I’m alive! Whew, a 14 hour hike to Mount Fuji, with $2.00 Daiso jackets a whole lot of rice balls, a few boxes of Pockey and some good ol sour candy and I’m back in Vancouver still jet lagged one week later.
As I kept debating over and over again if I should’ve booked this trip, I finally pulled the trigger in a coffee shop on a Saturday afternoon. After hitting the “submit” button on Priceline in January I was finally on a train heading to Tokyo on June 13th. It’s been a long time since I travelled outside of North America and my first time traveling since being passionate about photography while traveling.
I’m excited to share with you some pictures taken on my Sony A7 with my 55mm Zeiss 1.8f lens. Everything you see has been taken on that camera or my iPhone. It’s a long post, and I don’t expect you to read through everything, but if you do thanks in advance! Otherwise enjoy the pictures and my highlights of my trip.
The only great thing about being stuck on an international flight for 10 hours is the food. By great, I mean the food was sub par but at least they served Hagged Daz ice cream. The movie choices weren’t bad either. I think I managed to watch about 4-5 movies with my round trip flight included. Japan Airlines, you get two thumbs up for the entertainment.
After a 10 hour flight, with two hours of sleep, it was 6pm Tokyo time. With Ryan and Drew, already at the airport ( coming from Taiwan), we hopped on to the train towards Tokyo… Or so we thought. We learned quickly that the trains were not as easy as back home in Vancouver. With a little bit of confusion, and help from some locals we were on the right way back to Tokyo after getting on the wrong one.
After making it to our hostel, Toco, weventured out to find our first meal. Being tourist our first meal was sushi! After years of having sushi on the west coast, I was ready to try sushi from the motherland. Needless to say, it did not disappoint. Tuna, salmon, crab rolls, were all fantastic. One thing, I did notice quickly we’re that rolls ( maki), and salmon were not really a thing in Japan with Nigiri, and tuna being the main staples.
With two hours of sleep in 24 hours, I fell asleep shortly after arriving back at the hostel.
First pieces of tuna in Japan! DIY green tea at the restaurant. One of the lovely hosts at Toco! Outside of our hostel, Toco
Off to Kyoto! Paul, our other friend joined us in the middle of the night. I don’t quite remember when, since I passed out from the night before. The first full day brought us to Kyoto, where we decided to head to the Bamboo Forest aka Arashiyama Bamboo Grove and the Monkey Park Iwatayama after checking in at Len Hostel.
As you stroll towards the path to the bamboo forest, there were many bits and pieces of history, with statues and shrines representing most.
On our way to the bamboo forest where we encountered this building in the middle of the forest. I loved the contrast of this picture! Onwards to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove Entrance of Bamboo Grove. Myself on the trail at the Bamboo Grove.
The bamboo forest was everything as advertised. Long, luscious green bamboo. The walk wasn’t tremendously long, so we headed back towards the Monkey Park. About a 20 minute hike up the hill side, we finally got to the Monkey Park where you can feed the monkeys, or just observe them in their natural behaviour.
I believe this monkey was an aggressive one. After taking the apple, he slapped my hand.
After a full day in Kyoto, we ventured into the street of Kyoto for dinner. Having no idea where we were going, we settled on a Japanese Izakya restaurant. Fantastic first meal to end the first full
One thing I loved about Len Hostel, was the decor. The exterior reminded, something you would find in Gastown. Beside’s being a hostel they were also a cafe for the locals and one thing they were great at was the coffee!
This was one of the managers at Len Hostel, Toshi.
The third day brought us to the Fushimi Inari Shrine ( 10,000 torii gates). For me, this was one of the hottest days in Japan. With steps, and more steps we finally reached the top, in about an hour. Although, to be honest the top was quite anticlimactic as there wasn’t much scenery but more of a memorials . A quick history about the Fushimi Inari Shrine as found on Wikipedia ” The shrine became the object of imperial patronage during the early Heian period. In 965,Emperor Murakami decreed that messengers carry written accounts of important events to the guardian kami of Japan. These heihaku were initially presented to 16 shrines, including the Inari Shrine. From 1871 through 1946, Fushimi Inari-taisha was officially designated one of the Kanpei-taisha (官幣大社?), meaning that it stood in the first rank of government supported shrines.”
Entrance of the Inari Shrine.
At the top where there were more shrines!
Very off topic, but one thing I realized was how Disney World does such a good job with the pavilions at Epcot Park. If you’ve never been, they have pavilions that represent each country with historic and iconic symbols, and buildings. My point is, that a lot of things I saw in Japan, were well represented at Disney Worlds Epcot Park and that it was neat to see them in real life as opposed to the replicas.
Our visit, to the Golden Temple was short and sweet as the heat was catching up to us. There wasn’t much here, except a few merchandise stands and food stalls. We headed back to our new accommodation for the night, a traditional ryokan.
