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”


24 Hours in Tokyo

Tokyo – November 2015
On a recent business trip to Japan, I was lucky enough to tag on a few personal days onto the beginning. Even though I don’t really do solo travel, it wouldn’t make sense not to make the most of this rare opportunity. Knowing that I only had 2 nights in this amazing place, (before being stuck on an industrial estate for a week) I cram packed my itinerary before leaving to UK to make sure I hit the ground running, I give myself a full day in Tokyo.

I bought a tourist ticket for the subway system from the information stand in the airport, it was really easy, they speak perfect English and it meant that I didn’t need to worry about carrying a load of change. The subway was very reliable and there were plenty of trains, the route was extensive and covered the whole city. If you have ever been to London, New York or any other cities where they subway runs on a colour system, then you will be fine. All the routes are in English as well as Japanese.

My first stop was the Tokyo tower, it didn’t open until 9am so I had to wait outside for a few minutes, which was fine, it was surprisingly warm for a November morning. My view from the top wasn’t great but on a clear day you can supposedly see all the way to Mt Fuji. There is a food court inside the tower where I had breakfast (Pizza, blame the jet lag!). Food was ok but just a typical chain type food court.

I hadn’t planned to visit the Yoyogi Park but it was a warm morning and close to my next stop Takeshita Street. I ended up spending a few hours in the beautiful park and getting completely lost. It was a great place to people watch and relax. Takeshita Street was another great place to people watch, with lots of trendy shops and a great atmosphere.

I caught the next subway to Sensō-ji temple and braved the crowds to get a good view, there are some nice gardens and smaller temples surrounding the area. I was there on a Saturday and the massive food market made me regret a poor breakfast choice. I nearly fell asleep here but luckily it was 3pm and time to check into my hotel. (Separate blog post on staying in a capsule hotel.) after a nap and quick shower I was ready to head back out for the evening.

I wanted to see the famous Shibuya crossing and but didn’t linger to long, I made the Government building my last stop for the day. Its free to visit the top floor observation deck and its open till late. By the time I got there all the crowds had gone and it was relatively quiet.

Finally, I called it a night and went back to the hotel, thoroughly exhausted and my feet killing me. I didn’t even undress before passing out on the bed. I had a great day in Tokyo and will certainly be returning with Sean one day.