For Randi’s 30th birthday we went to Japan for a month. It was beyond incredible. We stayed in eight different cities, explored a handful more, and visited three of the four largest islands. Cannot recommend the JR pass enough. The photos below are separated based on the city or area they were taken in. Day trips are nested underneath the cities we slept in. (e.g. Nara is found under Osaka)
I will add alt text to every image eventually, promise.
Osaka is a dream city.
From Portland, Japan is about a sixteen hour flight. Technically, we flew into Tokyo then had to figure out how to get to the apartment we were renting in Osaka. Needless to say, it was a very long travel day. We forgot that immediately once we woke up the next day and started to explore.
Day trip to Himeji, toured the castle (the largest in Japan), its grounds and gardens.
Day trip to Kobe, visited the zoo, lunch before touring some museums and dinner at a lovely restaurant district before heading back to Osaka.
Day trip to Nara. We skipped most of the crowds by avoiding the largest temple (with the giant golden Buddha) but still saw plenty of interesting things. And of course we fed the deer!
Our last meal in Osaka we had okonomiyaki, Osaka-style. That means it’s made with more of a cabbage base. Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki uses noodles as the base. I prefer Osaka style.
After a week around Osaka, we took the bullet train to spend four days in Hiroshima.
Hiroshima’s Shukukeien garden at night gave a lot of cute views. Lots of couples walking around taking photos, we were no different. 😄
The Kakigoya. “Oyster House” in Japanese, this was a spiritual experience for me. We met up with our friend Mio and her son Ao and she took us to this amazing shack in the middle of a park. Inside were several chest fridges full of things to cook over the charcoal stoves. Vending machines with any type of drink you like lined one wall. We each grabbed a tray, a basket of oysters, and other treats to grill, like corn, onions, onigiri, scallops and prawns. The oysters were huge, the size of your fist. Absolutely incredible. One of the best meals of my life.
From Hiroshima, we hit the most hectic travel days of our trip. We spent one night each in Fukuoka and Beppu before catching a ferry over to the island of Shikoku. If I have the opportunity to spend more time in Japan, I would try and spend more time in this area. Fukuoka has so much incredible food we didn’t even get to scratch the surface of. And in Beppu we stayed in this adorable little spa that had a private soaking tub with every room.
I think these tacos from a food truck in Fukuoka were the only “miss” of any meal we had in the country. Luckily, just down the boardwalk there were numerous ramen/izakaya stalls to cleanse the palate.
And then we had to catch our ferry. In the cabin, you took your shoes off and could sit or lay down on the carpet.
this guy greeted us when we got to the train station in yawatahama (where the ferry landed). we then took a train to matsuyama, where we relaxed for several days.
this is the dogo onsen, the inspiration for the onsen in Spirited Away. it was under construction while we were here, so only the first floor was open to the public.
this was a very interesting meal, but deliciously complex! a regional favorite in ehime, apparently. raw egg, raw fish, nori, soy sauce over rice. i forgot to take a photo of it in the actual bowl before we scarfed it down. 🤦
then it was time to take at train to takamatsu
this was my favorite stop. i guess it was far enough off the beaten path there weren’t very many other foreign tourists. the city was a good size but not too big and the people were super friendly. it is home to ritsurin garden, the oldest continuously maintained garden in japan. absolutely stunning in person.
had to hit the mickey d’s one time to check it out. i got a teriyaki burger, still tasted like mcd’s. fries were good too.
This garden is worth the trip to Takamatsu on its own. There is also an incredible cafeteria-style udon spot across the street from the park. Highly recommend both.
After the garden, we went for a hike from Yashima Station out to a beautiful scenic spot on the beach called Nagasaki no Hana (“The Nose of Nagasaki”).
We had our first (and only) housing mishap in Kyoto. I booked what I thought was a ryokan with beautiful views and it turned out to be an unlocked, seemingly-unattended hostel house with no locks on any doors, across the street from a construction site, directly uphill nearly a mile from the closest train station. Getting there with the backpacks our first travel day was a little exhausting. Other residents also seemed to be prone to yelling or crying at all hours. It wasn’t the ryokan experience we were looking for, so we ended up renting a room at a hotel not far from Kyoto Station. Infinitely better decision. I could spend a month just eating my way through… we ate so much, and such variety. Sushi, izakaya, yakiniku, shabu-shabu, udon, … take me back. When we weren’t eating our weight in delicious cuisine, we were steppin’ all around the city to the different temples, gardens, shrines, and museums. Wandered across a couple street fairs and weekend markets, braved hordes of other tourists and drinking all the lemon sours.
This is the map of the ramen street at Kyoto Station, a section of the ninth(?) floor with twelve(?) different ramen shops, all specializing in a different style of ramen. we ate at a few.
Finally, we arrived in Tokyo. an impossibly large place. like Kyoto had a lot of tourists and people… but Tokyo was just so much busier. NYC is the only place i’ve ever been that comes close to the scale. it was very disorienting after spending so much time on Shikoku. I would probably start in Tokyo and go from there instead of wrapping up here.
Tokyo Giants vs Hanshin Tigers. The NPB rules.
Then we made it to the Ramen Museum in Shinyokohama for dinner.
Found one of the four Japanese Taco Bells in the Odaiba mall, but did not partake.
Also came across Portland’s own Bunk Sandwiches, which I absolutely did not expect to see! It was closed though. No Japanese Icebergs for us.
Our last ramen bowls before returning stateside.