Our Japan itinerary – 3 weeks in the Land of the Rising Sun

It was high time to focus on what’s important. How can you find the right focus when you are so used to be torn apart between thousands of things, projects, people? The best part of the year was approaching – the longest possible consequence of official holidays and non-working days. We were starting to get desperate with every day passing by with no significant travel deals. Almost three weeks of freedom and no ideas where to head to! Ten days before the Good Friday we stumbled upon it – our dream – with its shy but reasonable presence! The place where focusing and concentrating were as easy as а child’s play. Japan. Here’s our Japan itinerary that took almost 3 weeks and got us immersed in a world wonder called Japan.

Mount Fuji and blossoms, Japan

Japan itinerary – table of contents

Planning a trip to Japan

How can you organize from scratch an 18-day trip that starts in less than a week? You practice focus and concentration and add some sleepless nights, some quick online reservations, quite some communication. We were late and in addition to that, it was the blossom season in Japan!

Read, ask, absorb – things started to get in order. We planned our trip to Japan – a few sleepless nights and days, lots of reading, and there we were. It was so much fun by the way! It is strange how people are willing to pay someone else to do this cool job!

Getting to Japan

Let the journey begin! Our flight: Sofia – Moscow – Tokyo. The sky may be the limit but it also can be a start for plenty of new endeavors. Let’s load our stomachs with something delicious from Moscow airport on our way to Japan. In less than 15 hours since our start in Sofia, we reach Narita airport near Tokyo.

Flying over mountains in Asia to Japan

Day 1: Arriving in Tokyo and our first impressions from Japan

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That long and tiring flight from Moscow left us sleepless. It feels like a dream – taking our backpacks from the luggage belt, unwrapping them and finding the place. The place where we will exchange our train ticket reservations for Japan Rail Pass for real train tickets. Ever since we set foot at the airport we can feel a good service and good people. They help us out in everything we do and even the queue won’t disturb us. Every person we meet is ready to give us a hand, bows, and smiles with no special reason – just because we pass by. We feel nothing but enormous respect for that!

Japan Rail Pass banner

It is full of assistants making sure you can fill in your customs declaration, your embarkation card, or whatever needs to be filled in. Our goal for today is the town of Matsumoto a.k.a. the entrance to the Japanese Alps. It’s easy to reach your goals in no time with that perfect railway system. Trains are punctual, nice, and clean. We receive some more help finding the right platform as we are hardened to read Japanese.

Hopping on our first train in Japan

If we were just sleepy until now, now we are fully asleep in the land of dreams. Loudspeakers remind us of the location, how to get off the train and etc. and we are happy there is no chance that we miss our station.

What makes you happy when you travel is those little gestures. Even if they are just transmissions in English in a country with few languages you can’t understand a word of.

How can you not fall asleep when it’s so quiet and calm inside the train? Phone talks are only allowed in specific sectors. Even big streets carry the distant noise of passing cars only. People over here don’t produce sounds so we can focus on the mountain views and little villages we pass by.

Day 2: Matsumoto

We are in Matsumoto, looking for our ryokan for the night. We are walking with 15 kg on our backs but it is a nice walk in the town. English language or Latin letters don’t exist around here. Hieroglyphs slip by, accompanied by some Arabic numbers as we pass by signs and labels.

Aided by our map we eventually find our ryokan and are greeted by a smiling old man. He doesn’t speak English just like we don’t speak Japanese but we get along perfectly.
Fortunately, baths can be enjoyed privately here. We are not ready for the common bathing ceremony in Japan yet. For the magic of taking a bath with your brothers/sisters wearing your birth kimono only. 👘 We are ready for the high-tech toilets! Just tune in the water flow and put on some relaxing music…

We could use a beer instead of tea bags and a tea set this time. Why is it so hard to fall asleep? Changing cultures and locations in a short period of time – is that it? Or your body and mind are too excited to explore, learn and get into an adventure? The buzz of what’s coming should work as a sleeping pill and at the same time as a wake-up pill for the next morning…Goodnight, sleep well!  😴 😴 😴

Where to stay in Matsumoto: Ryokan Matsukaze

Ryokan Matsukaze, Matsumoto, Japan

Sleeping on the tatami floor

The ryokan we stayed in offered a very authentic, traditional Japanese experience, helped by the tatami floor and the futon beds. We began our 3-week Japan itinerary here, in Matsumoto. How can one sleep on the floor, with no bed or mattress? These are the kinds of thoughts that “tortured” us before going to bed. Thankfully they remained rather ineffectual – we slept so well in Matsumoto that we never really noticed when the morning came and woke us up long before the alarm.

