This blog post is all about my trip to Japan. The week before, and the week of spring break I had the incredible opportunity to go to Japan with my husband. We spent 10 days exploring the most amazing country I have ever visited. My husband is from Japan so he was the best tour guide imaginable! We went to Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Itami, and Fukuoka. The cherry blossoms were in full bloom which made the scenery completely magical.
Tokyo was like a city in a dream. There were tons of people everywhere and more restaurants and shops than you can imagine. It was sunset upon our arrival and we could just barely see Mt. Fuji’s silhouette behind the cityscape from our hotel window.
Our first day in Tokyo was busy! We started off by visiting Asakusa temple. The architecture was absolutely stunning. I was fascinated by the roof panels and strong pillars of ancient wood adorned with intricate carvings.
From the temple, we walked over to a residential part of the city where we took a block printing class. It was so cool to get to try my hand at this art-form. I enjoyed learning about the care that goes into each print – how the layers are built up and colors mix to form an image. The prints we made depict a Japanese folktale.
After our art class, we went to Ueno Park. It was quite crowded on such a lovely spring day. We rented paddle boats and enjoyed the beautiful lake surrounded by Sakura blossoms.
Our second morning in Tokyo was spent at the famous Tsukiji Fish Market. I really love a good international market and Tsukiji did not disappoint – we ate delicious sashimi and saw all kinds of fish and spices and produce being bought and sold.
After enjoying the bustling sensation of the market, we made our way over to the Imperial Palace Gardens. It was so peaceful and serene.
After enjoying a sunny walk around the Palace Gardens, we went down the street to the Museum of Modern Art Tokyo. The exhibits were great, I liked seeing the mixture of contemporary art forms alongside more classic artwork like folding screens and sculptures.
The next day we hopped on a Shinkaisen – or bullet train – to Kyoto. The train was fast, comfortable, and quiet. We got bento box lunches to enjoy on the ride.
Our first stop in Kyoto was a Buddhist Temple across the street from our Ryokan (traditional lodging). After lighting ceremonial incense and washing our hands in the cool fountain, we admired the beautiful carvings of Buddha inside.
After meandering around the temple, we made our way over to the train station to explore the magnificent building built around it. The JR Kyoto Isetan is one of the coolest buildings I have ever been in. It is filled with shops, restaurants, and hotels and represents modern architecture at it’s finest. Honestly, pictures cannot capture the expanse of this gargantuan space so you will just have to go visit for yourself one day and in the meantime enjoy my splendid sunset photo taken from the top.
The next morning, we woke up bright and early to beat the crowds of tourists to see Fushimi Inari Shrine. This was such a highlight of the trip for me. I had seen pictures of this unique and sacred place and knew that I just had to go. I have been on some spectacular international hikes through my travels – The Golan Heights in Israel, Cinque Terre in Italy, and Skellig Island in Ireland – but I must say that Fushimi Inari takes the cake. There was something other-worldly about walking through the thousands of vermilion arches up to the top of the mountain in the morning light.
It was awfully hot by the time we finished (and crowded too!) so we stopped for a rest at a lovely little cafe and enjoyed some green tea.
From Fushimi Inari we took a train to another part of Kyoto and walked a few miles up Teapot Hill to get to Kiyomizudera Temple. We passed plenty of ceramic shops on the way (hence the name of “Teapot Hill”!) It was probably the largest and busiest temple that we visited and the insides of the giant wooden structure permeated with the aroma of incense and the echo of the prayer bowl.
We grabbed some delicious street food at Nishiki Market and by the time we got back to our Ryokan we realized that we had walked over 32,000 steps in about 10 hours. We were spent! So it was a great relief in the morning when we found ourselves with time on our hands to do a bus tour of the city. I absolutely LOVE bus tours and even though I could not understand any of what the tour guide said, I certainly enjoyed looking at Kyoto from a double decker bus.
From the bus, we hopped onto a train and headed to Osaka.
Tokyo had a very modern vibe to it, everyone was bustling about and very professional and business like. Kyoto’s vibe was more touristy and traditional. The vibe of Osaka was more on the fun and relaxed side. Everywhere we went felt like a party!
We started off with a riverboat tour of Dotonbori. This area of town was filled with shops and tons and tons and tons of restaurants with incredible street food like takoyaki, fresh crab, gyoza, and noodles. It was a delicious adventure!
The next morning, we made our way over to Osaka Castle. The glorious structure has been rebuilt several times over the years (due to damage from natural distasters and wars) and now it is a museum showcasing historical artifacts from feudal Japan. It was fascinating to learn about the history and unification of all of the different factions long ago.
The view from the top was especially wonderful. You could see Osaka for miles and miles.
Back on the ground, manhole covers were decorated with the infamous Osaka Castle design. So cool!
From Osaka Castle we headed to and area of town called Shin-sekai. We walked right underneath the tower of Tsūtenkaku and explored the bustling streets.
The next morning we had some time to spare before heading to our next destination so we went to the Umeda Sky building.
From Itami we caught a plane out to the city of Fukouka. My in-laws picked us up and we took an absolute beautiful drive along the coast. We ended up out in the region of Karatsu. We stopped at the beach for lunch and had a stunning view of an island shrine in the sea. The water was crystal clear and the sand was pristine. It was the cleanest and most peaceful beach I have ever been to.
I was delighted to see the ocean, I had expected our trip to be mostly cityscsapes and after a week of spectacular ones, it was nice to experience nature. From the beach we headed up to the top of Kagamiyama Observatory for another aerial view, this time of the mountains and towns of Karatsu.
Our last day in Japan was spent back in Fukuoka where we enjoyed shopping, exploring, and a sublimely delicious traditional style dinner. The night time streets of the city seemed to celebrate our experience in Japan and the twinkling lights of the city seemed to wave us goodbye.
From Fukuoka it was back to Tokyo and then back to Atlanta. It really was the trip of a lifetime and I still cannot believe that I got to experience everything that I did. Now that I have been back and telling people about the trip, I get asked a lot, “what was your favorite part?” That is a really hard question because everything was my favorite part but I can certainly pinpoint some aspects that really stand out to me.
For example, it would be impossible to write about a great trip to Japan without mentioning the food – of which we ate A LOT of! I especially liked the displays of sculptural fake food showcasing the restaurant’s offerings.
I had the best ramen EVER and the seafood was of course superb.
I also liked buying breakfast every day from the 7-11. There are convenient stores everywhere and although you wouldn’t dream of finding a tasty, fresh, or nutritious breakfast from one in America, in Japan they stock food items that are exactly that.
I enjoyed the cleanliness of Japan. There is no trash littering the streets, everyone takes great care to recycle.
I liked how organized everything is too – there are signs everywhere and places to line up to get on and off the train. It was easy to travel and walk around.
The cultural aspects were amazing to see. I love the architecture and sculptures, murals, and shrines are pretty much everywhere including some surprising places like alleyways off a busy city street.
I also liked all of the quirky and whimsical animals and graphics everywhere. It was such a visual treat to just look around.
By the way, did you know that it is the year of the dog? There are cute dogs everywhere in Japan!
I of course also loved the cherry blossom trees. I think that they are so beautiful because they are so revered by the humans around them. And why not – Japan is a beautiful place to be after all. I can’t wait to go back one day!
❤ Mrs. K