My Top 10 Favorite Places and Experiences in Japan
In early April I visited Japan for the very first time. I hadn't planned to go to Japan this year, but I was able to get a cheap flight, so of course I jumped on it.
I started my journey in Tokyo. Then I went south to Yaizu. After that - Kyoto. Finally, I ended in Hakone. Here are my top 10 favorite places and experiences in Japan.
1. New New York Club (Tokyo)
Before going to Japan, I was eating oatmeal, eggs, avocados and peanut butter sandwiches for a month (minus the weekends). This sounds okay, but try it for a month. With a couple cheat days sprinkled in when I didn't have time to prepare my food before work or when I needed to make post workout chicken and veggies. This is the norm for me before going on a trip though. Why? For one, it helps me save money - a LOT of money. And two, if you eat the same things for a month and then go on a trip - the food experience you will have will be 10 times better! You will be hungry and ready to eat!
So, of course I am going to talk about food. First up, New New York Club. New New York club is located in Tokyo's Jiyugaoka. Jiyugaoka was a pleasant surprise. It is not far from Shibuya, but it has a much different vibe. It's a place you can really live. It is very chill.
I got off the train at Jiyugaoka Station and wandered the streets on the path Google Maps was taking me to get to New New York Club. I had to stop along the way to capture the moment because it was so beautiful, peaceful and quiet.
New New York Club is known for their rainbow bagels. Unfortunately, they only have them on Saturdays, and it was a Monday. So, I went with the smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel. And let me tell you...it did not disappoint. One thing I really love about Japan is that everything is made fresh. I do not mind waiting a little longer if my food is going to taste that much better.
2. Aoyama Flower Market TEA HOUSE (Tokyo)
This was a magical place. I had to wait in line for about 45 minutes, but that is another cultural norm in Japan. The Japanese will wait in line for hours, patiently. I don't mind waiting.
Anyone that knows me, knows that I LOVE flowers. Aoyama Flower Market TEA HOUSE let me be surrounded by them while also sipping on some fabulously delicious tea.
At the team house, you get to sit and have tea in a greenhouse. You are surrounded by plants and flowers. There is also a flower shop attached. WHAT MORE COULD YOU NEED IN LIFE? It was amazing. When my tea came, it came with an hourglass. I was instructed to not pour the tea until the time was up. Seriously? How fairytale is that? Is this Alice in Wonderland? Obsessed. I did not get anything to eat, but I kind of regret that. If you google them you will see why. Their food styling is almost as beautiful as the tea.
3. Tsukiji Fish Market (Tokyo)
I had to check out the largest fish market in the world. Seafood is my favorite type of food, so this was a must for me. The crowd there is crazy, so you really have to have patience to go here. The food makes it so worth it.
Japan is one of the largest strawberry producers in the world. It was around prime strawberry season while I was there, and the strawberries looked refreshing, so I got them. They were so juicy. The white strawberries - nicknamed "Hatsukoi no kaori" (Scent of First Love) - are very cool. When I think of a white strawberry I think of a strawberry that is hard and unripe. This is definitely not the case. These are actually crossbred. They have a sweeter taste resembling pineapple.
You know I had to get some seafood as well. Crab is my absolute, hands down, most favorite food on earth! It was a little challenging trying to eat it with chopsticks, so I eventually gave up and used my hands. You'll also find oysters as big as your face at the market.
4. Ueno Park and Yoyogi Park (Tokyo)
I feel very lucky to have been able to be in Japan during Sakura Season. If you didn't know, sakura is the Japanese word for cherry blossom. Sakura blossoms do not stay in bloom for long, so it is a once in a lifetime (if you do not live in or close to Japan) opportunity to see them in full bloom. They are in full bloom (in different parts of the country at different times) for about a week before peak season is over. The Japanese love seeing and taking photos of them just as much as foreigners do. They really are enchanting.
To celebrate the season, people gather on large tarps underneath the trees. They drink, talk, play games, take naps, read books, etc. Ueno Park was much more crowded than Yoyogi Park, so because of that I probably enjoyed myself and relaxed more at Yoyogi Park. However, there were more blossoms at Ueno Park, and it is really just a must-see park in Tokyo.
