Hey Travel Family,
Wow! Our time in Japan has gone by really quickly and I can’t believe I’ve missed sharing two TW’s with you. Well, I better get started because there’s a lot to catch you up on. Oh and I’m sorry this one is a day late also – we were having a weird problem with our laptop connecting to the wifi last night but I think I’ve fixed it this morning (finally!)
Last week was seriously busy getting ready for our trip to Japan! After a lot of last-minute panic-buying warm gear, packing and re-packing we were finally ready to go. On Thursday morning I woke up at 2 am to get ready and head to the airport and, after slurping down a very much-needed cup of coffee while waiting at the departure gate, took off for Sydney at 5 am. I met up with our Japan National Tourism Organisation (JNTO) and Gate 7 contact, James, as well as videographer Adam Marshall and content creator Sophie Chan Andreassand. We all boarded our flight from Sydney and, some 10-odd hours later, touched down in chilly Osaka!
After a quick bite of sushi for dinner, we all headed off to bed for much-needed sleep and woke up the next morning feeling refreshed and ready to see Japan. Our first day kicked off with a tour of Osaka’s Cup Noodles Museum, celebrating innovation and the birthplace of everyone’s favourite cheap meal. Afterwards, we headed to the centre of Osaka, bustling Dotombori where we wandered through back alleys, explored Shinto shrines and tried amazing local food. Then we headed to DENDEN Town, home of the lovingly named ‘Geek Street’ where you can pick up vintage SEGA and Nintendo consoles and games. Our day ended with dinner at a nearby restaurant and a good night’s sleep.
Waking up bright and early we climbed in the bus the next morning and drove to Koyasan, a place I’d never heard of or thought to visit before. Here, we were met by an amazing local guide who talked us through the incredible history of the area, which is home to huge cedar pine trees and absolutely stunning temples. It was so cool to see another side of Japan away from the major cities, which had been my only experience until now. We took a walk through the Okunoin Cemetery, the site of the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism and a revered figure in Japanese religion. Rather than being eerie, sad or creepy, the cemetery was visually stunning with a peaceful, welcoming, ethereal feel. It’s the final resting place of hundreds of thousands of souls who want to be close to Kabo Daishi, including hundreds of Samurai Warriors. We stayed the night in a local temple, feasting on vegan food and making the most of the shared, public bath (no clothes allowed!)
A 5am wake-up call followed by a powerful Buddhist ceremony saw us sending up wishes to the gods and showing our respect to local monks and deities. Before we knew it, it was time to set off for our next destination, Nara. Arriving at Nara Park we were met by our guide who explained how genuinely loved and respected the local Insta-famous deer population are. We purchased deer-friendly crackers from local vendors, ensuring some of the profits go back to deer conservation, then set about trying to capture the moment. As always, it’s a little tough working with animals but my childhood horse-wrangling skills came in handy and I managed to get some great photos and video snippets to share with you guys as well as have my own enjoyable little moments with the deer.
We said goodbye to the deer and headed to the nearby Isuien Garden where we wandered the perfectly manicured gardens and enjoyed traditional Matcha green tea, presented to us beautifully as we sat on tatami mats. I didn’t use to appreciate gardens when I was younger but now when I travel, I love to visit them and enjoy the peace and quiet, beautiful scenery and the chance to reconnect with the real world. We ended our day in Nara with a sake tasting, where we made new friends with lovely locals, then wandered nearby streets and ate delicious sushi and sashimi.
An early start saw us say goodbye to the Kansai region of Japan and hello to Hokkaido! We were all a little nervous as the weather was tipped to reach lows of -20 and high’s of -2! I pulled on pretty much everything I own and waddled out of the airport into the cold expecting to freeze on the spot. Turns out, my layering was done very well and I didn’t feel the cold at all!
We kicked off our time in Hokkaido with a visit to the Washo Market in Kushiro, one of the three largest seafood markets in Hokkaido. Here, we wandered rows of fresh seafood, chatted with locals and tried a few favourite treats and traditional meals including the most amazing ramen I’ve ever had! Then we set off for the Akan International Crane Centre where we laid eyes on the red-crowned crane, which was once thought to be extinct. As the sun set, we watched the last of the crane take flight, headed back to their nests for the evening. Our own evening ended back at our hotel as we all donned our matching hotel-supplied traditional garments and tried a selection of yummy local bites including tempura, sushi and soba noodles.
The next morning we strapped ourselves into our bus seats, ready for a huge day of exploring Hokkaido’s natural beauty. We visited the picture-perfect Lake Kussharo and stripped off all our very warm layers to soak in a natural hot spring as temperatures plunged. We made the most of the snowy weather, photographing and filming near Lake Mashu as we spotted wildlife and laughed and joked in the powder. It was so surreal to be surrounded by so much snow and in such cold temperatures, totally unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced!
Our last full day in Hokkaido was a great one as we kicked things off with a morning sake tasting at a local brewery followed by big bowls of ramen. Next up, we checked out Kamikawa town then strapped on snowshoes and set off into the Hokkaido wilderness. We slid down snow-covered hills, laughing all the way down as the freezing cold snow went up the backs of our jumpers. Finally, we ended the day with a sneak preview of the Sounkyo Ice Festival, a true winter wonderland, where we strapped on some pretty hardcore gear and had a go at ice climbing. I felt pretty proud of myself scaling up the highest portion of the wall before any of the lads could give it a shot haha! It wasn’t easy, but I got all the way to the top in freezing conditions and rappelled down like a pro!
With our JNTO trip coming to an end, we ended things with more sake and great food before saying our goodbye’s. With the work portion of the trip over, Matt and I picked up a hire car in Asahikawa and made our way to our hotel. After settling in and getting a good night’s sleep, we woke up the next day ready to hit the ski fields. We made our way to Kamui Ski Links and spent the day skiing, snowboarding, laughing, making friends with really lovely locals and enjoying a hot bowl of ramen for lunch. Sore, tired and ready to rest, we headed back to the apartment and got settled for our very first YouTube Live video. We were both a bit nervous beforehand but it was so amazing – we got to chat live with some of the amazing people who support us, answer their questions, talk about the trip so far and try local food on-camera.
Today is our last full day here in Asahikawa, Hokkaido, then we’ll be heading to Tokyo tomorrow. We’ve got another five nights there where we’ll keep filming and gathering content the head back home. I’m so excited to get to Tokyo, it’s easily my favourite big city in the world and I can’t wait to start filming.
It has been a very busy trip but we’ve had so much fun filming and are really excited to put the videos together and also create some more useful written guides for you guys to use when you visit for yourselves. But now, I better get going! I have some really fun activities planned today and need to go and get ready.
Sorry for the intense information dump of what we’ve been up to and for missing TW last week – as you can see, it was a jam-packed itinerary and there was no time to sit and write, unfortunately. I’ll be in Tokyo this Friday coming so I’ll have the time to share all of what we’ve been up to with you!
I hope you’ve had a great week, I’ll talk to you again next Friday.
Love, Phoebe xx