Japan Travel Diary: A Weekend in Tokyo

After our stay in Kyoto and  Hakone, we finally arrived in Tokyo. What a city! There is plenty to see and do, so much culture, history, fashion and food! We accommodated ourselves in an AirBnB room in well-located Shinjuku and could access all of the main sights from there easily. Of course we visited many more places than listed here, but that would have resulted in a novel length blog post. Therefore, I’ve created a collection of my most memorable moments of this weekend:

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Friday: The Tsukiji Fish Market

About 15 years ago, I got myself a DuMont travel magazine about Japan. I just loved the pictures and articles, and what impressed me the most was the story about the Tsukiji fish market. I made a promise to myself to visit this market one day. And now, I did.

BlueGingerClub_Tokyo-1BlueGingerClub_Tokyo-12The full experience Tsukiji would include the tuna auction at 4.30am. We decided not to got for that as it would have ruined our entire sightseeing schedule, but as a compromise we headed to the market at 8am. Not so much of a hustle and bustle anymore, but a good time to take photos and catch a glimpse of the vendors’ daily routine (but take care of the lethal electro carts everywhere!).

BlueGingerClub_Tokyo-15 Any edible sea dweller can be found here. From pulpo to all kinds of fish to weird snails and eel, there is nothing which is not sold at Tsukiji. It is highly enjoyable to wander around, trying to figure out what kind of strange seafood lies in the eskies and to watch vendors cut up entire tunas. Pretty awesome. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves:

BlueGingerClub_Tokyo-5BlueGingerClub_Tokyo-9BlueGingerClub_Tokyo-2After that, it was time for 10am morning sushi! We just left the fish area and walk to the blocks surrounding the market where you will find a broad offer of sushi places. When you’re there, mark my words: order something raw and preferably tuna. You will never get better, fresher and more high quality sushi in your entire life. Had some green tea and a beer with that (if you can eat raw fish at 10am, you can also have a beer, right?). What can I say: I was a very happy girl that day.

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 Saturday:  Asakusa and Don Quijote

Another temple! Even though I’m kind of fed up with temples after travelling extensively in Southeast Asia in the past months, I’d strongly recommend this one: Sensoji. Located in Asakusa, this massive Buddhist temple is worth a visit. Moreover, the area around it is more than charming. Vendors sell traditional Japanese snacks like tako-yaki (fried squid nastiness but oh so good!), souvenirs and kimono accessories.

BlueGingerClub_Tokyo-19BlueGingerClub_Tokyo-34BlueGingerClub_Tokyo-36After the temple has closed and night has dawned, the district comes to life with many street restaurants where people rather come for a beer and some snacks to go with that than an opulent dinner. It’s a good place for chatting with friends, have a glass of sake (or the other) and enjoy simple foods such as okonomiyaki (weird but very delicious, savoury pancake filled with cabbage and other ingredients) or yakitori chicken skewers.ňÄ

Okonomiyaki and Yaki-toriBlueGingerClub_Tokyo-24When you are in this area, it is imperative to pay a visit to Don Quixote store. You want the sick Japanese shit? This is your place. From Sailor Moon mascara to all sorts of costumes, weird sweets, alcohol, purses, shower gels and kitchen utilities, there is nothing you cannot find there. Sugoi!
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Sunday: Lazy day in Shinjuku

On Sunday, our plan was to check out Shinjuku. So we strolled through Shinjuku Gyoen, one of Tokyo’s largest parks. You have to pay an entrance fee for the park which is quite an uncommon thing in my opinion, but you can spend hours in this well maintained garden. Also, you can access the glass house with is home to many cool plants for free, so it’s worth it.BlueGingerClub_Tokyo-43BlueGingerClub_Tokyo-40BlueGingerClub_Tokyo-41BlueGingerClub_Tokyo-42

  After that, we walked over to Hanazono shrine which hosts a temple flea market every Sunday. If you like flea markets in general, are looking for a bargain or are a vintage aficionado, this is your place! You can absolutely find some jewels in the junk. From ceramic to old photos and cotton yukatas, there are plenty of souvenirs to bring back home. And even though they have fixed prices, you can always haggle a bit and probably get a little something extra.

