One day in Nikko

Nikko is a World Heritage Site near Tokyo. You can easily access Nikko by train from Tokyo. We decided to stay overnight in this charming little village in the evenly charming Nikko Turtle Inn.

Even though there are lots of sacred (and silent) places in Tokyo we were immediately drawn to the atmosphere in Nikko. While Japan’s capital is bubbling, alive and filled with salarymen this small town was a lot less sparkling albeit filled with tourists.

You won’t find a lively night scene in Nikko: most restaurants close early and only two grocery stores are open late. A welcome pause from hectic Tokyo.

We first visitied the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Nikko including Tosho-gu and Rinno-ji. Rinno-ji temple was under construction while we visited and we must say that we were rather impressed by how these national monuments are being reconstructed. First they build some kind of warehouse around the temple. After building this factory-style warehouse restoration can start. Needless to say renovation works can last quite a while: Rinno-ji temple reconstruction will finish in 2020.


Rinno-ji temple – reconstruction will finish in 2020

After visiting the restoration site we headed to Tosho-gu. It was extremely crowded at this site. It soon became clear some sort of event was taking place. People were lining up on the steps of Tosho-gu. We did as the locals did and lined up next to them. After a twenty minute wait a ceremony took place and we were happy to spot sumo wrestlers climbing the stairs in their traditional garnements.


Sumo wrestlers in Nikko, near Tosho-gu

Tournament season ended before we arrived in Japan, so we didn’t see an actual match. We did see a traditional ceremony: the wrestlers were honoured by LOTS of men in suits.

After the ceremony we entered the temple. Truly beautiful, beautiful detail on the buildings and gates.


Tosho-gu World Heritage Site

The sites are open to 4.30 PM (during high season). At noon the crowds were deafening. From 3.30 PM onwards the site was almost empty and so quiet it became eerie. Sun was setting, we seemed to be the only tourists in this ancient complex. If you’re visiting the complex: please stay ‘till closing time to experience some sort of quiet you just can’t grasp when the tour buses are still parked nearby.

We watched the sun set over Shinkyo bridge.


Shinkyo bridge in Nikko, Japan

Before leaving Nikko we hiked to the Kanman-ga-Fuchi Abyss. Despite the grandeur of the Nikko temples this will be the one thing I’ll always remember. On one side: the abyss. On the other side: one row of beautifully dressed buddha statues. On the road: two identically dressed Japanese youngster recording a dance video. Too mesmerized: we didn’t take any pictures of them nor did we film them. But whoa! What a sight. The scenery, the dance moves: perfect. Don’t fear though: even without dancers the scenery is astounding.


Kanman-ga-Fuchi Abyss in Nikko, Japan

5 days in Tokyo

5 Days in Tokyo

In October we spent five days in Tokyo. I already told you about how I fell in love with Japan on the first day; now let me tell you the rest of our love story.

Let me introduce my Tokyo top tourist activities

Tsujiki Fish Market

I have a dual relationship with Tsujiki Fish Market. According to our Lonely Planet guide, Tripadvisor and other tourist reviews this place is a must-see. True. They also suggest visiting the tuna auction. That one appeared to be a big mistake.

The first time we went to Tsujiki Fish Market we got up at 2 A.M. (yes, at two o’clock in the MORNING). We hauled a cab and arrived at the site at approximately 3.30 A.M. With great ambition we walked toward the Fish Information Centre where you need to apply for the auction. Sadly, a guard told us the auction was sold out: ‘Sold out, come back tomorrow, 3 P.M.’

Sooo… the next day we got up at 1 A.M., grabbed a cab and arrived at about 2 A.M. Great news: we were the fourth and fifth to join the queue. After waiting for about another 3 and a half hours we got to see the tuna auction at 5.45 A.M.

So on a beautiful October morning I found myself looking at dead endangered fish and felt kind of sorry (and maybe also a bit guilty). This guilt trip only intensified when the majority of people in our group started taking selfies. With the dead tuna. To this day I still wonder about how many households have framed photographs of family members and dead tuna.

Luckily the sushi breakfast was awesome.

Selfies at tsujiki fish market

Selfies at Tsujiki Fish Market – tuna auction

Sushi Breakfast

Sushi breakfast near Tsujiki Fish Market


Let me be brief about this one: get food and drinks before attending a kabuki performance. Yes, every written guide recommends getting food, every reviewer tells you so… so listen! Don’t be as stupid as we were and grab yourself some food and drinks and bring them into the theatre. All the Japanese do it; only tourists seem to starve themselves to death during a four hour kabuki performance.

