In December 2015, we went to Japan for the first time. Our ten day stay was, of course, nowhere near long enough, but it was an excellent taster.
December 24- 28: Kyoto
Accommodation: Kumagusuku Kyoto Art Hostel
We arrived at Narita Airport on Christmas Eve, and, after collecting our rail passes, caught the NE-X to Shinagawa Station. While it's still huge, Shinagawa is less confusing than Tokyo Station, and a better place to change trains.
We barrelled towards Kyoto on our first Shinkansen, with a bag of 7-11 snacks. It was evening by the time we arrived, and dark with it. We checked in to Kumagusuku, navigated the staircase/ladder for the first time and headed out in search of a beer. We got craft beer at Bungalow and wandered our new neighbourhood.
The Art Hostel has four rooms, and ours was a bunk room with a double bed on the bottom. It was cosy and had a view out over the courtyard. Bathrooms are shared, with a shower and toilets downstairs. We had opted for breakfast and were super glad that we did. These breakfasts were just amazing.
Our first full day in Kyoto was Christmas Day, and tipped off by our hosts, we headed to Tenmangu Shrine, to their monthly market. We were too new to navigate the bus system, and we walked our way to the shrine- the first part of what would be 16km over the course of the day. The market was everything we wanted (and we've been back every Christmas since!)
Kyoto is a city of temples, but we decided to just pick one of the heavy hitters to visit. We chose Fushimi Inari, helped by the fact that Vermillion was close by and boasts Melbourne-style lattes. Hopped up on coffee and ready to go, we scrambled up the side of the mountain, avoiding the crowds by going off-track. It was something of an intense experience, but the view was worth it.
Eating featured pretty heavily during our four night stay- we were a little nervous about pushing in to Kyoto's smaller restaurants, and were maybe a little too reliant on our Loney Planet. Still, we drank coffee at Len, snacked right through the Nishiki Market and got heavily into 7/11 egg sandos.
December 28- January 2: Tokyo
Accommodation: AirBnB, Shibuya (Listing details)
We pressed our JR Passes into action to head back to Tokyo, and jumped the Yamanote Line to Shibuya Station for our first glimpse of the scatter crossing. Our AirBnB was in Tomigaya, a micro-suburb nestled into the side of Shibuya. We were a short walk from Yoyogi Park, and coffee spot Fuglen.
Our Tokyo agenda was pretty loose. Eating and drinking again featured heavily, as did walking through Yoyogi Park. We drank coffee at About Life most mornings. At night time we generally headed to Shibuya and walked around and around, dazed and amazed. New Years Eve saw us holed up together in a punk bar drinking whiskey, but not so late that we couldn't head to the amazing Mori Art Museum on the 1st.
Our time in Tokyo flew by. There were so many unexpected things to enjoy. Late one afternoon we were walking through Daikanyama and saw a group of people standing together in the park. When we wandered over, we caught just a glimpse of what everyone had stopped to see and it was none other than Fuji-san. We had one of the most lovely meals of our trip with an old friend of mine, and this remains one of my favourite photos ever.
I couldn't pass up the chance of a day at Disneyland, and we headed there early one morning. I used the TDR Explorer Crowd Calendar to figure out which day would be best. It was busy, but manageable and we had loads of fun, and Mickey waffles.
One final round of takoyaki at the airport, a few astoundingly cheap bottles of duty-free whiskey, and we were home.
There are just a few things I'd do differently now. I wouldn't have bothered with the rail pass, as we were just going Tokyo-Kyoto return. I would have worked harder on my basic phrases before arriving at our Kyoto accommodation. And this would have maybe given us a bit more confidence in trying a few different places and more of the smaller bars that we loved, rather than sticking to busier spots. In Tokyo, I would have explored further, and spent less time in Shibuya.
Ten days felt like a teaser but it was enough time to convince us that Japan is somewhere we'll return to again and again.