From the the 16th of June to the 30th of June I spent time in Japan on the most unorganised trip ever. Five days before we left we booked all our accommodation and three tours. It was a very last minute trip, since originally it was meant to be my mate and his girlfriend going. Over the two weeks we would be spending time in Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima and Tokyo, spending two to three days in most places and five in Tokyo.

We arrived in Osaka at around 10pm from Sydney to pouring rain, but still a lot warmer than Sydney. Instead of being smart and sleeping straight away, we decided to play Uno for three hours with a bunch of Swedes, two Australians and a Romanian girl. The next day we hired some bikes for 500 yen and decided to go exploring. We ended up at Osaka Castle, one of Japan’s most famous castles. It was built back in the 16th Century, has undergone modern re-construction and still has a traditional moat around the perimeter of the grounds.

That night we met a few people at our hostel and decided to check out the bar and food area in Shinbashi. What an adventure that would turn out to be! We tried finding a bar called FUBAR but got lost. Stopped a younger guy called Sakamoto on his bike and asked for directions. He ended up walking us to the bar himself and staying for a couple of drinks, said he was meeting friends that night but came with us instead. Decided to get some dinner and since he is a chef he knew this high quality Japanese restaurant and we had at least twelve different dishes. Examples:

We traveled on the bullet train to Hiroshima next for three days. Got to see Hiroshima Peace and Memorial Park, A-Bomb Dome, Miyajima Island, Hiroshima Castle (Japan has a lot of castles), Mt Missen and do a spot of late night bowling. Hiroshima Peace Park and the A-Bomb Dome is a must for anyone visiting Hiroshima. Being there and seeing the dome puts into perspective how much damage was caused on August 6 1945. Back in 1945 the 20,000 tonne bomb landed only 160m from the center of Hiroshima. Was definitely one of the most depressing places to be and to read what happened back in 1945.

We went on a day trip out to Miyajima Island where the Itsukushima Shrine is located. Lucky we got there during low tide because you are able to walk up the the statue. Most people see it during high tide where the water is right up to the shoreline. There are a number of deer roaming around the island freely.

There are signs saying not to touch or feed the deer, but everyone does. Saw a deer try and eat a guy’s rail pass out of his hand worth about A$600.

You are able to take the cable car up to Mount Misen (about 1500 yen), which is a holy mountain situated on the island, to get a near 360 degree view of islands, mountains and the town.

Another thing apart from castles, temples and shrines there is a lot of is sake. Restaurants, cafes and bars all stock a wide range of sake. You can even get a 1.8L bottle to share between a group. In Hiroshima we went to this tiny restaurant, which was basically a bar and about 10-20 seats. For some reason they were playing Peter Pan on a projector inside the restaurant. Only in Japan, right? Got to have this crazy looking chocolate cake for dessert and tried hot sake for the first time.

Spent one more day in Hiroshima so we tried some Okonomiyaki, which is a Japanese savoury pancake. Apparently people in Japan call this junk food. The layers are typically batter, cabbage, pork, and optional items such as squid, octopus, and cheese. Noodles (yakisoba, udon) are also used as a topping with fried egg and a generous amount of okonomiyaki sauce.

Next stop was a bullet train two and half hours to Kyoto. Just going to put it here that Japanese public transport is on another level. Timing, trains, information and speed is just organised and efficient all the time. For two people with not being able to speak Japanse, we had little difficulty getting around.  A must when visting Kyoto is the Golden Pavilion, covered in gold leaf and dates back to the thirteenth century. Kinkaku-ji Temple or Golden Pavilion was inscribed as World Cultural Heritage in 1994.

Went up Kyoto Tower which is an observation tower located in Kyoto, Japan. The steel tower is the tallest structure in Kyoto with its observation deck at 100 meters and its spire at 131 meters. They have a sky lounge bar just under the observation deck where you can sit in these little cove booths and be waited on. We met two sisters from Melbourne and went to the Sky Lounge after dinner. Got to try Japanese scotch, whisky and more sake of course.

Got to see this baller drive past in his beemer on the way to the Kyoto Tower.

