Mainland Japan

Before the Sun collapses to become a Black Dwarf, I wanted to experience its origin. And so I did. I am a newly mutated, heat-resistant specie with a flair for time travel and knack for exploring the nebula of stars.

New favorite vacation spot is the Sun.

Tskk, I almost forgot I am writing in the 21st century! Time Travel kind of makes you a little dizzy. Pardon my ignorance. In order to save myself the trouble of being put in an asylum by my fellow (yet to be mutated) specie mates, I will save this story for some other time. This time around, let me take you to the “Land of the Rising Sun”. 

Japan, derived its name from Nihon/Nippon which literally means “Origin of the Sun”. Interestingly Sun’s rays first touches New Zealand. Japan was named “Land of Rising Sun” based on ancient Chinese texts dating back to 500 BC. Back then, human habitation was non-existent in New Zealand. So, Japan played the first mover’s advantage card and glued the title to its name.

Date: 21.12.2019
Route:  Delhi – Tokyo (Flight AI 306)

The butterflies in our tummy did a quick dance as we headed to Delhi International Airport (T3). Our flight was relatively empty and departed at 9:15 PM. Post dinner, we slept in our makeshift bed for the night (formed by 3 adjoining seats in the Dream-liner).

A stray ray of the Sun had tweaked its way through the closed windows and fell directly on my eyes. What a great way to wake up in the Sky! 

It was 7 AM, local time. Fresh as a daisy, we were ready to take on the new day, in the new city of Tokyo (originally named Edo).

Day 1: Tokyo

Date: 21.12.2019

Woohoo Wi-Ho Sim Cards!

Narita International Airport is situated a little far off from Tokyo city, but the railway network has literally every place covered. All the Telecom and Insurance companies should learn a thing or two about “coverage” from Japan Railways! We bought 2 local sims (with a lot of data) from the airport before taking the Keisei Limited Express to Nippori Station and transferring to the JR Yamanote Line to reach Shinjuku.

Check In: APA Hotel Shinjuku Gyoen-mae Hotel

Luggage drop, quick shower and change of clothes hurled us towards our first stop for the day.  At a stone’s throw away from our hotel, Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, seemed to be in a rather pensive mood missing its dear Sakura (Cherry Blossom).

At this time of the year, some trees were barren from the wintry cold while some donned yellow and red fall vibes.

Japanese gardens are gorgeous, rooted deep in their heritage and is an escape route, from the frenzy and chaos of life.

Our rumbling bellies propelled us to our next stop – Ichiran Ramen, Shinjuku

Ichiran Ramen is one of the most famous Tonkotsu (pork-based broth) ramen restaurants in Japan. We ordered the Classic Ramen, Kinkurage Mushroom and Dried Seaweed on a machine, filled up a form for any customization preference (rich broth, spicy, light etc) and waited. When our turn came, we were seated at a booth – essentially a long table with dividers so you concentrate on the yummy bowl of melting goodness and cut back on the unnecessary blabbering.

Next Stop – Sensoji Temple, Aasakusa

We entered the temple premises through the Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate), which had huge lanterns. From this gate to the next (Hozomon) was Nakamise Dori, dotted with souvenir shops as well as various Japanese Snacks.

We tried Agemanju – Chestnut Filled Fried Cakes and Sweet Potato Cakes. Who said you can’t eat when you have just stuffed yourself with a huge bowl of Ramen? We definitely didn’t! Godzilla is a good friend and we borrow his appetite when we are vacationing. You will see.

The grandeur of the oldest temple of Tokyo lit against the falling evening sky was a gripping sight.

The next stop planned on our itinerary was Tokyo SkyTree, but we decided to give it a miss as we were conscious of time. One of the highest structures in the world, its observation decks gives a 360 degree view of the city, apart from hosting cafes and shopping arcades.

Next Stop – Akhinabara Electric Town

You and me, we’re a miracle
– Pokemon Movie

You cannot be in Japan and not have a rendezvous with the Anime world. Also called Japanimation, Anime is hand-drawn computer animation with its origins in this country. The neon lights and the buzzing atmosphere of Akhinabara Electric Town compliments the essence of this shopping  district for videogames, anime, manga, electronics and computer related goods.

Next Stop – Omoide Yokocho / Memory Lane / Piss Alley

We walked down this extremely narrow vibrant lane with box sized yakitori grill shacks and izakayas (bars) jutting out from both sides.

The delectable aroma skipped and hopped from one shack to another, making us go weak in the knees (and tummy)

We trusted our nasal skills and landed at a random joint, with hardly 6 tall chairs and a common table. We ordered a Yakitori grilled platter and 2 glasses of Sochu.

Sochu is a Japanese traditional liquor made from grains and veggies (Mostly, Sweet Potato, Barley, Rice, Buckwheat and Sugarcane). Happy, full, high and exhausted, our next stop was our hotel. We walked back and crashed on our beds.

Oh, and of course we stopped at a small dessert café on the way back to dig into some Taiyaki Fish Cakes (one with the traditional Sweetened Akuzi Beans and another with Custard Filling).

Day 1 ends here. To go back to day wise navigation, click here

Day 2: Tokyo

Date – 22.12.2019

Woke up startled and confused. We had tasted no forbidden fruit the last night, yet we slept forever!  My Prince was snoring away next to me, so possibility of “Snow White” being woken up by “True Love’s kiss” was negligible.  My phone with the alarm lied shamelessly next to him, all charged out. My wristwatch showed 8 AM which was bad news. We generally keep our wrist watches on IST hours when we travel abroad to have a note of both Local time and Indian time. It was 12 PM in Tokyo and apart from missing our complimentary breakfast, we had also lost half a day.

Tokyo is an expensive city. Our hotel was pretty, but we paid steep charges for our tiny room to stay at the heart of the city (Shinjuku). So, we did not intend to miss the complimentary breakfast. We quickly got ready and hit the streets. The plan was to fuel UP and calm DOWN.

Our restaurant choice was Nabezo Shinjuku Meijidori which served all-you-can-eat Shabu Shabu & Sukiyaki. The built-up stress dissipated in the immersive lunching experience that followed.

Step 1: Select your own ingredients from the Vegetable & Spice market section

Special Ingredient – Collagen ( Apparently an elixir with anti-ageing properties)

Step 2: Order Sukiyaki – Kimchi and Tounyu Soup. Have the table ready with the selected ingredients and Nabezo Meat Course

Step 3: Each table also serves as an induction top when heat is turned on. Start cooking and eating. Note the shape of the soup bowl – Yin and Yang, the two complimentary forces that make up all aspects and phenomena of life.

Next Stop – Owl Café

Owl you need is Food and Love.

Comparatively a new concept, it probably stemmed from the already popular cat/dog cafés. Intrigued, we bought tickets to the Mohu Mohu Owl Café.

At the gate sat Hedwig. He was like a cloud of fluffball. When I tried to pet him, he hissed and warned that only Harry (Potter) had that exclusive right. Oh and yes, he almost bit my finger. Won’t say he is too wise, grumpy old fella needs to loosen up a bit.

His mates were friendlier. They closed their giant button eyes in comfort while we stroked their head. As gratitude, they even posed for some clicks.

Next Stop – Shibuya Crossing

On our way back to the next stop, the sky started playing dress up and then came the waterworks. We were completely drenched by the time we reached our next stop – Shibuya Crossing. 

Situated at the Hachiko exit of Shibuya station, this is often referred as the busiest intersection in the world and sees thousands of pedestrians scrambling across multiple directions, at every beck and call of the changing traffic lights.

Luck had our back as we managed to grab the best window seats at Starbucks almost immediately. This place has one of the best views and usually there is a long wait.

Combination of rain, hot chocolate, cookies, and the buzzing kinetic energy down below, made us contemplate the stillness in our own life.

Later while leaving, I chuckled at the thought at how this crossing would be highly intimidated if it happened to witness the crowds at Durga Puja festival in my hometown Kolkata.

Next Stop – Hachiko Statue

Hachiko (the dog) was an epitome of loyalty, who waited at the same spot in the hope of meeting his master, long after his master’s death (for 10 years).

Changing seasons, harsh weather, nothing could come in the way of his resolution and the wait ended only when he breathed his last

A statue has been built in the front of the Shibuya station to honor the Braveheart. We were extremely moved when we learnt about him from the movie “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale” and made sure to stop by to take a picture.

Next Stop – Himawari Sushi Shintoshin

We satiated our sushi-oriented-hunger-pangs by ordering some Edomae Ni Amago Sushi, Aburi Shake Mayo Cheese Sushi and Oversized Eel Sushi. Matcha Tea was the predestined accompaniment. 

It was a no hassle ordering process – Just pick up the dish that catches your fancy and make it truly yours!

