(A Whirlwind) 23 Days in Japan


Osaka to Hiroshima to Kyoto to Shizuoka to Tokyo and finally Sapporo.

I’m tired.

I knew this would be an exhuasting 23 days. When you try to fit in as much of Japan as possible on your first trip there (oh you can bet I plan to make more) and end up spending 2/3 days (maybe 4 if you’re lucky) in each city, it’s tiring. Even when I was in Korea, thinking about the upcoming Japan leg was exhausting.

And so, beloved author (moi!) writes this as she goes, because the idea of writing this after her 23 days is just no.

Osaka

I flew into Osaka from Busan and arrived at my hostel around 3pm. I scored a great deal for about $18/night near the Osaka Loop Line, which meant I could use my JR Pass to access Osaka station (which could then take me to the subway for local sights and Shin-Osaka for long distance trains). This was perfect because my plan was two days of city sights with one major daytrip to Matsuyama.

On day one I explored around Osaka Castle, a convenient 7 minute train ride from my accommodation. Besides the castle itself, the surrounding gardens were gorgeous and significantly less crowded than the immediate castle grounds. I also had a delicious matcha softserve (a definite highlight of the Japan trip in general!).

Day two was a four hour train trip (both ways) to visit and bathe in the Dogo Onsen, one of the oldest onsens in Japan. I chose the second-tier Kami no Yu experience, which gave me access to the more private public path, with tea and cookies after in the lounge area along with a yukata rental (fun fact: the difference between a kimono and yukata is the fabric! A kimono is made of silk while a yukata is made of cotton). I was super relaxed the entire time, and was the only foreigner, and so this felt like a true local experience (until I left, when I saw a European couple come in). Bonus? The onsen allows tattoos.

For my last day I visited the Mamofoku Ando Instant Ramen Museum (also called the cup noodles museum). As my nickname is Noodley, this was a no-brainer in terms of visiting. Admission is free, and I highly recommend renting an audio guide as signage in English in minimal. You can also design your own instant ramen cup and create your own instant ramen mix for 300 yen, but it was in high demand and accepting no more people by the time I got there. Afterwards I headed down to explore Dotonburi walking street. I snacked on takoyaki and beef croquette, took in the giant neon signs, and people-watched (honestly, one of my favourite activities). I bought a drawing from a kind old man (one of the cheapest and easiest things to bring home after travels), and a polka-dot long-sleeved shirt (something I’d been thinking about buying when I returned home, but an opportunity showed itself and I took it). I arrived at around 3:30pm, which allowed me to observe the street in the day, and lit up in the evening.

Hiroshima and Miyajima

Since I only had two days in Hiroshima, I caught an early train out of Osaka. It was a rainy day, and my waterproof jacket finally got some use after the frigid frigid volcanic trek in Indonesia. I arrived at my accommodation around 1pm, dropped off my bags, borrowed a communal umbrella, and made my way to the Peace Memorial Park. Due to the rain, the Peace Museum was quite crowded, but I was of the mind that visiting there first would give me  a greater appreciation for the Park and A-Bomb Dome. I was correct. I’m a self-proclaimed history buff, and as horrific as many war stories and truths are, it’s something we as humans have done for years, and something we need to face, teach, and learn about and from. One thing that really stood out to me was how it wasn’t until the creation of the Shinkansen system that school frield trips to Hiroshima were possible, thus opening the educational opportunities for many kids who will hopefully never have to live through the effects of a nuclear weapon or war.

The rain created a heavy (and appropriate atmosphere) as I wandered the park afterwards, taking in the various memorial sculptures. The A-Bomb Dome was extraordinary to witness in person, and there were lots of educational signs in English. I took the evening easy in order to soak in everything I had just read and seen, and to dry off.

The next morning, after an amazing french toast breakfast at the cutest cafe literally steps from my hostel (Kefe Lega, for those interested), I embarked to Miyajima. I had planned for a few hours on the island, but only spent about 1.5 hours there. The sun was really strong and it was very humid, so I wasn’t the happiest. Or the most comfortable. While the floating gate is obviously the hightlight of the island, I spent most of my time at the Daoshin temple, about a 10minute walk from the ferry pier. I highly recommend making a visit to this temple when on Miyajima. There are loads of beauitfully adorned shrines, and a pathway with about 500 stone figures, all with different facial expressions, and with little crocheted hats. I spent a good hour at the temple and had I not been sweating from my bones could have easily spent an hour more.

Tip: If you’re a JR Pass Holder, Hiroshima operates a free hop-on hop-off bus. There are three different routes, and they all start and end at Hiroshima Station. I used it to see Hiroshima Castle, then got off at Peace Memorial Park and walked back to my hostel. Definitely worth it if you have the pass!

