I travelled around Japan for a month in X on my own. Below is a map of the route I took.
It’s really tough picking the highlights now, I perhaps should wait a week until I reflect after looking at the photos and what not. Anyhow, here are my highlights picked before I’ve even got home!
I doubt number one will change to be honest. This probably changed my outlook on travelling completely. Whenever I go travelling next, yes, i’ll be ticking off the main sights but I will be hunting for more experiential stuff as it’s those you really remember.
You may have guessed by now but numero uno is my 3 hour Samurai Kembu lesson in Kyoto. Not only was it super interesting learning about the Samurai but to actually learn how to walk, bow, use a sword and fan like a Samurai was amazing. The show at the end by the staff just topped the day off completely. I’m really disappointed that the UK laws do not allow me to have a Samurai sword in my possession because I would have loved to have bought some of the fantastic examples I saw in and around Kyoto.
I think number 2 would be the festival at Nagoya Castle. I had read and knew that the great finds in Japan are when you stumble upon festivals, ceremonies and fireworks displays. I am so disappointed I didn’t get to see a Japanese firework display which is meant to be out of this world, but I was super grateful to stumble upon this.
After pushing myself to go to Nagoya castle with bleeding heels, I was rewarded by great music, castle lights, street foods, traditional Japanese dancing and everybody in traditional dress.
I loved Takayama in general, it was my kind of place and the visit to Hida Folk Village easily makes my top 5 and is in at number 3! The folk village where people of Hida lived centuries ago was so beautiful and interesting. The views, the houses and the craftsmen at work were mind boggling.
Number 4 is my day trip to Miyajima and climb up Mt Misen. It was a close one between my day trip to Nara which was so amazing too but I think the ferry ride to Miyajima means it just pips it (Nara is absolutely not to be missed though).
And my fifth choice is the spiritual trip and stay in a traditional Ryokan up Mount Koyasan. The train journey and ropeway are spectacular and the sights up Mt Koyasan equal the journey. The graveyard (Onukoin) in particular is unreal and the stay at the Ryokan was something to remember.
Three lowlights for me really. Number one was definitely my episode on Miyakojima trying to find Yoshino beach. I am still hugely grateful to the Japanese stranger who took 50 minutes out of his day to drive me back to my hotel.
The second is Shimabara, I found it a total nightmare. I spoke to somebody yesterday who said they found it charming so maybe it was a mixture of the rain and stories coming from the media that we were not going to sign anybody on deadline day (which was the following day.
Speaking of deadline day, the third is wasting time in Nagasaki watching SSN in the hope The Arsenal would not continue to be so deluded in thinking we can close a double figures points gap on the training field.
The transport in Japan is truly epic. The trains are on time, comfortable, quick and regular. The buses are simple to use, you pay as you go off and the increase in cost as the stops progress are clearly displayed. The taxis are not too expensive, the ferries are great and the internal flights are a dawdle!
The JR pass was a Godsend, worth every penny. The shinkansen (bullet trains) are pretty expensive so the JR Pass is well worth it if travelling around the country. The pass allows you cross country trains (operated by JR), some buses, the odd ferry and in the city transport in Osaka and Tokyo. All you have to do is flash the pass at the gate for unreserved and it is easy to reserve seats at the ticket offices. I reserved where I could because you never know if there’s a festival or something and the train could be full.
You can get 7, 14 or 21 day passes. Unfortunately, due to my Miyakojima week I had to pay more to split the passes (1 x 14 and 1 x 7) but I definitely made the dosh up and it has a certain value for ease of use anyway.
I’ve been extremely lucky with the weather. All of August was amazing and incredibly humid. This made for some tough walks but that’s what I wanted when I am away, hot and sunny!
As I got to the end of my trip I saw 2.5 days of rain. Shimabara and Kumamoto were pretty much rained out and the boat trip on Fuji day was grim. Other than that it’s been glorious and I’m very grateful for Tokyo bringing out the sun and the warmth for my last full day in Japan yesterday.
Obviously, Typhoon Gion made it so only 3.5 of my 7 days in Miyakojima were the glorious weather you want on a beach but it was kind of cool to see and it was still a very welcomed break from the trekking around the country.
I’ve always said I love rain, it’s the cold I don’t like, so even when it was raining for those few days, it was still really warm so the shorts and t-shirt were always on.
The food is amazing. I’m not brave enough to try totally random things, I like to know and like the main ingredients where possible.
The Sushi and Sashimi here has been understandably great and I’ve been brave and tried a few new ones.
The Yakisoba in Osaka with pork was delicious and would recommend it to the fussy eaters of the world.
Just typing about Kobe and Hida beef makes my mouth water. Kobe beef was incredible and Hida beef was not far behind. Even Miyako beef which did not compare to the other two but was still delicious.
The Gyoza I had in Hiroshima surprised me, I was totally brave getting that and it paid off. Nice cheap alternative to piling up on rice every meal.
The Japanese snacks are crazy and you never really know what you’re getting. I did try the fish stick street food though with bacon and asparagus which was great. In terms of packet snacks though, you’re never getting what you think you are 🙂
Sobasuta was the lovely dish I had in Shibuya and I’d recommend it to anybody heading to Tokyo.
Black burger king burger was a tick box exercise to say I’d had it, especially as it’s only on for a limited time each year. I won’t be going back for another though!
There are too many nice foods to mention, it’s amazing! If you’re adventurous with food, you’re going to be in heaven, if you’re a bit picky then the same for you but it’ll just be a bit more work to get there!
I think when I got to Kyoto I was templed/shrined out but there were some amazing ones on the way. Kinkaku-ji (Golden temple) in Kyoto was absolutely beautiful and the Fushimi Inari Kyoto was also pretty special because of the 2000+ gates.