BlueGingerClub_Tokyo-37 BlueGingerClub_Tokyo-39Generally, there are some nice shops in this area, from high-end (Takashimaya) to brands for everyone (MUJI <3). After a shopping spree, we treated ourselves with a massive bowl of simple ramen. Carb overload! Ramen time!

… and other things

Here are some other places I really enjoyed in a brief overview:

BlueGingerClub_Tokyo-30 Meiji Jingu: A Buddhist shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. I just washed my hands there.

BlueGingerClub_Tokyo-20Tokyo Skytree: Almost 650m high, this impressive tower has a wonderful platform from where you can get a sick view over Tokyo. On clear days, you can even see the Fuji-san (of course we did not, I just came to terms with the fact that I will never ever see that mountain!)

BlueGingerClub_Tokyo-51Harajuku: Holy crepe! This beauty was wolfed down by us at Harajuku, the area in which you can find Cosplayers, Gothic Lolitas and other crazy manifestations of Japanese youth culture.

BlueGingerClub_Tokyo-25Edo-Tokyo Museum: Why shouldn’t a sumo wrestler ride a bike! Took this shot on our way to the Edo-Tokyo Museum, which is, hands down, the best municipal museum I’ve ever visited. Strongly recommend it!

 

What are your favourites spots in Tokyo?
Share your tips with us:

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Japan Travel Diary: Onsen-time and the Fuji-yama

I’m writing this waiting for my flight back to Singapore at Haneda Airport, reflecting on this wonderful holiday. I loved Kyoto, I enjoyed discovering Tokyo (more to come!), but my absolute highlight was staying at a traditional, Japanese guesthouse. I’ve shared the highlight of my stay with you:

Japan_Hakone-1-4Onsen Time!

A traditional, Japanese accommodation is called ryokan and offers you the full Nippon experience: sleeping on a tatami floor, beautifully arranged kaiseki style dishes (also served in your tatami room) and often an onsen. An onsen is a hot spa area which relaxes your body, mind and soul. The Japanese obviously invented spa before it became a thing in the Western world – and they did a perfect job! And the coolest thing: you get to wear a yukata (light cotton kimono) all day!

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Japan_Hakone-4Japan_Hakone-5Our ryokan of choice was called Suimeisou which is located in walking distance from the railway station Hakone-Yumoto. I think that the price of roughly 15,000-20,000 Yen is absolutely decent for the high quality dishes you’ll be served and the level of the service and facilities. I’d totally recommend it.

So, when we arrived, the onsen lady showed us our rooms, explained us how to wear the yukata, when our meals will be served in our rooms and when our beds will be made. She poured freshly brewed o-cha for us and offered us an azuki bean sweet. In a ryokan like this, absolutely everything is being taken care of; you just have to move your body to the onsen and back to your room again. After days of crazy sightseeing behind and a few more ahead of us, one day of doing absolutely nothing was pure bliss. (Also my foodie heart exploded when I saw the Japanese traditional dinner).

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Hakone & the Fuji-yama

On the next day, we headed to Lake Ashi to see Mount Fuji . Unfortunately, the weather was a bit cloudy so we could not get a glimpse of this iconic mountain. But actually, the area around Fuji-san is so incredibly picturesque, I did not miss it (which is a lie I’m telling to myself because who would not want to see it ūüėĄ). Anyways, we rented a swan boat and fought the waves of this windy day, went to see a shinto temple and wandered around the lake (Hakone-machi and Moto-Hakone). When you’re there, you could also visit Hakone-Sekisho, a rebuilt checkpoint from Edo-period. Hakone has much to offer for travellers who appreciate nature and picturesque views. And let’s be honest: who does not want to ride a swan boat.


