As Julie was approaching the end of her PhD process, we talked about how we should culminate such a long and arduous process. We wouldn’t have too much time to do something. After finishing, we would need to pack up and move to wherever Julie may happen to get a job. In the end, we decided that we would take a two week long trip to Japan. Our two weeks was enough to visit mainly the central part of Japan, we didn’t explore either the north or the south.
We began the trip by flying into Tokyo from Seattle and getting all the necessities for our trip. Our first stop was to get our JR Rail Pass. The Rail Pass has some small quirks that make it a bit confusing. The first quirk is that you actually have to purchase the Rail Pass in your home country. They then give you a voucher that you can exchange for the pass once you are in Japan. The exchange offices are conveniently located in the airport along with other locations. The pass gives you free travel on any JR train with the exception of the express bullet trains. It will even work in the JR subway that runs around Tokyo.
For money, we used our CapitalOne card which has zero foreign transaction fees to get Japanese currency. It gave us the best conversion rate which was at the actual financial rate. Just make sure to use an ATM that charges flat fees!
Once everything was settled, we set off on our trip. We began by staying overnight in Tokyo. We didn’t get to do much except go over to Shibuya Crossing and check out the swarms of people. The next day we hopped on the bullet train for the 3 hour trip to Kyoto. We planned on staying 3 nights in Kyoto. The first day we mainly walked around to a few sites around our hotel. The second day we rented bicycles and pedaled around the city, visiting a variety of the temples and gardens of which almost all are World Heritage sites. The third day, we made a day trip out Nara to visit the giant Buddha. The buddha was indeed giant but the most entertaining part of the excursion was all the wild deer that would attempt to steal any food that you had exposed.
After Kyoto, we hopped back on the bullet train towards Tsumago. Our goal there was to hike from Magome to Tsumago where our hotel was located. We stayed at Fujioto if you’re wondering. The hike was a nice 2-3 hour walk with some decent views. The highlight of the area was the multi-course dinner that we had at Fujioto. The people cooking and serving were the owner, his wife, and their daughter. All three spoke excellent english and made for a memorable and delicious meal.
After Tsumago, our next trip was out to Mt Fuji. We decided we wouldn’t have enough time to hike up the mountain so we enjoyed it from afar. We had yet another multicourse meal here along with a buffet breakfast so we were quite stuffed leaving Fuji.
Our final stop was back to Tokyo. We would spend the last days here before flying back out. In Tokyo, we visited all the various districts and ate at dozens of ramen places. Enough ramen to last us for a while. The highlight of our stay in Tokyo was probably the visit to the Ghibili Museum. There are no photos allowed inside the museum, so you’ll just have to go yourself to find out what’s there. You also have to pre-purchase tickets at a Japanese only kiosk inside of convenience stores. That was not easy.
Overall, it was a good trip. However, I would not recommend visiting in September. It was just too hot. Most days it was in the high 80s and humid. If you plan on going to Japan, I would suggest trying to go either in the fall or in the spring. I’m sure mid-October would be a great time to visit.