In a career that is unpredictable and quite demanding of time, it can be difficult to plan a vacation away. Most trips need to be spontaneous to say the least. So that is exactly what happened over the Christmas holidays. Destination: JAPAN.
While looking in to places to go over the holidays my wife and I came to the decision that we wanted to go to Japan. Once the decision was made, off to the bookstore I went to pick up a copy of the Lonely Planet. (Helpful hint #1 ). Travel to Japan is said to be good at anytime of the year. The only caution we could find was that travel to Japan over the New Year can be extremely busy and that we may come across a lot of closures as it is one of the most (if not the most) important holidays of the year. This proved to be true in the sense of busy but it was extremely easy to navigate the country during this time. December also proved to be a wonderful time of the year to visit as it is the driest month of the year. No disappointment there. Everyday we were blessed with sunshine and blue skies.
Our trip had us arriving at Haneda Airport, the smaller of the two main Tokyo airports, only 20 minutes outside Tokyo’s downtown. It was a late night arrival so we found a snack and retired to our hotel. Helpful hint #2: Make plans of what you would like to see within the time you have and book accommodation prior to arriving in Japan. We used Hotels.com and the Lonely Planet gave us ideas about what to see over a given amount of time (ie. 7days, 10 days, etc.).
The next day the journey truly began. The first stop was back to the airport to activate our Japan Rail Passes. Helpful Hint #3: The Japan Rail Pass must be purchased before you arrive in Japan. It is only available to those traveling to Japan and not to those that live there. Rail tickets can be quite pricey on their own. The JR pass gives you access to many trains that will take you all over the country. It is truly the easiest and most comfortable way to see Japan. There are train cars that you do not need to reserve a seat for but as we were traveling during a busy holiday season, we reserved all of our train seats in advance.
Kyoto was our first destination where we spent three nights and the days were spent walking and exploring the old Japanese city that was at one time the Capital of Japan. We visited the majestic Bamboo Forest, many Temples and Shrines, parks and of course restaurants.
From Kyoto we traveled back to Tokyo where we spent four nights over the New Year. Tokyo’s subway system is extremely easy to use and in such an enormous city I would highly recommend it over walking or taking taxis.
Tokyo is a vibrant city as most already know. All major neighborhoods are lit up with huge neon signs and no shortage of people. The famous Shibuya Crossing didn’t disappoint with hundreds of pedestrians crossing the street in multiple directions at once. Ginza, an area that if you are looking for a new Louis Vuitton , Chanel, Dior, etc. you have found this upscale heaven. Akihabara, the electronics district which is a heaven for gadget lovers and gamers. Tsukiji Fish Market, where hundreds of people are crammed down small streets buying the freshest seafood. Roppongi, the entertainment district where one can party until the wee hours of the morning or walk 20 minutes to the infamous Tokyo Tower where you may decide to kiss your sweetheart at the stroke of midnight on New Years Eve. If you are up for a challenge, visiting a Temple on New Years Day is for you. It is not for those who fear large crowds and small spaces. No matter where you are in this Metropolis there is no shortage of things to see and great food can be found at any price point.
From Tokyo we took a day trip to Nagano to see the snow monkeys. This was probably my most anticipated venture of the trip. Jigokudani Monkey Park is located in the monkeys natural habitat and is approximately a 30 minute walk through the forest. The locals have constructed a hotspring that you can find the monkeys taking a break from the cold and bathing in. We spent over an hour just watching these monkeys play, fight and comfort eachother. It was definitely worth the trek.
Our final adventure took us an hour and a half South of Tokyo to Ito. Ito is a beautiful beach town on the Pacific Ocean located on the Izu Penninsula. It had been highly recommended to stay at a Ryokan while visiting Japan. (a traditional Japanese Inn). I chose Yokikan, a hotel in its 106th year and still family owned and operated. The hospitality and experience were nothing short of excellent. We visited a nearby suspension bridge and took in the beautiful scenery for a day and a half before heading to Narita for our final night.
Our experience in Japan was wonderful and we do not hesitate to say that we would go back. If you are an enthusiast for great food, beautiful scenery or just seeing the world put Japan on your bucket list. It truly will not disappoint.