Monday, 28 April 2014

Japan, April 2014: The Highlights

I landed at Heathrow just before 4pm yesterday afternoon, after a nearly 13 hour long flight. My whole time in Japan (16 full days in total) has been incredible.

There was far too much involved to sum it all up in one blog post, or even several blog posts. Incidentally, rather than posting blog post after blog post for each day I spent in Japan, I will be creating some kind of simple website travel journal thingy. With plenty of photos and text from the diary-sort-of-thing I’ve been writing whilst I’ve been away. At some point I’d also like to design myself a physical book including maps, scans of tickets and other things I’ve collected… but that won’t be for a little while!

So, for now, these are my Japan highlights:

Staying in the Asakusa area for my first experience of Tokyo and Japan:
It was a fairly busy tourist spot but full of interesting streets, beautiful temples and shrines and a lovely atmosphere. Plus the sun shined all the time. I found it a lot more interesting than the busy and modern Shibuya and Shinjuku areas of Tokyo, for sure.

The Studio Ghibli Museum:
I got a tad lost trying to find my connecting train to get here (it was not in the centre of Tokyo) but, when I found it, it was well-worth all the stress. The museum was quite simply like something straight out of a Ghibli film and it couldn’t have worked any better than it did. Photography was not allowed inside but I bought a souvenir book that shows the insides of the museum and the outside, where I could take photos, was amazing anyway.

Train through snowy mountains and along the coast from Tokyo to Kanazawa:
My first bit of train travelling in Japan, using a [two-story] shinkansen (bullet train) for the first time and then a standard train. It wasn’t a quick journey (around four hours) but the scenery out the window was simply breath-taking, so it didn’t matter one bit.

Forest of the Seven Lucky Gods in Takayama:
On my second day in Takayama I visited the Hida Folk Village – an outdoor museum showcasing traditional Japanese life – which in itself was good but what I absolutely loved was what was hidden away next door. The Forest of the Seven Lucky Gods consists of seven huge shinto gods carved from ancient Japanese trees. Incredible.

The Ukiyo-e Museum and the castle in Matsumoto:
I loved Matsumoto, although I only had one day there so I had to pack a lot into my limited time. I first went to the Ukiyo-e Museum – one of the best ukiyo-e (Japanese woodblock prints) collections in Japan, possibly the world. It was difficult to find but well worth the effort and persistent[ly bad] map reading on my part. I managed to visit a few Japanese castle in my time in Japan, but Matsumoto castle was without a doubt the best. Definitely worth going inside the castle as well – very much left as it was originally, rather than modernised *cough* Osaka castle *cough*.

Nijo Castle in Kyoto:
I didn’t really know where to begin when I arrived in Kyoto. As the old capital of Japan, there is just so much do see and do. The only thing I knew I definitely wanted to see was Nijo Castle, or rather I wanted to walk on the nightingale floor. (Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn is one of my favourite books, and it was great to find out where the real ‘nightingale floor’ is located.)

The vegetarian café found by my tour guide in Kyoto:
I had a tour guide booked for my second and only full day in Kyoto which was excellent as it meant I saw the best things and learnt a lot of history as well. We visited Fushimi Inari shrine, Tofuku-ji temple area and the golden pavillion, Kinkaku-ji temple, amongst several other things. These were all wonderful and it was a great day. But what I really liked about this day was that my guide went out of his way to find a vegetarian restaurant for lunch, that used tofu in place of meat. Afterwards, he thanked me as he had previously thought vegetarian food was bland – so we both loved it!

Trying on a kimono and tea ceremony at Tondaya in Kyoto:
As part of my Inside Japan Tours package, they arranged a visit to Tondaya, an old Kyoto machiya (townhouse), for me. Whilst there I got a tour of the house, with the uses of the rooms and garden spaces explained to me. I had my tour whilst dressed in a proper kimono that I picked myself and was shown how to wear it correctly. I then took part in a traditional tea ceremony, followed by a bento (boxed) lunch – still wearing the kimono. The young Japanese lady who showed me, and just me, around was lovely and spoke very good English. I knew this would be a good experience but I didn’t think I’d necessarily enjoy it as much as I did.

The ride on the cable car and the pirate ship on lake Ashi in Hakone:
Again, I was quite rushed for time in Hakone – the national park near Mt Fuji – as it’s a big place and I only really had one afternoon to see everything. I didn’t see everything of course but I did the main things I wanted to which were: Firstly, taking a ride on the cable car, or ropeway as they call it, up to a Mt Fuji viewpoint. I did see Fuji but only a slight glimpse of one snowy side and my camera didn’t really capture this. Secondly, the pirate ship sightseeing boat on Lake Ashi. Pirate ship. Need I say more?

All the food/goodies I bought at the airport:
Green tea kit kats, or just green tea flavoured things in general, were a real stand-out food point for me in Japan. Sure, I ate a whole variety of other things – actual Japanese meals – and everything was really good but green tea flavoured things really won me over. Green tea ice cream was amazing, I had it on three separate occasions! At the airport on the way home, I picked up a large box of green tea Kit Kats, another favourite from my time in Japan, as well some rice crackers, Pocky and a tray of Japanese sweets called mochi. They’re not all for me, honest!

Now, please excuse me while I sort through the 4000-odd other photographs I took and begin compiling my Japan, April 2014: Travel Journal.


  1. Matthew Richards28 April 2014 at 16:19

    This reminds me of my trip to Japan a few years ago! We went to many of the same places, but you did some cool stuff that I didn't like visiting the machiya. It looks like you had a great time and I'd love to see some more of your pictures :)

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read/look and I'm glad you like! :) If you follow my blog or twitter (@emmaprew) I will post a link to the full travel journal with lots more photos as and when it's ready. Next weekend maybe at this rate. Back to work tomorrow.

  2. Hi Emma, I found your blogsite from the Inside Japan facebook post. Sounds like you had an amazing journey. We first went to Japan for the Autumn colours 2012 and visited some of the same places as you. It is a truly breath-taking country. You have taken much the same route that I am planning to do next April. How did you get from Takayama to Matsumoto? I've been trying to find a train or bus that join those cities but no luck so far.

    1. Hi Yvette. I'm glad you like my blog. And Japan! There is a bus from Takayama bus station that goes to Matsumoto, so that should be easy enough. Through some lovely snowy mountain scenery too!

    2. Ahh, great. Thanks Emma, I've found the details for the bus line now.