Journey in Japan a day-by-day account

Journey in Japan with our day-by-day account as we trek across the country, explore the local culture, experience exotic foods and meet interesting people. This is not meant to be a rough guide but a general account of each day we spent in Japan. Below is a summary of our first journey in Japan with links to the full articles for each day.

Day 1 – Exploring Asakusa

Sensouji TempleI remember it well, leaving the airplane and walking through the airport. My expectations for Japan were set high but the reality of what I was about to experience was way better than I had originally imagined.

Our journey in Japan began with our first hotel set in the tourist district of Asakusa, Tokyo. I highly recommend you visit this district. It is a tourist district and it is well known for its temples and “old town”. You can easily imagine samurai walking down those streets in the old days.

Although I had prepared in advance for the trip by studying the culture and learning some Japanese phrases, I was still awe-struck and forgot most of what I had learned once I was on the ground. I felt like I had fallen into another world and time.

Read about the first day in Asakusa here.

Day 2 – Ueno and Akihabara

Ueno gatesThe next day we a tour guide to help us get along. We broke the day up into two parts with the morning spent in the district of Ueno and then the afternoon was spent in Akihabara with a quick visit to Ginza at the end of the day. Unfortunately for us, the forecast was rain all day. Our tour guide was arranged by Inside Japan (a tour company we used to setup our self-guided trip).

Michiko was there to help us get started on our trip. She essentially calibrated us to the Japanese culture, transport system and helped translating when we needed it. The rest of our trip was self-guided.

So the morning was a rainy tour of Ueno Park, the local shrines and Tokyo National Museum. The afternoon was still rainy and we spent it inside a 10 story department store in Akihabara. It felt like you could easily get lost in that store and you could spend all day there. At the end of the day, we took a quick trip to Ginza before heading back to our hotel.

Read more about our journey in Japan part 1 in Ueno and part 2 in Akihabara

Day 3 – Nikko a memorable adventure

Futarasan shrine in Nikko JapanNikko was unforgettable. This was a place we could have spent an entire week exploring, but had to manage it in a day. Unfortunately, it was rushed but still well worth it.

Imagine seeing a lake on top of a mountain, travelling through a tunnel and taking an elevator down to the base of a waterfall or exploring the woods to find hidden shrines and temples.

To me, Nikko represents a place frozen in time where samurai, shoguns and ancient monks roamed. Today it’s a place overrun by tourist, both local and foreign, but it’s still a beautiful and magical place to visit.

Read the adventure in Nikko here.

Day 4 – AnimeJapan

cosplay girlHow can a journey in Japan not include a trip to an anime convention? It’s hard to compare AnimeJapan with other conventions because Tokyo is the source where anime comes from. What I experienced at other conventions were mere breadcrumbs of Japanese anime. In Tokyo at AnimeJapan, I experienced professional cosplay and amateur cosplay plus a plethora of anime, games, manga/comics and technology.

I thought I knew a lot about anime, but when I went to AnimeJapan, I realised I had only seen the tip of the iceberg. There were so many characters and shows I had never heard of. I knew then that I was still a new comer to the scene even though I had been watching anime my whole life in the west.

Read more about AnimeJapan here.

Day 5 – Hanazono antique market and ryokan

Hanazono antique marketAs we continued our journey in Japan, we spent a morning in Hanazono looking through the various vendors in the antique market. Apparently the market is held once a month. Many of the vendors sold cheap kimonos (almost like cheap costumes for a party) but we managed to find an old lady selling ancient authentic kimonos which we purchased a few.

I was primarily exploring the temple and shrines in the area. Even though there was a market (something like a flea market in America or a boot sale in the UK) many people from many ages came to visit the temple and shrines. It was fascinating seeing local and foreigners mixing in Hanazono.

After we left the market, we took a train towards Hakone. As part of our itinerary, we were going to spend a couple of nights locally in a traditional ryokan while exploring the area near Mount Fuji.

Read more about Hanazono here.

Read more about the traditional ryokan in Hakone here.

Day 6 – Exploring Hakone

Mt Fuji at Lake AshiBlack eggs, a pirate ship, Mount Fuji, a cat by the lake and more shines and temples can only describe this journey in Japan. It was a long day in Hakone National Park. I can’t believe we did so much in a single day. We started by ascending to the lake area via a couple of trains and cable cars. Along the way we stopped to eat some black eggs, took pictures of Mount Fuji, then we descended toward the lake and found some pirate ships.

