Japan has to be a top bucket list or dream destination right?
For most of us it’s a long flight away, it’s on the pricey side, and it needs a lot of annual leave - it’s a lot to commit too. Hence why it often remains a dream for most of us.
Heading to Japan has been 25 years in the pipeline and I am still yet to go. I thought how can I make this a reality - how about research and share a 3 week itinerary to Japan?And here we are! Spending hours researching, finding tour operators and incredible hotels and experiences has made me more committed to going. I thought as I only share where I’ve been, every adventure starts with research so why not share what I have found so far? In case, this is your dream location too, you will have an itinerary that hits all the sweet spots from a Japan obsessed traveller.
I feel it’s important to work with a tour operator on big itinerary packages and luckily I found Tucan Travel off of a Twitter Chat hosted by Trips100 and fell in love with the Japan Discovered Tour they offer (sale on at the moment by the way!) I will talk you through my highlights of this, add in my extras and finish off with a quick note of my additional North Japan week on top.
3 Week Itinerary includes: Tokyo, Mount Fuji, Takayama, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Kusatsu and Sapporo.
**Disclaimer: This is an entry into the Trips100 Tucan Travel Blogger Challenge to win a wonderful 2 week adventure to Sri Lanka - wish me luck guys!*
Days 1 - 2 | Tokyo
Starting it all off in the Capital of technology and tradition; Tokyo. I have been mesmerised by the fast paced, cultural mix of old meets new. I am a big geek when it comes to technology, anime and manga so I know I will have a lot of fun exploring and of course I have the biggest to do list to get through; so let’s dive in.
What’s great about organised tours is that you get a local guide who shares their knowledge and takes you to the best spots. When you arrive, your guide will validate your rail ticket (you’re going to need it) and take you to the impressive Meiji Shrine (part of the Shinto Religion) and Harajuku district. I think we all became a little obsessed/curious with Harajuku style after Gwen Stefani ran with it in 00’s so it will be an interesting visit for sure.
After getting to grips with the public transport, I will head to Shibuya Station Intersection - the famous crossroads that are an iconic tick off the list of things to do in Tokyo. After NYC Times Square this has to be the most photographed crossroads in the world; let’s see how busy it really is! I promised geeky activities so it’s time to get immersed in the curious culture of anime and computer games at Akihabara anime and manga stores! I will buy copious amounts of Studio Ghibli merchandise; hello totoro!
Of an evening, I like scoping out cool bars and restaurants that showcase the best of a city. For me, the New York Bar in The Park Hyatt Hotel is a must! It’s best known for the the bar in the wonderful film Lost in Translation, if you haven’t watched it, you are excused to go watch it, but please come back! Honestly, you’ll be even more fixated with Tokyo and Japan, I promise. The views are incredible, so around sunset I will settle myself with a cocktail to take it all in.
Believe it or not, but Tokyo has a huge Jazz scene and nothing is better than a drink in hand listening to jazz under a dim light. In the Shinjuku District, you’ll find the Jazz Spot Intro which has a stellar reputation. Keeping on the musical scene, it wouldn’t be Tokyo without a little jaunt to a Karaoke Bar either so get your voices ready.
If Jazz isn’t your scene, then head to Golden Gait - I’ve heard great things about this area as it is one of the only parts in Tokyo that wasn’t bombed in the war. You’ll find hundreds of small bars to have a drink and you can soak up the after hours atmosphere.
I couldn’t go to Tokyo and not stay a night in a Capsule Hotel, as my brother has told me that he would disown me! Thanks Lyndon. However, after hearing his experience I am rather keen to get snuggled up in a tiny pod and catch some Z’s. I found that Nine Hours capsule hotel came up a lot throughout my research which is always a good sign so I recommend taking a look.
Food Glorious Food
Of course, one of the best ways to immerse yourself in a culture is to eat food. I have lots of notes but here are a few of my favourites:
Ichiran Ramen - Shinjuku/Shibuya - Vending machine noodles naturally.
Totti Cotton Candy - Harajuku - Rainbow Candy Floss the size of your head, fits perfectly in Harajuku so I will embrace the craziness.
Taiyaki - Asakusa Market - A tasty red bean paste treat usually in the shape of a fish.
However, I would like to eat everything on this wonderfully illustrated infographic by Japanloverme on Instagram >>
Day 3 | Mount Fuji
When I was 14 I thought that I was good at Art and that it was an easy GCSE. I can confirm both of those statements are false. However, I did study Japanese Art for a module which was the best part. I fell a tad in love with two artists; Hiroshige and Hokusai. You know the Great Wave guy?! He also create Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji which I recreated for my GCSE piece. Needless to say I am excited to see Mount Fuji through my own eyes and hey, I may take a notepad and draw a new view (I promise I will share so you can have a laugh on me)
You can take the Hakone rope way to admire the scenery or take a bus excursion closer with Tucan Travel so it all depends on what view you prefer. Afterwards, why not soak it off at the relaxing Yunessun Onsen where they have beer and wine baths. My kind of place. After the hustle and bustle of Tokyo I feel that Odawara is the quiet spot needed to recharge for the adventures ahead.
