Judging from my previous travels it probably comes as no surprise that when deciding on our honeymoon destination, we were looking for something a bit different.
Yoyogi Park and the surrounding Kawaii culture
Ueno Park and old Tokyo
What we did: After a few days in Tokyo we were ready for some chill out time in the mountains. Our first stop was Matsumoto, home to one of Japan’s oldest castles. You only need 1 full day to explore here, the castle is the main attraction with plenty of quiet streets and nice shops to explore in the city too.
We decided to stay out of the town centre at a Ryokan (traditional Japanese spa hotel with an Onsen – thermal baths – and meals on site if ordered in advance) as after some searching we were able to find one on the bus route (number 31) to central Matsumoto making transport cheap and easy (to the town centre cost about 2200 Yen) We stayed in this lovely ryokan which had a gorgeous private bath in our room, a nice restaurant down the road (with everything in Japanese but a lovely lady willing to explain the whole menu to you!) and a bus stop outside that takes you to town and also to Kamikochi if you fancy some trekking.
TOP TIPS: Take one of the free guides at the castle. They are mostly retired people who want to improve their English and will not accept payment or tips under any circumstances. They seem to do it just for the love of their city and walking around with our lovely guide made the experience so much better for us because she was so sweet and giggly! I also had the best Kastu Curry of the trip (and my life!) near the castle at Katsu Gen Honten , it’s not to be missed.
What we did: We were keen on doing some trekking whilst in Japan but nothing too strenuous. Kamikochi offered the perfect opportunity, situated between Matsumoto and Takayama two mountain towns we wanted to visit. As the transport in Japan is so reliable, we decided to take an early bus to Kamikochi, take a walk down the river on a well trodden trekking route leaving our baggage at the bus station, and heading to our hotel afterwards. Our Ryokan was gorgeous and sleeping on the traditional Japanese beds was way more comfortable that I’d imagined, it made me want to get a futon when I came home!
TOP TIPS: It’s not an easy area to navigate without a car but it is possible. All of the hotels around here are Ryokan so it’s possible to eat at your hotel though you need to book meals in advance. We took a taxi to our hotel but it’s possible to do using buses with a bit of planning. Don’t count on your hotels being able to speak English either!
What we did: We completed our whirlwind tour of the mountains with Takayama, a more frequented destination famous for its cute wooden cottage lined streets fit for wandering through all afternoon. There’s also a lot of temples to visit on the outskirts which we enjoyed more than the famous streets as we found them to be a bit too touristy. We tried some delicious Hida Beef here and soaked in the mountain air before heading to Kyoto.
TOP TIPS: In the mountains the bus is much cheaper and more convenient that the trains and doesn’t take much longer. Planning your route in advance will allow you to compare train and bus prices and times, and help you decide whether its actually worth getting one of the all access train passes everyone recommends. It actually would have worked out more expensive for us to do that, so don’t fall into the trap and check out whether its really worth the expense for your trip or not! Chances are, unless you’re doing 3+ major cities in a week, it’s probably not worth it…
This city is on many people’s bucket lists when they visit Japan, famed for its Geisha culture, ancient temples and beautiful temple gardens (best viewed in spring or autumn). It’s a huge city with pockets of ancient culture to explore, pick timings and destinations wisely though as it can get hugely crowded. We spent 3 days here getting lost in alleyways (where we were lucky enough to spot some real geishas!) exploring the old town and temples and eating the best Gyoza in the world. Our day trip to Nara was excellent too, feeding the resident deer was absolutely bizarre and the Todai-ji temple is the most impressive I have ever seen, for the sheer size and age of it.
TOP TIPS: No trip to Kyoto is complete without a wander through the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove and Tenryu-ji Temple, but what made our trip out here even better was forking out a bit extra to visit the Okochi Sanso Gardens at the end of the Bamboo Grove. Because you have to pay to get, there are far less tourists, giving you the piece of calm you were craving but probably didn’t think you’d get considering the sheer number of tourists around you. We found ourselves in the most beautiful Zen Garden practising calligraphy on tatami mats, just the two of us and a welcomed respite from the Bamboo Grove I can tell you.
The mysterious and magical islands of Okinawa are famed all over the world for having a population that lives to the oldest ages possible. What’s the secret? Well they didn’t let us in on it but from what I could tell, this is a place with a seriously laid back vibe so far away from hustle and bustle with plenty of fresh fish to keep them healthy. Choosing which island to visit wasn’t easy, they all seem to have different characters and advantages. I could do a whole separate blog post about that, but suffice to say we chose Ishigaki Island for the best waters for snorkelling and it’s chilled out atmosphere. We chose is instead of Okinawa Island which seemed much more touristy (it has an American shopping mall and lots of western food, a legacy from WW2) and were not disappointed. Our first hotel was on a wild beach on the east side, not a soul in sight but no deck chairs either! Our second hotel was on thevwemt side and had a pool and a lovely beach so we were spoilt for choice.
TOP TIPS: We found it very hard to navigate without a car which we knew would be a risk but decided against renting one as we weren’t planning on leaving the pool or beach! I would however advise getting one as you will be able to visit so many gorgeous places. It’s very easy to do and you won’t get lost as there’s only one road around the island!
So there you have our whirlwind tour of Japan, there are so many places we didn’t manage to get to, it is a country full of possibilities. What’s more, its completely different according to the season. We can’t wait to visit again in spring for the cherry blossoms, and in winter to go skiing! As always, get in touch if you want help planning your trip 🙂