There are so many sights, flavours, and experiences in Japan, it’s often hard to know where to start. However, it is often the little things that I miss about Japan – whether it be traditional or modern.
One of my all time favourite shops in Tokyo is a traditional craft shop in Asakusa. There are plenty of souvenir shops and stalls in Asakusa, both in the nakamise shopping arcade leading up to the Sensoji temple, as well as the parallel streets. However this shop is by far the best in my opinion, yet is often missed by visitors who flock straight to nakamise. This shop opens at 11am and always has a crowd outside the front patiently waiting for the old timber doors to open.
Once inside you will be overwhelmed by all the exquisitely hand made trinkets – paper mache animals and decorations, boxes, washi papers, diaries, porcelain keep sakes. I go here every time I come to Japan, sometimes I buy up big, and sometimes I’ll go out with just 5 postcards. I can guarantee you will find something to bring home 🙂
While strolling the quieter areas of Nikko, we came across an elderly couple who were selling geta sandals. Mr Ana had a quick chat to the grandpa, who advised that he has been making geta sandals for decades. I’ve always wanted a pair so he fitted me up. The ones I bought are in the middle of the row on the right (the darker timber with darker traditional cloth).
I actually don’t quite remember where this photo was taken, as we check out the big kois in a few areas during our travels. However what I remembered about this was Mr Ana feeding a particular koi with fish food (there was a little table that you could buy a bag of food for ¥100). Mr Ana would crouch down and keep feeding the koi, and each time he’d actually pat the koi on the head. Bit of food, then a small pat…
Shinkansen is one of the most easiest ways to travel in Japan. Hop on in Tokyo, and 3 hours later you will be in Kyoto. The ride is smoother than a plane and certainly more quiet and comfortable. You’d never know that you were travelling at 300kms (the pic is of the newest released model – the N700). I also find that they are more quiet and comfortable than the Eurostar, the high speed rail in Italy or Taiwan.
I’ve visited quite a few Shinto shrines, and am always drawn to the stands full of Ema – little wooden plates which are filled with visitors prayers and wishes.
Whenever we are in Kyoto, we stay with Mr Ana’s uncle and aunt, who live in Uji. Uji is in the southern part of the Kyoto prefecture, and is famous for green teat and also Tale of Genji, which was set in Uji. Since we are normally based in Uji, we don’t always venture into the famous parts of Kyoto proper. However the last time we visited, we got the opportunity to wander around Gion. Gion is a very traditional part of Kyoto, famous for geiko (geisha). Mr Ana’s uncle said if we were lucky, we may come across some geiko in training. And sure enough, we did! They were so lovely and kindly allowed us to take photos of them. After we took a photo, they gestured for us to join them in a photo. I’m sure they are very aware that visitors marvel at them, and I was pleased they were very kind about it.
I had a few days to myself in Tokyo last year and made my way to Kamakura. For anyone who knows me, they will know that I have the crappiest sense of direction ever. It takes me a while to figure out where I am and how to get somewhere – and for heaven’s sake don’t ever ask me to read a map. However I managed to get from Shinjuku to Kamakura in one peice. I didn’t get lost even once! Pat myself on the back. While there I visited several temples, including Kotokuin Temple which houses a large iron Buddha statue. It was a good morning out, and clearly it is easy enough to get there!
Last year I got the chance to visit Hokkaido – the first time out of over 6 trips to Japan! I visited with a friend who is from Hokkaido, and we stayed at her family home – a rice farm in rural Hokkaido. Apart from trying the best rice I have EVER eaten (and I even took around 2kgs back to Australia!). We took a road trip to Hakodate, a town famous for a few views, including Hachiman Zaka. The slope reveals a clear view of Hakodate Bay – it kind of reminded me of a view in Le Marais, Paris.
There is so much to see in Japan, much more than meets the eye or what you see on Lost in Translation. You can see the high rise buildings in Central Tokyo, but if you travel even just 5 minutes out to a residential area, you will have a totally different experience. Try it!