It has already been two months since I came back from Japan, and the thought of this beautiful country still lingers. So I thought I should bring my memories back and share the experience and the fun of my 2-week getaway. Back in 2017, I got out of the box and began traveling abroad for the first time. Everyone has their dream country, and mine is definitely Japan for the fact that I find everything there flawless. So I had my flight booked, and things were never the same again; in a good way of course.
During that time, I had been to quite a lot of places in 10 days. The experience was totally awesome, I loved every single and little thing in that ravishing country. Since I love cold weather and couldn’t get enough of Japan, I decided to visit there again for a 2019 new year countdown. I stayed longer which was 2 weeks this time, and I went to even more places. Thanks to my Japanese and Cambodian friends there who spent their time during the trip with me. Without them, things would be very difficult and I wouldn’t have had so much fun.
I am going to describe places I went to and what I did in each prefecture that I was in. Since I had been there twice and both times were in winter, the experience was not so much different. Kinda get used to the environment there somehow, I plan to go there again in different season next year. Perhaps, for Olympic Games so stay tune!
Chiba is a quiet town with extra cold temperature compared to Tokyo, but it is very interesting. I began the trip by staying in Chiba for two nights because I have very good friends there. I haven’t gone to many places, but I did have a great time. The one experience that I had for the very first time was riding Monorail. Monorail is the train type of transportation but without rail, the train is attached to the beam above instead. If that makes sense. It was exciting to me because I haven’t seen such train before, and it was like flying as the train went forward.
The only place that I went to in Chiba was Lalaport, and it was totally worth it. The first thing that came into my mind was that why should I go to a port? As a matter of fact, Lalaport is the name of the biggest mall in Chiba that people really should visit. Lalaport is huge, and I would need the whole day to explore the whole place. There are many shops that people can shop or window shop for clothes, shoes, accessories, and anything they can name.
If you go on late December like I did, you will surely enjoy the sale that almost every store offers. The awesome thing is that it never goes wrong with Japanese clothes and products, the quality is always great. You can shop there as long as you like, and there are many food stores that you can go to eat at. Lalaport has their branches in different prefectures in Japan, so you can always find one.
One of the places that I will remember, Matsumoto is so cold and the temperature was always minus two and below. Matsumoto is the city in Nagano prefecture, and it is also a quiet town but full of food. The purpose of staying in Matsumoto was skiing, I thought it was the skiing resort. Little did I know that I had to ride a two-hour train to another city to ski. But still, I had a great time exploring that cold little town for 3 days before packing my ginormous luggage and moving on. There were a few places that I have been to in Matsumoto including:
The town is small, so I could just walk for about 20 minutes or so from the hotel to the castle. The bridge to the castle was closed when I was there, but the view of the area was incredible. No photos could do the justice of how beautiful the castle and the water around it was. The castle was one of Japan’s historic castles, and the external stonework of the castle itself makes it super stunning. I expected the snow there as I have seen in photos, but there was no snow at all although it was quite cold. Guess what the sad thing is, the snow covered the castle just two weeks right after I came back.
Nawate Dori Street aka Frog Street is only about 10 minutes of walking from Matsumoto Castle. As the name suggests, you will be welcomed by a statue of three frogs with samurai; pretty weird I know. There were more frog statues along the way greeting visitors from the entrance to the exit. You cannot ignore the satisfying smell of freshly baked Taiyaki (fish-shaped cake) as you walk in there, totally stomach-triggering. There were many antique souvenirs in the shops along the way, the street was short but absolutely unique.
I did some research related to the history behind all the frogs because that was just so doubtful. I found out that there were many Kajika Frogs (a type of frog) in the area until Typhoon 7 in 1959. The typhoon caused non-stop rain for 2 days in Matsumoto which caused the frogs to leave for a better place. Even after the typhoon, the frogs did not return so the people built artificial statues to bring the spirit back. Quite interesting, isn’t it?
The station of Matsumoto is extra fascinating compared to most stations that I have been to. That is because Matsumoto Station was the combination of the station and the mall. So basically we could have our breakfast, lunch, and dinner there since there are many choices to choose from. My Japanese friend introduced me to the popular food in town which was Karaage (fried chicken).
That went perfectly well with beer, to warm up in the weather of minus eight degree, you know. Alcohol is not good for you, drink more water 😀 Apart from the restaurants, the station also consists of various shops like clothes, souvenirs, snacks, and even grocery. With everything available, staying there was super convenient and fun.
This is where the two-hour train took me to, the skiing resort in Nagano Prefecture. People fell asleep on the train while the others were on their phone, I was not. I glued myself to the window as the train went from station to station because the view was mesmerizing. I started to feel excited when I saw little piles of snow as we got closer to the snowing area.
