Hiroshima- Japan

A medium sized city on the western edge of Japan which was almost unknown to the rest of the world until World War 2. On August 6th 1945 America turned Hiroshima into a living hell by dropping the first of 2 nuclear bombs onto Japan.

Most visitors come to pay their respects to those lost during those dark days by visiting the Hiroshima Memorial Peace park. At the centre of the park is the Flame of Peace, a flame that will burn every second until nuclear bombs no longer exist in our world and all humankind vows never to allow such devastation to enter the world again. I sincerely hope we live to see the day when the flame is switched off and a peaceful world exists.

To learn more about the bomb and the events leading up to and after the attack visit the Peace Memorial Museum, there are parts you may find distressing but it’s the only way to truly understand what happened in Hiroshima and why history should never be allowed to repeat itself. (Entrance costs ¥200.)

Most of Hiroshima’s buildings were turned to ash during the explosion, though a few did survive (barely). The A-Dome, just across the river to the peace park is one of those buildings, it has been kept exactly as it was after the bomb to show the devastating effects and to remind the world what happened here. The dome was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

Other Things To Do:

After all the emotions that come with visiting a place like Hiroshima, you’ll probably want to sit quietly an contemplate the world we live in for a while, a good place to do this is the beautiful and tranquil Shukkeien Garden, where you can stroll around the 16th century lake or sit and reflect under one of the cherry blossom trees.

If you have more time in Hiroshima the castle is a great place for a birds eye view of the city with its 5th floor observatory. Inside the castle the museum explores the origins of the castle city. Hiroshima Castle was originally built in 1589 then rebuilt during 1958, entrance costs ¥370 or you can walk around the gardens for free.

Getting There:

Hiroshima is on Japan’s famous bullet train line, you can get there from Shin-Osaka in just 1 hour and 45 minuets.

Where To Stay:

We booked the Hiroshima Court Hotel for £25 per night on Hotels.Com, the rooms were huge compared to others we’ve had in Japan and had private bathrooms (rare for this price range). The hotel was great and it was within walking distance to the train station as well as all the attractions in Hiroshima.

Katsuta – Japan

We found this by chance but I’m so glad we had time to visit Katsuta, it’s a beautiful little seaside town with lots to offer. If I ever had to live in Japan, this is where I’d want to be.

Things To Do:

The main attraction is the Hitachi seaside park, it’s a little outside of town (1 hr 15 minutes on a bike or 15 minutes on the bus – take number 2 from the train station direct to the park) and entrance costs ¥450 each. There is a small theme park in one corner of the park, rides cost extra, we paid ¥600 for the roller-coaster. The park is closed on Mondays so plan your visit accordingly, it’s also different at different times of the year, we were unlucky a visited during a week when there were no flowers because the ground crew were busy changing the displays. They have a yearly schedule for this on their website. There’s a fun fair inside the park, rides cost extra.

The beach at Katsuta was undergoing development work during our visit, it’s got a cycle track and a few cute restaurants along the sea front.

We passed a massive shopping mall on the bus back to town which could have been a good option if it was still raining.

Where To Eat:

There are lots of restaurant options around the train station, but we liked to eat out of supermarkets in Japan and the best one we found in the whole country is on google maps as York Benimaru.

Where To Stay:

There is less budget accommodation in Katsuta, we paid £57/night including breakfast at the crystal palace hotel, it was absolutely stunning, the hotel has a spa, free bike rental and a free pickup service, they even dropped us off at the park one day. We had a free evening meal the day we checked in, but I’m not sure if that’s a standard thing or if they noticed that it was my birthday when they scanned my passport.

Getting There:

The express train from Tokyo station to Katsuta station takes just 87 minues and is covered on the JR pass.

Kyoto – Japan

An absolute must for anyone visiting Japan, even if you only have a few days in Tokyo, make the effort to do a day trip to Kyoto, the countries imperial capital until not that long ago.

Things To Do:

My favourite part of Kyoto was the area surrounding Kiyomizu-Dera temple, Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka are just two of the perfectly maintained old streets of Kyoto, entrance to the temple is ¥600 though you can still get an amazing view over the city for absolutely free, just follow the crowds to the top of the hill and get clicking. The streets surrounding the temple are some of the few, perfectly preserved areas of the city, where you can still see traditional wooden buildings and spot the odd Geisha walking around if you’re lucky (we spotted the two photographed below around the Gion Shirakawa area). As the old buildings are being pulled down and replaced with modern skyscrapers, this part of town is becoming more and more precious. We spent a full day wandering the streets, in and out of alleyways and fully enjoyed being lost in Kyoto.

