Japan Travel

Hidden Japan: Preparing to go

The forecast looks good.

It’s another thing that I love about Japan. From early March to late April you get not only daily weather reports, but also Cherry Blossom reports about when the first blossom will open and the predicted dates for “full bloom”. Leave no margin for error. So, as a dutiful tour leader, I’ve been checking the Cherry Blossom Bloom reports and it looks like we will have timed it perfectly. Phew. It would have been a bit ordinary taking a cherry blossom tour and not actually seeing cherry blossoms…

I can’t quite believe that something that has been more than eighteen months in the planning is now only two weeks away. I’m ready, but also feeling a mixture of excitement and nerves. I am taking a tour group for the first time, so I am feeling added pressure to get it all right. Fortunately for me, my group of fourteen are easy going and well-travelled and as excited to be seeing the blossoms and experiencing some wonderful Japanese traditions and culture as much as I am.

Our tour starts in Osaka and then heads south on the bullet train to Kyushu and the prefecture of Kumamoto. Kumamoto City is known for its well-preserved castle, and the prefecture itself is home to Mt Aso volcano, stunning gorges, hot springs, islands, waterfalls and mountain retreats. I have heard Kumamoto referred to as Japan’s “Undiscovered Pearl” – I couldn’t agree more.

Kumamoto Castle
Kumamoto Castle
Nakadake Crater, Mt Aso,  Kumamoto
Nakadake Crater, Mt Aso, Kumamoto
One of the suspension bridges in Gokanosho, Kumamoto
One of the suspension bridges in Gokanosho, Kumamoto

We spend five days exploring this region and discovering the beauty and charm of this “Hidden Japan”, before hopping back on the bullet train and heading to Hiroshima. The city is most famous for the devastating atomic bomb attack in 1945, however these days it is a bustling and vibrant city. The outlying island of Miyajima is home to the iconic Itsukushima Shrine, with its red gate appearing to be standing in the sea during high tide.

Itsukushima Shrine and its famous gate
Itsukushima Shrine and its famous gate
A-Bomb Dome, Hiroshima
A-Bomb Dome, Hiroshima

Then we head to Kyoto, the final leg of our group’s journey. The Imperial Palace, Golden Temple, Kiyomizu Temple and Arashiyama in all their [predicted] blossom glory. Three days will only touch the surface of this beautiful and historical city – there are over 1600 shrines and temples in Kyoto, plus numerous palaces, museums and gardens. Oh, and let’s not forget the shopping…

Big Cherry Blossom Tree, Maruyama Koen, Kyoto
Big Cherry Blossom Tree, Maruyama Koen, Kyoto
Kiyomizu Temple
Kiyomizu Temple
Heian Jingu
Heian Jingu

The tour finishes in Kyoto, however I am taking five of the passengers with me to Tokyo for a few days at the end. It’s been years since I’ve been to Tokyo so I’m really looking forward to seeing this fascinating city again. Where to go first… Shinjuku, Harajuku, Shibuya, Ginza, Akihabara, the Imperial Palace, Tsujiki Fish Markets…

Now for those of you who like a packing list, early Spring in Japan is a tricky season to pack for. Layers, layers and layers as far as clothing goes, as it can be very cold right through to warm in the middle of the day. I would never cope with the 10kg luggage limit that I had in Kenya for a trip to Japan!! The difference between Kenya and Japan though is that if you forget anything, there are plenty of places to get a cute Japanese version of whatever it is that you left at home.

So what is going in my [soft-sided-expandable-wheely] bag? For clothing I suggest:

  • Long sleeve shirts
  • Short sleeve shirts
  • Long trousers / jeans / cargo pants
  • Warm jumper / fleece
  • Lighter jumper / cardigan
  • Spray jacket/windsheeter/light rain jacket
  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • Comfortable slip on shoes

I also recommend taking the usual travel items such as:

  • Phone/iPad/camera chargers
  • Spare batteries for your camera etc
  • International travel plugs
  • Travel pillow for getting comfortable on long train trips
  • Travel-size toiletries & amenities
  • Compact umbrella

I’ve also been trialling a few Japan-travel apps for the iPad and my phone, so I’ll let you know how they go when I’m back.

I am feeling organised because I’ve had to make sure everything is under control for the group. The only things really that I have left to do is collect my yen cash, pack and write my enormous shopping list of things to bring as bribery/thank you gifts for my family, friends and colleagues. I’d probably better dust of the dictionary and get my rusty Japanese up and running again.

楽しみにしています。(I’m looking forward to it!)

See you in two weeks, Japan!

x Sonia x

Dressed in traditional Kimono, Kyushu
Dressed in traditional Kimono, Kyushu

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