Travelling has been running through my veins for about ten years. Having explored some forty countries, I had never set foot in Asia.
Beyond the popular Thailand and Bali, we wanted to discover the best of Japanese culture. We wanted to experience the modernity of Japan, but also to be charmed by a more traditional Japan.
Our twelve-day journey took us from Tokyo to Osaka. Embark on a journey to the land of the rising sun!
When I’m shopping for a plane ticket and have the luxury of time, I greatly appreciate long layovers, which allow me to explore another country before settling in at my final destination.
This time, flying with Air China from Montreal, I took advantage of a 23-hour stopover in the Chinese capital to taste the famous Peking duck and to discover the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace. It should be noted that very short stays on Chinese soil do not require a visa.
The next day, we took the last flight to Tokyo.
As I stepped into the terminal, I got a SIM card . Some preparatory research had led us to the conclusion that it was much easier to get one directly at the airport. Also, our itinerary did not require the purchase of a train pass, which is quite expensive.
Then, having collected our luggage, we boarded a shuttle bus that would take us to a station very close to our hotel. There were many efficient and affordable ways to leave the airport. Thus, late in the evening, we set foot in our room of the Moxy Tokyo Kinshicho, a very recent hotel chain of the Marriott group.
Too excited to leave to discover the effervescent Tokyo, this first night was rather short. In the early morning, I left the hotel and discovered disciplined Japanese people in a hurry to get to their workplace.
For my part, by the greatest of coincidences, I came face to face with the much desired Japanese cherry tree in bloom. Total happiness! We really hoped to see some, although the flowering had not yet started in earnest.
Then, having joined my fellow travelers, we set out to conquer a modern Japan. The capital is full of districts, each more effervescent than the other. Ueno and Akihabara, in which you can immerse yourself in the manga and video game culture, are probably the most popular.
Above all, don’t miss the Shibuya intersection, which is sometimes compared to New York’s Times Square.
During rush hour, at the pedestrian signal, up to 3,000 people can cross at the same time! For a great view of this impressive scene, go to the Starbucks Café on the second floor of one of the street corners.
In the evening, Shinjuku offers countless restaurants and shops, but what really catches the eye are the thousands of illuminated signs that form a very characteristic Japanese portrait. In addition, the dense crowd makes for a magical moment!
Moreover, a trip to the land of the rising sun is certainly not complete without a sushi meal. However, before arriving at the restaurant, the fish goes through the now famous Toyosu Fish Market.
The most courageous will be able to get up in the early hours of the morning to attend the auction of the new arrivals. However, only a handful of tourists will have access to the small room set up for this show.
Then, it will be possible to taste the fish on the spot in one of the few restaurants of the market. Again, head to the old Tsukiji fish market and wander through the stalls. The freshness of the tuna sliced in front of you will definitely impress you!
Mount Fuji is undeniably part of Japanese culture. If you plan to go there on a weekend or during the high tourist season, it is better to prepare your travels well to avoid bad surprises.
The train going there can quickly be full. Then your only option would be the bus. When you leave the station, head for the Chureito pagoda. Once there, you will be instantly captivated by the beauty of the panorama and the zenitude of the place.
Going there during the Japanese cherry blossom season (usually around the end of March) makes the moment clearly more spectacular. Imagine the snow-covered summit of the mountain, the pagoda and a carpet of flowers: love at first sight guaranteed!
After four nights in Tokyo, we were now on the second leg of this journey. We then had to head to Kyoto, where a more authentic Japan was waiting to be discovered.
To get there, flying may seem faster and cheaper, but with airports located far from both city centres, travel time and costs quickly increase beyond the cost and time of the flight. The high-speed train was necessary.
And why not jump on the original Shinkensen, which travels at over 300 km/h and connects the two cities in about two hours. You might as well live the Japanese experience all the way!
Once in Kyoto, we checked into the Lake Biwa Marriott Hotel for another four nights. At first glance, the hotel may seem far from the heart of the city, but it offers a shuttle service to a train station that connects to the city centre in about 20 minutes. The accommodation costs are obviously much lower.
Kyoto immerses the visitor in a most traditional Japan. Former captial of the country, there are several palaces, temples and sanctuaries. The most famous is certainly that of Fushimi Inari-taisha.
From the orange bridge to the top of the mountain where the goddess of commerce is worshipped, it is a typically Japanese experience. In your journey, don’t forget to cross the bamboo forest of Arashiyama.
Also, you should not miss the geisha district. The pedestrian alley of Hokanji temple is totally beautiful.
Going there at sunset definitely makes the visit even more charming. Take time to stop and contemplate. You will have the impression of being literally immersed in another era.
Moreover, the Japanese women who parade in front of you with their traditional costume will add to the magic of the moment.
Don’t miss the Pontocho alley where you can easily find a place to have a snack.
In addition, admiring the authentic Japanese houses and gardens is also a must.
The Gion district must be explored. By day, as well as by night! At nightfall, the pedestrian streets are lit by small lanterns. How could you not succumb to the Japanese charm?
You should plan for one day to discover the old royal palace and the summer palace. It may be a bit far from the city center, but it is definitely worth the trip. On the one hand, walking barefoot on the floor of the Ninjo Imperial Palace with its rice paper walls will transport you straight into a movie!
On the other hand, the Golden Pavilion, a former summer palace and actually covered in gold, offers, with its lake and the surrounding vegetation, a view worthy of a painting.
You may need to pinch yourself to realize the true beauty of the place. To end the day, take a seat at a restaurant serving the legendary soba noodle soup or the tasty pork tempura Tonkatsu. You won’t be disappointed!
To finish this trip, we jumped back on the train and headed to Osaka. After wisely shopping for plane tickets, we had opted to fly back to Canada from this other Japanese megalopolis. It is always interesting not to have to retrace our steps to start again from where we arrived.
So, after a short regular train ride, we arrived at the Courtyard Shin-Osaka, conveniently located in a huge train station in the heart of the city. The trip to the airport early in the morning two days later was going to be very easy.
Osaka Castle is certainly the most photographed monument in the city. With good reason! It is a real architectural wonder.
Bubble tea and melonpan (traditional small cake with ice cream) in hand, take the time to sit and admire it. In addition, like its big sister Tokyo, Osaka also has a very lively trendy district.
Dotonbori, at any time of day, is the Mecca of Japanese entertainment: shows, rides, video games, karaoke, shops, restaurants.
Sometimes a little kitsch, you will certainly have fun there! All in all, it takes only one day to tour the city. We chose to end our stay there because Osaka’s geographical location brought us closer to Himeji, often described as the emblem of Japan.
So, the next day, we had another taste of Japanese train rides and set off to discover Himeji Castle, the last stop on this adventure. The small town is undeniably much less touristy. The main reason for visiting this place is its castle.
Built over 600 years ago, the ancient fortress survived the bombing of Himeji during World War II. When you enter the courtyard, you are immediately plunged head first into history. It is a fascinating visit that is worth your time. It takes about half a day to get there from Osaka.
At the end of a two-week escapade, we’ll remember that Japan offers a change of scenery in two acts: a country with a rich history and a modern people who are undeniably avant-garde! All in all, this trip to the Land of the Rising Sun is still at the top of the list of the 43 countries we have had the chance to explore so far.
To see more of my adventures, join me on social networks by searching for Francis Blogue-Trotteur!