About an hour, the rails, the stations, the mountains, the lake, the trees, houses, and everywhere was covered with white blanket of snow. Might not be so impressive for people there, but I adore snow and that was a dream come true. Didn’t mind taking the gloves off and had my hands froze because Cambodia is damn hot I can warm up the whole year when I came back.
After two hours, we arrived Hakuba station to wait for the bus that takes us to Hakuba Skiing Resort. For free, yes. Most people brought their skiing gears while my friends and I waited to rent the gears at the resort instead. It was my first time going skiing, so I was super thrilled. Until I got to wear the skiing clothes, and those heavy and hard-to-walk-in skiing shoes. Putting on those clothing made my excitement faded a little, but I loved it still.
The price of renting skiing gears was around 50 to 60 dollars or 7000 Yen. Luckily, my Japanese friend’s father is a daily customer so we got a discount to only 2000 Yen per person. After around 30 minutes of getting ready, we finally walked to the skiing area where many people were already having fun.
Thought I would be straight up skiing like what I saw on YouTube, but it was terrifying; in both good and bad ways. I am small; to begin with, the skiing boots were super heavy which was very hard to walk in. Let alone me walking up the hills and sliding down, I could barely make 20 steps. So after about one hour of struggling, I gave up. I just couldn’t, I kept on sliding backwards and I was afraid of dying. To make myself feeling better, I went to build mini snowmen with a Mongolian friend of mine who couldn’t ski as well.
Let’s say there is always a first time for everything, and I am glad that I went skiing. At least I got to know how difficult it was for a beginner, and I will try harder next time. Hopefully, I will be able to walk further and ski down from the hills since my Japanese friend and her father promised to teach me. It was just one day, and my entire body was aching already; but it was totally worth it.
At the night of my fifth day in Japan, I took a night bus from Matsumoto to Osaka. That would be the third prefecture of my trip, and I also went to Osaka last year as well. Osaka is quite far from Matsumoto, so it took about 5 or 6 hours on the bus. Thankfully, the bus was super comfortable; at least for me. We arrived Osaka at 6AM in the morning, and we waited at Starbucks for another friend to join us. Then, we began our trip right away at 8AM because the hotel check-in was at 2PM.
First stop, Sembayashi. After putting my ginormous luggage into coin lockers, we took the train to Sembayashi. It is the shopping area that was still not so busy at 8AM, but there were some shops that were already in business. There were food, snacks, and even organic vegetables as well as many more things along the way. We spent only about 20 minutes exploring Sembayashi because there was not much to see. Then we headed for breakfast nearby right away before moving on to the next destination.
After walking around and sightseeing the peaceful city for a while, we went to Namba. Namba has a lot of things to see and explore but owl cafe was my main destination. Too bad the cafe closed on that day because it was the countdown day so the owner might have been busy. Namba is more fun to walk in the evening and at night, so we decided to spend our noon in Round 1.
Round 1 is an entertaining center flooded with people from both local and international every day. We went there for bowling, that was when I had my first bowling experience; and it was quite fun. It took us an hour to finish bowling, and as expected, I was the one with the lowest score among four of us. Then, we spent another hour walking from one claw machine to another with the hope of catching something. None of us got anything.
“Somewhere” In Osaka
At 1, we came back to the station to take our luggage from coin lockers and went straight to the hotel. We stayed at APA Hotel, and we spent our afternoon resting before getting ready for new year countdown that night. I heard that it was fun to do the new year countdown in Osaka, perhaps my expectation was too high.
We left for dinner at around 9, we chose Yakiniku (Japanese barbecue); my most favorite meal. The thing about Yakiniku is that they have limited time for us to eat like 60 minutes or 90 minutes. By the time we finished our meal, it was already 11-ish. We couldn’t make it to the place where we wanted to go for countdown. We ended up saying “Happy New Year” to each other in front of a Family Mart.
I was sad to miss the countdown at a more crowded and fun place, but I did get myself a new experience in Japanese culture. We walked to a shrine nearby where people were lining up to pray for their new year’s spirit. So I learned how to pray in Japanese style, and it was pretty cool; at least to me. It was super fun, and we went back to our hotel after 1AM in the morning.
That is where the map suggests, we came for brunch here after a long night rest. There, we had Okonomiyaki (vegetables and eggs) and Yakisoba (friend noodles) which were cooked right in front of us. As far as I remember, the area is full of food of many kinds that everyone can choose from. Most of the food is seafood and fish, typical Japanese food that we are all aware of. After brunch, we went to the zoo; Tennoji Zoo.