Ryokan Matsukaze, Matsumoto, Japan

Matsumoto Castle

After an improvised little breakfast of Japanese sweets and warm soup in a cup unlike any we’d ever had before, we set off in search of Matsumoto’s highlight, namely the Matsumoto castle. We had no map, but some conveniently and generously placed signs in English helped us make our way to the goal rather easy.

Entering the castle’s gardens is a unique experience. The place is wrapped in the scent of blooming cherry trees that shower everything with their blossoms; even the large fish that live in the canal encircling the castle eat them! The six-story castle itself proudly towers above the gardens, admiring its own beauty in the mirror of the canal.

Tourists scurried around the place like ants. Most of them were actually Japanese, there were only a few foreigners here and there. The waiting time at the entrance wasn’t as long as we expected. It took us no more than two minutes to buy a ticket and enter. Before entering we wanted to take a picture of two elderly women in kimonos because we thought they’d be a rare sight in public. In this we erred as well – there were plenty of women walking around in kimonos. Presumably, they had come for the Sunday tea ceremony. They were definitely a curious sight, and we could admire (admittedly with a pang of jealousy) their beauty and graceful demeanor and the contentment and calm, with which they awaited their turn in the tea ceremony. We decided to see the castle from the inside and then maybe take part in the alluring, and new to us, ceremony. Like everywhere else in Japan, we had to take our shoes off before we could walk on the old wooden floors.

Everything about the castle seemed to have been conceived and built in the spirit of the warrior. There were slits built into the wall for archery or shooting. All of them also had mobile shutters for protection. The stairs were very steep, the steps grew ever taller – the tallest reached about 40 cm – and the ceiling came ever lower, making both the ascent and descent an adventure on its own. The stories were filled with exhibits of weapons, clothing and all kinds of equipment. There was even a whole story dedicated to the study and practice of martial arts that had no windows whatsoever, which made the castle look as if it had only five stories in total from the outside. It was very entertaining indeed to adopt the role of a warrior for a bit and shoot through the slits on the upper stories. We are civilized, peaceful people though, so we shot only with our cameras!

Tea ceremony at Matsumoto Castle

We did have to carefully consider whether we were properly dressed and whether it was appropriate at all, but eventually, we mustered up the courage to try the tea ceremony. It was not difficult or painful at all! We even befriended a few elderly women in the queue, who tried diligently to have a conversation with us in Japanese and a bit of English. It was good to hear for once that, although they had never been to Bulgaria, it was to them the country of yogurt, as opposed to the country of Stoichkov and Berbatov. One woman even came to explain to us in English that we should not be shy or nervous at all and just observe what the others are doing.

One woman and one man were chosen from among the guests to sit in front of everyone and drink from the tea the master had specially brewed. They spoke meanwhile too, but we couldn’t understand any of it – it must have been a prayer or some old wisdom. The tea was strange but definitely tasty and literally green. We also received a special Japanese cake beforehand, for which people had brought napkins in their kimonos. We were unfortunately not so prepared.

Towards the end, everyone gathered around the small brewery and watched with great interest. We didn’t really understand what was so intensely interesting about it. It seemed, though, that everything mattered – how each object was put where and when and why. It was pure perfectionism. We bowed a few times, said goodbye to our friends the elderly ladies and slowly left the beautiful complex to see what else in Matsumoto might strike our fancy.

Walking around in Matsumoto

We did visit the Kaichi School Museum in passing, the building of one of the first schools in Japan. Then we headed to the two parks that are situated next to each other at the edge of the city. On the way there we grabbed some food for a small picnic.

Unfortunately, fate had other plans for us. The lack of a map, signs in a language we could read and orientation skills on our part took its toll. We walked for about an hour through steep, narrow streets until we reached the outskirts of the city but we didn’t find a park. Thankfully, being lost always means finding things you wouldn’t have otherwise. We passed through a modern neighborhood filled with quaint houses, some of which had large, beautiful gardens of vines and vegetables. In the end, we had our picnic in an empty playground we had found earlier before we headed back downtown in a pleasant mood.

