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How Japan Changed My Life Forever

I have wanted to visit Japan since I was a child because just like you, I fell in love with anime. As a little one, dreams of Sailor Moon and reenactments with my fellow friends painted a specific image of what Japan would be like: a magical world where everyone has superpowers. As I reached my teen years, Japan started to take a different shape. I spent days learning about its rich history, understanding its traditions and wonderful ceremonies. By the time I went to university, Japan became a goal to me, a destination I desperately wanted to visit, a place of wonders and mysteries. It is because of Japan's culture that I dedicated years to learning about tea and I became what you would call a tea connoisseur.

When I turned 24, my partner created a Japanese themed surprise birthday party, whereby he transformed the whole house into an adventure around Japan. On my 26th birthday, we were actually in Japan! Flesh and blood, wandering hand in hand through the streets I so longed to see... and let me tell you, in the end, Japan was worth every single second of anticipation.
Read more on how to prepare for your Tokyo arrival.

Shinjuku Streets

Tokyo

I strongly believe that Japan's capital, Tokyo has to be the coolest place on Earth. It is a city of so many dimensions, offering you everything from shopping in Ginza, kawaii in Harajuku, gaming in Akihabara, relentlessness in Shinjuku and peacefulness in Ueno. Whatever you seek, Tokyo has it. If you can think of it, it's definitely somewhere in Tokyo, waiting for you to discover it.
We spent over a week in Tokyo and it simply didn't feel long enough.

The truth is though, I could probably spend my whole life in Tokyo and still feel as if I can't discover all its secrets. If you truly want to make the most out of your trip around Tokyo, then spend at least a week exploring its secrets... then share them all with me.

Read more about Tokyo:
What is the best of Tokyo in less than 24 hours
17 Weirdest things to do in Japan
8 magical street foods that will make you want to visit Tokyo

Nagano

We only spent a few hours in Nagano, but it was more than enough to realise what a great place this was. It's a popular city for tourists interested in history, spirituality and ninjas, as Nagano is home to Togakure Ninja School (in case you want to later add that to your CV).
As we were on our way to the Snow Monkey Park, we mainly spent time around the Nagano station. That's where we discovered Midori, a department store over several stories. In all fairness, you can probably spend a whole day walking around the Nagano station.

See what Lotte is saying about spending 1 month in Japan: A complete itinerary and travel map.

Sushi Shinjuku

Snow Monkey Park

Jigokudani Yaenkoen or the Snow Monkey Park is home to wild Japanese Macaques (Snow Monkeys) which feel really comfortable amongst tourists. They usually bath in the onsen where you can get close and take really beautiful photographs of the cute creatures. Although getting to the Snow Monkey Park from Tokyo may seem daunting at first, I can assure you that it's actually simpler than it looks and very rewarding. If you wish to spend more than a day around Yamanouchi, don't forget that you have easy access to skiing slopes, dense forests and the Shibu Onsen, a place of Japanese traditions where locals still wear kimonos.

Japanese Macaque Onsen

Kyoto

After enjoying Tokyo's craziness, we took the shinkansen to Kyoto, Japan's old capital city. Although always bursting with life and tourists, you will find a more traditional air hidden around Kyoto's side streets, where it's your chance to admire old Japanese houses up close. There is so much to do in Kyoto, we feared that 5 days might not be enough. Allocate time for the Arashiyama, the Fushimi Inari Shrine, as well as evening walks around Gion, the famed Geisha district. Don't forget to start your day at the Nishiki Market where you can enjoy all sort of regional specialities.
Kyoto is the perfect place for matcha lovers and you can find many locals who offer to teach you about Japanese traditional tea ceremonies. Also known as the city of 1000 temples, you should expect to see many spiritual buildings where you can find your inner peace.

What to visit in Kyoto:
Arashiyama, Fushimi Inarin Shrine, Gion, Nishiki Market, Kinkaku-ji

Read More about Kyoto:
Visit Kyoto: Best 5 Authentic days Of Japanese Traditions
Best Foods You Need to Eat in Kyoto

Fushimi Shrine Kyoto

Kinkaku-ji

Uji

If you are a tea lover like myself, you must take a day trip to Uji. It takes less than half an hour to reach Uji from Kyoto and you get the opportunity to be in a place surrounded by lots of history. Uji is where Japan's first tea plantation was established. The story has it that a monk called Eisai, brought tea seeds from China to Uji, where a local Myoue started the very first Japanese tea farm. How amazing is that? You will find lots of tea sellers in Uji, so make sure you buy some authentic ceremonial grade matcha tea or Gyokuro, Japan's finest (and most expensive) green tea.

