May 10, 2018
My first impressions of Asia were my memories as a kid when my family and I visited China: hot, crowded, and not fun. Thus, exploring other parts of Asia was not high on my priority list! However, my second cousin managed to convince me to travel to Japan with him and his girlfriend. We organized the trip focusing on exploring two main regions: Kyoto and Tokyo. Kyoto was beautiful, and I was surprised how impressionable it became. Tokyo differed from Kyoto, but it still left an impression nonetheless.
Kyoto – where traditional customs and lifestyles remain strong amongst locals
Tenryu-ji Temple – world heritage site and the most important temple in Arashiyama District (japan-guide.com, 1996-2018)
What stood out about this temple was the garden, which consisted of a large pond filled with coy fish, overlooking mountains of Arashiyama! Bonus is that this temple is within walking distance to the infamous Arashiyama Bamboo Grove.
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove – one of the most photographed sites in Kyoto, consisting of tall stalks of bamboo
Surprisingly, walking through the bamboo grove is CROWDED with tourists. The best times to walk through the bamboo grove is either really early in the morning or later in the evening! I was able to capture a great shot despite the circumstances. After walking through the bamboo grove, I walked towards Okochi-Sanso Villa; the bonus to visiting this villa is its gardens and a nice Japanese sweet paired with a cup of hot matcha tea (included in admission fee).
Kinkaku-ji Temple – also known as the Golden Pavillion whose top two floors are covered in golden leaf
Other highlights of Kyoto besides the numerous temples were Nishiki Market and Daimaru Basement Food Floor! Both consisted of different types of food to try, and they were perfect alternatives to explore Kyoto especially on a rainy day!
Mount Mitoku – the journey to Nageiredo wearing warazouri, traditional straw climbing sandals
There were multiple stops along the way, but my favorite was the first temple because it showed the best views of Mount Mitoku, and it was a nice break from the STRENUOUS climb upward. Rhonda Krause, a travel blogger, described the journey perfectly!
Tottori – known for its endless sand dunes
We spent the least amount of time in Tottori, but it was a great rest break before hitting the road again to Kinosaki, the best hot spring town consisting of 7 public baths, traditional ryokan, and ambiance! I’ve never been to a nude public bath, and Japan opened my eyes to being comfortable naked.
Himeji to Tottori Drive – drive that consists of fishing villages and rice fields, along with bicycles that are free to use but needs to be returned afterwards
Amanohashidate – also known as Kyoto by the Sea
We biked across the sandbar and took the tram up to the mountains in order to overlook the bay and the journey that it took in order to capture this view!
Kibune and Kurama – tranquil rural villages
Kibune is known for the Kifune Shrine, devoted to the God of water and rain. The most unique part of visiting this shrine was having my fortune told! You can purchase a fortune telling sheet at the counter, which is a blank sheet of paper! However, once soaked in water, your fortune appears! It was a fun experience, and I was also pleased to read that I had good fortune!
Kurama is known for the Kurama-dera Temple! What I remembered most about this temple was what seemed like endless steps. Also, I noticed distinct sound of people ringing the bell!
Hirobun – river dining experience where you can eat nagashi-soumen sliding down bamboo pipes
This experience was so unique! While the views of the river were spectacular, I enjoyed eating nagashi-soumen spouting down the bamboo pipes! It was honestly a race amongst who can catch the noodles the fastest!
Gion – most famous Geisha district in Kyoto stretching from Kamo-gawa River and Yasaka-jinja Shrine
Japan gets pretty humid during the day, but the best part of a hot humid day is GREEN TEA ICE CREAM!! We strolled down Gion with ice cream. I also made it a mission to catch a glimpse of a geisha, although I was unsuccessful. Growing up, I read Memoirs of a Geisha, but after some new research on the history of geishas, I learned that the geisha that was interviewed in the book disagreed with what was written and actually wrote her own book: Geisha, a Life.
Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine – thousands of vermillion torii gates, which leads to Mount Inari
The beginning of this attraction was packed with people, but when you walk towards Mount Inari, there are less people. I was surprised that there were fewer people the longer you walk on the trail! However, I found out rather quickly that the trail consisted of stairs on top of stairs leading to the top, which may have been the reason why many do not finish the trail!
Kiyomizu-dera Temple – independent Buddhist temple that is undergoing renovations and also part of the World Heritage sites in Kyoto
Tokyo – futuristic metropolis but also near Mount Fuji
Mount Fuji – highest mountain in Japan
I never knew that seeing Mount Fuji was harder than it appeared. Apparently, depending on the day and weather, Mount Fuji is hidden especially when it is cloudy! Although I took the bus all the way to the top, I wanted to capture a photograph of Mount Fuji from a distance, which presented as a challenge. I researched different spots of where the “best views” were. I’m not sure I found the best view of Mount Fuji, but I was satisfied with this shot after what seemed like a trek to get to and a lot of time spent waiting..
Sensoji Temple – one of Tokyo’s most popular and colorful temples
When I visited Sensoji Temple, I happened to stumble upon the Sanja Festival, one of the wildest and largest Shinto festivals!
Ueno Park – large public park in Tokyo
Within Ueno Park, there were different temples, statues, and other attractions! Also, I learned that Japan has unique manhole covers, which come in a variety of designs depending on the location (i.e. cities, neighborhoods within Japan)!
Tokyo is expansive, and at a glance, you almost feel like you’re on a different planet! We stayed in the red light district (Shinjuku), which was one of the more popular sights of Tokyo. Most shops and restaurants stay open relatively late!
Some other highlights of Tokyo were shopping at Itsetan, Shibuya, Akihabara, and eating ramen at Ichiran Ramen!
Japan is a very progressive country with technology at its most up to date and probably one of the most efficient transportation systems in the world, in my opinion! Trains are ALWAYS on time! I did not realize how efficient transportation was, otherwise, I would’ve invested in the Japan Rail Pass. Further, the international airports are an hour away from most cities so you definitely have to plan accordingly when going to the airport; otherwise, you might miss your flight! Japan exceeded my expectations and left me a really positive impression of Asia. There were still so many regions of Japan I have yet to explore, but I think anyone traveling to Japan for the first time should definitely include Kyoto in their itinerary! This trip left me a great overview of Japan; if I had to change one thing about this trip, I think I would’ve invested more time in EATING since food is relatively inexpensive in Japan.
Where have I traveled in Eastern Asia?