5. Yaizu & Shizuoka Prefecture
Yaizu is a small little town in Shizuoka Prefecture. I stayed here three or four nights. My favorite thing about Yaizu is the quietness. It is so quiet. It is a fishing town. I visited the coast on a sunny day. I just laid there on the concrete watching two Japanese men fish while soaking up the sun.
While in Yaizu, I made the drive to go check out the Yume no Tsuribashi Suspension Bridge. I had read before going to Japan that if you go to this bridge and make a wish for love in the middle - it comes true. Being the hopeless romantic that I am - I had to go. I was so excited, but I'm not even going to lie - when I got there I was so scared!
There are only allowed to be 10 people tops on the bridge at a time. I did it, and I'm glad I did. The water is so clear and blue. I can only imagine what it looks like in the summer on a sunny day with full foliage surrounding it.
From what I saw, I loved Shizuoka Prefecture. It was more country than city - much more nature - and I loved that.
6. Fujiyoshida (Yamanashi Prefecture)
One morning I set out on an adventure to go to Arakurayama Sengun Park in the city of Fujiyoshida to see Mount Fuji. I was leaving from Yaizu, so this was not an easy journey. First I took a train to Shizuoka Station. Then I took the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Mishima. When I got there, I knew I had to take the bus. I got on the bus, asked the bus driver if I was on the right bus and he tells me no. I am lost at this point. I asked a younger Japanese couple if they knew which bus I needed and where I needed to be. They did not speak English, but they knew where I was trying to go because I showed them the name. At this point they used a translation tool on their phone and asked me if I had a reservation. I said no. Then they typed "please follow" and had me follow them. They took me to the ticket booth that I needed to be at. Shoutout to those two!
I got my ticket. And after realizing I had JUST missed the bus, I had to sit there for an hour until the next one came. That was okay though. I decided to get some donuts and hot coffee in a can from the vending machine.
Once I got on the bus it was about an hour and a half drive to the next train station. After I got to the train station I needed to take one last train to Fujiyoshida. I wasn't sure if I was in the right place because I had already traveled so far, so I asked someone sitting on the train before I got on it. His name was Colin. He was from New Mexico and quit his job last year and has been traveling the world ever since (wow). He told me I was in the right spot. We exchanged Instagram accounts and then parted ways when it was my stop.
FINALLY I had made it to Fujiyoshida. There was no one in the streets. This is one thing that I love about the cities outside of Tokyo. It was so quiet, so peaceful. Another thing I love about Japan - as I was walking through the city streets, making my way to Arakurayama Sengun Park, I was not scared at all. People sometimes don't understand how different it is for a woman to travel alone. A lot of places in the world are not safe for solo female travelers. Japan, however, is the safest place in the world for just that.
Once I got to the park...I had no idea how many steps I was about to take to get to the top. Nearly 400 steps! I believe the actual number is 397, but you catch my drift. I was so out of breath. Once I got to the top I sat and waited for about an hour until I was able to capture a piece of Mount Fuji's peak for a photo.
One thing that is good to note is that most of the spring season Mount Fuji cannot be seen because of the clouds. So, if you're not in Japan for an extended stay, you either get to see the cherry blossoms or the mountain.
The trip back was more challenging because the bus trip was sold out and I was the only one waiting at this train station that looked like it was not in business. One panic attack later - I was able to get a ticket for a bus that was coming later that day! Crisis averted. The Japanese are so respectful and kind. If you ever need anything, just ask.
It was an adventure FOR SURE. I am glad that I took on the challenge.
7. 9hours Capsule Hotel (Kyoto)
When I was researching for my Japan trip I knew that I wanted to stay at a capsule hotel. I came across 9hours Kyoto. This is straight out of a space movie! So futuristic.
I walked from Kyoto Station to 9hours. It was about a 30 minute walk, but it was nice because I got to see temples and sakura blossoms on the way.
