We’re all packed up and ready to leave Japan now, so here’s looking back on our favourite bits, and not so favourite bits, from this last month…
The Best Bits
We met up with an Aussie friend for a day out to Nara Park, which is a beautiful day trip from Kyoto or Osaka. The place is full of ancient temples and shrines, as well as super cute deer which roam freely and nibble not-so-cutely at your clothes until you give them something to eat.
Nara is historically important as it was Japan’s first capital city, and it’s also known for being one of Japan’s top destinations for beautiful scenery. We especially enjoyed a sake tasting experience, where we tried five different kinds of sake – surprisingly all of them tasted completely different. Although I would still not actually choose to drink any of them…
Universal Studios Japan
USJ is pretty awesome… we’ve previously been to Universal Studios in America, but for my 30th we decided to visit the Japanese version. It was so cool! The Space Fantasy ride is the best ride I’ve ever been on – it’s just really fun and, added bonus, doesn’t make you feel sick. The rides were all really good to be honest, and the Harry Potter section was brilliant.
One of the best things about USJ though has to be the people… the Japanese visitors seem to have this kawaii (cute) culture thing where they dress the same as whoever they’re visiting the park with. We saw whole families going round dressed like minions, couples in matching snoopy costumes, teenagers dressed as sailor moon or school girls… even if it wasn’t a full on costume, so many people wore matching t shirts and jeans, or dresses, or hats… we’ve never seen anything like it.
Omg the fooood! This is without doubt the best country in our whole trip so far in terms of food. We were under the impression that in Japan we’d struggle with the vast amounts of fish we’d be forced to eat, but nothing could be further from the truth.
The dumplings… the noodles… the wagyu beef… the katsu curry… I could go on but I won’t because it’s making me hungry. Let’s just say the food is outstanding.
We are definitely more countryside people than city people, so getting out of Hiroshima to Miyajima Island was brilliant, although I wish we could have stayed longer. This one is definitely on the list of places to visit on the next Japan trip, whenever that may be.
We especially liked walking around at the top of Mt Misen, which has beautiful views over the inland sea. I’d like to come back in either spring or autumn when the weather is cooler – that way we can hike up the mountain from the very bottom rather than take the cable car.
Tokyo is an odd one… the city is simply too big to see everything, and too busy for us to want to spend huge amounts of time there. I feel like we barely scratched the surface…. We battled the crowds through Harajuku, goggled at the famously busy Shibuya crossing, watched the gamers in the bright lights of Akihabara arcades, and had some peace and quiet at Meiji Shrine, a green oasis in the crazy city.
All of the above was good, but one of our favourite things we’ve done in Tokyo is visit TeamLab Planets, which is a surreal digital art exhibit. You walk through a series of huge rooms, all of which interact with you in some way. There’s a room full of light, like you’re surrounded by millions of crystals, another where you’re walking through water up to your knees as digital koi carp swim past you, changing into flowers as they go. Yet another has giant bouncy balls that change colour when you touch them, and the effect ripples out. It’s hard to describe, but fun to experience. There’s another one in Tokyo called Borderless – that’s definitely on the list for next time too.
Kyoto is another place where we could have spent longer, but the Gion district for me has to be a highlight of our Japanese adventure. Windy alleyways full of wooden teahouses, tiny cocktail bars which seat only four or five people, geisha strolling about the streets, beautiful shrines and amazing food. It’s Japan as I imagined it in my head before coming here.
The Not So Great Bits
For all the great experiences, I guess you have to have some negatives, so here’s ours…
For us, the workaway experience was both good and bad. We learned a lot about beekeeping, which was great, but we felt our hosts took advantage of their guests’ willingness to work and learn. We also didn’t learn a huge amount about Japanese culture or history, and they weren’t too interested in hearing about England, as they’d both lived there before anyway, so the cultural exchange side of things didn’t really work out either – we were just free labour.
Harajuku in Tokyo is somewhere I went with high expectations – you hear all about the mad fashion and the Harajuku girls in their crazy outfits, but unfortunately the rest of the world has heard about it too. Now it’s just a tourist trap, and the Kawaii Monster Café (listed as one of the best things to do in Tokyo) is like Hello Kitty on acid… just with bad food, and worse prices. I suppose we had to have one bad food experience in Japan, but it’s a shame it had to be on our last day!
It’s been hot and sunny pretty much consistently for the last month, which is of course wonderful… if you had a swimming pool or were lazing about on the beach. Trying to stomp around a city or hike up a mountain in this humidity though? Not so much fun at all, we’ve both felt like a sweaty gross mess every day. This kind of weather definitely makes people grumpy too (ok, mostly me).
What we wish we’d done…
While the above shows what we actually experienced, we both feel like there’s so much more to see and do in Japan. Here’s the plan for next time…
Mario Kart racing through the streets of Tokyo: you can dress up as your favourite Mario Kart character and head out on a guided go-kart tour of Tokyo. We are absolutely gutted we didn’t get do this, but you need an international driving license to do it, so we need to remember that for next time
Sumo Wrestling: next time we want to watch a sumo tournament if we get chance, or at least go and watch the wrestlers practice. There’s also a food experience to eat as much as a sumo wrestler… Blakey will be signing up for that one I think.
Mount Fuji: We were meant to head out to Hakone on our final day in Japan, which is where you can do all sorts of outdoor activities, all with Mount Fuji looming in the distance. The cable car at Hakone is currently closed due to volcanic activity, so we decided this one will also have to wait for next time.
Cherry blossom season: Japanese people go crazy for the cherry blossoms in spring time, when the world goes pink and pretty for a few weeks. Also this would definitely be a busy time to visit Japan, it would also be the most beautiful, and the weather would be much milder so we’d be able to enjoy being outside without melting into a puddle of sweat.
So that’s it for Japan… Next stop: Singapore!