If there is anything life has taught me, it would be that there is always a silver lining if you look closely enough. COVID-19 has not really affected my hours of work however has reduced my traveling to nil - More time for you guys (not that you are not a priority but hey-ho🤷🏾♂️)
Now the reason for this article - This amazing country where there is almost everything to love about it (food, people, cars, landmarks - It is actually very difficult to find one thing not to like about it). It is one of those which has always been high on my list but the logistics of which were never simple as other trips and I have always postponed.
The first thing I loved when arriving at Kansai international airport is that the airport is on an island, although artificial but can you actually believe it?!
Getting to Japan
I need to share this as I am travelling with one of the world's weakest passports - Senegal. I was required to apply for a visa well in advance and if you know me a little you can tell that I do not like being away from my passport for long. The best part though was that I was asked to provide a detailed itinerary of what I will be doing once in Japan...And I am not a planner so resorted to just listing the cities I wanted to see and the landmarks but received a call from the embassy that my itinerary is impossible to make given the timeframe and on a very suspicious tone, asked me what is it that I am really intending to do in Japan - Thankfully the number of stamps in my passports have given some credibility and showed that hardcore traveling and long distances within a short period of time were just my thing. I mean...Do I need to justify why?
I also needed to let it out there that traveling seldom comes worry-free. My first attempt at going to Japan was aborted when I had an overnight stopover in Rome and, with our flight arriving late, I missed the car rental I was supposed to pick up. Now the trouble simply did not end there because having lost quite a lot of money (thank you Ryanair), I decided it was just simpler to sleep in the lounge however that was closed too! I ended up sleeping rough. The next day, I managed to pick up a new rental car and checked in since the flight was in the afternoon but got caught in a massive traffic jam on my way back to the airport and missed my flight! The cost to book me another flight was around £1,500, therefore, I decided to go to Turkey instead and plan this journey again.
Where to stay?
Frankly, I would not know. This was my first trip where I did not make any accommodation arrangments. I only rented a car and was just going with the flow, wherever the wind would take me. I simply was booking AirBnB as and when needed.
My journey through Japan has taken me through Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya and finally Tokyo (not quite how it was planned when applying for the visa). This is normally a 500km journey which takes a little over 6 hours to complete but I had decided to spend 2 days per city. One thing that is just striking with Japan is that is probably cleaner than the cleanest country you have been to, it is embedded in the culture and it is considered rude to be eating in public.
PS: Be careful of the tolls as I ended up spending more money on tolls than on the car rental and petrol combined! It is also always important to check the entrance fee to some of these landmarks as there may be changes.
Osaka is the third-largest city, by population, in Japan and is the home to the Universal Studios and the world-famous Osaka castle. It is a very vibrant place with an endless list of things to do.
Also known as Sumiyoshi Grand Shrine, this is the biggest (over 30 auxiliary shrines) and most important shrines in the Osaka area, it welcomes over 2 million people for Hatsumode, the traditional first shrine visit of the year. It is mainly known worshiped for protection or luck. It is over 1500 years old, yet stands super strong as she was recently built.
The main shrine is usually just a stone-throw away from the bridge you're seeing on the picture above...
Entrance fee: Nil
Osaka castle is located in Chūō-ku and is another Japanese marvels built a very long time ago and has witnessed numerous events take place before it, one of which was surviving the airstrikes during the second world war.
The castle is on a hill and requires a bit of walking (very nice walk though) around a little river where you can actually sail on for a fee.
You can even find some people chilling on the benches around the garden.
And the castle is about 10 minutes walk up the hill. It has got a nice breakout area with loads of green space.
PS: Because it is such a big building, it is difficult to get a close shot and not miss a bit of the castle
On the way down, I had the chance to play with some pretty birds...
Entrance fee: ¥600/£5/$6
This is just what the Champs-Élysées is to Paris or Oxford street to London. It is of the principal tourist destinations in Osaka and is sitting across a canal where boats are hired.
You can find so many food outlets around Dotonbori...
The Dotonbori canal...
Entrance fee: Nil
Kyoto is the home of the yukata (Traditional gown in Japan - I actually got mine from a shop on Matsubara-dori called Zen - The shopkeeper went out of her ways to help me find the right yukata), the classical Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, and amazing gardens. It is also known for a particular type of dining called Kaiseki and the Geishas (a lot of people have asked me about them and I have seen some in the Gion district but was not particularly impressed). The city is so clean you can walk barefooted the whole time and not risk a sting from any litter.
This was happy me, after I have tried at least 10 yukatas and sat down by the Japanese table to have a chat with the shopkeeper. PS: No shoes are allowed in some places so beware!
Fushimi Inari Taisha
Probably the most famous man-made landmark in Japan. This edifice is dedicated to the Shinto god of rice and hosts some thousand shrines within its perimeter. There is also a set of orange forming a rather mesmerizing corridor called Fushimiinari Shrine Senbontorii that appears on most people's Instagram posts.
