Yokoso Nihon e
Translation: Welcome to Japan
Story and Photography by Tanya Mutton, Art Director – SpaceCoast LIVING
Japan: a bustling vibrant island with dense cities, imperial palaces, mountainous national parks, thousands of shrines and temples and, of course, exotic foods. I just returned from my second visit with my husband and it was just as exciting as my first. I was lucky enough to visit Tokyo, Yokohama and a small town near Mount Fuji called Gotenba, to name a few.
It’s a hustle and bustle lifestyle and if you’re not afraid to mingle and get out and about, you will find that the train system is the easiest and cheapest way to move about. All signs for the trains are in Japanese and English, unless you venture outside the main cities and then you will find, as we did, that you just have to wing it or hope your phone works to translate.
I personally love to visit the temples and shrines. Two of my favorites are the Shiba Park Temple and Senso-Ji Temple. I also loved visiting the Imperial Palace, Shibuya Crossing, and Ueno Park, which has museums, temples, monuments and gardens. This year we checked out a couple of the famous themed cafes, the Monster Café and the Owl Café. Tokyo has some of the best shopping and restaurants with a market for everyone. Most restaurants have picture menus, which is a life saver.
Be prepared for hotel rooms to be much smaller than what you are used to and quite expensive in the city areas, especially on the weekend. We stayed in a couple of rooms that were approximately 130 square feet. It was a challenge, but we had a good laugh as we had to plan where each of us would stand, just for the other to get to the bathroom. In Gotenba, a remote town south of Mount Fuji, we stayed in an executive suite, which was much larger and had a wet room with a Jacuzzi and sauna, a massage chair and karaoke all in the room. So the further off the beaten path you go, the more you get for your money.
Once you get the hang of the trains, the island is your oyster. We popped over to Yokohama, the second largest city in Japan, which is south of Tokyo. We used it as a base to get to Kamakura where we visited the Buddha of Kamakura, a 43-foot bronze statue that dates from 1252 and the second largest Buddha statue in Japan. Yokohama has the Cosmo Clock 21, a giant Ferris wheel with spectacular views of the city, especially at night.
We saw so much, it won’t all fit into this article, but my absolute favorite from both visits was our trip out to Mount Fuji as seen from the Hakone Peace Park. It is an iconic image that we have all seen, but to sit in front of it on a clear day just takes your breath away. Although I took many pictures, none seem to do the breathtaking and majestic view the justice it deserves.
For me, Japan was a complete break, with history and excitement at every turn. If you thrive on stepping outside of your comfort zone and immersing yourself in another culture, Japan should be on your bucket list.