This spring I made my first ever trip to Japan. You might’ve followed my instagram posts and seen that in a fortnight we’ve been to 11 Japanese cities. Although I’ve posted some short guides to my Instagram feed about each city, I have so many photos and thoughts left that it would be a good basis for a few blogposts as well.
Japan holds a special place in my heart. You might’ve even noticed that the my entire website is headed by the translation of ukiyo-e (Japanese art style) – ‘the pictures of the floating world’.
So, I decided to dedicate this blog to top-10 things that impressed me the most in Japan. I know, it sounds a bit too personal, but that’s exactly the reason why I started my blog: Instagram is just a different platform for me.
Well, shall we begin?
Gion district, Kyoto
Although the city I’ve landed in was Osaka, we immediately took a transfer to Kyoto. I must confess that a very limited number of things stroke me as much as the sakura in the full bloom lighted by the lampposts at night when we were sliding across the Gion district of Kyoto upon our arrival to the ancient capital of Japan. It was absolutely magical!
We had a chance to explore this area more in the next few days and my love at first sight only grew. Those streets unchanged through time and the aspiration to spot geishas (geiko in Kyoto dialect) and maiko, their apprentices turn your walk into an extraordinary experience!
Tip: Stay alert and do not confuse the real geiko and maiko with the dressed-up tourists! ⠀
Interesting fact: ‘Memories of a Geisha’ movie (2005, adaptaion of a book by Arthur Golden) mainly was not shot in Kyoto but still it looks extremely authentic.
If you were expecting me to talk about sushi, sashimi, ramen, tempura, okonomiyaki, yakitori, onigiri, tamagoyaki, natto and so on and on I must disappoint you. All those were brilliant (apart from natto – pfff, sorry, I cannot stand it), but I was way more impressed by a different sort of meals.
First of all, the vending machines where you can get onigiri or hot bottled tea or coffee (yes, you read it correctly – hot bottled tea! But the cold version is also very popular) are really impressive.
Secondly, Japanese breakfast just blows your mind. If you’re a-coffee-and-a-croissant person you would be rather shocked. Imagine the first meal of your day consisting of miso soup, steamed rice, grilled fish, seaweed (nori), fermented soybeans (natto), prickles (tsukemono), and some other components. Impressive, right?
Thirdly, kawaii food just conquered my Instagram feed after my Japanese trip.
Totoro puffs, 3D-lattes, cat lollipops, ice creams in form of animals or with adorable chocolate in form of animals, rainbow candy floss, uncountable cute pastries – I just cannot name them all!
I sincerely advise you to go for a real kaiseki ryori experience.
It’s some kind of Japanese haute cuisine when a chef prepares a dozen of small dishes right in front of you and serves them immediately. We had our kaiseki ryori in Hyatt Regency Hakone and were really impressed!
Don’t forget: you can eat sushi with your fingers and you should dip only fish/seafood-side into soy sauce, not rice!
Fujisan is one of the most recognisable symbols of Japan around the world. For centuries it remained a sacred place up where humans should not climb. Mount Fuji is a dormant volcano, and its last eruption occurred in 1707.
It was celebrated for its unique conical form for centuries – just think about the Great Wave off Kanagawa from Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji by Hokusai where Mount Fuji stays unmoved by the inevitable sufferings and even possible deaths of human beings who are going to be covered by the Great Wave.
First we saw a vague shape of Fujisan when exploring the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park and a volcanic valley called Owakudani. It might be a surprise for you but my best view over Fuji was from my plane back home! It was totally unexpected but even better this way, isn’t it?
Tip: if to view a Fujisan is an aim of your Japanese trip, opt for the colder seasons – you are much more likely to see the mountain through the winter clear air! During the warmer seasons the views are prone to be spoiled by a mist.
A fact: the Aokigahara forest at foot of mountain is sadly known as suicide forest where a lot of people deliberately choose to put an end to their lives.
Onsens are the traditional public baths located near the hot springs. My onsen experience in Hakone was overwhelming. You come there naked and choose one of the showers installed on the walls around the small pool. There also was a lot of bathing equipment provided such as a little stool, shower gel, shampoo/conditioner, wash towel, and a bucket for water. So, first you wash yourself, then go to the pool with a hot water and enjoy the caressing healing water and a light smoke above it.
