Japan, we finally meet! I am so excited to be writing this blog, sharing my stories from a trip I have dreamt about for so long.

I was fortunate enough to travel with two of my good nursing friends, Emma and Steph, who I worked with at the Children’s Hospital for 6 months in Melbourne last year. Emma is from England (on an Australian sponsored visa like me) and Steph is Australian. As you can imagine explaining to new friends how three girls from three different countries were traveling together made for several confused people. The three of us made a pact last year to make the trek to Japan for the cherry blossom season, and a year later we did just that!

Our 11 day journey began in the capital, Tokyo. Tokyo was exactly what I had imagined it to be, colourful, animated and busy. Bright and flashy billboard signs framed the streets. Walking the streets we explored the areas of Shinjuku and Shinbuya, the busy business and shopping districts of Tokyo. Here we explored the hidden alleyways full of shops and restaurants. Our goal was to find small restaurants that locals visited rather than busy commercialised ones. Our plan worked out well as we found several extremely delicious meals as a result. With a jam packed first day, we shared many laughs. Some highlights were: visiting a cat cafe (literally a cafe full of freely roaming cats you can play with), our first sighting of a fully bloomed cherry blossom tree, visiting the local bars in the Golden Gai region and singing karaoke at 3 am.

The Golden Gai experience was one recommended to us before arriving in Tokyo.It is a small area of Shinjuku in Tokyo that contains small bars, some with only enough seating for 6 people.  The Golden Gai area itself only consists of  a few streets but in these streets there are over 200 little bars and eateries. Each bar was only identified by a small sign taped on the outside door stating the entry cost and the price of drinks. Inside were small bars with local bartenders and only a handful of patrons, making for a fun experience talking to others. We spent the night in 4 different bars meeting locals, other tourists, singing, and trying traditional Japanese drinks such as Sake, Sochu, and Japanese whiskey.

After visiting the Golden Gai we were off to karaoke to sing our hearts out as karaoke was a must do for us while in Tokyo. Like in Canada, karaoke consisted of renting a private room for a desired length of time. The small rooms had couches and a big screen with microphones to sing along with. Some of our favourite songs were Hey Jude, Momma Mia and a range of Adele, Backstreet Boys and Taylor Swift songs. To add to the novelty, in Japan people wear costumes while singing. I chose a sparkly gold tuxedo, Steph wore a green Power Puff girl dress, while Emma chose a brown bag costume appearing very similar to a bag of potatoes. We had so much fun!

Our second stop in Japan was in the town of Hakone, a mountainous area west of Tokyo best known for its close proximity to the famous Mt Fuji. This small, quiet town was full of culture. Some highlights from Hakone were eating at a traditional Japanese Zashiki restaurant where you sit on pillows placed on the floor by low lying tables and visiting a traditional Japanese onsen. An onsen is a Japanese bathhouse and public bathing place where guests soak in thermal baths for healing, spirituality and rejuvenation purposes. This tradition stems back to when Buddhism spread to Japan in the 500s. Visiting an onsen in Hakone was a popular tourist attraction due to the abundance of natural hot springs.  At a Japanese onsen, nudity is required and guests must follow a strict cleansing process before entering the hot bath waters. While the experience was awkward at first, it was quickly apparent that nobody cared about nakedness in there. The Japanese guests were completely non-selfconscious and their attitude rubbed off on us.

Next we were off to Kyoto, land of the Japanese temples. Kyoto was 3 hrs west of Hakone via a bullet train. We spent two days here, learning more about the Japanese culture and enjoying more and more food. Finally we found some sushi!! Surprisingly enough it was extremely difficult to find sushi that didn’t come out of a 7/11 store (very delicious might I add). Most restaurants in Japan served meals based on rice with miso soup. Dishes consisting of seafood, noodles, beef, dumplings, and ramen were common and tasty. One thing I wanted to master on this trip was using chopsticks while eating. Growing up on Carlow Farms I didn’t use a chopstick let alone try any Japanese food. I came a long way from my first day in Tokyo where I had to ask the owner for a fork to eat my noodles with. Embarrassingly and funny enough the only fork they owned was a baby’s fork which I shyly accepted (see picture below). By the end of the trip I was able to master the chopsticks, picking up noodles and rice with little difficulty.

Some of my favourite activities in Kyoto were visiting the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, Gold Pavilion temple, tea houses, markets and shopping. Wandering through the famous Gion district was another highlight where we spotted three geishas getting into a taxi late at night. This was an extremely exciting sighting for us as while the exact number is unknown to outsiders, it is estimated that only under  2,000 remain geishas in all of Japan, with only an estimated one hundred living in Kyoto. These geishas live and work in the traditional teahouses entertaining guests, particularly Ichiriki Chaya which is the most famous Japanese teahouse located in Gion.