We had a real break by enjoying a latte and some tea in a small cafe and then hitting the shops. Once we had reserved a ticket for the train the next day, we spiced up our last evening there with Japanese burgers and a traditional bath, which we could thankfully enjoy alone. We wished Matsumoto a good night and retired to conserve our strength for our Japan itinerary.

Japanese origami as a gift

It was time to leave Matsumoto and our friendly innkeepers and trek deep into the mountains of the region Central Honshu to finally find out what this famed Nakasendo really is. We exchanged a hundred blessings and gifts with our hosts on our way out of the ryokan. We left a jar of rose oil to further enrich the scents of Japan and in return, we received two origami mice filled with bunny-candies… Bunnies wrapped in origami packaging – a goodbye gift from our hosts in Matsumoto. 🐰 🐰 🐰 🏯 🏯 🏯

Japanese origami gifts in Matsumoto, Japan

Day 3: The Nakasendo trail from Magome to Tsumago

We head to Central Honshu and Magome for a nice hike! The tourist info center informed us the night before that we’d have to revise our planned hike of eight kilometers along the ancient nakasendo path. We had tried to arrange it so that the ascent would be shorter than the descent, as we had initially thought to walk the distance with our backpacks. A few stops later we arrived at Magome, where it was raining rather generously.

Hiking Nakasendo trail Magome Tsumago, Japan

Still, the preserved villages that line the road are authentic and unbelievably beautiful. With a bit of luck, you can even find a place to rest and have some tea. The road mostly leads through the forest, though there are plenty of motivating sights to see – such as the ruins of an old monastery or some quaint little houses or a waterfall here and there. Most motivating, however, were the bells to use to scare off bears. We think there were instructions available for the case that the bells don’t work but alas, our Japanese was not good enough for us to understand them. At one point we came upon a bell and a very steep cliff right afterward without any visibility. We did not slow down until we came upon the next bell.

The adventure starts – we leave Magome, preserved since the Edo period, and head to the neighboring Tsumago by the Western footpath of about the same age through the mountains. Even shortly after the beginning, the ascent offers some stunning views. It seemed the newer road had to cross the older one at some points, but there was plenty of indication for it so we wouldn’t get lost. After many “Caution, bears!” signs, we came across the first inn– it looks disused though.

The mountain tops, shrouded as they were in mists, were visible through the bamboo and huddled villages. The first two kilometers were hard and many mental threats were made towards the girl who had made us change our planned route, but gravity ironically lifted our mood on the descent. We walked downhill to the waterfalls. These waterfalls might not be as impressive as some others around the world, but they cheerfully bubbled around the Nakasendo, huddled away in the Japanese Alps. Cherry trees taught us that there is a beauty to be found even amongst rain and fog.

Our spirits were lifted with every sign that pointed to Tsumago, and although the village was a bit sleepy, it offered a traditional lunch of noodles and potatoes and strange vegetables, which, to be honest, we didn’t really like, but the service and atmosphere were top-notch. We even met a group of people from South Africa, some of whom had lived in Sofia and were fascinated with us.

Hiking Nakasendo trail Magome Tsumago, Japan

A night in Nakatsugawa city

Soon we headed to Nakatsugawa city, where we planned to stay for the night. In the evening we even had enough energy to eat in the restaurant next to the hotel. We were pleasantly surprised – it had the facade of a castle and harbored some devilishly delicious food.

Here in Nakatsugawa we finally witnessed some strange working times, opening hours for the public bath were quite funny. Nace tried his new pajamas, provided by the hotel.

Stay in Nakatsugawa after the nakasendo: Hotel Route-Inn Nakatsugawa Inter

Day 4: Kiso Valley, Shirakawa-go, and Ainokura

Kiso valley is the place where you can enjoy the mountain and those traditional Japanese gasho-style houses. Did the pointed roofs in the skirts of the mountain gain a special spot in our hearts, or did the locals’ hospitality? Let’s find out together!