Tennoji Zoo is a big zoo in Osaka where you can see a lot of animals of many species. I was here before last year, but I only had the time to explore half of the zoo. So I came back again this time with my friends to see the whole thing. We were there from 1:30PM until almost 5PM in the evening, then we took the train to Osaka Castle.
First of all, I am deeply in love with nightlights. I find them absolutely astounding and delightful to see, and Osaka Castle had just the thing which definitely pleased my four eyes. The ticket was 1200 Yen for the entrance, and it was absolutely worth it. The light and the music were so beautiful, and the weather was minus three if I’m not wrong. We stayed there for about 2 hours, and we had to run through the rain to get dinner when we left.
Tired but still energetic, the two friends of mine decided they want to play Ping Pong so we went to Round 1 again. Well, that was because we couldn’t walk under the rain back to the hotel since it was kinda freezing cold. After an hour, the table tennis tournament ended and the rain also stopped. We called it a long and fun day, and we rested for our journey the next day.
I spent like three hours in Kyoto last year and it was not enough, so I spent the whole day there this year. There are a lot of places to go in Kyoto, and most of them are religious sites. Even if I am not religious, I still couldn’t resist the beauty of the architect in each temple. As a matter of fact, I had been to many shrines and temples in Japan this year.
We began our morning visiting Inari Shrine in Fushimi, which is about 30 minutes from Osaka. The place where expectation collides nowhere near the reality. Photos on the Internet showed the clear roads and paths to the shrine. While me, have to walk among hundreds of people right from the train to the shrine on the mountain. The good part in spite of the crowd was the food along the way up which keeps you company. Just so you know, steak was also there as well for only 500 Yen. It was super crowded but not so bad, totally a place to visit at least once in Kyoto.
After we left Inari Shrine, we went to see another beautiful temple called Kinkaku-ji aka Golden Pavilion. The temple was a great structure of Zen Buddhist, and it is also one of the most popular buildings in Japan as well. The beautiful part was the pond that reflects the golden temple along with 10 smaller islands nearby. I hope the photo I took do a little justice to the real beauty of the temple itself. I did try my best.
Sightseeing did not take long, and my friends bought sake with “gold flakes” from there. It is a common thing for gold flakes sake or ice cream there because it is the golden area of Golden Pavilion. Apart from seeing the temple, you can also do some praying there as well. The place is nice and relaxing, and it is quite nice.
Begged my friends to take me to the famous bamboo forest although they said it was already too dark. It gets dark pretty quickly in winter because the sun was already gone by 4:30PM. Still, they took me there and yup the beauty that I saw from the Internet was nowhere to be seen. At least we got to eat some nice and warm sweet potatoes there.
I did venture a little into the forest despite the fact that it was a little quiet and creepy. After 5 minutes, we arrived a small shrine where people pray for love and happiness. I couldn’t read but I could tell it was for love since many wooden platespeople that people used to pray was all in heart-shaped. Then we came back for dinner before we went back to the hotel.
Nara, the beautiful land of deer where I have been longing to go since last year has finally became my destination this year. I also arranged a meeting with two of my best Japanese friends there as well. I knew it was going to be very fun, and it was indeed. We had brunch together before we walked to Nara Park where all the deer walk free among people. You can touch them, pet them, and feed them; but there are certain things that you should know.
Japanese people are polite, so are their deer so you gotta bow at them to show respect before feeding them. You can actually feed them without bowing, but some will refuse to receive your offer. There are deer crackers that you can buy for 150 Yen for a bunch of 10 ten, or you can feed them apples. The deer are nice and all but they are still wild animals, so remember to careful. There have been a lot of reports on them injured the tourists especially this year, so be careful.
After the feeding session, we walked further to Heijo Palace which is a huge structure. Not just the palace, even the entrance itself as well as the statues were humongous. I did not get to walk in the castle, but my friends told me that everything is spectacular in there. It was quite cold in Nara, but the experience was definitely memorable.
What I love the most about Nara was the deer, indeed. I love animals, and getting to feed and touch them is one of the best things for me to have ever done. It was also fun watching my Japanese best friends being chased by the deer when they ran out of crackers to feed them. Nara is very nice in both weather and the area itself, the place I will definitely go again for sure.
*Then we went back to Osaka for dinner*
Dotombori is a very busy and crowded tourist destination that tourists should go to, things are amazing there. Also, Dotombori is the right place to get souvenirs at reasonable price in Japan. The one thing I love to eat in Dotombori is Takoyaki (little balls with squid inside). The nightlife there is always full of people, and there are shopping malls, food, souvenir shops, and everything you can name. If you want to shop, you can save all of your money for Dotombori. I went straight poor when I was there last year, but it was so worth it.
