Pictures: exploring Japan

Japan has been on my list of places to visit for as long as I can remember, so last month we finally took the plunge and did it. I don’t really know what had stopped us for so long, so many other places on the list to see and also perhaps the fact it’s often thought of as being a very expensive place to visit. In fact, we were pleasantly surprised – I’m not sure where this reputation has come from, but it wasn’t expensive at all, really very reasonable – and even cheap at times, we found. 

Of course the biggest chunk of change is spent on the flights and the accommodation, and although we plumped for two weeks of very comfortable accommodation, there are plenty of options available to suit all budgets.

We flew into Tokyo, and after the ten hour flight from Abu Dhabi and a five hour time difference we were pleased to have a few days to spend in the city first.

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Most of the guide books and itineraries will tell you to spend only a couple of days in Tokyo, but I can’t imagine how you can see anything of the city on this time. Just look at the city transport map – you need a day to figure that out! 😉

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Tokyo Station Hotel and surrounding area

I would definitely have been sorry to leave Tokyo after just two short days, I found the city absolutely fascinating. Aside from oodles of amazing food everywhere you look in top end restaurants and tiny side street casual bargain eateries, the city is a hot bed of activity and interest everywhere you look.

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Gyoza-tastic at Harajuku Gyoza

The Japanese love everything ‘kawaii’ (cute) and there are endless shops to explore with curiosities you didn’t know you needed or even existed… and not just novelty stuff either, the stationery is amazing – and who doesn’t love a good stationery store?!

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Even the streets themselves are interesting, whether it’s the public service billboards or the actual pavements…

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Not to mention the people watching… though sadly, we weren’t in Tokyo on a Sunday which is one of the best days to catch the punks, cosplayers, gamers, musicians and fashion cliques come out to play.

We did visit Takeshita Dori though which provides a glimpse into Japanese teenage and subcultures through the flamboyant and often wacky fashions that are on sale there…

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And of course a trip to Tokyo isn’t complete without stopping off to see the world’s busiest intersection at Shibuya Crossing…

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I’ve always thought of Japan, and Tokyo in particular as being at the forefront of technology and modernity, so I have to say it was a bit of a surprise to see such an archaic and elaborate network of electricity and telecom wires above the city almost everywhere we went…

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One of the most famous Tokyo sites not to be missed is the Tsukuji Fish Market. It’s worth getting up early for to see the tuna auctions (in the middle of the night early), but you don’t have to. In fact, if you’re travelling with kids it’s better to go along later, around 9am. It’s a busy working market and at times, dangerous, so at this time they’re starting to wind down – you’ll still get to see lots of fishy sights, and you’ll quite likely still also catch sight of the enormous beast that is the tuna after the auctions, being sliced and prepared by its buyer.

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Have you ever seen anything quite like it? Tuna.
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Now that’s a knife…
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Seems fishy to me

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Tokyo does also have a tranquil side, that you can seek out in the gardens, parks and temples.

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On the way to Meiji Jingu shrine
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Prayers at Meiji Shrine

And everywhere you look there’s a feast for the eyes…

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Straw wrapped Saki barrels
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Vibrant streets of Akihabara

The gaming centres and maid cafés of Akihabara are another world again. Multi storey buildings lined wall to wall with every kind of gaming machine you could ever imagine, and girls in maid outfits roam the streets looking for customers to entertain in their cafés where lonely people hire their services for conversation or just to play games with.

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I could have spent much more time exploring Tokyo, but we hopped on the bullet train to Kyoto for the second part of our trip. The journey is around two and a half hours if you take the fastest train, but it’s worth noting if you have lots of luggage, there’s not much storage space unless your bags aren’t too heavy and can easily be lifted to fit on the overhead shelf. We ended up with our cases between our knees on the journey to Kyoto, and for the return journey we booked the seats at the very rear of the car as there is a gap big enough for two large suitcases behind these seats.

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Kyoto is an amazing place, filled with history, temples, castles and beautiful Japanese gardens. There’s so much to see, it’s probably best to allow more time than you think you’ll need to be able to do it at a leisurely pace. Inside Kyoto is an amazing site for suggested itineraries and everything you could possibly want to know about visiting the city.

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The Golden Pavilion
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Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
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Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine
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Tenryu-ji Temple gardens
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Kiyomizu-dera temple

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Traditional streets and Geisha houses of Gion

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I loved visiting the country but two weeks just wasn’t enough to see everything we wanted to. I’d recommend that you allow as much time as possible, so you can go further afield and still have plenty of  time to explore at a leisurely pace. It is possible to take day trips from Tokyo and Kyoto as public transport is mostly fast and efficient, making many places very easily accessible for shorter trips from these bases.

We flew direct from Abu Dhabi to Tokyo Narita airport with Etihad. It’s a 10 hour flight and there’s a five hour time difference.

Let me know your thoughts and comments here!

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