Our trip to Japan

At the start of this year Tom and I did two things: we vaguely talked about taking a trip to Japan and we started a savings goal.

Last week those two things combined and we decided to visit Japan for about four or five weeks next February. We’re timing our trip for winter because we read that was a good time to travel and we also really want to visit the Sapporo snow festival.

Tom is great at planning so has visited the travel agent and has been researching useful stuff like flights and accommodation online. Meanwhile I’ve started a Pinterest board and am writing this blog post to ask you if you’ve got any recommendations. We love hearing what other people recommend or what they’ve enjoyed doing.

We’ll also make about a four night stopover in Hong Kong. Other than a family holiday to Rarotonga a couple of years ago this will be our first proper overseas adventure together and we are super excited!

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16 Responses to Our trip to Japan

  1. amanda joblin says:

    Sounds great…I have travelled quite a bit, but not to those spots! So I have no hints for you, but look forward to pics if these ones are to go by!

  2. When I was in Japan I stayed in a traditional guest house for a night (a Ryokan) which was an amazing experience. So I would suggest doing that. Also – drink a lot of water! Because so many dishes are rice based (or noodle based), the change in diet can be a bit, um, clogging!

  3. thismumrocks says:

    I haven’t been, but most of my friends who have say one thing “head north” if you are into skiing or snowboarding.

  4. katy says:

    Yay Japan!

    February in Sapporo is pretty hardcore – take good shoes! (the footpaths get covered in snow, people use prams with skis instead of wheels etc).

    In addition to staying in a ryokan I recommend staying in an onsen guesthouse. The best of these tend to be in more mountainous areas so can be remote but so worth the effort. An example is Aoni onsen up in Aomori and the best are in northern Honshu (in my opinion) but there are also plenty in central Japan: http://www.japaneseguesthouses.com/db/aomori/aoni.htm

    There are some reasonably priced ryokan even in Tokyo, I stayed at one called Tsutaya Ryokan when I visited with a friend a few years ago. It was very central near Tokyo Uni though probably 10 minutes walk from a subway station so not super convenient if you aren’t into walking. The Youth Hostels are also great value, there is one near Akihabara and one near Yoyogi which I have stayed in. A good chain of cheap and reliable hotels is Toyoko and another cheap option for accomodation are the “Weekly Mansions”.

    Hokkaido doesn’t have so much of the really cool old stuff since it was settled later, whereas parts of Honshu have temples, onsen etc that have been operating for hundreds of years. Previously I would have recommended a visit to Tono in Iwate but I am not sure how that has fared since the earthquake.

    The Japan Rail Pass is a good investment and means you can cover a good bit of ground in a dedicated period.

    Many visitors to Tokyo tend to focus on the flashy and fashionable west but I am all about the northern wards.

    If you are going to stay in the Kansai area Koya-san is really great for a long day trip or an overnight stay. Nikko is a must see for a day trip or few days from Tokyo.

    Just a few ideas. If you have any particular questions I am happy to try and answer them. My in-laws live in Sapporo so I have spent lots of time there over the years and have been all over Hokkaido. I love the very remote north (particularly Abashiri) and east but they might be more for enthusiasts.

  5. katy says:

    BTW this place is a must-visit, beautiful hand-made crafts from all over Japan and all quite reasonably priced. It used to be in Ikebukuro station but it looks like the store may have moved to Aoyama: http://kougeihin.jp/en/top If you are into pottery I seriously recommend visiting Hamada Shouji’s studio/museum in Mashiko (if it survived the earthquake) and Kawai Kanjiro’s studio/museum in Kyoto. They are both beautiful and so worth the visit.

    • tomandemma says:

      Thank you so much for your information Katy – Tom said he thought you’d know lots of good places. We’re going to have to start a notebook to gather all the ideas in one place and so we can plan things out and not become overwhelmed. I’m really looking forward to getting more into the detail of what you recommended.

  6. katy says:

    I was having a think last night about all the things I do whenever I visit Tokyo but like anywhere the things you want to do on that first visit are quite different to what become the favourites. Mostly I love walking around the city. Ir probably helps to think of Tokyo as several cities with different characters and to plan your wandering on that basis. It is a great city for just wandering about in!

