WHEN IN ROME
Documenting my travels across the globe
While in Tokyo, I made a few day trips outside the city. I could have spent months in Tokyo and not seen everything there is to offer, but I am a lover of nature and needed to break up my time in the world's largest and most populated metropolitan city. Luckily, Japan has beautiful mountains and nature just minutes away from Tokyo's city center that is all easily accessible via trains and buses.
Mount Takao is about an hour and a half train ride west of center city Tokyo. It's a popular mountain for tourists and locals to hike to get beautiful views of Mount Fuji. There are several trails leading up the mountain and their difficulties range from easy to intermediate. We chose one of the more "challenging" trails and did it in half the time listed online. We read that it would take about an hour and a half to climb, but it really only took us 45 minutes. That being said, we did pass a lot of groups of hikers and we seemed to be the only ones going at our pace, which I considered an average fast pace for hiking. I was mildly winded at certain points, but it was not challenging in my opinion. The views at the top were quite spectacular. We could see Tokyo in the distance and Mount Fuji was clear as day. We stood at the top admiring Mount Fuji for several minutes before making the descent back to the train station.
Tip: If you ever have the opportunity to hike Mount Takao, I recommend getting there on the early side because there is a railway that takes visitors to the top and it gets quite crowded by the Mount Fuji viewpoint. We were there just before the major rush and it was still a little crazy!
Nikko is not really a typical day trip from Tokyo, considering it takes two hours to get to from the outskirts of Tokyo and then requires several minutes of bus transportation to reach different sites once you are there. Despite this, we headed to Nikko for the day and I am glad we did not stay overnight. Nikko is a small town and peak fall was about a month before we visited, so not much was going on. We visited the iconic bridge that supposedly gives you good luck if you cross it, as well as the temples built within the forest. The temples were quite beautiful and peaceful since not many tourists come to Nikko this time of year and it's not a short trek from the city. I really enjoyed visiting the waterfalls, which were another hour plus bus drive from Nikko's city center. I love to explore cities, but my one true love is nature, so being around the waterfalls and crisp forest air was refreshing. I would love to return to Nikko in late October when it is peak fall there because I can tell it would be spectacular.
Tip: You can purchase a pass from Asakusa Station that includes the train to Nikko and buses while you're there. It also includes a cruise around the lake, but it was by far the slowest and least interesting tour I have been on. Take that with a grain of salt, but I would not recommend it to anyone who visits.
For my last day in Japan, I wanted to get out of Tokyo and see Mount Fuji one last time. I headed out to Hakone, a popular small-town destination about two hours west of Tokyo that has spectacular views of Mount Fuji. Similarly to Nikko, you can buy an all-inclusive transportation pass. I did not realize this before visiting, but I am glad I personally did not purchase it. The pass is geared towards tourists that want to spend the day going through their circuit of activities around Hakone, including a ropeway car over a geothermic spot in the mountains and a cruise across the lake.
Instead, I chose to spend the night at the wonderful Irori Guest House Tenmaku near the Gora neighborhood and get up early the next day to hike the mountains encircling Hakone. Originally, we planned to hike just a couple of the mountains, but that soon turned into an 11-mile hike lasting six-hours. We reached our original ending point in about four hours but noticed the last mountain had the best views and added less than two hours to our trek. And so, we hiked from our guest house near Gora to the top of Mount Myojogatake, Mount Myojingatake, and finally Mount Kintoki. The saddle between Mount Myojogatake and Myojingatake had beautiful views of Gora and Mount Fuji. The peak of Mount Kintoki had views of Lake Ashi and Mount Fuji. The hikes were mostly through bamboo forests, which were so beautiful. The most challenging part of the hike was the first hike up Mount Myojogatake. It was quite steep and I nearly passed out from not being in good hiking shape. No need to worry though, I drank lots of water and packed lots of snacks. After a quick break near the top, I was able to recover and feel better for the rest of the hike.
I ended my day in Hakone with a visit to Tenzan Onsen. Tenzan Onsen is a lovely onsen with several hot spring pools with different water temperatures. I relaxed my sore muscles and then headed back to Tokyo. Needless to say, I was beyond exhausted by the time my head hit the pillow in my capsule hostel.
Watch my video blog from Japan:
My heart is so full. Miyajima is a magical place to spend the evening and I wish I had more time there! It’s a small island near Hiroshima that is home to the famous “floating” shrine. I had no expectations, other than I knew the town would be less crowded than the other places I had been, and I was grateful for some peace and quiet. It is quite crowded during the day when all the tourists ferry in to see the shrine at low tide, but this little town really does shut down around 6:00 pm when the last ferry leaves and the tourists are gone. The streets become silent, aside from a few shops here and there that stay open late.
On Miyajima, I stayed at this in the Japanese-style guest house, Miyajima Guest House Mikuniya. It’s run by a lovely old Japanese man and his friendly cat. I cannot say enough how much I loved staying here. The man was so kind and generous. He had free cereal, ramen, bread, and jam in the kitchen and an honor system for the items that cost a few yen, like fancier ramen and beer. “Just put the money in the box over there,” he said, pointing to a small box by the door. I found that most places in Miyajima were like this. At the temples, people like to buy omamori, which are an ornament or small piece of jewelry thought to give protection or good luck. Most of the temples also had a box to pay for these omamori. The island is the perfect example of how beautiful Japanese culture truly is.
Aside from the peace and quiet surrounding the shrine in the evening, my favorite part of Miyajima is Mount Misen. We took the cable car up part of the mountain and hiked the last thirty minutes to the top. At the top, there’s a beautiful view of other Japanese islands and mainland Japan in the distance. We hiked down the mountain back to our hotel and passed through several shrines along the way. I soaked in the crisp mountain air, the beautiful fall foliage, and the peacefulness of the uncrowded shrines. At sunset, the island plays music and we could hear it from our trek down the mountain. As it began, we turned a corner and saw the floating shrine begin to light up through the trees.
While staying overnight on the island, I seized the opportunity to photograph the floating shrine at high tide both at night and the next morning before the floods of tourists came in by ferry. Hardly anyone stays on the island, so it is very peaceful to visit the sites at these times. I was only accompanied by a couple other photographers and some of the free-roaming deer. Like Nara farther North in Japan, the deer on Miyajima are considered sacred, so they roam free. They live in harmony with the people and are not scared away by our presence. A few of them startled me at night because I did not notice them lurking in the shadows, but I loved seeing them roam around the shrine freely.
That morning, I also visited the Daishoin temple before the crowds came by. It’s a beautiful temple, set in the forest on the mountainside with a river running beside it. The temple is home to over 500 Rakan sculptures, a fairly new feature at certain temples. They are tiny sculptures of Buddhist monks with all sorts of expressions and are often seen with knit caps on them. I became enamored with them and spent almost an hour walking around the temple’s grounds, admiring their differences.
When I took a taxi to the ferry on the island, my taxi driver handed me three beautiful paper cranes with my change. She explained their meaning of peace and hope to me, not realizing how much this small gesture meant to me after visiting Hiroshima the day before. I still have the cranes with me and will cherish them, as they remind me of my time spent at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and the lovely island of Miyajima.
Watch my video blog from Japan:
When In Rome
Two of my most cherished hobbies go hand-in-hand. Writing is my favorite way to reflect after traveling to a new country. I have kept this blog ever since I studied in Rome to share my travels with families and friends. I hope you enjoy learning about my experiences and getting a sense for my writing skills. If you have any questions, please reach out!