Two Weeks in Japan
Updated: Jul 2
The One Where He Proposed
Since first getting together in 2015, David and I have made traveling a priority! Besides visiting Mexico and Canada, I hadn't really traveled internationally across seas. When it was time to start planning our next big trip, we decided Japan would be the perfect destination! Although I still haven't been to Europe, David spent two months backpacking with his sister, so he wanted to mix it up with an Asian destination. Plus, Japan was always a top choice for me since I love sushi, Pokémon, and anime! 🤓
Out of the two of us, David is the travel planner! I'll put in a few details here and there, but otherwise, I like to let him handle the rest. For this trip, we took two weeks (October 20 through November 3rd) and visited Kyoto to Tokyo and various cities in between. If you're considering your next travel destination, I highly recommend thinking about Japan. It was a fabulous trip that gave us beautiful sights, a new culture to experience, and delicious food! This post will recount fun memories and sum up the trip, but if you're looking for information on the logistics, feel free to check out David's version at Optimized Wandering. There he covers the trip from his perspective and includes more cost and logistics side of everything!
From San Fran to Osaka to Kyoto
We left for the airport at 7:00am on October 20th! We had a brief layover in San Francisco before boarding our 12 hour flight to Kansai International Airport in Osaka! This was by far the longest flight I had ever taken. Before this, it was a 5 or 6 hour flight to Kauai. In some ways, it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, but considering I'm usually a really great sleeper in vehicles, I was disappointed that I struggled to sleep so much! The good part about traveling with a friend or partner is that you can share leg space (woohoo!). We had fun and recent movies to watch for entertainment and they had surprisingly good meals for the long flight!
After switching between napping and movies and Sudoku, we finally arrived around 4:00pm on October 21st! The first few things I noticed were that the airport resembled a multi-level shopping mall, it had various posters of Japanese characters like this fun Mario and Toad poster behind us, and the toilet seats were warm! This was a trend throughout Japan and while it was super weird at the beginning, it was surprisingly nice on those chillier mornings. 😂 Anyways, we purchased some rail passes and rode a train to Kyoto!
Staying at the Yoshimizu Inn
For our visit in Kyoto, we stayed at the Yoshimizu Inn! In order to get there from our bus stop (after our train ride) we had to cross through Maruyama Park in the dark, while it was pouring rain (a theme for this trip, I'd say)! We brought our Columbia rain jackets which held up nicely, but our pants were constantly soaked. Despite the lack of vision, rain, and being in a new environment, we eventually arrived at the inn! Since this inn is a guest house, we had to remove our shoes each time before leaving the entrance room, but we were given slippers to wear inside. After checking in, we were taken to our room!
We were there for three nights and were even upgraded to a suite! It was really nice because rather than just having a single room and a separate bathroom downstairs, we now had two rooms and our own private restroom (showers were still downstairs though). We came to really appreciate the two rooms because it meant that we never had to put our bed away to enjoy the provided hot tea at the table. Although the bath/shower areas were downstairs, they were still private rooms which was nice! One of the larger bathrooms also had a small bath which was fun to try. This inn was so cute and the staff was amazing!
One of my favorite parts about this inn was the free breakfast! Unlike some hotels in the states where you have some cold cuts and cheese for breakfast, this inn provided a delicious, diverse meal every day. It was so fun too because one of the hosts wrote our names and placed it at a different table each time, so every guest had their own little seating arrangement. I thought it was a cute touch that made it feel very personalized! Each morning, we were able to have hot tea, coffee, or water. We made ourselves toast and there were rotating soups, fruit, and eggs depending on the day. It was a nice that it alternated for variety and everything was always delicious (and proportioned in a healthy way)!
Day One - The Walking Tour
Our first big activity was a walking tour through Kyoto Free Walking Tour. Walking tours are great ways to learn about the city from locals, while also getting some exercise! Our guide took us around the Gion and Higashiyama district. He was extremely friendly and very knowledgeable which made the tour quite enjoyable! We learned about Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples, geisha life, and much more. It was particularly nice having the tour so that when we explored by ourselves, we wouldn't get lost (as easily)! If you're considering a walking tour, make sure to have comfy shoes and please don't litter! 😁
The Most Delicious Ramen
While we were in Kyoto, we grabbed some ramen at Musoshin! It was a small hole in the wall place and upon entering the restaurant, we were prompted to select our dishes off a vending machine-like screen. We both love ramen, so we were super excited and luckily, we were not disappointed. It was absolutely delicious! The pork was so tender and the eggs were marinated in sauce, so they were fabulous too! By far the best ramen I have ever had. We would go on to have a variety of foods from more ramen to sushi, to Okonomiyaki, and so much more. We love food as a way to experience cultures and experience this one, we did!