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Overall, the stay at hakone will always have a special place in my heart – it’s my new happy place. Also, I already came to the conclusion that I definitely have to return to Japan one day and when doing that, I will most likely plan 2-3 days in a ryokan and exploring beautiful hakone, preferably in autumn when the leaves are red and golden.

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Japan Travel Diary: I fell in love with Kyoto

A trip to Kyoto is like travelling back in time – back to the golden age of a past¬†era of Geishas, tea ceremonies and life at court. Even today, it is not uncommon to see women strolling through the old, picturesque streets in¬†colourful, traditional attire.¬†I’ve shared my experiences¬†of Kyoto¬†in this¬†Japan travel diary:

Info: We stayed at Jiyu-Jin guesthouse, close to the railway station Kyoto. Pretty basic, but it was clean, central and the staff was friendly and understood basic English. I can recommend it for travellers who do not want to spend to much on accomodation and prefer to do most of their sightseeing by foot. Picturesque kamo river and Pontocho district are ony a stone’s throw away.

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Kamo river and Pontocho

Sitting at the riverside, drinking a cold beer and enjoying the summer breeze ‚Äď that‚Äôs what you can enjoy at kamo river. We were lucky to see a night market on the first day we arrived in Kyoto. Vendors would sell food and knickknacks in this vibrant atmosphere.

A bit further up the riverside, the street is full of restaurants which are beautifully decorated with Japanese lampions and with a view on the river (try to dine in one if these places!). Also, this district is very nice for a walk and offers many possibilities to enjoy good food or drinks in a traditional yet hip environment.
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Nishiki market

I SAW PARADISE. Nishiki market is also called ‚ÄěKyoto‚Äôs pantry‚Äú, and with great justice: the variety of pickles, sweets, fish and snacks is sheerly endless. I was in foodie heaven! My friend and I ate almost everything we could get our hands on. From kakinoha¬†sushi or grilled mackarel to o-nigiri riceballs and fresh, ruby red tuna on a stick. There’s also a¬†myriad of sweets which need to be tried by the curious tourist: from matcha mochi filled with azuki beans to little Japanese cream puffs, ice cream and other delicacies.

Japan_Kyoto-5Japan_Kyoto-6Japan_Kyoto-7Japan_Kyoto-8Japan_Kyoto-9But the market area offers more than food: you can buy china with pretty patterns, souvenirs and ‚Äď kimonos! I actually was just looking for a light bathrobe and ended up buying a white and blue yukata (‚Äěsimple‚Äú cotton kimono, mostly worn in summer) and a BEAUTIFUL green kimono. What did I pay? Merely 120‚ā¨, including the obi and bands you need to tighten it with. Apart from that, there are several pretty hip shops in the area where you can buy clothes, beauty products and shoes (ABC mart¬†offers a cool range of sneakers – I got a white pair of canvas vans for little money which are just perfect for travelling).

Japan_Kyoto-13Japan_Kyoto-12Gion

Starting in feudal times, the old geisha quarter has had a long history. A history of tea houses, kabuki theaters and also some redlight entertainment. This charming district on the east bank of kamo river has kept the charming vibe of many centuries until today. Japanese, no matter if old or young, still visit Gion wearing their light summer yukatas. And you can still indulge in the old arts like clay pottery or a tea ceremony.

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Japan_Kyoto-16Before our arrival in Japan, we had booked a tea ceremony at Camellia. The tea ceremony master explained all elements of the preparation of a proper cup of matcha in English. Very interesting! At the end, we even got to make our own cup! Of course I had to buy the equipment to make my own proper matcha at home soon. After that, we took a walk through the old streets and checking out the tiny shops.Of course there are also a handful of temples and shrines in this area. Strolling through Gion was one of the most wonderful travel experiences ever!Japan_Kyoto-21

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Daytrip to Lake Biwa in Otsu

Wanna see a big lake? I mean, a really big lake? Then you should check out Biwa-ko in Otsu. With a total mass pf 674sq km it’s a quite an impressive amount of water they have there.