    We will be going for a visit later this year which will include a trip to Tokyo, Sapporo and Osaka/Kyoto. When I am in Tokyo I will do the following:

    – Walk from Ochanimozu station to Iidabashi including a wander through Jimbocho (old Japanese bookstores) and Kagurazaka.
    – Walk from Nippori station to Ueno. Stop by the Asakura Chosokan (beautiful house museum, Asakura was a sculptor) and walk through Yanaka cemetery.
    – Walk from Shinjuku to Shibuya via Harajuku. Maybe include a wander up to Aoyama and the back streets of Omotesando, or do this separately. Walk through Meiji Shrine and stop by Omotesando Hills because I love this building.
    – Check out what’s on at the Suntory Museum of Art at Tokyo Midtown (a beautiful inspiring building), if I don’t want to spend money on admission to the art gallery just wander around the lovely shops
    – Check out the National Art Centre in Roppongi (another gorgeous building)
    – Go to Sogo Department Store in Ikebukuro and wander through the kimono section on one of the top floors
    – Go to a big department store and marvel at the food in the basement floors (Daimaru in Sapporo is good for this!). Buy a small cake and see how carefully they package and handle it.
    – Settle down in a big Starbucks with a local English newspaper (Starbucks are a good option in Japan if you want comfy and quiet)
    – Walk from Ueno to Akihabara through Ameyokocho
    – Lunch at Tsurukame in Omoideoyokocho on the Shinjuku west side
    – Walk from Shinjuku to Takadanobaba through Shin Okubo (Korean neighbourhood), stop at a North Korean restaurant on the way (delicious) and have a meal at my favourite Burmese restaurant in Takadanobaba
    – Be inspired at Muji (very cool chain store http://www.muji.net/)
    – Find a big Uniqlo and buy some clothes
    – Head out to Shimokitazawa and see if it is still as charming as it used to be
    – Walk from Tokyo station to Ginza at dusk through Marunouchi
    – Long visit to Maruzen bookshop in Marunouchi (the English language section is amazing, Kinokuniya in Shinjuku another good one)
    – Kaiten sushi
    – Drinks at Las Chicas in Aoyama

    I am not really into food and mostly I am happy to live on coffee and riceballs from the convenience store when visiting Japan but this website used to be one I used a lot when I was living in Tokyo: http://www.bento.com/tf-rest.html You could do worse than plan sightseeing around restaurants where you will eat 🙂

    If you head to the old lady section of big department stores (upper floors, where they sell the kimonos etc) you can often get fabric remnants of high quality printed silk etc at very reasonable prices. I got quite a bit at the Daimaru in Sapporo last time I was there for a friend. If you are planning on fabric shopping you could also try and figure out where people like this source their fabric from: http://www.missmatatabi.com/

    Metropolis magazine used to be good for listings of upcoming exhibitions, shows etc. Not sure if this has been superseded by other sites but maybe still a place to start: http://metropolis.co.jp/

    Ok must get back to work and stop thinking about Tokyo! Enjoy your planning!

    • tomandemma says:

      This is incredible! It’s like you’re our own personal Tokyo guide – thank you! We both like walking around (mainly Tom) and looking at shops (mainly me) so this is such a good guide for us.

  7. katy says:

    One more website then I will stop harassing you: http://www.hyperdia.com/en/

    Very handy for planning travel by public transport either within cities or right across Japan. The trains are amazing, there are just a few things to get your head around in terms of the operators which a guidebook should explain.

    If you are planning on flying up to Sapporo I think there might be a cheap deal for foreign visitors, your travel agent should know.

    • tomandemma says:

      Fantastic! Someone told me that the trains are the hardest part because there’s no English. Thank you so much!

      • katy says:

        Hmmm they do use the English alphabet for station names and there are English maps as well in most stations so I think once you get your head around the basic principles they are ok; my 14 year old sister managed to navigate her way around Tokyo by herself without any problems, as did my kiwi bloke dad a few years back. It can be confusing in some places where there are subway lines, private lines, and the JR lines in different parts of a station but I would just recommend giving yourself time because what’s the worst that can happen if you make a mistake? For a visitor I think the train stations can be mystifying because the world above can look very different depending on which exit you use, this is a particular issue in big stations like Shinjuku and can take on a nightmarish quality but again it’s pretty minor in the big scheme of things!

  8. Louise says:

    What amazing photos! We have travelled quite a bit, but not to Japan yet. It’s on the list though!

  9. Louise says:

    I forgot to say, we have been to Hong Kong a few times on stopovers. It’s a great place to visit! Make sure you head to the garment district in Sham Shui Po in the New Territories. I went in 2008 and posted about it on my blog, but if you google it you will find lots of tips on other crafters blogs. Lots of amazing shops with ribbons, buttons, fabric galore. And very cheap! Most shops are happy to sell in small quantities to you (rather than wholesale).

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