Japan Blog Part 1 - Arriving in the land of the rising sun
It was a short trip without alot of sleep. I went from Ho Chi Minh City to Hong Kong (2 hours) and from Hong Kong to Tokyo (3.5 hours). And here I was in Japan for the very first time, the land of the rising sun, at 6.15 a.m. when indeed the sun was rising. The Japanese call their country "Nippon" which is literally translated "the sun's origin".
I am a very organized traveler, I book most things in advance, I also create a travel program which shows me roughly when to go where and how much it costs (hotels, trains etc.). So I had my JR Train Pass and a metro card with me. Japan is not cheap, it compares to Switzerland with prices for acommodation, food and transportation. The two week train pass costs $450.-.
So I took the train from Narita airport to Tokyo, which takes 1 hour and the metro from there to my hotel the Grand Arc Hanzomon. I was very excited because my girlfriend Debbie was arriving in three hours and we would spend two weeks in Japan together before it was time to continue the journey by myself. We always have alot of fun traveling and we like the same things, so we never have any discusions about what to do or where to go. This is already our 26th trip together (including short trips in Europe) in almost five years!
At the hotel I asked for an early check-in at 9 a.m., which was an extra $80, ouch!
But I was in serious need of a few extra hours of sleep and when u are a zombie you don't care about money!
Before Debbie arrived, I had lunch in a little restaurant around the corner and the menu was in Japanese only, the waiters did not speak English, but it had pictures of the food and one looked like beef, so I ordered that. When it came though it tasted like offal and I can't say I am into that lol
the view from our room by day and... — at Hotel Grand Arc Hanzomon
we went running...NOT
I have two things on my bucket list that I wanna do in Japan: ride the bullet train and cross the busiest intersection in the world in Shibuya. So our first stop would be Shibuya which is similar to Times Square in New York with all the neon signs and a perceived million of tourists. The big difference is, that nobody will bump into you, everything is orderly, the Japanese way.
Tokyo is the safest metropolis in the world, hardly any crime here inspite of the city having almost 14 million residents. You do feel safe, when you are walking down to street at night. Politeness and respect are deeply integrated into Japanese culture. For example there are more than fifty words to say "no" because they don't actually like to say no. They will always greet you, help you in any way they can and provide the best service possible. They care alot about their work and take great pride in it.
After our first day in Japan we knew already we love this country and will have the best time. Tokyo is amazing, one of the top 5 cities to visit in the world, I think.
Most people actually don't speak English, so if you ask for directions they will explain it to you in Japanese and you are just standing there lost in translation. So we bought a SIM card with 2gb data so we can use maps and if we have questions we just google the image and show it to them.
famous Shibuya crossing
rumoured to be the busiest intersection in the world — in Shibuya, Tokyo
hmmm which to chose
Debbie wearing everything I bought her in Vietnam😍
reunited with my favorite human
Nakamisedon in Asakusa
Sensō-ji buddhist temple
hawaii shirts for dogs..I definitely need a dog now!
Ameyayokocho Market in the Ueno district
Shahu Shabu so delicious
cat and dog face masks
we went for the panda and leopard but look more like monsters
The following day we went to Roppongi Hills where they have a tiny christmas market, did the Tokyo View, the Asakusa buddhist temple, the street market in Ueno underneath the railway tracks, the electric district Akihabara, walked from Shinjuku to Harajuku (the manga district) and from there to Shibuya where we had a delicious Japanese BBQ dinner. I've had the best beef, so tender and tasty. I think after not eating meat for two weeks in Vietnam I was on withdrawal. That's when it came to me, I can never be a vegetarian hahaha
in meat heaven! Best and most tender beef ever😍
On Tuesday it was time to move on, packed our many backpacks and suitcases and boarded the Shinkansen towards Kyoto...
we like to travel light
To end this blog with a few fun facts about Japan, smoking on the street is prohibited, but you can smoke in restaurants and even in your hotel room. There are no public garbage bin's so you have to take your trash home with you.
p.s. if you have plans to come to Tokyo, download the Tokyo Subway app. You can use it offline and it shows you the quickest route, how to get from A to B. Try to go to Don Quijote, the craziest department store. You can buy things you never even knew existed.
Japan Blog Part 2 - Ancient Kyoto and Osaka, the food and nightlife city
By riding the shinkansen (also called the bullet train) I could cross one more thing off my bucket list. The distance from Tokyo to Kyoto is approx. 500 km and the ride takes 3 hours. It is an experience like no other with speeds reaching up to 320 km/h.
Kyoto is the city of 10'000 shrines and it would take you a lifetime to explore them all. When u arrive at Kyoto station, you first feel like you are in the wrong place, it's very modern and you don't feel the ancient atmosphere. But we learned quickly, that Kyoto is timeless, it exists equally the new and old Kyoto.
