Trip to Japan 15 days in the home country of Anime, Manga and innovative

Day 2
Our story begins…

Flying across the mountain range known as the Japanese Alps, we were sure to arrive soon on Kansai International Airport. In the early afternoon we’ve been landing in Osaka and took the first train to our hotel in Kyoto. After storing our luggage we left again the hotel.

Thinking about Kyoto the first thing that comes into my mind are the red torii (Gates) from Inari Shrine, so we headed first to Fushimi station and visited the “thousand torii” in real.

Back at Kyoto main station we checked out some nice Ramen store in the so-called “Ramen Street”. From the rooftop of the same station we had a first glimpse on our “home” in the next week. Next stop this evening: our guide showed us where the closest convenient stores are, in case someone feels hungry in the night ;).

Day 3
The emperor and the kimono

Now the “real” program started. A bit sleepy we headed for the imperial palace, to visit the place where the emperor resided during the Kyoto Era. Most of all we liked the garden, but living in the palace? I am not sure, if they have any internet connection there.

At Nishijin manufactory we witnessed a Kimono fashion show, before we went on to the Kinkaku-ji – the golden Pavilion.

The Teramachi shopping street with Manga shops, Game centers and a broad variety of stores as well as the nearby Pontocho restaurant street gave a worthy end to this day.

Day 4
Nara’s umbrella corporation

That’s at least how we felt today. Nevertheless it was a great, though wet, day. The Horyuji temple complex in the western part of Nara is one of the oldest Buddhist temples of Japan. That’s not only history, it is really impressive.

Some of our group had only eyes for the turtles in the pond of Chugu-in nunnery and we somehow expected them to turn into Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, until we remembered that we might better search for them in the states.

We continued to the rebuild palace side of old Nara imperial palace, also known as Heijo palace. Rain was falling down in cascades by now, so when we left the palace, we headed straight back to the station to return to Kyoto.

Day 5
Traditional Kyoto

Today we took off to explore Kyoto again. Our first stop: the old Nijo castle, Kyoto residence of the shogun, with it’s beautiful gardens, tea house and phoenix trees.

We continued to the eastern part of Kyoto to visit the Gion district, one of Kyoto’s Hanamachi (geisha districts). Walking through narrow passages we climbed the stairs to Chion-in temple and had a lunch break at Yasaka shrine, where several snack stands provided a variety of Japanese food as well as german sausages. Great!

Across Gion we made a stroll to the famous Kiyomizu temple on the eastern mountains. The temple water is said to give luck, fortune or health (depending on the spring you choose), so we joined in line to try for ourselves.

We made our way back to the main station to enjoy the view from Kyoto Tower. Later in the evening we tried a traditional Japanese restaurant with tatami floor. Luckily they had holes below some tables for our legs, so it was really comfortable – and of course delicious.

Day 6
Kobe Beef

A full-day excursion brought us to Kobe this time. The “green city” has been reconstructed after the great “Hanshin” earthquake, so most parts of current Kobe has been build less than 20 years ago. “Think green” could be the official slogan of this harbor city, but nevertheless the flower buckets diving the lanes and the whole lot of parks turn Kobe into a feel-good city and gave us the right mood to enjoy our time.

But still one cannot forget about Kobe’s history. In the memorial park as well as at Meriken Pier, where one part has been spared from reconstruction as a monument to what happens, if you take a natural disaster light hearted.

The rest of a day turned out to be more cheerful. While visiting the cities Chinatown, we had the opportunity to test out real Kobe beef – and of course it is amazing. After that we drove to the Nada district to visit one of the oldest sake breweries of Japan, including a free tasting. And since that was still not enough, we tried a conveyer band sushi restaurant. At least, after we had learned some more facts about Japanese history at Ikuta Shrine.

Day 7
Oh my deer…

Another day in paradise – at least for the deer of Nara. We barely arrived in the former capital of Japan and kind of home town of Japanese Buddhism, when we ran into them. We learned two things pretty fast. First: You are not allowed to hurt a deer, though they can hurt you. Second: Tourists love to feed them and if not, they just steal your food (maps or magazines). Maybe we get reborn as a Nara deer someday…

… but not everyone of us might be reborn. At famous Todaiji temple you can crawl through a hole in a pillar that is supposed to be the same size as the nostril of the big Buddha seated in the centre of this temple. Two of us made it through and got their entrance ticket to paradise.

At late afternoon, after we encountered countless deer in the forest around Kasuga Taisha Shrine, we returned to Kyoto. There was still one big point on our to-do-list: Karaoke! So that’s what we were aiming for this evening. Though there is no transcription for Japanese lyrics, they got a pretty long and also up-to-date list of international songs.

Day 8
Incredible Osaka

What is needed for a perfect Monday? A visit to Osaka, at least that’s what we will say from now on. After the short transfer from Kyoto to Osaka we headed first to the Umeda Skybuilding to view the panoramic skyline from the floating garden observatory. Sadly it was pretty foggy this morning. In the bottom level we found a restaurant street in style of old Osaka though.

Back on ground level we headed for the shopping centre Hep5, which most of us already knew from pictures of its red Ferris wheel on top. Some of us took a ride, while the others explored the 2-story game centre at the top levels and tried some Japanese crêpe. But then it was time to decide – would we like to visit the Osaka castle…

or prefer the local aquarium, famous for its whale sharks. Our group was split here and brought individually to Den Den Town, the electric district of Osaka, where in stores like Sofmap and Animate we found the newest Manga and Anime trends. Best part of the day: the Okonomiyaki restaurant we visited in the evening. You have to try it yourself!

Day 9
The monkeys on the stormy mountains

On our last day in Kyoto we explored the western part of the city, the Arashiyama district. The stormy mountains gave honor to their name and greeted us with misty weather, which gave the zen garden and bamboo forest some kind of mystique flair.