Upon checking in, the host brings you up to the room and explains a few rules and facilities. The ryokan is unique in the sense that there are no beds. However, when you leave for dinner, they convert your living area into a bedroom ( mats and a sleeping bag). Ryokan as found on google: ” is a type of traditional Japanese inn that originated in the Edo period (1603–1868), when such inns served travelers along Japan’s highways. They typically feature tatami-matted rooms, communal baths, and other public areas where visitors may wear yukata and talk with the owner.”
Checking into the Kinoe Ryokan.
We ventured into streets of Kyoto for the night but found out quickly things closed early. With an early morning the next day to Nara/Osaka we called it a night with an episode of Game of Thrones season finale.
Sleeping on the floor, was surprisingly comfortable. One of the best sleeps on the trip. We checked out and headed to Osaka with a pit stop in Nara. Famous here at Nara Park were the deers who are trained to bow. We thought this a lie found on the internet, but much to our surprise, with some treats in our hands they were indeed bowing.
One of my favourite meals, was actaully in the Nara Station. Unfortunately, I was too hungry and forgot to take pictures. But the udon and tempura, were phenomenal. The tempura was light, and crunchy. The udon was perfectly cooked and the tempura egg was yolky and fried to perfection. With a full stomach we were onwards to Osaka.
Known for their okonomiyaki ( savoury pancake) in Osaka, our first meal brough us to this restaurant tucked in a mall. We tried the seafood and pork okonomiyaki.
The owner/ chef who prepared the okonomiyaki before bringing it to the table for us.
Osaka Aquarium, was the first attraction on our 5th day with the main attraction being the whale shark. However, being a penguin lover, I was more excited to see the penguins at the aquarium.
My favourite animal! Penguin doing his best pose for the camera.
With our stomach’s growling, our next stop was to look for food. Recommended to us by the owner of the air bnb we were staying at we found an award winning ramen store ( apparently # 1 in the Ramen Grand Prix). Something that was popular in Japan were these vending machines, where you ordered before entering the restaurant. As you can tell from the picture below, we were quite confused at first.
Our favourite waffle shop found, Maison de Gigi. We visited this place about twice a day!
With a bit of a food coma, we headed back to our appartment and got ready for the evening. We chose to do the Umeda Sky Building where the Floating Gardens were located. Being a landmark in Osaka, the Umeda Sky Building is the 18th tallest building in Osaka where you can overlook the city. Although the scenery is stunning from the observatory deck, one of my favourite shots were actaully from the entrance of the Umeda Sky Building.
The entrance of the Umeda Sky Building. Love locks located at the top of the Umeda Sky Building.
At the top of the observatory deck.
Kaiten Sushi or conveyor belt sushi was one of things on our bucket list. After our visit to Umeda Sky Building we found a kaiten sushi place nearby. Much like every restaurant, we had to learn how to use this high tech touch screen ordering system. Everyone get’s their own touch screen where you can scroll through the menu and order a variety of sushi, dessert, drinks, donburi bowls etc. Once you order, everything comes on the conveyor belt ( I mean everyting… even drinks and udon came on the conveyor belt) and a warning sign on your screen will show you that your food is approaching.
We opted for a mellow day, heading to Osaka Castle in the morning. Unfortunately on this day, I made the mistake of leaving my memory card in my latpop, so my camera was not operable till the evening.
” Osaka Castle is a Japanese castle in Chūō-ku, Osaka, Japan. The castle is one of Japan’s most famous landmarks and it played a major role in the unification of Japan during the sixteenth century of the Azuchi-Momoyama period” – Wikipedia
As you approach the castle, one of the things evident were the amount of moats surrounding the castle. Osaka Castle from the entrance. View from the top of Osaka Castle.
Later on in the afternoon, we did some more shopping, in Shinsaibashi, grabbing mochi and other souvenirs for people. We went back to our air bnb, looking for places to try the famous Kobe Beef. After looking on trip advisor we found a place close by with high ratings. This meal, was something I look forward to since the day I booked this trip. Hearing what people had to say on Tripadvisor about this beef just made me all the more excited. The restaurant we chose actually had 3 on the same block serving the same beef in different styles ( Shabu Shabu aka Hot Pot, BBQ grill, and Teppanyaki). We opted for the self bbq style. Check out their reviews here:
The first restaurant we headed to ( we thought it was the BBQ one), gave us a 2 hour wait time. We decided to try the other restaurant owned by the same chain, which gave us seating right away, which actually was the one we were originally looking for. Everything worked out in the end. Our server, had probably some of the best english we encountered during our trip. She explained to us, how the beef we were having was known as Matsusake Beef or known as Japanese Black Haired Wagyu, right up there with Kobe beef in ranking and one of the three famous types in Japan. It wasn’t the Kobe beef, but it sounded equally as good. We opted for a set menu for the 4 of us. The set menu included a varity of Matsusaka Beef, seared sushi, and other goodies. Be warned, the pictures below may make your mouth water.
