Here’s my little update on my recent trip to Japan.  I spent just over two weeks in this beautiful country, and it flew by so quickly! I have so much to tell you that I’ve decided to split it up into a couple of different posts.  So here’s a quick summary of what I was able to see and do.

This was my second trip to Japan, having visited the first time when a childhood friend was living there for work. On that trip, I only visited Tokyo and Kyoto, but it was enough to make me start planning a return trip.

Shinkansen - Bullet Train

Shinkansen – Bullet Train

This time I made a big loop, starting and ending in Tokyo, and travelling by train the whole way (I really don’t like driving especially abroad).  Between the larger cities, I travelled by Shinkansen (bullet train) which felt like stepping into the future.  I really do believe that the Netherlands and the UK (and the USA for that matter) should just buy some trains or at least some advice from Japan, because they really know how to do train travel.  I travelled by train the entire time, and not once was there a delay. No delays for any of the reasons I’ve heard in the UK – strikes, the temperature being too cold or too warm or leaves on the tracks. Just quick and efficient travel.  It was wonderful!

Wandering at night

Wandering at night

I started in Tokyo where the jet lag hit really hard, despite the time difference of only 7 hours. So there was a lot of wandering around late at night, “Lost in Translation”-style. I met up with a few other friends who were also traveling through Japan, so that was really fun. We went to the Yodobashi electronics store in Shinjuku and a Japanese friend took us to a locals-only sushi place. During the day we managed to see the Imperial Palace and especially enjoyed the walk through the cherry blossoms around the outside of the palace, where street vendors were selling lots of noodles and dubious-looking-meat-on-a-stick, and locals were having picnics under the blossoms.
I then went to Nagano, which I used as a base to visit Matsumoto Castle as well as the snow monkeys at the Jigokudani Monkey Park.  The monkeys were a highlight of the trip – a lovely walk through a snowy mountainside forest where I only encountered two other people and then arrived at the onsen (hot springs) to watch the monkeys hanging out in their big outdoor monkey hot tub.
Snow Monkey

Snow Monkey

I continued down to Kanazawa on the western coast of Japan.  What a beautiful town!  I think because of its location, it is largely overlooked by most foreign tourists, but all the Japanese people I spoke to were very positive about it.  Once I arrived, I could see why.  Kenrokuen Garden is arguably Japan’s most beautiful botanical garden. During my three day visit, I visited twice.  Kanazawa also has lots of lovely local shops and a charming district of old samurai houses, and is a very walkable town.
Kenrokuen Gardens

Kenrokuen Gardens

From Kanazawa, I headed to Mount Koya (Koyasan), which is the spiritual center for Shingon Buddhism in Japan.  It’s difficult to describe the beauty and magic of this place.  It’s not easy to get to, which is actually a plus, because it means it is not overrun with tourists, despite being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Imagine a beautiful train ride through the mountains, a cable car taking you up one of the steepest slopes in Japan to the village of Koyasan at 900 meters. There, set within a cedar grove of 800-year-old trees, you find more than 100 Buddhist temples and Okunoin, the largest cemetery in Japan.  It might sound creepy to go wandering amongst more than 200,000 ancient tombs, but it was actually breathtakingly beautiful.  In the mornings and evenings, the whole area is shrouded in fog, which only adds to the mystique.  This was my favorite part of the whole trip.  I absolutely loved it and would recommend it to anyone traveling to Japan – it is obviously a sacred and spiritual place, but a religious background is certainly not necessary to enjoy the beauty and peacefulness of the place.
After Koyasan, I headed to Kyoto to experience the former Imperial capital.  Beautiful gardens, the picturesque streets of the geisha district in Gion, great shopping and delicious food. I walked the Path of Philosophy along a cherry blossom-lined canal and visited the temples and the Imperial Palace. The loveliest thing I saw in Kyoto was the Shugakuin Imperial Villa and Garden, which is an enormous 133 acres filled with gardens, waterfalls, and even buildings from the 17th century.
Then my journey took me back to Tokyo, which I used as a based for a couple of day trips to the island of Enoshima and the Great Buddha in Kamakura.  I rounded out my visit to Tokyo with some great food and shopping, which I’ll tell you about in another post – I bought lots of Japanese goodies! All in all, one of the best trips I’ve ever taken.  I absolutely love Japan – the food, the culture, the design, the people.  A beautiful country in so many ways.  Stay tuned – more details to follow! In the meantime, I’ll be planning my next trip to Japan.
Have you visited Japan? What’s your favorite trip of all time?