My favourite part, however, is the top of Mount Inari, that most people tend to overlook due to the hard climb but it offers an unobstructed view of the city and the fresh air this place provides is just more than refreshing - Definitely worth the effort.
NB: Just for your knowledge, to get to the top of Mount Inari, one must climb 233m, spread across 4km (2.5mi) and take about 2 hours to get up there.
Entrance fee: ¥300/£2.5/$3
Another must-see Buddhist temple while in Kyoto. It is also known as the Pure Water Temple and offers another great opportunity to have a nice sight of the city and its natural charm and pretty flowers. The temple is part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage site.
My favourite part of the temple is the terrace with a 180-degree view down on the city.
Entrance fee: ¥300/£2.5/$3
A perfect spot to end a day after the craze of other tourist attractions (if you pick your time well), Ginkaku-Ji Temple has this very beautiful Japanese garden with literally all you would expect.
I found my favourite spot on the bridge crossing the water point.
Entrance fee: ¥500/£4/$5
This is the Airbnb I bagged when I was in Kyoto - A traditional Japanese hotel where no shoes are allowed ...
...and they have very strict rules too...
Nagoya is a city in central Japan, 350km East of Tokyo, and is the heart of the automotive industry in Japan. It is also known for museums, Matsuri (A unique festival that only takes place in October), a few temples, and one of the biggest Sumo tournaments in the country.
The Nagoya castle was built for a governor of the Suruga province and the reason I was so eager to visit was because of its history. This gem has been through earthquakes and the world war airstrikes.
The inside of the castle has been restored however is not accessible to visitors.
I think learning about the history of the Nagoya castle has achieved nothing but strengthen my admiration of Japan, the culture, the grit of its people, and the beauty of its story.
Entrance fee: ¥500/£4/$5
Capitals are not usually my first choice for a trip but Tokyo is just not your average city. It is surreal how captivating this place is. One striking thing about Tokyo is that there is a perfect balance between tradition and technology - This, to my perspective, has been achieved by a very low number of countries (rightly or wrongly, I judge not).
So I saw this car park from the future and had to try it out. Due to the demographics of the city, parking space is limited but the Japanese had also a future-proof way parking cars - The car park does the parking for you, how impressive is that?
Nine Hours Shinjuku North
I stayed at the 9-hours, another must-do in Tokyo. Can you imagine sleeping your own bubble - Literally? 9-hours is probably one of the coolest hotels you can stay in Tokyo. The traditional hotel rooms give way to small bubbles, just deep enough to house me for the night.
This is just not good for a light sleeper like myself. The guy next to my bubble was just so loud... But I would still do it again (Call me crazy!).
My cell number was 418. "Inmate Nouche, you may enter your cell!!
Even for a day, I would advise you to visit this place. You can find their website below:
Rate per night: Around ¥5000/£40/$50
So this is a very particular thing that I have noticed while in Tokyo...The internet cafes. In fact, they look nothing like an internet cafe for they have showers, beds (yes, beds!), libraries and other amenities. Who would want to spend the night at an internet cafe? Well clearly some do...
This was my tatami and PC for half a day ...
Otherwise known as Reinbō Burijji, the rainbow bridge is a suspension bridge just on the outskirts of Tokyo and joins the 798m gap between the Shibaura Pier and the Odaiba waterfront development in Minato.
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
Imagine a big and colourful garden right in the heart of a buzzing city...It is a reality in Tokyo and it is called Shinjuku Gyoen. It is special because it was once the residence of the Naitō family (a samurai kin group) at some point.
Entrance fee: ¥200/£1.6/$2
Sensō-ji or Asakusa Kannon is an ancient Buddhist temple located in Asakusa, probably the most famous in Tokyo too. Legend has it that some 1,300 years ago, two brothers fished a statue of Kannon (the goddess of mercy) from the Sumida River and would always have the statue returned to them despite their effort to put her back in the river.
You can see the Tookyo skytree from the zebra crossing right outside Senso-ji.
Before approaching the temple, you would have to walk through a shopping street, called Nakamise, an opportunity to buy some snacks and souvenirs.
A few more photos of the inside of the temple...
Entrance fee: ¥1,000/£8/$10
This is the most dynamic area in Tokyo, it is a major commercial and business hub. It houses the two busiest railway stations in the world, Shinjuku Station and Shibuya Station. It also boast the world's busiest zebra crossing.
The number of people walking through Shibuya is just impressive!
This brings us to the end of my little trip to the land of the rising sun. There is a plenty of activities I did not get a chance to do and countless landmarks I could not be lucky enough to visit however Japan has left a lasting impression on me and it one of the countries I would definitely like to return to someday.
I hope the article has sparkled some interest to visit the country and discover its numerous marvels.