Japan – A blooming good time 🌸
Visiting Japan was like stepping into a time warp. Everywhere we went they played jazz music and it gave off those old school New York vibes. For example their taxis (which are mainly Toyota Crowns from the early 90’s) are in pristine condition but with automatic doors and doily covers. During our 12 day trip we stayed in AirBNB apartments which increased in sq ft as we moved from city to city. Tokyo being the smallest with Osaka being the largest apartment. When choosing your accommodation opt for an apartment with pocket WiFi which means you can carry the router with you and therefore still use your phone and all your apps like Google Maps etc. to get around.
What I admire about the Japanese people is how disciplined, polite and orderly they are. They actually wait for others to disembark the train before they themselves get on. They form queues and would never even think about jumping them. I’m curious to know what their school system is like. You’ll see a lot of Japanese people wearing masks and not only is this worn to prevent them from picking up airborne viruses it is also so they don’t spread any sickness they themselves have. Talk about thoughtful.
Tokyo is one crazy city. It’s lively, buzzing, colorful and busy. It’s chock full of bars and restaurants. Most bars and clubs stay open until 5 am but a lot of other smaller places are closed by then. It really depends on the area. In some restaurants and bars they only fit a maximum of 8 people so bookings are essential. If you see a queue whilst exploring the city then I’d recommend jumping in it. Chances are you’re about to have one of the best meals of your life. Sneakerheads rejoice, there’s a whole street in Harajuku dedicated to sneakers. Click here for the map.
Restaurants/bars to try in Tokyo:
GRAM pancakes in Harajuku: They only sell 60 pieces of this fluffy souffle like 3 stack delicacies per day, but it’s definitely worth queuing for.
Dominique Ansel Bakery: The man who invented the cronut has two bakeries in Japan. Get there and go nuts. I couldn’t fault a dish.
ROBOT Restaurant: It’s definitely an experience. I wasn’t sure what was going on half of the time but just a tip, it’s get hot inside with all those lights.
Alice in Wonderland: For fans of the movie, this themed restaurant is pretty cool but hard to find. The food wasn’t bad either.
Iron Fairies: Little did we know Ginza was like the Manhattan of NY. The drink prices reflected accordingly but a cool hidden gem with some interesting cocktails.
Harry Hedgehog Cafe: Ever wanted to pet or purchase a hedgehog? At this cafe you can do both whilst you have a hot drink.
Tablelog.com is one of the best websites to help you search for nearby restaurants. Sort by categories, budget and available seating. (NB. most restaurants in Japan do require an advanced reservation). There’s also yelp.com.
I’d highly recommend doing the MariCar go-kart experience in Tokyo. Based on the famous Mario Kart game by Nintendo, it’s a great way to see the city highlights whilst dressed up as your favorite character. Pro tip: Take your own GoPro if you have one.
Their metro system takes a while to get used to but once you figure it out, it’s the best way to get around. Pasmo cards or equivalent are a lifesaver. You pay a deposit for the card itself then top up with any amount you wish then tap and go as you pass through the gates. They are similar to an Opal card in Sydney or an Oyster card in London. Should you have a JR pass then you can use the side entrance gate to pass by. Just simply flash your JR pass to the attendant. Pro Tip: The trains close at 1am so plan ahead.
We also did a day trip to Hakone via the bullet train to try and see the famous Mount Fuji. We did catch a glimpse of it however the fog made it more of an illusion and hard to capture with a smartphone.
Kyoto is a lot slower paced compared to Tokyo. A lot prettier too especially during Sakura season. Keep your eyes peeled for Geisha’s around dusk time in Gion. We were lucky enough to see a few. One walked passed us whilst we were having dinner, luckily we were window facing so it was a great opportunity for people watching.
Another was after we got out of a taxi in Gion and we were wondering where they’d be and 3 of them were being escorted to work in a mini van and we managed to catch a glimpse of them before they got whisked away. All with their white faces, pouty painted lips and perfectly done hair.
