Today’s post is a first of it’s kind on Oh the Places She’ll Go. This is because I am featuring my first guest! *drum roll*
I’ve known Alfonso since June 2011. We met the first day of orientation at our first grown up jobs and even though we’ve never worked in the same building, let alone same state, we have done a great job of maintaining and growing our friendship throughout these years.
He is a sucker for wanderlust, like me, and has traveled to 21 countries, spanning 4 continents. He is also a great photographer- seriously, check out his instagram page, and has won multiple awards for his pictures. He enjoys hiking and meeting fellow wanderlusters.
Recently, he took a 15 day trip to Japan and I’m honored, really privileged, to share his journey with you through a selection of his pictures and the captions he paired with each picture.
1. Why japan?
I had wanted to go to Asia for such a long time, and Japan seemed like the best option because of all the culture and gastronomical choices the country has to offer.
2. Of the 15 days, which was your best and why?
The first day in Tokyo was very overwhelming because of the magnitude of the city and the craziness.. it was awesome. Also the day we hiked to the top of mount Fuji to see the sunrise was very special.
3. Most vivid memory of Japan is …
How clean everything was, I had never seen such a huge cultural commitment to cleanliness.
4. Would you go to Japan again? Why or why not?
Absolutely, if the opportunity was given I would love to go skiing in northern Japan and also explore some of the southern tropical islands.. I heard they are gorgeous.
5. Where to next? and why?
Tough question, I would probably like to explore more Nordic countries; I left a part of me in Iceland and I would like to go there again to experience more dramatic landscapes and experiences with the greatest force on earth.. mother nature.
First Impressions / Tokyo Day 1-
I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I decided to travel to Japan, spent the first 3 days of the trip in the largest city of the world and capital of Japan – Tokyo. At first it seemed overwhelming to even get around the city as one does not understand the magnitude of the size of this city until you see it from above, here we made it to this observation deck in Roppongi Hills, you can see the Tokyo Tower from here.
Current Exhibitions / Tokyo Day 2-
One of my missions while traveling is to find contemporary art museums no matter where, I believe they give a sense of the local/national art scene of today. This time I made it to the National Art Center in Tokyo designed by famous Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa, I enjoyed walking around the halls of this place and exploring the shapes and lines of the museum design itself.
Red nights / Tokyo Day 3-
Senso-ji is an ancient Buddhist temple and it is Tokyo’s oldest temple as well. In my opinion it is the most beautiful temple in Tokyo, we went there during day and night time and felt two completely different experiences; during the day this place is bustling with people (both tourists and locals) and it is very interesting to see and participate in some of their traditions. However, at night this place is even more special since there is only a handful of people around so you get to appreciate more in depth the architectural details of this masterpiece, plus in Japan it is quite rare to be allowed around temples late at night since most of them are inside parks and they close around 5 pm.
Climbing to the top / Mount Fuji Day 4-
Climbing Mount Fuji can be a little challenging for a beginner; one can climb the volcano in about 9 hours but we decided to make it a two day trip so we could stay at a mountain hut, hang with the hikers, and complete the hike early in the morning to arrive at the summit in time to witness the sunrise. In this photo we’d finally made it to the hut (quite an experience also), had dinner and went to bed early so we’d be ready for the early morning hike (1 am).
Land of the rising sun / Mount Fuji Day 5-
Finally made it to the summit of Mount Fuji. Woke up around 1 am and made to the top at 3 am or so, up there the temperature dropped to 2C (low 30s F) but to be honest it was quite nice. We secured a spot away from the rest of the hikers and hung out for a while to see the sunrise at 4:30 am (sharp!). This is a very special moment because you have to be extremely lucky to even have a view, it is always cloudy, from the pictures on the internet I had expected to see just clouds but I guess we were extremely lucky and were blessed with this awesome view, I had no idea there were other mountains and lakes around. Did I mention this is the highest peak in Japan? It is also a UNESCO world heritage site.
Capsule Hotel / Kyoto Day 6-
In case you don’t know what this is, Capsule hotels are a very unique type of hotels that were invented in Japan a few years ago where you are given literally a capsule to sleep through the night; these are modular plastic “rooms” roughly 1 by 1.25 m. I read somewhere that in some cities when business men get drunk and they close the subways for the night, they would rent out a capsule and stay there for the night, while I’m sure this still happens, now everybody uses these type of hotels. I had always wanted to stay at a capsule hotel so obviously this was the first accommodation I booked. The one we stayed at in Kyoto was super modern and it felt like entering a science fiction movie, but it truly was like apple store meets capsule hotels.
