Japan was an absolute dream, and I am still pinching myself that this magical trip was in fact REAL. My husband and I traveled with my best friend, Alex, and her husband, Cameron, to Japan where we visited Alex's sister, Sydney and her husband, Ted. Syd has lived in Japan for the past 8 years and her husband Ted is Japanese, so to say we had THE BEST tour guides, would be an understatement. The 6 of us had so much fun traveling together and we saw SO much. This amazing trip would not have been possible without Alex's meticulous planning, much of this blog is straight from her detailed itinerary, so THANKS BESTIE!
Harajuku- This was a MUST for me, and seeing images of “Harajuku girls” when I was in high school was a huge draw for me, and once of the main reasons I have always wanted to travel to Japan. It is not like it once was, you will not see the crazy fashion, but the hype remains, and I still think it is great. Get here early, it will get crowded! Takeashitea is full of cute food, great shopping, and fun to be had. Be sure to visit Purikura- the notorious Japanese Photo Booths. For a picturesque treat, hit up Totti Candy Factory, I won’t lie, I threw most of this away, but it was worth every penny for the fun photos we took!
Make your way to Harajuku Gyoza, just off Takeashita street, for THE BEST GYOZA in Japan. While we were there on our first day, I said to Alex “This just might be the best food we will eat on this trip.” She thought I was crazy, and we DID eat a lot of good food, but damn were those dumplings GOOD. The staff passed us love notes and it was just a really fun hole-in-the-wall place.
Also, off the main path is Alice on Wednesday, if you are an Alice in Wonderland fan, this is a MUST. Neither Alex nor I are huge Alice fans but we both really enjoyed this store and found treasures to bring home. In terms of time, I would allot a solid day just for in and around Takeahita Street, but I am a shopper and let me tell you the shopping here was GOOD.
We went to the Kawaii Monster Cafe while we were there and honestly had a really fun time, and it is definitely a unique experience, but with that said, the food is terrible and since I’ve done it once, I probably won’t do it again. I would, however, suggest it if you are traveling with children.
Shibuya Crossing aka Hachiko Crossing aka Shibuya Scramble - the world’s busiest intersection. From the hotel, it’s an 8 minute walk. There is a Starbucks located here and is great to watch the madness, especially at peak hours!
Bills Omotesando - (opens at 8:30 am) for brekkie, specifically the fluffy ricotta pancakes recommended by some Insta chick Alli follows. They look really, really good.
Syd said everybody’s talking about them. Bills is a 20 minute walk from the hotel. On the way to breakfast, we need to see the fancy mirrored escalator in Tokyu Plaza Omotesando. I think it’s right by or even in the same building as Bills.
Fireking Cafe - Alli must see the jadeite in this cafe. From the hotel, it’s 15 minutes by car or 25 minutes by train. The cafe closes at 3:00 am.
Wow, as I am reminicing. I am realizing everything to this point, we did in less that 2 days! You could really spend a week doing all this!
Kamakura is an hour train ride from Yokohama station. You might want to bring a bathing suit. Kamakura is a previous capital of Japan (after Kyoto and before Tokyo). Kamakura feels laid back relaxed and zen, almost Hawaiian vibes at times. It’s full of ancient shrines and temples, yet right on the beach!
Hasadera - beautiful shrine with a view of the sea. There’s also a cute little cave in the hillside.
Kotokuin - This temple has the largest outdoor buddha in Japan. You can pay a few yen extra to go inside of him (which you’d better do)! From Hasadera, it’s a ten minute walk.
Kyoto Daiichi Hotel - this “safe, clean, comfortable, and reasonably priced” hotel is conveniently located. It’s a 10 minute walk or a 5 minute taxi ride from Kyoto Station.
Fushimi Inari Taisha - Inari Station is a 10 minute train ride along the Nara line (from Kyoto Station) and this head shrine is a delightful adventure. Expect a lot of hiking.
Heian-jingū - the shrine itself is like many others, but there’s a good photo opp in the garden. My mom recently reminded me that two famous scenes were shot in the garden: Scarlett Johanssen’s sightseeing in Kyoto in Lost in Translation and the geisha walking along the covered walkway in Memoirs of a Geisha.
My husband insisted that we attend a Japanese baseball game, something which none of our group had done before, including the local, Ted! We saw the Hanshin Tigers play in Osaka and it was definitely an experience!
Nara is the oldest capital of Japan we are to visit. It’s a day trip from Kyoto. It’s about 30 minutes from Kyoto to Nara via train. Then, there’s a 25 minute walk to the temple in the park.
Tōdai-ji - the temple houses the largest buddha in Japan. To get to it, you pass through the park full of sacred deer.
"One of my favorite activities once in the temple is sliding (and struggling) through a hole the size of Buddha’s nostril. It’s not dignified, and Japanese adults don’t do it, but I’ve gotten applause for fitting through!" -Alex
Kimono Tea Ceremony Maikoya - after much research and debating with myself, I’ve booked a refundable (I think), touristy experience including tea ceremony in kimono and an interactive tour of a samurai museum. It’s at 4:00 pm and it comes out to about $65 per person. From our hotel, it’s about 30 minutes via public transit or 15 minutes by car. I’ve read that some people really like tea ceremony while other people think it’s not the most exciting, but worth the cultural enrichment.
I have to say that Nara was one of the most magical places I have ever been. I absolutely loved the deer, they made me feel like a real live Disney Princess, but I also really loved the temple here. It was one of the places where I felt oddly overcome with emotion. The scents of the incenses burning, the sight of the largest Buddha in Japan, experiencing it with my besties, it is a memory I will never forget.
I also highly recommend the tea ceremony, yes, it is geared toward tourists, but the photo ops were worth it. I think we all enjoyed this, even the boys in our group had smiles on their faces!
Arashiyama Bamboo grove is beautiful and a must-see.
Reality vs. Instagram: get here early if you are even the slightest bit stressed out by crowds.
Hiroshima is heavy but I think it is worth it to pay a visit. The way this country honors such a horrific event in history is inspiring. From Kyoto Station, Hiroshima Station is about two hours (more or less depending on the line) by shinkansen.
Atomic Bomb Dome - this building is about 30 minutes via public transit from Hiroshima Station. It was at the epicenter.
Peace Memorial Park - from the dome, you take a 5 minute walk to the park and to the museum. The museum is open 8:30 am to 6:00 pm and entry costs $2.
Staying on Miyajima (“jima” or “shima” means island) is something most tourists don’t think to do. The entire island is sacred.
Livemax Resort Aki Miyajima - Ted found us a great hotel despite Sabas and Alex unsuccessfully spending agonizing hours trying to find reasonable accommodations on the island.
Mt. Misen - Pass through Momijidani Park, walking about 30 minutes to reach the Miyajima Ropeway. We spend somewhere between $10 and $17 to take two gondola rides, one on a small gondola up the mountain, and then another on a bigger gondola with amazing views. Then hike down the mountain, about 3 hours.
Stay tuned for a separate blog dedicated just to Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea....
Be sure to check out the IGTV video for some more Japan shenanigans. Have you been to Japan? Let me know, I would love to hear YOUR favorite places to visit.