I spent my Thanksgiving Holiday on a plane headed for Japan (Thanks, China Airlines for the two decent meals on my 9 hour flight). I was meeting my friend Nicole in Yokosuka where we were staying with our friend, Josh, who had just been stationed out there.
My very first impression of Japan is it is CLEAN and the transit system is impeccable. Nicole and I purchased our Japan Rail Pass before we left so all I had to do was go to the ticket counter and exchange my receipt and then I was off.
I should mention I am directionally challenged and I managed a 3 hour train ride (on two different lines) with no cellphone service or my beloved Google Maps. However, I did need to be rescued from a coffee shop once I got into the town itself. I don’t speak a bit of Japanese and the cab drivers had no idea what I was trying to say. That aside, I spent the last few hours of Thanksgiving at an unconventional Indian restaurant in Japan with my friends. Completely jet lagged, we headed back to Josh’s and crashed around 10pm so we could have an early start the next day.
Day 1: Kamakura
Our first day trip was to Kamakura to see The Great Buddha. It was only a 30 minute train ride from Yokosuka so we woke up, made breakfast and set off for the day.
We arrived in Kamakura before most of the shops opened (apparently it’s like Europe in that way-nothing opens before 9am). But we did make our way to the few shops that were open and bought some chopsticks and souvenirs for friends/family.
Then we headed to the first temple of the day, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu. We were lucky because two ceremonies were being held (I believe they were weddings). The parties were dressed in traditional Japanese kimonos and it was fascinating to watch.
We roamed around the temple a bit longer and stopped to get our fortune (omikuji) told.
If your omikuji was bad or ‘cursed’ then you are supposed to tie and hang it on a post, tree, or in between a temple and leave it.
Luckily, I had great fortune.
After taking a few pictures, we made our way to the next temple and wound up in a beautiful buddhist cemetery. We’re not exactly sure how we ended up there but it was the most beautiful cemetery I’ve ever seen (weird to say–I know).
We had to take a train to the Great Buddha, so we decided to stop and get some ramen for lunch. We found the most incredible ramen bar in the heart of town and although I wasn’t all that hungry I couldn’t help but eat every last bite. (If you’re thinking about the 5 cent ramen you eat in college you are dead wrong–we literally watched the cooks make the noodles and the broth smelled so good you KNEW it simmered for a while).
Once we finished lunch we decided to head to Hase where the Great Buddha shrine was. It was as beautiful as it is in pictures and obviously a great photo opp. We took a few pictures in-front of the buddha and then we were able to go inside it. The architecture of it was amazing and we were all baffled that this structure has been standing since 1495.
After the Great Buddha we went to my personal favorite temple of the day: Hasedera. It had the most vibrant fall foliage and the zen and bamboo gardens were magnificent. The temple had a lookout over the ocean which was perfect as we were approaching sunset. There was also an underground temple that you could walk through with shrines of mini buddhas everywhere.
Since it gets dark at 4:30 during the fall season in Japan, we decided to head back to Yokosuka and make dinner. Grocery shopping in Japan is a hoot. Somehow we made it out with three steaks, a bottle of wine, breakfast foods, and veggies for about $30.00. Needless to say, we went back, cooked an amazing steak dinner and downed the wine. This made for a successful first day in Japan.
Day 2: Tokyo
We had a slower start to our morning (thanks to the two bottles of wine we had the previous night), but we headed into Tokyo to see some of the city life. We took the bullet train from Yokohama to Tokyo which was an experience in itself. When we got into Tokyo we headed straight for an udon restaurant which head traditional zashiki seating. (I can’t express how much I love taking my shoes off and eating at a restaurant and I think the western word really should embrace this style of dining).
Our next stop was the Tsukiji Fish Market. We didn’t catch the early morning bustle, but we did get the latter part of the day and there was still PLENTY to see. I’ve never seen such large fish heads out in the open. There were all kinds of food stands and fresh seafood. If I hadn’t of just finished eating I would have been inclined to stuff my face. Josh got some fresh eel and the smell of it was intoxicating. Once we made a few laps through the market and I took as many photos as possible we stopped at a bakery and shared a maple pecan croissant.
After the market we walked to the Hama-Rikyu Gardens, located next to Tokyo Bay. This garden was a historic site and was built in the Edo Period (1603-1867) as duck hunting grounds before being opened to the public. The park displayed beautiful autumn colors primarily from maple and gingko trees.
When we were done strolling the park we met up with Josh’s friends and headed to the Shibuya district to check out some of the bars. We did the infamous Shibuya Crossing and after a few more drinks we decided to catch the train home. We made another ramen stop once we got back and the mechanisms to order were so neat. You looked at a vending machine with pictures of your ramen, picked one out, put your money in, gave your ticket to the waiter and within 10 minutes you had your ramen sitting in front of you. I tell ya, we could really learn a few tricks from Japan.
