My trip to Japan was absolutely amazing. It is a world of its own. It was wonderful to experience the people, food, history, and culture in my visit of two weeks. I feel that it changed my world view. Seeing the hectic life of salarymen in Tokyo, experiencing the laid-back life in small towns such as Kawaguchiko and Miyajima, and admiring the preserved temples and traditions in Kyoto; this trip has definitely opened up my perspective of how the Japanese people live their lives. It was as if I was able to see it all through the looking glass.
In this blog post I will give you an overview of my 14 days in Japan. It was a jam-packed trip, but I was happy with my pace. If there is anything I would change, I would stay longer in Kawaguchiko (at least 2 nights instead of just one). In order to give you an overview of my trip, I’ll present the general itinerary in this first post.
Day 1: East Gardens of the Tokyo Imperial Palace
On my first day, I visited the East Gardens of the Tokyo Imperial Palace, the official residence of the Imperial Family.
Some of the attractions that can be seen inside the Imperial East Gardens include the foundation of the former Edo Castle and Ninomaru (Japanese Garden).
Outside the compound of the gardens, rows of trees, called Kokyo Garden, can be seen on the way to the Meganibashi Bridge. This stone bridge is called Meganibashi because it looks like an Eyeglass bridge when reflected by water.
From the East Gardens of the Tokyo Imperial Palace, I took the train to Ginza, a very popular commercial district known for its high-end shops and restaurants.
Day 2: Asakusa and Tokyo Skytree
For the 2nd day in Tokyo, I met my new Japanese friend Tsubasa and we went to Asakusa to visit Sensoji Temple. It was packed with both Japanese and non-Japanese tourists!
We entered thru the Kaminarimon Gate where a huge lantern was on display to welcome the temple-goers. Inside, I bought a couple of study charms called omamori.
We walked towards Sumida Park with a good view of the Tokyo Skytree and nearby buildings. Another building that stands out is the Asahi building with the yellow huge icon.
We went up the Tokyo Skytree, the largest tower in Tokyo, and viewed the city from the 450th meter high.
Day 3: Odaiba
I went back to Sumida Park to ride the Tokyo Water bus going to Odaiba, a huge shopping complex with different themes and attractions. Unfortunately, I missed the giant Gundam display in front of Diver City.
I did see a mini-Legoland Center in Decks Tokyo Beach and lots of centers specializing in different Japanese cartoon characters, such as Hello Kitty. There is a shopping mall called Palette Town which contains Venus Fort patterned after a South European town.
I spent the rest of my day touring the Toyota Megaweb located inside the same mall. It is a giant Toyota showroom that shows off many of Toyota’s past and current models, but also includes other vintage makes of automobiles.
Later that evening, I went up the observatory of Tokyo Metropolitan Building to view the city at night. The North Tower is open until 11 pm. I was able to take a glimpse of the Yoyogi Tower and Tokyo Tower from afar.
Day 4: Tokyo to Kawaguchiko
Leaving Tokyo, I took several trains to get to Gotemba Station. From there, I rode a bus going to the sleepy, chilly, town of Kawaguchiko. I arrived in Kawaguchiko station at around noon. The station is very lovely and the town is very traditionally Japanese.
Ryokans don’t come cheap. This is the most expensive accommodation I availed in my Japan trip. Having said that, my room had the perfect view of Mt. Fuji so I think it’s sulit. I could stare at it from my balcony all day if only it was not so chilly.
In the late afternoon I walked along the edge of Lake Kawaguchiko and prepared for the sunset. Mt. Fuji is so beautiful. I was very lucky the day was clear as I only had one night to spend here. (See my tip above.)
Day 5: Kawaguchiko to Kyoto
I spent almost all day travelling to Kyoto. Instead of taking the bus, I chose to take the train, which meant circling the mountain, rather than traversing over the edges of it. This required more kilometers and transfers. I arrived in Kyoto just before dusk and spent the night touring the immense Kyoto Station.
At one end there is a high set of steps with lights in the risers which display changing lights. The restaurants are found between the 6th and 10th floors and there is so much space it’s very easy to get lost.
Day 6: Kyoto Day 1 Temples
I spent three full days in Kyoto, just touring the temples. On the first day, I was able to visit 3 sites. First, I went to visit Nijo Castle or Nijojo, a UNESCO Heritage site and the home of the first shogun of the Edo era in Japan.