The most convenient starting point to Kiso valley was the town of Nakatsugawa. We had a delicious dinner in an old-time restaurant and had breakfast with all the business people staying at the hotel. That kind of impression was left by this non-touristy town with the perfect location to explore the nearby valley. Let’s not forget the taxis having this beautiful white embroidery all over the seat covers. Nakatsugawa was more than implying that we should move on to our next destination…  

After one or two train rides we reached the famous village of Shirakawa-go containing a vast collection of well-preserved gasho-style houses. Those pointed roofs save you from the heavy snow and chilly winters. But we were visiting the place during spring when the lonely snowdrifts were posing next to trees in blossom. One could smell the authentic atmosphere in the village, lots of souvenir shops and crowds were present though.

Staying with locals in a gasho house in Ainokura

Fortunately, there was no accommodation available for us in the gasho-zukuri houses. We set off to an alternative village and we turned out to be very lucky! First, there were only 20 houses around, well-preserved and just one shop serving the whole village. Second, all the highlights like the 20-day Stone (when it appears above the snow cover, spring will come in 20 days) and the tree that saved the village from an avalanche was easy to reach by hiking through the forest. All the efforts were rewarded with fantastic views of the secluded village. All the slopes around were turning green, we could even see few white and pink trees blossoming, reminding that the winter is over. The feeling of a small secret village, locked in mountains and hills reminded us of Machu Picchu. The only difference was that in the latter it was impossible to sleep (at least legally 😄 ).

Stay in the Nanto region: search for those gasho-zukuri houses! Our house Choyomon seems to be unavailable at the moment.

We were lucky enough to get accommodated in the last gasho in Kiso valley. Our hosts were a mother and daughter with small English vocabulary but with huge hearts! We were more than welcome. We were at home! The freshly cooked dinner was made of traditional for the region vegetables, miso soup, sushi, trout (coming straight from the fire) and a few more delicious things. We watched the recordings from the last village festival, enjoyed the musical instruments and traditional dances, even received a lesson on how to play traditional music. They taught us how to keep warm in the cold mountain winter (and spring!) nights and we moved to our bedrooms. All the walls in the house were actually sliding doors. One can redesign their house whatever they might feel like – that’s a common interior style in Japan. Mindful Japanese architecture!

This secluded village is a true gem! Mighty powerful nature, hospitable people who preserve their world cultural heritage! Oh yes, the name of the village is Ainokura. Refreshed from our time there we were ready to dive into the big city. That’s why we headed to Kanazawa and Kyoto. Let’s explore them together! 🎎   👘  🌸

Day 5: Kanazawa

Kanazawa city turned out to be the perfect middle ground between the solitude of Ainokura and the vividness of Kyoto. That’s why we stayed for a few hours, and, thanks to the locals, could make full use of our short time there.

As one can expect, amongst the steep paths and crisp air of Ainokura, we got up early and again nearly blanched at the sheer amount of food we were to eat. We couldn’t insult our hosts, so we stretched ourselves to the limit, so to speak. After that, we went out to catch some sun, walked about as many streets as we could before we had to head down to catch the intercity transport. The infrastructure was amazing, by the way, for such a remote place in the mountains, and we are thankful it got us to this gorgeous corner of the world.

Traveling to Kyoto nonetheless would take a long time, so we decided to make a one-day stop in Kanazawa. We planned to leave our luggage in the lockers in the train station and hop on over to the local castle, its park and the famous gardens in the city center for a few hours. We had some trouble with orientation, as the map we had was small and not detailed enough. We headed in the wrong direction and it took us thirty minutes to realize something was wrong. We had crossed the right bridge, only we were now on the wrong side of it. It turned out we were on the outskirts of the city that were once meant for entertainment. All that was left of that entertainment were only slightly suspicious – and, granted, charming – old buildings and dubious signs.

Once we reached the right side of town, it dawned on us how large both the city and its buildings really were. We asked people for help, and they explained mostly with hand signs and foot wiggles. Little by little, we reached the places of interest. We came across a policeman who drew on our map both our current location and the castle without uttering a single word. Our map was in Japanese, but we reached the castle in a few minutes, though first, we tried to enter through a forbidden entrance and then decided to acquire a map in English from another friendly man. This time we couldn’t make any mistakes had we wanted to, so we finally entered the castle’s park to look around.

