We spent two and half weeks in Japan and quickly learned it wasn’t enough. The country offers one surprise after the next, from sprawling Tokyo and neon-lit Osaka, to Kyoto’s endless temples and the sobering but wonderful sights of Hiroshima.
If you’re interested in going to Japan or want to learn our experience, click on the photos and links below. Enjoy!
It doesn’t take long to find the centerpiece of the city for tourists: the Atomic Bomb Dome and the Peace Memorial Park. It’s a somber place, and if you spend some time there, chances are good you’ll meet a Hiroshiman with a story to tell about August 6, 1945.
The city is determined not to let the world forget about what nuclear weapons do to mothers and children and grandparents and communities. But it also has a lot more to offer. Our two-part series starts here.
While you’re in Hiroshima, take a day to explore nearby Miyajima Island (also known as Itsukushima Island).
The island has a hidden gem that was a highlight of our trip to Japan. (No spoilers here, but let’s say it involved hundreds of tiny knitted caps.)
Miyajima is home to the beautiful mountainside Daisho-in Temple complex, the Itsukushima Floating Torii Gate, a bunch of cheeky deer, and stunning views from atop Mount Misen. Read the full post here.
Japan’s imperial capital for a thousand years, Kyoto is a web of more than 1,000 temples and seemingly endless shrines. Bring good walking shoes to see the temples, from the huge, colorful and stunningly intricate complexes to the small, wooden buildings atop a mountain or hidden behind a garden.
We also highly recommend staying in a local temple, at least for a night. Night views of beautiful gardens and learning about meditation were the highlights of our stay. You can see and read about our experience here.
One of the best parts about backpacking is the surprises you find during a detour from your detour. Friends: If you are ever in Japan’s northern-most main island and you don’t go to the onsen we found, you’re dead to me.
But you’ll want to trek north, at least for a couple days, after reading this.
The food is amazing, our hostel tiny, and the neon lights and blaring advertisement speakers dizzying.
Yet Osaka’s dark alleyways are peaceful, the people are incredibly friendly … and the lack of jaywalking is downright maddening. Read more here.
Lesson: If you’re heading to a massive, internationally known city that people rave about, plan! Don’t wait until you arrive in Tokyo to do serious planning. The city has a ton to offer, and knowing what you want to do and what areas you want to see can save you a ton of time (and money).
We didn’t do that, but we still had a great time in Tokyo. We drove go-karts around traffic for two hours to see the city, were mesmerized by museum robots and (eventually) figured out the city’s sprawling train system — all while being awed by Tokyo’s efficiency and cleanliness. Read more here.
Pro tip: If you’re planning a trip to Japan and don’t want to spend all your time in one or two cities, buy a Japan Rail pass. It’s available to tourists but you need to purchase it before you arrive in Japan. It could save you money if you want to quickly see several regions.
(And maybe you’ll get to ride a Hello Kitty bullet train.)