Getting some glimpse of Hakone lake from the hills of Onshihakone park.
Hakone – 2017
That is it! I am finally tackling all the Japan content I have! Over the next couple of weeks, I will be sharing my itineraries to help you plan your trip to the Land of the Rising Sun – starting with Tokyo!
As you can imagine, Tokyo is an amazing city, it is very old yet very modern, very calm yet very busy – it is a fascinating place! The itinerary below will take you to most of the main sights in Tokyo. The city is so vast that you could easily spend another five days exploring it, that is if you have a lot of time in Japan. If you are only there for a couple of weeks, five days is a good start for a first visit to Tokyo.
If coming from Europe, you will be landing in Tokyo around breakfast time. It will take you a good couple of hours to make it to Tokyo city-centre, time to grab your luggage, go through customs, taxi or train, etc. We were staying in Shinjuku where most of the big hotels are, so we decided to spend the afternoon there.
Shinjuku is one of the busiest neighbourhoods of Tokyo and a very convenient place to base yourself during your stay in Tokyo with multiple train and subway stations around. We stayed at the Hilton which was very nice, but a bit expensive.
Shinjuku is also the perfect place to have a first taste of Tokyo, it is overwhelmingly busy, but Japanese people are so quiet and respectful that it feels less busy than a London pub on a Friday night.
The second day is a perfect mixture of modern and ancient Tokyo. First stop Meiji Jingu in the heart of Harajuku. A beautiful shrine hidden in the middle of a park, offering a little bit of peace and quiet away from the buzzing streets of Harajuku, which I could best described as the Shoreditch of Tokyo.
After enjoying the tranquility of Meiju Jingu, we walked through Harajuku and headed toward Shibuya. Coming from that direction you will arrive straight to the famous Shibuya crossing, which, in real life, looks and feel smaller than what you may have seen in pictures or in movies. It is still busy though!
For the best views of the crossing head to Starbucks for a coffee and the best time-lapse spot.
Get lost in the back streets of Shibuya and make sure to grab lunch at Toritake.
Full of yakitori, we then headed to Roppongi, another very trendy neighbourhood of Tokyo and a great place to do a spot of shopping. We haven’t been there at night but it is supposed to be a very lively place to go out.
After walking all day, we ended the day back in Shinjuku with a delicious ramen at the very popular Ichiran.
On the third day, we headed to an older part of Tokyo and started in Asakusa. Just outside of the station you will have a great view of the Skytree. We decide not to visit it though to have more time visiting Tokyo and less time waiting in a notoriously long queue.
Walk to the ancient Sensō-ji temple, you will walk through charming ancient streets to get there.
Embrace the atmosphere of the old shrine and bathe yourself in incense smoke for good health.
Head to Tokyo National Museum and grab lunch on your way there. You can easily find bento boxes and onigiri in supermarkets for a lunch on the go. We had our lunch in Ueno Onshi Park.
The Tokyo National Museum is the perfect option if you only have time to visit one museum in Tokyo, or if you are not really into Museum. It gives an overview of Japanese history and culture, from clothing to housing.
After a few hours wandering the corridors of the museum, we headed deep into Ueno and got lost in the little streets for an afternoon walk.
We ended the day, again in Shinjuku, and had one of the most amazing meals at Imahan.
I talked about Tsukiji Fish Market into details in a previous post, and, because you can only visit the market the morning, it is a great place to start your day.
After a couple of hours among the fish and their fishmongers, we headed for a bit of fresher air and decided to visit Hamarikyu Gardens. This park is an oasis of tranquility in the middle of Tokyo.
We grabbed lunch on our way to Ginza, an upmarket shopping district.
Not far from Ginza is Chiyoda where you will find the Imperial Palace. It is also supposed to be a fantastic spot to see the cherry blossom during the season.
We ended the day in the very lively district of Ebisu where we had dinner and a cheeky beer at the Ebisu Beer Hall.
On your last day, immerse yourself in the gamer and technology culture in Akihabara.
Get lost in the game centres or in a cat cafe (we did both!).
Take some cheesy photo-booth pictures and embrace the weirdness of the place.
A highlight of our Tokyo visit was the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. The place is breathtakingly beautiful and on a rainy day like we had, it had strong Lost in Translation vibes.