Our first pieces of meat, on the grill. Soooo excited! Seared beef sushi! Our plate of Matsusaka Beef! Green tea ice cream with soy covered mochi, and red bean paste!
I can say, this meal was probably one of the best and memorable meals I’ve ever had. From the service, to the mouth watering tender pieces of beef, everything was worth the wait. If you ever head to Osaka, this place is a must try.
Some street photos in Osaka!
Off back to Tokyo! A day of rest, mainly spent traveling. In the evening we headed to the Akihabara district in Tokyo, mainly known for their shopping, anime, manga, and electronics. We also went back to visit our sushi restaurant from our first evening in Tokyo.
Our sushi chef!
First full day in Tokyo, brought us to Takeshita Street in Harajuku. It was also Drew’s last day here, narrowing down our group of 4 to 3. Takeshita street was mainly filled with tourist shops and a whole of dessert places. Myself and Ryan saw Drew off here before walking from Harajuku to Shibuya, known for the Shibuya Crossing where pedestrians may flood the streets to cross from any intersection. According to the web, Shibuya is one of the busiest pedestrian streets in the world.
Walking from Harajuku to Shibuya we saw these cute little puppies. The owener had 6 in his wagon. Shibuya Crossing as seen in Tokyo Drift. The most popular place to see this is the Starbucks on the 2nd floor. However, when we were there it was under construction. We opted to head to L’occitane cafe to get this shot while having desserts and bubble tea. Myself and Ryan ( Paul was meeting with a friend), spent the day shopping here in preparation for Mt. Fuji the next day. Ryan trying some $2.00 gear for Mt. Fuji. After spending the afternoon, and evening in Shibuya, we were one sleep away from Mt. Fuji
Day 9 and 10:
Double checking we had all our warm gear, we headed to the train station and threw everthing in the lockes provided at the train station. With our last meal being ramen before heading to Mt. Fuji we were ready to go. There were a few hiccups alongs the way ( missing the last bus , lady refusing to sell us tickets thinking we were unprepared), but we finally made it to the 5th station. Altogether, there are 10 stations at Mt. Fuji, starting with the 5th station in Kawaguchiko Town.
Since we missed our bus we had to take a $120.00 cab ride to the 5th station. The cab driver stopped and took a photo for us here.
Warning signs before the hike.
We began at 5pm. The hike was easy, as we strolled through woods and beaten paths. A hour in, we started to layer up as the temparature was cooling with the sun slowly starting to set. Unlike Vancouver, the sun started setting about 6:30-7pm. Somewhere along the way, we took a wrong path and started hiking up trails with switchbacks. It was at this point where the reality settled in, that this hike was going to be no breeze. It was no longer a easy path, but loose gravel, with steep inclines.
Still the easy part of the trail….
By the 3rd hour as the switchback trails continued, you can start to feel the altitude change affect you. Tiredness started to settle in and the fog was climbing up the trails. We eventually took a break, somewhere between the 6th and 7th station as seen below.
Rest somewhere between 6 and 7th station
When reality settles in, and this is no longer an easy hike.
As you can tell from above, the skies were no longer lit by the sun. After this break, we relied soley on our flashlights. We continued climbing, with the trails now completely dark. The warm weather we had in the first hour changed to cold winter weather as the rocks started to frost. We took frequent breaks as the fog eventually caught up, with visability being effected. By 9pm, we saw some flashing lights. Unsure, if it were people, we decided to cut across the mountain horizontally off trail and see what was there. During our research leading up to the hike, we knew there were huts. However, the huts didn’t open for another week. As we approached the flashing lights, we found a small group of people at this hut. After talking to the owener in broken english, he offered us a rate of 5800 yen per person. Discussing amongst ourselves, we decided it wasn’t going to be worth it for the 3-4 hours we were going to be staying. In his broken english he said ” if you go up, you die. No joke. Very Cold.” We thought it was pretty funny but we opted out to keep climbing. What we did discover though, is that we were now at the 8th peak! Remember that wrong trail we took in the first part? Well, by cutting across we were now actually on the right path.
After conversing amongst the three of us, we decided that it was best we hiked back down to the 7th station where it might be slightly warmer where we could rest for a couple hours before climbing to the 10th station to catch the sunrise. By 10pm, we sat outside an unopened hut where there was some shelter to block the wind. At this point, I decieded to take some photos with 3 hours to kill. Not knowing what I would get with a long exposure, these were some of my favourite photos.
My hands were starting to numb, and fatigue started to settle in. Myself and Ryan layed on the floor to try and sleep with not much avail, while Paul walked around and ate some more rice balls to stay warm. By 1am, we woke up and continued our hike with one more major rest stop at the 9th station. Again myself and Ryan ted to sleep for a quick half hour, while Paul ate more rice balls.
