Japan is a completely different experience. I experienced the modern fast paced life of Tokyo and the slow and calm lifestyle of Kamikochi. Everyone can find something that suits their interests in Japan. One of the most exciting things I found in Japan was HOT coffee in their vending machines. It’s the little things in life that excite me the most sometimes. I was there for 10 days in late September through early October. My boyfriend and I visited Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, and Kamikochi. These are my top five experiences from the trip.
1.Kamikochi Onsen and Hiking
Location: Kamikochi, Nagano Prefecture, Japan
Kamikochi is a beautiful mountainous area of Japan. Also known as the “Japanese Alps”, high peaks surround the town and the Azuza river runs right through the middle of the valley. There are many hot springs in the area as well. If you are looking for an Onsen (Japanese bath house/hot springs) experience then I highly suggest visiting Kamikochi. I stayed at the Kamikochi Onsen Hotel for a night. After we settled in, the hotel served us a traditional 10 course Kai-Seki meal and then we soaked in the hot springs for a bit. The next day, we walked along the hiking trails (very flat) near the river and grabbed a great udon lunch at the main building/bus station.
The area is famous for growing apples. As you travel to Kamikochi you can see apple orchards along the way. There is a gift shop that sells these apple crisp wafers. BUY THEM. And bring me some too. If you’re looking to escape the city life of Tokyo for a while, I highly recommend staying in Kamikochi for at least a night.
HOW TO GET TO KAMIKOCHI FROM TOKYO
Getting to Kamikochi from Tokyo is a bit of a trek – around 3-4hrs of travel time. We took a train from Shinjuku Station to Matsumoto Station. From Matsumoto Station we took another train to Shinshimashima Station. Then finally we took a bus from Shinshimashima Station to Kamikochi that dropped us off near the Kamikochi Onsen Hotel. At Matsumoto Station, you can buy a ticket that includes the train ride from Matsumoto to Shinshimashima and the bus ride from Shinshimashima to Kamikochi.
Location: Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan
In Toyko, we stayed at the Nishitetsu Inn Shinjuku. Shinjuku is the business district of Tokyo and has a thriving nightlife scene. Omoide Yokocho is the yakitori alley in Shinjuku. At night, all the small yakitori shops open up and begin grilling, filling the alley with smoke and wonderful aromas. We had to walk around for a bit before we found a seat, but the food was grilled right in front of us and was worth the wait. After dinner we walked over to the Golden Gai (Kabukicho). It is an area made up of six alleys lined with bars. Drinks for everyone! We ended up chatting with some local Japanese people as well as a couple from Brooklyn. At night, you’ll always find something to do just by walking around Shinjuku. There are live street performers, arcades, and lots of shopping. Watching people come in and out of Shinjuku Station is pretty entertaining as well. The flow of people never stops… An average of 3.5 million people go in and out of that station everyday – it’s organized madness.
3.Japanese Baseball Game
I highly suggest you attend a Japanese baseball game if you can. It’s completely different from the MLB games in America. They synchronize their cheers and cheer for the entire game. Don’t they get tired? I attended a Hiroshima (Carps) vs. Tokyo (Giants) game at the Tokyo Dome. Definitely felt left out because I didn’t know any of the cheers haha. Buy your tickets in advance because they sell out fast.
4.Tsukiji Fish Market
Location: Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo
The new location is now in Toyosu and is called the Toyosu Fish Market.
We went to the Tsukiji Fish Market around 9am one morning. This was actually the last day the Tsukiji Inner Market was open to the public. Lucky me! The Inner Market is where the fishmongers actually sell the fish they catch. The Outer Market is where the restaurants and tourist shops are. The Tsukiji Outer Market will remain open but the Inner Market has moved to Toyosu. As I walked through the Inner Market I saw giant tuna, fresh shellfish, eels, squid, octopus, and so much more. In the Outer Market, I waited about an hour outside a sushi restaurant in the rain. Finally, my six piece meal arrived and I dug in. The seared salmon and seared tuna melted in my mouth. I’ve never tasted anything like it. Surprisingly, it was pretty inexpensive – only 50 yen for a meal for two! The Inner Market is interesting if you want to experience how people buy and sell fish for a living. However, I’d prefer to spend my time in the Outer Market and eat some of the best sushi in Japan.
Nara is a gem of a city. I almost didn’t go to Nara but I’m so glad I did. I went to Nara as a day trip out of Kyoto. Most people come to Nara to see the famous Nara deer. You get to pet the deer… where else in the world are you able to pet and feed wild deer?! There are vendors that sell deer crackers that you can feed to the deer around Nara.
Nara has historical significance in Japan. It was the capital of the country from 710 CE – 784 CE before the capital was moved to Kyoto. Many of the monuments are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites. The Todaiji Temple is shown below and is the world’s largest wooden building. One of Japan’s largest Buddha statue (15m tall) is housed inside this temple. The enormity of the structure and the Buddha statue blew my mind. The engineering and construction is incomprehensible. How did they manage to build such a structure without modern construction technology. Unreal.
How to get to Nara
To get to Nara, take a train from Kyoto Station to Nara Station. It’s about a 45 minutes train ride.