Talking about Lost in Translation, make sure to end your trip with a drink at the New York bar, at the top of the Park Hyatt, and made famous by Sophia Coppola’s movie. It offers the most incredible views of the city at dusk.
I hope you will enjoy Tokyo as much as we did! I just cannot wait to come back!
One of the most famous sights in Japan is Mount Fuji, the perfectly shaped volcano is on most postcards and a magical sight to see in person.
The tricky thing with Mount Fuji is that seeing it is very much weather dependent, indeed the volcano is famous to disappear behind a haze after midday or when temperatures rise making it difficult to see.
I don’t consider myself particularly lucky, but I had the best luck seeing Mount Fuji during our two weeks there. Our first sight of it was on the Shinkansen on our way from Tokyo to Hiroshima. If the weather is good, keep your eyes peeled about 40 minutes out of Tokyo, the view is breathtaking.
We didn’t have enough of Mount Fuji and decided to get a little bit closer. An obvious place to do so is Hakone. Hakone is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. Famous for its hot springs, and its views across Lake Ashinoko of Mount Fuji. It is a very popular destinations among Japanese and international tourists, and only an hour out of Tokyo which makes it an accessible day trip if you want a break from the city.
Getting to Hakone is also incredibly easy. What I loved in Japan is that everything is so organised and logical that you just cannot get lost, even if you don’t understand a word of Japanese. We took the Shinkansen to Odawara Station, once there, we dropped our luggage in a locker, as we were coming from Kyoto and heading back to Tokyo on that same day. In the station you will quickly see signs for Hakone which will guide you to an office where you can get a map of the area as well as the pass for the train, shuttle and funicular to the National Park. It sounds like a lot of transport transfers but again, do not fear, it is very easy!
We took the train from Odawara to Hakone Yumutu, there we transferred to the smaller train which took us up the mountains. Once in Gora, where the train line ends, we transferred to the funicular, which took us directly to the cable car station. Make sure to take a window seat on the right of the cable car for the best views of Mount Fuji.
We started climbing, it was very windy, which can be slightly intimidating if you don’t like heights. And suddenly, people started gasping, right there in front of us the Mount Fuji was standing. The views were very clear, but unfortunately my camera didn’t do it justice and it was much clearer and impressive in real life.
The first stop once in the National Park is Owakudani. The views of Mount Fuji from there are fantastic and you will also see the sulphur fumes emerging from the ground. Only then did we really realised that we were visiting a volcanic area. Mount Fuji looks so peaceful that you can easily forget what it really is, also the last eruption was in 1707 so it is a pretty chill volcano.
From Owakudani we then took another cable car down to Lake Ashinoko. We took a lunch break there while waiting for the next ‘pirate’ boat to arrive. You read that right, for some reason the sightseeing boats taking you from Togendai to the other side of the lake look like huge pirate boats.
You will still be able to see Mount Fuji during the cruise, making for great shots of the volcano and the lake.
That is if, unlike us, the weather is not ‘too’ good, indeed the day we visited, it was so sunny that the sky turned white and Mount Fuji started to fade against it so my pictures really don’t do the place justice.
Once on the other side of the lake, we walked by the shore and explored Onshihakone Park.
It was surprisingly quiet as it seemed most tourists don’t venture there. A great opportunity to enjoy the peace and tranquillity after a crowded boat ride.
We walked a little further down to explore the town.
We then caught the bus back to Odawara station. One good tip, the bus gets VERY busy at the Sightseeing Cruise bus stop, so try to catch it a stop ahead to make sure you can actually get on it!
In no time we were back on the Shinkansen and off to Tokyo. One long but beautiful day trip!
We kept ourselves busy in 2017 with some big trips and some smaller escapes!
We took the trip of a lifetime to Japan in the Spring! It was everything we expected it to be and more! So much so, that I still have content to share 8 months after!
In the Autumn, we headed south of Europe, to Portugal for a week, to explore the beautiful Lisbon and its surroundings. A wonderful sunny escape which I have yet to share with you. (I am going to be one busy writing bee in 2018!)
