Rainy Travel | My Return to Japan
Five years ago, my husband and I celebrated our honeymoon by taking our first international trip to Japan. Five years later, it's still the magical place that leaves me yearning for more. Last time we went to Japan, we mainly stayed in Tokyo, besides a day trip to Lake Kawaguchiko to see the world-renowned Mount Fuji. This time, we started our trip in Osaka, then Kyoto, then Lake Kawaguchiko, climbed Mount Fuji, and ended the trip in Tokyo. Here's how it all went.
The trip started when I just so happened to wake up at 4am on Thursday, 4 hours before our flight I received a text saying that our plane was delayed due to a technical issue and we would be put on a whole different flight path. Our 17 hour travel day quickly and horribly turned into a 26 hour travel day. If hell is a place, it's a 26 hour day with a never ending flight while you're still battling a sinus infection and you only sleep for one hour tops. Needless to say, our arrival travel day was brutal, but our misery quickly turned around once we stepped foot in the bright and lively city of Osaka.
I would describe Osaka as the hip and more gritty younger brother of Tokyo. While Osaka can feel like the a smaller version of Tokyo, with it's mix use of nature and city and their similar towers, it is its own city in every right.
Osaka wasn't originally on our travel itinerary, but I had heard great things about the neon lit town, and it is located only an hour away from Kyoto, our original first destination, and we'd have to go through Osaka anyways because they have their own international airport. With further thought, we decided to dedicate one full day to explore Osaka (would have been a day and a half, but see paragraph 2).
In one full day, we got to eat a traditional Japanese breakfast, went up and slide down Osaka Tower, checked out Osaka Castle, shopped around Denden Town, and ended the night on the Dotonbori river with the famous running man advertisement. It was a busy day and it was a hard day for me, as I was still getting over my sinus infection and battling through the grips of jet lag, but through it all, I enjoyed my day in Osaka. It's a magical place filled with tons of great shopping, lots of people, and wonderful food options. If you are in the Kyoto area, please don't skip out on this vibrant city.
After Osaka, we headed west to Japan's best kept historical city for the next 3 days, Kyoto. The city of
Kyoto makes you feel like you are stepping back into the Edo period of Japan...besides the Miffy cafe and shop and the Rilakkuma cafe and themed shop and the Snoopy chocolate shop. Yeah, so there's quite a bit of modernism to Kyoto, but it's intertwined with historic homes and buildings and lest not forget the irresistible beauty of Geisha's walking around town.
I enjoyed my time in Kyoto and found myself in love with the going through different areas of the city and finding some places more modern and fast-paced while other areas were older and slower-paced. In our 3 days in the city, we hiked up to the Arashiyama Monkey Park to find wild monkey's roam the area and while you can feed them, staring at them is not tasteful. We also walked through the beautiful Kimono forest, enjoyed my first sip of melon soda (which I absolutely fell in love with), ate green tea soba noodles, and just walked around and got lost in all the hustle and bustle.
In Kyoto, we opted for an Airbnb and took the opportunity to stay in a more traditional home. We had tatami mats, sliding doors, floor mattresses, and a small garden. It was my absolute favorite place we stayed at on this trip and I recommend staying in one of these more traditional homes when in the Kyoto area.
After the three days were over, it was time to hop on a bullet train and head to a very big highlight of our trip, Lake Kawaguchiko/Mt. Fuji.
Lake Kawaguchiko/Mount Fuji
When we first visited Japan, my favorite part was our day trip to Lake Kawaguchiko. It's a smallish town that has some of the best views of Mount Fuji and beautiful hilly greenery all around. Everything feels slow, but in a way that you don't mind. It was also where we drove our Mari Karts and where we let ourselves get lost in between the unique-looking homes. A day trip felt too little, so I vowed that the next time we came back, we would stay here for more than a day. Five years later and that's exactly what we did.
Mount Fuji Climb
We woke up bight and early to climb the 12,388 foot mountain. Climbing Mount Fuji was one of the main reasons we wanted to come back to Japan (and the ONLY reason we visited in the summer). I admit, I was pretty nervous that my body wouldn't acclimate to the air pressure, but as we saw the elderly and some kids starting their ascent up to the top, my fear went away. We stayed at our bare-bones, but well-insulated hut on the 7th station. People usually stay at the 8th station, but we had terrible luck in grabbing a reservation in time, so 7th station it was. We were the first ones to the hut, so we relaxed, saw a rainbow and caught up on internet things (there's actually pretty good WiFi on Mount Fuji). It was a chill day, but the challenge going to be the next day.
We went to bed early, since it would take us about 3-4 hours to reach the top of Mount Fuji for the sunrise, which was around 4:15am. The path directly after our station was all rock. Climbing up rocks, in the dark, at 1am was not a walk in the park. I felt nauseated, but seeing other people trekking their up the mountain, and with the help of my husband, I had the motivation to push through. The higher we went, the more crowded the trail got and the colder it felt. At one point, we took a short break next to a guy laying on his backpack who was from Japan, but had lived in different major cities around the U.S.. He commented on how beautiful the stars were and when we looked up, I was in awe. When we got back to our hike, he was still laying on his backpack, admiring the Milky Way.
