Japan is one of the most amazing places to visit in Asia. It’s freakishly clean and polite. It’s full of creatively dressed people. It has some of the most beautiful temples and manicured gardens you will ever see in your life. It is safe to travel solo. It has an obsession with sealife and fish, edible or not – fish markets are the largest you will see in the world, and every city pretty much has an aquarium with all sorts of exotic fish. It is beautiful in all seasons. It has a rich history and is culturally extremely unique. I’ve really only explored a small part of Japan, but already I am so impressed.
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Tokyo was the first place I ever traveled solo. Japan is such a safe country, that I didn’t hesitate going alone when my partner had to cancel last minute due to work commitments. I went during a typhoon, and when the winds got strong and I asked a stranger on the street for directions, he walked with me to my destination even though we didn’t share a common language. During my short trip there over a long weekend, I greatly enjoyed exploring Tokyo, one of the most energetic and interesting cities I’ve ever been to.
Hiroshima & Miyajima
One of the first places I wanted to visit in Japan was Hiroshima, the city where the world’s first (and hopefully last) atomic bomb was dropped in 1945. I wanted to see what it was like in a city so scarred and devastated by the most lethal human arsenal. It turns out that Hiroshima today is a thriving city with normal levels of radiation, and people continue to live there. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is nestled in the middle of Hiroshima City, with a broken atomic bomb dome forming part of the skyline, to remind everyone of the importance of peace. I visited the atomic bomb museum and found it sobering.
A short hop away from Hiroshima was an island called Itsukushima, or more commonly known, Miyajima. Miyajima has a famous shrine with bright red torii gates in the sea. The other thing, of course, is that wild deer roam freely in the city and amongst humans on the tiny island. My partner and I went at dusk for a charming sunset view of the torii gates.
Kyoto is a gorgeous old city, full of red pagodas, enchanting temples, and beautiful gardens, and home to the geishas and maikos (geishas-in-training). My partner and I traveled there during winter, and already thought it was effortlessly beautiful – we really can’t imagine how totally mesmerizing it would have been in the fall with autumn leaves and colors, or in the spring with the cherry blossoms in full bloom.
I initially thought I’d be done with temple visits (the main highlight of Kyoto) after just one day, but I was blown away by so many of them, I didn’t feel I had enough time to visit all the temples that I wanted to, even after 3 days. My partner and I also decided to brave the freezing winter cold to bike around the charming backstreets of the city, and met quite a few maikos on their way to school, which were pretty exciting moments for me since I found the maiko/geisha culture very fascinating. To top it all off, on the outer part of Kyoto, there is a bamboo forest – the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. Walking amongst the Arashiyama bamboo stalks felt pretty magical and surreal – photos probably don’t do it any justice.
My partner and I used Osaka mainly as a base for exploring Kyoto, so I didn’t spend much time there other than to eat, sleep and, on the last day, visit an aquarium. The Osaka aquarium was extremely fancy and one of the best I’d been to – it had whale sharks, hammerhead sharks, nurse sharks, manta rays, eagle rays, and all sorts of rare and weird fish. The Japanese people really do love their aquariums.