Anne and Peter from Sydney, Australia have seen a lot of the world but its only been in recent years that they’ve been able to travel without kids and under their own steam. Late last year they embarked on their first trip to Japan.
As it was their first trip to Japan they decided to use the incredibly efficient Shinkansen ( fast trains) to see as much as possible of the main island of Hinshu and they stayed in a mix of modern hotels and Ryokans ( traditional Inns). They had a fabulous 3 weeks and are completely enraptured by the people, customs, landscapes and culture of modern Japan.
This is a summary of their itinerary from October 2016 ( Words and photos by Anne McIntyre )
Tokyo – 5 nights ( Shibuya)
Tokyo is the most populous city in the world but is super organised & you mostly don’t feel crushed. There are many different districts to visit – each a separate city really. We book ended our Japan trip in Tokyo staying at Shibuya with its famous crossing at the beginning & Ginza shopping area at the end. Highlights were the Sensoji temple in the Asakusa district, Ueno Park, Meiji Shrine & the Tokyo Sky Tree.
Day trips – Nikko & Kamakura.
Hakone – 2 nights
One of the easiest ways to see Mt Fuji is to do the Hakone Free pass (which isn’t actually free!) rail/ropeway/cable car/boat/ bus. We travelled via Odawara (castle there is worth a visit), then used our pass to get to & from the open air museum. The second day we did the loop & luckily had perfect weather to see Mt Fuji.
Takayama – 2 nights
A beautiful train trip up into the mountains to the city of Takayama (which almost feels like a country town after Tokyo!) Easily explored by foot the old town is well preserved & lovely to stroll around particularly in the evenings when the tour groups have left. The area is well known for the gass-ho farm houses with their steep thatched roofs in the shape of hands at prayer.
Day Trip – A half day tour to Shirakawago world heritage area where the gass-ho villages are still inhabited shows a fascinating insight into village life
Kanazawa – 2 nights
Recognised as having one of the top three landscaped gardens in Japan Kanazawa escaped damage during WW2 & has many well preserved historical areas such as the Chaya entertainment district & the Samurai district. Also worth visiting is the Ninjadira (Ninja) Temple. The only way to visit this temple is on a prebooked tour that is Japanese. They do give you a folder with some explanations in English. The temple is made up of hidden tunnels, secret rooms, traps & staircases.
Kyoto – 5 nights
A sprawling, fascinating city home to many beautiful temples & shrines. It takes some planning to visit the sights but is worth the effort. We stayed near the main rail station (huge, crowded & complex we got lost every time we went in there!) & travelled around by foot, train & taxi. Highlights were Rengeo-in Temple with its 1001 statues, the Higashima historic district, Fushimi Inari Shrine famous for it’s trail of 1000’s of Tori gates & the stunning Kinkajui Golden Pavilion.
half day trips to Nara, Himeji Castle & Osaka
Originally built in 1513, the castle was rebuilt after being destroyed by war in 1615. Destroyed by fire in 1665, the castle was then left in ruins until being rebuilt again in 1931. Amazingly, it survived WW2 bombing. A beautiful grand castle it contains an informative historical museum & gives a terrific view of Osaka and surrounding areas.
Mt.Koya – 1 night
Well worth the 3 trains, a funicular & bus that got us there by lunch time leaving the afternoon to explore this small beautiful mountain temple town. There are several temple areas to explore including the Okunoin Temple with its serenely beautiful approach through 2000 tombstones. Accommodation was a temple stay which gave us a small taste of life for a Buddhist Monk.
Hiroshima – 1 night
A beautiful city tinged with sadness totally rebuilt after being demolished by the Atomic bomb in world war 2. The Peace Museum is a moving presentation of the loss of life & destruction the bomb caused. The surrounding parkland has beautiful monuments to those that died including the Children’s memorial. Also in the park stands the A bomb Dome – the remains of one of the very few buildings not completely flattened in central Hiroshima.
Miyajima – 2 nights
An hour by train & ferry from Hiroshima is this beautiful island famous for its large Tori Gate & shrine built over the water. Popular with day trippers Miyajima is at its most beautiful in the late afternoon after they leave & in the early mornings. Two nights are recommended to explore the town, ride the rope way up Mt Misen & then climb the last kilometre to the summit for spectacular views. We stayed at the beautiful Ryokan Iwaso.
Tokyo ( Ginza) – 2 nights
Japan is a beautiful country made even more so by the politeness & kindness of the people who seemed to go out of their way to help. It is easy to travel about & we experienced virtually no language barrier issues despite knowing only a couple of Japanese words. We loved every moment of our holiday and would highly recommend this itinerary for anyone going on their first trip to Japan.