I never imaged taking a ferry across a lake in a pirate ship named Victory. It was a scenic view as we crossed the lake with the image of Mount Fuji looming in the distance. We explored a local town, ate some corn dogs from the combini (Japanese for convenient store) 7-11, fed a local cat and then walked into the woods and found ancient shrines and temples. It was a memorable day and we then took a bus back to our ryokan.

Read more about Exploring Hakone here.

Day 7 – From Odawara to Takarazuka

Odawara CastleA day spent train hopping as we continued our journey in Japan. As we left our comfortable ryokan in Hakone we headed to Odawara and spent a short time exploring the area. Our primary site was Odawara castle, a prime example of magnificent Japanese ancient architecture.

Although our visit to Odawara was short, we got to see a bit of the city, some caged monkeys, an archaeological dig, plenty of tourist and food vendors as well as the amazing castle. However, this castle was small compared to the other castles we would be visiting later on.

When we left Odawara we headed to Takarazuka to visit the Manga Museum. I am not sure what I was truly expecting there, but when we entered the museum it was primarily artwork on display. There were some nice statues, sculpts and interesting technology, but not much of it. Still it was worth the short visit.

Read more about Odawara to Takarazuka here.

Day 8 – Exploring Osaka Japan

Osaka touristWe continued our journey in Japan with a couple of nights in Osaka. I had heard many people say that this was their favorite city. I wonder how many different cities these people have visited in Japan? Tokyo and Kyoto are quite amazing places, but on this particular day we got a chance to see a snippet of what makes Osaka a place to visit.

Luckily for us, we had a local friend show us around the area. We spent some time in Dotombori visiting shops, cafes and restaurants. We also saw a lot of cheap electronics there. For example Apple iPads are extremely cheap. Our friend also told us that DenDen town was the best place to find bargains. We didn’t get a chance to visit DenDen town but we did check out another department store which showed us how cheap things could be.

Besides that we also made it down to Osaka Castle. This building was much bigger than Odawara Castle and it was surrounded by many ancient walls. It’s quite a walk to get to the castle, but it’s also a fun journey.

Read about Exploring Osaka Japan here.

Day 9 – Visiting Hiroshima

Atom Bomb DomeHiroshima was a place I never imagined I would visit. When discussing our trip and deciding on the places to visit, this was not originally planned for our journey in Japan. However, with a little persuasion Linaka convinced me that it was worth visiting.

I don’t know what I was afraid of. Perhaps in the back of my mind I felt there might still be lingering radiation from the atomic blast that happened over half a century ago. Perhaps I just was unsure of visiting a place which experienced such a horrific impact. Whatever the case, I arrived in Hiroshima and marveled at the structure called the Atomic Bomb Dome. Today it is now known as the Peace Memorial.

It was a place which has been seared in my memory and I am glad that I got to visit this historic site. Although it was short stop on our way to Miyajima Island, it was well worth the visit.

Read more about the Visit to Hiroshima here.

Day 10 – Miyajima Island

Tahoto Pagoda on Miyajima IslandIf someone were to ask me what my favorite place on Earth was, I would have to say Miyajima Island. Miyajima is the local name, but the island is known elsewhere as Itsukushima. To me, Miyajima is a magical place. Sure there are many temples and shrines and during the spring the island gets covered in cherry blossoms, but there is something about the island that makes you fall in love with it.

The food is delicious and mostly sea food. There are many shops on the island and a small community that lives there. It is also known as one of the few places in Japan which has a temple dedicated to three ogres. This is also a place overrun by deer. Don’t be fooled by them, they will try and nibble anything you offer them, both intentionally and non-intentionally.

Read more about our day in Miyajima Island here.

Day 11 and 12 – Kyoto and Arashiyama

bamboo forest in ArashiyamaWhen I first arrived in Kyoto I was expected to see a city locked in time with cobbled streets, ancient wooden houses everywhere and geisha roaming the streets. I have no idea why I was thinking that, but that was the impression I had before arriving. When I got there, I soon realised Kyoto was a normal modern city like any other. The concept I had imagined was just a fantasy. However, on this particular day we did not explore the city much. Instead we spent our morning making sweets and the rest of the day was spent exploring Arashiyama.

If you have ever seen those old kung fu films or old Japanese movies with samurai and geisha walking through a bamboo forest, then Arashiyama is the place where all this magic happens. It was like walking into a Japanese painting. You could see a mountain in the distance with misty clouds surrounding it. A bridge connecting one side of a town with another while people that looked like ninja pulled rickshaws across the bridge.

