Japan 2014 (part 1 of 2)

Posted by Catherine Elms on April 28, 2014 Blog posts | | 3 comments

I spent the first two weeks of April this year on holiday in Japan, and it was amazing!  It was my first long-distance holiday (previously the furthest I’d been was Barcelona), the first time I’d travelled alone with a friend, and the longest time I’d spent away from my current partner since we met.

We saw and did some amazing things, and I’ve definitely been bitten by the travel bug now!

NB: this is a photo-heavy post – all photos taken on my iPhone, unless otherwise specified. Click to enlarge each photo!

Day 1 – Getting There

Upon arrival at Heathrow we had a problem checking in, and almost didn’t fly!  Long story short, thanks to a cock-up by Expedia, whom we booked the flight with, the airline didn’t have our reservations and so we didn’t have seats on the fully-booked flight!  We were sent back and forth between a few different desks in different parts of the airport, none of whom could help, and it looked certain that we weren’t going to be able to get onto the plane, but luckily at the very last minute 2 other passengers didn’t turn up so we had to RUN to the check-in counter before check-in closed with mere seconds to spare in order to reissue our tickets!  The Heathrow staff were super helpful and thankfully we got onto the flight and secured our seats on the flight home too.  Fuck you, Expedia! *shakes fist*

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Pocket Daf on the plane!

This was my first long-haul flight, and ANA made it an incredibly comfortable experience.  The seat in front has a built-in TV screen which contains a decent selection of recent Hollywood and Japanese movies, as well as music, cartoons, news, and an interactive world map showing the flight path!  It was awesome.  I watched Frozen (finally!), and a Japanese film called JUDGE!  The food was pretty good too, and the attendants kept bringing around yummy drinks and snacks.  The 11-hour flight went by very quickly, with no problems or annoyances.

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Flying above Europe on our way over.

We arrived in Haneda airport at 3pm local time, where we made our way to our hotel via the subway system.  Japan’s public transport system is incredible – everything is so clean, efficient and comfortable, and the lines run every few minutes so we never had long to wait.

Our hotel was in Akasaka, which was a lovely peaceful area.  The streets on the way to our hotel were lined with cherry blossom trees in full bloom as we arrived!

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Japan Akasaka Tokyo Minato sakura

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Japan Akasaka Tokyo Minato sakura

My bed!

Day 2 – Marunouchi

We spent the morning exploring the beautiful Imperial Palace East Gardens – the Ninomaru Garden was particularly gorgeous.

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We then visited the Tokyo International Forum, a beautifully designed architectural building in Marunouchi.

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The rest of the afternoon was spent in Ginza, a fairly upmarket shopping district, where we did loads of stationery shopping!

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Taken from the top floor of the Mitsukoshi department store

We visited Itoya, a 5-storey stationery shop!  What a dream! 😀

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Lisa next to the wall of stickers!

 

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selfie taken outside Itoya

That evening we had dinner and drinks at vegetarian restaurant Eat More Greens, where Lisa and I had a delicious vegan thai curry.  It was one of the most enjoyable meals of the holiday!

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A peach cocktail and a cranberry beer

After dinner we got the subway to Nakameguro where we walked along the river admiring the beautiful illuminated cherry blossoms.

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Day 3 – Shinjuku

We spent the morning at Shinjuku, a busy entertainment and shopping district!  The surrounding skyscrapers were very impressive.

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After popping home for a breather, we later headed out to the Zojo-ji temple and grounds – it felt very peaceful in the misty dusk.

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Photographer chic :)

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After dinner, we visited Tokyo Tower, a 333m tall communication tower.  After spending some time in the shopping centre at the base of the tower, we went up to the observatory, 250m above the city.

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Decorations outside the tower entrance

 

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A view of the illuminated tower from Zojo-ji

The city looked awesome from above (awesome in the truest sense of the word – a feeling of awe)!

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Day 4 – Asakusa

We spent the morning at the beautiful Meiji Jingu shrine, dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken.  This was one of my favourite sights of the trip – it felt so serene and tranquil, and it felt good to pay our respects.

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the outer gate

 

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standard tourist shot!

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the inner gardens of the shrine

the inner gardens of the shrine

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Kiyomasa’s Well

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We had to rinse our hands and mouth before entering the shrine using these cups.

After a delicious bowl of ramen noodles for lunch, we headed over to the Senso-ji temple in Asakusa.  It’s a popular and colourful part of the city, and was definitely one of the busiest places we visited!

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The Kaminarimon gate at the entrance

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the main hall

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a cute nearby dog! This little guy attracted almost as big a crowd as the temple, haha.

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Afterwards we walked over to the Skytree via the Sumida Koen park, which was full of cherry blossoms in full bloom.

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We visited the Postal Museum Japan, a must-see for 2 mail geeks like us!  The stamps were my favourite part; you could flick through display cases full of stamps for every country in the world from the last 150 years!

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Unfortunately the Skytree was closed this evening due to high winds, so we did some shopping in the nearby shops and boutiques, and then went back to Akasaka for dinner.

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The Skytree illuminated, taken from Sumida Koen park on our way home.

Day 5 – Kamakura

On Saturday we spent the day with Lisa’s language exchange friend Miki at Kamakura!

We began our day at the Hokoku-ji temple and bamboo garden, which was so picturesque.  We also had beautifully sunny weather.

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We had green tea in the bamboo garden, which was lovely.

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After this Miki took us to a traditional Japanese restaurant for lunch, where we sat on our knees at low tables and ate traditional Japanese cuisine.  I had a sweet red bean soup with dumplings, which was actually very nice.

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outside the restaurant

After lunch we visited the Hachimanchu shrine and surrounding gardens.

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photo by Lisa

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There was a traditional wedding taking place outside the shrine!

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That evening we went shopping in Harajuku, a busy shopping and fashion district which felt a lot like Oxford Street in many ways!

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Found on a display of Star Wars toys in a department store – wow so doge!

Day 6 – Hiroshima

We got up at 6am and caught the bullet train/Shinkansen to Hiroshima from Tokyo today – a 507 mile journey (the equivalent of London to Aberdeen) that took less than 4 hours!  Amazing! I slept for most of the way so it went by very quickly too.

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Central Hiroshima

We got to the city centre around lunchtime, where we began by visiting the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.  It was a very powerful and moving experience, with detailed exhibits on the world history leading to the A-bomb blast, the after-effects for the citizens, and the city’s subsequent efforts to campaign for peace.  Everything was bilingual so we could read the detailed information accompanying each exhibit.

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This globe shows how many thousands of nuclear warheads each country has.

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A child’s bike damaged by the A-bomb blast

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Tiny cranes folded by Sadako Sasaki.

We walked through the Peace Memorial Park, which is dedicated to the children that were killed and injured during the A-bomb blast.

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the view from the museum

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The Genbaku Dome was the only structure left standing in the area where the atomic bomb exploded.

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the Children’s Peace Monument

There were thousands of tiny origami cranes on display, folded by local children to commemorate the deaths.

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We had lunch at a lovely riverside Italian cafe, where we had spaghetti and posh tea; afterwards we caught a ferry over to the island of Miyajima.  This was one of the highlights of the trip for me – the island was so peaceful and picturesque, and the illuminated torri gate set against the blue dusk sky was just stunning.

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There were wild deer roaming around on the streets – they were so pretty and well-behaved!

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Read part 2 tomorrow!

3 Comments

  • Masashi said on Apr 29, 2014 2:26 am

    Thanks for the pingback on my blog (though I’m not currently working on it).

    I’m impressed you moved so energetic around Japan. So lucky you reached Tokyo with its cherry blossoms in full bloom!

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