We watched kabuki in the Kabuki-za Theatre and rented an English audio guide. This theatre is highly recommended: friendly staff, great performances and a pretty good English translation.

A kabuki play lasts for about three-four hours. You can also opt for just one act, this will keep you entertained for about an hour.

Kabuki-za Theatre

Kabuki-za Theatre

Kabuki Dance featuring Bando Kotji with live music at Japan Society

Nishizaki Sakurako and Bando Kotji in “Yoshino Mountain”. Photo from Tokyo Times

Robot Restaurant

Only tourists here: best guilty pleasure I’ve ever had. We grabbed some food before heading to this joint since their food reviews appeared to be quite horrible. The show however was everything you can expect: weird robots dancing to weird music.

Afterwards you can dive into Shinjuku neighbourhood; nightlife is supposed to be great here. I shouldn’t know though since I was too busy trying to get into some tuna auction.

Robot Restaurant

Robot Restaurant


This is where I fell in love with Japan: beautiful traditional temple in the heart of one of the world’s biggest cities. We saw several traditional wedding processions and were absolutely in awe.

Traditional wedding at Meiji-Jingu

Traditional wedding at Meiji-Jingu


Another place of worship and tradition in the big city. We watched a traditional procession of musicians. Or at least we thinks this is what we saw. We only just arrived in Japan and were too pussy to ask. There was also a priest involved if I’m not mistaken. Anyone who can give further detail on what his happening in the pic below: please enlighten me in the comment section of this blog.

Traditional musicians near Senso-ji

Traditional musicians near Senso-ji

Tokyo Sky Tree

The walk towards Tokyo Sky Tree was truly movie-esque. We walked on an empty street, straight to the tower. Before entering the Sky Tree we decided to eat at an icecream parlour. Just a normal activity, made slightly less normal when the personnel started singing a song to us. One song for each icecream ordered. Just a normal day in Japan.

View from Tokyo Sky Tree

View from Tokyo Sky Tree

Shibuya Crossing

Must see. I still wonder why this can work in Japan, but when shopping on Regent Street in London people keep walking into each other. I truly still wonder.

Shibuya Crossing

Shibuya Crossing

Ghibli Museum

I love Studio Ghibli movies and visiting the museum was one of my highlights. Walking into the museum is like walking into a Ghibli movie. The museum has a movie theatre playing different short movies. A must if you’re a Ghibli fan. Book in advance. WAAAAY in advance.

Ghibli Museum

Ghibli Museum

Mt Fuji

I opened with a love/hate relation and I end this list with one. Mt Fuji: so beautiful on all those postcards. The icon of a nation. I guess we made the mistake of joining a tourist tour that just wasn’t quite to our taste.

We arrived at Mt Fuji 5th station and looked at the mountain. Let me tell you a basic fact: the iconic mountain doesn’t always have snow on top. This seems logical, this IS logical, but before arriving I seemed to have forgotten about basic scientific principles. So yes, I truly was disappointed when the mountain was as brown as… well, you get the picture. What annoyed me even more were the busloads of tourists. You couldn’t walk 5 feet without running into someone.

Our tour continued to Mt Fuji 5 lakes. Whoa, things got even more out of hand. You couldn’t walk 3 feet without running into someone.

Don’t get me wrong: the lakes were gorgeous and apparently everyone had found out about this. We ended the day taking a look at the truly beautiful Shiraito Falls.

Red bean cakes - Fuji 5 Lakes

Red bean cakes – Fuji 5 Lakes

Mt Fuji

Mt Fuji – wooden prayer plaques

Why I fell in love with Japan

Why I Love Japan

Let me tell you the story about how I fell in love with Japan… twice.

I first fell in love with this Asian nation when I was about thirteen years old. As a teenager I was quite the movie buff. I had only one goal: watch the entire 250 IMDB top rated movies (spoiler alert: I failed). So on a seemingly ordinary day I rented Spirited Away and fell head over heels in love. Only years later I would discover that director Miyazaki had been inspired by Taiwan. I loved the story, the characters, the magic and the stunning visual landscapes I had never encountered before.

Spirited Away movie still

Still from Spirited Away

After watching a sh*tload of other Ghibli films I made a promise to myself: One day I would travel to Japan and live my own Ghibli movie.

