Wednesday, July 03, 2024



Last month, I went on an amazing trip to Japan. Most of it was technically a business trip, with guided tours, so I’m not in the best position to tell you how to get from point A to point B except for the two days I spent on my own. I wrote about it for my organizing blog, but suffice it to say that I highly recommend visiting Kyoto, especially a href="">Kinkaku-ji Temple, Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kiyomizu-dera, and the Gion district. I also highly recommend a day trip to Nara, to see the deer and Todai-ji Temple! We took the Shinkansen to Tokyo, and I made sure to sit on the left side so that I could get a good look at Mount Fuji! (You can also see it from other locations, including from many towers in Tokyo.)

I attended a two-day seminar in Tokyo, then spent two days visiting on my own. Japan is beautiful, culturally rich (I mean, they have Shintoism, samurais, and Hello Kitty?), very safe, with great public transit, and kid-friendly; it’s much more affordable than I thought; the people are very nice and helpful with tourists. Japan has really good food, especially as souvenirs (and I recommend Don Quijote for the maximum variety of Kit Kats and other kitsch souvenirs); there are also non-kitsch souvenirs in Tokyo. Here are some general tips before you go, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the washlets. I mean, I got used to them very quickly, and now feel like North America is a bit inferior with its analog toilets! We are planning on redoing our main bathroom in a few years, and I am seriously considering having a washlet installed.

I had read a lot of online guides beforehand (like this one or that one, and obviously relistened to the Spilled Milk episodes (306 and 584) about Tokyo. In the end, I decided to only see the highlights, so that I could spend a day visiting Kamakura (I read two novels by Ito Ogawa about a public writer living in Kamakura and couldn’t resist); see here for an itinerary suggestion.

On the two days I was on my own, I went to Kamakura and visited some of the sights in Tokyo. Getting to Kamakura Station by train is pretty easy, and it’s roughly a 1-hour ride from Tokyo. The public transit system in Tokyo is very well integrated with Google Maps, which is helpful if you are lost. (The downside is that someone like me would prefer to stay on the same subway line instead of taking 3 different ones even if the latter is faster, so Google Maps doesn’t always show the “best for me” route.) All the subway lines have a color and letter, and each stop has a number as well as a name, so it’s easy to figure out where you are even if you don’t read Japanese!

Once I was in Kamakura, I walked to Kotoku-in Temple to see the Daibutsu, or great Buddha. It was beautiful! Exiting the temple, I made the mistake of assuming I could take a cab to my next intended destination (Hokokuji Temple), but there were no cabs to be found, and it turns out there are no Uber cars in Kamakura! Since I hadn’t studied the bus route ahead of time, I ended up just walking that day, and honestly, it was too much. I still recommend the visit, just figure out transportation first!

I walked west and, once I got to the tori gate on (according to Google Maps) Wakamiya oji, I walked north to Hachimangu Temple and visited a bit. Then I kept going west to Hokokuji Temple, to see the bamboo forest. I loved it! It was beautiful and so peaceful. They also serve matcha tea in the gardens, but I recommend getting a reservation for that, as it can sell out. Then I walked back to Hachimangu and turned south on Komachi Street, a nice pedestrian street with restaurants and shops. I had the most delicious ramen of my whole trip! I slowly made my way back to the train station, and back to Tokyo.

I took a detour to see Shiba Park and Tokyo Tower on the way back to my hotel; I stopped by a konbini to get some snacks for a girl dinner, since I was too tired to go back out. Good thing the next day had a lighter program!

Obviously, I had to walk in Shibuya Scramble Crossing and see the Hachiko statue, which was the perfect place to meet one of my new friends! We walked to Don Quijote, where I bought 13 kinds flavors of Kit-Kats and other souvenirs! From there, we went to Chiku Chiku Cafe to pet some hedgehogs with a third friend, then met up with a fourth friend to walk around Minato Ward and Harajuku.

Once home, we had a taste test of all the Kit Kats I brought back – I really wish we had these flavors regularly available in North America! Think green tea, orange, peanut butter, salted caramel… They also had a flavor called Gold, where the bottom layer is as in the original Kit Kat, but the top layer is caramel; of the “cookie” flavor, which had whole wheat or barley (based on my Google Translate app). They were great!

I had an amazing time in Japan and I highly recommend visiting if you can!

No comments: