ghibli museum

A magical day in Tokyo

We conclude our series in Tokyo with two iconic Japanese cultural forces: Studio Ghibli and contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama. If you haven’t watched any of the movies of Studio Ghibli you should change that immediately.  Both the movies of Studio Ghibli and the art of Yayoi Kusama explore the magical and surreal so it’s interesting to explore both museums and the same day even though they are quite different there are overlying themes to discover.

Visit Ghibli museum

A visit to the Ghibli museum has to be planned well in advance. There are no tickets available at the door since the museum works with advance reservations only. You can either buy them via the JTB group 3 months in advance or via Lawson on the 10th of the preceding month. Set your alarm clock and have ideally have a somewhat flexible scheduele to get tickets.

Stained-glass Totoro windows

The museum itself is a wonderful magial place for both adults and children alike. All your Ghibli favourites are there from Totoro to the Iron Giant, it’s a fun place to explore and to get an isight into the movie making process.

Yayoi Kusuma museum

The works of Yayoi Kusama can be seen in museums all over the world and in Japan even more. From the famous pumpkins on Naoshima to the modern art museum in her birthtown of Matsumoto. Tokyo was lacking a museum with her art, this changed in 2017 when a museum dedicated to her art opened.

As with the Ghibli museum, the Yayoi Kusuma museum doesn’t sell tickets at the door. The must be ordered in advance via their website.

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

View from to Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building with Mount Fuji.

End the day with a view from the observation deck in the towers of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. The observation deck on the 45th floor (202m) is freely accessible for everyone and gives you a great impression of the city. On clear days you can also see Mount Fuji in the distance.


Mito & Tokyo | Great garden of Japan and the history of Edo

Three Great Gardens of Japan

Japan is famous for many things, among which it’s highly stylized gardens. Traditionally there are three gardens seen as the best. These are Kenroku-en in Kanazawa, Koraku-en in Okayama and Kairaku-en in Mito. The first two are too far away from Tokyo for a day trip, but the Kairaku-en in Mito is just one-and-a-half hours away by train, so if you don’t plan on visiting the other gardens make sure to visit this one.

Trip to Mito


Since Kairaku-en lies just one-and-a-half hours from Tokyo, it’s a perfect morning trip. You can either go to Kairaku-en station (only open during the plum blossom season) and walk to the garden or go to Mito station and take the bus. There are clear signs as you leave the station for the busses which bus will stop at the garden.

The garden is most famous for its plum blossoms, so a visit at the end of the winter (February or March) will treat you to a flowerly delight. There is also a large bamboo forest to explore and a host of different trees and plants.

Bamboo forrest

Kobuntei house

Kobuntei house now serves as a tea house and hosts poetry events. It’s the perfect place to relax and take in some of the stunning views.


During the Sakura season you should also visit Sakurayama which is part of the greater park area and which is full of cherry blossom trees.

Once you’re done in Mito take the train back to Tokyo for some culture and history.

Back in Tokyo

Edo Tokyo museum

The Edo Tokyo museum is housed in one of the most bizarre and huge modern buildings ever build. The museum tells the story of Tokyo from it’s origins as a small trading and fishing village to the capital of Japan and one of the largest cities in the world. The museum is full with replica buildings from the different ages, providing you the opportunity to travel through time back to the Shogunate, war time Tokyo and the post-war period.

Sumida Hokusai museum

Just a couple of streets behind the Edo Tokyo museum lies the Sumida Hokusai museum, housed in a stunning modern building in the shape of a huge letter M. Here you can watch some of the most famous and iconic works of Hokusai such as his Great wave off Kanagawa. If you love his work, try to also visit his museum in Obuse.

Tokyo Skytree

Tokyo Skytree

Either take the subway directly to Tokyo Skytree and marvel at the huge building from below and go up to get some great views over Tokyo if you like. Another approach is to take the bus to the Kitajukken river and then take some pictures of the Skytree from a far. Afterwards you can walk towards the Skytree. Not sure if going up is worth the price, the free view from the Tokyo metropolitan building is as good or better. And if you want an alternative to the metropolitan building, we prefer the Tokyo city view in the Mori art building as it provides unhindered open-air views of Tokyo.

Previous articles about Tokyo and its surroundings


How to spend a fabulous week in dazzling Tokyo

Tokyo is one of the largest cities in the world and with its ever-sprawling suburbs it feels like a city with no end. So, it can be hard to decide where to start and how to spend your limited time there.  We’ll try to help you on your way with our favourite places, great ideas for day trips, some tips and our Tokyo itinerary for a week.

Our favourite places in Tokyo

There are so many great places that it’s hard to come up with a top 5. But here are our favourite places in alphabetical order:  

Day trips from Tokyo

There are many greats sights within 1 or 2 hours of Tokyo. All places can be reached by taking a train from Tokyo station.

Daibatsu in Kamakura


It’s easy to come up with our favourite day trip from Tokyo, that has to be a visit to the stunning temples and shrines of Kamakura.


Not that far behind Kamakura comes Nikko. It lies in a beautiful pine forest and the shrine to Tokugawa Ieyasu is stunning. If you can’t make it to Nikko, visit the Tokugawa shrine in Ueno in Tokyo.


Traditionally listed as one of the top 3 gardens in Japan, we think it’s the least of the three but we visited the garden during the winter with no snow.


Go to Hakone for some better views of Mount Fuji and relax and take a bath in the many onsen there.


Where to stay in Tokyo

Since Tokyo is gigantic travelling from one place to another can take a lot of time. Therefor it’s best to stay close to a subway station and prefereably to a JR Circle line station. (circular Yamanote line) Especially if you have a JR railpass.

One-week Tokyo Itinerary

Tokyo by night

Day 1 Tokyo, parks, shopping, shrines and museums

We start our Tokyo itinerary with lots of parks, some shopping, a museum and a view. Read our Tokyo | Nature in the city park for more details.

  • Shinjuku Gyoen, a great place for a picknick and also for cherry blossom viewing.
  • Shopping
  • Meji Jingu shrine
  • Mori Art Museum
  • Tokyo city view

Day 2 Day trip to Kamakura

Escape the city for a day with the perfect day trip to beautiful Kamakura. In this ancient Japanese capital you’ll find plenty of temples, shrines and a gigantic Buddha in a tranquil environment.

  • Trip to Kamakura

Day 3 Tokyo, fish market, gardens, temples and museums

Once acclimatised and with your jet lag behind you, it’s time for an exciting full day in Tokyo.

  • Toyosu fish market
  • Hama-rikyu Gardens
  • Boat ride
  • Asakusa
  • Senso-ji
  • Ueno Kōen
  • Tokyo National Museum
  • Tōshō-gū
Tōshō-gū in Ueno Kōen

Day 4 Day trip to Nikko

Unwind again by making a day trip to peaceful Nikko. This place is most famous for the shrines of Ieyasu and Iemitsu Tokugawa. But there are many more beautiful religious shrines and temples here. Read our article about Nikko for more information.

  • Trip to Nikko

Day 5 Tokyo, shrines, museums and war

Another full day in Tokyo lies ahead. We will explore the darker side of Japanese history and look at some modern and contemporary art. Go on a shopping bonanza and visit the heart of Tokyo. Read the complete article here.

  • Imperial Shrine of Yasukuni
  • Yūshūkan
  • Imperial Palace
  • Akihabara
  • Mitsui Memorial Museum

Day  6 Kairaku-en in Mito and more Tokyo

For a change of scenery we’ll go to Mito and one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan, Kairaku-en. In the afternoon we’ll visit the interesting Edo Tokyo museum to get an understanding of the history and development of Tokyo. Read our full guide here.

  • Trip to Mito
  • Edo Tokyo museum
  • Sumida Hokusai museum
  • Tokyo Skytree
Sumida Hokusai museum

Day 7 Magical Tokyo

End your visit of Tokyo with two magical museums. But since both museums are only accessible with advance tickets reserve tickets well in advance and be flexible to adjust your schedule.

  • Visit Ghibli museum
  • Yayoi Kusuma museum
  • Tokyo Metropolitan building
Also read our post on Kyoto
Himeiji castle

Best itinerary for 4 unforgettable weeks in Japan

Are you ready for Japan?

U-erukomu! Are you ready for a modern world in the eastern part of the globe spread out over 6,000 islands? Get ready for an unending journey of temples, pagodas, modern art and high tech. But also neighbourhoods of samurais and geishas, Japanese gardens and a highly organized society? A world of fresh fish, the finest sushi, steaming ramen, tea ceremonies and strong sake? Continue reading about our adventures while travelling the land of the rising sun: Japan!


We spend our honeymoon in Japan, which made this journey extra special for us. This meant: reading many books and watching tons of movies before we dared to visit the country. We wanted to be sure that we were prepared our trip in the best way possible. We hope you can use our information to your advantage!

So, we share our itinerary, made a list of 11 tips for travelling Japan, a blog about food, Tokyo and Kyoto, what to pack, how to prepare and much more…

When to go?

Japan is beautiful in all seasons. Just know that Cherry blossom season is somewhere in March or April depending on the weather and the location. But there are dedicated websites to forecasting when the blossoming will start. But be aware that it will be busier around this time. The same goes for Golden Week, which is a national holiday from the 29th of April to early May. Summers are hot and humid and August is also the time of another public holiday. Autumn colors will start to appear at the end of September in the north, slowly making their way south.

Our Japan itinerary

We had a hard time puzzling the best itinerary for our four weeks in Japan. We wanted to visit as much of Japan as possible. As you know, we love culture, history, art and nature and wanted a perfect combination of this. Since Japan has a lot to offer in all these categories, tough choices had to be made. We like to hear if you have a more efficient itinerary than this one.


Tokyo Asakusa
Tokyo Asakusa

We flew to Tokyo to start our trip and spend one long day in this big city, visiting museums of Japanese history and Western art, temples and pagodas. Also, we used Tokyo as our base for two-day trips: one to Kamakura, a coastal town packed with temples and Buddha’s and one to the shrines of Nikko.

Next, we explored and crossed the Japanese Alps. We had a pit-stop Nagano; spent a night in Matsumoto to visit its famous black castle and the birthplace of modern artist Yayoi Kusama. We hiked a day in Kamakochi, a popular resort with spectacular mountain scenery. Then, we crossed the Japanese Alps to the west coast. There, we stayed in Kanazawa, home to one of the best landscape gardens of Japan, an impressive modern art museum and a beautiful castle.