It would be incomplete coming to Japan without dropping by in Tokyo. In fact, I did take a train to Tokyo (well that sounds so wrong for dirty-minded people) since my first day in Japan. I went to Shibuya which is a very busy city ward in Tokyo that you always see in the photos. However, it was further from Osaka to Tokyo, so I took Shinkansen there instead. It was my first time on Shinkansen, and it took about 4 hours from Osaka to Tokyo. I have been to several places in this city, and I am going to describe all of them here. So let’s take a tour with me.
I am kinda lost count of how many days that I had been in Japan by the time arrived Tokyo. Perhaps the 10th day, and Shinjuku was where I stayed for the rest of the trip before I came back. By the time I arrived Shinjuku Station, it was already late afternoon. So I checked in, rest a while before getting ready to have dinner with some friends in Tokyo.
There are many places to have dinner in Tokyo, but I always prefer Yakiniku and Shabu-Shabu. So my friends and I went to Shabu-Shabu for dinner, and just like Yakiniku, there is time limitation. We spent 90 minutes on our dinner, and we walked around a little before me coming back to the hotel.
The next day which was 5th of January, I spent the evening in Shinjuku shopping. Just a friendly reminder, there are not too many places to get souvenirs in Shinjuku. There are more clothing stores rather than souvenir shops, so please be aware of that. Took me like an hour to finally found a store where I could get some snacks back for my friends and students.
Let’s call him my brother, he is like an older brother to me. So my brother went from Chiba to Tokyo and took me around Tokyo in the morning. We began by going to Yoyogi Park where Meiji Jingu Shrine located. The shrine is somehow on the mountain which we had to walk quite far to get to the top. As we arrived, there were hundreds or even thousands of people were standing in lines waiting for their turn to pray.
My brother told me that people usually go there on New Year’s Eve or after New Year’s Eve to pray. I went with the flow, and I did some praying too. I am not a religious person, if one day I become one, Japan is definitely the country that makes me that way. After praying, we went to buy the Omamori (Japanese amulet sold at Shinto shrines) nearby. Omamori comes in many forms of protection and luck that you can choose from. The price also comes in many forms as well.
Despite the fact that I don’t believe in that kind of stuff, I got myself a Safe Traveling Omamori too. For 1,000 Yen. So this Omamori supposes to keep me safe and happy wherever I travel to. All I have to do is bringing it with me to places that I go. Not my kind of thing, but I can blend in pretty well with this new experience.
The perfect place to get souvenirs in Japan is Asakusa, a crowded place full of people. Asakusa is not just a shopping area, there is also a temple where you can pray for peace as well. Common souvenirs there are key chains, a lot of them with different designs and looks. You can also find many more things like clothes, food, and many more. Asakusa is always crowded no matter if it is morning or afternoon time, and the crowd is what makes the place itself interesting.
Tokyo Sky Tree
Came here for the second time, and did not get to go up the building again for the second time. There is always a long line of people, and I am not a fan of hours-waiting. Apart from seeing the building, and going up there to see Japan from above which I didn’t get to go, there is nothing more. So we just walked around then ended up sitting in the mall because my feet was dying. By 4PM, the sun was already off duty so we moved on the next place. Yes, on foot.
Shibuya is super crowded, especially at night. This city ward is full of people from everywhere for the fact that the place is magnificent. As soon as I walked out of the train station, the first thing I saw was the statue of Hachiko. Perhaps some of you might have known about the story of this loyal Japanese dog. The statue was of where the he waited for his owner to come back home who had already passed away at work.
Well, the next good thing I saw after I walked passed the statue was a handsome man with a “Free Hug” sign. Sorry not sorry, but it would be so unkind if I walked pass him without getting the free hug, right? Right 😀 That is one of the things I love about this ward, you can see anything there. I remembered when I was there last year and I walked pass a sex toy shop and freaked out. Japan has everything, and I love literally everything there; except that toy shop.
The best time to explore Shibuya is at night where the lights are on and the crowd is formed. The signature photo of the city is the crossing where people from all directions walking at once. There is no better way in saying “Welcome to Tokyo” than crossing this astounding traffic light stop. After that, you will be able to see the tall buildings, restaurants, clothing stores, and many more. I can never get enough of this place, and I will never get tired of coming here again and again.
I am aware that this article is super long and somehow boring to read, but I can’t help writing it. Places that I have been to will become memories, and I will eventually forget them one day. So by writing, I am so sure I will be able to come back and read them to recall the fun. If you make it to the end, thank you so much for the effort and time spent. Just about 4,400 words in total which sums up my whole vacation. In case you want to read more, there are a few articles on places that I went to in Japan last year. An expensive country indeed, but it is worth every single Yen I spent.