For 2018, I have already three destinations on the list: Mexico, Iceland and Sweden. We will also be planning a couple of weekends away in England as we always do. And this list doesn’t include all my trips to France to see my family and friends, neither does it include a potential trip to Ireland for a wedding. Some exciting times ahead!
What about you guys? Where are you off to in 2018?
Also please drop me a note if you have recommendations for Mexico (we will probably just go to Tulum on this trip), Iceland or Stockholm!
Today’s blog won’t be very pretty to look at, mostly if you are vegetarian! I am taking you to Tsukiji market, Tokyo’s fish market. This is one of the main sights to visit when in Japan. What I didn’t expect though is that it would look rather rough and like a slaughter house (well it is really). I guess when you think of Japan, you expect everything to be modern and super clean, Tsukiji market is at the other end of the scale, messy, busy and wonderfully authentic.
A good tip before we start our visit, we read everywhere that we needed to be there super early to see the fish coming in , the tuna auctions, etc. However, it happens that the market was closed to tourists until 10/11am… Indeed, we were asked not to enter the main hall until then. So don’t sacrifice your hours of sleep, yes it will be less busy by the time you get in, but you will still see and experience the atmosphere.
We arrived in the area early and once we realised that we wouldn’t be let in, we decided to walk and explore the streets around which are full of consumers markets (as opposed to Tsukiji main market which is mainly for businesses).
Once a little tired of walking, we headed back to the main area where you can find plenty of sushi restaurants. Some are very popular, some only have set menu options, so we settled for Sushi Dokoro Yamazaki which offers a great ‘à la carte’ option. Unfortunately, I have a very severe allergy to raw salmon so I couldn’t risk to eat any sushi, so Andrew was the only one eating, and at 10 am he wasn’t feeling like eating an entire platter on his own. Sushi Dokoro Yamazaki was perfect for us as I could sip on a miso soup and some tea while Andrew was eating a small serving.
Finally, it was time for us to enter the main hall. It is very easy to find your way in, follow the flow of tourists who are following a guard and you will get in. Note that people at the market are here to work, and they will very directly let you know if you are annoying them or on their way. I have never been honked at that much in my life! Should I be flattered?
The scenes inside are very ‘real’ maybe a little too much for some. Sometime you forget that there was a very alive giant tuna behind that little California roll…
Embrace the atmosphere, and accept it, don’t fight it. It is like looking at the food chain in the eyes.
It is good sometime to just see the process behind some of our food, so that we are all a little bit more appreciative and mindful when eating.
We came out smelling of fish, a little less hungry than usual and in need of a bit of fresh air, but overall very happy to have seen this side of Japan!
Kyoto is amazing, that’s a given. It is full of history, world famous sights, shops, and it is a foodie’s heaven. If you like to eat, and you are not afraid to try new things, the first place you have to head to once in Kyoto is Nishiki Market.
You will find the market in the centre of Kyoto a few back streets away from Daimaru. The market is covered which is fortunate as it was raining when we got there.
Walk along the gallery and get overwhelmed by choice and smells.
Note that you can shop for anything related to food there. Ingredients, serveware, the world renowned Japanese knifes – the perfect destination to shop for some Japanese souvenirs!
Our strategy after seeing how big the market was, was to walk the full length of it to see what all the options were, then walk back the whole way and start ordering some food. Doing so you won’t miss a thing AND you will walk off the calories – win!
Nishiki market is a very busy place and the main challenge is to reach the counters and then find a little corner to nibble, most of the time standing.
What’s also fascinating about the market is that it has been around for several centuries, and a lot of the shops have been owned by the same families for generations. You literally cannot do more authentic than that even if you were trying!
On the hunt for our lunch we knew we very much wanted some seafood. Some were a little too weird or almost alive for our liking.
Eventually we settled for some Takoyaki, also known as octopus balls or donuts.
Looking at the guy cooking them is entertaining in itself! I mean, how fast can one human being move?
We also went for some ‘not too sure what it is but it’s delicious’ corn dog like seafood stick.
We grabbed a few more things, some crab legs, pickled vegetables, and others, but we got too hungry and I stopped taking pictures. Ooops!
So if you are a foodie like us, Nishiki will be right up your street! Be curious, try new things, and come home with some packs of dry mushrooms and kimchi.