Kyoto is the perfect base for a day trip to Nara Deer Park, take the Nara line from either Kyoto station or Tofukuji station, its free if you have a JR rail pass. The park is really easy to find when you leave Nara station, just follow the crowd, I guarantee there will be one. The park is really special, the deer roam free (they are completely wild) within the temple grounds and surrounding areas. Head around the back of the temple for the best photos of deer in their more natural habitat. A pack of Deer food is ¥150 and there are plenty of stalls around the park. On your way back to the station stop at Renesa Indian Restaurant for some really good food at reasonable prices.

We stumbled on the Royal Imperial Palace by accident when exploring the gardens, entrance is free but they only let a certain number of people in at any time and security is strict. The palace is beautiful and in really good condition, the free map you receive when entering guides you from building to building and is full of interesting information.

The river that divides Kyoto is the perfect place for a stroll, or its wide flat path makes it a great place to cycle too. When the sun sets the Pontocho area comes to life, a series of narrow alleyways home to traditional restaurants adorned with lanterns, it’s one of the prettiest places to get lost and explore (though it’s not a cheap place to eat!).

If you’ve done any research into Japan or Kyoto yet you’ve probably already seen photos of the incredibly photogenic Fushimi-Inari temple, also known as the temple of 10,000 shrines. I don’t know if that’s an accurate count but there are a lot of shrines that make a stunning walkway up the mountain. Entrance is completely free and the temple has its own subway station on the Keihan Line.

Where To Stay:

We stayed in the ultra-stylish Millennials hotel for £28/night including breakfast, we had a capsule room each but ended up sharing one and keeping our bags in another most nights. The bathrooms were spotless and the whole hotel looked brand new. The space was really modern and the facilities were fantastic, we cooked at the hotel every night which saved us a fortune on eating out. (FYI, the supermarket directly opposite the hotel was the cheapest we found in Japan.) The hotel also offers unlimited free beer for 1 hour each night which Sean certainly made the most off.

Getting There:

Getting around Japan is so easy, we took the bullet train from Kobe which took around 30 minutes or you can get there from Osaka in just 15 minutes. From Tokyo it will take around 2 hours 15 minutes. Once your there, the subway system is fairly simple to use, especially if you’ve already used the Osaka or Tokyo subway.

Mt Fuji – Japan

The 5 lakes surrounding Mt Fuji are incredibly picturesque and easy to navigate by local bus. The biggest and only lake connected to the rail system is Lake Kawaguchiko, this is where we stayed.

When To Visit:

Rainy season never puts us off, with a waterproof coat and a good pair of shoes we still enjoy being wherever we are, but the seasons really do effect your view of Mt Fuji, and that’s the only reason you bothered to visit right?

We stayed for 3 days in June (peak rainy season) and didn’t see the mountain once, we even got up at 4:30am everyday to catch sunrise (apparently the clearest time of day) and only saw tiny sections through the clouds.

My 2015 Visit was during October and there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky, so it’s really worth timing your visit to Fuji accordingly.

But don’t worry too much if you can’t re-arrange your trip around the rainy season, you’ll still have a great time whatever the weather!

Things To Do:

A full lap of the lake is about 12 miles, you can either walk or hire a bike, we did both but preferred the walk because we started at 4:30am and watched sunrise over the lake. By the afternoon when we had the bikes it was too busy and we had to keep stopping to let people past. Half day bike hire is ¥1,000 form the Samurise main office.

There are two beautiful herb and flower gardens, one on either side of the lake, (Oishi Park is the best) they’re wonderful if you’re into flowers or just want the perfect photo with Mt Fuji in the background.

You can take the bus up the mountain from bus stop number 7 just outside the train station, it comes every hour and takes about 45 minuets.

There’s also a tourist shuttle bus to take you around the 5 different lakes, you can buy a day ticket or pay for each ride separately.

Getting There:

First of all you need to get to Otsuki station, there is a direct train from Tokyo or you can take a local train from Yokohama to Hachioji and connect to the line there, both options are covered by the JR rail pass.

From Otsuki you’ll need to take the local line to Kawaguchiko (it’s the last stop so you can’t get lost). Sadly this little bit of track isn’t covered by the JR pass. Standard tickets cost ¥1,140 and express tickets cost an extra ¥400.

Where To Stay:

Accommodation is a bit more expensive surrounding Mt Fuji, we stayed at the Hostel Samurise and booked a family room (all they had left) for £44 per night, I thought it was expensive but your paying for location, it’s right next to the train station and everything is within walking distance.

The room was clean and the building was nice and small so there wasn’t much noise. The check in desk is actually at their bike rental shop which you can see as your pulling up to the station.

Organised Tours and Day Trips:

Click HERE for a full review of an organised bus tour from Tokyo that I did in 2015, it’s one of my first blogs and was the first time I traveled with just my cabin sized backpack, I’ve learned a lot since then!

