I’ve always thought that sightseeing on short holiday trips are fun but not as satisfying, real and exciting as a long trip, where you get to immerse yourself in the culture, meet people and spend time with the locals. The best kind of travel involves not just buying souvenirs, but actually talking to people, listening to their stories and finding out about their worries or what makes them smile. Japan came out to be an exception to the rule and I would recommend that you visit, even if you are limited on time. Sightseeing alone is very much worth it.
Japan – the country of the rising Sun, has always been a dream destination of mine. Following some hard work, I finally got the chance to experience the dynamic Japanese lifestyle. My journey was mainly in Tokyo – a huge city, built up from hundreds of skyscrapers, filled with millions of twinkling lights and inhabited by even more people. It is a melting pot of old preserved traditions, cultural sightseeing from the past, to modern museums and the latest technologies. In addition, I got to spend a weekend in Kyoto, a former capital of Japan, where I got to visit magnificent places. Everything was so different from what I had seen in Europe. Japan stole a piece of my heart and I am already yearning to go back again.
Let me tell you more about some of the most memorable places I got to visit.
Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto – Climbing up what seemed like endless trails felt so magical and fairytale-like. My favourite moment in Kyoto was the few minutes when we somehow were lucky to be alone on the trail – without the crowds of tourists, surrounded by the red-orange torii and the sunlight coming through them.
Another breath-taking view from Kyoto is The Golden Temple – Kinkakuji (金閣寺). It’s beauty is so captivating that it is no wonder that it is one of the most popular sites in Kyoto.
A place where I surely had a lot of fun was the Monkey park Iwatayama in Arashiyama, Kyoto. One could easily spend a whole day in Arashiyama walking by the river, climbing up to enjoy a gorgeous view side by side with monkeys and then re-charging with some delicious Japanese food.
Odaiba is a big artificial island in Tokyo Bay where you can visit galleries and museums such as the Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation Miraikan, see a replica of the Statue of Liberty, do some shopping and dine with a mesizing view.
When the business and noise of Shinjuku became too much for me, I loved to escape into Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. In the centre of Tokyo between all the skyscrapers, busy stations, and hurrying people, you get to enjoy the peace and tranquillity of this gorgeous park.
Tokyo Tower is an observation tower in Tokyo. Looking very similar to the Eiffel Tower, it is 333 meters high – just a tad taller.
Tokyo is full of surprises. I was quite surprised when I first heard about neko-cafés and cat cafés. Also, rabbit and dog and other animal cafes exist in Tokyo. It was something I had never experienced before, but it was very relaxing to have a hot chocolate with a friend and pet some lazy fluffy cats in the meantime.
My most favourite experience in Japan was climbing Mount Fuji and seeing the sunrise from 3376m above sea level. To be able to witness the sunrise we climbed at night, which took us about 8 hours to the top. It was a physical and mental challenge. Being used to over 30 degrees during the summer in Tokyo, experiencing freezing temperatures while hiking was very hard to handle. But it was all worth it. It was about 4.50am if I remember correctly. We were sleepy and exhausted but as we started welcoming the new day with the sun showing above the clouds, above the lakes and hills below us, we all froze to admire what was the most majestic view I have ever witnessed. We only briefly sat inside the hut at the top to get a warm cup of green tea or some soup and then started the descent before our bodies completely refused to move under the weight of tiredness and desire to sleep.
This is just a brief sneak peek to hopefully awaken your interest in Japan. Japan is so much more! From walking through Asakusa and enjoying traditional temples or visiting Kamakura to see the Great Buddha and putting your feet in the sea, to the busy crossings of Shibuya and fashion trips in Harajuku, small izkaya restaurants, purikura photos, and so on, Tokyo has so much to offer. Not just something but a lot for every taste. Deliciously tempting cuisine of simple onigiri, okonomiyake and ramen, cultural peculiarities – origami, ikebana and all kinds of art, fireworks festivals – hanabi, or enjoying hanami with the ephemeral beauty of sakura, going to hot springs – onsen, Japan never ceases to impress. I hope to be able to explore this rich country to a greater extent – from Hokkaido to Okinawa, and to enjoy its diversity of nature, climate, culture and beauty.
Article and photography by Lili Prodanova