(26.12.2016 – 01.01.2017)
Oh, what a week! It’s been some time since I have last done so much sightseeing within one week and I have to say my feet hurt like crazy! But yes, it was totally worth it. We had a lovely Christmas lunch in Kobe, where we tried the world’s most exquisite steak, spent a day in the cute little town of Nara, where we fed dear with crackers, and celebrated New Year’s Eve with ten thousands at Shibuya crossing. The best start to the year one can imagine.
But let’s keep this chronologically. You have probably heard of Kobe right? The little city in Japan with the famous beef. Cows that drink beer, listen to classical music, and get massages twice a day – what a life! Not surprisingly, this meat is considered to be the best in the world, so no wonder that my boyfriend – somebody who would never say no to a good piece of steak – had this almost on top of his bucket list. So on the second day of Christmas we took the 45 minute train from Osaka to Kobe where he treated me to Christmas lunch straight from my dreams. We reserved a table in advance (which I highly recommend) and watched our personal chef for that hour preparing one of the finest pieces of meet I ever had the pleasure of trying. Was it good? Oh yes. Was it expensive? Oh, double yes. Were I still hungry afterwards? I have to admit, a bit. Was it worth it anyway? Definitely. But it will probably remain a once in a lifetime experience for me.
Another city that is within only a short train ride from Osaka is called Nara. It is famous all over Japan for its ‚wild‘ running deer. Basically, the deer live in mainly in a park and are not really wild but however, free to go wherever they want as there are no fences anywhere in the park. So it can happen that you want to cross a street in a different area of the city and spot a deer that found its way into the traffic. Anyway, as most of the tourists come only for the deer, they happily stay in the park and accept the crackers that are offered to them. No need to say that they became rather tamed and surprisingly bold when it comes to demanding these crackers.
Anyway, to be truly honest, there is not really much more to see in Nara than the deer. So don’t worry if you only have one afternoon to visit Nara – you will be able to see the most important things!
Tokyo (Part 1)
Finally. Tokyo! Japan’s biggest city, its capital, the pulsating heart of the country. Since I was informed that I would be able to study a semester in Japan, I had been longing to see Tokyo. Due to a tight time schedule I was not able to visit Tokyo earlier (even though I landed here when I initially flew in from Germany) so you can imagine how excited I was to finally explore the megacity with my boyfriend. And we were not disappointed; after a bit of travelling around Japan I can say two things: even though Tokyo is my favourite place in Japan so far you cannot reduce Japan to simply Tokyo. Tokyo is modern, colourful, lively, big, and loud. That is not representative for the whole country, just like Berlin is not a little image of whole Germany. For a totally different image of Japan, click here and read my travel diary for Kyoto.
Anyway, in Tokyo (like in the other cities, too) we decided to stay in an AirBnB, as we found it to be the most convenient option. Ours was in Itabashi, a district known for its many restaurants and nightlife, but it is still quieter than the most frequented districts like Shibuya or Harajuku. Also, it’s big Metro station allowed us to travel to almost every interesting point within less than 30 minutes. If you plan to come to Tokyo, you should definitely keep in mind that you will need the Metro every day and also schedule in the time you need to get from A to B. Plan your days and routes accordingly and you will be able to make the most out of your days.
But now, it’s finally time for some pictures!
The Meiji Shrine is probably one of Tokyo’s most important religious symbols. Even though many Japanese people do not consider themselves very religious (read more about religion in Japan here) but on New Year’s Day it is still a tradition to visit a Shinto shrine with your family and pray for a good year to come. As we wanted to see the shrine only out of touristic interest, we already visited it on the 30th December. The weather was beautiful and it was – as we had hoped – not too crowded.
When you are down visiting the shrine and maybe even said your prayers to the Gods, how about a nice walk to a park? The shrine itself has an alley, but very close to the area there is the Harajuku park (just leave at the Harajuku exit and follow the maps to the entrance). Unfortunately, over the transition of the years the park was closed (a problem that appears later again) so we decided to walk to the Yoyogi park instead.
Probably one of Tokyo’s most famous parks and located right in the centre of the Shibuya district, Yoyogi park offers many places to sit, relax, and forget about your hectic daily life for a while. I always find it astonishing that even within the heart of a megacity like Tokyo, there are places which are completely quiet. They make you almost forget were you are, so enjoy yourself there for a while!
When you are already in Shibuya / Harajuku, stroll around for a while and let all the colours, noises, and smells make their impressions on you. Maybe you are even able to spot some of the famous Harajuku girls who gather every Sunday at the main entrance of the Harajuku park. If you are up to fight yourself through some crowds, head over to the Center Gai. This narrow street that leads to the Harajuku metro station is full of people, small stores, and restaurants wherever you look. Maybe try one of the fruit-and-ice cream stuffed pancakes that are sold on every corner.
Shibuya Crossing and New Year’s Eve
Of course, you cannot visit Tokyo without crossing the world’s most famous crossing at least once. Ok, let’s be honest: you’ll cross more than once. Probably around 10 times. We crossed I think 5 times in a row. And we spent New Year’s Eve there. Under the slogan „You are Shibuya“, the crossing had been closed to traffic from 10pm so that people could gather at the crossing, watch the count down on the tall skyscrapers, and celebrate the entering into the new year together. So many people, it was just crazy!
So, this were our first two days in Tokyo. If you want to know how we spent our last three days in this wonderful city, click here.