Yasaka-jinja Shrine, Kyoto
We had booked the Ibis Styles opposite the train station, which turned out to be quite convenient. We were there for three days and the first two we explored all the major shrines in and around town like Ginkakuji, Sanjusangen-do (1001 statutes of Kannon, the goddes of mercy, inside), Kiyomizu dera etc. by bus. I recommend buying a day pass for the bus ($5), it's the best and easiest way to get to the temples. We also walked around Gion the geisha district, hoping to see a real geisha and we were not disappointed, we even saw two.
the real deal: a Geisha in Gion, Kyoto
Kennin-ji Shrine, Kyoto
Kyoto, the city of 10'000 shrines
the background is just as beautiful as the flower itself
On our last day in Kyoto we took the train to Arashiyama, where we walked up to Mount Arashiyama where the monkey park is. It is inhabited by a troop of over 170 Japanese macaque monkeys. Apart from the great view, it was fun watching the monkeys play, fight and cuddle with each other. Those macaque monkeys are definitely not as mean as the ones in Ubud, Bali or even worse like that vicious thing that attacked me in Angkor Wat, Cambodia (I am not to blaim;-) After that we walked through the bamboo forest, which was cool.
would be nice to have a monkey's life
Fushimi Inari Shrine
The weather here is unpredictable, when we arrived in Tokyo it was 17 degrees! Debbie brought me all my winter clothes incl. coat, boots, hat, scarf and gloves. In Kyoto though it was under 10 degrees, so we were at least wearing the warmer jacket. Don't get me wrong, I am not complaining at all. I am a summer girl, I hate winter! If it were up to me there would only be one season and one season only: SUMMER❤️. Now you are wondering, why the hell would you go to Japan in winter girl?! It was a compromise between me and my girlfriend. Unfortunately she is wired the other way around and I drag her in way too many warm countries lol.
it feels more like fall than winter
Japan Blog Part 3 - Nara the wild deer city and Universal Studios Japan
I forgot to tell you about our hotel in Osaka, I am usally pretty good at choosing hotels. I read reviews on tripadvisor and booking.com, compare them and never book a hotel under the rating 8 (usually 9+). But this time i failed! This hotel sucked! If you ever come to Osaka don't stay at the Apa Hotel, the rooms are as tiny as they get! Smallest room I have ever stayed in (6 sqm). With our two small and two large suitcases, there was literally no place to stand anywhere. So we were living on the bed for 3 days!
Because I've had at least one massage a day in Vietnam, I thought it's time to try out the Japanese massage. So Debbie and I went together but I already regretted it after 5 mins because I was hurting so much! Talk about relaxation! A couple of years ago I had a shiatsu massage in Malaysia and I was screaming! She said it's deep tissue, it's supposed to hurt a little. But I swore to myself, I would never get one again! This one wasn't called Shiatsu, however it was a Shiatsu in disguise. And the opera music that was playing wasn't helping much either, whenever the singer would shout, I was screaming...on the inside at least.
On our second day in Osaka, we took the train to Nara. I was looking forward to Nara the most because it's the city of wild deer. I had seen pictures and the anticipation was growing and growing. When we arrived we walked towards Nara Park and I saw the first deer. We bought deer cookies and started feeding them and taking selfies (what else;-). But the male can be kind of aggressive, they will either bite, kick you or try to run you over hahaha, if you stop giving them food. One guy was even chewing on my hair! So we kept on walking and saw some female deer and they were much calmer, almost shy. Walking through the park is an amazing experience, there are 1200 free-roaming deer, even around one of the most famous temples Todai-ji.
Nara, 1200 freely roaming deer..amazing!
of course we had to take selfies with them lol
Bambi is tired
Todaiji is one of Japan's most famous temple
From Kyoto to Osaka it was only 30 minutes and our hotel is in the Dotonburi Area, the entertainment district - shopping, dining, nightlife. Many people describe it as the culinary capital of the world. And if you love meat, you are in the right place. Try the Kobe beef, it will melt in your mouth! I really like Osaka, probably just as much as Tokyo.
Just when we wanted to go exploring, I was standing on a bridge, I felt an earthquake. It was only small, but it left me shaken the whole afternoon. It was the first earthquake I experienced after the really bad one in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2011. I was trapped in a dressing room and the whole experience was a nightmare, a few hundred people died that day and the city was destroyed. Took me along time to get over the trauma. Japan experiences about 1500 earthquakes per year, so I was afraid this might happen. So Debbie did the right thing, she distracted me with some retail therapy.
And last but not least a few facts about Japan:
1. When you slurp your noodles loudly in Japan, it is considered a sign that you are enjoying the meal. (Believe me I do that too, but only because I suck at eating with chopsticks).
2. The population in Japan has very few immigrants with the Japanese making up 98% of the population.
3. In Japan, there are only 2 gun related homicides per year, but it has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. In 2015, more than 25,000 people took their own lives. That's 70 every day and the vast majority were men.
4. It is considered rude to walk while you are eating in Japan.
5. Japanese train stations usually hire staff workers to shove passengers into the trains as they are usually very crowded.
