Feb 9 - Feb 11

I arrived in the evening after leaving Kingsford Smith Airport at around 9:30 am. It was around 5:15 pm after a reasonably pleasant 10-hour journey from Sydney to Tokyo. While I didn't realise it at the time, the flight would indeed acclimatise me to the general public environment of Japan. There were many an announcement in first Japanese followed by English to update us on the process of the flight, as you'd expect, but the announcements did not stop upon exiting the aircraft.

I of course had to get my morning coffee before setting off.

In Haneda Airport and all across Tokyo, there's frequent audio assistance in the elevators, on the escalators and generally sounding on the PA at frequent intervals. While helpful in the long run, I'd be lying if I didn't say it unnerved me a touch. Heading from Summer into Winter was also somewhat of an adjustment.

There was snow (sleet) on my first day in Tokyo!

After a muddle about connecting flights and snow, I ultimately decided that I would not make it to Sapporo this trip, so I took the opportunity to spend a day in Tokyo and take in some of the sights! I was tossing up between Asakusa and Harajuku but decided on the former due to a train line not running. I was not disappointed with what I got to see!

The scenery combined with the atmosphere was incredible.

Approaching Sensoji from a distance was a remarkable experience. I remember seeing the Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate) getting closer and closer with each step, the features, statutes and overall atmosphere of the site becoming more and more prominent. Seeing this in person was quite incredible, and even on a rainy/snowy day in early February, people flocked to come and experience one of the world's most colourful temples.

Once you go through the Thunder Gate, there's an incredible shopping street called Nakamise which is full of stalls selling anything from clothing to food to omamori. About 6 meters wide in the middle with stores flanking each side, you stroll down the pathway some 200 meters (if you can resist stopping at one of the shops) before finally seeing the temple itself.

As is to be expected, sightseeing in the cold worked up quite an appetite. Luckily enough, there were several different restaurants in the alleyways besides Nakamise that I was able to choose from. I ultimately settled on a place with a tempting plastic model of Katsudon (pork cutlet rice) and ducked in there for a nice lunch.

This whole set was only about AUD 14. Green tea or barley tea is often a complementary addition to your chosen meal.

I had a quieter afternoon as my body had not yet acclimated to the much colder climate (the day I left it got up to 33 degrees celsius while it got down to zero in Japan). I had a nice dinner near my hotel (I stayed close to Haneda airport) and prepared myself to link up with 6 of my friends in Hiroshima!

Feb 11 - Feb 13

Something I was VERY excited for when going to Japan was riding the Shinkansen (bullet train). It was also a great opportunity to learn about how transport systems work in Japan. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they're very intuitive! My friends and I got IC cards which are like travel passes that you use to get onto subways, trains or busses. This may not be anything unusual but you can also use your IC cards as debit cards at vending machines and even some shops and restaurants!

These were our IC cards. Pasmo is just one of many IC card providers which work across the Kyushu!

These cards were very helpful throughout the trip but they only covered local transport. For longer haul trips like the Shinkansen, you could either pre-book a reserved ticket online or purchase a non-reserve ticket at the train station.

The future is now when it comes to transport in Japan!

Since it was my first time, I decided to reserve a seat and there's an option to reserve with oversized baggage which can help if you're planning on travelling for a little while. A friendly lady on the train next to me showed me how the seats can recline and that there's a plug you can use to charge your various mobile devices.

The Shinkansen has wifi and drinks carts to make sure you've got what you need during the ride, and the station platforms have many combines where you can grab a snack or even a meal for the train.

I eventually met up with my friends in the evening in Hiroshima after a 4-hour trip on the Shinkansen. We went out to dinner together at a cute restaurant down a side street where I was lucky enough to have another pork and rice dish, this time with tangy mustard mayo.

The food in Japan was so beautifully presented, and usually, you'd get a generous portion size as well.

After enjoying dinner and catching up, we got some rest to prepare for the following day which would be a confronting one. We went to the atomic bomb museum in Hiroshima where we learned more about the personal fallout, the extent of the destruction and the subsequent effects of the WWII bombings.

Incredibly close to the site of the impact, this building managed to stay standing through the catastrophic disaster. It's now known as the Hiroshima Drone.