Day 3: Yokohama
Yokohama is about 45 minutes from Yokosuka. We woke up, made breakfast, and walked two miles to our train station to start our day. The first stop we made was the Ramen Museum in Shin-Yokohama. This place is incredible. There are several ramen restaurants in the museum with a variety of ramen broths, noodles, and toppings from different regions around Japan (although ramen originated in China).
From what I read there are four types of noodles:
- Thin noodles
- Thick noodles
- Wrinkled noodles
- Hirauchi noodles
And there are two general types of broth
Needless to say my goal was to try all of them– and I think I succeeded since I literally ate ramen at least once every single day.
*Fun fact: The ramen museum was founded on March 6th 1994 as the worlds first food amusement park.
After we had lunch it was a bit rainy so we set out for an onsen (Japanese hot spring/bathing house). We went to the Yukemuri no Sato Susukino onsen and after 3 days of walking ~12 miles per day it was everything I needed. I believe this was a very traditional bath house as I was the only non-asian in it. At first the concept was wildly foreign, as you can imagine, being bare in front of multitudes of women and children and bathing together. But truth be told I’ve never felt so clean in my life. This is roughly how it works:
- Go to a locker room
- Take off all clothing
- Shower in a traditional Japanese shower (sitting on a bucket, in front of a mirror)
- Walk to the hot bath of your choosing (in my case I tried all 15)
- Shower again
- Go upstairs and nap in any given nap room
I loved it so much Nicole and I were in search of onsens for the rest of the trip.
Unfortunately, tattoos are not permitted in most onsens, so Josh went around the town while we bathed.
The second half of our day we went into Yokohama to ride the ferris wheel. It was still rainy but it was on our bucket list for the day so we waited it out and despite the rain the views from the top were still beautiful. We were lucky enough to witness the illumination festival in all the districts so the entire city was covered in lights.
When we finished our ferris wheel ride we headed straight to china town to eat unlimited dim sum before making the train back to Yokosuka.
Day 4: Hokone, Mt. Fuji, and Lake Ashi
Josh had to go back to work so Nicole and I headed to Hakone to get views of Mt. Fuji. The train ride from Yokosuka was ~hour and a half but it was the most scenic route we had taken. We purchased the Hakone Free Pass for about $45 USD because it gave us access to the cable carts, a train, and a boat tour.
Once we arrived in Hakone we took a cable cart through the Great Boiling Valley of Owakudani(the sulfur smell hits you immediately upon arrival). One of the biggest attractions is to eat an egg that’s been boiled in the pools of the crater for seven years good luck. We didn’t eat the eggs so no luck for us.
After we took some photos and could no longer tolerate the smell we took the cable cart down to Lake Ashi to continue our day. Once we got to the bottom of the crater we arrived at a harbor with a GIANT pirate ship. Talk about touristy. Regardless, the lake was beautiful and the sun was peaking out just enough to hit the water and turn it shades of blue and green.
I’m an island girl–I like to be warm and the temperature was around 50 degrees Fahrenheit so after about 30 minutes I was ready to be out the cold. It just so happened we were going to try and find an onsen when we met a couple of British lads who were heading to the Akayu Onsen at the Tansen Hotel on the way back to the station. Naturally, we followed them to minimize our effort in searching for it ourselves.
We got to the onsen and it was definitely more spa like than the one we went to the previous day. The rock baths were very aesthetically pleasing and Hakone is famous for their natural hot springs. We spent about 2 hours total bathing and relaxing before we realized it was getting late and should be getting back.
*This onsen was more modern and allowed tattoos in the bathing rooms.*
The clouds were too low to see Mt. Fuji but the area was mysterious and beautiful so we didn’t mind. Plus, we got to see it from our plane when we left Japan.
Day 5: Tokyo Round Two
Nicole and I decided to get a hostel for our last full day in Japan because we had an early flight to Bangkok the next day and Josh lived about 2 hours from the city.
We took our time in the morning and prepared a bag of goodies to be shipped home (we also needed to ditch our winter clothes as we wouldn’t need them in SEA). After we had our errands completed we headed into Asakusa to Koahsan World Hostel.
After we checked in we went on a mission to find sushi (it seemed like the appropriate thing to do). When we finished eating we meandered around Asakusa and took some pics under the giant Kaminarimon Gate. It was freezing out so we went on a search for another onsen. Unfortunately, it was closed so we decided to go back to the hostel to warm up.
For dinner we braved the cold and set out for our last item on our bucketlist: okonomiyaki. We walked to two different places and they were both shut down (weird for a Tuesday). Finally we found a cafe that served it and was still open. Eating straight from the grill, we ate every morsel.
When we finished we made a quick pit stop to the largest 24/7 Don Quijote I’ve ever seen (we have a pretty big one in Hawaii, as well). We grabbed some drinks and headed back to our hostel.
We went to bed relatively early since we had to get up at 6am for our flight to Bangkok. I spent my last few coins on a vending machine milk tea at the airport. If you’re in Japan you will LOVE the vending machines everywhere.
And that is how we spent our week in Japan 🙂
Arigatou to Nicole for being an amazing travel partner and documenting most of our trip!