It took us a six-kilometer walk and asking six people for help to get to the damn castle (which has been used as both a fortress and a university campus). After that little visit, we walked through one of the great doors and a bridge and entered the Kenrokuen Gardens, famed for its beauty. I’d rather let the pictures speak for themselves here and snack on my cherry-flavored rice balls instead. We love those quirky and delicious Japanese desserts and cakes!

The little streams in the park were so dreamlike that we almost forgot we had a train to catch. We only got to the train station on time because of a kind-hearted bus driver we randomly met. We never did get to know him or whether his bus route even included the train station stop, but he treated us both like precious cargo and welcomed guests, and asked for almost no fare money. This, by the way, was no rare occurrence – people in Japan were consistently so cordial.

This time we saw many businessmen and businesswomen ride the trains – or at least people in suits. Some apparently took two hours to ride home, the time they did not waste, whether it was by conversing, working, huddled over their phones or having dinner. Rarely will people’s attention be averted from their screens – this is the life of the business people.

Days 6 and 7 – Kyoto

Eventually, we arrived in warm Kyoto. Somehow we find the quiet neighborhood, in which our rather noisy little inn is located. Dinner was being cooked in the kitchen, and we could hardly wait to eat. The larger city took some adjusting to – the rooms were cramped and noise and smells dominated the air, but the atmosphere seemed promising. The neighborhood was alive even at ten in the evening, but we retired early to prepare for the next day when we would explore the former capital and its radiant culture.

We put together a Kyoto photo diary to inspire you with things to do and random sights of the ex-capital of Japan. Don’t waste your time and explore the gardens, imperial palaces, wooden houses, Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples of Kyoto!

Stay in Kyoto: find accommodation in Kyoto that fits your style and budget perfectly! We stayed at the Metropolitan Fukujuso but it seems not available now. Here are some great tips on how to travel to Japan on a budget!

You can support us by checking out our travel books. Thank you so much! 🙏
Kyoto photo diary

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Day 8: the spirituality of Koyasan

Inspired by our potential trip to Japan, we decided to learn more about the country, even if through fiction. We learned about the Koya Mountain and the town of Koyasan from some heavy books packed with illustrations. The town was created when the monk Kōbō-Daishi, also known as Kūkai, deemed the place fit for a temple and his Buddhist lifestyle. This was the beginning of one of the most sacred places on Earth – the heart of Shingon Buddhism.

Nowadays there are many temples here that attract plenty of tourists, not only because they are beautiful pieces of art, but also because monks still inhabit them. One can even sleep in the traditional rooms in the temples themselves and take part in the morning prayers. Welcome to Koyasan! Seduced by this opportunity ourselves, we decided to add Koyasan to our list of destinations. Let’s start with the ride there, as it was actually quite fun.

We woke up at about six in Kyoto to pack our bags and take the early bullet train to Osaka. It took us such a long time to get to the train station, though, that we had to sprint down the platform a mere minute before the train was to leave. We managed to jump into the train just the last second. We could now catch our breath and wipe our slightly sweaty foreheads.

We were giddy about the speed of the train – a whopping 270 km per hour! Anyway, here comes our cordial conductor lady. At our turn, she gives a strange look and says, “You do know this is the train to Tokyo? Osaka is in the opposite direction.” Whoops. 

The next train stop was Nagoya – we could get off there and take the train in the opposite direction. Although this meant a waste of time, there was a positive side – we took the Nozomi bullet train for free. No one insisted on fining us either, although they would have been entirely within their rights to do so; instead, they compassionately helped us despite our mistake. Thank God the trains are fast – we arrived in Osaka in about an hour and a half. After that, we had to switch trains three times to arrive at the train station beneath Koyasan and then ascend with a cable car to about 900m above sea level. From there one can only get to the city center by public transport, as it is forbidden to walk the dangerous road there. Ten minutes on the bus, and voila! – we arrived at our temple.

Japan Rail Pass banner

Staying at a Buddhist temple in Koyasan

We were welcomed by a young monk, who courteously asked that we waited while he called our guide – an older monk, who showed us the temple and our room and gave us some green tea and a cake. It was almost two o’clock in the afternoon, and there were so many things to see! We gulped the tea down and rushed off. We only had a few hours to experience the whole of Koyasan!

