Ever since I read Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha, Japan has been on my bucket list of countries to visit. With its unique history and natural beauty there are so many wonders to discover, even for the most seasoned traveller. But it is not all about geisha’s, samurai’s, zen gardens and tea ceremonies, Japan is a country of wonderful contrasts. Visiting its big cities is like stepping into the future. Wedding photographer Michelle Wiese and her family spent 7 days in this magnificent country and gave us a glimpse of their time there. The family started their visit in Tokyo, Ikebukuro, and then travelled with the Bullet train to Kyoto for 3 days.
What was the highlight of your time in Japan?
One day really stood out for me. We went for a hike in the mountains of Kibune, just outside the city in Kyoto. We were surrounded by infinite forest trees and waterfalls. We even saw a Geisha as she was going into a restaurant that’s built over the river. We also went to Edo for the day, which was a great experience! It is built to represent an old village and here you’ll be able to see ninja performances, beautiful old Japanese architecture and eat some amazing Japanese food.
I would suggest visiting the Nikko to visit Tobu World Square, which features detailed reconstructions of the world’s most famous buildings and historic sites 1/25th of its original size. Edo Wonderland is another must-see, which is built like an old Japanese village from the Edo-period. Also try and go to the most famous geisha tea house, the Ichiriki Chaya. There you are almost guaranteed to see a geisha. We only visited two temples, because you really do see them everywhere you go, but Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto is great because it was founded in 798 and not a single nail was used in the entire structure! When it comes to dining out, be aware that most restaurants don’t have an English menu and you’re most likely to choose your food by looking at the picture, which does make it fun! But be sure to ask the waiter if they have a cover charge or any extra charges. We paid 10% extra on each meal and R150 per person cover charge (which they didn’t tell us). You have to try Wagyu beef, it is amazing and you’ll see it everywhere in Kyoto.
We stayed in the Khoasan Backpackers in Kyoto. This is the perfect place to stay if you’re looking for clean, affordable accommodation. It’s location is ideal because you’re close to the main part of Kyoto city. There are many tourists from all over the world and everyone shares tips on where to go. The staff was great and very helpful!
The food in Japan is fantastic. They offer tasting samples everywhere – be sure to visit the Daimaru food floor (You will find them in almost every department store). We went to a barbeque style restaurant where you get to prepare your own meal over hot coals. We had Wagyu beef which is definitely the best steak I’ve ever tasted! Laksa soup is delicious – it’s spicy with prawns and lots of seafood. I also loved the green tea ice cream, often served with black beans and otabe, a soft, sweet triangular sweets that almost taste like pancakes. My favourite thing was Macha, finely-milled green tea flavoured chocolates.
The people in Japan really are incredible. They treated us with the utmost respect, in fact we felt like royalty wherever we went. Even when buying something small in a store, the shop owner would walk with me to the door, carrying the item I bought, thanking me over and over again.
Any tips for other travellers making their way to Japan.
1. There aren’t a lot of English speaking people, so be prepared – but it’s not necessary to take a Japanese dictionary. When you enter a store, you will always hear them say “Irasshaimase. (I-ra-shy-ma-seh)” Do not say this back – it means welcome to my shop. We kept on saying this for days and they would always laugh at us.2. If you go in summer, there’s no need to pack any warm clothes. It does rain every day though, so perhaps take a lightweight rain jacket.3. Coffee is very expensive, and if you need you caffeine kick in the morning, maybe take some coffee with you.4. It’s really worth the effort to take good hiking shoes. You will use them to explore the beautiful surroundings.