What Inspired Me To Take This Trip to Japan
What didn't entice me to visit Japan! I'm a huge fan of the cuisine. The culture is so different from that of Canada that it seemed like one of those must-see destinations. The only drawback was that it was way out of my price range, but then I got lucky! My father had invited me to join him on a group hiking trip. The catch? It was with a group of people in their 50s, who as a 21-year-old were not my first choice of travel companions. Everyone, however, turned out to be very cool.
The Itinerary for My Trip to Japan
Usually, I just show up and see what happens, but this was one of my few planned trips. Dad and I added a few days on either side of the trip so we could explore Tokyo and the surrounding area. But the main trip looked like this:
My Packing List
The usuals-yoga pants for the plane and hiking, comfy t-shirts, long-sleeve layers, jeans, and one black summer dress for any special occasion. I have an epic Osprey bag which I still use to this day (almost nine years later), which has wheels and can act as a suitcase or be converted to a backpack with zip-out straps. It does it all! I was sure to bring a light waterproof jacket and even packed some hiking poles for the long hikes.
How I Managed My Hotels, Flights, and Transport
The main part of the trip was booked through a company, so, honestly, we didn’t have to do much! We booked about six months in advance because there were only a few spots available for the group.
We had to book our own flights, but the majority of the hotels we stayed in during the hike were included. We had an incredible experience staying in a temple at the top of Koyasan mountain, which we would never have been able to find on our own, so sometimes booking with a group pays off!
We never used a rental car because Japan has such amazing public transport – bullet trains, a subway system that covers every corner of Tokyo, and just took a taxi on a few occasions.
How I Managed Costs
It was certainly surprising how expensive everything was. One thing we discovered that helped a lot was eating lunch at a 7/11. It is not something I would do in Canada, but Japan has a lot of awesome snacks like onigiris, and it helped us keep the cost down. And walking everywhere is always a top tip for saving money ☺.
The Length of My Trip
I was only there for three weeks but wish I could have stayed longer! Japan has so many incredible places to visit, including a rich history, beautiful small towns, and Mt. Fuji. Despite the fact that I have already visited Kyoto, I could totally go back again. But, once again, Japan isn't cheap, so I'm not sure how I'd ever afforded to stay for more than three weeks at a time!
No One Was Anything Other Than Lovely in Japan
Every local we met was friendly and welcoming, and everyone was eager to practice their English! Japan has a lot of rules, which took some getting used to, but even when I accidentally broke some of those rules, no one was anything other than lovely. And I actually met up with a friend I’d worked with in the Rocky Mountains. It’s a small world, after all!
Some Food You Have To Try When Traveling in Japan
I could list 20, but I think the ones that stand out most in my mind are:
Sushi at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo: There’s a whole tuna auction thing you can observe, but that wasn’t life-changing for me, but the sushi was! It was so fresh, and it was fun to watch it being prepared in front of us.
The ramen bowls you can order from a vending machine: Hear me out – there’s a vending machine outside the restaurant and you choose all the stuff you want in your soup, drinks, sides, etc., and the machine spits out a little receipt you take inside, hand to the kitchen, and voilà! Your ramen is served. This one is more about the experience than the ramen itself.
For anyone willing to splurge on a really unique dining experience, you must visit Ukai Toriyama. I had my 22nd birthday there and it’s one of the best restaurants I have ever been to. It’s at the top of a mountain two hours outside of Tokyo, among some beautiful Japanese gardens. You sit on the floor in your own private dining room, and the chef cooks at your table! You can read more about it on my blog.
My Favorite Memory From This Trip
We hiked at a location known as the Shikoku pilgrimage. I remember getting to the top of this mountain after a long day of hiking. A group of about 20 elderly monks was standing together and chanting something that sounded like a song in front of the temple. Cherry blossoms were falling from the trees and dancing across the sky. I was speechless. I also liked the book we were given, which was filled with a new hand-written "stamp" for each temple we visited – that's a physical memento I got to keep!
Hikes and Sights Not To Be Missed
I cannot recommend the Koyasan Mountains highly enough. If you can organize to sleep in the temple, DO, and otherwise, it’s just a nice hike. Kyoto as a whole is not to be missed – the whole city is stunning! Definitely go to an onsen hot pool for a relaxing soak – but if you have tattoos, you may not be allowed in, so make sure to check in advance. And be prepared to see a lot of naked bodies.
Suggestions for People Doing This Trip for the First Time
Don’t try to fit everything in at once. Choose a few key places you want to go and spend time there so you can really enjoy everything. You’ll obviously hit Tokyo and there is so much to do there alone. Oh, and I mean it: don’t try to tip anyone. I did that at a Western hotel and accidentally offended somebody.
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