Thousands of Toriis / Kyoto Day 7-
Fushimi Inari-taisha is an important landmark in Kyoto and Japan really. It is famous for its thousands (30,000) of torii gates behind the main entrance and the trails lead into a forest. The hike to the summit takes about 2 hours; along the way you can find some Shrines, stone foxes and of course Toriis. Each Torii is donated by Japanese businesses as an offering to Inari, the patron of business.
Why not Gold? / Kyoto Day 8-
As I said before, there are hundreds and hundreds of gorgeous temples in Kyoto, but Kinkaku-ji or Temple of the Golden Pavilion definitely stands out; the top two stories of the Pavilion are covered with pure gold leaves and it functions as a shariden (housing relics of the Buddha). I liked the building’s reflection in the small zen pond around and it is one of the places that I will always remember, though full of tourist all year long, I still highly recommend it.
Onsen / Mount Kurama Day 9-
Onsen is a Japanese term for hot springs; Japan is a volcanic active country, therefore you can find hundreds of onsens across the country. Onsens come in many types and shapes, but mainly there are indoor and outdoor hot springs and they are all men and women separated. Onsens are a key part of Japanese culture and they are an excellent way to relax after hiking; the water is very hot (around 40 deg C) but it relaxes the body and it is a MUST do while in Japan, no pictures are allowed (such a rebel) and yes you have to get completely naked for this.
Messengers of God / Nara Day 10-
Nara is a city in between Kyoto and Osaka and used to be the capital of Japan from 710 to 794 also called the Nara period. Nara is easy to navigate as most of the attractions are located in the Nara Park, so it is an easy day trip from either Kyoto or Osaka. It is home of the famous Daibutsu (one of the largest Buddhas in the world) but to me the most remarkable part of Nara was its deer; they were everywhere (around 1200 in the park alone), they are considered in Shinto to be messengers of the gods and they have been designated as a natural treasure.
Castles / Osaka Day 11-
Although we had visited the gem of castles in Japan (Himeji), I liked Osaka’s castle better; it was pretty and easy to get to. Osaka is one Japan’s largest cities and it was one of my favorites; from the moment you get out of the train station everything is new and shiny.
Isolated treasure / Katsuura Day 12-
Nachi Taisha is one of the three Kumano shrines, and it is quite different as this is a complex that exemplifies the fusion of Buddhist and Shinto influences. This complex is very isolated from any other city we had gone to as it takes about 4 hours to get there taking a non-stop train from Osaka but it was well worth it. After seeing the Shrines we walked down the hiking trail to see the tallest waterfall in the country.
The Floating Torii / Miyajima Day 13 –
This is one of the country’s most well-known landmarks and it is located in an island about 40 min away from Hiroshima. The famous floating red tori has been considered a holy place for most Japanese history and you can find more temples, shrines and deer in the island as well. We were a bit unlucky that the weather did not cooperate for cool shots and it was cloudy and rainy that day but at least we got to be there and see the Torii in person.
Festivals / Nikko Day 14-
We stayed in Nikko for the night and among other travelers we had just met at the hostel, we decided to stop by a local festival in town. This was a very small but cozy festival where they were playing traditional music, playing games and just having a good time; we were offered free food, beer, raffle tickets and the opportunity to be part of this amazing community.
Sayonara Japan / Kamakura Day 15-
I heard someone say once “Every beginning has and end and every end has a new beginning” and that’s how I felt at day 15. It was shocking to think two weeks had gone by, but it was time to come back home. I hope you enjoyed some of the photos I posted but mostly the experience, hopefully you learned some things about this great land. We visited traditional and modern Japan and I really don’t think I have a favorite place, every place is different and similar at the same time; modern Japan truly complements traditional Japan. But besides the sights, I learned the most about the people and the way they behave; willing to go the extra mile to help out without asking, extremely clean, very respectful, punctual, religious, dedicated and mostly welcoming. Arigatou gozaimasu.
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Thanks for reading and looking through the pictures. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Literally, I was waiting for new pictures every day as Alfonso would only post a few a day. Haha.
I hope to go to Japan one day too. Here’s my ‘bucket list‘ of places I want to go. Let me know if you think I’m missing a must-see place :).