Days 4 - 5 | Takayama
If yesterday was chilling today it’s drinking, Sake time! But first, we need to get to Takayama and today we’d be heading off on the one and only Bullet Train. I often wondered what it would be like, would you notice or feel you are travelling at 200mph? I love a good train journey anyway so this one will be interesting. Then it’s time to hop on to a local train to journey into the Japanese Alps; sounds beautiful.
Takayama has retained its traditional houses, shops and way of life, a complete contrast to the neon lights of Tokyo. Start the exploration on bike no less and get accustomed to the town. Taking a tour is the best way to get a feel for a place as you can pinpoint areas to wish to explore further so I was glad to see this included. As well as the Sake Tasting after all that hard work on your bike, who doesn’t enjoy a well deserved trip to a brewery?
After the tours, I would like to try local food so head to Sannomachi Street, I have my eye on a rice croquette in soy sauce. I’ve read that Takayama is famous for it’s wood and carpentry so I’ll take my trusty DSLR camera to get shots of the most beautiful designs I can find. As I will likely visit in October I would like to coincide my trip with the world renowned Float Festival - an optional excursion that can be added in through Tucan. I am curious by all the wonderful festivals that Japan have through the year. The Float festival showcases the old traditional wood carving, Takayama is famed for mixed with a party into the night; sounds like a lot of fun.
Days 6 - 7 | Kyoto
My spiritual side will be buzzing today as the Japan Discovered tour takes us to one of my top cities to visit in the world; Kyoto. I have been fascinated with the culture of Kyoto with it’s many Shinto Shrines, Geisha history, tea ceremonies and beautiful scenery. It’s worlds apart from the English culture I am used to and I know I will love it.
Firstly, it’s shrine time! Two of the most recognised of all the shrines are Kiyomizu and Fushimi Inari Shrine. I would like to walk the red gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine, it is a little way out of Kyoto and takes around 2-3 hours to hike the whole summit. Apparently, the trick is to get here super early to avoid the crowds at lunch time, especially if, like me, you want to take an awesome shot like that >>
Nishiki Food Market is 400 years old and is home to 129 stores all offering unique foods to try. I always visit a food market if I can as you can try lots of smaller local delicacies as opposed to having one meal experience. Also, Wajo Ryomen Sugari Ramen has been recommended by a friend so this will be a pit stop for lunch on one of the days. It’s unique in that you place an order on a vending machine and wait in a cute courtyard whilst your food is lovingly prepared fresh inside, when it’s ready you take your ticket and seat to chow down.
Of course, no trip to Kyoto would be complete without a Geisha tour around Gion. A local guide takes you around the area to explore and learn more. If I have enough time I would love to book a tea ceremony at Camellia Garden or a morning mediation at Kenninji Temple.
Day 8 - 9 | Hiroshima & Miyajima Island
I am keen to learn about the devastating impact of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima by joining the tour to the Hiroshima museum. It’s important to reflect on the disastrous events that have happened in the past and I believe that as you travel and spend time reflecting, it puts everything in perspective! Day to day life can be tough but it can be unimaginable for some.
A short 40 minutes ferry ride away is the beautiful island of Miyajimi which is home to the famous floating Torii red gate and free roaming sacred deer. The ropeway cable car up to Mount Misen has been suggested by a few travel bloggers I know as the views are breathtaking at the top. You can hike up if you fancy the exercise, it takes 2 hours one way so I will probably hike one way then grab a cable car back down to maximise time.
After all that exercise, a visit to Omotesando Street will be in order for much needed street food. I saw that they have maple shaped costella which are pastry treats filled with red bean paste, sounds delicious. The rest of the afternoon I would just relax, take in the sights and try to explore as much of the island as leisurely possible.
Day 10 | Nagasaki
The tour ends at the ancient port of Japan; Nagasaki. I read that Nagasaki has incredible night views and was once voted Top 3 in the world! There is an observation deck on Mount Inasa to take in the beautiful harbour lights below and grab something to eat. Nagasaki is also home to a huge China town, with lots of food and drink stalls to get lost in. What a way to end an epic 2 week tour!
And just like that, the Japan Discovered tour has come to end and what a lot of Japan has been discovered! When you are organising a lifetime trip it’s hard to plan and fit everything in but I feel Tucan Travel have covered all places I had on my list and have thrown in towns I have never heard of!
Days 11 - 21 | Kusatsu, Sapporo, Osaka & Tokyo
I would add an additional week on to my journey focusing on a few spots that I have seen on the wonderful Journeys in Japan which broadcasts on NHK Japan News Channel. One of my favourite travel programmes.
Kusatsu is literally an onsen town North of Tokyo, home to 13 hot springs. You are given a stamp book to collect the individual stamps at each of the onsen. As this is a huge part of Japanese culture what better way to get involved than to visit a whole town.
Sapporo is located on Hokkaido Island in Northern Japan. Again, it’s on my list as I have seen countless TV programmes stating how beautiful it is and it’s off the beaten tourist path of the south. I found this incredible 7 day itinerary for Hokkaido off of Wanderstation which I will use as my guide
Osaka isn’t as popular as Tokyo or Kyoto but my brother has told me it does have incredible food! As I love food and have a day to spare I would head here for a brief 24 hour period. I found this 24 hour guide from City Cookie which I like the look of as she emphasises the tasty food and the culture which I am all about.
Lastly I would head back to Tokyo for the last few days of the trip. Making sure that all the bucket list items are well and truly ticked off.