Early Morning Exploration
The second morning we woke up at like 4:00am! We took a slow morning and still managed to get out to explore by 5:00am. Since breakfast wasn't served until the later morning, we figured we'd snack on some Cliff Bars and beat the crowd! It was still dark when we left the inn, which was actually pretty nice because we were able to catch the sunrise. Plus, there was hardly anyone out and about. On our way to the Kiyomizu-dera Temple, we passed through some of the areas we visited with the walking tour, tourist free (yay)! I'm thankful that our jet lag allowed us to naturally be up so early as opposed to setting an alarm. 🙏
The Kiyomizu-dera Temple
We eventually arrived at the Kiyomizu-dera Temple to find it was under construction! Luckily we were still able to walk through it and around its grounds. Since it was covered in lattices, I opted to not include a picture of it, even though it was the primary purpose of this outing. The pictures above are from Nishi-mon Gate, welcoming you to the temple. While walking around, we happened upon a water fountain where you can drink water from one of three streams. Each stream offers you intelligence, longevity, or love. Before we knew which each stream meant, David had already randomly selected the intelligence stream! By the time we finished walking around, the grounds were already starting to flood with tourists. We were so grateful that we had managed to skip the crowds of people and make it back by breakfast!
Hiking Fushimi Inari
After finishing breakfast, we rented bicycles, which we rode to southern Kyoto to hike Fushimi Inari. Fushimi Inari is a famous shrine in Kyoto, featuring numerous steps up a mountain through bright orange torii gates. "Fushimi Inari is the most important of several thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. Foxes are thought to be Inari's messengers, resulting in many fox statues across the shrine grounds." We arrived in the late morning and the area was packed with people! At the bottom of the shrine, there are various restaurants and shops for tourists to visit, as well as food stands that are sure to grab your attention.
We hiked all the way up and if you can't tell by the pictures above, it was hot and we were sweaty! We didn't have a car in Japan, so we each had a single piece of luggage to pack all of our clothes. I believe I thought it would be colder than it was, so I packed some warm clothing... Even with the heat, it was still an awesome hike! I think it turned out to be my favorite one. Once we made it back to the bottom, we grabbed a few snacks from the food carts before making our way back to the inn! Although this is a very long hike, it was one of my favorite ones and was well worth the sweat. We even commemorated the hike with some orange chopsticks with foxes 🦊 and torii gates on them!
The Arashiyama Monkey Park
For our last day in Kyoto, we explored Arashiyama! It was a bit of a rainy day, but luckily we had experienced it throughout the trip. Our first stop was at the Arashiyama Monkey Park, where we had a small hike up to the park. There were many signs on the hike that detailed appropriate care for the monkeys as to not disturb them, like keeping your distance and not looking at them in the eyes. The monkeys are free to come and go as they please, but people are allowed to feed them chopped apples and peanuts from inside a fenced enclosure, so they're likely to hang around. I love animals and although keeping them in captivity and interacting with the animals is controversial, I think it can be done in a beneficial way. I really loved this experience and being so close to the snow monkeys! Plus we saw so many babies and that was really exciting. Whenever we'd feed the babies from inside the enclosure, you'd have adult monkeys come and take the food from them! It was savage. 🙈 After the monkey park, we walked through the town and the Bamboo Forest!
Hiroshima and Miyajima
After leaving Kyoto, we headed to Hiroshima! When I was younger, I never cared much for history, but as I've gotten older, especially with traveling, it has become something that really amazes me. I think it helps me learn about history in the place that it happened. When I was in 8th grade, we learned about World War II and while we did learn about the US's participation, the information we learned was nothing compared to what I learned in Japan. Because of this, it was particularly eye-opening to walk the streets of Hiroshima and visit the Peace Memorial Museum in Peace Memorial Park. In the museum, we learned about adults and children whose lives were taken by and because of atomic bombs. It's one thing to learn about it on the other side of the globe via a textbook, but it's another to see pictures and clothing of the immediate and lasting effects. One thing I really appreciated about the museum is how they chose to present the information, focusing on the incredible devastation and why we (as a world) should never use them again.