Read more about our rainy day in Kyoto and Arashiyama here.

Day 13 – Exploring Kyoto

Nijo Castle outerOn this particular day we continued our journey in Japan by exploring the city of Kyoto. Wandering through small backstreets we found ourselves inside a kimono shop. There Linaka got the opportunity to learn more about the kimonos she bought in Tokyo. She also got some lessons on how to put them on and about custom kimonos and family crests.

As we continued our day, we went to Nijo Castle where we spent a couple of hours walking around the castle. Then we spent an afternoon at a tea ceremony. We learned that a proper tea ceremony could take up to 4 hours or longer and we also enjoyed some sweets with our bitter tea. We then explored the area some more and did some more shopping at the local shops. Lastly, we got an opportunity to walk by a budo school.

Read more about our day Exploring Kyoto here.

Day 14 – Exploring Gion

tea ceremonyAs we continued our journey in Japan, we spent another day in Kyoto, but this time we found the ancient part of the city which takes you back to the old day of samurai and geisha. Our morning was spent dressing up in the traditional garments and attending a photo shoot. If you are interested in doing the same, expected to be at this session for a minimum of 2 hours. It takes that long just to get the outfits on.

The rest of the day we spent in Gion, the geisha district of Kyoto. This is a place that most people will only see in movies or read about in books. You can see ancient streets with old geisha houses, many lanterns and finally you see geisha walking down the streets. This is definitely a place worth visiting again and exploring in more depth.

Read more about our day Exploring Gion here.

Day 15 – Exploring Nara and Fushimi Inari

Fushimi 10000 gatesNot far from Kyoto is Nara. On this day, we took a day trip there. We were interested in seeing the large wooden temples and perhaps the largest bronze statue in the world. Upon arrival we were greeting by hundreds of deer. It was as if we were back on Miyajima. These deer were worst and smart. The local vendors were selling deer food to tourist. As soon as a few deer saw a tourist with some food, they would flock around them like pigeons. The difference was that some of these deer were aggressive.

Besides this distraction, we were able to see some very old wooden buildings. Unfortunately for us, some of the temples were being renovated so we could not check them out, but the main attraction was still open to the public. Not only did we see the temples and bronze statue, but we also explored the back roads and found hundreds of stone lanterns which lead to other temples.

After exploring Nara we headed back to Kyoto, but halfway back we decided to stop at Fushimi Inari. This is the famous place with the 10,000 torii (gates). This place is perhaps most famous from the movie “Memoirs of a Geisha”. If there is a single place I would recommend as a must visit, Fushimi Inari is the place. There are over 10,000 torii which run around the mountain. Linaka and I were only able to walk through about 1,000 but I wasn’t really counting.

Read more about our day in Nara and Fushimi here.

Day 16 and 17 – Exploring Takayama

Takayama canalAfter a week in Kyoto it was time to move onto our next destination, Takayama. Our journey in Japan could not be complete without another 4 hour long train ride. The country side was very scenic, the train took us up into the Japanese alps where it seemed like the train was following a meandering river. Then there were times when all we could see were mountains.

We spent a couple of days in Takayama. It is a rurual area, a small city divided into modern and traditional architecture. We stayed at a traditional ryokan and enjoyed traditional local meals. What was interesting about Takayama was the heavy European influence, but more specifically the big French influence. I had never heard of Takayama and would imagine that not many people would visit it. I was so surprised to see tourist from all over the world flocking to the old town district. It felt like I was in Europe again.

Takayama is a beautiful place. It’s primarily an area for relaxation and shopping. There doesn’t seem to be much to do out there. We did eat some of the most delicious hamburgers made from their local Hida beef. I rank these burgers the best in the World. If you want to try them out, look for Centre for Hamburgers, hidden in the back of an antiques shop.

Read more about our Visit to Takayama here.

Day 18 – First Day in Kanazawa

Kanazawa stationAfter a couple of days in Takayama we continued our journey in Japan by heading to Kanazawa. We embarked on another scenic train ride through meandering tracks, beautiful country side and more mountains. When we arrived in Kanazawa we were greeted by a large wooden structure which almost looked like a torii (gate) but with a modern design.

By this point in the trip I was pretty open minded about anything. Before travelling to Japan, all I ever knew was that there was a city called Tokyo and Kyoto. I did not know much about the rest of the country. Kanazawa is a coastal city. Unfortunately for us we didn’t go to the beach, but I hear it’s a nice area to see.