Next stop was the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. It was a little bit of a disappointment because there were too many people when I went there and the crowd was overwhelming. Maybe I’ll talk later about avoiding ‘Golden Week’ in your future travels.
The final stop, my favorite, was the Kinkakuji Temple or the Golden Pavilion.
Day 7: Kyoto Day 2 Temples
For some reason, I got very enthusiastic about the temples on this day and was able to visit 7 sites! It was surely a busy day touring temples.
I visited Toji Temple, Nishi Honganji Temple, Kitano-tenmangu Shrine, Daitokuji Temple, Kamo-gawa River.
Then I went to Ginkakuji or Silver Pavilion patterned after Kinkakuji.
Along the route inside Ginkakuji was a meticulously maintained dry sand garden with a view of the temple from afar.
Last on my list was Kiyomizudera. I did not enjoy this visit. The temple itself was under construction and the hordes of people were beginning to become intolerable.
Day 8: Fushimi Inari-taisha
On my third day in Kyoto, I got so tired I decided to rest for the day. I just roamed around the underground shopping mall near Kyoto station and bought beautiful boxes of rice delicacies.
In the evening I decided to visit Fushimi Inari-taisha, which was definitely better to visit at night. This temple is open 24 hours a day.
It was a little spooky and a bit chilly as well. However, there were zero crowds and no photobombers. You can set up and take all the time you need to shoot that perfect Instagrammable picture. Nobody will bother you. Except for the mumu, maybe.
Day 9: Universal Studios Japan – Osaka
I took an early train from Kyoto to Osaka to maximize my day in Universal Studios. I had only one agenda for this day and that was to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I was pleasantly surprised that there was not much of a crowd on that day. I suppose the tourists started to go home already since this day was the last day of the Golden Week holidays.
Anyway, I was able to go in and out of the area without any wait in line. I spent most of my time at Universal Studios Japan inside the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and enjoyed the Hogwarts 4D Ride, Flight of the Hippogriff Ride, and visiting all of the stores in Hogsmeade. Everything else in USJ pales in comparison to Harry Potter.
Day 10: Himeji Castle / Miyajima
I took the train from Kyoto and stopped at Himeji Station. I put all my stuff inside a coin locker and walked to Himeji Castle.
All castles in Japan look similar, but this one is supposed to be the grandest of them all. It is one of the 12 original surviving castles in Japan that were never damaged by earthquake, fire, or war.
I took the train from Himeji to Miyajimaguchi and then the ferry to the island town. I arrived at the sleepy island town of Miyajima at around 5pm.
And it was truly sleepy. At 5 pm, the shops, stores and restaurants are either closed or about to shut down for the day. There are restaurants that are open until 10 pm but those are high-end. This is very similar to the Mt. Fuji (Kawaguchico) town that I went to and a very nice and well-needed contrast to my busy days and nights in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka.
Day 11: Miyajima / Hiroshima
I went to the very red shrine of Itsukushima and witnessed a Japanese couple having their wedding photoshoot in traditional wedding attire.
It was raining non-stop but I still visited a couple of the surrounding temples. There was a temple that boasted a healing buddha which took care of my tired and sore back. It was a solemn thing to experience.
After lunch I took the ferry back to Hiroshima. I tried to explore the city but I was hindered by heavy rains. I was only able to see the Atomic Bomb Dome and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial.
Day 12: Miyajima to Tokyo
Practically the whole day was spent traveling on trains. If you can, use the Kansai (Osaka) airport as the exit point. One of the things I miss from Japan is the vending machines with ice cream, coffee, snacks, and different beverages. Every train platform has more than one.
Day 13: Tokyo Tower
I deliberately saved this attraction for last. I love this tower. I have a huge nanoblock model of it at home.
It was not as popular as the Skytree (I suppose because it is shorter and older) but it has a great deal of charm. I went up to the 150th meter high and was able to see the city views in so much detail.
Japan is known to the world as a modern country because of its high-tech industry and quirky gadgets, but they have the greatest respect for Nature and traditions. Tree therapy is a good example of this.
Day 14: Tokyo to Manila
It’s impossible to really know a place in just a small amount of time, and in the case of Japan, it was incredibly complex and difficult.
All good things come to an end. Time to go home but I will be back. :)))