Country Summary: Three Weeks in Japan

Japan

9th September – 2nd October 2017

The quirky Shinsekai neighbourhood in Osaka

The quirky Shinsekai neighbourhood in Osaka

We spent three weeks in Japan. It is a beautiful country which surprisingly reminded me slightly of England because of its seasonal nature. We visited in early Autumn and in some places the leaves were already turning. Japanese culture however is something I have never experienced before and is so different to every other country I have visited.

The country has a mix of a strong traditional history combined with modern technology. We found the people to be very friendly and the transport network to be well organised. It also must be noted that the food was amazing throughout. There is so much culinary variety that we rarely ate the same thing twice. Choosing our top three foods for this blog was very difficult. We also found the hostels were the cleanest, best equipped hostels we have ever stayed in with extremely helpful staff.

We experienced an immense variety of things during our time in Japan. I have only touched upon a small selection in this summary. We watched sumo wrestling, had dinner wearing yakutas in a traditional ryokan, explored the Geisha district of Kyoto, saw Mount Fuji, learnt about the sorrow of the Hiroshima bombing, did meditation in a temple, shared a onsen naked and so much more. You really cannot go wrong visiting Japan.

Food and Drink

Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki sizzling on a hot plate ready to be eaten

Okonomiyaki sizzling on a hot plate ready to be eaten

This is a street food dish consisting of a savoury cabbage pancake topped with meat. Once cooked it’s then smothered in Japanese mayonnaise, okonomiyaki sauce and a sprinkling of fish flakes. There are two regions famous for this dish; Osaka and Hiroshima. Both are slightly different but equally as tasty. You normally eat them sizzling straight off the grill.

Takoyaki

A plate of Takoyaki with mayonnaise, fish flakes and spring onion on top

A plate of Takoyaki with mayonnaise, fish flakes and spring onion on top

These doughy balls are a messy street food dish worth tasting. The batter is poured into the mould and then small pieces of octopus are added. They then slowly turn the balls enclosing the octopus. The balls are cooked to perfection so the are warm and gooey inside but crisp on the outside.

Gyudon

A tasty bowl of gyudon which when ordered from Matsuya comes with a free miso soup

A tasty bowl of gyudon which when ordered from Matsuya comes with a free miso soup

This is a bowl of sticky rice topped with shredded beef and a tasty sauce. We often got our gyudon from Matsuya, a fast food chain restaurant where we would order and pay for the food using a vending machine. We always chose the option to have ours topped off with a freshly poached egg and lots of spring onion. 

Special Note: The convenience stores in Japan, called combinis, offer an amazing selection of on the go food. Rich fell in love with the hot potato croquettes and ate them regularly as a snack. You could also get sushi, sandwiches, ramen, corn dogs, steamed buns, rice balls, bento boxes, okonomiyaki, wraps, the list goes on.

Places (Things to do)

Tsumago

Looking down the main street of Tsumago

Looking down the main street of Tsumago

Tsumago is a small post town on the old Nakasendo way, one of two routes which ran between Kyoto and Edo (now called Tokyo). There is a beautiful day hike between Tsumago and Magome. The night before the hike we stayed in a traditional ryokan (Japanese guesthouse) where we slept on futon beds on tatami floor, ate a selection of traditional foods including sashimi horse meat, honey glazed grasshopper and grilled fish and experienced an ofuro, a Japanese bath. After dinner we walked around the village in our yakutas. The wooden buildings felt magical as they were lit by dim lanterns imitating the old candle light that once illuminated the town.

Kyoto

Some tourist dressed in Kimonos outside the temple of love in Kyoto

Some tourist dressed in Kimonos outside the temple of love in Kyoto

This old capital is steeped in history. It fortunately avoided the American bombing raids in World War II and as a result has over a two thousand temples and shrines. We couldn’t visit them all but the ones we did see were stunning including the Golden and Silver Pavilion and Fushimi Inari Shrine. These are some of the most iconic attractions in Japan, especially Fushimi I Narita with its hundreds of torii gates. As a result of this cultural heritage the city had a very traditional feel in comparison to the metropolis that is Tokyo.

Fuji Five Lakes

Emily cycling down a path around Lake Kawaguchi

Emily cycling down a path around Lake Kawaguchi

When we first arrived at Fuji Five lakes it was during the last few days of Typhoon Talim. The constant rain meant we mostly stayed indoors and there was no hope of seeing the infamous Mount Fuji. On the third day however we had our most clear day so far in Japan. We rented bicycles and spent the day cycling around Lake Kawaguchi. We had breathtaking views of Mount Fuji all day and it was well worth the wait.

Things we learnt

  • The public transport system in Japan is fantastically ran and coordinated. We would navigate a train journey from one city to another which required changing trains numerous times without a single problem. Looking at the one minute train connection times you would not believe this would be possible. However as nothing seemed to ever arrive late and the next train is always waiting for you straight across the platform, 60 seconds began to feel like loads of time. I am not sure this would never be possible in England.
  • Osaka was the last city we visited in Japan. After three weeks of experiencing a very organised and subdued Japan, Osaka felt like Japan’s wild child. It’s streets were filled with people, particularly at night, eating street food and drinking loudly. Another thing is how people didn’t seem to obey traffic signals as they did in the rest of the country. We trained ourselves to wait for the green man to cross the road throughout Japan and then suddenly people were crossing the road when and wherever they wanted.
  • Smoking is allowed in many bars, restaurants and hotels. This seemed odd for such a developed country especially when smoking outside was often restricted to only very small often crowded smoking areas.

Top three phrases/words

  • Amazing – Sugoi ( すごい )
  • Cheers – Kanpai ( かんぱい )
  • Thank you – Arigato gozaimas ( ありがとうございます )

Travel Statistics for Japan

Beers drank: 15.5 (each)
Beds slept in: 11 (each)
Bribes paid: 0

Journeys:

  • Plane: 1
  • Bus: 22
  • Metro: 12
  • Train: 35
  • Tram: 1
  • Boat: 4
  • Cable Car: 6

Spending in Japan

Currency: Japanese Yen
Currency Conversion: £1 = ¥
Number of days in country: 23

Breakdown of spending (together) -
Accommodation: £1,225.25
Food & Beverage: £404.29
Alcohol: £46.28
Transportation: £1,248.22
Visa: £0.00
Activities: £245.23
Other: £144.76

Total (together): £3,313. 93
Total (per person): £1,656.97
Average Daily Spend (together): £120.38
Average Daily Spend (per person): £60.19

Note: ADS excludes all flights into and out of Japan

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