Japan. Flying in from Shanghai, we had a jam packed schedule for what turned out to be a spectacular week long journey around western Japan. We flew in to Osaka but headed straight to Kyoto, then from there we visited Mount Koya, Nara and Himeji all in the Kansai region, Hiroshima in the Chugoku region, back to Osaka and finally a brief stop in Tokyo (Kanto region) before flying home.
The former capital of Japan, Kyoto has an abundance of history and culture, it’s home to over 1000 Buddhist temples & 17 world heritage sites. This was the first place we stayed at and definitely one of the highlights of our trip. The main sites get incredibly busy especially on the weekends so getting up early is a great way to beat the crowds. With the amount of things to see and do you could easily fill a week long stay, but as usual we were against the clock and only had 2 and a half days to get round it all. Hiring bikes was our saviour and we managed to wizz about the city very quickly to save time.
Not to miss:
- Gion District
- Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine
- Kiyomizu-dera Temple (under-going renovation work but still worth it)
- Ninna-Ji Temple
- Sanjūsangen-dō Temple (No photos as they’re not allowed inside but an amazing display of 1001 buddhist statues)
- Arashiyama District
Mount Koya, Koyasan
We left behind the busy streets of Kyoto and headed on a series of winding cliff edge trains and cable cars to the peaceful and most sacred mountain in Japan, Mount Koya. It took half a day to reach the remote Buddhist temple where we would be spending the night but boy was it worth it, living like a monk for a day in a traditional room, embracing their vegetarian diet and attending morning prayers all surrounded by the most vibrant display of autumn leaves we have ever seen. I would definitely recommend fitting in a night stay in Koyasasn if you’re coming to Japan, especially at this time of year.
If you like a good walk then this is a great place to explore with all the main points of interest not too far from each other. On one side you have the old entrance to Koyasan, Daimon’s Great Gate and on the other the Okunion Cemetery with it’s towering pine trees and over 200,000 moss covered gravestones lining the winding pathways leading to Kobo Daishi’s Mausoleum.
Not to miss:
- Overnight stay in a Buddhist Temple with traditional veggie meal.
- Danjo Garan Temple Complex.
- Okunoin Cemetery & Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum.
Himeji Castle & Hiroshima
After recently seeing a documentary featuring Himeji Castle which is considered the most spectacular castle in Japan and one of 12 original castles not having been destroyed by war or fire, we made sure we had enough time to visit it and being one of the stops on our Osaka to Hiroshima train journey it was made very convenient. With frequent bullet trains on the route you can time it well like we did and have a train waiting for you at the station after you’re back from the castle tour.
We spent a night in Hiroshima and had a short visit to Miyajima Island as well before heading back.
Not to Miss:
- Himeji Castle
- Hiroshima Peace Memorial
- Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
- Ferry ride to Miyajima Island
Nara, Osaka & Tokyo
In the final stage of our tour of western Japan, we were very glad that we managed to squeeze in half a day in Nara before our time was up.
We used Osaka as a hub in our trip, we spent a lot of nights here which was probably the best thing to do seen as there isn’t that much to do in this city but it’s an impressive place to walk around at night and the variety of food from weird to the wonderful.
Our flight home departed from Tokyo as it worked out a lot cheaper and seen as we already had the JR rail pass it wasn’t any more expense to take the bullet train there too and it was surprisingly fast. We made sure to see the Team Lab Borderless exhibition while we were here which was a fantastic way to end journey. I’m often asked what my favourite country that I’ve been to is and after this holiday, it will be very difficult not to consider Japan as one of the front runners.
Not to Miss:
- Tōdai-ji Temple in Nara with it’s gigantic bronze Buddha weighing 500 tonnes!
- Nara Deer Park (find a stall selling deer crackers and get a bow).
- Dotonbori, Osaka (Fantastic at night and great Japanese food!).
- Teamlab Borderless modern art exhibition in Tokyo.
See all the photos from our trip below.