Photo Credit: halcyonsnow
Ok, I really mean it this time!
Turns out it is three years, almost to the day, that I posted our original Japan itinerary intended as the last country of our RTW trip. We abandoned Japan back then (and rightly so) as our backpacker budget was already stretched thin and we found that we adored SE Asia; it’s cheap accommodation, fabulous food and great weather drawing us to stay, if not forever, then at least as long as absolutely possible.
We always said, though, that our next big trip would be to Japan. Abandoned once, but never forgotten.
After determining what we wanted to get out of our trip we set to finding those places that would give us culture and history but also a good dose of urban activity. I think we’ve done a good job; staying put for days at a time and then moving through smaller centers to get a feel for rural Japan also.
Through some grace of good luck there happens to be a direct flight from Calgary to Tokyo three times a week – that makes Tokyo the first stop. We’ll spend three nights getting our bearings, eating the first sushi and generally getting lost I’m sure. I’d prefer an apartment over a hotel but the short stay might limit that option.
Seven nights in Kyoto follow. I’ve been told that a week is barely long enough to explore the cultural center of Japan. We will definitely get an apartment for this week an spend our time wandering the city, chasing Geiko, and visiting as many temples as possible.
Nara is usually a day trip from Kyoto but after a week and a half of city dwelling we want to start on a more relaxing path. A visit to the Great Buddha in the company of the famous deer of Nara should put us on the path to enlightenment…no? A small guesthouse here will be our home for two nights.
I have been intrigued lately by the idea of meditation retreats; silent ones in particular. I like the idea of quiet contemplation at this point when I seem to have all kinds of ideas jumbling around in my head. I somehow think that things would become clearer if only I were silent long enough to hear myself. I’m probably not ready to commit to a multi-day retreat yet (nor would it be likely I could convince Jason it’s a good idea!) but I do like the idea of staying in temple in the Koya-san region just south of Nara. Here, we can stay in a temple and take part in the morning ceremonies with the monks. It’ll give me a taste of a retreat without the long term commitment…perfect for me!
I believe that when you visit a place you should visit the good and the bad. I couldn’t visit Germany without remembering the Holocaust and visiting a concentration camp, or spend time in Peru without learning about the Shining Path; I think it’s a travellers responsibility to acknowledge all facets of a place so a visit to Hiroshima is necessary. It’s not all doom and gloom though – we’ll also visit Miyajima and the ‘Floating Temple’ and visit the town of Saijo just outside of Hiroshima to sample sake from the many breweries in the area. Four nights seems like a long time here but we plan on taking our time, especially with the sake.
A day of traveling through the mountains will take us to Takayama, a small city that boasts of traditional buildings, morning markets, sake breweries and stunning mountain scenery. Time to slow it down again here and just take it as it comes.
From here it gets even slower as we make a one night stop in Magome before hiking the ancient trail to Tsumago the next day. I want to stay in a traditional ryokan in the mountains and this place sounds just about perfect. Nestled in the mountains on the once populous route from Tokyo to Kyoto these towns are steeped in history and should offer some quiet distraction as we head back to Tokyo after this.
Five days remain and Tokyo remains barely scratched. We’ll find an apartment and explore all that Tokyo has to offer. From back alley izakayas and yakitori stands to upscale sushi; the Tsukiji fish market, the Imperial Palace and Harajuku; day trips out to Hakone and quiet days sampling beer an sake. After almost four weeks in Japan we’ll really be ready to tackle one of the biggest, and densest cities in the world!
I think it’s a good mix of rural and urban, food and culture and, although it moves a little quicker than I originally intended, it slows down often enough to let us settle in a little bit.
Do you have any Japan itinerary advice? Think there is somewhere we are missing? Something we absolutely have to do or see? Let me know in the comments, or on our Facebook page!