Oh, Japan… I am just going to go ahead and say this out loud – Japan is like Korea, but better – sooo much better. Within hours of being in Japan, Jay and I agreed that we 100% could live in Japan. It was beautiful, and clean, and everyone was ridiculously nice. I was so overwhelmed with the kindness of the people of Japan. I am not sure how Canadians earned the rep of being the “nicest” country, but Japan has us beat by a landslide. If we looked lost or confused for even a second, you could guarantee a Japanese person would approach us to offer help. They taught us how to use the machines at the subway, directed us to our destinations, and one woman even rode the subway with us to take us where we needed to go.
Japan was also an ideal vacation for me because our trip centered around two things – a big hike, and lots and lots of food – the dream.
The first stop on our trip was Osaka. Unfortunately, our flight was delayed a day due to Typhoon Noru hitting Japan – the day we were set to arrive – of course. We finally arrived in Japan a day late and decided to skip Kyoto and head straight to Osaka. We spent two nights in Osaka, one at the start of our trip, and one at the end of our trip. Osaka is known for being a foodie city, so I was eager to explore. With our limited time in Osaka, we spent most of our time strolling around the Dotonbori area along the river. We indulged in sushi (of course), and also okonomiyaki, and takoyaki – which are both specialties of the Osaka area – all of which did not disappoint. I also had a horrifying encounter with a screeching bug in Japan who landed on my foot – long story short, I gave a good laugh to a few locals as I screamed and leaped around the sidewalk. I think this was one of the highlights of the trip for Jay…
For me, this was why I went to Japan. I was more excited to climb Fuji than anything else on our trip. Fuji is a manageable climb for beginners with a rather impressive elevation, standing at over 3700 meters. Due to this, it is recommended you sleep on the mountain to avoid altitude sickness. We started our day by taking an early bus up to the Subashiri 5th station at 2000 meters elevation, and then we started our climb. Within an hour, I started to get light headed and nauseous – I now had an irrational fear of getting altitude sickness. We decided to take the climb slow and take many breaks, so I could acclimatize properly.
We took a longer trail that is less frequented and goes through the forest. There was an eerie mist throughout the forest for most of our climb, and we saw very few other climbers – it was perfectly peaceful. Inevitably, the higher we climbed, the more barren it got, and out of nowhere – the mist cleared up and we realized we were far above the clouds.
After about 8-9 hours of climbing, we reached our hut at the 8.5 station where we would sleep for the night. We had expected to see a mix of Japanese locals and tourists, but we were surprised to see that most of the climbers were locals from Japan. We slept in a room with 100 other sweaty hikers, nestled into rows of bunk beds.
Around 1 am, we were woken up by everyone preparing the trek to the summit. I woke up a very sleepy (and slightly grumpy) Jay, and we started to prepare to head to the summit. When we stepped outside our hut, I could not believe my eyes. There were thousands of people trekking up to the summit, and all you could see was the trail of lights.
It took us about two hours to reach the summit as we were going at a snail’s pace (my kinda pace) in line with everyone else. When we reached the summit, it was freezing cold, so windy, and snowing (sort of). I had to dig through my backpack to add on several layers of clothing, to the point where I was even wearing a pair of socks on my hands – yeah, I can be pretty resourceful. To our disappointment, we did not see a proper sunrise due to poor weather. We got a few glimpses of it through the clouds, but that was it. **Insert some cheesy quote about how it’s about the journey and not the destination**. Thanks for the pivotal life lesson Fuji.
However, once we started to descend about 50-100 meters, the views above the clouds were incredible. We started our trek to the bottom, which involved sliding down loose volcanic gravel for several hours – this proved to be quite challenging for my grandmother-like joints, but I survived. I was pleased when we reached the bottom to discover that I had lost my hippie clutch – aka my wallet – aka my Visa and my Korean ID card…. It will likely puzzle me forever how and where I lost that stupid thing, but that’s life.
Fuji was a beautiful accomplishment, and I was reminded of this in the following three days as I navigated the metro and streets of Tokyo. Every stair was taken painfully, one at a time, while my non-dilapidated boyfriend was able to walk around like normal. I will forever be grateful for escalators, elevators, and moving walkways.
We spent the night in a small town with views of Mount Fuji the day we came down from our climb. I expected Fujiyoshida to be a small, but busy and touristy town, but to my surprise it was a sleepy mountain town perfect for recovery from Fuji. Our guesthouse was perfectly situated beside a vegetarian Japanese restaurant called Little Robot. I came to the conclusion at this restaurant that they do everything right in Japan – even vegetarian food.
We also climbed 398 stairs to see the iconic view of Fuji from Arakurayama Sengen Park, but all we saw was clouds shaped perfectly to entirely block Mount Fuji. It was a beautiful quiet park, and Jay was pretty stoked about taking over a Pokemon gym – or something like that.
First impression of Tokyo when I stepped out of Tokyo station – “Wow, this feels just like Toronto”. The general areas in Tokyo aren’t as crazy as I would’ve expected – it’s not insanely crowded, it’s clean, and it’s pretty quiet. However, there are several popular areas and neighbourhoods in Tokyo that are insanely busy with a buzzing high energy.
To be honest – our main focus in Tokyo was eating (well, for me at least). However, we spent most of our time wandering various neighbourhoods, exploring various shops and markets, and trying to navigate the monster metro system. Shinjuku was by far my favourite area of Tokyo. It was high energy, had lots of food, shops, bars, and small pockets of areas, each with a different feel. We visited an old school video game cafe where I observed Jay spend over an hour setting a high score on some game… to which he succeed. Good for him… We also visited a bar in the Golden Gai area, where the stairs were lined with red shag carpet and the interior had money all over the walls. We met an older couple from Thorne Hill and spent our night chatting about Canada and critiquing the sport of “Speed Walking” that was being displayed on the TV. We even spotted some Canadian Tire money on the walls of this place!
We visited Shibuyua (the world’s “busiest” intersection), Harajuku, Raponggi Hills, and Asakusa, but the highlight of all of this was by far the food. We ate some incredible sushi, ramen, and tempura – all of which, will never be the same again outside of Japan. At most restaurants we visited, we were sat so we could watch the chef prepare our food, which was a pretty special experience on its own. I am pretty sure I gained at least 5 lbs in Japan, but was pleased when someone asked me upon my return – “Have you lost weight? You look so skinny” – the happiest moment after you have indulged in multiple dinners and even pizza for dessert over the past several weeks.
Japan has been my favourite country in Asia so far – any country that offers good food, kind people, and beautiful scenery will win me over. I am interested to see how China contrasts when I visit in six weeks.