A journey through Japan
I kicked off my two month trip - dubbed 'the Asian Adventure' by myself and my friends - in Japan, a place that I have wanted to go to ever since I was a kid. I was a bit of a nerd back in the day and was moderately obsessed with anime, the popular Japanese cartoon featuring girls with enormous eyes and wacky hairstyles. As well as the funky and futuristic world of technology and fashion that has made Japan so popular, the traditional culture and the etiquette of the Japanese is always something that has also appealed to me. I think it's the combination of the old and the new that makes Japan such a fascinating country to visit. Despite the worst typhoon to hit Japan in several years, nothing was stopping me from exploring the country of my childhood dreams. I started off in - yep, you guessed it - Tokyo. Tokyo
Tokyo is one of the world's most densely populated cities, has some of the world's best food and is known for its excellent transport as well as its spectacle of crazy neon lights. Here you will find stunning temples nestled among towering skyscrapers, trains filled to the brim with people but little noise. Expect impeccable manners, cleanliness like you've never seen it before and shops with all things weird and wacky. Some recommendations: The Imperial Palace and gardens Home to the Emperor, the Imperial Palace is only open to the public via some reserved guided tours and on the occasional national holiday, however the nearby gardens are certainly worth a visit for some escapism.
Sensoji Temple and the marketplace The oldest temple in Tokyo, Sensoji attracts millions of visitors each year, and the surrounding streets are home to a wealth of stalls and shops selling everything from food to traditional goods and souvenirs.
Akihabara The gaming district of Tokyo, Akihabara is home to shopping centres, huge gaming complexes and maid cafés. Take a trip at night for photo-worthy views of neon lights and massive billboards.
Meiji Shrine and gardens Surrounded by 70 hectares of forest, the Meiji Shrine is a stunning temple dedicated to one of Japan's most significant emperors. For a small fee you can also see the nearby gardens which are filled with lotus flowers in the summer. Tranquility can be found in Tokyo - it just needs to be searched for!
Harajuku The epicenter of Japanese youth culture and fashion, Harajuku is perfect for shopping and tasting wacky snacks sugary enough to make your insides wince. Gwen Stefani would approve.
Tokyo Station The busiest station in Japan, Tokyo Station is worth a trip purely for shopping and tasting LOTS of food. It's a huge maze and I'm not gonna lie, we did get lost multiple times!
The Hokusai Museum This is a small museum dedicated to the life and works of Hokusai, the artist famous for pieces such as 'The Great Wave Off Kanagawa.' Loved its architecture. There were lots of other museums we would have taken a look at too but it would have definitely been a squeeze. So many things to do, so little time...
Other recommendations: The Shibuya crossing Famous pedestrian crossing also known as the 'Scramble Crossing'. Worth it for the time-lapse. Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building A great observation deck for free views of Japan's bustling capital. The Prince Park Tower Tokyo Another place to get free views of Tokyo, this hotel is super fancy so we dressed up and hit the bar for a drink alongside Tokyo Tower. Places I didn't get a chance to go to: Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo Just one of Tokyo's many great museums. Disneyland This almost became a reality, however we would have lost a day in the capital. Saved us some money, but my inner child was screaming. Tokyo Skytree The tallest tower in the world, Skytree offers paramount views of the city. Would have just liked to say that I'd been there, you know? Mount Fuji
A trip to Japan wasn't complete without a glimpse at one of the world's most iconic mountains. We travelled from Tokyo to Lake Kawaguchiko, one of the five lakes surrounding Mount Fuji. During our time there we went on a boat trip, took a cable car to get amazing views of the scenery, tried houtou noodles, a local delicacy, and took a cheeky naked dip in a traditional onsen bath.
Kyoto Kyoto was once Japan's capital. Although today it is nowhere near as sprawling and as hyperactive as Tokyo, Kyoto boasts an impressive amount of temples that succeed in giving visitors a real taste of traditional Japan. Alongside this it boasts traditional wooden houses, glorious mountains and easy access to the countryside. Some recommendations: Fushimi Inari Shrine This shrine sits at the base of a mountain also called Inari, and is famous for its hundreds of burnt orange torii gates. Due to typhoon damage we weren't able to climb the mountain unfortunately. There are so many shrines and temples in Kyoto that we found it difficult to know which ones to go to, however this one seemed pretty unique (and I had seen loads of photos of it on the likes on Tumblr and Pinterest, so you know, had to check it out!)