By the time we reached the 10th stop it was incredibly windy. We hid behind a wall till the sun started to rise. The fog was so thick I didn’t think we would see anything at all. But with a little bit of luck, the sun peaked out and at that moment the cold and hike was all worth it.
*sigh* it was such a relief we made it. We embraced this scenery one last time, before the descent down. For the most part the descent was again all those switchback trails. We made it back down in one piece, at arrived back at the 5th station by 7:30. The town of Kawaguchiko was completely deserted when we got back. With the first bus not leaving till 10:45, we had 3 hours to kill in this small town with a whole lot of nothing. We counted down the hours till we could take a warm shower, and eat regular food again, although I’m sure Paul would’ve been satisfied with those rice balls.
By the time we got back to the hostel, and showered, it almost 4pm. After a few hours of much needed rest, we found a Japanese bbq place for dinner to conclude our 10th day and adventures of Mt. Fuji.
With a late start to our day, for obvious reasons, we wanted to complete a few more things on our list, which included the ramen museum. We ventured out thinking we were heading to the ramen museum only to find that the museum we thought was the ramen museum was actually the cup noodle museum which happen to be closed on this Tuesday. Our journey wasn’t a waste of time though as we saw some cool things along the way.
Hopping back on the train, we headed to the Ramen Museum. The Ramen Museum has 3 floors designed to be a one place stop for all the flavours from different parts of the world for their national dish, ramen. Two of the floors, are designed to look like a street market place from 1958, the year that the first fast food ramen store was created. With so many ramen choices and stores, we ended up at a traditional Japan ramen store. Other options and flavours included in the market place were from Italy and France.
Earlier, in the morning Paul discovered that there was pick up ultimate happening at a local school in Tokyo. Eating so much in the past week, the thought of playing ultimate and exercising was a great idea. We treked to the fields, which happen to be a gravel field. With the limited space in Japan, this was something they practiced and played on regularly. We met tons of people on this particular evening from all parts of the world. After our friendly game of ultimate a few of them took us out to a tapa restaurant where we shared stories about our travels thus far and also got to know a few of them.
“Hemo” one of the ultimate players from the night before recommended we check out Odaiba where we wanted to check out an onsen aka public bath/ hot springs. It was a great recommendation! Thanks Hemo! A 45 minute commute with train and ferry, this artificial island had lots to see and do, with our main reason being the onsen.
Heading to Odaiba! Odaiba Onsen Facility!
The public onsen, was quite the unique experience. Inside the facility, was a market place where you can purchase food, a communal foot bath area for men and women, and the onsen divided for men and women. Without going into much detail, I attatched a link to what you should expect at a public onsen. ( http://www.japan-talk.com/jt/new/7-things-you-need-to-know-before-going-to-a-Japanese-onsen-bath)
Myself and Ryan got massages here as well, after looking days and days for them. Another thing we tried at the onsen was ” fish therapy” where you dip your feet in the water, and the fish eat your dead skin. The feeling was weird at first, with all three of us squirming from the feeling. But your feet feel super smooth afterwards.
Communal foot bath!
After spending the majority of our day at the onsen, we headed back for shabu shabu recommended to us by Doug, from ultimate the night before. I loved the presentation of the restaurant and the way they displayed their ingredients.
DIY sauce station.
Being completely stuffed from all the food, we walked around exploring the city. One of the places we ended up was a batting cage. How we managed to do this, after all the food we ate was beyond me.
Our last day in Tokyo, and our earliest morning of the trip. By 6:00am we were up and ready to go to the famous Tsukiji Fish Market. I was excited for this, as this is where most fish in Japan come from. Also known at Tsukiji Fish Market, is the tuna auction taken placed at 5:00am on most days where retailers and wholesalers bid on tuna. Most restaurants and stores open by 5:00am and closed by mid afternoon hence the early start to the day.
Three pieces of tuna ( from right to left): tuna nigiri, medium fatty, fatty Our chef who prepared the sushi! Preparing tuna on the streets My order of fresh scallops!
With a seafood breakfast to start the day, we spent the afternoon in Shabuya and Harajuku, finishing last minute shopping before heading back to the hostel and power napping from the early start.
Our last evening was spent eating one last sushi meal, followed by drinks at Nui hostel ( one of our friends, knows the workers there). With that, we wrap up our trip.
A few smiling workers from Nui Hostel!
If you’ve gotten to this point, thanks for taking the time to read my whole trip! Thank you to everyone who made this trip incredible: from good traveling friends, to the warm hospitality of Japanese citizens, the people we met along the way, and all the great sushi chefs out there. I can’t wait for my next trip, and the countless number off photo opportunites I’ll find. Until next time!