This is a summary of my first ever trip to Japan. I travelled in the first 2 weeks of Spring 2018, so it was cool and cherry blossoms were around, but not yet in full bloom.
The itinerary involved a fair bit of cross-country travel but was also quite relaxed, sampling a little of every place and avoiding more active pursuits such as hikes.
See also: Japan Shopping Haul
Tokyo: 4 nights
Hiroshima: 2 nights
Miyajima: 2 nights
Kyoto: 3 nights
Takayama: 2 nights
Tokyo: 1 night
Key purchases: Local SIM, Japan Rail Pass.
Very useful: Hyperdia search tool, Google Maps, Google Translate for images, GuruNavi app, Japan Travel app
Tokyo is of course a must-see. There are many districts catering to many tastes. Metro train travel is fairly straightforward, thanks to Google Maps’ handy public transportation feature. At Haneda airport, I bought a local SIM, which for 5BG and one month validity cost more than 5,000 JPY. That’s pretty expensive, so I’d recommend shopping around.
I also purchased my Pasmo card at the airport, which is for all metro trains in Japan. I loaded 10,000 JPY, and that was enough for me.
For those with JR passes, it’s quite easy to validate your pass and begin reserving bullet train seats. However, not every JR ticket office can process JR passes for the first time. Refer to your JR pass brochure for the exact locations. There is usually only one office in most major cities.
What I did
– Visit an Owl Cafe in Asakusa (featuring more than just owls – there was a capybara, fennec foxes, flamingoes, a cockatoo, a duck, and a monkey!)
– See the Sensō-Ji Temple
– Eat amazing ramen at Fuji Ramen in Asakusa
– Visit Ueno Park, which has a few museums too
– Check out the tech stores in Akihabara
– See the iconic Shibuya Crossing
– Visit Imperial Palace
– Shop at Daimaru and visit their food hall
– Go to a hedgehog cafe in Harajuku! So kawaii!!!
– Walk through the shopping streets of Ginza
– Have a lovely tempura banquet at Hakata tempura Takao Minami Aoyama
Also worth checking out: Skytree, a tower with viewing deck.
For all its renown, Hiroshima is a city of just 1 million. It’s pleasant with plenty of open spaces and a pretty river. Visiting the Peace Memorial Museum was a powerful, moving experience. There are shrines up in the hills which people can walk up to, but I chose to take one of three city bus tour routes (free with a JR pass). Try the Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, which is less pancakey and more like a pressed loaded noodle heap.
aka Deer Island! There are approximately 2,000 wild but placid deer roaming free. They can be friendly, but also very cheeky! Keep important papers carefully concealed, as the deer like chewing on paper and any other snacks they can find. To get here from Hiroshima, you need to take a half-hour metro train ride to Miyajimaguchi station, walk to the port and take the JR ferry, which is a pretty short ride (less than 30 mins).
I visited the aquarium and then spent the rest of my time at the ryokan I booked about a 20 minute walk away from the town centre, as breakfast and dinner was included. Again, there are scenic shrine walks with lovely views of the mainland. You also can’t miss the Floating Torii on the ferry over.
I wanted to check out Himeji castle on the way from Hiroshima to Kyoto, but it seemed a little too ambitious as a day trip. The train doesn’t stop for long at the smaller stations, and lugging my suitcase on and off the train a total of four times didn’t appeal. Perhaps for backpackers, this won’t be so much of an issue. Urban Kyoto was not particularly remarkable, in my opinion. The main drawcard was the Fushimi Inari, which was swarming with tourists. Nijō Castle was another place of interest. Curry was the dish of this city for me.
Onward to the alpine town of Takayama. I took the bullet train from Kyoto to Nagoya, then switched to a slow train. This 2-hour ride was a highlight of my trip. The train line runs along the mineral-rich Nagara River, with views to behold. Imagine brilliant teal water, sometimes rushing through dam openings, other times glassy and reflecting houses and mountains above. Spring comes late to Takayama, so there were still snow-capped mountains providing wonderful views.
I stayed at Takayama Ouan, which has private onsens on the top floor overlooking the town and mountains beyond. Another highlight of the trip!
Overall, my trip was a relaxing amble through the major attractions of Japan. There is of course more exploring to do. For my next Japan trip, a journey to Hokkaido would definitely be on the list.