Just incase you missed any photos I uploaded of my Japan trip, here’s a final recap! These are only a few of my highlights from the trip, but it would be entirely too much to include them all! I’ve also provided some detailed insider information to each photo, just incase you’re interested to visit these locations. If you are indeed planning your trip, make sure to check out my other post, “15 Things You Didn’t Know About Japan” as there are a few helpful hints and tips you might want to be aware of as well!
Skytree Tower (Tokyo) – One of the best cityscape views Tokyo has to offer. There are 2 levels for which you can enter, either 350 meters high, or 450 meters high. You can only purchase tickets on the 4th floor, for the 350 meter high view at 2,800 Yen and purchase the 450 meter view when you’re at the 1st level for another 1,000 Yen. If you prefer, you can also make an online booking (albeit all in Japanese), and you’ll be given a designated time for which you can visit, at a slightly cheaper rate! I got to enjoy my morning coffee up here while taking in the view of Tokyo. I wouldn’t recommend going to the 450 meter viewpoint unless the sky is extremely clear!
Nakamise Market (Tokyo) – The Nakamise market has many cute traditional Japanese street stalls selling on kinds of artifacts, desserts, and traditional Japanese snacks. If you’re looking for a cultural experience, here might be the best place to find it, although I’m certain that it is slightly too commercial. Make sure to stop at each stall to try some of the delicacies. I had some iced cold Matcha tea, a brick of Japanese sweet potato, and some buns and cookies 🙂 Delicious.
Sensoji Temple (Tokyo): The Nakamise street market leads directly to the largest Buddhist Temple, Sensoji Temple, which is a site not to be missed. Make sure to donate some Yen and read your fortune! Don’t worry, they have it written in English too. Once you’re done reading your fortune, fold up the paper, and tie it to metal rods.
Chuo Dori Walking Street in Ginza (Tokyo): Ginza, and specifically, Chuo Dori street is best visited on the weekends. They have specific hours in the afternoon, where the roads are closed and converted into a pedestrian walking street. I was lucky enough to have gone there during a festival and witnessed some very cultural ceremonies. From throwing water, to taiko drums to ice sculpting, to glass painting, and much much more! It was a beautiful street full of life and fun discoveries (and commercial shopping, if that’s what you’re looking for).
If you peer into the little shops along the streets of Ginza, you will also find a gorgeous and decadent Japanese Beer Hall. Make sure to enjoy a Sapporo there!
Kawaguchiko Lake: I spent a night in Kawaguchiko. Initially, I had gone there because I wanted to get a good view of Mt. Fuji, and perhaps even go up to the top. But unfortunately, neither of those happened, as the sky was entirely too foggy, and there was no way of getting a good view either from the mountains looking down, or from the lake looking up. However, it is still such a stunning city, with much to explore. I rented a bicycle and rode around a large part of the lake. If you have the energy for it, you can cycle around the entire lake, which is a total of 23km.
This was a nice resting spot after a tiring bike ride up and down some hills!
Ide Sake Brewery (Kawaguchiko): I went to a tiny family owned brewery that has been around for 21 generations, since the 1700s! There is so much history to this cozy brewery, and the owner gladly gives you her undivided attention. She will let you try a variety of sake for free and explain all about it. It was a beautiful and personal experience. After the tasting, she actually invited me into her home, and showed me all the elements of a traditional Japanese home. I got to see are Matcha Tea Room, and her elaborate garden. She knew the age of all of her trees! The oldest tree was approximately 350 years, and the youngest was around 50 years old. Fun Fact: This brewery entered a global Sake contest and came in 2nd place!
Sanrokuen (Kawaguchiko): This is a restaurant that will provide you with a traditional Japanese barbecue experience. It was one of the first real meals I had in Japan, and was thoroughly entertaining and shocking all at the same time. I ordered a BBQ set and sat on the floor while they prepared the coal for the BBQ. After the BBQ set came, I reached for the whole fish on a stick to grill it. To my surprise and horror, it was actually still alive and jerking on the stick, and I could feel the power of the fish’s struggle. I was told to wait for the fish to die, and then put it on the grill, and that this was normal for Japanese BBQs. I was glad to find out that everything else on the sticks were either already dead or just vegetables. I felt bad for the fishy in all honesty, and actually teared up because it made me sad. But then I ate it anyways, and it was delicious. I felt so guilty. I wish it wasn’t yummy.
