After the usual business at the airport (luggage and SIM) was done I went to the train station. In my research I had read it is best to buy a train pass if you want to travel around Japan. I had to look twice and calculate thrice how much the lady at the counter wanted for a two week ticket. Over 500 €… and they had like a gazillion exception for trains you could not take. But after a quick check online it was actually the cheapest thing to do (if I wanted to get around). And I swore to myself they would not make a profit with my pass! Ha!
So a nice train took me to Tokyo city and from the main station I took the subway to my hotel which was meh but not too expensive. I dipped a toe into the local food and tried my first real ramen meal (I was sure I made pics but apparently did not..). The coolest thing about this experience was watching the other locals make the funniest slurping sounds. I knew it was normal but I still had to smile when the whole restaurant was doing this.
The clash of cultures goes both ways though. During my time in Japan and especially in Tokyo I felt sometimes really out of place. Almost everybody was wearing suits or was at least dressed nicely. I on the other hand… well my “rugged look” was at least completed by my beard. 🙂
Since my time in Tokyo was very short I explored the surroundings a bit on the same day and walked past some temples and a huge concert hall where (apparently) a famous band was playing. It was REALLY loud and I could basically listen to the music from the nearby park.
The next day was my only full day in Tokyo and I had a lot to do. A short walk from my hotel was a government building with a free skydeck that turned out okish. After that I took the subway to the famous Meiji Jingo shrine. The little well is for the cleansing ritual. The shrine itself was a bit unspectacular but the big forest surrounding it was really nice and had some tranquility to it once I was off the main path that was covered in (other) pesky tourists!
Next planned stop was the Emperors Palace. Here I was a bit confused since all the millions of tourists (might be exaggerated) including myself saw was this nice bridge over the moat. I could not find a way inside and it was getting late so I had to skip the palace.
After some nice dumplings I walked to my last stop for the day: the skydeck of the World Trade Center (yes they also have one apparently). Here I hoped to catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji but it was a bit too cloudy for that. The views were nice regardless and I actually stayed up there until the sun had set.
Although I spent two more nights in Tokyo I utilized my golden train ticket on the second full day and visited Nikko, a small city north of the capital.
My hotel had really crappy breakfast. So on the train ride I searched for a place in Nikko and found an amazing sounding crepe restaurant. I was really looking forward to this! But no juicy dough wonder waited for. Only a sign saying “closed”. Disaster!
But next to it was a dinner chain that looked alright and since my last journey into local food was not so spectacular I went with something more conservative: A paddy-less burger filled with cheese. Yum!
But Nikko is not famous for food but rather its diverse temples. I skipped the “temple in a box” (picture 1) and went to the more authentic Nikko shrine. The temple is famous for its small carving of the three wise monkeys. Unfortunately I did not get a good shot with my fancy camera without zoom but Wikipedia comes to the rescue.
After the temple I took a bus west to Lake Yuno and the surrounding national park. If I had a bit more time I would definitely have climbed Mount Nantai. Instead I hiked for a couple of hours along the many other trails in the nice park before heading back to the train station. In hindsight I should have spent a night here to have more time for exploration and maybe another shot at those delicious crepes.
Back in Tokyo I went to local brewery and tried their tasty dark beer. Delicious, but unfortunately their food did not hold up to that standard. That four-cheese pizza should be ashamed of itself!
Next stop was Hakone a small city in the mountains south of Tokyo. I had booked two nights in a ryokan, a traditional Japanese guesthouse. They had the famous hot-springs called onsens to relax and a very good breakfast to round it all up. It was awesome!
The day I arrived I had a little time left to check out the local temple featuring hundreds of funny little stone statues.
After that I enjoyed a traditional and expensive dinner and practiced my stick-eating skills. The restaurant had traditional tables. Which means you sit on the ground in front of a low table and I was struggling a bit with my legs. I actually googled the correct sitting position but this was impossible to maintain for me.
After that I relaxed in the hot-springs and snuggled into my futon for a very good night of sleep.
The next day I took various forms of transportation (bus, cable car, gondola) to get up to a nearby mountain. From the gondola we had a nice view and an inescapable smell of the active mountains. They actually harvest the sulfur here.
At the top they had some shops and also a nice view of Mount Fuji. Although I had to wait quite a bit until the clouds cleared up. Obviously I was very keen on climbing Mount Fuji and it is actually very easy to get to the trail and you do not need a guide. But I was a month too early for the climbing season to begin and there is some risk involved in climbing off season. So reluctantly I decided to save this experience for my next visit.
From here a bus took me to the harbor where a pirate ship was waiting for the flock of tourists. They took us to the other side of the lake. Here I walked around for couple of hours, had an authentic German Bratwurst while enjoying another nice view of Mount Fuji. That mountain is going down sooner or later!
The ship took me back and from there a bus brought me back to my nice ryokan. Before chilling again in the onsen I had my first really amazing food in Japan. Garlic dumplings as the main and some soup and veggies on the side. Yummy!
On the next day I took 2 buses and 15 trains (might be slightly exaggerated again but I definitely got my moneys worth of that train pass!!) to Matsumoto.