Japan The Land of the Rising Sun

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Japan truly is the most wondrous destination.  In only 12 hours you arrive into a country that is not only stunning, with its four very distinct seasons but also equally as culturally rich.

As a first time visitor to Japan I took a route taking in Tokyo, Hakone (to see Mt Fuji), Kyoto and Osaka – a great option for a first timer.  This journey enabled me to sample an equal mix of modern and traditional with transportation in between on the world famous Shinkansen (Japanese Bullet Train).

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Staying in the Roppongi Hills district of Tokyo, in the cities tallest building, The Ritz Carlton Tokyo has stunning views of a distant Mount Fuji.

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The location is perfect to self navigate the Tokyo Metro and cross the city from monuments and temples to up scale retail shopping districts.

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Whilst you are in Tokyo you must visit the Meiji Shrine and Sensoji Temple, two fabulous examples of the rich cultural heritage of Japan.  Why not also visit a ‘Cat Cafe’ or ‘Rabbit Cafe’!  I had envisaged a Starbucks style set up, with cats running round, but instead I was surprised to find a 5th floor pristine apartment with a very strict ‘cat mother’ who vetted and controlled everyone who entered.  The cats welfare was paramount and the colour of the cats collar dictated whether they could be touched…..all rather bizarre, but worth the visit! Even if shopping isn’t your favourite past time you must venture to the Harajuku area where all the shopping teens dress to impress in their most cute outfits!

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At night Tokyo takes on another life!  The vibrant colour of the advertising billboards are mesmerising and the vast array of eateries is mind blowing.  Knowing the right people in Japan is definitely the best way to make the most of your trip and our ‘guide’ took us to an Izakaya, a tiny restaurant that only took 7 people and one we would have never found without his assistance.  In only the size of a small box room, the most delicious meal was prepared in front of us and we ate until we were full.  Other interesting diners joined us and we chatted for hours, enthralled by each others culture – an absolute must……if you can find it.

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If you fancy being adventurous at night and would like to experience some of the more bazaar side of Tokyo then book at table at the Robot Restaurant – an experience that words cannot convey!

With our short trip to Tokyo over we boarded the Shinkansen for a quick ride to Hakone, known for its natural occurring hot springs (Onsen).  Also a great place to stay if you plan to venture a little closer to Mount Fuji.  Sadly the weather was against us and we only made it as far as Ōwakudani (The home of the black egg), so seeing Fuji up close was not meant to be.

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Onwards to Kyoto!  Formerly the Imperial city of Japan, Kyoto is like a step back in time, a world apart from the frenetic vibe of Tokyo.  All buildings are low rise (including the hotels) and just ooze with stories of an extraordinary and mysterious era.

IMG_0735_FotorTraditional Geisha and Meiko can occasionally be seen on the street but it is more common to see young people dressed in Kimono, particularly at the weekends.  If you are daring enough you can hire a Kimono for the day, which is a novel idea as this gains you free entry into many of the temples and attractions.

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The Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-Ji) is a Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto.  Surrounded by a beautiful strolling garden, ponds and waterfalls, the building who’s top two floors are adorned with pure gold leaf and is a real wonder to behold.

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The polar opposite to the Golden pavilion is the Nishiki Market.  This narrow, five block long shopping street is lined with more than 100 shops and restaurants. A real bustling vibe specialising in anything food related.  From personalised chop sticks to sweet pickles and sushi.

 

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Osaka, similarly to Tokyo is fast paced and exciting.  This is a city for food lovers and has been rumoured to be the Food Capital of the World.  A must try dish is Okonomiyaki, a Japanese savoury pancake, grilled in front of you – absolutely delicious!

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No trip to Osaka would be complete without tickets to see the sumo.  This full contact wrestling sport is an all day affair and starts early in the morning with the youngest competitors.  By early evening the stakes have risen to the most senior athletes and the atmosphere is electric.  An extremely ritualistic sport and one that lasts for mere seconds, but non-the less exciting.

IMG_0800_Fotor_CollageI did indeed see so much during my short visit to Japan, but this gave me a taste for discovering the wider countryside where skiing is world class in Hokkaido and the beaches are pristine on the coasts of the Izu Peninsula and on the west coast of Okinawa Honto……….next time!

 

To find out more about Japan, please do call Gemma or any member of the Haslemere Travel team on 01428 658777.

 

 

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