With the 2020 Summer Olympics coming up soon, we’re about to hear a lot more about the island country that is Japan. But even still, I think it’s one of those places you’ve heard a lot about already.
Japan is featured so much in history, and in the present, as a political & economic powerhouse, as a site of technological advancements (robot restaurants, for one!); as a coloniser and agitator, as the setting of some of the most devastating natural disasters as well as one of the biggest human tragedies (this is in reference to the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On this trip we managed to visit the city of Hiroshima. A blog post on this experience will be coming soon). It’s also influenced a lot of the arts, music, culinary, and even sports scene. Essentially, Japan has made its mark on a lot of the things in the world today.
Propelled by its rich and complicated history, and stunning population of 126 million people, it’s a force of a nation. There was so much to unpack within it. Eight days in total was barely enough to do so, but my family and I eagerly awaited the trip.
Our first stop: the country’s capital, Tokyo!
From the moment we landed in Tokyo, we used the metro right off the bat. The system was fairly easy to use and we got a bit too used to it such that at some point, we had to remind ourselves to maybe walk, or take a cab, to see what outside was like! In addition, Tokyo has a large amount of English signs, translated menus, and many locals speak English, so communication was not difficult. Google Translate was useful in some cases though, such as when the restaurant’s receipts would come in Japanese orthography and we needed to confirm that the bill was correct.
Our FIRST High: 634 Metres Up!
The Tokyo Skytree is Tokyo’s tallest (and the world’s second-tallest) structure at 634 metres high. In addition to serving as a broadcasting tower, it has several restaurants and an observation deck.
Fun fact –
The Greater Tokyo Area is the most populous metropolitan area in the world, as well as the largest metropolitan economy in the world.
The sun was gorgeously pouring onto the buildings and so we got a stunning 360° view of the city!
Our SECOND High: 800 Metres Up!
Of the ‘Fuji 5 Lakes’, Lake Kawaguchi is the second biggest one.
So yes, you heard right – we spent a day visiting the legendary Mount Fuji and its neighbouring town Hakone, which is some two hours away from Tokyo. We used Japanican.com to book the trip, which offered a package including a local guide, transportation (from and back to Tokyo), lunch, as well as activities such as a boat ride on the lake and a cable car ride.
Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t on our side and when we got there – Mt. Fuji was under masses and masses of clouds! Nevertheless, there were views upon views upon views – it was difficult to get disappointed.
The tour company was diligent throughout and we appreciated the guide’s willingness to amend the itinerary and accommodate for any issues. Most of the circumstances that affected the tour – weather, traffic – were out of their control.
Our THIRD High: 2400 Metres Up! :O
We went from seeing (well, partly seeing) Mt. Fuji from afar to actually being on the mountain. It wasn’t a long bus ride. Now, we were at Fujinomiya 5th Station which stands at about 7800ft and is one of the four starting points to climb to the top of the mountain. (It only takes only 5-6 hours to reach summit from this point).
And no – we didn’t climb to the top! Despite it being climbing season (the mountain is only open for climbing at a specific time of year) we hadn’t prepared to do so. But I mean – we were already 60% of the way up so that should count for something. Haha.
The change in temperature and flora was definitely noticeable as we were much higher than before. It felt like we’d gone from a mild summer day to a chilly autumn one. Also, the mist was even heavier than it had been earlier in the day, so there really was no way we were going to actually see the top of the mountain.
At 3,776m high, Mt. Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan.
While in Tokyo, we also managed to:
Take quiet walks through the Imperial Palace & the East Gardens…
The Emperor of Japan lives in the Imperial Palace, first built during the Edo Period in Japan.
…walk through dozens of people to see the Sensō-ji Temple…
To get here we walked through Nakamise-dori street which spans 250 metres and is filled with shops and food and the hustle and bustle of tourist Tokyo. Sensō-ji is Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple, and within the vicinity is also a Shinto pagoda (the first image below). These are the major religions of Japan – over 50% of the population are Shinto and about 35% are Buddhist.
…try out some local Japanese cuisine…
…browse through some of the local shops as well as in the malls…
…and we even managed to catch a firework display on our last night there!
(These other activities were not so high anymore, but maybe we were high on euphoria?!)
While we were sad to leave Tokyo, we were super excited for the next leg of our trip. Next stop: Osaka!
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