Japan: Karaoke, snow monkeys, and deer that bow to you!

From Tokyo to Fukuoka in the west, we traveled to many cities in Japan in the three weeks we were in this beautiful country and experienced some crazy and amazing things along the way! We arrived in Tokyo on March 14th, and continued west until we reached Fukuoka and flew out on April 5th.  The following map shows all the cities we visited, and below is a list of the highlights of each city or area we visited.

 

SUZAKA / MATSUMOTO / MONKEY PARK  (March 19-22, 2013)

On March 19, we jumped on a train in Tokyo and a few hours later arrived in Nagano, Japan. We originally planned to stay at a hostel in Nagano, but instead in this smaller nearby city, Suzaka, we found a cute hostel that was pretty much like staying in a Japanese home. Well, this was definitely an EXPERIENCE for sure!  We slept on typical Japanese floor “futon mattresses” with many layers of blankets, sheets, and a heating pad. The hostel was made from an older Japanese home, where the rooms were divided by these beautiful Japanese paper walls and doors. Yea—that’s right—I said PAPER. It was unique and beautiful, but these paper walls didn’t provide much warmth or privacy . . . so we woke up when our neighbors’ alarms went off (or when they turned on the light, haha!) and overall it was COLD. Fortunately, the heating pads worked just fine, and the sweet woman who ran the place would give us each a hot water bottle every night.

In the three days and nights we were there, we explored the small town a little, but opted to take a couple day trips to nearby areas. One day, we took a train to a bus and hiked about a half hour to a place called “Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park”, right outside Yudanaka, Japan, where there are many monkeys who live in the area and bathe in the “Onsens” (hot springs) year round, even when it’s FREEZING and snowing!  The time we were there (March 20), there wasn’t much snow left, but it WAS cold . . . and the monkeys were definitely enjoying taking baths in the hot water. They were all around us, running, bathing, jumping, it was an incredible experience! [See a video of the monkeys here!]

Another day (March 20), we took a train an hour south to Matsumoto Castle. It was a beautiful Japanese Castle, and we took a tour inside as well.

[See our photos from Suzaka, Nagano, Monkey Park, and Matsumoto here.]

 

NAGOYA, JAPAN (March 22-24, 2013)

We stayed with a Japanese family in their home, which was an AMAZING experience!  Read our blog post about our experience here.

 

KYOTO (March 24-29, 2013)

Kyoto is one of the most popular destinations in Japan, and it is for a good reason: It’s a beautiful, ancient town with many many gorgeous temples and shrines, and has a quaint “old town” feel.  Kyoto is actually one of the very few Japanese cities left that still has an abundance of pre-war buildings. We spent most of our time in Kyoto walking, walking, walking! The town is much smaller than Tokyo, but I SWEAR it had as many people SMASHED into a much smaller space. Since most temples charged an entrance fee, we had to pick and choose what we wanted to see so we could stay on budget. Of course, we had to visit one of the most known temples of Kyoto, “The Golden Pavilion”, Kinkaku-ji. In addition, we walked around through the old Gion city area and saw many girls dressed in Geisha makeup and clothing, we meandered down “the Philosopher’s Path” (where the Sakura, or cherry blossoms trees, were in full bloom), and we also saw many other temples and shrines throughout the city.

One of the nights we were in Kyoto, we met a HUGE group of Norwegian Computer Science majors in our hotel, and were invited to join them in a typical private Japanese karaoke room at a place down the road. That was a HOOT! They were all SO friendly and fun, and we had a very fun and entertaining night. [Click here to see a video of us singing “Call me Maybe” and click here to see a different video of us singing to an Eminem song.]

[See our photos from Kyoto here.]

 

NARA  (Day trip – March 27, 2013)

Once again, our friend Jenn helped us out with a connection in Japan: this time she connected us with a friend, Naomi, who actually took the day off work and met us in Nara, Japan. On March 27, we took a train from Kyoto one hour south to Nara, which is a beautiful city known for its large temple and for its friendly wild DEER!

The city of Nara actually offers FREE tour guides, so Naomi set up a meeting with a wonderful woman who took us around Nara and really educated us on SO much about the city and about temples and shrines in general. It was a lovely day, as we visited many shrines, temples, pagodas, and specifically the great Buddhist temple, Todai-ji, which houses the world’s largest bronze Buddha statue in the world.

In addition, we got to pet and feed many of Nara’s cherished wild deer, which are protected creatures that are regarded as heavenly and sacred animals. There are some 1,000+ wild deer throughout the entire city, and most of them are very friendly and will come up to you for a “deer cracker,” and some will even BOW to you in order to receive a cracker!

[See a video here of a deer bowing to James.] [See a video here of BreAnn trying to feed the deer and getting surrounded!]

[See our photos from Nara here.]

 

HIROSHIMA  (March 29-31, 2013)

We stopped in Hiroshima for a few days, as many people said it was a stop in Japan that we couldn’t miss. Somehow, it seemed strange to visit the city that our own country dropped a huge atomic bomb in the 40’s, but visiting the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum was basically just a reminder of how important it is nowadays to keep peace in the world. It was also very humbling and tragic to read about the destruction the bomb caused and read the stories of all those who died and suffered. Sad. Very sad. 🙁

Besides the museum, we walked around the Hiroshima Peace Park, wandered past many monuments and statues in remembrance of lives lost, saw the A-bomb dome, and had a picnic by the beautiful Hiroshima Castle in the afternoon on Easter Sunday. We also spent a day on the nearby island of Miyajima, where we visited the Itsukushima Shrine and had lunch on a hill overlooking the bay. [See video of us here, of us trying to eat lunch with a few “nature friends” looking on…]

[See our photos from Hiroshima here.]

 

NAGASAKI  (April 1, 2013 – Day trip)

We took a day trip to Nagasaki from Fukuoka, as we had one day left on our 2-week train pass. We visited Glover Garden, which was a lovely park that had beautiful landscaping and amazing up-high views of the city below. It also had a really nice inside museum area that featured costumes, floats, and videos showcasing their annual “Dragon Dance” festival. We also visited the Nagasaki Peace Park and the Atomic bomb hypocenter.

[See our photos from Nagasaki here.]

 

FUKUOKA  (April 1-5, 2013)

We ended up in Fukuoka mainly because we were able to get a flight (using air miles, once again, hurray!) to Hong Kong from there. We had five days total in the city, and actually spent most of it relaxing in our hostel, catching up on expenses and personal paperwork, and socializing with others that were also staying there. Since we had such a “rigorous” schedule in the beginning of our RTW trip in French Polynesia and Japan, we were quite BURNT OUT, and realized we also needed some time to just do NOTHING.

We DID spend a couple afternoons walking and picnicking in the beautiful parks in Fukuoka, visited a beautiful Japanese Garden, and on our last night we had a fun and FABULOUS tempura and sushi dinner out. The dinner was SUCH a wonderful end to our lovely three weeks in Japan! [See video from the fun sushi bar here.]

 [See our photos from Fukuoka here.]