The village was absolutely charming. It consisted of one main street, numerous temples, each more exquisite than the last, and small confectioneries and pottery shops. We’re not particularly religious, so we did not delve too much in the details and meaning behind each temple or monument; rather, we simply appreciated their lovely, grandiose exteriors. So many temples! Thankfully, now it’s time to climb the main street of Koyasan up to Yochi-in, where tranquility is law.

Stay in Koyasan: Yochi-in temple. Don’t forget to join the morning prayers!

We went to bed in the temple very content, and though our walls were made of paper, we slept well due to the clean air. In the morning we prayed and sang together with the monks and learned some of their meditation techniques.

Day 9: blossoms in Yoshino

Having read a couple of books for Japan’s hidden jewels, we stumbled upon Koyasan and Yoshino. Getting to Yoshino wasn’t easy – we used 3 trains and a cableway. It was totally worth it – Yoshino is an amazingly charming mountain village and the scene of one of the most famous cherry blossoms throughout Japan. The blossoming process happens at different levels and stages giving the opportunity to enjoy it for at least three weeks. Cherry blossoms are surely one of the most popular attractions and an essential part of many Japan tours. We arrived by the end of the fourth week (global warming!) but beautiful nature remains beautiful no matter how many cherry trees have already finished blossoming.

We were lucky to stay at the best family hotel in Yoshino, mostly made of wood. Views lead us to the lower parts of the village and the endless cherry tree terraces. Our hosts outdid their hospitality (this is a big compliment in Japan) and almost made us not want to ever leave.

Maps can have this one problem – sometimes they are so stylized that even crazy imagination can’t help you. We were hiking uphill rarely passed by a motorcycle or and old bus. Stubborn we were and didn’t want to resort to hitchhiking this time. Saving energy and water, we were walking more and more uphill through endless coniferous forests. We were almost at the top but never there. After one or two hard decisions we reached a desolated monastery and the best viewpoint. The reward was the panorama of Yoshino down in the distance, a vending machine, and some shade. We met a Japanese guy – lonely lost hiker like us – who already had some friends in Bulgaria.

In the room for socializing of the hotel, we did a kimono photoshoot thanks to our lovely hosts who pampered our whims. This included the huge tasty dinner we had to wonder where in our stomachs to fit. The goodbye photos with our hosts. The name of the one who reserved the room was specially painted with Latin letters so that you can easily find them. What a gesture to the guests! We did exchange some presents with our lovely hosts before we leave.

Stay at Ryokan Kato or if it’s fully booked, find another accommodation in Yoshino.

Days 10 and 11: Hakone Circle and the best spa in Japan

Moving to Hakone, we managed to do the famous Hakone Circle or the Hakone route for one day. It involves different types of transportation and a few natural and cultural wonders. The weather wasn’t friendly but we worked with what we had. So in the end, we had plenty of dynamic experiences and ended up in the amazing Yunessun spa and we couldn’t be happier with it!

Japan, Hakone, Yunessun spa

Days 12 and 13: Around Mount Fuji

After the light drizzle and the refreshing spa in Hakone yesterday, we were hoping the weather will get better and we will finally see the mountain of our dreams – Fuji. Moreover, we headed to the five volcanic lakes around the mountain that offered the most spectacular views towards Fuji, touching every person’s soul. Well, nope, that was not the case. Our hopes vanished under the grey skies and every drop of rain helped them disappear. We dropped our backpacks in the ryokan and decided to take control and not sleep in despair the whole day. We explored the area instead.

All the paths around Kawaguchiko lake were covered in cherry blossom petals. Cherry trees were still blossoming – one could say the climate was colder here. The lake coast was covered with flowers and if it wasn’t for the bad weather we would have made the perfect early spring photo. Sadly only a few boats and fewer stubborn fishermen were residing in the lake. Hiding under umbrellas from the rain – where are you, sun? The fish was making fun of the crazy fishermen and probably the whole situation. We were struggling to see anything in the distance where Mount Fuji was supposed to stand and shine. We will hope that the next morning will bring us more luck (while we are writing this under the warm blankets).

What else can you do when it’s raining? Retrobus, you can enjoy two lines around two of the lakes. You pass camping sites, caves, springs, that kind of natural wonders. Not many people, not a popular destination. Finding a place to have dinner was a challenge itself…

All the buses here have this cool feature of having space for one more person every time. Of course, they were well-organized and punctual, like everything in Japan.

