The third and final part of my Japan trip was spent on a G Adventures group tour. After being on my own it was nice to have some company for the remainder of my time. Shout-out to my tour group, especially Shehla – my room-mate and UK twin!
We began in Osaka and worked our way up to Tokyo, visiting Mount Kōya/Koyasan, Hiroshima, Kyoto, and Hakone/Mount Fuji (so yes, I personally went full circle). It was pretty cold and rainy up in Mount Kōya during late September so if you plan to visit, take a jacket and an umbrella. When we visited, celebrations were occurring to commemorate 1,200 years since the founding of Koyasan. We stayed in a humble monastery where we were graciously serviced by Buddhist monks, as they taught us their daily rituals and introduced us to a traditional vegan Japanese meal.
After our overnight stay in the serene Koyasan, we made our way to Hiroshima. Heiwakinen Park is where you will find the Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku Dome) – the only structure still standing after the bombing, the Children’s Peace Monument – the statue commemorating the life of Sadako Sasaki (have a paper crane ready upon arrival), the Peace Bell and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.
With your JR Pass, you can catch a ferry to the island of Itsukushima, where you will find Miyajima Torii – the famous floating gate. Watch out for deer though, they are not like the deer in Nara. These deer eat peoples’ maps! I made a spontaneous decision to go on a hike up Mount Misen with a few members of my tour group. It ended up being the highlight of my trip and I strongly recommend it. Alternatively, there is an option to take the ropeway if you’d rather not walk. According to www.japan-guide.com, Mount Misen is 500 metres above sea level. It was a physically challenging 90 minutes to reach the top but it was worth it! We felt so accomplished and the views from the top were breathtaking. I knew as I stood on top of that mountain that I may never return. So I soaked the whole experience in, appreciating the moment. It was glorious!
I also explored the Hiroshima nightlife. A few of us from the tour group went out and spoiled ourselves with a delicious Teppanyaki dinner, where I had the most succulent Hiroshima tenderloin steak. This was followed by drinks, dancing and glow-stick waving in a random underground bar, where the DJs played an impressive selection of house music. One DJ even played an awesome throwback with the following track – ‘Fade’ by Solu. And so my night was complete =)
Next up was Kyoto! If I ever get the chance to travel to Japan again, I will fly direct to Kyoto. We spent two nights here and our tour guide did her absolute best to squeeze in as many sights as possible but there were still so much more I wanted to see. The first place we visited was the Fushimi Inari Taisha (Shinto shrine). This place is crazy busy! This shrine is iconic and you may have seen images of the orange gates. You can follow the gates all the way to the top. Due to time constraints, I was not able to complete the walk, hence my desire to return. But I did snap one of my favourite photos (check it out on my Instagram). I’m not going to lie; I stood there for ages, waiting for a clear shot, people-free.
The following day we visited the Kinaku-ji, also known as the Temple of Golden Pavilion. Now this is a sight for sore eyes. You can’t actually go inside though, and it can be difficult to take photos because of the number of tourists there. But it is still worth a visit.
If you ever find yourself in Kyoto, be sure to also check out Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. If you’re using public transport, a JR pass alone will not get you there. You have to buy a separate train ticket. Lastly, there is the historic Nijō Castle, which features the grand Karamon Gate, the beautiful Ninomaru garden and the Nightingale Floor.
I was lucky to make two trips to Hakone to see Mount Fuji. On the first occasion, without G Adventures, I must have picked the foggiest day of my life. I did not see a thing. But when I went with G Adventures, it was a fine sunny day. Mt Fuji very rarely reveals itself. I still only managed to sneak a peek of the tip of the mountain. So you should consider yourself very fortunate if you get to see all of Mt Fuji. There are also a number of cruises you can take which will offer beautiful scenery and maybe even a glimpse of Mt Fuji. If you are spending a bit more time in Hakone, you could try an Onsen, which is Japanese hot springs. Just be aware that you must go completely naked!
Our last stop was Tokyo. I am glad I spent a solid week in Tokyo prior to the tour because Tokyo has so much to offer and even a week is not enough (see Journey through Japan – Part 1). There were districts I never explored, like Roppongi, which apparently has a decent party/club atmosphere so if you’re into that then perhaps make Roppongi your first stop. With G Adventures, we made a stop at the most recognisable place in Japan, the Shibuya crossing, one of the busiest intersections in the world! Shibuya is amazing for food and shopping, and at night, it comes alive, illuminating the sky, the street filled with Japan’s youth.
I did not expect my Japan post to be so big that I had to divide it into three parts. It is such a wonderful country, I cannot recommend it enough. Whether you love food, art, culture, history, technology, architecture, nightlife, city life, nature or all of the above, you will find it in Japan.
What I was listening to:
- Madeon – Adventure
- Louise La Roche – To Rest Is To Rust