Hiroshima is a really beautiful and picturesque city, so seeing how it recovered from that incredible level of destruction was extremely impressive. That level of destruction is unimaginable, which is why seeing it at the museum was truly eye-opening.

The city itself is quite walkable and picturesque in many parts.

After that experience, we took off on a recommendation from a friend to Miyajima Island, home of the Itsukushima Shrine or 'Floating Torii Gate'. If you have a chance to visit, I would definitely recommend Miyajima island as there are so many beautiful temples and shrines on the 'Deer Island'.

Itsukushima Shrine

Deer are free to roam on Miyajima Island but watch out! They are very motivated by food.

After a few more tasty meals and plenty of walking, we set off to what turned out to be my favourite part of the trip. Kyoto! Another albeit shorter trip on the Shinkansen brought us to the incredible city where we saw many beautiful sites! The mix of traditional and modern buildings across the city was fascinating to walk through and pass by. If you're planning on spending some time in Kyoto, be sure to take a lot of walks through different parts of the city!

My personal highlight was exploring the shopping alleys in Kyoto. There was pretty much anything you could think of down these alleys and the atmosphere in the evening was incomparable.

One of the aforementioned shopping alleys, Teramachi.

The food in Kyoto was so beautiful as well. We had sushi and sashimi down a restaurant alley one night and it was prepared and presented in such an artistic way. The quality was incredible and it may have been one of the best meals we had throughout the whole trip.

Served on ice to make sure it stays cold, and to give you more time to admire it.

The other highlight of Kyoto was a day where I walked more than I think I may have done throughout the entirety of 2021. This was our biggest sightseeing day as we managed to see Kinkakuji (the golden pavilion) and experience the Bamboo Forest. The cover photo is me at Kinkakuji and below are some of the incredible views in and around the Bamboo Forest.

The parks surrounding and approaching the Bamboo Forest were beautiful.

Walking through the forest was like something out of a dream.

The following day, we also took the time to go to the Fushimi Inari Shrine, which is known for its thousands of Torii gates around the temple and going up Mount Inari. I only got part way up the mountain but my friends managed to reach the summit. The views from where I got to were breathtaking so I was fairly satisfied with my efforts overall.

Just a few of the many Torii gates we walked through that day.

Sunset in Kyoto

The next day we took a trip to Nara, a town about an hour's train outside of Kyoto known for its dear and Buddhist temples. We visited the Great Buddha Hall at Todai-ji where we got to witness the world's largest bronze statue of Buddha.

This statue alone was worth the trip.

I took a day to recover from a 24-hour illness I picked up before we took an unfortunately uneventful trip to Odawara. The city was nice but the reason we'd gone there was to spend a day taking in and appreciating Mount Fuji. On that day, however, it rained and had the poorest visibility of any day we'd had in Japan. But it was still an interesting place I would not have thought to have visited.

This was the town we visited instead, Hakone.

So after a segment of the trip that didn't quite go to plan, we set our sights on Tokyo! We got to take the Romancecar which is an old-style train that goes from Odawara to Shinjuku in Tokyo. It was a sweet little train that brought us to what was by far the busiest place we visited in Japan.

The Cityscape of Tokyo was seemingly endless.

Looking through my photos as I write this, I remain in awe of how modern and functional Tokyo is. There are connections to everything through the subway and if you didn't know where you were going, you'd happily still get lost in what is a great city to explore. We went to the Tokyo Art Gallery and shopped for all our keepsakes for what was a fantastic trip.

I remember going to many a themed store from the Pokemon Centre to the Kirby Cafe and adoring how much detail and effort was put into all these themed stores and establishments. We did Karaoke one night as is customary and sang 'I Want It That Way' at the top of our lungs to truly test the soundproofing of the booth we were in!

Tokyo was one of the most lively places I've been to.

I could talk on and on about what to do and see in Tokyo but it's really one of those places that you need to go to and experience. Everything feels so busy and exciting and yet it's such a safe and interesting place to travel in. From beautiful sights to delicious meals to great memories, this trip to Japan truly had it all and I'm thankful to have had the opportunity to share my experiences.

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