Japan in a week
I was recently lucky enough to travel back to Japan, a country I have previously visited and lived, and one of my favourite places in the world. With just a week to spare my partner and I visited some highlights of this incredible country.
Arriving into Tokyo we had two days to make the most of our stay, having been before we decided on some more unusual experiences and ways to see the city.
First up on our list was Maricar! This is real life Mario Cart on the roads of Tokyo. Dressed up as your favourite Mario character, or superhero, you jump in a go cart and follow your guide on a tour of the city. A great, crazy, way to see the sights and get your bearings. You can revisit these later when not travelling at 50kph!
For something more calming we spent the afternoon in the engulfing experience of the Digital Art Museum. Created by hundreds of projectors in a dark warehouse, the exhibit showcases a borderless world where walls seemingly disappear as a new room appears, or digital projections interact with the visitors. A very unique and memorable visit, book ahead for tickets.
For our second day we took a day trip out of the hustle and bustle of the city, to the countryside and nature of Mt Fuji and Hakone. An easy day trip we had views from the 5th station of Mt. Fuji, cruised Lake Ashi in the volcanic caldera of Hakone and enjoyed sprawling views of coast and mountain from the peak of Mt Komagatake. A great idea for any second-time visitors or those with a longer stay in Tokyo.
Where to stay: Tokyo Prince Hotel Shinagawa – great connections to the airports and shinkansen bullet trains. Different levels of accommodation for all and spacious rooms…. for Tokyo!
Once the capital of Japan, Kyoto is a must on any Japan itinerary due to its cultural significance and huge numbers of temples and shrines. We focused on the highlights splitting our sightseeing into the east and west of the city.
Kyoto has an excellent network of metro, buses and is also very cycle friendly. Heading first to the west of the city highlights include the Kinkakuji (golden pavilion) for pure wow factor, Arashiyama bamboo groves, and Tenryuji zen temple with its beautiful gardens.
The following day exploring the east of Kyoto we began the day with the stunning vermillion torii gates of Fushimi Inari shrine. Behind the main temple lie miles of winding paths covered in the arches of the torii gates. A beautiful sight and if you reach the top of Mt Inari a tranquil one away from crowds and among the forest.
After a morning of gentle hiking the afternoon route began near Gion, the geisha district, there are shrines all along the route but Yasaka is a favourite. Taking the traditionally preserved streets of Higashiyama leads you wonderstruck through wooden buildings of the Edo period, and right to the steps of the Kiyomizudera temple. Kiyomizudera’s roof is under repair till March 2020 but the complex has a multitude of shrines, gates and pagoda, as well as Jishu Jinga shrine dedicated to love and matchmaking.
In the evening return to Gion for geisha spotting, a traditional performance at Gion Corner, and the many great restaurants the area offers.
Where to eat: Pontocho alley near Gion, including the best Gyoza in Japan at Chao Chao Gyoza.
Where to stay: Gion Hatanaka Ryokan, traditional style Japanese rooms, in the geisha district, a stone’s throw from one of the best cherry blossom viewing parks in the city, what’s not to like!
Kanazawa offers a quaint and unspoiled insight into Japan. With wonderful Geisha districts (minus the crowds of Kyoto), the castle, and the infamous Kenrokuen gardens; one of the finest examples of a Japanese gardens in the country. We visited as a day trip on our way to Iiyama but the city is owed at least a one-night stay to really appreciate it and visit some of the further afield districts such as the samurai district and ninja temple.
A welcome break from city life at the end of our trip, Iiyama is better known as a hub for winter sports. Surrounded by some of the best resorts in the Japanese Alps it is the heart of skiing just 3hrs from Tokyo. When the snow has disappeared the countryside and hills of Iiyama become home to hikers on the 6-day pilgrimage of the Shinetsu Trail. A scenic walk through forests, lakes and marsh this can be done as part of a group or you can organise to walk a smaller part with the local tourism office. In addition, Iiyama offers traditional Japanese crafts, which we tried our hand at, washi paper making and metalwork. A truly unique souvenir created under the supervision of enchanting locals and a highlight of our trip
Where to stay: Madarao Kogen Resort Hotel, up in the beautiful mountains and the starting point of the Shinetsu Trail, the hotel comes complete with its own onsen for weary walking or ski legs.
From Iiyama we took the shinkansen back to Tokyo and had just enough time for another tasty Japanese staple, the katsu curry, before saying a fond sayonara as we headed back to the airport.
Japan as seen through the eyes of Helen Jackson (09 522 3412, firstname.lastname@example.org)