Japan Anniversary Trip
Well we almost missed our flight to Tokyo. If you plan to fly during Chuseok weekend you should definitely plan extra time to get through the airport. It was a good thing we didn’t have a checked bag or this would have been a very short blog!
After getting settled in our tiny hotel room in Tokyo, we took a subway ride to Tsukiji fish market. Side note, the subway system in Tokyo is not nearly as organized or cheap as the one in Seoul. The fish market is supposed to be the largest in Asia but it happened to be closed that day, it was a bummer. We decided to explore the surrounding area and spent a long time trying to find a nearby temple. We ended the night in Ginza, one of the most expensive shopping areas in Tokyo. All evening we had been tempted with delicious looking sushi. We finally stopped for dinner at an adorable little restaurant under the subway near our hotel.
Day 2: Tokyo: Sumo, Asakusa and Sumo!
We woke up very early to go to the sumo-wrestling stadium. We weren’t able to get tickets in advance so we waited in line for same-day tickets to the sumo tournament. There are only 3 or 4 tournaments during the year and we were so lucky to be there on the last day of the largest tournament! We got in line at 6:00am and had no idea what to expect or if we would even get in. While we were in line the employees gave us updates constantly, something that would never happen in Korea. After waiting in line for 2 hours we got tickets!
We were so excited to get in that we walked right up to our top row seats. What we didn’t know is that nothing at all would be happening until 10:00am giving us 2 hours to sit in the stadium with nothing to do. We later found out that most people get their tickets then go do other things all day. When the most famous and best wrestlers are having their matches in the evening, they all come back. Instead, we just sat there napping and watching them prep the stadium. All the amateur fighters went first and they worked their way up to the famous fighters. We sat there for several hours watching the amateurs, which seemed amazing to us! It was such a blast to watch, it is so fast paced that you never get bored!
Sheso-ji and Asakusa
We left around noon and walked along the nearby river to Sheso-ji temple, a total tourist attraction. The temple is beautiful but it was so packed with tourists that it was distracting. Immediately in front of the temple is a shopping area lined with souvenir shops. There were so many tourists that it was almost hard to get through the crowd. We made our way through the temple quickly and on the other side is an adorable neighborhood called Asakusa! There was a small amusement park, street performers and some amazing street food, our favorite! The area itself is adorable so it was a fun way to spend the afternoon.
The Imperial Palace
We made the poor choice of leaving all of this to go see the Imperial Palace, a huge disappointment. In our travel book it made it seem like the Palace was full of beautiful gardens and ruins of the old wall that used to surround the palace. When we arrived, if we would not have had to buy a ticket, we would not have known we had arrived. It was a large grassy area and there were some walls but nothing amazing. It reminded me of Central Park in New York but less cool. Sorry Tokyo but this one…not so much.
The Final Sumo Match
We were pretty bummed that we had left a much cooler area so we decided to go back to the sumo stadium for the final fight at 6:00pm. We hopped right back on the subway and got to the stadium with 45 minutes to spare. When we got inside the stadium it was packed! We almost couldn’t find seats together but when we sat down to watch, it was very obvious that the level, and size of fighters had increased tremendously. Everyone in the stadium was sitting on the edge of their seats and the place was electric. AJ and I didn’t even know exactly what was going on, and couldn’t understand the announcer, but we were excited anyways. Watching sumo was a once in a lifetime experience and definitely one of the highlights of our trip.
Day 3: Tokyo: Harajuku, Shibuya and Shinjuku
First on the agenda today was Harajuku, the fashion capital of Japan and the go-to place to see crazy cosplay outfits. It was packed, as most places seem to be, and the stores lining the street were full of funny shirts, accessories and anything you might need for a serious outfit. There was plenty of street food (cotton candy!) and lots of silly things to gawk at. From there we hit up Shibuya crossing which is the busiest and craziest crosswalk in Tokyo. We also saw the Hachiko statue. Hachiko is a loyal dog that waited for his owner at the subway exit every day including for 10 years after his owner passed away.
In a nearby alley we ate some delicious ramen which pretty much changed our ramen expectations for the rest of our lives. It was THAT good. Next up was Shinjuku, which is where the nightlife is supposed to be. There are also lots of sex stores, sleazy hotels and hidden strip clubs so that’s exciting! We just wandered around but didn’t really find much we were interested in. We went back to the hotel early to prepare for our train ride the next day.