Once I got there I can't even explain how geeked I was! If you didn't know, you must take your shoes off at the door in Japan. So, I took my shoes off and checked in. Upon check in I received a key and a card. The key was for my shoe locker that was located along the wall at the very front of the entrance. The card was for my locker. I put my shoes in the locker and put on my 9hours slippers.
I took the female elevator up to the 3rd floor where the lockers and showers were located. To open my locker I held the card with the QR code on it up to the scanner. Inside my locker was a toothbrush, towels and clothes for sleeping in. From the 3rd floor I took the elevator up to the 5th floor. On the 5th floor there was a message on the door that read "Floors 2-5 are 'Ladies Only' Gentleman are not allowed." Once I opened the door I walked into a dark room that was lit up with sleeping capsules. I mean, come on, can it get any more futuristic? Am I on a spaceship? Like, what?
My capsule was on the top row. Once my day was over, I put on the sleeping clothes and climbed up into my capsule. To close it, you pull down the blind. There is a nice pillow and comforter inside. There is also a sleep ambient control system. The sleep ambient control system slowly turns the light off when you are ready to sleep and slowly starts to turn the light on at the time you have set to wake up.
I really enjoyed my experience at 9hours. The showers were great too. If I ever find myself in Kyoto again - I will for sure be staying there.
8. Gion (Kyoto)
After checking into 9hours, I decided that I wanted to go see the Buddhist temple Kiyomizu-dera. It was only a 27 minute walk from the hotel, but it took me over an hour to get there because I ended up wandering across Sakura tree lined bridges and into the area known as Gion.
Gion is a geisha district. It is very traditional and a must see. You will see many people walking around in kimonos.
There were so many people once I got to the temple that after awhile, I decided to just sit in the rain and take it all in. It is crazy to me how the main streets were so packed that you could barely move, and then you walk down a side street and you're the only one there. Those side streets were my jam.
I recommend that you take you time here. Get lost. You will be amazed at what you find.
9. Sekai no Yamachan (Kyoto)
Y'all thought I was done with the food? Never! Okay, so I didn't take any photos of my own for this one. So, I am going to input a link...click here. It had been a very long day, it was getting late and I was so hungry. Most places were either closed or sold out. Yes, sold out. That's how you know the food is fresh. So, when I saw chicken wings, I was like...that sounds so good. They hit the spot! I Don't know what the seasoning is, but I couldn't stop eating them. I think there are multiple locations in Japan. So, check this place out. I promise you, you will love it!
10. Onsen Experience (Hakone)
My last day in Japan I went to Hakone. Getting there was no joke. I have never been on roads that curvy before. Plus it was raining and foggy too. I was going to Hakone because I had booked a Japanese private onsen experience at Hakone Yuryo. What is an onsen you ask? A natural hot spring mineral bath. Basically a hot tub with minerals in the water.
Most onsen's you are not allowed to have tattoos. They did not ask at this place, however, the website does say no tattoos. My two small ones don't show, so I failed to mention it. After receiving the key to the private onsen, I went in search of the room. I booked a type 3 room for an hour and a half. There was a little sectional couch and table inside as well as a little room with a sink. The sliding door lead to the deck. Outside on the deck was a table and a shower area.
Trade in your clothes for a traditional robe that is provided if you do book the type 3 room. But remember, no clothes are allowed in the water. This is the culture.
Before getting into the onsen, you have to wash. They provide body wash, shampoo and conditioner. After washing, step into the 111 degree water. It felt so amazing. The sound of the rain on the leaves made it a perfect moment. I meditated. If I got too hot, I just sat on the rocks and let the rain fall on my arms.
My body and my skin felt and looked amazing after soaking in the onsen. This was the perfect ending to my time in Japan.
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove (Kyoto)
Fushimi Inari-taisha (Kyoto)
What I loved most about Japan was the people - so kind, so respectful, so helpful. I also loved the flowers and the nature that surrounded me throughout my journey.
If you have any questions, want to know more about my trip or need advice about an upcoming trip to Japan - please feel free to ask!
Also, don't forget to follow me on Instagram - @elsfaye.