Kyoto
So. Three days here was not enough. Especially if you only have the energy for filling half your day with sightseeing, like myself. On my first day I took advantage of what the forecast told me would be the last sunny day and took the train to Nara. I fed the adorable bowing deer, and visited Kasuga Taisha Shrine and Toda-ji (the temple that houses the largest bronze Buddha in the world). I got a giant mochi on the way to the park, and liked it so much that I bought three more on the way back to the hostel for snacking.

The next day I woke up 7am and left at 7:30 for Fushimi-Inari Shrine, arguably one of the most famous attractions in Japan. The hundreds of vermillion torii gates lead you up Mount Inari, and there is no admission fee. While there were more people at the morning hour than I would’ve liked, it was not comparable to the amount starting the ascent as I ended mine. Plus, it started to rain quite heavily as I finished, but I had used the rainy forecast as a hope that people would avoid outdoor excursions. For the most part, both my tactics worked, as closer to the top of the mountain I had many portions of the trail all to myself. One of my favourite things about this trail was that there are many smaller shrines off the larger path, and you can get them all to yourself if you need a break from people (me everyday). I loved marvelling at the numerous fox guardian statues and little amulets hanging everywhere for good luck. At the end of my adventure I headed out for soba noodles as the many many stairs up the mountain had made me very hungry.

For my last day I had a list of temples to choose from. I ended up choosing Ninna-ji (for its garden) and Nanzen-ji (for its aquaduct). It was raining on and off, but was very humid. I suspect that this gross weather combination was why I had Ninna-ji basically to myself (I saw a total of around 20 people during the hour I spent there). There is something so relaxing about exploring a temple complex and garden with no voices and footsteps to deter from the moment. The rain gently falling on the conifers made this experience something that’s hard to put into words. And afterwards, I headed to Nanzen-ji to look at an aquaduct. Yes, that was all I did.

Shizuoka
To visit a friend, and see Mount Fuji. Sadly, during our trip to the Chureito Pagoda, the cloud cover only gave us a small glimpse of the peak (cue my mutterings of “stupid Fuji” for the next 2 hours). We saw some brilliant clear views as we were leaving, of course. But we also enjoyed a giant bowl of udon noodles specific to the Yamanashi region (Hoto). If you’re planning to do something related to Mount Fuji sightseeing, check the weather beforehand, and start early (or even make a day trip out of it). I used my second day to explore the Sunpu Castle ruins, then spent the afternoon in a coffee shop preparing for Tokyo.

Tokyo
I fell in love on my first day. Maybe it had something to do with the teahouse I visited which I imagined visiting everyday if I lived there. Maybe it was the numerous things to do and see and eat, or the fact that I took the most wonderful new style hustle class. Regardless, I am making my way back whether the city likes it or not.

After arriving and checking in at my hostel in the afternoon, I found myself with a little extra energy, and so decided to visit Hama-Rikyu Gardens. I expected something similar to Stanley Park in Vancouver, and I couldn’t have been more wrong, This was basically a nature-lovers oasis in the middle of one of the busiest cities in the world. And the most beautiful teahouse where I indulged in delicious matcha and a sweet. I was so calm during that afternoon. As I had arrived around 2:30pm, it wasn’t too crowded. I walked around the paths, photographing the birds and plants, and spent about 30minutes marvelling at the flower garden with the brightly coloured cosmos flowers.

On my second day I made my way to Ueno to spend the morning at the Tokyo National Museum. Admission was only $7 for the 4 buildings that were open, housing Japanese collections, Asian collections (central, south, east), and donated collections. I got there right at opening, which was a good decision. I made my way to the Honkan building first to visit the Japanese paintings, sculptures, and displays. In the Toyokan (Asian Gallery) there was a cool hands on activity where you could design a postcard using traditional Japanese motifs. I’m not the most artisitically inclined, so I wasn’t super pleased with my finished product, but it definitely makes a unique memento. One of the buildings, the Gallery of  Horiyu-ji Treasures, was essentially empty; and thus I recommend checking out its exhibitions should you find yourself in the museum complex looking for a moment alone.

Afterwards I walked along the Ameya-Yokocho shopping street. I scored a $5 dress at a used clothing store and a $7 sweater (muahaha).

My second full day brought the rain and the cold (which I was actually thankful for because I had been sweating so much over the last several months). It set the atmosphere for my walk to Meiji shrine. I got here around 9am and it was just starting to get busy. I bought a fortune (because I drew #16 which is my favourite number) and took some pictures, then walked to Harajuku to look around. Due to the rain, it wasn’t as busy as I expected. My main reason for exploring the area, though, was for pancakes. I went to Rainbow Pancake shop and got their Macadamia Nut Sauce Pancakes which were so delicious and perfect for the rainy day. I took the JR line to Shibuya afterwards to take in the scramble intersection, but it wasn’t as busy as I expected.