Okunoin cementry
Okunoin cementry

From there our trip continued southwards by bullet train, to visit Osaka a vibrant and modern city; Kyoto, the former Imperial capital of Japan and Nara, Japan’s first permanent capital.
To learn more about the Japanese religion and the art of meditation, we did a tour in the mystical mountains in Koyasan, where we slept in a temple. From Kii-Tanabe we walked the Kumano Kodo, in the footsteps of the pilgrims.



From the heart of those misty Mountains, it was a substantial train ride back to the inhabited world. We joined civilization again in Okayama to visit its garden and castle. Took the boat across the inland sea to Naoshima, an island bursting with modern art. On the way, we also visited the beautiful, white Himeji castle and Hiroshima with its Atomic bomb museum, and the Miyajima shrine. You know that famous shrine that you see on every Japan brochure.


Blood Hell
Blood Hell

And from here, the always unpredictable nature of Japanese earth’s crust threw a spanner in the works of the last weeks of our trip. We planned to visit Kumamoto and its castle and from there Mount Aso with its active volcano before we would hit Beppu, the onsen heaven of Japan. However, because of an earthquake, Kumamoto’s castle was partially collapsed and the city was isolated from most train traffic. Also, the volcano of Aso was a bit too active, and therefore, tourists were not allowed nearby. That is why we choose to go to Beppu straight away and spent the two days that we saved on an extra Japanese garden in Takamatsu, a temple in Kyoto and a museum, all the way back in Kanazawa. Also, we visited Nagasaki, to another city hit by an atomic bomb, and also check out Dejima, the Dutch trading post from the 17th-19th century.

Okinawa beach

From Fukuoka, we planned to fly to Iriomote, one of Japan’s tropical islands to finish our trip on the soft and sandy bounty beaches, to snorkel and hike through the jungle of the remote island. However, because of a typhoon, flights and boats were cancelled, which got us stuck on the main island of Okinawa for three days. This gave us all the time to learn the secrets of healthy living from the oldest people in the world, living in Okinawa.

Just before we had to leave Japan, we spent two more days in Tokyo, to make sure we could check all the remaining highlights there and don’t feel too sad to head back to the other side of the world.


Top 3 Japanese Gardens

Most list of Japanese gardens list the same three gardens in no particular order, the so-called three Great Japanese gardens. After visiting dozens of different Japanese gardens, we came to a different conclusion. Continue reading to broaden your horizon.

Nr. 3 Ritsurin-koen

Ritsurin-koen is not on many other lists, but undeservingly so. Maybe because the garden is in Takamatsu. Which is on the island of Shikoku and not part of most tourist itineraries. Yet, this garden is worth the detour. Ritsurin-koen is Japan’s largest garden with over 750,000 square meters.

Work on this garden started in 1625 by Ikoma Takatoshi, making this the oldest garden on the list. Takatoshi began with the development of Nan-ko, the southern lake and used the beautiful vegetation of Mount Shiun as a background. Further improvements and enlargement of the garden would take another 100 years. Construction of the garden finished in 1745. After the requisitioning by the Meiji government the garden opened to the public in 1875. The Japanese government designated Ritsurin-koen as a ‘Special Place of Scenic Beauty’ in 1953.

There are different ways to enjoy this garden: Take a boat ride on Nan-ko to take in the views from the water. Or go for a cup of tea in the teahouse which overlooks the lake. From the hill in the garden, you have a complete view of all its beauty. Japanese come to this garden to get a quintessential view of Japan, so did we and so should you.

If you decide to make the trip, also visit the nearby open-air museum of Shikoku village. Here, you can experience the way people used to live in this area and view some great art.

Nr. 2 Korakuen

Construction of Okayama Korakuen started in 1687 and finished in 1700. Apart from some small changes, the garden looks the same today as it did back then. We know this because there are many period paintings and records describing the garden. The garden opened to the public in 1884. It was heavily damaged during floods in 1934 and bombing in 1945. But has since been restored with the help of the before mentioned paintings and records. Korakuen garden was designated as a ‘Special Place of Scenic Beauty’ in 1952.


The garden has great open spaces which allows for these great views. Streams of water cut through those open spaces to add depth. Rice fields seemingly transfer into the grass and rows of trees line the paths. The garden has a different palette of colours every season because of all the different blossoms, foliage and flowers. The beautiful backdrop of Okayama castle enhances the scenic beauty of the garden. This is also the best way to view Okayama castle since it’s not so good looking up close. And as in any garden, there always is a teahouse nearby to relax and take in the views.

Okayama lies on the route from Kyoto to Hiroshima and the island of Kyusu. It also is an ideal base for visiting the islands of the inland sea, like Naoshima. Or the Ritsurin-koen in Takamatsu, which is just 1.5 hours away by train.

Nr. 1 Kenroku-en


This is our favourite Japanese Garden as it combines all the characteristics perfectly. Great views as far as the distant sea. Big and small streams of water. Hidden views, solitary trees and the famous bound pine trees that can handle the snow and provide the idyllic winter pictures. There is even scientific research done to explain why people like this garden so much.

Maeda Tsunanori developed the first garden on this site in the second half of the 17th century. The garden was called “Renchi-tei garden” and was used for banquets and moon viewing. It burned down in 1759, but Maeda Harunaga restored it. He added the Midori-taki waterfall and the tea houses and in 1776 the garden had its current form. Kenroku-en opened to the public in 1874.

Kanazawa lies along the shore of the Japanese Sea on the other side of the Japanese Alps. Therefore, it isn’t on everybody’s itinerary. But it should be, not only is this garden worth the trip, the city of Kanazawa has an outstanding modern art museum, geisha’s and old samurai houses to enjoy. If that’s not enough to convince you, let us tell you that the trip there crossing the Alps is a great adventure on its own.

Other gardens worth mentioning

Kairaku-en in Mito

Kairaku-en is usually included in the list of the three great gardens of Japan. We found it the least interesting of the three and prefer Ritsurin-koen to this garden. That said, it is famous for its plum blossoms and of all the gardens listed here it lies closest to Tokyo so it makes for an easy day trip. Read our article about a day trip to Mito for more information.

Adachi museum of art

The private Adachi museum of art has a stunning garden and the views from the museum are breath taking. Although you can’t really wander in this garden, viewing this garden is certainly rewarding. The museum itself also houses great works of art, so make the detour and stay in nearby Matsue and visit this beautiful museum and garden.

Top 3 Gardens
Food in Japan

Eating in Japan

Eating in Japan is a treat and an experience on its own. From the quality of the products to the love and work put into the preparation and presentation, it’s hard to have a bad meal. Furthermore, eating out is relatively inexpensive, even more so when you skip the alcoholic drinks. Japanese food is a major attraction when going to Japan. It is the one thing we miss the most and just thinking about all the meals we had, waters my mouth. Here is an overview of the eating options, from breakfast to dinner, you can find in Japan.



Breakfast is the staple meal of the day, certainly for travellers going places and walking around all day. It will give you the energy to do all that or provide you with a moment of Zen before rushing from A to B to C.

Fish markets

Kaisen bowl
Kaisen bowl

One of the best things to have for breakfast, is fresh fish from the market. It may sound a bit heavy on the stomach early in the morning, but once you have tried it, it will be hard to resist. So, take a walk to the nearest fish market (that can be found in almost every town close to the sea, which is luckily quite usual in Japan!), and taste the quality and freshness of the products.

The obvious place to go to is Tsukiji fish market. Here, you can sit down at one of the many bars for a quick and great meal. Tuna is great, but keep overfishing in mind. If you want to try something else in Tokyo, try and go to Adachi fish market. Fish markets in other Japanese towns that stand out are the Kanazawa fish market and the Osaka Central fish market.

What to try? Go for the Kaisen (mixed sea food) bowl

Convenience store

No time to sit down? Go to a convenience store. The food is cheap and there is a big range of different breakfast options of fairly good quality. Wherever you’re going you’ll always find a Lawson, Seven-Eleven or a FamilyMart along your way.

What to try? Onigiri (Japanese rice balls)

Breakfast chains

Do you want to sit down, but don’t spend too much money? Try one of the morning breakfast sets at a restaurant or coffee shop chain. There are numerous options available. Cheap options are Beck’s coffee operated by JR East which can be found at many railway stations in the Kanto region. Another is Doutor Coffee located in business districts around Japan which serves western style breakfast options. If you have a bigger appetite, try Cocos for an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet.


Bento box

Bento boxes

The bento box or boxed lunch is something typically Japanese which you should try at least once. But be aware, the quality and convenience can tempt you to always eat lunch on the go. There are many bento-options at almost every station. Convenient if you have to catch a train around lunch time!

What to try? Oshizushi (pressed sushi in a wooden box)

Kaiseki Ryori (Japanese haute cuisine)

This is the top end of the Japanese culinary experience. If you want to try this and don’t break your budget at the same time, lunch time is the best opportunity to do so. You usually pay between a third – two-thirds of the dinner price. This will still set you back somewhere between 7,000 and 9,000 Yen.

fast food
Double hamburger

Fast food

You can’t be adventurous all the time. So if you’re looking for a fast and familiar fix for lunch, head over to a fast food restaurant. You’ll find all the big familiar chains in Japan but with some local specialities added to their menus. Alternatively, try one of the Japanese burger chains like Mos Burger or Freshness burger for burgers prepared with local products.


Starting to describe all the dinner options is an impossible mission. Whether you’re in Tokyo or a small provincial town, good affordable dinner options are never far away. So how to make a choice amidst this abundance? Use an app like Tripadvisor to point you in the right direction. Get a few options in an area and check them out. Most cities have areas with a higher concentration of restaurants. Food courts are also a great option. Head over there and use the best tip we can give you: “Follow the queue”. Whether you’re looking for breakfast at the fish market, picking up a bento box or choosing a place for dinner, this advice will help you every time. A long line equals a great dining experience. Lines are usually around 30 minutes long but can be longer for really popular places.



Try to eat something different every time to get as big a sample as possible of all Japan has to offer. Go for some Ramen, people have devoted their life to finding the best Ramen so let their quest be your guide. Try the different local specialties, so when you’re In Osaka try some Okonomoyaki. Go to a Buddhist temple and sample their vegetarian cuisine. And eat some sushi, whenever and wherever you want to.

Food in Japan

Day trip to Nara and Uji

While you’re in Kyoto or Osaka, make sure to leave some time to visit Nara, Horyu-ji and Uji. Nara was founded in 710 CE as Heijo-kyo (Citadel of Peace) to serve as the permanent capital of Japan. This lasted for 74 years until emperor Kammu decided to move the court out of Nara due to ever growing intrigues. These years left Nara with some magnificent history and sites.

You can do this day trip either from Kyoto or Osaka. It’s around an hour by train from both cities. It is slightly faster when you travel with the private rail companies and a little bit longer when you opt to travel the whole way with JR. This last option would save you money if you have a JR rail pass.



Everything in Nara is open from 9 a.m., many sites open even earlier. So, if you want to beat the crowds, leave early. If you want to be extremely time efficient and don’t mind getting up really early. Then start at Horyu-ji when you’re coming from Kyoto or Uji when travelling from Osaka.



The temple complex Kofuku-ji is a 15-minute walk from the station along Sanjo dori. You’ll pass some coffee shops and convenience stores along the way, nice if you need to pick up breakfast or lunch.

The temple complex of Kofuku-ji was established in 669 CE and moved to its current site when Nara became the capital in 710 CE. It remained an important temple complex for centuries until a gradual decline in power beginning in the 15th century. The temple was a victim of the Meiji restoration as many of its buildings were torn down and many of its valuables were lost.

The highlights of the complex are the five-storey pagoda, the Tohon-do with its statues and the modern Kohuihokan. The Kohuihokan houses the saved treasures from the destroyed buildings. The hall will reopen on 1 January 2018 after a yearlong restoration period.

Nara deer
Nara deer


Nara-koen is a large park which houses most of the major sites in Nara. Beside the ancient sites, the deer are another attraction. But beware of them when eating or when with little children since they can be really intrusive.

Nara National Museum

Make your way through the park towards Nara National Museum. This museum has a large collection of statues and national treasures. Check their website to see what’s on display since only a small part of the collection is on display at the same time.


Just north of the museum, behind Nandai-mon, lies Todai-ji, the main attraction of Nara. Emperor Shomu founded this temple complex in 745 CE. Most people come here to see the Daibatsu (Great Buddha) and its hall, the Daibatsuden. The magnificent Daibatsuden was the biggest wooden building in the world until 1998. The current structure is a reconstruction from 1709, only two thirds of the original size. The Daibatsu itself is 15 metres high and was originally casted in 752 CE. Not much is left of that original statue due to fires and earthquakes, but it remains a marvel anyway.


Head eastwards to get a nice view of Nara from Nigatsu-do. There, you can also visit Nara’s oldest remaining building, Sangatsu-do dating from 729.

Kasuga Taisha

From here it’s a nice walk through the park along lantern-lid paths towards Kasuga Taisha. Kusuga Taisha is an important Shinto shrine that was founded in 768. As you continue southwards you’ll pass numerous other Shinto shrines until you exit the park.

It’s a short walk to the 1300-year old temple of Shin-Yakushi-ji. Which houses some interesting statues. From here it’s a 30-min walk back to the train station.


Take either the bus or the train to Horyu-ji. It will take you between 40-60 minutes to get there.

Even according to Japanese standards, Horyu-ji is an ancient site. Prince Shotoku built Horyu-ji in 607 CE as one of the earliest Buddhist sites in Japan. It burnt down in 670 CE but was quickly rebuilt. Today it’s home to the oldest Buddhist building in Japan. Aside from that, Kon-do (Golden Hall) is also the oldest wooden structure in the world. The various temple buildings house some great early Buddhist statues.

Exit through the northeast gate, for a visit of Chuyu-ji. Chuyu-ji is a sixth century nunnery which served as residency for Prince Shotoku’s mother. A highlight of the complex is the Miroku Bosatsu statue from the early seventh century.

Take the bus back to the station and take the train back to Nara and continue towards Uji.



When you arrive in Uji, exit the station and head towards the river. As soon as you’re near the bridge, you’ll see a statue dedicated to Murasuki Shikibu, writer of the Tale of Genji. The last ten chapters of this 11th century novel are set in Uji. You can learn more about this book and the last chapters in the Tale of the Genji museum across the bridge.

We don’t cross the bridge, but go right along the river. Since Uji is the tea capital of Japan, you’ll find plenty of tea shops here. They sell tea in all price classes. Due to the light weight and the sturdy packaging of the tea, it makes for an ideal souvenir or gift.


Tea ceremony

Soon you’ll come upon the entrance to Byodo-in. This temple complex was founded in 1052. The oldest remaining building in the complex is Hoo-do (Phoenix Hall) which dates from 1053. The official name is Amida hall, after the Amida Buddha statue it houses. You can see the building on the 10-yen coin.

After exiting the temple complex, continue along the river until you’ll find the tourist office. The tourist office exploits a traditional Japanese tea house. Here you can enjoy a traditional Japanese tea ceremony and finish your day in style.

If you’re looking for tips for Kyoto, read our 2-day itinerary.

Your guide to Nara

Soaking away in Beppu

Beppu is a world apart. Throughout the town steam and sulfur fumes are rising up from between the tiles. It is easy to feel lost in all choices for hot springs, sand, mud and foot baths. We will give you some pointers.


