We had never been to Asia before and Japan was an appealing place to us. Their culture and beautiful landscapes plus a childhood of Japanese cartoons had planted the seed in us. We think that Japan is the perfect country to start wandering that side of the globe, because it is traditional and modern, different but efficiently organized. We love traveling to unexplored countries such as Nicaragua or Laos. However, for a first time experience we think Japan was a great destination in Asia.
So we planned a three weeks trip to the country of the rising sun. When we plan a trip that long we want to combine cities, with nature and always try to finish with some days to relax on the beach. We also like to combine cheaper accommodations with a few luxury ones, so the trip doesn’t turn up to be too expensive but is still comfortable and enjoyable.
We had walked the Camino the Santiago before and learned that there was a similar walk in Japan and we felt it would be great to do it, it was called Kumano Kodo. It is a pilgrim route that goes along beautiful places, we wanted to climb Mount Fuji and see the sunrise from the summit, we wanted to experience an authentic Onsen experience and go out of the way most travelers follow so we could get to know Japanese culture better. We were looking forward to what drove us there during the fall season which was that fall foliage colours, and the the picture perfect they create contrasted with the beautiful Japanese shrines.
With those ideas, requirements and a travel guidebook we started planning our adventure to Japan. After several days of planning our trip, we drew a simple calendar to visualize the whole trip, although of course a lot of our plans changed once we were there we had an amazing time!
Three weeks in Japan
It was the first place we visited. We stayed at the Millenium Mitsui Garden Hotel Tokyo. We started by taking a sightseeing trip to the Sansonji Temple, to immerse ourselves in the most traditional area of Tokyo. We were quite impressed by all the neon lights, the silence in the tube, the noise of the pachinko establishments, the crowds of the diagonal crossing streets in Ginza district, the imagination of young Japanese when it come to clothes, the deliciousness and diversity of Japanese food (there is a entire world after sushi, our first Japanese dinner was an okonomiyaki!) and so many things that were surprising, different and beautiful. You can visit our post on Where to stay in Tokyo to learn about things to do in the city and the best hotels to stay.
We went on a day trip to Nikko. We visited the beautiful temple of Shin-kyo, surrounded by beautiful nature and the walk of the 70 statues of Jizo in the Kanmangafuchi Abyss. I strongly recommend this place for a short visit. We had a memorable lunch in a small place named Hippari Tako full of postcards, it was packed and a bit touristic as we found this place in our travel guidebook, however it is absolutely delicious.
Climbing Mount Fuji from midnight to sunrise
This was one of my favorite experiences in Japan. Watching the first ray of sunrise from the summit of the mountain above the clouds after hours walking, rushing to get there on time is something that I’ll never forget.
The hike is not too difficult as it is a prepared trail with shelters, but it is high and uphill all the time so it requires effort. We started hiking at the 5th station at 11 pm, to walk all night and get to the summit at 5 am for sunrise.
We were a bit uninformed and rookies on the weather for this hike so we weren’t truly prepared for the cold, and so when we got to the top; oh my god! it was so cold! the wind was heavy and we had to wait for almost an hour for the sunrise. However, when it was the time all the effort and cold we had to go through was forgotten.
You can plan your hike and see the different trails here.
This was one of my favorite places in Japan. The temples are beautiful, we visited during the fall and the fall foliage was absolutely fantastic. Although quite touristic it still maintains its quaint feeling.
The UNESCO World Heritage declared the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage as part of the "Sacred "Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range". The main objective of this pilgrimage is to visit the 3 main shrines of Kumano; Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Hayatama Taisha and Kumano Nachi Taisha. We decided to take the Nakaheshi - Imperial Route. This route was ideal as we were able to stay in traditional style lodges along the hike and visit some great Yunomine Onsen hot springs along the way. This was a great way to visit more remote areas in Japan and understand a bit more of the Japanese culture.
We visited the Miyajima Island (the Island of gods) set in the beautiful Seto Inland Sea. It was incredible to walk this historic island and visit the Itsukushima Shrine a World Heritage Site, the Virgin Forest of Mt. Misen and take pictures of the famous Torii Gate.
The time we spent in Japan was absolutely fantastic. We felt welcomed to a country far away with a lot of history and beautiful landscapes. People were helpful and polite, the hikes we took allowed us to see more remote villages and the way locals live there. We are thankful for this 3 weeks we got to enjoy in the land of the "Rising Sun" it is a trip we would recommend to anyone and a great gateway for the Eastern World.