Yokohama – Japan

Less than 30 minutes from Tokyo, Yokohama is known for its stunning skyline and neon lights. It’s becoming a popular location for city workers comuting into Tokyo daily and its waterfront continues to draw in visitors. Yokohama is certainly on the rise.

Things To Do:

For the best iconic shots of the Yokohama skyline, visit the Osanbashi Pier, the views are wonderfull both day and night. On a weekend there is a food market on the south side of the pier, fill up on free samples before deciding what to buy.

Cosmo World, is home to the famous giant ferris wheel (costs ¥800), you pay for the rides individually and entrance to the park is free.

The customs museum is more interesting than it sounds, its full of fake and real goods that have been ceased at customs, can you spot the difference? Entrace is free.

For an arial view of Yokohama, visit the landmark tower, we didn’t go in but we saw that it costs ¥1,000 and there was no waiting line when we visited.

The red brick warehouse looks more at home in the UK than in Japan, it’s a wonderful example of how buildings can be re-invented, now a mall for handcrafted souvenirs and local cafes.

Where To Eat:

The Herbal Kitchen is traditional Nepali food, it was delicious and very reasonably priced.

The World Porters Mall has a huge food court on the ground floor with low cost options.

For something a bit different, design your own cup of noodles at the cup noodle museum, entrance ¥500 plus ¥300 for your own invention.

Where To Stay:

The Apa hotel is a popular chain in Japan, you guaranteed good standards and city centre locations. We paid £40/night for a small double room with a private bathroom and a buffet breakfast during a flash sale (usual price £65/night) on hotels.com.

Takayama – Japan

Takayama is a beautiful town nestled away in the Japanese mountains, it’s popular with tourists for its small village feel and beautiful traditional houses.

I’d been attracted to Takayama based on its proximity to other smaller mountain villages, though we decided to spend all our time in Takayama because there was so much to see there.

Things To Do:

The Takayama museum of history and art was surprisingly big, entrance is free and the museum covers all sorts of topics.

The Hida Folk Village is around 30 minutes walk from the train station and costs ¥700/pp. for me it was one of the highlights of Japan. The village consists of various traditional houses and they are open for you to look around inside too. There’s a lot of information about the house’s origin etc.

I usually get a bit irritated when I see ‘go for a walk’ as something to do in a town, obviously you’re going to do that anyway but Takayama really is a special place to walk around day and night. The streets are full of traditional little treasures, with temples hidden in between old houses and at night when the lights come on, the whole town is just beautiful.

The morning market was rained off during our visit though I’ve heard some really good reviews from fellow travelers.

Where To Stay:

The Relax Hostel is less than a 1 minute from the train station, you can see it as you leave through the stations eastern exit. We paid £27 per night for a small double room, it was clean and the bathrooms were modern. Breakfast was included though it was pretty bad. Anyway for the price and location we would certainly stay again.

Getting There:

Getting to Takayama is part of the fun, whichever direction you’re coming from you’ll need to get to Nagoya and from there take the wide view Hida line to Takayama. The train is a tourist train and only takes half the time as the local train, and it also has special announcements when you’re passing anything interesting, so keep your camera ready, the views are amazing.

Kobe & Himeji – Japan

We combined a visit to Kobe and Himeji because they are so close to each other (only 25 minutes on the high speed train), and both cities are small in relation to other Japanese cities so you only really need 1 day in each.

Things To Do (Kobe):

Nunobiki Falls absolutely took my breath away, it’s a short 10 minute walk behind Shin-Osaka station (come out of the station then double back on yourself through a tunnel that will lead you to the start of the trail). The falls are spread over a few different levels, make sure you go all the way to the top so that you don’t miss anything.

Meriken Park is the central attraction for visitors to Kobe, it’s home to the Kobe Port Tower (entrance ¥600) as well as a whole host of sculptures and monuments, the most interesting being the 1995 earthquake memorial, a small strip of the old pier as it stood after the devastating 1995 earthquake, cordoned off and preserved as a reminder of what happened that dreadful day.

Head to Pier No.1 for a fantastic view of the parks skyline.

Things To Do (Himeji):

Himeji is famous in Japan for its magnificent White Castle, the beautiful structure sits on top of a small hill and can be seen from almost anywhere in Himeji, it was built in the 17th century and was the first UNESCO site in Japan. The gardens surrounding the castle are free to enter. We didn’t go inside the castle itself because there are so many in Japan that you do start to lose your enthusiasm for them. If it had been the first castle we saw then I may have been more inclined to pay the ¥1,000+ entrance fee.

Close to the castle is the museum of art, it’s a small little gallery made up of donated pieces  from the wealthy residents in the area, particularly 1 doctor who donated almost everything. Entrance is ¥200 and you only need about 30 minutes there.

