Japan part one

So last year, right after we came home from a successful trip to Southeast Asia with our little one, we decided almost immediately to take a long trip to Asia again this year. We picked Japan and bought three round trip tickets to Tokyo. For months we didn’t know wether we’d spend the whole time in Japan, and thought we might take a trip off to Bali or the Philippines or something, but we ended up going only to Japan for the whole four weeks.

Now you might think Japan for four weeks is going to be both ridiculously expensive and immensely exhaustive. And you could be right. But for us it was neither.

Our itinerary was following:

  • One week in Tokyo
  • One week in Kyoto
  • Ten days on a beach
  • Three days in Tokyo

We mostly stayed in Airbnb homes, which I tend to prefer when traveling with a small child. It’s usually more spacious and gives you some room to retreat and relax when the child needs to sleep and you need some peace and quiet without having to sit in a dark hotel room and whisper to each other. Initially we had booked a small Tokyo flat for the first week, probably not much bigger than a hotel room, but due to a change in regulations our host was forced to cancel only two weeks before. This was slightly stressful for us, but Airbnb gave us a full refund plus coupons so we ended up getting a much bigger and more expensive flat for the same price. Lucky us! However, the flat was only available for the last five nights of our stay in Tokyo, so we got a hotel in Shinjuku for the first two nights. Now I didn’t know this before we traveled, but Shinjuku is probably the craziest and most entertaining neighbourhood of all in Tokyo. Which was fun for two days, but also enough when you’ve traveled across seven time zones and have a two year old with you. Our move to Ginza/Tsukiji was a welcome one. I’ll write more detailedly about our time in Tokyo in another blog post.

We traveled to Kyoto by train. This was quick and easy. Actually, I’ll have to write a separate blog post on transportation and how it worked with Maya. Finding our Airbnb house was also relatively easy, as it was in Tofukuji, a one stop train ride from Kyoto station, and very close by Tofukuji station. The house was amazing! Close your eyes and imagine a typical traditional Japanese house. That was exactly what it was like. Now, Kyoto is like that. It’s what you imagine a traditional Japanese city to be like; very fairy tale-like. But the week we spent there was very, very hot. The sun was scorching hot and temperatures reached 38 degrees celsius and pretty high humidity. We tried to bike around, but after one day decided to take trains and only walk minimally. Luckily pretty much everywhere is air conditioned, and the AC in our house was excellent. Except for the places that Felipe went to train Judo — they were like saunas! Anyways, we did some day trips – to Osaka and Nara – I’ll detail those in another blog post.

In Kyoto we were lucky to stumble upon the Gion Matsuri festival, which takes place in Kyoto every July. It’s not what you think of as a festival – or it is in some sense, but in a very Japanese way. When there were parades and processions or other things happening in the streets at night time the streets got extremely crowded. But there was never chaos, overly drunk people, fighting or crime of any sorts. As Japanese people are very polite and orderly they walked on the left side of the road, and ever had guards telling you when you could and couldn’t cross certain streets, people collecting rubbish from people (yes, from people, not from the ground) and people respected the order. If you ever want to go to a festival but think festivals are to loud and messy, go to one in Japan. Oh, and Maya loved the rhythms and the lamps and all that.

On our first evening in Kyoto we stumbled upon this very nice little beer garden with different food trucks. The place is called Neo Sujin, and I highly recommend it! We wanted to return, but the rest of the week it got much warmer in the evenings, and we couldn’t take sitting out in the open air to eat. I’d imagine an autumn evening there to be perfect for cocktails or beers and different snacks. Otherwise in Kyoto we saw a lot of very impressive temples like the Tofukuji temple, the Fushimi-Inari shrine complex, the Kinkaku-ji golden temple and the Kiyomizu-dera temples. There are many others to see in Kyoto, but with a toddler you can only see so much before it grows into a hassle. We prefer to take our time and make each sight a little bit if an adventure, and also let Maya stop and smell the flowers on the way (or whatever she wished to do). Also, it was extremely hot, and we just couldn’t bear being out all day doing touristy stuff. We would typically see one or two temples or shrines per day, and spend the rest of the day in an air conditioned place, like our house, restaurants or shopping malls.

From Kyoto we took three trains and a bus to get to our house on the beach. It sounds like a hassle when you put it like that, but it was the smooth and easy, like most things in Japan. For the next ten days all we did was play on the beach, eat, sleep and relax. That is, Felipe would surf once or thrice a day, but other than that, not much was done. A few of the evenings we took the local bus for ten minutes and ate in town. Shimoda, which is the name of the place, is a really sleepy fishing village, where people only seem to work when they really fell like it. Restaurants and shops were mostly closed, and if they were open you were sure to be denied a table at least a few times during a search for a nice meal, even though there were plenty of free tables there. We had plenty of nice food throughout our journey, but one of the restaurants that really stood out was a place called RE-MIX, located close to our house in an inconspicuous garage with only three tables and no AC. The chef had previously worked in NYC and we were told the food was French, but it was by no means French in anything but the cooking techniques he used. The ingredients were local and super fresh. Actually they mostly came from his garden, we believe. And he served a salad that changed the way I feel about salads. And I love salads already! He basically used different techniques to different vegetables, and placed them together on a plate. Some things were raw, some baked, some marinated, some pickled. And it was divine!

For the remaining three days we stayed in a hotel in Shibuya. There was a typhoon coming in over Shimoda when we left the place, and it followed us to Tokyo. It got pretty wet and windy, but during the same summer the rains had flooded other areas of Japan and been pretty devastating so we considered ourselves very lucky. During these last few days we repeated some of the things we’d really enjoyed the first time around, like going to the outer part of the Tsukiji fish market, and ate some of the things we regretted not having eaten already. When you come to an end of a long holiday like this, you are usually a bit tired of it and want to go home, but we were still having lots of fun just looking at things and eating and walking around and did not want it to end. Which is good, I guess. Ending on a high.

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