Review of "General: Japan"
We decided to travel to Japan, as it has been a country that has intrigued us for many years. When we got married in August we chose Japan to be our honeymoon destination; a rather unusual choice but we wanted to do something a little different. We booked our accommodation before leaving and also bought a JR rail pass before arriving in Japan (to travel around the country by bullet train). We stayed in the following places Tokyo, Kyoto, Miyajima, and Hiroshima.In writing this review I aim to present a balanced view and offer some useful advice to anyone considering a trip to Japan. Please note that these are my opinions and some people might have a different viewpoint.
Arriving in Japan
Next we needed to decide how best to reach our hotel as we had heard taxis were very expensive. We chose to travel by coach as it is best to avoid the tube during rush hour (crowds, suitcases and two tired travellers do not mix well). We purchased our bus ticket with little hassle by naming the hotel at the desk and luckily the stop closest to our hotel was the last stop (no worry of getting lost, phew!). The coach journey from Narita airport to central Tokyo was around two hours and the coach arrived dead on time. The first thing that struck me during the coach journey was the size of some of the buildings, there were some massive hotels and the electricity pylons seemed huge, maybe I was just tired!Some of the route through Tokyo was by roads that were high up in the air, almost at the height of some tall buildings; this was a little strange. Finally we arrived at our destination and began to pull our luggage along in the 34-degree heat. About fifteen minutes later we arrived at Hotel Rose Garden Shinjuku (around £60 per night). First impressions were good and we were shown up to our room. The room was tiny, but this is to be expected in Japan. It was however comfortable and clean and had one of those high-tech toilets I had come across at the airport. We decided to sleep for a few hours and head out in the evening for dinner.
Tokyo is a very colourful, noisy, lively and interesting place to visit. What struck me the most was the cleanliness of the city and the politeness of the people. I usually find large cities stressful to walk around, however it felt different in Tokyo. I discovered that people would move out of your way and not bang into you or push you out of the way to get on the tube. This made travelling around Tokyo very easy, as did the efficient public transport.We also stayed in Tokyo for three nights at the end of the trip (making 6 nights in total), and we stayed at the Best Western Shinjuku Astina (around £70 per night) for our second visit to Tokyo. I was impressed with the hotel although some people might not like the area in which it is situated. The hotel had a few clubs opposite and seemed to be in a slightly dodgy area (although this never proved to be a problem). The hotel was very modern and was very comfortable and included a breakfast buffet.
What did we do in Tokyo?
As we travelled to Tokyo in September there was a Sumo Tournament going on. We purchased two tickets and spent a whole afternoon watching the tournament, which was enjoyable, and a good opportunity to see a bit of Japanese culture. I did however find the tournament to be a little repetitive and it seemed to go on for quite a long time. Tickets cost around £30 each, if you queue early in the morning you can get cheaper tickets.We also did a little bit of shopping (the department stores are pretty impressive), and we visited a Cat Café which was a bizarre experience. Cat cafes are where Japanese people go to play with cats, I am not sure that they will ever become a part of British life.
Another place we visited in Tokyo was the Tsukiji Fish Market (the biggest seafood market in the world). This market is also a good place to get your hands on some of the freshest sushi. You can also view a tuna auction here if you are prepared to get up extra early. There have been a few problems in the past with tourists acting inappropriately and at one point they stopped having access to these auctions. Tourists are however now allowed to come to the tuna auction again but the number of visitors is now limited to 140 a day. We did not get there early enough for the tuna auction (4.30am). Within no time at all I discovered that this market was not really an appropriate tourist attraction. I felt very unsafe as there were carts driving around in all sorts of directions, forklift trucks and motorbikes riding up and down the narrow alleyways. I felt completely on edge and could not relax, as I was terrified of getting run-over, as there was far too much going on. Despite this, it was an interesting place to visit and I can see why people go there.After our three nights in Tokyo we checked out of the hotel and made our way to the train station to catch a bullet train to Kyoto.
Shinkansen: Bullet Trains
As we only stayed one night in Kyoto we did not get a chance to see as much as we might have liked to. We spent one whole day visiting Kinkaku-ji (a zen Buddist temple) and Nijo Castle. Both are well worth a visit and we travelled to both destinations by bus (which were busy and cramped but an easy way to travel). I would highly recommend a visit to Kinkaku-ji as it was truly beautiful. The temple is surrounded by water and has some pretty gardens. It is however a popular place to visit, so try to get there early to avoid the crowds. Nijo Castle had bigger gardens and you get a chance to walk around inside and listen to the ‘nightingale floors’ which were constructed to make a squeaking noise when being walked on (to protect from sneak attacks and assassins). In Kyoto we also walked around the area of Gion and it was well worth a look. There are pretty streets with traditional wooden buildings and I am pretty sure we spotted a real Geisha.There are so many temples in Kyoto that it would be impossible to visit every single one. Kyoto however is not just about temples. There are also modern things to visit such as the Kyoto tower and department stores and Kyoto train station itself (it is massive and it is interesting to look around the shops).
