2 Weeks during sakura season 2014
Back in high school, I got kind of into anime. My friends and I were the ones hanging out in anime IRC channels, and trekking across the state to conferences to meet with others of our kind. Although my love for anime isn’t what it once was, and I get winded playing 9 foot songs on Dance Dance Revolution, that started a fascination with Japan that has stuck with me. It lead to me taking Japanese language classes in college, getting really into Kurosawa and Miyazaki movies and wanting to someday travel there.
A Last Gift
I’d talked about traveling to japan with my mom during this time. Some of the places we’d go and the sites we’d see. When she passed away 2 months after I graduated college, I put a lot on hold. Rather than traveling or developing websites in my spare time, I was cleaning out and fixing up the house I grew up in. This meant driving from Orlando to St. Petersburg (90 minutes) on weekends for almost a year. It was without a doubt the most stressful time of my life so far.
On the weekend before my birthday, when the house was almost ready to sell, I was spending my weekend clearing out my moms room. In her closet, within a suitcase, I spotted a bank envelope. Written on it were the words “Adam to Japan fund”. I scratched my head and opened the envelope. Inside was $1,000 in cash, with a ledger on the side denoting deposits to it over the last year of her life. The thought behind this hit me hard, and I still tear up remembering it.
That was my moms last birthday gift to me.
Fast forward almost 8 years later. Marilyn and I have been together since before finding that special envelope, and had also put off this trip in favor of various other amazing trips. Towards the end of last year we decided this was the year and finally made it a reality.
The tl;dr of the trip is that it was amazing. We spent 4 nights in a hotel across from Nijo Castle in Kyoto, experienced mineral baths and amazing meals for 2 nights at a ryokan in Hakone and finished our trip by exploring Tokyo for 7 full days.
During our time in Kyoto, we took a food and sake tour with a local, who grew up in the midwest. We explored ancient shrines like Fushimi Inari and Kiyomizu-dera temple. Fed the sacred deer in Nara and explored the amazing temples of Japans first capital. We saw a Maiko (Geisha) performance in Gion, the historic home of the culture. We explored the ancient castles used by the Shogun. At only an hour away, making the side trip to Osaka resulted in some amazing okonomiyaki and culture shock.
In Hakone, we shed our shoes and enjoyed pampering and 12 course kiseki meals at a hundred year old ryokan. We took a ropeway tour of the mountainside and ate eggs boiled in Owakudani, a natural hot spring, before taking a ship across Lake Ashinoko.
With so much to do in Tokyo, there was no shortage of nightlife, food, shopping or culture to fill a week. We loved the feel of Hakajuku, littered with crepe stands, cafes, boutiques and second hand stores. Were were wowed by the sheer amount of people and lights in Shibuya. Walked through the blooming sakuras in Ueno park. Watched gamers and otaku wander the 6 floor arcades and model stores in Akihabara. Fullfilled a lifelong dream and visited the Ghibli museum. Woke up early and had sushi at the Tsukiji Fish Market. Had drinks at the Park Hyatt – famous for its role in Lost in Translation. Finished the trip with a very odd show – The Robot Dinner Show.
What follows is a breakdown of the trip, day by day, with more pictures than I’ve ever included in a post. If you’re curious about Japan, or want to see some amazing sites, read on!
Day 1: Travel from Orlando to Kyoto
Kyoto was our first destination, but we arrived in Narita airport a few hours away. We grabbed a bullet train across the country and slept for a few hours as we made our way to our first stop of the trip. We would end up spending 5 days in Kyoto. Some of that time was spent exploring the city, but we also took day trips to Nara and Osaka to see the area. If you’re only going to visit one location in Japan, I’d suggest you go to Kyoto.
Our Delta flight left Orlando at 8:00am Saturday and after 19 hours of flight time we were in Kyoto, although the time of arrival was 4:00 pm Sunday. We picked up our pocket wifi, redeemed our Japan Rail Pass vouchers and caught the first available train to Kyoto. By the time we left the airport it was 7:00pm, and we wouldn’t arrive in Kyoto until almost 11:00pm. After we made it there we grabbed a midnight snack by buying a meal ticket from a machine. Many cheap restaurants use ticketing systems for food. All the ones we tried had pictures of the food, but be sure you put in your money first otherwise you might wonder why its not working.