Our next stop was Osaka, located a short 30 minute train ride from Kyoto. We immediately fell in love with Osaka, mainly for the abundance of sushi restaurants everywhere. Recommended  by other tourists was Endo Sushi – a small 20 person restaurant hidden in a small suburb amongst a fish market. With no signs, we relied on a picture off of a website to find this hidden gem. The sushi was fresh and absolutely delicious. I’m talking about melt in your mouth delicious! While sampling many of their fresh fish, my favourites were the salmon and fatty tuna sushi.The remainder of our time in Osaka was spent exploring the popular Dotonbori and Tsutenkaku shopping areas at night (both filled with bright light billboards and signs), exploring the famous Osaka Castle and walking the quirky streets in the suburb of Namba where we were staying.

My favourite highlight of Osaka and possibly the entire trip was attending the Grand Sumo Championship. These professional competitions are held only six times a year throughout Japan and only one of those competitions is in Osaka. Lucky for us, it aligned with our visit. While general admission tickets had been sold out months ago, each day 200 day tickets were allotted to fans willing to cue the desired day. Knowing how popular the completion was and also with it being a Saturday, we decided to sacrifice sleep and brave the cold, cueing in line from 5 am until the ticket booth opened at 7:45 am. The three of us were the 63rd to 65th  fans in line meaning we got our tickets! After a quick nap, we were back to the stadium where we spent the day watching the sumo. Sumo divisions improved as the day progressed with the highest level performing in the evening to a full stadium. Unlike sporting events I’ve attended in Canada, the crowd was extremely quiet with only the odd spectator cheering and clapping occurring once a ’bout’ (match) was over. Sumo wrestling is a Japanese style of wrestling and Japan’s national sport. Many rituals with religious background, such as the symbolic purification of the ring with salt, are still followed today. In line with tradition, only men practice the sport professionally in Japan.The rules are simple: the wrestler who first exits the ring or touches the ground with any part of his body besides the soles of his feet loses. A contest usually lasts only a few seconds, but in rare cases can take a minute or more. There are no weight restrictions, meaning that wrestlers can easily find themselves matched off against someone many times their size. As a result, weight gain is an essential part of sumo training. What a great experience!

Our final leg of the trip brought us back to Tokyo where we stayed in two different suburbs Harajuku and Shibuya. Hariduku is the center of Japan’s most extreme teenage cultures and fashion styles, but also offered shopping for adults and some historic sights. Shibuya is one of Tokyo’s most colourful and busy districts, packed with shopping, dining and nightclubs serving swarms of visitors that come to the district every day. This district is home to the world’s busiest intersection!  While back in Tokyo we spent a day reliving our inner childhood at Tokyo Disneyland. Despite rain, freezing weather and wet, cold feet, we managed to go on some rides and walk amongst thousands of other excited visitors. Sharing the same layout as Disney World in Florida, I enjoyed going on rides I had been on during family vacations growing up such as The Haunted Mansion, Buz Lightyear Space Ranger and everyone’s favourite, the teacup ride!

Our final time in Tokyo was spent wandering and shopping the busy Shibuya streets before boarding our flight back to Australia. We said our goodbyes at the airport as I was off to Brisbane while Steph and Emma were off to Melbourne. What a fantastic trip !!

Below is a video with some highlights from our trip https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=13IOQYdxPWY&t=66s.

Busy streets of Tokyo. There were very few garbage bins in any public spaces yet the city remained spotless.
We spotted a cherry blossom tree our first day in Tokyo


We traveled throughout Japan using their extremely effective train service. I never noted one to be late and they ran quite often. Music playing before the doors closed was also fun to hear. The only downside to the trains was how busy they were. We were often squished in the cars  next to strangers.
shopping day through the colourful streets of Tokyo
Colourful vending machines full of juices and coffee could be found on most streets around Japan
This band was playing Beatles music on the street. Beatles music could be heard in shopping malls and stores throughout Japan- I loved it!
We spent an hour in a cat cafe in Tokyo. It was exactly what it sounds like, a bunch of cats roaming through a cafe. Although most of the cats weren’t too fond of us it was lots of fun.
Toilets were quite a sight here in Japan. Fancy designs, heated seats, Rainforest like music options, and spray settings!!
Fun night at the Robot Restaurant show in Tokyo! It was a themed restaurant and pop-culture show full of robotic monsters, dancers an lasers.
This was taken at the Robot Restaurant. I’ve never seen so many lights and bright colours in one place.