Fushimi Inari (Kyoto): Fushimi Inari is one of the most popular and visited locations in all of Japan. From what I understand, it is a worship site for Inari, the god of rice. Before entering the Fushimi Inari, be sure to purify your hands with water at the designated areas. The water also happens to be really cooling, especially for a summer time trek through this location.
There are about 32,000 small shrines located in the uphill climb of 4km, which can take up to 2 hours, because its all stairs! I really feel like I walked up 10,000 stairs, but again I haven’t found a website that tells me exactly how many steps the uphill trek had. The most fascinating aspect of the trek are the Toriis (the orange gates). I wish I could tell you more about the history and story behind it aside from the fact that it was donated by Japanese businesses and has some form of symbolic representation to the merchants back in the day. However, what I do know to be a fact, is that the trek is worth it, and its beautiful. Avoid the short-cuts, and take the longest way up and down if you have the time and energy to spare!
Higashiyama District (Kyoto): This area is one of Japan’s best preserved old town and historical districts. There are some great traditional restaurants and shops selling pottery, sweets, pickles, crafts and other souvenirs. along the streets. However this district closes by around 5.30pm so be sure to go before that! Also I went up to the Kiyomizudera Temple and Yasaka Shrine through the Higashiyama District. It’s definitely worth a visit! Again, always go to to temples before 5.30pm as they close after that, and it feels like you’re walking through a ghost town (which actually happened to me, oops). Although, by around 6.30pm, all the night restaurants and bars open for business again. It’s kind of weird, but it felt like the Japanese had their own versions of Siestas in every city.
Gion & Pontocho (Kyoto): These little streets filled with bars, restaurants, and clubs comes to life at night. The atmosphere is so inviting, and you are certain to have a great night out in Kyoto. I ate at Pontocho area, which is a row of restaurants lined along the river, and then went on a hunt for some Japanese sake. I had way too much sake that night! Also, be aware that the prices here are exorbitant, so come prepared to spend some money in this district. There is a high chance you will get to see some Geishas as well! I definitely did 🙂
Arashiyama (Kyoto): A pleasant district with lots to discover, Arashiyama is located slightly outside of Kyoto’s central area, however its easily accessible by trains. Since this area felt like it’s own city and the sun was entirely too hot, I decided to rent a bicycle and explore!! It was 1,000 Yen to rent the bicycle, and you can keep it for the entire day until 5.30pm.
The bamboo grove was definitely one of my favourites at the Arashiyama. Some other highlights included the Tenryu-ji Temple, and the gardens surrounding it, absolutely breathtaking. It can easily take over 4 – 5 hours to discover this area if not more, so its advisable to start your day early here!
Philosopher’s Path (Kyoto): I covered the entire philosopher’s path from start to finish, but didn’t go into all the temples. The walk alone easily took me over an hour. It is a beautiful stone path along the canal the entire way, and there are so many large colourful fish to see in this canal. I was surprised no one went fishing here, but I’m sure there are regulations against it. This location is actually known to be popularly visited during the cherry blossom season in April, but I was there smack in the middle of summer. Oh well!
Umeda Floating Garden (Osaka): A great rooftop view above Osaka, and a short walk away from the Osaka main train station, and this one actually has no glass windows blocking you from the view! It’s about 900 Yen to get up there. When you are up there though, try counting all the bridges you see going through the river! There are so many.
Kuromon Ichiba Market (Osaka): This market closes at around 3pm so make sure to go before that to enjoy a market style lunch! You can buy fresh sushi, sashimi, lobster, crabs, sea urchins and all other japanese delicacies. Some market stalls even have a place for you to sit and eat right after you buy it! The best place for a lunch meal, hands down. This also happens to be where I enjoyed a King Crab! It was the largest crab I’ve ever tried to devourer, and I definitely had to share it with the other locals sitting and eating around me.