After the museum, we were able to walk around the city, viewing the A-Dome and hypocenter. The A-Dome is a preserved ruin of a building that partially survived the atomic bomb. While the building itself wasn't totally destroyed, everyone inside died instantly. From the A-Dome, we headed to a plaque that designates the hypocenter, the location on the Earth's surface of where the bomb detonated 600 meters in the air. It was wild to stand there, look up, and know that 74 years ago, on August 6th, a city was destroyed. Today, you'll find it a bustling city with a delicious Okonomiyaki restaurant located within feet of the hypocenter plaque.
On our second day in Hiroshima, we visited Miyajima island. You may have seen pictures of its famous Torii gate standing alone in the water in front of the island. Unfortunately for us, it was under construction. I suppose that's the downside of traveling outside of peak times! Despite this, we still had a great time and I really enjoyed the deer walking throughout the city. We made our way to the gondola and rode it up the mountain. At the top, we saw some beautiful views of Japan's archipelago! When we were finished enjoying the view, David and I hiked down the mountain, compromising after having ridden the gondola up! To wrap up our Miyajima tour, we tried the famous Momiji Manju, which are maple leaf desserts with a red bean paste filling. They were fine, but I would have preferred them to be filled with chocolate!
That Proposal Portion
Our next stop in the trip landed us in Unazuki Onsen, Kurobe, where we stayed at the Unazuki Grand Hotel! Our room was very nice; it had sliding doors, a private restroom, and a little sitting sun room. This hotel is definitely more of a family-oriented place with various activities for adults and children. After dinner we relaxed with their massage chairs, played ping pong, and of course, tried out one of the karaoke rooms! Once it got a bit later, we decided to go visit all the onsens. Onsens are natural hot springs that have been turned into public bath houses. These are divided into male and female rooms since it's required that you have no clothing. It's a bit weird at first since these aren't common in the States, but you get used to it. We stopped before we finished them all because the water was incredibly warm. Even though you could sometimes control the temperature with a cold water spigot, it was still pretty warm!
The following morning, we packed up our things and headed for the Kurobe Gorge Railway. This was a small train that took us through the Japanese Alps, with beautiful views of hillsides covered in fall leaves. It was a gorgeous ride! Once we arrived at the end, Keyakidaira, we crossed this big red bridge and started looking for a place to take some pictures. We couldn't find anywhere with a Katy-approved angle, but we settled on a little area with a picnic table. We took a few pictures, of which I deemed unflattering. David wanted to try a few more times though, so he went to set it back up, only the camera was recording instead of counting down! Then wouldn't you know, he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. 😊 After I said yes, we finished off the adventure with a foot soak in a hot spring!
Tokyo and The Pokémon Cafe
After David proposed, we headed for Tokyo! There were so many things I wanted to do, but one of the most important was the Pokémon Cafe!! It's so popular that you need to schedule reservations well in advance. Since our time slot wasn't until the afternoon, we spent the morning exploring Palette Town, where we experienced teamLab Borderless and Toyota's showroom in Odaiba. TeamLab Borderless is a fabulous experience design museum where you watch digital projections create an ever changing environment. We bounced around in the interactive "Athletics Forest" and drank yummy tea at their Tea House! If you're ever in Tokyo, this is something that would be fun for people of all ages!
We spent a few hours in the art museum and were pretty hungry by the time we finished! Thank goodness our reservation was just about here. Entering the cafe put a huge smile on my face! As you walked in to claim your spot, they had all the Pokémon games displayed on the wall. Once inside, we received limited edition paper place mats that were Halloween themed! We each ordered a fancy drink and meal. The food itself was just alright, but it was well worth it for everything to be Pokémon themed! Besides seeing the cute limited edition plushies (various Pokémon in chef costumes), the best part was seeing a Pikachu mascot, "Chef Pikachu" come out and give us a little dance. It was so, so cute and I definitely went to get a good seat by the children on the floor. 😌
When we were finished, we packed up our place mats and went to check out the store! There were walls of Pokémon stuffed animals, key chains, notebooks, anything you could think of. After spending far too long to decide what to get, we decided on a special edition Sakura (cherry blossom) Afro Pikachu. It had recently come out to celebrate the one year anniversary of the Pokémon Center! It was perfect because it literally a Japanese themed Pikachu.