We loved the Tegarayam Botanical Gardens, the majority of the gardens are inside 2 massive greenhouses with a few things outdoors too. The cactus section was my favourite. Entrance costs ¥200.

Getting There:

Both cities are on the high speed rail line, Shin-Kobe and Himeji St, though not every train stops at Himeji.

Kobe is only 30 minutes from Kyoto or 15 minuets from Shin-Osaka, making it a perfect day trip. Add on an extra 25 minuets for Himeji.

Where To Stay:

Both Kobe and Himeji have plenty of budget options, though we chose to stay in Kobe because it was slightly bigger out of the two.

We stayed at the Minato Hutte guesthouse which was a 15 minute walk from Shin-Kobe station, the dorms were clean and the beds were more like little rooms. We were lucky that it was almost empty during our stay. We booked through booking.com for ¥2,000 per bunk per night.

Osaka – Japan

Osaka is Japan’s second biggest city, it’s a beautiful city where old meets new and the streets are bathed in neon lights. It’s location also makes it the perfect base for day trips to Hiroshima, Kobe, Himeji, Kyoto and Nara.

Osaka’s famous old town is located in the blocks surrounding the Tsutenkaku Tower. We didn’t head up the tower but entrance is ¥700 if your interested. The neon lit streets are famous for their traditional Japanese cuisine and most restaurants have a 3D menu for tourists to see exactly what they are ordering. The area is also the perfect photo opportunity, the 60’s style signage looks amazing on an evening when it’s all lit up and it’s the first image that comes to mind when I think of Japan.

Just a short walk from the Tower is Isshinji and Shitnnoji temples, we were lucky enough to bump into the amazing tour guide and incredibly friendly Mr Yoshimi Saeki who showed us around. Isshinji temple is particularly interesting as the Buddha statues inside are built with the human ashes after cremation, this was supposedly a common practice in Japan but there are now very few temples upholding the tradition.

Osaka castle is one of the most beautiful in all of Japan, entrance costs ¥600 though we didn’t go inside because we hear that it’s not as pretty inside. The castle is surrounded by a massive walled park, and protected from attack by a beautiful moat. The park is free and there are lots of spots to take a beautiful photo of the castle through the trees.

The Tombori River Walkway is always busy, even more so on a weekend. It’s the city’s central shopping district and is a hit with tourists too. It’s the perfect place to grab a coffee and people watch.

For a fantastic free tour of Osaka you can find Yoshimi on Facebook by searching ‘free Osaka jogging guide’ aside from showing us around the temples, Yoshimi is full of local knowledge and can recommend the best traditional Japanese restaurants.

Getting There:

From Kansai International Airport you can take the airport express line (it takes 45 minutes) for ¥920. There are even faster options available but they cost more.

Osaka has 2 main train stations, Shin-Osaka and Osaka Station. Shin-Osaka takes high speed trains and Osaka Station serves local trains, they are both located on the Midosuji (red) subway line.

Where To Stay:

We stayed at the Hotel Taiyo for £20 per night through hotels.com. They have western and Japanese style rooms available, the location is perfect if your arriving via the airport express and there’s also a subway station with 1 minutes walk from the hotel. They have a spa on the ground floor with men and women allocated separate times to use it, we didn’t go in but the shared bathrooms are clean. WiFi was good and all rooms have A/C.


Mt Fuji – Japan

Mt Fuji – November 2015
The symbol of Japan to many people, the countries number 1 tourist attraction and its surprisingly difficult to get there using public transport. I had 1 day to visit Mt Fuji and after extensive online research, looking at online maps and different modes of transport etc. I finally decided that it would be easier to join an organised tour from Tokyo city centre.

I booked using the Viator.com app, which had a number of different options. I went for a mid-range tour which also included a de-tour to the local Lake Hakone. The bus left from a major bus terminal in Tokyo, it was easy to find and right next to a subway station. First stop was a fancy hotel at the base of Mt Fuji for a Japanese Brunch and a few photos.

Then the bus continued to about half way up the mountain, we had an hour here to walk around, take photos and visit the gift shop.

On the way back to Tokyo there was a de-tour included in the tour price, the bus stopped at Lake Hakone where we enjoyed a 30 minute boat ride to the bottom of Mt Hakone, and a cable car ride to the top of the mountain. It was really foggy so the view from the top wasn’t that great, but Mt Fuji can be seen in the background on a clear day.

The tour was a full day and the bus dropped us back in Tokyo, close to a few major subway stations. The day was fantastic even if the weather wasn’t. I really enjoyed letting someone else worry about planning the day and enjoyed a laid back and hassle free day.

All entry fees and meals were included in the price. Continue reading “Mt Fuji – Japan”