The Hells of Beppu

Blood Hell
Blood Hell

The hells (Jigoku) of Beppu, are eight spectacular hot springs in surrealistic colours, for viewing rather than bathing. We advise you to visit only Umi Jigoku and Oniishi Bozu Jigoku. These are the most impressive ones and do not keep animals, in contrast to Yama Jigoku and Oniyama Jigoku.

We liked Umi Jigoku best, with its cobalt blue colour, big amounts of steam, beautiful gardens, water lilies and even an onsen in which you can bath your feet. This makes Umi Jigoku worth a visit.

Oniishi Bozu Jigoku (meaning Shaven Monk’s Head Hell), shows intriguing bubbling grey mud pots. The bubbles have similarities to the heads of monks. The bubbles make great sounds and figures. This place has also a foot onsen.

Taking a bath

Mount Tsurumi
Mount Tsurumi

The downside of visiting Beppu as a heterosexual couple, is that it is hard to find a mixed gender (konyoku) onsen. Therefor we like Hoyo Land Konya Jigoku a lot, as it has a partially mixed mud bath outside, separated by bamboo poles. Inside, there is a small onsen maze to keep you occupied with different types of baths for another 30 minutes.

Just remember that your clothes will have a sulphur smell, as a very present souvenir. It took us a couple of laundries to get rid of it. If you don’t want to get wet, you can also choose for a sand bath on the beach. Just note that it costs around 1,000 yen and will last for only 10 minutes.

Other things to do

Are you totally relaxed by all the bathing? Try climbing Mount Tsurumi, a mountain with ropeway that overlooks the city. Furthermore, you can take a lesson in ‘Steam Cooking’, where you cook food with hot spring food. Also, Mount Aso is just a bus or train ride around the corner. Just make sure the active volcano is not too active: They activate a no-entry zone when this is the case, whereby it is impossible to approach and see the crater.

Guido to Beppu
Zen garden

Kyoto in two days part II

Welcome at day 2 of our crazy schedule to get most of the highlights in Kyoto. If you missed the first part, you can read it here. Whether you’re a business traveller with a day to spare, on a tight schedule or just wanting to see as much as possible. We will give you as much of a complete overview of Kyoto as possible.


Day 2

Fushimi Inari Taisha
Fushimi Inari

Fushimi Inari Taisha

Nothing wakes you up more than an early morning exercise, for this head over to Fushimi Inari. This site is accessible all day so come as early as you like. This should give you the opportunity for some beautiful undisturbed shots of the 10.000 torii along the way to the shrine at the top. As an added bonus, the shrine will come with a beautiful view of Kyoto. Both the site and the views are very photo-friendly.


From the top of the hill head north through the forest path. This way you can walk all the way towards Tōfuku-ji. This temple is famous for its fall foliage, the 600-year-old 22-meter-high entrance gate (Sanmon) and the different gardens.


Take the Keikan main line to Shichijō station, from there it’s a short walk to Sanjūsangen-dō. This temple houses 1.001 Kannon statues, 124 of them date back to before the 1249 fire. The others were made in the 13th Century after the fire. The main Kannon statue and some others were made by the sculptor Tankei. The outside gallery was used for archery competitions.



Take the bus (line 202, 206 or 207) or walk for 25 minutes to Kiyomizu-dera. This temple complex with its wooden platform is an iconic site in Kyoto. The way towards the complex is lined with souvenir shops and all kinds of people dressed in traditional Japanese clothing make their way towards the temple.
The temple provides great views of the city from its viewing platform. If you want a good view of Kiyomizu-dera itself, make your way to the opposite hill via Otowa waterfall.


Within the complex you’ll find various Shinto shrines helping people with their love life. Popular to test the quality of your relationship are the two ‘blind stones’. Walk between these two love stones with your eyes closed, if you can reach the other stone, you don’t have to worry about your relationship.


Head north towards Nanzen-ji by taking bus 206 to Higashiyama station. Take the Tozai line for one stop to Keage station. From here it’s a short walk to the Nanzen-ji temple complex.
Start with the smaller sub temple of Konchi-in. It is famous for its’ dry gardens designed by the 17th century tea master Kobori Enshū. At Nanzen-ji you’ll also be able to get some great shōjin ryōri, Buddhist vegetarian meals.


Silver Pavilion

On your way towards the Philosophers’ path you’ll pass Eikan-dō. This temple is a great place for maple leaf viewing in November.

Philosophers’ path

Continue northwards along the Philosophers’ path. This walk through the wooded hillside along a canal is named after a 20th century philosopher who walked here daily. After some 30 minutes, you will reach Ginkaku-ji.


It’s always important to align your expectations with reality to avoid disappointment. Ginkaku-ji (the silver pavilion) is not silver nor is its roof or anything else. But what it is, is a beautiful pavilion hidden away in a wooded area next to a pond and stylized Japanese dry gardens. So instead of impressing you with its shiny metals, it teases you with long windy hedged paths. Offering just a brief glimpse of the pavilion before you finally come up close.


Now it’s finally time to relax. Head over to the Gion neighbourhood. This is Kyoto’s famous Geisha district. Here you’ll find a lot of traditional wooden houses, many of which now function as restaurants. If you are up to spending a lot of money on food, head over to some of the best kaiseki-ryōri (Japanese haute cuisine) restaurants here. Otherwise an inexpensive but still great dining opportunity is always just around the corner wherever you are in this city.

