I’ve just got back from a second trip to Japan. We last went in 2009 (which I blogged about on its own little microsite, here) and have been itching to go back ever since. This time we just stayed in Tokyo, but the wonderful transport network means you can explore the sprawl of the city and further afield very easily, so still see quite a diversity of what Japan has to offer.
Having been before, we had a good idea of neighbourhoods to revisit and new places to check out. We stayed in Yoyogi, between Shinkjuku and Harajuku, and spent a fair bit of time in these areas. They are great areas for shopping, bars, eating and generally walking around, getting lost and finding fun stuff. Pictured above is taco rice, which I got a bit obsessed with hunting down and eating at any opportunity, and the Craftheads bar in Shibuya where Josh died and went to beer heaven.
Some more personal favourite areas from last time that we revisited: Kichijoji in the north-west, which has a lovely park (containing the Studio Ghibli museum, which we didn’t go back to and slightly regretted), lots of Buddhist vegetarian lunch spots, and a ladder of charming side streets where you’ll find boutiques selling clothing and ceramics and cute coffee shops. Yanaka, Tokyo’s old town to the north, is similarly charming with little shrines, more flowers, and plenty of coffee and soba shops to dip in and out of. We also revisited Akihabara, the electronics hub and home of the choicest range of videogame arcades, and of course the textile district, Nippori, for some fabric shopping.
A new area to us that we fell in love with was Shimokitazawa, a short metro journey west of Shinjuku. It’s a dream suburban neighbourhood filled with record and flower shops, izakayas, bars and coffee shops. A wonderful place to spend a day rambling round, and the evening in a little standing-only natural wine bar or ramen joint.
Further afield we spent a day in Ome, a couple of hours north-west of the city. We spent an enjoyable morning in its mountainous forestland, learning about wasabi cultivation on an Airbnb Experience, then afterwards took a stroll alongside the Tama River to Sawai, where the traditional Sawanoi sake brewery is located. We took a free tour of the brewery (in Japanese!) which included sampling their delicious sake and buying a couple of bottles to bring home. The on-site garden restaurant, specialising in tofu dishes, looked excellent too though we didn’t stop there to eat. It’s amazing that areas like this are included in the sprawling Tokyo metropolitan zone but feel like you’re a million miles away from the city. Tokyoites are very fortunate to have access to such stunning natural landscapes on their doorsteps: our Saturday train was full of hikers.
Finally, we spent our last full day in Kamakura, a coastal town on the south of Honshu (Japan’s main island). Again a quick train ride from Tokyo past Kawasaki and Yokohama, it’s an amazing base for exploring some of the oldest temples in Japan, including ones with beautiful Zen gardens, attached bamboo groves, tea houses and giant bronze buddhas. The town itself is gorgeous too with lots of cafes and craft shops. You can chug on a little further down to the beach, but we didn’t make it this time.
Just a few of the bits and bobs I brought home and cards/beermats I picked up in cool places. I also bought a bunch of T-shirts, ceramics and loads of cat-related stuff.
– Our Airbnb and hotel: we saved cash by staying in the little Airbnb most nights, then splashed out on a super-luxe hotel for the last two nights.
– Google Map with specific places to check out in all these areas.
– Instagram for more photos! (I carry my phone more than my camera now, hence the gaps in what these pics cover…)
If you have any questions about visiting Japan, feel free to ask. I think it’s such a great holiday destination as despite the language barrier it’s so easy to get around, the people are excellent, amazing food and drink, it’s just as clean and well-ordered as you’d expect and you can have such a diversity of experiences in a relatively short time.