What to visit in Uji:
Attend an authentic Japanese tea ceremony, Byōdō-in Temple, Uji Shrine, Tea Festival

Read more about Uji:
This Is Why Uji Is Paradise To A Tea Lover

Uji Streets

Nara

Nara was Japan's first permanent capital, which means you are ought to find some of Japan's oldest temples and buildings here. It is home to eight UNESCO Heritage sites as well as the famed Nara Park with all its beloved deer. Tourists visit Nara every year in order to get close to these beautiful and kind animals, some so accustomed to people, that are happy to pose for a photograph in exchange for some biscuits.

What to visit in Nara:
Nara Park, Todaiji Temple, Horyuhi Temple, Omizutori

Read more about Nara:
An epic adventure in Nara

Nara Deer

Mount Hiei

Mount Hiei was the last destination we travelled to in Japan, before heading back to Tokyo. Mount Hiei is a train ride away from Kyoto, covered by the JR Pass. We really wanted a day out in nature, where we could just hike and admire Japan from above. Mount Hiei offers a spectacular cable car journey up to the top, where you will have some amazing photographic opportunities. For us, mount Hiei carries sentimental value, as it was the place where my partner proposed to me. Overwhelmed by such magnificent views and a dreamlike proposal, it's easy to understand why I would totally recommend a trip to Mount Hiei.

What to do on Mount Hiei:
Sakamoto Cable Car, Enryakuji Temple, Hike on Mount Hiei

Cory Mount Hiei

Japan not only influenced my childhood and inspired me to dream big, but it changed my life forever. It was in Japan where I decided to marry the man of my dreams and it is because of Japan, that I realised being a travel writer is what I want to do with my life.
Nevertheless, it is because of my trip to the island of Honshu, that I want to make you follow your dreams and help you find your own adventures.

Let me help you plan the best trip to Japan. Tell me about your itinerary in Japan in the comment section below.

What did you think?

Did you like this article? Do you have any questions or suggestions? Leave a comment below.

Responses

M
Maria
14 Apr 2018

Hi Cory. I love your stories. We are going to Japan in May. Our plan is to stay in Tokyo and make it as our hub while we go places. Here's the plan:
1. 4 days in Tokyo
2. I booked a 3day bullet train tour to mt fuji, kyoto, and nara
3. Back to tokyo. Visit yokosuka, yokohama
4. Book a tour to nikko

Thats's it!

I'm thinking to stay in kyoto,(i have that option with the tour) and then go to hiroshima for 1 day and go back to tokyo on our own. I'm just worried we may have hard time finding the right train to go around.
When you're going places where digs you leave your luggage? That is my main concern that is why i booked that 3 day tour.

C
Cory
15 Apr 2018

Hi Maria,

Your itinerary sounds lush! You shouldn't worry about going back to Tokyo on your own. It's really easy to find your way back and there are so many daily trains from Kyoto to Tokyo. The staff can also help you tell you which platform and there are signs around the train stations to help you find your way to all platforms. So if you want to stay in Kyoto, you can.
As for the luggage, every train station has a luggage store option. Again, there are signs which point you in the right direction.
Happy travels and enjoy Japan. You will love it!

K
Kirsten
07 Sep 2018

Hi I enjoyed your travel tips very much. We will be going in October and plan 2 days in Tokyo at the beginning and end of our trip, 2 days in Kyoto, and a sleepover in a monastery on Mount Koyasan after that. From there to outside Hakone for 2 nights in a trad ryokan to enjoy food and water before hitting Tokyo again. Thanks again for your blog
Kirsten

C
Cory
11 Sep 2018

Hi Kirsten,

Thank you for your message. Your trip sounds incredible. You are going to absolutely love your sleepover in a monastery as Mount Koyasan looks so beautiful. Have lots of fun and happy travels!