Karaoke in Tokyo was so much fun! We sang songs by the Beatles, Adele, Taylor Swift and many more!!


the streets of Tokyo lit up at night reminded me of Times Square in New York City
what a treat! we had soooooo much room on our trains when in Hakone.
Fushimi Inari Shrine in southern Kyoto.
The shrine is famous for its thousands of orange torri gates around a network of walking trails behind the main shrine building.
Several groups of girls dressed in colourful kimonos could be spotted around the shrine.
Wooden ladles outside the shrine was for guests to purify themselves before entering.


The walking trails lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari.


Amazing views of Kyoto during the shrine walk (233 meters up!)
We became really good at lugging our bags around each city, walking sometimes upwards to 40 minutes to get from our accomodation to train stations.
beautiful Temples like this one in Kyoto were all over Japan
Several trains had a women only section. how cool! we spotted some males who accidentally got on this section of the train and who embarrassingly got out as quickly as they could once they realised what section they were in.
finding our way around Japan wasn’t always an easy task. With very few people speaking English we were faced with some challenges..thank goodness for google maps!!
The beautiful Bamboo Forest in Kyoto. Well worth getting up early for to have this almost completely to ourselves!


We attended a Japanese tea ceremony. The ceremony centres on the preparation, serving and drinking of matcha powered green tea.
The finished product- Matcha tea.  The green coloured tea is often accompanied by traditional Japanese sweets to balance with the bitter taste of the tea.


Ju-An lead our tea ceremony. She followed the traditional ceremonial preparation of the tea during our ceremony and wore a traditional kimono dress.
As promised this is the baby fork I used when eating my first meal in Japan. I soon mastered the skill of chopsticks, saving myself from embarrassment at future restaurants.
Many restaurants in Japan display plastic or wax replicas of their dishes in a window near their entrance. These replicas serve both to entice and inform visitors of the restaurant menu and tend to offer an accurate, visual description of the style and price of meals found inside.
Our fancy bullet trains taking us longer distances across Japan was a nice treat from the busy inner city trains and buses. Travelling at speeds upwards to 320 km/hr, these trains made for shorter trips between cities.
Kinkakuji (Golden Pavillion) is a Zen temple in northern Kyoto. It was absolutely stunning. The top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf.
Nijo Castle in Kyoto
The castle, with was built in 1603 remains in it’s original form today.
We waited roughly 30 minutes to get inside Endo Sushi in Osaka. This popular restaurant was well worth the wait.
the Sushi masters


bellies full of yummy sushi= 3 happy girls


Osaka Castle is one of Japan’s most famous landmarks. It played a major role in unifying Japan during the 16th century. We spent time looking around the castle and walking up to the top floor.
views from the top floor of the castle overlooking the city of Osaka


beautiful views of Osaka from our apartment building


I thought I’d be adventurous while in Osaka. This meal consisted of octopus sushi and deep fried whale.
we spotted some more beautiful cherry blossom trees in Osaka. In a few weeks, Japan will be covered in these famous blossomed trees


At night, Osaka is ablaze with neon lights on billboards. The Glico Man sign showing an athlete in a victory pose has enduring popularity amongst the tourists, with locals congregating here to celebrate sporting victories. The company behind the ad is Esaki Glico. They are best known for their candy here in Osaka.



Bearing the cold weather to line up for our sumo tickets. At 5:00 am, the line for tickets was already around the corner and down the street.


we got our tickets !!
The stadium was completely full towards the end of the night when the professional wrestling matches began.
Wrestlers waiting patently before their match began.
don’t worry mom, he’s fake.


We spotted some wrestlers out on the street before the matches began.


waiting patiently for one of our many train rides
mmmmmm I love ramen.
The focal point of Harajuku’s teenage culture is Takeshita Street and it’s side streets, which are lined by many trendy shops, fashion boutiques, and crepe stands geared towards the fashion and trend conscious teens.
despite the rainy weather, we spent the morning strolling the streets of Harajuku
hello Mickey!! WE MADE IT!!


the tea cup ride- a favourite of mine growing up!


Everywhere you looked, groups of friends were dressed up like different disney characters in matching outfits. This group of ‘Goofy’s’ are standing outside Goofy’s house. They were so excited when I asked to take their picture.


Minnie’s mailbox outside her house
These girls were dressed like Stitch
What a fantastic trip with Steph and Emma!!!

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