Next Stop – Hotel

On our way back to the hotel, we picked up a bottle of sake, orange juice and some peanuts, presuming it would do justice in making us forget how sore our feet was from all the walking. But instead of getting straight to it, we decided to try out the Onsen at the hotel.

Onsen is a hot spring bath, very common in the Japanese culture. The dip took us to another level of regality!!

Onsens in Japan come with a “Fatigue Search Warrant”. It was able to hunt down and squeeze out every inch of exhaustion from within us.

A glass of Sake was the perfect lullaby to end our day.

Day 2 ends here. To go back to day wise navigation, click here

Day 3: Tokyo DisneySea

Date – 23.12.2019

Day 3 kicked off a new race
Only one player could nail the chase
Mt Fuji glitched and pulled a long face
Tokyo Disney Sea was the Saving Grace!

Any Japanese travel itinerary is incomplete without a mention of Mt Fuji. Our itinerary was no different. But much to our dismay, the Fujisan webcam (Mount Fuji Live Camera) predicted heavy cloud cover and hence low chances of visibility.

In December, Mt Fuji remains inaccessible and its beauty can be only be admired from far off strategic locations (like, Hakone, Fuji Five Lakes etc).  Since the originally planned day trip to Hakone had lost its charm, we pledged to revisit Japan in the right season for hiking up this alluring beast.

With this, our backup landing gears were deployed as we quickly switched lanes to transcend into the mystical lands surrounding the waters of Disney Sea.

Disney Sea is the only one of its kind in the whole world, as its cousin (Disney Land) would agree.

Conceived from the sagas and folklore of the deep sea, this fantasy theme park immediately pierced our hearts with innocent unadulterated joy. It was Christmas week and the park was bedecked in festive colors and brimming with holiday cheer. It was truly magical!

We even secretly thanked our stars for spilling soup on our original plan.

On our way, we had memorized the park map and strategized to collect as many “Fast Pass” as possible. “Fast Pass” vending machines located near the attractions, dispense out these passes from time to time (for free) which empower you to leap past the long queues. Time optimization algorithm for the win!

If you are a science fiction junkie, your first stop would be the Mysterious Island, just like us. Sitting pretty with a volcanic backdrop, this Jules Verne inspired escapade will ship you to 20000 Leagues under the sea in Captain Nemo’s submarines before flinging you into the Earth’s nucleus, in a Journey to the Centre of the Earth.  

The Disney Electric Railway one-way tram dropped us off at Port Discovery, from where we walked up to American Waterfront. Luckily, we were able to grab the Fast Pass for Tower of Terror. This graceful Moorish styled architecture turns evil as soon as you step inside one of its elevators. When we came out, it felt like our hearing ability was compromised for a few seconds from the tuneless screaming of the elevator boarders (including us).

Next up, we collected the Fast Pass for Toy Story Mania. Our allotted entry time was later in the evening, so we set sail towards the Arabian Coast.

Around this time we noticed, the Mickey Mouse gang was prepping to put up a dance show right next to the S.S. Columbia ocean liner. So, we invested in a rightly deserved break and watched the show with the same excitement as a 5 year old. Of course, we were slurping on our Disney shaped Ice creams!

We brushed past the Mermaid Lagoon (No luck with the Fast Pass here), and finally reached the Arabian Coast. Carved right out of the story book, the flawless replication of the enchanting streets and architecture of Agrabah had captivated our hearts.

Arabian Nights could not have felt more real. We checked out a magic show by the Genie and Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage before foraying into the Lost River Delta.

Themed on ancient central American civilization, the Lost River Delta houses the Aztec pyramid guarded by a crystal skull. If you are up for it, Indiana Jones will guide you through the ruins in your quest for the Fountain of Youth.

After a quick bite, we were back at Toyville Trolley Park, to avail our free pass at Toy Story Mania. Went in through Woody’s open mouth and came out smiling refreshed.

Our next stop was at the Mediterranean Harbour. The evening lights cast a warm glow on the Venetian themed canals and gondolas painted a gorgeous picture.

It took us every inch our will and patience to withstand the HUUUGE queue for the next ride – Soaring Fantastic Flight. But so glad we waited. This ride takes you for a spin around the globe and I literally felt like a bird through the entire experience!

We had sacrificed a proper lunch in the conquest and by this time we were having some serious arguments with our tummy. We had a sumptuous dinner and quickly made our way to the front the park to watch the sky come alive with fireworks.