I also loved Nara’s 5 storied pagoda (so much I bought a wooden version) and Meiji shrine in Tokyo was also pretty cool.
I would always advise people going anywhere in Asia to cherry pick the temples and fill up your time with more experiential stuff instead.
I think it was pretty obvious from the blog that I’m a fan of the castles. I think in total I visited 6 (Osaka, Kanazawa, Himeji, Nagoya, Shimabara, Kumamoto).
My favourites were definitely Kanazawa, Himeji and Nagoya. I think Nagoya makes the list because I visited at night and the festival was going on around the grounds which made it for me.
Japan can be weird and wonderful as well as peaceful and spiritual. The most bizarre experiences were definitely
Robot Restaurant – a unique show, not to be seen anywhere else in the world. Pandas riding cows and robots dancing to Ave Maria.
Maid Cafe – Cringeworthy and very Japan at the same time. Where else would a maid tell you to bless your food, make cat noises and do heart shapes with your hands? (don’t answer that you sickos, I don’t want to know where… London I bet)!
The English translations on marketing and branding could keep me occupied for months. I found myself in a shop to get a bottle of water, then walking around checking out labels of all products to find some golden nuggets! Some company is either pulling the biggest fast one there has ever been, or they just don’t give a shit about the translation, one of the two.
Things disappointed didn’t do
I am on disappointed I didn’t do two things really. The first is I didn’t do Karaoke. There’s less public karaoke in Japan and more private booth and travelling on my own and hopping so often meant I’d never hung around a group of people long enough to get involved in a Karaoke sesh. Maybe I will just need to get down the Tap and Spile, Brum next weekend to get all the Tom Jones greatest hits out of my system?
The other is Hashima island which is off Nagasaki. It was sold out when I tried to book early August (for September) so that was a shame. Hashima Island used to be the most densely populated place in Japan and was central to their coal industry. YouTube it, it’s nicknamed ‘Battleship Island’ and it looks amazing. I can’t imagine it being a massively populated city but it would have been nice to do the boat tour. I don’t think you’re allowed to roam anymore so it would have been standing on it but it was still something I’d have like to do.
It’s not something I was able to do because of the dates I was here (tournaments only held on specific dates) but I would have loved to have attended an all day Sumo event. I ticked off sport with a trip to see the Orix Buffaloes but I have a feeling Sumo would have been off the scale!
There’s a lot to be said about the Japanese people. I am in awe of their culture which is based on respect and spirituality. They’re a peaceful people and their culture is clearly the main reason their streets are clean, their crime is low, their recycling rates are high, it is not because of their council or public servants. We always look at the council/govt to place our blame but children here are brought up to respect the traditions of their country and to treat their land with respect. I spoke to a lot of people about this and they say teenagers go a bit wild here and parents allow it, but there comes a time where a parent then says ‘time to sort your life out’ and it’s basically accepted that once the parents say enough is enough, the teen then gets their head down and tries to achieve things in life such as a good career etc.
I wish I had a better grasp of the language so I could converse properly with these people, but you don’t need to speak Japanese to realise the above, it is all around you and visible constantly.
Things I’ll miss most
I will miss being taller than everybody. I have felt totally safe in Japan, that is the country though and not the fact that everybody is 5ft 10 maximum.
As I mentioned earlier, I am in awe of the people and culture and while the whole world is being westernised, I wish we could be Japanised in some areas.
I have loved this stewed five berries drink, I don’t know how I am going to function without it.
The beeping of the crossings are stuck in my head and i’ll be boop booping them for some time I bet.
The vending machines everywhere are so convenient! Granted, you don’t always desperately need water in the UK and beer in vending machines would be a nightmare back home, but here, they’re great.
Things I won’t miss
There is not much I won’t miss about this amazing country but there are a couple of things that got my goat.
Their crossings – takes forever to cross because nobody crosses until the green man, and the lights take forever!
Their pillows – You’d have probably read how I mostly got one pillow which did my head in but the little tiny loaf of bread pillows were the worst. The joy of getting two pillows was over quickly when I realised they were both filled with gravel on one side which is again common so they keep their shape. For somebody who subconsciously flips theirs the whole night, this is far from ideal.
The chorus of hellos and goodbyes by staff as you enter or leave a shop has gradually got on my tits more and more throughout the trip. I hate it in the UK when there’s a single welcome person at a shop, but for 7 or 8 shop staff to break into a hello, welcome or goodbye please come again in the classic Japanese squeaky lingo has been grating!
Could have done trip differently?
I was thinking hard about this. I could have shaved a day or two off Osaka because I went back after Miyakojima and i could have trimmed my time in Miyakojima. However, if the Typhoon wasn’t around I would have been very glad of the full 7 days in Miyakojima. I am also keen to do Sapporo and the North in a separate trip, not as long as the one I did but I loved Japan so much, I want to cover it all off.
Speaking of money, Japan was not as expensive as I imagined although it certainly is no Thailand!
I think the JR Passes which I bought before I left were pricey, about 600 quid for the pair I think (covering 3 weeks). The flights cost me nothing as I used airmiles but my flight to Miyakojima cost me 180.
I reckon I spent around 800 on accommodation (this is all guesswork by the way) and I spent 1000 spending money. So my guess is the whole trip cost me around 2.6k which I think is very decent. I’ve honestly no idea if any of those figures are correct (other than the 180 flight) but that’s my gut feel.
Thinking of travelling to Japan?
DO IT! I spent a month in Thailand which was beautiful and the people, food were just as great as here, but, Japan has so much more to offer. If you want time at the beach as well as visiting an amazing country then do that. Don’t waste weeks and weeks somewhere like Thailand (shrines and beaches) when you can see and experience much more
5 Favourite Photos