After our lunch, we visited a few different cafes (this is very popular). One in particular was a smaller cat cafe, JaLaLa. Rather than being a tourist trap, this cat cafe was a place where people could come and spend time with the cats and even adopt them if they wish! Most chains give you a drink or something to enjoy while petting the animals, but this one did not and was fairly strict in not annoying the cats or petting them against their wishes. I actually really appreciated this fact and didn't need the drink. However, part of your entrance fee went into a pair of socks which you had to wear into the room (for cleanliness I would imagine), but you got to keep the socks! They were pretty cute too and I love souvenirs.
Halloween in Shibuya
The end of October was a really great time to visit Japan because it wasn't the usual tourist season. Although we missed the cherry blossoms, we were able to experience Halloween in Shibuya! There were thousands of people dressed up as police officers moved the crowds along. There were some awesome costumes; I particularly enjoyed the one above of Marge Simpson! It was pretty creepy, but very well done. Overall, it was such an interesting experience since everyone basically came to this one district just to walk in a large group. If you stopped for too long, you'd be motioned to keep walking, so that combined with the officers directing over loudspeakers and squealing, flashing sports cars really made for a stimulated experience! We had done a lot of walking that day (as we did everyday), so we didn't end up staying that long, but it was fun while it lasted.
The Day at Disney Sea
David loves theme parks, so naturally we had to visit Tokyo Disney Sea. Disney Sea is the only one like it in the world, featuring seven different coastal lands from real and fictional places. This was my first Disney experience as an adult and it was absolutely awesome! We started the day by running around to get our fast passes (because we're hard core) before standing in line for 2, yes 2 hours, for the Indiana Jones ride! It was incredibly long and definitely got us a bit cranky, but we made it through and it was actually a really fun ride! After going on a few more rides and exploring the park, we realized we were starving. David had picked out a place for lunch at Vulcania, which just so happened to be on the other side of the park. During the long trek over to the restaurant, I got pretty hangry, but it all turned out to be worth it because the food was so good.
We spent the day riding rides, eating various flavors of popcorn, and taking in the beauty that is Disney! A few of my favorite moments from the day are our gondola ride through the park, encouraging David to loosen up, and kicking his butt on Toy Story Mania! The gondola was a great way to see a different view of the park, that also happened to allow me to sit, which was much appreciated. Even though it is a theme park, the buildings and architecture were beautiful! That's one thing I love about Disney, the details. 😍 My second favorite moment was when David and I noticed a couple teen girls who were visibly excited to be there. They were jumping and dancing and it was really cool to see. David and I don't always show our excitement well and he mentioned he wished he was so excited that he wanted to dance. Well that caused us to pull over and I immediately gave him a lesson on wooing with full arm extension (as opposed to a half woo where your elbows are still tucked). It was a perfect place to let loose because there was no way we would run into anyone we knew!
Finally, the last ride of the day was Toy Story Mania. This ride was incredibly hyped which made me a bit skeptical, but as soon as we walked into the loading room (right image below), I was impressed. We loaded into a car in a room that made it seem like we were the toys. It was awesome! I thought it was so clever. Anyways, the ride is a shooting type where you shoot a screen to rack up points. It spins you around and is just a lot of fun! Plus, I totally beat David and that always feels pretty good. If you love Disney or you're just in Tokyo and have some spare time, definitely make it a priority to visit this family-friendly park!
Going to that Place Called Home
We spent every day exploring and doing new things! It was really amazing, but after two weeks, it felt good to be going home. Plus, because David loves playing the credit card game, we were able to score business class on the way home! Although the flight home was shorter than the way to Japan, we figured we'd want the most comfort going home. The flight itself was pretty awesome! We got a little kit with things we might need, private cubicles, large tvs, and so much leg room! We landed in San Diego with a few hours layover. After some complications, we ended up having to haul our bags out of the airport while we found a little brunch spot. We spent the rest of the layover at Dog Beach, relaxing and watching dogs. Eventually we made it home, exhausted, with new memories to love and appreciate! ❤️
Japan was my favorite trip yet, but if you have any places you think are just as cool, I'd love to hear them! We keep a list of places we want to go and it's forever growing!
Best wishes from one adventurer to the next,