A gigantic lit up Christmas Tree stood right in the middle of the waterfront as cute boats with Disney characters circled it singing and waving at us. Volcano was ejecting lava and smoke at the background, while the fireworks broke out into dozens of diamonds against the perfectly black canvas.

A day which started out as a disappointment, gave us our fairytale Christmassy memory which we will nurture and protect for our grandkids to hear someday.

Day 3 ends here. To go back to day wise navigation, click here

Day 4: Tokyo-Osaka-Kyoto

Date – 24.12.2019

I hate early morning flights. To give you a perspective –

I feel it is even worse than the biscuit that decides to drown itself in a steaming cup of tea while you are all cuddled up in a cozy corner romanticizing the rain outside!

It was still dark when we checked out. Our vacation involved many such aggressive travel milestones, since we had tried to squeeze in the magnanimity of this country’s natural beauty and cultural heritage into ten teeny tiny human days.

We were headed to Osaka. The Kansai International airport at Osaka, is located on an artificial island in the middle of the Osaka Bay and it had taken 10000 workers 10 million work hours to achieve this feat.

There was no way that we were going to miss this man-made architectural marvel, so we put an alarm 15 mins before the scheduled landing time and snoozed off to diminish the sleep backlog.

Osaka is vibrant, but since we had already experienced city life in Tokyo, we decided to move on to Kyoto in the best interest of time.

The Hello Kitty Haruka Express took us to our destination in less than 2 hours. During the transit we gobbled down on burgers and fries that we had picked up from Osaka airport.

Kyoto is like a giant pulsating heart transmitting ancient Japanese vibes across the country. To experience true cultural immersion, we had booked our stay in a Ryokan in the prominent Gion area. A Ryokan is a traditional Japanese Inn featuring tatami matted floors, futon beds and little- to-no furniture.

The currently surging global trend of “Minimalism” which has claimed a sweet spot in every designer’s mind had already graced prehistoric Japanese interiors.

The focus was on uncluttered living and inviting the natural energy to penetrate from the surrounding Zen gardens.

A quick shower later we draped in our Yukatas (traditional Japanese bathrobes) as the interesting aroma of the famous matcha tea nuzzled our senses. Tea and our spilling curiosity provided the nudge to set us in motion to explore Kyoto!

The exit of the Gion Shijo Station is a bifurcation in the space-time continuum which unbolts the secret gateway to the past.  Right next to the station stands the Minamiza Theatre hosting classical Kabuki performances personified by the ornately carved exterior.

We walked past a few blocks in the Shijo Dori street to reach the Hanami-koji lane. At dusk, the incandescence from the lantern lights dances off the cobbled streets lined with wooden Ochaya (traditional teahouses) drifting you into a dreamy wonderland.

Nestled at the corner of the Hanami -Koji lane, the orange walled Ichiriki Chaya is a beautifully preserved tea house featuring Geisha entertainment.

Geisha are the flagbearers of traditional Japanese art and dance forms and are often spotted during dusk scurrying to their appointments in the Gion district. 

We strolled through the stoned pavements and the side alleys, dissolving into the hypnotic atmosphere while trying to comprehend how the ebb and flow of time was lost here.

Suddenly, low murmuring from fellow admirers distracted us and our eyes sparkled with excitement at the rare sight. We spotted a Geisha!

The rhythmic sound of the geta (wooden sandals) on the stone streets which had caught everyone’s attention synced with her flowy kimono as she quickly managed to vanish into thin air. For a better glimpse, we walked in the same direction and caught her again near the street crossing.

This time she turned around for a split second. The dainty ivory painted face, elaborate hairdo and the beguiling personality told a thousand tales and made our day extraordinary.

Later, we had also spotted a car full of Geishas (or Maikos – apprentice Geisha)

Wandering like true nomads, we reached the picturesque Shirakawa area.

Weeping willow trees and traditional wooden cottages fringed the cobbled pathway while the Shirakawa canal played the primary muse in this utopian painting that appeared to be in motion. 

The famous novel and movie “Memoirs of a Geisha” has references to this area, making it quite touristy. Luckily, we were able to experience it in complete serenity.

It was time we listened to our gurgling bellies. Kaiseki dinner can be quite an extravagant affair. Some restaurants also prepare Kaiseki lunch which irks your pocket a little less. So, we planned it for lunch the next day and hopped into Tanto Café to try some authentic Okonomiyaki and chilled local beer.

