Ohayo Gosaimas Sta!

What a wonderful journey! Japan proved to be even more fascinating than I thought it would be. 10 amazing days…

My wife and I had decided to focus on the Tokyo area as we had very limited time. We knew we’d miss some must-see places like Kyoto, Osaka, Nagano, Hiroshima, Sapporo, etc. Rather one region well then rushing through the entire country, we thought.

We’d decided to stay in a small Ryokan (traditional guest house) in Takadanobaba, just off Shinjuku.

Day 1 & 2 were spent in the western Tokyo parks to witness the last days of the famous cherry blossoms season. What a sight! The Shinjuku Goen Park was in full dress. Pink and white blossoms flying around this wonderfully groomed Japanese garden. Splendid.

Cherry blossoms in Tokyo

Day 3, we went to Hakone, near Fuji-san, to bask in the serenity of the iconic volcano. Pirate ship cruise, stinking sulfuric springs, a couple of museums and some time basking in the image of Fuji-san.

Shrine gate in the lake

Day 4 we went up to Nikko, the main world heritage site, a couple of hours north of Tokyo. Beautiful shrine complex dating from the 17th century. Amelie and I felt like ninjas in a vintage manga anime.

This is the original sculpture adorning a shrine in Nikko

This is the original sculpture adorning a shrine in Nikko

Buddhas clothed by villagers in Nikko

On the morning of Day 5, we left for Minakami, in the Gunma province, and headed to the traditionally kept Takaragawa Onsen. This was absolute paradise. 4 natural hot spring baths carved in the rocky sides of a mountain stream. We dressed in our yukata and obi from the first minute and didn’t leave them for 2 days. Traditional room with sliding paper doors, straw tatamis and futon and traditional restaurant with only one set course meal made of wild spinach, mushrooms, sashimi, sake and green tea. Paradise. Bathing in a scalding hot bath at 5:30 in the morning was my best bathing experience ever. We really appreciated spending 2 days there to really soak in the atmosphere of the place and felt a bit sorry for all these tourists who’d come in a 5pm the evening and would leave at 9am the next day.

The bath houses are visible downstream

Takaragawa Onsen

This is what the hottest bath looked like at 5:30 in the morning.

Day 7 was the harsh return to the city. Visited the Ueno neighbourhood and park, as well as Ginza, Tokyo’s answer to the Champs Elysees and Fifth Avenue. Had never seen so many Chanel, Vuitton and Bvlgari shops in my life. Headed out to Shibuya for dinner next to the most crowded crossing in the world.

Shrine in Ueno Park

Day 8 was shopping day in Asakusa market by the Sensoji Shrine and in Harajuku’s fashionable streets. We also climbed Tokyo’s newest tower, the Tokyo Skytree, to get a bird’s-eye view of the city from 350m high. It definitely was not worth queuing for 1.5 hours. Dinner in, the slightly disappointing, Roppongi area. More restaurants, bars and gentlemen’s clubs…and a reproduction of the Eiffel Tower.

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To be honest, I preferred the park to the Sensoji shrine

Day 9 was left for what promised to be the 2 best things to visit: the huge Tokyo fish market and the Ghibli Museum. The Tsukiji firs market is the largest in Japan and is also (in)famous for its daily tuna auction where the giant fish catch of the day is auctioned off. We got up at stupid o’clock to get there in time only to be told that the tuna auction was now closed to tourist as it disrupted business…Luckily, the fish market outside the auction hall was already bustling with activity and we got our dose of fish and seafood early in the morning. Fortunately, the Ghibli Museum made up for the  morning’s disappointment.

Anyone up for crab breakfast at 6:30am?

Ghibli Museum

This is, for me personally, the best museum I have ever visited. I have always been a huge Hayao Myazaki fan and visiting his world was really something I was looking forward to..and it was awesome! The museum is designed for children and most of the exhibition is at their eye level. I was like a kid in a candy store! The ticket is an original piece of Myazaki film (relic!), they had a cat-bus room, a completely recreation of the master’s office complete with thousands of water paintings and sketches and a 15 minute anime created by Ghibli studio especially for the museum. I have to say, I went ballistic in the gift shop and bought half off their souvenirs.

The entrance to the Ghibli Museum. No pics allowed, so you’ll have to go to see more.

On top of all this, we ate every kind of ramen, meat and raw fish available. I am personally responsible for depleting the ocean population and increasing fishing quotas for the next few months.

Sayonara Tokyo and Aligato Gosaimas for an unforgettable journey.

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