Our last five days in Japan was spent in Tokyo, which was not what I was expecting. From what people told me, there is no real center of the city since they have a number of smaller cities around Tokyo. What I did notice was that it is super easy to get around and see a lot of Tokyo. All the stations have signs in Japanese and English every few meters. On the trains above the doors, there is an LED display of which way the train is traveling and what stop is next. They also do announcements in English and Japanese. If we had anything close to this in Australia, we would be much better off.

We attended a Dynamic Tokyo tour on our second day. Went up the old Tokyo Tower which is a communications tower. The 2-storey Main Observatory is located at 150 meters (490 ft), while the smaller Special Observatory reaches a height of 250 meters (820 ft). Japan just opened the new Tokyo Sky Tree on May 22nd 2012. We were unable to go up there since tickets were booked out to September. The full height of that is 634 meters (2,080 ft), with observatories at 350m (1,150 ft), with a capacity of up to 2000 people, and 450m (1,480 ft), with a capacity of 900 people. The upper observatory features a spiral, glass-covered sky walk in which visitors ascend the last 5 meters to the highest point at the upper platform. A section of glass flooring gives visitors a direct downward view of the streets below.

Enough about something we could only see from the outside. Tokyo Tower still has three hundred and sixty degree views of the city as well.

We were able to see the Imperial Palace which is home to the Emperor of Japan and his family. It is situated on a block of land 3.14 square kms in size and surrounded by stone walls and a moat. Only certain parts of the Palace are open to the public, with most of the viewing in the gardens around the Palace.

A must when visiting Tokyo is to see Mt Fuji even from a distance. On the way up in the bus the sky was very grey and there was fog everywhere so we did not have much hope in seeing anything. Once we got the viewing area we were greeted with blue clear skies and a perfect view of Mt Fuji.

The famous Shibuya pedestrian scramble, also known as an “X” Crossing or diagonal crossing, is located in front of the bustling Shibuya Station Hachikō exit and stops vehicles in all directions, allowing hundreds (if not thousands) of people to flood into the intersection. There is a Starbucks on the other side of the road that is always full at night with a perfect view of the crossing.

While in Hakone we visited a Sulfur mine where you could try “black” eggs, where the outside of the egg is a rich black from being in the sulfur. Tasted horrible.

We took this pirate ship with modern motors across Lake Ashi which is a scenic lake in the Hakone area. It was a 40 minute cruise on the calmest water with an open deck to view from one side of the lake to the other. Could not think of a better way to end a tour.

The last tall building we got to see and look out from was the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. Had to travel a long way underground just to get to the entrance of the building. Had a full security check so we could get up to the 45th floor. The photo below is showing where and how the majority of people in Tokyo live, to see just how crowded it is.

Seeing Tokyo from this high, you can understand how crowded the city is and the amount of people that live and work here. Walking around on the ground you don’t get the full scale of how crowded it is, and how they can fit so much into this small country.

For a hastily organised and very last minute trip, I loved traveling around Japan and cannot wait to go back. I loved how organised, clean and efficient everything is. If you are thirsty while walking on the street you can find one of the 2.3 million vending machines they have every seventy meters. People will help you without a second thought even if they speak a little English or none at all. At least half a dozen times people walked us to the place we were trying to find. That is how nice Japanese people are. If you want to see how public transport is meant to be, take a Japanese train, tram or bus. Never late, extremely clean and you can never miss a station.

I will say this though: I would advise anyone traveling to Japan to learn some of the language, even just the basics. If you say please, thank you and be respectful to the Japanese they will be extremely kind and helpful to you. For a relatively crowded country with a estimated 127 million people, it’s the cleanest place ever. No one throws rubbish, cans, food, cigarette butts, etc on the street, and if they did it would be cleaned promptly. Restaurants, shops and bars are all immaculate and very well looked after. Any time of day night if you want to go get something or do something crazy you can find it in Japan. They have eight to to ten floor gaming buildings open 24 hours. Honestly it is one of the best countries to visit no matter what you like and why you go on holidays, there is something for everyone there.

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