Japan is so different from every other country I have visited, I kept being surprised and impressed by this beautiful country with its kind inhabitants. Everything is perfectly organized, which makes it really easy to have a relaxed travel experience and still be able to see many sights in a short time. In this post I will give you an overview of my favorite experiences in Japan. Japan is one of the only countries that made me feel homesick after arriving in the Netherlands. It would be easier to make a list of what not to visit in Japan as I pretty much loved every sight we visited.
Hiking the Nakasendo trail
We stayed at the amazing ryokan Tokonamiso, which is located in the Japanese Alps. From there you can walk a part of the Nakasendo trail. This is an old postal route, where the villages Tsumago and Magome are kept in a traditional style. It feels like you are stepping back in time, which was really special. You also pass the Kiso Valley, so this trail has the perfect combination of nature and culture. The hike and the transfers to the hike took us a full day, with the hike actually taking a few hours.
Spotting Geishas in Gion, Kyoto
As a preparation for our Japan trip I read Memoirs of a Geisha and became infatuated with the idea of a Geisha. I was super surprised that there still were actual Geishas in the Gion neighborhood in Kyoto. We took a tour with a guide and after that tour we were able to spot real Geishas ourselves. Gion is especially beautiful during sunset and we also noticed that a lot of Geishas switch location during sunset, which increases your chance of spotting one. However they are super quick, so make sure you have your camera ready!
A Kaiseki dinner is a traditional, multicourse meal, which we found an amazing cultural experience. We had our Kaiseki dinner in our hotel in the Japanese Alps, but Kyoto also offers many restaurants where you can experience it. We loved the unique textures and flavors of the food that was offered, but if you are a conservative eater this activity is probably not for you as we also had courses such as horse sashimi. We stayed in Tokonamiso and had the dinner in the sister hotel Fuki-no-Mori, where we received excellent explanations about the courses as well. Don’t forget to try the plum wine!
Mario Kart in Tokyo
This was on my “have to do” list when we were in Tokyo. Basically you get dressed in a funny outfit and kart through Tokyo. We did this tour during sunset, so you first get to drive while it is still light outside, you leave the city for a bit via the Rainbow Bridge and when you enter the city again you can enjoy all the lights. The Rainbow Bridge is a must for your itinerary as you can speed up significantly on this bridge.
Visiting the Miho Museum
I first noticed this museum because Louis Vuitton’s fashion show was held here and quickly added it to our Japan travels. The artwork is great (depending on the exhibition), but we especially loved the architecture and the position within the mountains and a forest. The museum is designed by architect I.M. Pei who also designed the glass pyramids in the Louvre and is a must for architecture lovers.
Cycling in Kyoto
We took a cycling tour with Cycle Kyoto. We are Dutch and we love to cycle everywhere and doing a cycle tour meant having a guide for the day to explain us about Japanese culture. We took a tour of the less popular sights in Kyoto, which really took you in the back alleys, so you could really see how people actually live. Our guide was super informative and attentive.
Bathing in an Onsen in the Japanese Alps
Most of the time we stayed in hotels that had an onsen (hoth bath). This was perfect to relax after a busy day of sightseeing and added a perfect holiday component to our trip. There are private onsens, but we usually joined the communal onsens (men and women are separated) which had to be entered naked. Part of the tradition is washing yourself before you enter the onsen, sometimes in front of a mirror. The Japanese really take time to do this and I found it a really intimate moment with myself. The most beautiful onsen we visited was in the Japanese alps, but we also had one with Mount Fuji view, which was very impressive as well.
Evening walks in Tokyo
Tokyo offers a perfect combination of modern architecture and more traditional neighborhoods. I thought it was best to experience this at night. We stayed in the Asakusa area, where the Senso-ji temple is located. This temple was magical to visit at night, it was super quiet and mystical. On the other hand Tokyo offers the neon lights of Akihabara, Shinjuku and Ginza.
Dining in Piss alley
“Piss alley” in Shinjuku, Tokyo is a perfect way to experience the past of Tokyo. Just off the streets with the neon lights, there are small alleys, where you have restaurants which usually offer only one type of meal. We dined in a super small bbq restaurant which was specialized in eel. You take place at the bar, between the Japanese workmen, who try to make small talk with you, which is a lot of fun.
Visiting the Fushimi Inari Shrine
You have probably seen pictures of the red shrines of Fushimi Inari, as it is a really popular activity. I also loved visiting this location, as the shrines are really beautiful in combination with the light and the Chinese tourists dressed up in kimonos.
Daytripping Hiroshima and Miyajima
With the bullet train it is possible to take a day trip to Hiroshima and Miyajima from Kyoto, this takes just over 1,5 hours one way. In Hiroshima we visited the Peace Memorial Museum and the Memorial itself. Having studied the atomic bomb in high school it was really special to visit this place, even though it makes you really sad. The memorial is located in a neighbourhood that started to flourish again, which is a strange idea. It is easy to make a combination with Miyajima, where you will be charmed by the shrine which is located in the water and the deer.
Craziness in Dotonbori, Osaka
Dotonbori is the most bombastic area in Osaka. It is a really cool spot to have sushi from a sushi belt, get a massage, watch the Japanese play video games and take pictures of your surroundings.