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Take the train for approx. 20 minutes from Kyoto station to Otsu station which is included in the JR pass. You could take a boat tour there, but unfortunately, we did not have time to do that so we just went to see Mii-deru, an impressive temple complex situated in a breathtaking garden. This place must be perfect in autumn when leaves are golden and red.Japan_Kyoto-29Japan_Kyoto-33


Kyoto is one of the most charming places I’ve ever been to with its relaxed aura and long history. I will definitely come back one day to see more. Do you have any Kyoto travel tips? I’d love to hear them – please share your experiences with us:¬†

Japan Travel Diary: Wonderful Nara and Osaka

Wrapped sushi? A kiss from bambi? Udon madness? That’s what you can experience in Nara and Osaka! I had such an incredible day today, I don’t even know where to start! Read my impressions of Nara and Osaka in this¬†Japan travel diary:

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At the moment, we’re¬†staying at¬†a guest house in Kyoto for a few days as a home base. My friend and I¬†fell in love with Kyoto at our¬†first night wandering the streets of Gion, so we decided to spend more time in this city¬†rather than visiting other towns¬†near by and came to the conclusion to take only one day trip out of Kyoto to visit Nara and Osaka. Two cities in one day? No problem!

Nara

With our Japan Railway Pass in our pockets, we left our guest house early in the morning and grabbed a little snack on the way (edamame, o-nigiri rice balls and cold ouchi-cha tea for a 7/11 takeaway breakfast Р can I please stay here?). After a short while we arrived in Nara, which was the national capital in the 8th Century. Pretty old, huh. And Nara is said to have a damn big, old temple as well!

So we walked down the main street from the railway station to reach this Todai-ji temple, passing by several shrines and – BAMBIS! Woah ‚̧ I could not believe my eyes how tame they were! You could buy special¬†cookies and they would mildly attack you to get this little deer snack. But so cute! I even got a kiss on the cheek by one of my deer friends while I wasn’t paying attention while nibbling on an ice cream cone.
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Anyways – we arrived at the temple and it was truly breathtaking. Believe me, I’ve seen one or the other temple on my many trips in Southeast Asia by now and this one, dating back from¬†728, was top league: ¬†Huge, wonderful buddha statue; old, and charmingly not perfectly restored paint on the wood elements and the comforting smell of incense sticks in the air.Japan_NaraOsaka-4

Japan_NaraOsaka-3After such a cultural activity, it was finally lunch time. So, we went for kakinoha zushi! These little sushi wraps are a particular tradition in this area and wrapped in salted persimmon leaves which achieve an antibacterial effect. As a dessert I treated myself with a cone of delicious sesame ice cream while my friend was having sakura flavour. Noms!

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And then it was already time to go to Osaka.

Osaka

I have to mention one thing: it is INSANELY hot in Japan at the moment. (Says the girl who lives in Singapore!). So when we arrived in Osaka, we dragged our bodies through the stinging afternoon heat to reach Nijo castle.

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Japan_NaraOsaka-12Japan_NaraOsaka-11Situated in a picturesque park, this old castle from the Edo Period (1603-1867) was a must see visit for us. Unfortunately, apart from a nice view, the castle itself was not the best sight ever. Also the castle museum in there was pretty lame (holograms? CRT TV? Curation from the 80ies).

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After some shopping,¬†we decided to grab dinner and ended up in a wonderful udon noodle place near Osaka railway station. I’m a total sucker for Asian noodle soups and especially Japanese ones! Loved¬†my cold pot of chewy, thick udon noodles in a salty broth accompanied with umeboshi plum, grated ginger, spring onions and fried tempura flakes.¬†With happy bellies we set out on the journey back home.

Japan_NaraOsaka-16Japan_NaraOsaka-17A day well spent in Japan!