We hoped you have enjoyed this itinerary. Also read our five-day itinerary to Tokyo and its surrounding area.

2 days in Kyoto
Bamboo forest

How to do Kyoto in two days part I

Of course, Kyoto can keep you occupied for a week, or even a lifetime. However, if your time in Japan is limited, and you want to visit more places during your stay, choices have to be made. In this post, you will learn how to maximize your sightseeing in Kyoto and pack the highlights in just two days. To make it work, an early start on both days is essential. It might be a good choice to stay central, with easy access to public transport and breakfast at an early time or on the go.


Day 1


Our first stop of the day is the beautiful zen garden of Ryōan-ji. The garden opens at 8 a.m., making it an ideal first stop as its best experienced with as few people as possible. Although this is true for most sites.

Golden Pavilion

Kinkaku-ji (Rokuon-ji)

From Ryōan-ji, it’s either a 20-minute walk or a 10-minute bus ride to Kinkaku-ji. Kinkaku-ji is where you find the famous golden pavilion and since it opens at 9 a.m., with a bit of planning you can also be one of the first there. Enjoy this last bit of quiet sightseeing since it will be the last of the day. The Golden pavilion date back to 1397. Sadly, the current building is a 1955 reconstruction. The original structure burned down in 1950 when a monk tried to commit suicide by burning himself.


When you are done at the Golden pavilion, take the bus to Kitanokakubaicho station and from here take the Keifuku Dentetia line via Katabinanotsuji station to Arashiyama station. It’s a short walk from the station to Tenryū-ji temple complex. Here you can enjoy some more zen gardens which date back to the 13th century.


Depending on the time and your appetite, you could now get something to eat at Shigetsu. This restaurant serves some of the best vegetarian food in Kyoto. Otherwise continue onwards through Kaneama Koen and maybe eat your bento box of lunch here. Or continue towards the Sagano road of bamboo forest.

Bamboo forest
Arashiyama bamboo forest

Bamboo forest

At the Arashiyama bamboo forest you can join the hundreds of other tourists trying to capture this photogenic piece of road. We personally found it too busy to be able to enjoy it, so don’t expect a leisurely walk through a forest. Follow the road to the end and head towards Saga-Arashiyama station.


Take the train back to central Kyoto and get off at Nijo station. From here it’s just a short walk to Nijō-jō, the opulent castle of Togugawa Ieyasu. The castle was built to show the emperor that a new leader of Japan had emerged. The shoguns castle is filled with beautiful golden gilded screen doors and paintings.

Yasaka shrine

A short bus ride will bring you to Yasaka shrine. In July, this shrine hosts the Gion Matsuri, one of Kyoto’s biggest spectacles. Highlight of this festival is the parade on July 17, when richly decorated lantern-lit floats parade through central Kyoto. Afterwards walk through Marayami Park and make your way towards the Heian shrine.

Torii to Heian

Heian shrine

It’s hard to miss the entry to this shrine since it’s marked by an enormous torii. Heian shrine was built after the move of the capital to Tokyo to underscore Kyoto’s illustrious past as imperial capital. The main attraction is the garden in the back.

It’s almost time to treat yourself so make your way towards Kyoto station.
Depending on the time and your energy levels there is one more site to visit.


Just south west of Kyoto station lies To-ji. The main feature of this temple complex is its five-story pagoda. With a height of almost 55 metres (180 feet), it’s the highest pagoda in Japan. The complex is linked to Kūkai (also known as Kōbō-Daishi) who was put in charge of the complex in 823, earlier he had founded his first monastery at Koyasan. Every 21st of the month the Meido, where Kōbō-Daishi is said to have lived, opens its doors to visitors. On this same day, there also is a famous flea market on the temple grounds.

Kyoto station

We end our day at Kyoto station. Marvel at the modern architecture, watch the crowds and have dinner at the food court. The restaurants with the longest lines are the hip and happening ones, so join the queue and wind down for the day. Read on to see what to do on the second day in Kyoto.

2 Days in Kyoto
Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle: an UNESCO WHS Review

History of the Himeji castle

First, a fort was built on the site of the current castle in 1333. This fort was demolished in 1346 and a castle was built to replace it. In the 16th century this castle was remodelled into Himeji castle. Some more extensive remodelling followed in the early 17th century. Apart from some demolished corridors and outer defensive, the castle has remained unaltered since then.

Luckily the castle was spared demolition in the Meiji period, a time when many Japanese castles were demolished because they were considered to be obsolete. And although it was hit by a firebomb in World War II, that bomb didn’t explode, so the castle also escaped destruction then. As a result, Himeji is one of the few remaining original castles in Japan.

Review of Himeji castle

Read more about how we rated Himeji castle and other sites at our UNESCO World Heritage Site Review.

Beauty: 4

Himeji castle is the picture-perfect Japanese castle. Recently renovated and restored, it once again shines in the sun and honours its name of ‘White Egret Castle’. Although the outside is beautiful, the inside is more bland. This results in an appreciation of 4 out of 5 for beauty.

Himeiji castle

Uniqueness: 4

Considered as one of the 12 remaining original Japanese castles, Himeji castle is quite unique. Especially since much of the different defence systems are still intact. This gives the opportunity to gain full insight into the defensive workings of a Japanese castle. Many other castles, either original or rebuilt, are just a Donjon or main tower with a gate and some outer defences.

