take credit for this but we happened to it by chance. Concept cars and racing the latest PS4 game, what more can a little boy ask for 😉
And we finished off with dinner at the Ninja Restaurant. Not only, we were thoroughly entertained by the Ninjas, the food was absolutely delicious!
And I will leave you with more photos of our last couple of days in Tokyo. If Japan is on your bucket list, make it happen 🙂