Symphony World Travel - Fetcham

1st November 2019

Japan – Time to visit the Land of The Rising Sun

Magnificent Mount Fuji

 I had wanted to travel to Japan for a long time, and in March I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to spend two weeks in this fascinating country. 

There are several ways to see Japan, a fully escorted group tour, a cruise, independent travel and a self- guided tour. We decided on the last option. The tour operator pre-booked international flights, accommodation, Japan Rail Pass and excursions were arranged locally for us with an English-speaking government appointed guide. You are then able to travel and explore at your own pace, around the pre-booked excursions. 

We started in Tokyo, staying in Asakusa, an older part of the city and home to the Senso-ji Buddhist temple. It was very easy to travel on the subway and other local transport, with English signs at all the stations. A journey in the rush hour is an experience, the Tokyo metropolis being home to over 13 million people! We found the people everywhere to be unfailingly polite, friendly and very helpful. There is no litter – anywhere. The Shinkansen (bullet trains) run like clockwork and are very comfortable. The guards, who look more like airline pilots, bow as they enter and leave the carriage! The main stations are destinations in themselves with many restaurants, shops, including impressive department stores. 

Clean, litter-free and lined with Cherry Blossom

Japan still has a reputation for being expensive, but there are many mid-priced restaurants where you can eat good quality food (one course and a drink for about £10-£15), so we were pleasantly surprised. You can, of course, pay much more if you so wish. There are more Michelin starred restaurants in Tokyo than any other city in the world. In addition, the Japanese love to shop for high end consumer goods. 

The markets were great value and the street food, particularly in Osaka was very affordable. The food is certainly different – be adventurous and make sure your chop stick skills are honed! Some of the restaurants have Teppanyaki tables with hot plates where you cook your own food, a great experience and good fun. 

The day trip to Mount Fuji was a highlight. It was a clear day and Fuji can be notoriously shy (often covered in cloud), so we were very lucky to have a fabulous view of the perfect conical shape, still snow-capped from winter. 

The other cities visited were Kanazawa, Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka, travelling to each one by bullet train. From Nagoya we visited Nara, where hundreds of deer roam freely around the town (we weren’t expecting them to be all over the pavements)! My map got taken out of my pocket and eaten – but how can you be cross with Bambi! 

We also took a day trip to Hiroshima to see the A-Bomb Dome (left) and Peace Memorial Park, which needs no explanation. The park is a symbol of peace, created in 1949 after the Pacific War ended. 

The Hiroshima A-bomb Dome

Near to Hiroshima is beautiful Miyajima. Take the ferry from the port and head over to the island, home to the Itsukushima Shrine (a UNESCO World Heritage site) and one of the three most beautiful sights in Japan. The floating ‘torii’ gate (below) at the entrance to the shrine is very photogenic, and this was one of my favourite sights. 

The floating Torii Gate

So, if you would like to see Shinto Shrines alongside Buddhist Temples, learn about the Shogun Dynasty, visit imposing but very attractive castles, go high-tech in Akihabara, go traditional in Gion (Kyoto’s Geisha district with traditional tea houses), have a drink in a cat or maid café (yes really), see the revered Cherry Blossom and experience a new food culture – then plan a trip to Japan. I would love to help you, so please do give me a call. 

By Nicky Banin
1st November 2019