A Postcard from Japan - Jules' travel story
I took my first guided holiday about 10 years ago as a solo traveller and have since visited a whole host of different countries on escorted tours. I’ve always liked that I don’t have to think about organising anything other than checking out the occasional local restaurant and consider how to spend free time when the itinerary allows. And I’ve always enjoyed meeting others in the group – people from all different walks of life but with that connection that you picked the same tour on the same date. Nick on the other hand has never taken a tour before so our visit to Japan was a brand new experience for him. And what an experience.
Simona, our Holiday Director, welcomed us at the airport with a huge smile that lasted the duration of the tour. And, after our flight, our first stop was Tokyo. Here we took a guided city tour which started at the Meiji Jengu Shrine. It’s set in a man-made forest in the city. It was so surreal, one minute we are driving through the bustling city and the next we’ve parked up and walking along serene pathways where the only sound is the crunch of the gravel under your feet. Our guide Yoshi took some time to explain about the fortune papers and plaques we’d find at different temples as well as different ways to pray at each – here you were to bow twice, clap your hands twice and bow once again. The day also included a visit to the Nakamise shopping street in the Asakusa district, which is bustling with vendors selling clothing, souvenirs, and of course some tasty street food.
Our hotel in Tokyo was perfectly located in the Shinjuku district which meant we were able to venture out to explore the city by night – and it truly comes alive. Neon signs adorn almost every building and the ‘Shinjuku cat’ creates mischief on a massive digital display. We walked a little further to the Golden Gai where a maze of narrow alleys are lined with tiny bars – I’m not sure we’d have been able to find the same bar twice!
Mount Fuji and Hakone were next on the list – we caught our first glimpse of Mount Fuji as we left the city and we drove to the Fujinomiya 5th Station halfway up the volcano. There were some great views of the surrounding area but clouds had started for gather so we couldn’t quite see the top.
One of Nicks favourite stops was Matsumoto Castle which we visited on our way to Takayama. It’s a black, 6-storey castle which contrasts against Japanese Alps. We took our shoes off and ventured inside where steep wooden stairs took you in between floors to the observation deck on the top floor.
It was quite a drive up to Takayama along winding roads through the mountains, but looking out the window you are faced with incredible views. Takayama hosts a morning market along the river and it’s nice to check out some of the food and souvenirs you can pick up here. But, I loved the old town - beautifully preserved buildings possessing distinctive black facades, home galleries, eateries and shops. In the afternoon we drove to Shirakawa-go which is a small UNESCO-listed site. We took a path at the back of the village that took us up to an observation deck and gave us great views across the whole village and river that runs alongside it. Yoshi showed us pictures of the area in winter – it looks like the scene from a Christmas card.
I’d been looking forward to Kyoto the most and it didn’t disappoint. On our first day we had a rickshaw through a bamboo forest, a Sushi making class which was hilarious (but with delicious results), visited Kinkakuji (the golden pavilion) and Sanjusangendo (the longest wooden temple in Japan, home to 1001 statues of Kannon).
We then had a free day to make our own discoveries in Kyoto. Nick and I chose to jump on the train to visit a couple of the temples and shrines and wander around the Gion district. For me a highlight was Fushimi Inari where there are thousands of red torii gates that line a network of paths leading into the forest at the base of Mount Inari – the way the light filtered inbetween each of the posts was beautiful.
When we arrived in Hiroshima we went straight to the ferry to Miyajima Island. This is where the “floating” o-torii Gate of the Itsukushima Shrine is and both the shrine and gate are built over water and appear to float. Back in Hiroshima we went to see the Atomic Bomb Dome, the Cenotaph and the Museum. Seeing pictures of before and after the bombing was quite evocative.
Overall we had a great time, enhanced by the people in our group and our wonderful Holiday Director, Simona and Local Guide, Yoshi. These two were the perfect hosts for our trip - we were looked after from start to finish, we saw all the sights and they were on hand to make sure made the most of our free time too.
It was a fast paced tour and it was only when we returned that we really appreciated how much we had seen and done. Japan is a country full of surprises and just waiting to take your breath away.
More photos from my tour
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Japan - Land of the Rising Sun
Discover the unforgettable highlights of Japan including an incredible high-speed ride on the Bullet Train.
13 days from£5,124.00was £5,399.00
- 14 meals: 10 breakfasts, 1 lunch, 3 dinners
- Return flights
- 10 nights in 3 & 4-star hotels, 2 nights in flight