The Tori gate was upon us and I felt like Rocky getting up to my final steps to the top. As I entered through the Tori gate, I felt my nausea wash down with a big grin on my face. We had done it. We had made it up Mount Fuji just in time to see the sunrise. As the sun shined it's light the world, we could start to see parts of Japan come to life and look like prop sets from a movie. While everyone was gasping in delight, David and I sat down on the rocky gravel and at sweet melon bread and washed it down with warm hot chocolate. It's a moment I hope to never forget. But what I do hope to forget is the descent of Mount Fuji.
From the moment you start your descent down the mountain, your knees and calves want to cry. Now try feeling those cries for 3 and a half hours. It's not great. I thought climbing up Mount Fuji was hard, but no amount of preparation could have prepared me for going down the zigzag and completely gravel pathway that left us back to where our journey started. It was terrible, but once we made it back to the 5th station, we rewarded ourselves with steaming hot jumbo pork bums.
Back to Lake Kawaguchiko
We returned back to our Airbnb in Lake Kawaguchiko after eating our pork buns and taking the hour long bus ride back to town. It was about 10am by the time we reached our sleeping quarters and needless to say, we took a shower and crashed for a few hours. But, being that it was our last day in Kawaguchiko, we decided to walk around the serene town one more time. Along the way, we found a really great mom and pop restaurant away from the heavily populated train station area. We also sat and drank in the charming and welcoming Oar Blue, a bar in a Japanese traditional warehouse that was converted by the bartender and owner. We highly recommend this place to stop by at when you're in the area. The drinks are great and the bartender/owner, who speaks English and loves to converse with his visitors. We ended the night seeing Fuji as the clouds cleared up, grabbing a couple of frozen Seven Eleven pizzas and drinks, and enjoying a night in watching anime and kdramas as we rested before embarking on the last leg of our trip.
As we took the bus up to Shinjuku station in the middle of Tokyo and I overlooked the untouched green landscaped with house intertwined into the greenery and not the other way around, I felt nothing but excitement. It had been five years since we set foot in the world's largest populated city. Tokyo is hard to describe, since it's a city made up of so many different prefectures. If I really had to, I'd say Tokyo is like big bowl of fruit salad, it all goes together but each fruit is distinct and gives it's own contribution to the bowl as a whole. I guess maybe all of Japan feels like that.
Anyways, we spent 6 and a half days in Tokyo. We started our Tokyo adventure in Ginza, where we took a stroll through the beautiful Aquarium Art Museum. This aquarium is definitely a unique and artistic experience that only the creative people of Tokyo could have come up with and keep pristine. We also visited the twelve story, flagship Uniqlo store because of course we had to grab some soft shirts!
The next day, we ventured through Haraujuku and stumbled upon a parade/festival going on. I was hoping to be part of a summer festival during our trip and happy to have gotten a taste of the action. The parade was made up of groups of performers, each with their own uniform and their own choreographed movement.After the parade, we walked around Harajuku looking through thrift stores and enjoying the more colorful streets of Tokyo.
Another night brought us to the lit up streets of Shinjuku, where we found a familiar branch of bars that we had hoped to find again. Bar Moonwalk 250 yen bar are little hole in the wall, probably in the basement or on the 5th floor, type of bar with drinks priced at 250 yen (about $1.80 USD) per drink and they do not skimp out on the alcohol or presentation. It's a nice little bar if you just want to hang, play some card games, or pre-game before going to an expensive club.
A different day took us to the land of Kawaii - a.k.a Sanrio Puroland! If you are a Sanrio person, definitely take a little trip out there. It's a fun and completely magical experience for people of all ages. We saw families, couples, and friends just wandering around dressed in their Sanrio best.
We spent another day having fun and eating good food in Odaiba. Odaiba is filled with so many things toteamLabs Planets interactive exhibition, where you take off your shoes and use your senses to control the exhibits. Weird but fun. Then we ate Wagyu beef for lunch and it was Heaven in my mouth. We then waited in lines and rode some interesting rides that I haven't rode anywhere else at Tokyo Joypolis. We ended our day in Odaiba by checking out the giant Gundam Unicorn.
During our last night in town, we booked a reservation to Gonpachi Nishi-Azabu, or most notably known as the Kill Bill restaurant. It's a super cool restaurant and while it felt like the most western type of restaurant, the food did not disappoint! Usually we try to have at least once fancy meal and this was the restaurant we decided to go all out on and we have no regrets. If you want to check it out, make sure to make reservations (we did this through Google) and note that on Sundays they have Taiko drummers perform.
Overall, we had a great trip. This was the longest international trip that we have taken thus far. It did feel long, but at the same time, I could've spent more time here, but more time will probably never be enough. It was cool getting to come back to this country and exploring new places and reminiscing on the old and seeing what has changed and what has stayed the same (or slightly tweaked). I'll never not recommend a trip to Japan, let alone a trip outside of your country. Anyways, I've got some books to write about, so until next time, happy travels!
You can watch a little recap video I made on my YouTube channel!