Japan wasn’t technically part of the original travel plan but I am SO glad we have been able to come to this country. Needless to say , we were a hop, skip and jump away in Hong Kong when we decided to fly to Tokyo and spend a couple of weeks exploring this very unique Asian country.
The first thing you need to get your head around when arriving in Japan is their rail system. Forget about taxis and Uber, trains are how you travel in Japan. It makes for a long trip when you get off an international flight and straight onto a local train, but the good news is that Japan has the whole rail thing sorted. Similar to Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore, the rail system is sleek, on-time and convenient. Oh and super fast if you get a chance to ride on a high-speed train.
We booked some accommodation in a small town called Uji, about 30 minutes out of the main Tokyo drag and we LOVED it. To be completely honest, we booked our accommodation fairly last minute and there weren’t a whole lot of options left, but Uji was perfect for us. It is a picturesque village with a train station, parks, playgrounds and lots of small, traditional hole-in-the-wall eateries. There are also 7-11s which have become a bit of a go-to over the last 8 months for us. We are more familiar with the inside of a 7-11 than probably anyone you might know.
For dinner on our first night we went to one of the hole-in-the-wall restaurants in Uji and found that it was super easy to order a meal without really having to speak much Japanese (handy considering we only knew a few phrases). The Japanese love to display model food that looks unbelievably real and they also love a gadget. This meant that we could choose a meal from the display window, press a corresponding button on a machine, insert cash, hand ticket to restaurant worker and receive food. Brilliant, easy and delicious!
On the theme of buttons, if you have little kids like ours, Japan offers ample opportunity to press buttons. Very important and exciting if you are 5 years old….and well a little exciting for us big people too. Buttons operate every gadget in your apartment and no toilet in Japan would be complete without a set of buttons to spray water here and there, warm your seat and play some background sounds of gushing creeks and birds. The whole bathroom experience is something else.
We spent 5 days in Tokyo and ticked off most of the main touristy things to do and see from visiting a bamboo grove, drinking traditional green tea, experiencing the busiest street crossing in the world (Shibuya Crossing) and soaking up the atmosphere of the famous, eccentric Takeashite Street (yes there were a lot of juvenile smirks about this name) in Harajuku. We were also able to include a visit to Tokyo zoo in the mix (the polar bears were our favourite) and add to our list of themed cafe experiences by dropping into a ‘Bunny Rabbit Cafe’. The café was exactly as it sounds without the coffee or tea…or any tables strangely. In fact, come to think of it , we really just went to someone’s house and paid them to play with their pet rabbits.
The other ‘touristy’ thing we did in Tokyo was a sushi-making course. We were a group of mainly Australians in an apartment building in the burbs of Tokyo, being taught sushi making techniques by a lovely, polite and softly spoken Japanese lady. Our sushi rolls looked pretty professional if you ask me.
Moving on from Tokyo, we took a train to a village about 80 km away called Hakone. The main reason for stopping here was to see Mt Fuji, which is Japan’s highest peak and also an active volcano. I would be lying if I said we weren’t a little bit cold on this part of the trip. We had bought a jumper each in Hong Hong but most of the tourists in Hakone were kitted out in snow-type gear, getting ready to face a blizzard. Lucky we are pretty tough and didn’t let a bit of chill factor get in our way of having a good time. We might have been shivering and shaking on top of Mt Komagate, where we had a great view of Mt Fuji, but we layered up our clothes, enjoyed some warm, sulphur-spring boiled eggs and enjoyed the view. Staying overnight in Hakone was a special treat for us because we go to camp out together in a traditional-style room with tatami mats and futons mattresses rolled out on the floor with central heating and big blankets. We really felt like we had experienced a bit of traditional Japan and breathed in some super fresh air in beautiful Hakone.
Next stop is further south to the city of Kyoto and Osaka. We are hoping it’s a little warmer if truth be told…