Our adventure-style Honeymoon in Japan

IMG_8025
Ishigaki Island

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.

Unlike our round the world trip, this one wouldn’t be on a shoestring (thanks to our generous wedding guests!), so the only limit was our imagination! Well that, and the fact we wanted somewhere with good weather in late September, beaches, mountains, culture and great food. So rather a lot of criteria actually.
Luckily there was a country waiting for us to discover that matched our criteria perfectly. Welcome to Japan: the ultimate adventure holiday destination. 
In 3 weeks we explored ancient capitals, modern metropolis’, secluded mountain valleys and remote islands closer to Taiwan than mainland japan. It never felt rushed or stressful, it was in fact the easiest holiday I’ve ever been on. This is a country where everything just works, and the people go out of their way to make you feel welcome. A country as diverse as japan has something for everyone in every season, here are my best bits to get you started but you can of course get in touch if you’re looking for something different.

Tokyo

This is where most people start their holiday in Japan, but not everybody stays long enough to soak in the vast amount of diverse experiences it has to offer. It is a sprawling, mysterious metropolis full of numerous microcosyms just waiting to be explored. You could easily spend a whole week here, but if you don’t have that much time I recommend doing some research and prioritising areas to go to, spending half a day in each if you enough energy. As this post is about our trip in general i’ll just highlight some of the lesser known delights that we enjoyed:

Yoyogi Park and the surrounding Kawaii culture 

Walking into this park makes you feel like you’ve entered an enchanted forest, surrounded by ancient looming trees it’s a wonderful place to catch your breath after wandering the streets of neighbouring Shinjuku and Harajuku. I recommend checking out the Hedgehog Cafe nearby and wandering down Takeshita Street for a look into the cute kawaii culture.
Takeshita Street
IMG_9368

Ueno Park and old Tokyo

This is another lovely park, very different to Yoyogi but equally delightful. It’s a lot more lively and has some nice shrines and corners to explore. After a wander around we headed to old Tokyo to walk up snake street, a quiet, meandering street that shows a different side to the skyscrapers and dazzling lights you’re used to. There’s a nice blog about it here. There’s a few cute cafes and boutiques along the way (my favourite was Petticoat lane at the north end), we also stumbled upon a great market worth checking out for some rustic charm. More info on that here.
IMG_7940

Akihabara

I had no idea how much I would enjoy this neighbourhood, I thought the days of playing video games were long behind me. But here, it’s a fascinating and thrilling adventure each time you step into a game shop. There is a level for each type of game; fighting games, retro games, racing games and my personal favourite: music games. Guitar Hero is just the tip of the ice berg, who knew. I had as much fun playing as I did watching the rows of dedicated Japanese teenagers with their special gaming gloves and earphones moving their hands at lightening speed on level 25 whilst I struggled with level 3. Even if you’re not into gaming I strongly recommend having a wander around this neighbourhood and heading into one of the bigger game shops like Sega to try a game out, you never know what you might find!
IMG_7978

Matsumoto

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.

IMG_7573

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.

IMG_7583

Kamikochi

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!

IMG_7603 IMG_7586

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!

Takayama

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.

IMG_9409

 

 

IMG_7638
Hida Chinese Noodles Bar
Hauntingly beautiful cemetery on the outskirts of town
Hauntingly beautiful cemetery on the outskirts of town

IMG_9440

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…

Kyoto

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.

View from the Kodaiji Temple
View from the Kodaiji Temple
Todai-ji Temple, Nara Frederik Rubensson, Flikr
Todai-ji Temple, Nara (Frederik Rubensson, Flikr)
Making friends in Nara
Making friends in Nara

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.

Okochi Sanso Gardens, courtesy of Appie Verschoor on Flikr
Okochi Sanso Gardens, courtesy of Appie Verschoor on Flikr

Okinawa

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.

west side
west side
East side
East side

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 🙂