Back to Shijo Dori street we browsed through the shops, stopping over to buy a Japanese doll, hand fan and wall painting to help us travel back to this country from the comfort of our home.

Our sweet tooth thanked us for ending the day with some Matcha flavored marble cake and ice cream.

Day 4 ends here. To go back to day wise navigation, click here

Day 5: Kyoto

Date – 25.12.2019

We woke up early to the sounds of imaginary Christmas bells.
Soaked in holiday mood, we made ourselves comfortable in a cozy corner of the Ryokan, where a bedecked Christmas Tree gave us company. The inhouse cook (read Santa) prepped up some delicious traditional Japanese breakfast!

Post breakfast, the futons seemed to be screaming out to us for another round of quick snooze but wasting time was not an option. We had to reach our first destination as early as possible to avoid the crowd. Quickly, we did the formalities to make ourselves presentable to the world and took to the streets.

When I was little, I was extremely mesmerized by the desktop wallpaper on my first ever PC. I always used to ponder if that was a real place.  Today I finally got the proof! Arashiyama Bamboo Groves was beyond beautiful.

The fresh morning breeze swayed the tall and slender bamboo trunks which brushed against each other imitating the sound of few crisp papers being crumpled together. Only a few rebellious streaks of sunlight managed to steer through the foliage at the top where the tall trunks met the sky, creating patches of light in the mostly shadowed bamboo tunnel. It was surreal. We did not miss the opportunity to absorb the peace and tranquility for soothing the mind.

The detox effects were almost immediate. We successfully managed to maintain our calm and squirm out of the chaotic environment built by the sudden surge of some unruly tourists (without hitting anyone)!

A local street vendor was selling Crab and Cheese Hot Dogs at the exit of the Bamboo Grove. Of course, we increased his sales and our happy hormones.

The next stop was Kinkakuji temple also known as the Golden Pavillion. Thick gold leaf envelops this gorgeous zen temple which is often found admiring its own glittering reflection in the surrounding pond named KyokoChi (Mirror Pond).

We spent some time strolling through the manicured gardens of the temple and watching ducks paddle through the olive green waters of the pond, which they call their home.

By now, our mind was already painting pictures from the to-be lunch scenes. And why wouldn’t it? We had our Kaiseki lunch planned for today! Unfortunately, luck played a nasty prank on us and we ended up taking the wrong bus. We lost a good 2 hours in reaching the restaurant and the huge waiting line owing to the occasion of Christmas, was the second mood dampener. We had to head back to Osaka today and we could not afford the time demanded by the long queue and a seven-course meal!

The best plan that our agitated mind and hungry tummy could come up with at this point of time was to hit the next restaurant we came across on the block. We stuck to our decision and ended up having Mc Donald’s burgers. I guess it’s safe to say that “The Christmas Grinch” had successfully managed to replace the ‘L’ in our Luck was with some other alphabet.

We returned to the Ryokan to collect our luggage’s and headed straight to the railway station.

We took two steps back in awe and tribute as we watched the Speed Superhero Shinkansen entering the tracks.

After boarding, by the time we finished securing the luggage’s and taking our allotted seats, we were already halfway there.  This needle nosed bullet whooshed past Kyoto at a speed of 300 km/hour, reaching Shin- Osaka in under 12 minutes!

Considering the location of the Kansai International airport and our early morning flight the next day, we figured it would be rewarding to stay on the outer periphery of the Sky Gate Bridge which connects the airport to the mainland. After alighting from the Shinkansen we had to take 2 more train connections to reach our hotel, located in Rinku Town.

The hotel Hatago Inn checked all the 3 C’s – Clean, Classy and Comfortable. We slid into the robes and hit the Onsen, authorizing the sweet steam and hot water to melt away our woes.

Good food was conclusively not on the cards today as the hotel restaurant was closed due to some odd reason. Luckily there was a 24/7 convenience store almost attached to the hotel. Beer, chips, prepackaged ready to eat Lasagna and Noodles with Meatballs pacified us and tucked us in for a good night’s sleep.

Day 5 ends here. To go back to day wise navigation, click here

Day 6: Sayonara Mainland Japan. Okinawa Calling! Check out the heavenly Ishigaki Islands (part of the Yaeyama archipelago) in ‘Coasts‘ section

One thought on “Mainland Japan

  1. Such a wonderful trip to Japan you had guys!! Thank you very much for all the detailed itineray and information. Wonderful guide for 🇯🇵


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