Revisiting Japan: Our top 20 highlights
After moving back home to England after studying in Tokyo for a year, I was longing to go back to immerse myself in Japan’s incredible culture, scenery and food. I’d missed the fantastically smooth order in which everything runs and the generous people that make everyday interactions a pleasure… I was especially excited to be returning in autumn, for the renowned multi-coloured leaves that set the country alight with their vivid hues!
On this research trip, I managed to re-visit some of my favourite places – the scenic Hakone, the cultural capital of Kyoto, the unique art island of Naoshima and the phoenix city of Hiroshima – but what thrilled me most was discovering the more offbeat locations I hadn’t had a chance to visit before.
There were many memorable moments – seeing the snow monkeys in Yudanaka, feeling as though I’d gone back in time in the traditional Bikan canal area of Kurashiki and walking the historic streets of Takayama – but the most striking experiences for me were visiting Miyajima and Nikko. Miyajima’s floating torii gate is rightfully recognised as a UNESCO landmark, and is well worth the short ferry ride across from Hiroshima, as it is extraordinary, especially during sunset.
Nikko makes for an ideal day trip from Tokyo – I couldn’t believe that I’d missed it before! As soon as I stepped out of the station to be greeted by a mountain view, I was bowled over by the completely unspoiled nature. Such untouched surroundings add to the beauty of the historic temples that lie scattered around this small city, and Lake Chuzenji is particularly pretty, with its remarkably still, shimmering water. Up here in the alpine air, the impressive Kegon waterfall is a short walk away and Futarasan shrine is a real highlight – I was lucky enough to visit just as the monks were paying their respects by performing a morning bowing ritual.
Returning to Japan exceeded my expectations; I am constantly surprised by this unique and enigmatic island nation, which is why it captures my spirit and keeps me wanting to go back for more. Read on for my top 40 highlights…
1. Waking up to Tokyo’s endless and impressive skyline
2. Exploring ‘Yakitori’ alley under the train tracks in the fashionable district of Ginza
3. Browsing through the hidden and ancient gems in Oedo Antique Market
4. Witnessing a Shinto wedding procession at Meiji shrine
5. Flying over Mount Fuji for a breathtaking bird’s eye view
6. Miyajima’s floating torii gate, just across from Hiroshima, standing in all its glory
7. Gliding down the picturesque Bikan canal, just outside an Ampersand favourite: Ryokan Kurashiki
8. Yayoi Kusama’s iconic Pumpkin at sunrise on Naoshima Island
9. Admiring the iconic Daigo-ji Temple, an important temple of Japanese Buddhism, and a designated world heritage site
10. Glimpsing geisha flitting down the atmospheric alley of Ponto-cho
11. Exploring the bustling and lively Nishiki Market, also known as 'Kyoto's Kitchen' specialising in all things food
12. The Ritz-Carlton's rooms have some of the most incredible views in town
13. Enjoying a cup of matcha tea in the beautiful Okochi Sanso Garden tea house
14. Travelling back in time to Nagamachi, a former samurai district located at the foot of Kanazawa Castle
15. With Mrs Tanabe, owner of the wonderfully traditional ryokan, Tanabe Ryokan
16. Braving pufferfish (‘fugu’) at Gora Kadan
17. One of Gora Kadan’s many beautifully crafted private bathtubs with a scenic view
18. Pablo Picasso at Hakone Open-Air Museum
19. A beautifully snow covered shrine on the way to see the snow monkeys
20. Monks performing their morning bowing ritual at Futarasan Shrine
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