The Musical Forest

A sunny memory from this rainy day was the Musical Forest. A garden, a museum of automatic musical instruments. Few cheeky houses surrounded by a rose garden, a pond with a singing and dancing fountain. The director was a beautiful doll. Then there is a big hall of different instruments and a huge concert hall with an enormous organ. In the garden, one can play some оf the percussion instruments and in the store, you can become an owner of a music box costing from 1000 to a few million YEN. French, floral, food – they considered every detail. Japanese people have it all…

We are happy with the photos but something was making us anxious. The main thing we came here to see was hiding from us. Hiding in fog and clouds. Although the area was quite picturesque we were worried we will never see Fuji or imagine how big and mighty it was…

Mount Fuji and the clear skies

You are so lucky! Those words were resonating in our heads since Kenya when our safari guide was so excited we managed to see the Big Five in just one day. This morning just outside our window we saw Mount Fuji! It was just like a postcard. Nace went around the lake for hours in order to take more good shots. It is hard to miss such a thing, especially after the rainy desperate day yesterday.

It was a sunny day and we were shining just like Fuji was shining under the sun. We got the time we deserved with this astonishing mountain. Now we could leave without regrets. After 200 photos with the cool background (not like yesterday – grey clouds), we could freely and happily leave the area of the five lakes and head to Nikko.

Stay at Fujikawaguchiko: Komaya Ryokan with great views towards Mount Fuji

Day 14 – Nikko

The journey to Nikko turned out to be long and complicated with a bad series of waiting at stations. Nikko itself gave us hard times as well. We took a bus, got off at a temple which was supposed to be near our ryokan. The town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has 103  holy places. Nearby one of them – the Tōshō-gū temple, was supposed to be located our accommodation. We got lost, passed the same places 3 times going uphill and downhill all the time. Where are those topographic maps when you need them the most? We asked everyone we met – from shop assistants to old ladies in their gardens. Eventually, we realized we won’t find a sign with Latin letters so we started comparing hieroglyphs (again!). We wished we had learned a bit of the Japanese alphabet to help us overcome the language barrier!

The many temples of Nikko can wait. We definitely needed a break. And again the dinner was such a burden to carry… Later we continued with a hefty delicious breakfast too, before we headed out to walk to all the temples of Nikko.

Stay in Nikko: Nikko Tokanso – where you can definitely splurge for traditional Japanese food!

Nikko’s temples open early in the morning and this time we were free to conquer them. Lack of heavy backpacks and no night coming also helped us. After the morning gymnastics of climbing over 500 steps, we were ready to move forward to the newer part of the town and the train station. Just like true Japanese people we killed some time playing games on our smartphones and eating crazy snacks from the nearby store. If someone asks when people acquire most of the traditional Japanese traits we would answer that it is on day 15. 

Days 15,16,17 Tokyo

The capital of Japan welcomed us unexpected surprises, the massive scale of everything and tested our extremes. Tokyo sent us away with an earthquake. Read more about our three-day experience in Tokyo.

Stay in Tokyo: we chose Economy Hotel Hoteiya with a tatami-mat room.

Japan, Tokyo

That was our 3-week itinerary in Japan and the longest article on The Magic of Traveling!

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  1. […] Have some extra days in Tokyo, Japan, and need some places to visit outside the main city area? You’re at the right spot since we’re sharing 6 fabulous day trips from Tokyo that we’ve personally visited and are less than 1.5 hours one-way by train from central Tokyo. From traditional cities such as Kawagoe to enjoying the jaw-dropping views on top of Mount Takao, these day trips will be the perfect addition to any Tokyo and Japan itinerary.   […]

  2. […] To make sure you are fully prepared, check out some things you’ll wish you knew before going to Japan, and then put on your walking shoes, make sure your camera battery is charged, and get out there and enjoy! (Even if you only have a few hour layover in Tokyo, you’ll still be able to experience the city a bit, and if after this short trip, you’re keen to see even more of this incredible country, be sure to consider even a longer Japan itinerary. […]

  3. You have an amazing ability to write in a way that’s both informative and easy to understand. Great post!