I was even given a printed instruction on how to use the onsens and it was very helpful. My onsen was gender segregated. Obviously, no photos for this point 🙂
The shape of the main tower of a Japanese military fortress is a pure perfection to me.
We were lucky to explore several of them such as Odawara, Osaka and Hiroshima castles.
As the original ones were partially built out of wood and thus easy to destroy, the current versions are erected with the help of steel and concrete.
Think about sipping a tea and cuddling a furry friend around you – sounds good, doesn’t it? Once born in Asia, animals cafés became an go-to places in Europe as well. But still, they are much more frequent at their motherland – and of course I could not keep myself away from such places in Japan!
Cats, dogs, rabbits, owls, hedgehogs, sheep, meerkats – the list of animals is endless.
Important: as animal cafes can provoke certain ethical concerns, please make sure that you pay a visit only to those ones where owners treat their pets well and where the health of animals is a priority. Animals should receive a limited amount of food, and a café should be spacious and clean.
Ghibli studio characters
Raise your hand if you like the Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki cartoons as much as I do. My neighbor Totoro, Spirited away, Ponyo and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind are definitely within my favorites list. As a big fan of Miyazaki, I was thrilled to see so many things related to his creations.
You can literally find them everywhere, from pins and dresses to backpacks and food! Just think about the Totoro Puffs 🙂
For the real fans of Miyazaki I would suggest you to go the Ghibli Museum. I was really impressed by it. The building itself is astonishing. Many Miyazaki’s sketches and objects, animation history exhibition, short movie screening, cafe, shop and a nice rooftop garden – it’s all packed up inside.
Unfortunately, the majority of info inside the museum is in Japanese so I left with the feeling that I didn’t experienced this place to the fullest.
Important: photography is not allowed inside the museum.
you might be aware of the lively discussion about the correct pronunciation of the studio’s name: ‘Gheebli’ or ‘Jeebli’? I go for the first option. The is a kind of agreement that the right pronunciation for English speakers is “Gheebli”, not “Jeebli”. Although the second version is widely used by Japanese (they call it Jeeburi) the word itself comes from Italian and should be pronounced as ‘Gheebli’. Even the studio workers confirmed it in one of their short videos. But of course, the final decision is up to you.
I’ve already posted some information about Ghibli museum so let me put it in short here as well:
The Ghibli Museum is located not in Tokyo but in Mitaka, but you can easily get there by subway and then by bus.
No tickets are sold in the museum and you need to buy them in advance. We did it online via Lawson Ticket system and the slots for sale open on the 10th of each month for the following month. So we we struggling to get our April tickets at the middle of the night on the 10th of March.
Views from Miyajima
Miyajima near Hiroshima is a sacred island where high and low tides interchange each other. No one died and no one has been born on this small island for ages. Although there is a lot to see at Miyajima, I was deeply impressed by the views Mount Misen. It’s the island’s highest peak that is over 500 meters above the sea level.
We got to the observatory by the ropeway but you can also try hiking if you have plenty of time.
Interesting fact: the floating torii at Miyajima are arguably the main torii in Japan!
Nature seasons (not only sakura)
It does not come as a surprise that Japanese love nature. Their adoration of sakura blooming – hanami – has now conquered the entire world!
During my trip in early April I realised that everything around me simply goes mad with sakura: there even were sweets and coffee dedicated to it! See all the slides below.
But there are many more various plants to adore blooming in Japan.
Wisteria of all colours, ume (plum blossoms) ranging from delicate whites to dark pinks, nemophila covering the ground with a blue blanket, sacred lotuses, bright yellow nanohana (rapeseed), irises in special gardens, momiji season when the foliage of maple trees goes on fire in autumn – you can find a special plant for every time of year in Japan! My goal is to see as many of them as I can one day!
If you’ve ever been enchanted by the neon lights of ‘Lost in Translation’ movie, Tokyo is a must-visit city to you!
Glittering vertical signs and ads occupy the walls of tall buildings up to the very top and illuminate all the streets around them. I was impressed by the neon lights in Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Ginza districts.
Hope you’ve enjoyed my today’s blog!
Yours, Anna xxx