Tofukuji Temple Tofukuji is home to the oldest Zen main gate in Japan. Set in a tranquil location, the temple is particularly famous for its its spectacle of beautiful colours during autumn (unfortunately we were just a little too early!)
Kinkakuji Temple This temple was originally built in 1397 for a shogun. Its golden exterior inspired its nickname, "Golden Pavilion". With its lakeside setting, Kinkakuji is one of Kyoto's dreamiest attractions. We took part in a tea ceremony for a small fee as, you know, we wanted to get the full traditional experience!
Ginkakuji Temple Not to be confused with the previous temple, Ginkakuji is worth a visit for its gorgeous moss gardens and tranquil setting.
Kiyomizu-dera Temple One of the most stunning temples in Kyoto, Kiyomizu-dera sits on top of a hill overlooking the city. We got there just in time for the sunset for unsurpassed views that Drake would have been jealous of!
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove One of Kyoto's most popular tourist spots, the bamboo grove, which stretches out for seemingly miles, is just one impressive examples of nature in all its glory.
Other recommendations: Kyoto Tower Although the skyline isn't as impressive as Tokyo, this is worth a trip for the views. There's also a pretty cool sky bar at the top. Places I didn't get a chance to go to: Kyoto Imperial Palace and park The Emperor's official residence in Kyoto. Drove past it on the bus but didn't get a chance to look inside. Enryakuji Temple A day trip to Enryakuji Temple, which sits on Mount Hei and overlooks Kyoto, is perfect for a bit of peace and quiet. It is actually a temple complex, with lots of places to explore as well as forest to wander through. Nara
Nara is the perfect day trip from either Kyoto or Osaka. Famous for its semi-wild deer that roam around the city freely, Nara is small enough to walk through and admire numerous temples, including the Todaiji Temple which contains the world's oldest gilded bronze Buddha.
Osaka We didn't have a huge amount of time in Osaka but boy, I wish we did. The city may not seem as crazy and impressive as Tokyo but there are a wealth of things to do, tasty foods to eat and neighbourhoods to explore. As well as shopping and nightlife there is also a more traditional side to the city, however I think ultimately Osaka is definitely the place to be for nightlife and entertainment. Some recommendations: Dotonbori The lively heart of Osaka, Dotonbori is full of eateries, neon lights and nightlife. Not to be missed.
Tempozan Harbor Village To the west of the city and by the sea lies a fun area of shopping and entertainment; we spent our time at the aquarium, which is one of the largest in the world, and also took a ride on the giant ferris wheel, giving us a splendid view of nighttime Osaka.
Osaka Castle Osaka Castle is one of Japan's most famous landmarks and played a major role in the unification of the country back in the sixteenth century. Learn about some of Japan's history and admire the pretty exterior of this popular tourist spot.
Isshinji Temple Thirteen images of Buddha reside in this temple, made out of the ashes of millions of worshippers. If that doesn't give this temple a unique flair, I don't know what does. We almost missed the hall of worship just across the road, which contains hundreds of gold figurines.
Places I didn't get a chance to go to: Universal Studios The park is one of thee most popular destinations within Osaka, but again we didn't have enough time to check it out. Shitennoji Temple Rumour has it that Shitennoji is the oldest temple in Japan. Spa World Japan can be hectic. Relaxation at Spa World is guaranteed; the huge establishment is filled with baths from around the world. It's not at all authentic but it's pretty impressive. Instant Ramen Museum Here you can create your own instant ramen as well as discover some of the noodle's history. Never thought I'd use those words in the same sentence but here we are. Hiroshima Our last stop in Japan was Hiroshima, a fairly small city famous, unfortunately, for its complete destruction at the end of the Second World War. We spent a few days here soaking up the sights, the shopping and the food as well as exploring the nearby island of Miyajima. As you can imagine, the atomic bomb that was dropped on the city by the USA back in 1945 had an impact that would last for decades, and I actually felt quite emotional upon my visit to the museum dedicated to the victims. Considering we had been on the go for almost 2 weeks, it was a change to be somewhere slow with such an intense history, and our time there was sobering and thought-provoking. There is a lovely park we visited dedicated to the bomb victims. As well as this, there is a castle and river to walk along as well as lots of great places to splash the cash.
Do you have a place you've wanted to visit since you were a kid?