The slight rain ceased while we climbed up the Iwatayama mountain to visit a free monkey population inside the monkey park. There you can meet your hairy brothers and sisters without boundaries. But for feeding them, it is your turn to go behind a fence.

One of the biggest Japanese producers for historic and martial arts films got it’s studios in Kyoto. One part is open to visitors at the Toei Eigamura. With swordfight show, behind-the-scenes and lectures about Ninja, Samurai and Special Effects we spend the afternoon in the old reconstructed village. Some parts of it we had seen in a historic television show some days ago.

Day 10
Ninja, Onsen, Ryokan – Japanese Traditions

Our private bus was waiting for us in front of the hotel this morning, so we packed our stuff and left Kyoto. Our first stop was the old Ninja town Iga Ueno, where we learned more about Ninjas and their tricks in a ninja museum. Next to the museum we visited the Iga Ueno castle.

Back in the bus we headed for Gifu. The small castle on top of the mountain is providing a fabulous panorama, but here again we had to decide: use the rope-way to the mountain top to visit the Gifu castle or enjoy Japanese culture by taking a relaxing bath in a top onsen of Gifu?

Our last stop today was in Nagoya, where we will spend the night in a traditional Ryokan. But before we place our futon beds on the tatami floor we were searching for an izakaya, the Japanese mixture of bar and restaurant. The staffs here were entertaining as well with their strange way of communicating information to each other.

Day 11
With high-speed to Tokyo

There is one known danger of travelling by Shinkansen: you might get used to fast, efficient and punctual railways! Anyway, we love Japanese trains. After storing our luggage at the capsule hotel, we took off to explore Asakusa district, at least after we bought some umbrella. Next to our hotel is the famous Kaminarimon leading to a shopping street and the Sensoji, the Asakusa temple.

Due to the rain we skipped the garden on our schedule and moved on to the Pokémon center. The new mega evolution and of course the eevee evolutions are in fancy among the kids and grown-ups visiting the store.

We continued to Shibuya, where we met the dog Hachiko… ok we just found his statue. We paid a visit to Mandarake, a gigantic underground store for Manga, figures and cosplay. In this district full of neon signs and street advertisement we found a hilarious number of stores and bars, but the most famous part is Shibuya crossing. Some enjoyed the view on the street from 2nd store of Starbucks.

At the nearby district Harajuku we sauntered the Takeshita street, filled with gothic stores and “kawaii” (cute) articles. Those who missed it in Osaka tried out some Japanese crêpe, before we returned to our hotel and a night time stroll around Asakusa.

Day 12
Akiba – the electric city

After one night in capsule hotel and a decent breakfast we moved to our new hotel in Asakusa just to leave again for Ueno, where we’ve been visiting the ameyoko-street and Ueno park. We also met one of the capsule hotel staff in front of the Ueno Zoo, who invited us for Hanami, a cherry-blossom viewing on the same afternoon.

At next we used the subway to get to Akihabara, the Mecca of Anime and Manga culture. Maid-Cafés, specialized shops and the Akiba Anime Center, where you can find a regularly new exhibition on brand-new anime, can be found in this district. The rest of the day was at leisure. Some went for Hanami to Ueno and some stayed in Akihabara until the shops were closing at nightfall…

… and some of us met later again with our guide to visit the Tokyo Tower. Here we had a beautiful view on Tokyo and the sunset behind Fuji-san.

Day 13
Beware of Cosplayers!

A water bus took us from Asakusa to the Tokyo Bay, where we crossed the famous Rainbow Bridge with a monorail to reach the artificial island Odaiba. The train took us in a loop across the island so we had already some time to check out where we want to go in the afternoon. But our first goal: the Tokyo Big Sight exhibition centre.

Every march fans of Anime and cosplay gather here for a large Anime Expo (until 2013: TokyoAnimeFair/AnimeContentsExpo, since 2014: AnimeJapan). Original artworks, goodies, stamp rallies, stage program and cosplayers were waiting for us.

In the afternoon we had time for a stroll across the island. We passed game centres, big shopping centres, a Ferris wheel and the Toyota showcase, before we made a break to fancy some nice crêpe. Past the life-sized Gundam model we reached the Tokyo Bay with sandy beach, a beautiful viewing point on Tokyo and the famous building from Fuji Television.

Day 14
Snow in the “sunray” – Nikko

While a few of our group preferred to stay the whole day in Tokyo, most of us drove in the mountains to visit Nikko, world heritage and famous for the three monkeys. We learned a lot today: never use a god’s toilet, trying to make a picture in front of the thee monkeys will test your patience and getting blessed at Tokugawa Ieyasu’s gravesite will take a while.

At Rinnoji, the biggest temple of Nikko heritage site, we encountered with a Buddhist prayer ceremony. The monk seemed to shout “stirb” (die) in german again and again. Well we are pretty sure he did not, but that’s what we understood. A group of pilgrim crossed our way between Toshogu shrine and Futarasan shrine, where we tried some kind of love oracle.

Tired from walking we returned to Tokyo and made a stopover at Tokyo Skytree, the new television tower with 634m height. The “sky town” solamachi contains an aquarium, 2 observatory decks on the skytree and a 7-storied shopping and restaurant centre. When a false fire alert disturbed our shopping, we returned to our hotel. We still have to pack our stuff for our flight tomorrow.

Day 15
Sayonara Japan

Early this morning we took the airport express for Narita. There we enjoyed a delicious breakfast and last minute shopping, before our flight back to Europe took off. The holy Fuji-san was standing guard while we passed. Good bye Japan – we will come back someday.


Report by Japan4Youth March 2014 group and their tour guide.
More fotos of this group can be found in the german version