Following our fun ‘colour pop’ Brisbane wedding, my husband Jonny and I went to Japan for our honeymoon. It was the first overseas trip for either of us. I have always dreamed of going there to see everything from the busy subway, to the beautiful heritage and cultural experiences it offered. It was also my dream to see the Sakura (cherry blossom) trees, which only bloom for about three weeks from early April.
I had originally planned to go in 2011, but had to cancel my plans three days before flying out due to the tsunami that happened over there at the time. We discussed going there for our honeymoon (well I was pretty determined about going there or nowhere) and when we saw a ‘2 for 1’ sale on airfares there and back during the time we wanted to travel, that basically decided it for us. I was more excited for my honeymoon than the wedding!
Neither of us could speak any Japanese apart from knowing how to say thank you, so were completely overwhelmed as soon as we landed in Tokyo. Luckily even if your Japanese is poor (or non-existent) most signage will have English and most train stations and the international airport have ‘tourist help’ stands, and everybody there also seemed very willing to try to help you even when you couldn’t understand them.
Image from our hotel window at Dai-Ichi Seafort Hotel, Tennozu Isle Tokyo
Our first full day for discovering adventuring Tokyo was one of our only non tour group days and was spent braving the intricate rail systems! To get to and from our hotel we first had to catch a monorail to the train stations. Unfortunately we were actually both incredibly sick and we only lasted about half a day before having to go back to our room to sleep.
We managed to see the Pokemon Centre in Ikebukuro (a must see for any nerd at heart), a small part of Harajuku, and the Meiji Shrine. The Meiji shrine is a shinto shrine dedicated to the deified spirits of Emporer Meiji and his wife Empress Shōken. It is located in Yoyogi Park and easy to get to from Harajuku JR stop.
Meiji Shrine sake barrel dedications
Day two was a group tour to the Nagano prefecture and a visit to Snow Monkey park. This tour was amazing, and our guide was a local of Nagano, so even though the tours can be a bit rushed, I really recommend it for people who really enjoy learning about an area and little bits of knowledge from guides who are extremely knowledgeable and proud of their hometowns. This was probably my favourite day, even though I was still unwell and didn’t realise how cold it would be.
As we were there through Spring, we knew it would be cold, but only had t-shirts and one jacket each. After a tour through the local village we were taken to a little restaurant the tour booked for us and were served a traditional ‘bento’ type lunch. After lunch we arranged for pre booked taxis to take us to the monkey park. As we were driving it started to snow, quite heavily. As someone who had NEVER seen snow in her life, I was like a kid at Christmas, and also totally unprepared for how cold it was. The monkey park includes a very slippery (especially if there has been recent snow) walk up to the hot springs but you can hire gumboots and snow gear from the little shop at the start of the track.
The next day was extremely long, with a two and a half hour bus ride each way to see Mt.Fuji and Hakone area. Mt.Fuji is everything you would expect it to be, breathtaking, beautiful, big, and EXTREMELY crowded. It is very hard see a lot as there is only one ‘view’ deck at each step. The road on the way back from Fuji is famous as when you drive over it ‘singing’ can be heard. After Mt Fuji we went to a hotel at Mt Fuji Highland theme park, and again had a traditional lunch.
Every tour we went on I had a few different things to eat as the others as I cannot eat seafood ( and Japan is basically all seafood). We then took a paddle boat across a lake and took the Hakone ropeway up another mountain which had a shinto shrine up the top. I am absolutely terrified of heights and hated the ropeway, but the view once on solid ground up the top was worth it.
Day three was another long bus ride to Nikko and world heritage site Toshogu Shrine. This is a great trip for people who love a bit of history, and natural culture as there are also nice lakes and waterfalls to see. The Toshogu Shrine was beautiful, and again a bit busy if you follow your guide; we chose to follow in the group for a small amount of time and then just wandered around here by ourselves until our meet time.
Our next day we left Tokyo to head to Kyoto. This is about a three-hour journey on Shinkansen (bullet train) which a tourist JR Rail Pass covers (highly recommend these as they cover all JR line fares for your trip) and you can pre book seats. The train travels at about 300km an hour! If you have a lot of luggage, get there early as there is not much space for heaps of bags in each carriage and it fills quickly.
Once we found our hotel we went for a wander to see what we could find and came across the Toji Temple. This was the first day the sakura had started to come out and is incredible. There are so many temples and shrines in Kyoto as it is one of the oldest cities in Japan.
The next day was a full day with a trip to Nijo Castle, which was built in the 1600’s and was the home of Tokugawa Ieyasu – the first shogun from the Edo period of Japan. It has a famous nightingale floor, beautiful gardens and ruins. We then saw Kinkaku-Ji Temple also known as ‘The Golden Pavillion’ which is one of Japan’s most recognised temples; as its name suggests, it is completely golden on the outside. Our last stop for the day was Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, a shinto shrine where many students go to pray to be accepted into good universities.
The next we took a day trip into the Nara prefecture to see Todai-Ji Temple (there are also several other shrines here including the Kasuga shrine). This is the largest wooden structure in the world, and houses the ‘ big Buddha’ – one of the largest bronze statues in the world (and it is only 2/3rds its original size as it was devastated by a fire in the 1800’s). It is also believed to have been the area where the ancient silk road ended.
Nara is famous for its locals, as they are literally everywhere. Deers! They are a protected animal in the area as they were once considered sacred due to a visit from one of the kasuga shrine gods, who was riding a white deer. While they were stripped of their ‘sacred’ status they are designated as national treasures and are as such protected by the government. You can buy crackers to feed to the deer, but they are honestly everywhere and really pushy whether you have food or not!
Our last day in Kyoto we again braved by ourselves to see the famous ‘1000 tori gates’ or Fushimi Inari Shrine. On our way we stumbled across the Sanjūsangen-dō Buddhist temple; for about 50 yen you can enter this temple and see the ‘1000 Buddha’ statues. It was beautiful, but again like most temples and shrines for cultural reasons no photos are allowed to be taken inside, which I think really makes you appreciate the experience so much more. The Inari shrine was packed with tourists both foreign and Japanese as well as locals. It is a must see for any traveller to the area and is readily accessible by train or walking. (depending on the location of your hotel).
I love Geisha so for our last night we headed to the Gion district to see a show at the theatre which has a tea ceremony, maiko (trainee Geisha) dancing and some other acts. I suggest seeing this if you are interested in the Geisha culture, as they are usually harassed by tourists chasing them down the streets or asking for photos. We were lucky enough however that I had a ‘fangirl’ moment on the way back to our hotel when we saw a Geiko and her Maiko-san crossing the intersection at the same time as us. I felt like the glimpse of her was a reward for not being one of the ruder tourists who chase them which was extremely lucky as the ladies usually take back streets to avoid crowds.
Our last stop was Osaka, where we met up with one of my friends who is a teacher there and visited Universal Studios. It was really great seeing a friend, as she took us to a local restaurant where we experienced sitting on cushions on the floor in our own cubicle and sharing a hot pot between our group; as we finally had someone with us who could speak fluently enough, we trusted our ordering.
Hogwarts Castle in Universal Studios
I can honestly say that Japan is one of the greatest places in the world to visit. It is so full of life, culture and suits people who are looking to just experience the craziness of the city or see historic areas and buildings.
Ms Chinoiserie Says: What a wonderful experience; from the temples and the beautiful sakura to the deers and Geisha, your Japanese honeymoon has given you both so many memories!