We were sorry to leave Kyoto after staying for just one night, but we had already booked accommodation for our next stop: Miyajima.Miyajima
Miyajima (meaning ‘shrine island’) is an island off the coast of Hiroshima. We arrived at Hiroshima station from Kyoto and then took a 25-minute train ride to the ferry terminal. Luckily we did not have to pay for the ferry, as the price was included in our JR Rail Pass. We decided to spend one night on the island as we had heard that this is a popular place for tourists and that the island is best seen in the evening and early morning when the crowds have gone. We splashed out on a traditional Japanese inn (Ryokan) called Watanabe Inn, and the price of £240 included breakfast and dinner.When you first arrive in Miyajima the first thing you notice are the immensely tame deer. Within minutes of leaving the ferry terminal a deer grabbed hold of my luggage tag and proceeded to eat it (I could not remove it from the deer’s grasp). I also witnessed a deer eating someone’s magazine. Therefore if you ever visit this island please make sure that you keep paper out of the way of the deer as they will just eat it and this will not do them any good.
When we arrived at the Ryokan we were very pleased with our traditional Japanese room, which consisted of tatami mats and futon bedding, cypress wood bath, separate toilet and balcony. Dinner however was not to my taste as I am a relatively fussy eater. I had around 8 dishes altogether and could only manage to eat 3 of them. One of the dishes consisted of a massive fish head complete with teeth, another was squid and another was eel (all of which are not to my taste). Nevertheless, it was clear that the food was top quality even though it was not the type of food I am used to.Whilst in Miyajima we went to see the floating Torri Gate, which is one of the first things you notice upon arrival in Miyajima. It is a large orange coloured gate (16 metres tall), which appears to be floating at high tide. The Torri Gate is best seen at night time when it is lit up and the crowds have left the island. We also took a walk around the Itsukushima Floating Shrine which is right by the Torri Gate.
The next morning we took a trip on the cable car and then trekked to the very top of Mount Misen. This was easily the best part of the trip as we went up early morning when the cable car was quiet. At the top of the mountain we saw monkeys and the view from the top was beautiful. You can walk all of the way from the bottom to the top of the mountain; however we found it hard work just walking the 20 minutes to the top of the mountain from the cable car station.
Miyajima is a ‘must see’ place in Japan and if you can afford it, I would say that staying on the island for at least one night is the best way to see the sights.
The owner of Watanabe Inn kindly gave us a lift back to the ferry terminal early afternoon and we made our way to Hiroshima by train (25 minute train journey).Hiroshima
Hiroshima is a very well known city due to the atomic bomb that was dropped on the city during World War II. Whilst in Hiroshima we stayed in Hana Hostel which cost around £50 for the night. Hana Hostel was a nice clean hostel which was more than adequate for one nights stay. We only stayed in Hiroshima for one night, but we managed to see the A-Bomb Dome, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, and the museum. The bomb detonated almost directly about the A-Bomb Dome and it is a very moving thing to see. The Memorial Park is beautiful and the museum is not to be missed if you want to learn more about what happened in Hiroshima.We would have liked to have stayed longer in Hiroshima, and would probably recommend that people stay there for at least two days when visiting. After checking out of the hostel we travelled back to Tokyo by train and stayed in Tokyo for three nights at the end of our holiday.
Advice for travellers
- If you have specific dietary requirements e.g. vegetarian, I would recommend that before you travel there you write down the Japanese word for ‘vegetarian’ and if you can write a sentence in Japanese saying that you are vegetarian and carry this around with you at all times. I noticed during our time in Japan that there are very few vegetarian restaurants and due to the language barrier it is very hard to know what you are ordering (unless you are lucky enough to find a restaurant with English menu).- Do some research before you visit Japan, as there are so many wonderful places to visit. It is probably best to a certain extent if you plan what you want to do before you arrive there in order to make the most of your holiday.
- The most popular times of travel are spring (because of Cherry Blossoms) and autumn (because of the beautiful colours of autumn leaves). Summer can be too hot and winter too cold. We found the end of September to be a good time to visit and we experienced varied temperatures during our visit – from 19C to 34C. We did have around three individual days of constant rain, so if you are travelling during September / October then remember to take an umbrella.- Read up on what you can take into the country, as certain nasal inhalers are not allowed to be taken into the country. So check before you go.
- Tipping is not necessary in Japan. In terms of dining out, be mindful that sometimes a dish might be brought out to you on arrival (without you requesting) and this will be added to your bill. If prices are not on display outside of the restaurant then it is likely that the restaurant is not a cheap place to eat.- Japan is in a major earthquake zone; therefore it might be a good idea for you to bear this in mind whilst travelling in the country.
- If you are planning to travel around the country then it is worth getting a JR Rail Pass ordered before you go on your holiday. This cost us £210 each for one weeks rail travel. This worked out cheaper than purchasing separate tickets for journeys in Japan.- Japan is not the easiest place to navigate in, so please ensure you take some good quality street maps with you.
The people in Japan are on the whole polite and respectful and they made us feel very welcome in their country. Japan is a country that has something for everyone: ski slopes, modern cities, history, theme parks (e.g. Disneyland Tokyo), interesting food and culture. I would definitely recommend that people visit Japan and I hope that my review has offered some useful information to those thinking about travelling to the country.
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Listed on Ciao since: 05/07/2000