Japan is definitely one of the best places I have traveled to so far. With a trip coming up to Hokkaido over the summer, I want to reflect on this past summer where I hit up Tokyo and Nikko—both of which were beautiful in their own right. Tokyo is a bustling metropolitan city, whilst Nikko (pronounced Knee-Ko) is a town in the middle of a beautiful mountain just north of Tokyo—surrounded by rivers and temples that have been there for hundreds of years.
Now, despite the fact that Tokyo is a big city—it is nothing like New York nor LA. Tokyo is so clean in comparison, and so very organized. The metro system is really something to admire. Everyone travels by the metro, it’s a little expensive to take the taxi everywhere especially when you’re a tourist who can’t speak Japanese. (I’m not the right kind of Asian for that)
One of the first things that we did was hire a local to take us on a semi- “tour” to show us around. After walking through the Tokyo Gardens, there is a boat that will take you to the Asakusa (a district in Taito, Tokyo, Japan). From there we had a great lunch.
Now my observation is that sushi, of course, tastes better in Japan than anywhere else. But now I’m expanding that observation to cooked fish as well. My grandmother (who was on the family trip with us) ordered a mackerel dish. Usually, I’m terrified of eating mackerel because in the United States it has such a strong, fishy taste that it’s almost unbearable to eat. But in Japan, eating mackerel was almost like eating butter. The fish was cooked so tenderly, the flavor was absolutely explosive.
Anyway, after eating, we took a short walk to the Asakusa shrine which really was big, beautiful, and full of tourists. At one point I was pushed over because there was a celebrity there (no one that I recognized) and some really big cameras. People immediately started crowding around (mostly the tourists) and I walked the other way because honestly, could care less.
Post-Asakusa Shrine, my family and I headed back to Tokyo and hit up the Tokyo Skytree. It’s a huge tower that you take a special elevator to get to and from it you can see the whole city skyline. The views are actually amazing. You can see all the little neighborhoods, cars driving around, and if you really squint-people. It’s like looking at a little toy set or ants–crawling around going on with their lives totally oblivious to the fact that hundreds of people are watching them from a tower hundreds of feet up in the sky. (LOL not creepy at all…)
Now, one morning my grandfather and I decided to go to the fish market. In order to go to the fish market you have to take the metro (the very first train offered in the morning which is at like 6 AM). Why that early? Because that’s the time that the fishing boats pull in and all the fresh fish are given to vendors to either pack and sell to restaurants or be chopped up and served right there at the market. The market we ended up going to was Tsukiji Fish Market, which was about a 10-15 minute train ride away from our hotel in Shinjuku. Granddad and I ended up going to a restaurant in one of the alley ways and ordered chirashi (sort-of?). The sushi was so fresh and so amazing. It’s the closest a person can get to eating fish straight out of the ocean without having to go on a boat and actually go out.
Look below at the beautiful colors. Have you ever seen tuna so deeply red? And on the far right is a very pink Toro (fatty tuna) which is beautifully chopped up in a way that you can still see the perfect marbling that causes the fish to melt in your mouth. The salmon is a gorgeous orange where you can still see the white veins, I’ve honestly never seen salmon with such a deep orange color. And the scallop was out of this world. People rarely get scallop right. Sometimes its just way to dry. Other times it tastes so fishy you can’t even put it in your mouth. This scallop I would eat every day for the rest of my life if I could.
After jaunting around Tokyo for a couple days–shopping, eating, and just generally seeing the typical touristy sights, my family and I headed to Nikko (which involved several train rides including one ride on the bullet train!)
The shift to the country side is dramatic. From big, towering buildings and hundreds of people the Japanese country side is quiet, peaceful, and really green. When in Nikko, you have to visit the onsen (hot spring) which are within a lot of their hotels. But even if there aren’t, I’m sure you can find public ones within the town where you can soak in hot spring water and have great skin after because of the amazing minerals in the naturally heated water.
Nikko has a lot of shrines deep within the mountains that encircle the town. The Shrines are old, beautiful, and have cute little souvenirs you can buy to keep as a memory and help support the Shrines. Essentially there was a lot of gold leaf and intricate details. Also, there are a lot of elaborate water fountains/ water wells where you can take water from a ladle and drink straight from the river. The water is beautifully crisp and clean and will change your definition of what tastes good in terms of water (I personally don’t like Arrowhead or Dasani but I’ll take Kirkland or Crystal Geyser).
Nikko also has a national park that will take you deeper in to the mountain. Now the weather here (and in Nikko in general) is very different from Tokyo. Tokyo was sunny, hot, and slightly humid. Nikko was cool, misty, but without being windy. My hair always felt kind of wet but the cool weather wasn’t necessarily cold–if you know what I mean. Anyway, within the mountain is the gorgeous Kegon Falls which you get to by going underground and walking through a stone cold tunnel. There were a lot of little kids there (most likely in elementary school) having a field trip. Can I just say how cute Japanese Elementary kids are? They’re all in their uniforms, lined up and walking with cute little smiles on their face 🙂
Nikko in comparison is so green.
Honestly, I can’t wait to go back to Japan. Highly suggest it everyone.
Also apologies for this not being too detailed on the whole how much everything is and what to book and where to book because my granddad took care of everything since this was basically my belated graduation present (they live in Taiwan and so we had to schedule this after my first year at University).