A little more than halfway through our trip, we stopped by the hot spring town of Yufuin in Oita prefecture for some much-needed rest and relaxation. Our legs sore from walking around all day and our back and arms tired from lugging around bags from place to place, it was a welcome respite from the busy itinerary. From Kumamoto, we took the Shinkansen to Kurume Station and then hopped on the beautiful Yufuin no Mori train, which looks like one of those classic cross-country sightseeing designs. Felt a bit like we were transported back in time to the golden age of railway travel.
The main reason we visited Kumamoto was for its proximity to Takachiho Gorge. There’s no way to get there via public transportation, so we rented a car and drove along the scenic Mount Aso route. Tie got his International Driver’s Permit back in New York and booked the car through Budget Japan so picking up our vehicle was a breeze. Even more conveniently, we got an automatic instead of a manual transmission. The only hurdles were getting used to driving on the left side of the road with the steering wheel on the right, and learning some new traffic signs (ex. the “Stop” sign is a triangle and not octagonal). I’ll admit, there were a few instances where we veered to the wrong side, but Tie always impresses me with how quickly he is able to adapt while I tried to navigate him on my phone.
This post is very near and dear to my heart. Every time I visit Japan, I make sure to stock up on beautiful, quality stationery. Because I do a lot of calligraphy and hand lettering, I’m always interested in trying out new tools and surfaces. I love the product design in Japan, and there are a lot of specialty stores for people who get giddy over pens and paper like I do. There is no shortage of them in Tokyo, so let’s dive in and get your haul on!
After watching an online video about nagashi somen, Tie and I knew we had to try it on our most recent trip to Japan. It’s a dining experience where somen noodles flow down a bamboo shoot for you to catch with your chopsticks and dip into a savory sauce to eat. Because the noodles are cold, it’s usually only available during the summer months of May – September, where diners sit on a deck overlooking a waterfall for a refreshing meal. We just made it at the beginning of May, even though the weather was still slightly brisk.
Because Japan is so densely populated and real-estate is scarce and expensive, especially in Tokyo, many of its “theme parks” are actually indoors. We went to one inside Tokyo Tower during our last trip. If you haven’t noticed by now, Tie and I are huge fans of the anime, One Piece. It’s currently all the rave in Asia, so unsurprisingly, they have their own theme park, even if it’s only two stories tall. But since you’re reading this post, you probably already know what One Piece is. Let’s check out what’s inside!
Asakusa is a bustling part of Tokyo, popularized by the Kaminarimon Gate that leads to the Senso-ji (oldest temple in Tokyo). Many tourists also go there for shopping at Nakamise Street, a line of shops right past the gate. There, you can find traditional souvenirs such as masks, clogs, and cloth. Running perpendicular to Nakamise Street is Shin Nakamise (or “New” Nakamise), which is a covered arcade of stores. Lots of great snacks such as senbei and taiyaki (I wrote about it here).
If you’re looking for a unique dining experience in Tokyo, look no further than kaiten (conveyor belt) sushi restaurants. “But we’ve already tried that before,” you say? Not quite the same. In the states, conveyor belt sushi is pretty standard – plates of food spin around and you just pick up whatever you like. Certain Japanese chains, however, take it to a whole other level. It’s efficient, cheap, and delicious for what you pay. We tried two of the more popular chains: Kura Sushi and Uobei. Almost every dish is only ¥100. Because of that, these restaurants are also very popular with locals and there are long queues during dinnertime. The wait is definitely worth it, though.
In Tokyo, we typically do a lot of walking. The metro stations are massive so it’s not like you can just go underground and quickly hop on a train. And yet, we decided adding hiking to our itinerary would be a good idea for our legs. No regrets, though! Mount Takao was only a 50 minute train ride away from Shinjuku Station on the JR Chuo Line. It’s one of the most popular treks in the world, so expect to see a ton of people there, especially around foliage season. Get an early head start so you give yourself plenty of time to really enjoy the hike.
When we went to Kyoto, it was during cherry blossom season so we were hoping to get some beautiful sakura in our photos. But as we quickly learned, even though it was in full bloom in Tokyo, that was not necessarily the case in Kyoto. It’s pretty tough to plan a trip right around that season because the sakura are only really up for about two weeks before the leaves come out and they all drop to the ground. So whenever I see them, I always try to get them in the frame!
Yokohama is a port city only about 1.5 hours away from Tokyo by train, and has shopping, sightseeing, amusement parks, and museums. One of our favorite attractions was the Cup Noodle Museum. On a weekend, there were a bunch of tourists – Japanese and foreigners alike. Whether you’re a kid, a kid at heart, or just a plain ol’ adult, you’ll enjoy it.