Kinosakionsen – A cute town amongst the mountains with a population of 4,000 people and 7 public onsens. Most places shut by 11pm in this small town however we found one British pub owned by the fabulous Yoshiko. She has been the owner of the pub for the last 7 years. Inside is quaint with collectibles mostly gifted from friends around the world. It sells Fosters and other Western beers as well as your standard Japanese Whisky but just one type of red wine. Yoshiko’s friends from the town always visit the pub. To them it’s their local watering hole. They were all super friendly people who shared their food and drinks with us. The younger girl translated for the older generation from Japanese to English and reverse.
Nishimuraya Honkan – As we entered the traditional Japanese guesthouse we were greeted and asked to remove our shoes and change into some “inside” slippers. There’s an alluring smell of burning incense and two older ladies on all fours, meticulously polishing the floorboards.
Our room is spacious, with a seating area overlooking the shared Japanese garden; a changing room complete with full length standing mirror and the common room which transforms from dining room during meal times and a bedroom with futons for sleeping with some fluffy duvets in the evenings. Sleeping on the floor never felt so comfortable.
This small country town is lush and green, surrounded by many different types of flora. The air is crisp and the water is cold except in the steaming onsen baths. We tried 5 out of the 7 onsens in the town. Each with their own different design and varying opening hours.
The experience was shared with my best friend so it was less awkward as we’ve both seen each other naked before. Oh yes, getting butt naked is a must for the onsens. As well as showering before & after you enter. Men & women have separate bathing areas.
Osaka is a foodies heaven. We had no set itinerary but we ended up arriving the night the Osaka Buffaloes were playing a home game against the Lotte Marines. We totally winged it and bought tickets directly at the stadium right before the game. It was a buzzing environment with lots of yummy food stalls. Completed with beer wenches serving drinks directly to your seats whilst you watch the game. Towards the end of the game the crowd release balloons into the stadium. It was a totally fun & spontaneous experience.
We made the last minute decision to visit Universal Studios in Japan which is home to another Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We paid for the fast track pass which enabled us to ride most of the best rides without queuing for hours. If you’ve a Harry Potter fan then you shouldn’t miss this experience. I thought it was super kawaii how all of the Japanese people who visited in groups wore matching outfits. ♥
We shopped and ate our way through Namba, Dotonbori and Shinsibasi streets which are overflowing with restaurants and shops.
Restaurants to try in Osaka:
Matsusakagyu Yakiniku M in Dotonbori: One of the BEST wagyu beef I’ve ever tasted. You cook it yourself on the Japanese BBQ.
Dotonbori Street – here you will find all the food stalls (street food) Takoyaki (Octopus Balls), Gyoza, ramen, Kobe beef etc It was great to eat along here.
Chibo Okonomiyami – This was probably the longest queue we waited in but it was definitely worth the wait. Portion sizes are HUGE.
Rikuro’s Cheesecake – World famous wobbly Cheesecake. When they ring the bell it means it’s fresh out of the oven. You can literally inhale this cake. I’ve never tasted anything like it before.
Yakitori Morita – Recommend by two separate friends so we made two attempts of visiting. They serve some insanely good chicken yakitori! Bookings essential as it’s only a tiny place and stays open until 9pm only. Oh and it’s shut on one day per week. So do your research before dragging all your friends there.
- Always have your phone/camera handy you never know what you’ll see.
- Take a decent sized backpack with you as your carry on. Not only is it good for day trips, it makes wheeling around only one suitcase a hell of a lot easier. Especially when you’re faced with metro stations without escalators or lifts. I saw some poor tourists really struggling.
- Follow your nose to some restaurants. The alluring smell generally means you’re in for a treat.
- Baked cheese tarts are a specialty so it’s worth lining up for.
- Try all the different drinks in the vending machines.
- Make an effort to learn a few basic phrases.
- Don’t forget to take your change. They don’t accept tips at all. Get rid of the 1¥ coins as they are useless and most vending machines won’t accept them.
- Don’t litter. Tokyo doesn’t have many bins so carry your waste with you until you find one.
Check out my YouTube video below of the highlights from my Japan trip!