Ame Mura (Osaka): Also known as little America, this district is very hipster, filled with exciting shopping stores, hidden karaoke bars and restaurants. I discovered a rooftop here could the “Rooftop Bar OO” that is highly recommended for the night time. Also surrounded by a concrete jungle, they’ve managed to create a fun atmosphere for lounging and party seekers.
Dotonburi (Osaka): This street comes to life at night and lives up to the global Japanese standard of hustle, bustle, and beautiful bright lights. Here I managed to try some Takoyaki, which are grilled Octopus balls. I also tried them in Fushimi Inari without realizing what they were. I gave it 2 chances, and didn’t particularly love it because of the texture, but I definitely would recommend trying it as the locals seem to love it; so it must just be my taste buds that can’t quite adjust! Also, try and find a restaurant with a patio that links directly to the the river. Make sure to sit outside for a drink, so that when the clock strikes at the hour, you’ll get a fun experience of water cannons going off along the river! Finally, there is a beer garden here that looks entirely Japanese but actually serves up French Food. I was not allowed to take any photos of it, but it was interesting, so try and scout out for this Japanese-French beer garden.
Shirakawa Village (Gifu): This was by far the highlight of my entire Japan trip. It’s a tiny village, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is not accessible by any mode of transportation except for by car. It is extremely secluded, and the village is very well preserved, with a bit over 1000 elderly Japanese people still living there. As expected, this location is completed disconnected from any form of digitisation, and thats the true beauty of it; a life of simplicity and stunning scenery.
You can easily walk down to the river and take a cold and refreshing dip in the water. Or, you could just dip your feet in the little canals that flow through the entire village like I did! It’s clean, freezing, and super refreshing!
Old Town (Takayama): I don’t know what it was with me and always randomly coming across festivals, but when I was in Takayama, on the old town walking street, there was another huge festival going on, which reminded me more of a summer fest. There were stalls of food, beer, and games everywhere, so I decided to part-take in some handball with the locals! Regardless of if there are festivities and events happening, Takayama is still a beautiful place to visit, especially for the nice Edo Period walking streets that are well preserved.
Shinkyu Bridge (Nikko): A bridge that holds a lot of history of being destroyed during the World Wars and floods, Shinkyu has been rebuilt on several occasions. It definitely as one of the best view in Nikko. I did find Nikko to be a quite and sleepy town, because everything closes around 8pm. However, make sure to stay in a Ryokan here and enjoy an elaborate Japanese dinner in the lodging. Also, make use of the Onsens provided, or find some natural ones! This is what made my Nikko experience completely worthwhile.
Kegon Waterfall & Irohazawa Winding Road (Nikko): The drive from central Nikko to the Kegon Waterfall takes you through one of the most dangerous and popular roads of Japan. Usually closed off for Gran Prix and other car and motorbike racing events, the Irohazawa winding road is made up for 48 man-made curves to represent the 48 Japanese characters! This road is infamous for its views and is one of the best road trip drives in the world. It was absolutely stunning, and I definitely was not able to get a good enough picture of it that would do it justice! However, if you are travelling by car, it is a MUST do. The entire road leading up and down the mountain is about 1 hour by car, and makes a full circle, bringing you right back to your starting point!
The Kegon Waterfall was also quite impressive and beautiful and is right around the corner from Lake Chuzenji, which is also worth a visit! If you have more time, I would highly advise going to Yumoto, which is a popular hot spring town. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to make it up there!
Yes, Japan might be a bit expensive and out of reach, but if you budget well, you can make it happen. If anything, I hope I gave you a bit of travel inspiration and got you excited for Japan!! I know that I’ll be going back for sure, because I have yet to explore Hokkaido, and the southern region. I’m hooked on Japan, and I can’t believe I waited all these years. I adore this country, and everything it has to offer.