Upon arrival, there is a very good visitor center which has many helpful people. There are people that speak English as well as other languages. You can even get maps in your own language. We took a bus to our hotel and settled for the day. With the little time left in the day we decided to explore the area. There were many unique shops and lots of food everywhere. We even found a street artist who made some spray paintings for us.

Read more about our first day in Kanazawa here.

Day 19 – Exploring Kanazawa

Geisha districtHow much can you really do in a day? Although it rained on and off, we were able to do a fair amount of exploring in Kanazawa. On this day our journey in Japan included visiting a ninja temple, then getting lost in the back streets of the city and finding a pottery maker. After that we stumbled upon a taxi driver by accident. Although we struggled to communicate we were able to convince him to take us to Kanazawa castle, after which we explored the local markets, tried local foods, watched a procession with elegantly dressed people, and then we journeyed further into the city towards the geisha district. There we entered a geisha tea house. The rest of the day was spent travelling back to our hotel. We walked and took a bus and snapped pictures along the way.

It was quite a full day and I was amazed at how much we actually accomplished to see. You can imagine how exhausted we were when we got to the hotel.

Read more about our adventures Exploring Kanazawa here.

Day 20 – Returning to Tokyo

Ghibli giantAs our journey in Japan approached its end, we found ourselves back in Tokyo. We arrived at Shinjuku station and our hotel was also located in the same district. Although we had a 4 hour journey from Kanazawa to Tokyo, we still went out and spent the rest of our day at the Ghibli museum. This was one of the big highlights of our trip. We are big anime fans and in particular we love Studio Ghibli. The fact that we were able to see many of the characters we have watched for years, made the visit more memorable.

After we returned to our hotel, we relaxed for the evening. For dinner, we decided to go out and look around Shinjuku. Somewhere along the way we stumbled into some backstreets and found many restaurants. Unsure of where to go and what to try out, we randomly walked into one. Sadly for us, it was a restaurant that allowed smoking. We struggled to eat our dinner while people around us drank beer, were loud and enjoyed their cigarettes. The food was not very memorable.

Read more about our Return to Tokyo here.

Day 21 – Akihabara and Harajuku

Akihabara maid in TokyoOn our final day in Tokyo we decided to revisit Akihabara and we also decided to visit Harajuku. It seemed like a lot to do in a day, but I was on a quest to find a robot and we really wanted to see the real Akihabara. Our journey in Japan was about to have one final epic day.

As we started our day we ventured into Akihabara called “Electric Town”. The first thing you’ll notice are the many colourful buildings, plenty of anime characters on display, random electronics everywhere and plenty of maids roaming the streets in search of customers to visit their cafe’s. Akihabara is a fun place to get lost in. The reality about the district is that you can easily spend several days there exploring all the different types of shops. It feels like you can find just about anything there.

We had a lot of fun, experienced a maid cafe, explored a building with several floors of dolls and figurines for sale and finally we found a robot store. When I say robot store, I mean a place that sells robots and robot parts.

As the day progressed and it became evident that sunlight was decreasing, we decided to head to Harajuku. Harajuku, also known as the fashion district, was another entertaining district to visit. There area is divided into adult fashion and teen fashion. It wasn’t hard to figure out that the fun place to visit was Takeshita Dori. You could find all types of fashion there. Besides the clothes, there were also many food shops that specialised in various waffles and sweets.

There is so much to see and do in Harajuku, but our time in Japan was coming to an end.

Read more about our visit to Akihabara here.

Read more about our visit to Harajuku here.

Day 22 – Our Journey in Japan

Our journey in Japan was a memorable adventure. From the very beginning to the very end, we explored the area, experienced the culture and met many interesting people. Unfortunately, our trip could not last any longer and we had to return to reality.

On our final day we took a limo-bus (a regular bus) from Shinjuku to Narita Airport. Taking a bus to and from the airport is a cheap alternative to a taxi. I had my last ramen bowl at the airport and sadly I noticed the airport food was a lower quality than the food in the city. Perhaps I ate food that was too rich in flavour that it ruined my taste buds? As we flew back home, we brought with us a new love for a country and culture we knew little about and we long to return to this magical country again. Have you ever had a journey in Japan? What is your favourite place in Japan? Feel free to share with us in the comments below and feel free to share this article.

 

Author: Jose Guerra

I am an American living in London who enjoys Japanese culture, traveling and photography. I enjoy sharing my travel experiences through social media and blogging.

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