Osaka, food capital of the world
We've had seen a fair amount of temples, so we decided to go to the Universal Studios Japan instead. We wanted to see how it compares to the one in Cali. The ticket cost $75 but it's open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. It's insane how many people they let in, the waiting time for the rollercoasters was up to three hours! There are some great rides and attractions though, especially the 4D amazing spiderman, best ride I have ever been on. Towards the end we found out that most rides have a single waiting line, that means if they have one spot left on the car you get to go. So for Jaws, we only waited 10 instead of 80 minutes and still got to sit beside each other. If you're ever wanting to go to the Universal Studios in Osaka this is an insider tip, it will save you hours! After it got dark, the park got even prettier with all the christmas lights and music. Quite frozen but full of joy we left the Universal Studios heading back to Osaka Namba.
Universal Studios Japan
real life minion
Now we are sitting on the Shinkansen and enjoying the ride to Hiroshima. The train is so comfortable, big chairs and tables, lots of room and you have your peace and quiet. I recommend making a reservations for the seats, since they are usually pretty full and you don't have the hassle of finding a free seat. You can do that at the JR ticket office in any train station.
I also have a suggestion for a must have app. It's called Rome 2 Rio and it's a comprehensive global trip planner that helps you get from A to B worldwide. Just enter a town, an address or landmark and it will display flight, train, bus, subway, ferry options with estimated travel times and fares. It doesn't matter if you are in Paris or NYC. I have been using the website and the app for years and it's a great help and reliable. So if you don't have it yet, it's time to download or remember for your next trip.
Here's some more fun facts about Japan:
1. More than 70% of Japan consists of mountains, including 200 volcanoes.
2. A nice musk melon, similar to a cantaloupe, may sell for over $300.
3. Most toilets, even in public bathrooms have a built-in bidet system for spraying your backside. These are called washlets...
4. You will never die of thurst in Japan, there are vending machines at every corner that sell water, soft drinks, hot and cold coffee and even beer.
5. Some Japanese companies conduct a morning exercise session for the workers to prepare them for the day's work
Shinkansen, the bullet train
Japan Blog Part 4 - Hiroshima 70 years after the atomic bomb
When we arrived in Hiroshima we took the street car to our hotel Rihga Royal. The porters at this 4 star hotel were all petite women and the one that wanted to help us with the baggage couldn't even lift one heavy suitcase on the trolley, not to mention pushing it with 4 suitcases on it.
As soon as I opened the door to the room, the past 3 days in a "prison cell" were forgotten! The size of the room was 4 times the size of the last one, the view of the castle on the 19th floor was amazing and all of that for $100 per night. I couldn't believe that this was even cheaper than that other dump!
Unfortunately everyone knows the city of Hiroshima from history class...70 years ago on August 6th 1945 Hiroshima was destroyed by the first atomic bomb in human history dropped by an American B-29 bomber, named the Enola Gay.
Within the first two to four months of the bombings, the acute effects of the atomic bombings killed 90,000-146,000 people in Hiroshima and 39,000-80,000 in Nagasaki (where the second bomb was dropped); roughly half of the deaths in each city occured on the first day.
It felt strange to be in a city where such tragedy happened...We visited the A-bomb dome and the peace memorial park as well as the Hiroshima castle. Compared to all the cities we've been to before, Hiroshima was the calmest.
what a nice change after the 6sqm prison cell
another culinary highlight - Teppanyaki lunch set for $30 in our hotel — at Rihga Royal Hotel - Hiroshima
the A-bomb dome
Hiroshima after the first atomic bomb ever used in history
childrens peace memorial
The Shinkansen looks more like a spaceship rather than a train
After two days we hopped back on the Shinkansen direction Tokyo. 5 hours and 810 km's later we arrived back in the big city.
Funny thing happened at the bakery. So they've got all of these fresh baked goods and everything looks delicious. So this Indian guy comes in asking for bread and we all look at him surprised because there's bread everywhere. The cashiers points at all the bread loaves but he replied, no I am looking for real bread! Turns out he meant toast bread! Wow!!!!
Roppongi Hills, Tokyo
View of Tokyo
Harajuku, the Manga district
Big Brother is watching you
most beautiful starbucks ever
Hachiko statue, who has seen the movie and cried like a baby? Me! — in Shibuya, Tokyo.
For our last day in Tokyo we had planned to do a daytrip to Nikko. It's a town in the mountains, the entrance to Nikko National Park and because of its many famous temples a World Heritage Site.
Tosho-gu Shrine, Nikko
dying of thirst in Japan...not a possibility — in Shibuya, Tokyo
After that we enjoyed a very nice 7 course Teppanyaki dinner with salmon and wagyu beef. For many years I have been hearing that Japan's Kobe and Wagyu beef is the best beef in the world. It's super expensive but definititely worth the try, it was so delicious.
wagyu beef to end this Japan vacation
soo tender, so yummi
I had arrived in Narita Airport, so I thought I am also departing from Narita. Just when I was at Tokyo station wanting to board the Narita express, I checked my booking again and it said Haneda Airport. Thank god I found out early enough because I would have missed my flight. I don't know if I am too relaxed or just flying too much, but my brain doesn't seem to be working anymore!
Unfortunately my girlfriend Debbie has to go back home, but my journey is not finished here. Next stop is my second home: Australia! I am very excited to see my friends again and celebrate Christmas and NYE with them, enjoy some beach time and just have a great time in one of my favorite countries! Arigato Japan for the good time and G'day mate Down Under...