A possible alternative would be Matsumoto castle, where the Donjon is also still in its original form, but that castle has far less outer defence systems. Japanese castles are quite unique and different from other castles. A big difference is the fact that they are mainly built from wood. This makes original castles like Himeji rare because of the dangers of fire, lightning and attack. All of this results in an appreciation of 4 out of 5 for uniqueness.

Experience: 5

At Himeji castle, there are different options available to enhance your experience:
– Free English language tours are provided by volunteers.
– An interactive augmented reality app which provides insights into the function and workings of different rooms and objects.
– Signs and explanations in Japanese and English
– Most of the grounds and buildings are accessible to the public.

Himeji city


The main keep is not accessible for people in a wheelchair. But other areas are open for visitation. Guide dogs are allowed in the main keep but they can have trouble with the very steep stairs, especially when descending. So please keep this in mind when you plan your visit.

Value for money:

The cost of an entry ticket is in line with what you pay for other castles and historic sites in Japan. An average visit will take around 1,5 hours, which can be easily extended if you go for a walk through the castle grounds and take in all the information provided. So, a visit to Himeji castle is definitely good value for money.

Location: 5

Himeji lies a 45-minute train-ride away from Kyoto and makes for an easy half-day trip. The Shinkansen train station lies 15 minutes from the castle by foot, but there are also very frequent buses between the station and the castle, halving this journey in time.

The castle also lies on the route to Okayama, Hiroshima and the islands of Kyushu and Shikoku, which makes Himeji castle an ideal stop on your journey to other places in Japan. At the same time Himeji offers a wide selection of accommodations, so you can also stay for the night. This all leads to a score of 5 out of 5 for location.

Overall rating: 4.5

If you’re in Japan, you should definitely visit Himeji castle. It’s beautiful and quite a unique site. This world heritage site provides its visitors with a great and insightful experience for a price that is average compared to other castles and monuments. The location is easily accessible and should be able to fit into most travellers’ itinerary of Japan.

Curious about other Japanese castles? Read our article about original and restored Japanese castles to get some other suggestions.

Should you visit Himeji?

Five days in Tokyo | Nature in the city

This day in Tokyo is one of nature, this may seem surprising in one of the biggest cities of the world, but there are a lot of green spaces in Tokyo when you look for it. We will also visit the Mori art Museum for some great contemporary Japanese art and the best panoramic view of Tokyo. The neighbourhoods were visiting this day are also excellent for shopping, so if this is something you like, make sure to bring enough excess baggage space.

Shinjuku Gyoen

Shinjuku Gyoen

We start the day in Shinjuku Gyoen. The great size of Shinjuku Gyoen makes it a great place to escape the bustling city scape. It interestingly combines three forms of gardens. One part is dedicated to the traditional Japanese Garden. Another to the French formal garden. Elements of this style are a geometric plan, constrained and trimmed vegetation to demonstrate the mastery of man over nature. Another element is a terrace overlooking the garden, so you can get an overview of the design. The third part is dedicated to the English landscape garden, this style is known for its rolling grounds and big patches of grass against a woodland background with some big centrepiece trees. When you’re done exploring the garden, you can either head over to nearby Shinjuku for some shopping or continue straight to the Meiji shrine.

Shinjuku shopping

Shinjuku ward is huge and you can shop for days if you would like. The area around Shinjuku station has a cluster of many brands and shops and is a good option for a short, focused shopping trip. If you want your shopping to be more of an experience head over to Harajuku station and go down Takeshita-dori. It’s as much a shopping as a people watching experience. Just around the corner lies Jingumae where all the top brands have their flagship stores. Go there for more a more exclusive shopping experience or to watch the beautiful modern architecture of the exclusive shops.

Meiji Jingu

Meiji Jingu
Meiji Jingu

Harujaku station is also the starting point for a trip to Meji Jingu, the great imperial shrine in Tokyo. The shrine was completed in 1920 to commemorate emperor Meiji and his wife empress Shōken, whose return to power is marked as the Meiji Restoration. Under his leadership Japan opened towards the outer world and started on a path of rapid industrialisation and modernisation.

You enter the shrine through a huge torii. The shrine is a favourite spot for traditional Japanese weddings. So, head over there in the weekend to catch a glimpse of a Japanese bride and groom. The shrine lies in a big forest with trees donated by the Japanese people. If you’re still up for more parks, head over to the next-door Yoyogi Park. On Sunday, it’s the always busy with groups of people engaging in their different hobbies like martial arts, cosplay and Japanese rock.

Mori Art Museum

Tokyo by night

For the perfect panoramic view of Tokyo and some great contemporary art, head over to the Mori Art Museum. This art museum has a collection of contemporary art from Japan and Asia. It also hosts many exhibitions of other contemporary art. The museum has long opening hours, it’s open until 22h every day except Tuesdays, so it’s also ideal as an evening activity. When you arrive at the building where the museum is housed, you’re greeted by a huge spider created by Louise Bourgeois.

Tokyo City View

Via the top floor of the building you can gain access to the outdoor panorama deck of Tokyo City View. Here you have the best unhindered views of Tokyo since you’re not behind glass.

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5 days in Tokyo