For nigh on five years now, whenever someone enquired about my upcoming holiday destination, my response was the same: "Oh, I’m so excited about visiting Japan next year!"
The pandemic threw a wrench into my scheduled trip but on the bright side, each time I had to re-book (four times, I believe), my knowledge and passion for the country deepened.
This was further enriched by the specialist training I undertook and the wonderful client event I co-hosted in March 2021. I've never dedicated so much time to preparing and planning for a personal holiday.
Japan, a land of unparalleled uniqueness, captivated me with its incredible people, exquisite food, breathtaking scenery, rich culture and meticulous customs. Precision and grace go into every move.
On one occasion, when our train arrived a mere four minutes late, continuous apologies echoed through the public announcement speakers. This deviation from punctuality norms caused genuine distress for the operators!
Despite it being my first trip, we embarked on a classic itinerary, managing to pack in a bit more than anticipated. Undoubtedly, I will be returning.
We chose British Airways for our flights to and from Tokyo, connecting via London. Depending on the airline, you may have the option to return to the UK from Osaka.
I could spend endless hours trying to truly capture the essence of this remarkable holiday and the experiences we encountered.
For those contemplating a visit, I would be thrilled to delve into greater detail about our adventures. However, I hope that this condensed summary of highlights offers a glimpse and ignites your curiosity.
Our 12-night itinerary consisted of Tokyo (3 nights), Hakone (1 night), Takayama (2 nights) and Kyoto (6 nights) with pre-organised day trips, excursions and rail passes.
Gill’s Highlights & Tips
Witnessing the Mount Fuji sunset from the hotel
Exploring Harajuku for teen fashion and Sensoji Temple (spotting Tommy Lee for Motley Crue fans!)
Experiencing the bullet train for the first time
Golden Gai – a collection of tiny, mismatched bars in Shinjuku
Being interviewed by schoolchildren to practice their English – so sweet!
Savouring Okonomiyaki pancakes in Asakusa
Enjoying wine bars and restaurants under railway bridges (Gado Shita - literally "under the beams")
Hakone is one of the best places to see Mount Fuji and stay in a ‘ryokan’ - a traditional Japanese inn.
It’s unlike anything I have stayed in before so here’s a wee guided tour I made on arrival:
Our authentic experience here at the Fukuzumiro ryokan was beautiful and Yoshimi, our hostess, looked after us so well.
I absolutely loved our stay in the alpine resort of Takayama, as you may be able to tell:
My favourite experiences here included:
Exploring Shirakawa Village, a UNESCO Heritage site
Delighting in the flavours of steamed buns with cheese and Hida beef
The spectacular autumn colours and cute shops.
Kyoto was our longest stay and the base for our day trips to Osaka and Hiroshima. This part of the trip was a cultural feast, with so many wonderful sights and sounds. Our highlights included:
Navigating Nishiki Fish market for regular lunches
Marvelling at the stunning Imperial Palace
Kyoto station – I could spend days here, totally mesmerising
Sipping pear mojitos at the Granvia Hotel
Being awe-struck by Fushimi Inari – just wow!
Osaka & Hiroshima
Admiring the beauty of Osaka Castle
The umbrella cover machine – I love this. Why don’t we have these in Scotland?
Enjoying Osaka’s architecture, nightlife, alleys and street food
Reflection at the poignant Hiroshima Peace Park
Miyajima Island and interacting with the lovely tame deer (Itsukushima)
Utilise the SUICA card for easy transactions. Everyone uses it.
Load an e-sim before arrival for convenient connectivity. It cost about £10 and lasted the whole trip.
Rely on Google Maps for train schedules and platforms.
The JR Rail Pass is invaluable for extensive train travel train. It's great value and I can arrange these in the UK through the fabulous Rail Tour Guide.
I trust I've offered a glimpse into my profound affection for this country; it truly is a remarkable place, and I wholeheartedly encourage all of you to experience it.
Feel free to reach out for a chat if Japan is on your mind, and I’ll craft the perfect itinerary for you.