Day 4: Kyoto: Nishiki Market and Gion
We took an early bullet train to Kyoto, about a 3-hour ride. Miraculously, our hotel in Kyoto was even smaller than the one in Tokyo. First on the agenda was Nishiki Market, a covered market that sells food, fish, fruit, veggies, souvenirs and anything else you could imagine. From here we walked through Gion, which I was most excited about. Gion is the main Geisha district in Japan and my best bet for seeing an actual Geisha! The architecture in this area has been refurbished to look like traditional Japanese homes and it’s really cool to just wander around.
We did see 2 real Geishas while we were walking around but they are very hard to come by. Both times I got very lucky and just so happened to see them as they ducked out of one building and almost immediately into the next. I imagine I am exactly the person they are trying to avoid. I am sure people are constantly trying to catch a glimpse and a photo of them. We had a great dinner at a cute little family owned restaurant where they let us both work the grill for a second!
Day 5: Kyoto: Arashiyama Monkey Park, Bamboo Forest, Tenryu-ji and the Golden Palace
We took a train to Arashiyama to see some monkeys! Arashiyama Monkey Park is great because the monkeys are free and the people are the ones that have to be put behind a wire fence in order to interact with them. We fed them peanuts and then walked outside on a little path. There were monkeys everywhere as they have learned they can come for food. It was cool to be able to see so many of them in one place. There were a couple feisty ones that were chasing each other and pushing each other into water. It was funny to watch them play.
Next, we walked through the beautiful gardens of Tenryu-ji temple, which also backs up to the incredible Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. The temple was stunning but the bamboo forest was absolutely incredible! I saw more fake geishas in a rickshaw! We were super brave and took a bus to the Golden Temple which is exactly what it sounds like; an amazing gold temple sitting in the middle of a beautiful pond. This place was also packed to the brim with tourists so we didn’t spend too much time. We paid extra at the end to have traditional tea in a teahouse with a cute sugar cake on the side. We got back on another bus into town and to a traditional handicraft center for some souvenir shopping before bed time.
Day 6: Hiroshima
This morning we were up early again to catch another train to Hiroshima. It was a dreary, rainy day which seemed perfectly fitting for the occasion. Our hotel in Hiroshima was HUGE in comparison to our last 2. The city of Hiroshima itself doesn’t haven’t a whole lot going on since pretty much everything was destroyed by the atomic bomb. They do have a very cute streetcar system that runs all through the city instead of a subway.
It began raining as soon as we arrived at the Hiroshima Peace Park and museum. The first thing you see right away is the hollow skeleton that makes up the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Dome. It in itself is pretty shocking. There are several smaller memorials all around the complex that have equally harrowing stories. When we got to the actual museum it was full of groups of students there on school trips. That seemed normal until we got into the museum which was incredibly graphic. The museum was very well done but a little hard to get through. There were a lot of pieces of burnt clothes or personal items as well as melted skin and nails. There were also a lot of photos and videos of the medical issues associated with the explosion.
In short, I think it is something that everyone should have to go and see. It was a very educational experience but it was emotionally exhausting. All this on top of the rainy weather meant we were pretty much done with the day by the time we had completed the entire Peace Park. We made it an early night and caught up on sleep.
Day 7: Miyajima Island
This morning we took the subway to a ferry to Miyajima Island to see Itsukushima-jinja. This is the really cool orange tori gate in the middle of the water. When we arrived it was low tide so the gate was mostly surrounded by mud and small puddles of water. I was pretty disappointed as I was hoping to see the gate at high tide. We took some photos and then walked around to see the other buildings and pagodas on the island. We got some coffee and did some shopping and then were planning on heading back to the ferry when we noticed that the water had already risen significantly! It was amazing! The water level increased by several feet in about 45 minutes time. When the water was higher it looked like the gate was floating which is what it is famous for.
We took the ferry back to the subway back to the train station where we caught a bullet train back to Kyoto. We had a little bit of extra time in the evening so we decided to go see Fushimi Inari which is just a ridiculous number of torii gates back to back so you can walk on a path through them. The gates went on so long that we gave up walking the entire path bailing about halfway through. Don’t get me wrong it was very cool but we were so exhausted by this point that we just wanted to chill.
We had an amazing time in Japan, what an awesome country! In the future we hope the have a chance to see other parts of it. The food……incredible.