With more rain expected the following day, I planned out a super “treat yo’self” day involving brunch at Suke6 Diner, tea and dessert at the Aoyama Flower Market Teahouse, and sushi at the popular conveyer belt restaurant Genki Sushi. Worth it. In the evening I relaxed at a public bath ($5 for an amazing facility) that, to my luck, allowed tattoos (apparently because Yakuza use the baths according to a hostel worker…didn’t see any, though).

My final day, and I found myself on the way to Roppongi for a sunday morning new style hustle class. I was so excited. I never expected to love a dance style as much as I do new style hustle, and to attend a class internationally was an amazing experience. Everyone was super friendly and I realized just how much I missed hustle.

Sapporo

Oh my where to start…as soon as I got on the train to continue from the last Shinkansen station onwards to Sapporo I couldn’t stop looking out the window. Mountains, the ocean, and the most glorious shades of autumn leaves on EVERY TREE. I fell in love immediately (I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve said that BUT IT’S ALWAYS TRUE). As I stepped off the train I squealed because, to my delight, IT WAS COLD. Not the type of cold that comes from being out in the rain, but the crisp air that comes with west coast autumn mornings. I likely had the stupidest grin on my face as I walked to my hostel.

Sapporo is unusual in that it was developed in the American style grid pattern, making navigation super easy. I was under the impression that I’d be able to fit in one day in the city itself, with two day trips to other areas in Hokkaido. How wrong I was. I spent the three days NOT leaving the city because there was so much to do. Also I’m very very lazy.

Upon recommendation from a friend I made in my hustle class, I first visited the Ishaya chcolate factory (also known as Shiroi Koibito Park). This Hokkaido company is famous for their specialty white chocolate biscuits. They have a history section with many vintage cups, saucers, and pots for hot chocolate. One of the floors describes the history of the company and how the biscuits are produced. You get to look into the production line as well through a window, which I found fascinnating to watch. There’s also a cafe on the upper floor, with a wonderful view of the surrounding mountains. I splurged on a very decadent hot chocolate with orange liquer. No regrets. The gift shop was complete and total mania…tourists left right and centre grabbing boxes upon boxes of biscuits. However, once exiting, I was greeted by a beautiful courtyward area with lots of seasonal decorations. Once I made my way back I stopped off at Odori Park and the underground shopping arcade (which was mainly drugstores…but I did fine some interesting flavours of kit kat to send to my family and scored a $3 top from a lady selling secondhand clothes).

My second day was filled with all things beer (and some cats) as I journeyed over to the Sapporo Beer Museum (I got very lost on the way there THANKS CONSTRUCTION FOR BLOCKING THE ROUTE). The museum is free to enter (unless you want a premium tour but I don’t actually know what that entails) and has english descriptions for the history of Sapporo Beer right from it’s creation up until current days. Afterwards I spent 600 yen on a very generous flight of tasters and if you know me you know I rarely drink so 600mL of alcohol all to myself is a rarity…and needless to say I got very tipsy. I spent the next 20 minutes walking outside determining the best place for lunch, as the museum grounds also houses five beer gardens. I tried the local dish “Genghis Khan” which is essentially grilled lamb, veggies, and rice. A very satisfying day.

I managed to fit in a bit more on my last full day in Japan. I walked around the beautiful Hokkaido University campus and got to witness just how yellow ginkgo trees turn in the autumn. My heart was full of beautiful autumn leaves and my lungs with fresh, crisp, autumn air (seriously I stopped in the middle of some places just to take a few deep breaths). After a brief recharge at my hostel (for my feet and phone) I toured the botanical gardens of the university. While I’m certain spring and summer are the better times to visit since most things bloom in that period, it made for a nice 1.5 hour walk. Plus the greenhosue was warm and housed some interesting species. Afterwards it was time to visit the observation deck on the 38th floor of the JR Tower. There was a decently priced cafe and thus indulged in some cake and tea. It was a wonderful way to spend my last evening; just relaxing and enjoying the beautiful views, and watching as the city lit up and afternoon turned to dusk and then evening.

I admit, when this trip was still in the planning stages Japan seemed more of a convenient country to visit between South Korea and Taiwan as opposed to a place I was stoked on visiting. After 23 days though, it is so obvious why people make multiple visits here (despite me not really being able to put it into words). There’s so much I need to come back and do…I want to spend longer than 3 hours in Matsuyama (more like 3 days) and definitely want to explore all that Hokkaido has to offer. Arigatou, Japan; I leave with a few weeks left in this gran travel scheme and thank you for your food, people, scenery, and hospitality.

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