The second time I fell in love with Japan was October 2015. After waiting for about fourteen years I finally made it to my dream destination. I would lie if I told you I immediately fell in love with the country. Narita airport was like any other airport, maybe even a bit outdated. I still don’t know what I expected of my first touchdown on Japanese soil but is was just… normal.

I did fall in love on my first day there though. I remember being grouchy and giving my boyfriend a really hard time after landing in Tokyo. After the twelve hour flight I only wanted to shower, shower and probably shower some more. This is one of my worst character traits: I always want/need to shower. Since our hotel room wasn’t yet ready we waited in a nearby restaurant (which disappointingly only served ‘western’ food). My mood grew darker and darker until our room was ready and my beloved bathroom awaited.

And then it happened: still not feeling 100% happy we went on to explore Tokyo. Our first stop: Meiji-Jingu. At Tokyo’s largest shinto shrine I forgot all my worries, all my first world problems, all my nagging and fell in love. Fell in love with this acient place in the midst of a modern metropolis.

Meiji Jingu Shinto Shrine

Wooden prayer plaques at Meiji Jingu

Traditional wedding Meiji Jingu

Traditional wedding at Meiji Jingu

During the next weeks I will highlight all the different places we went and why they were so great. I believe many people have a certain image of Japan that doesn’t necessarily reflect the true nature of the country. Japan isn’t only about big cities and weird KitKat. It has stunning mountain ranges, beautiful temples and hot water springs other countries can only dream about.

Up next: All things Tokyo.

Shibuya crossing

Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo

10 Reasons I look forward to travelling to Japan

While all of my family and friends are spending their summer holiday abroad, I’m sitting in my sofa dreaming about my own vacation this fall. I’ll be visiting Japan, a dream I’ve had for over ten years.

Many of my friends are surprised at my curiosity for Japan. Nothing to be surprised about, let me show you why I want to go to Japan so desperately.

  1. Studio Ghibli Museum: I’ve been a huge Ghibli fan since my childhood so I really really REALLY want to go to the museum. Even though some fans told me it wasn’t _that_ great, it’s still number one on my to-do-list. I want to see shorts I’ve never seen before, I want to be in a fairytale I don’t comprehend one word of and I assume I’ll want to buy everything in the gift shop. My sincere apologies to the customers after me.
  2. Kyoto: Look at all the World Heritage in Kyoto. Look at the tiny streets and great restaurants. Look at the culture, the geisha and the kabuki. And look at the…
  3. ... Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. One of the most photographed sights of Kyoto (and possibly Japan). I’m going to take an endless number of photos there and I won’t feel a tiny bit of shame.
  4. Onsen: Alright, I must admit I’m a bit scared for this one, but it’s a healthy anticipation kind of fear. Onsen are natural hot springs spread across Japan. We’ll be visiting at least one (in the countryside). I hope I don’t make a fool of myself since I’m usually not a ‘spa kind of person’. Fingers crossed!
  5. Mount Koya (Koyasan): A place out of dreams (or Ghibli movies). A sacred place. I hope to find a natural peace here, even though I’ll have to share my moment with other tourists.
  6. Nikko: Again a sacred place in Japan, with one of the most decorated shrines.
  7. Mount Fuji: Unfortunately we won’t have enough time to climb this mountain, but we will be travelling to one of the nearby villages to gaze and wonder.
  8. Tokyo: Also a bit nervous for this one, since I’m used to living in a tiny city. I’ll probably never forget Shibuya Crossing (one of the busiest crossings on earth). I suspect other highlights will be Tsukiji Fish Market and the manga/anime overload.
  9. Ryokan: We’ll be staying at some ryokan, a traditional Japanese guesthouse. One of them has its own onsen. Yikes! Unfortunately we were too late booking some of our preferred design or capsule hotels (even though we booked a year in advance!) but we still got the ryokan we wanted.
  10. Sushi: I’ll be honest. I’m going to bore everyone I know with sushi pictures and quotes. “Yes, this sushi place is great but it’s nothing like the one I visited in Kyoto/Tokyo/…”. Yes, I will be annoying once I’m back and my friends and family will have to endure. Sorry not sorry.

Now everyone’s sharing their holiday pictures and stories, I can’t wait to go. I’ll have to be patient for a few more months and then this dream can finally come true.

Still looking for some travelling tips so if you have anything you’d like to add, please feel free!