My 10 favourite moments in Japan

Posted by Alexandra in Art, Hidden Gems, Lifestyle 09 Oct 2018

2018 had definitely an island theme to it as after Sardinia, we headed to Japan in August. Fortunate to eschew two typhoons and one earthquake, we had a wonderful trip which as always expanded our horizons and nurtured our souls – here are my 10 favourite moments:

Going for a swim in Yumigahama

This trip wouldn’t have happened without two people dear to my heart who invited us to spend time with them in Yumigahama. Located in the Izu Peninsula, about 4h south from Tokyo, this small village by the sea was the perfect place to enjoy some family time. With a sunrise around 5:30 am, best time to go for a swim to dodge the heat and the crowd was around 6:00 am – ocean swims before breakfast are the best!


Taking pictures of Fuji-san from the train

Arguably the most famous natural wonder of Japan, a trip to this country wouldn’t be complete without saying hello to Fuji-san, which we did on our way to Kyoto. Surprised at first – it was missing the snow-cap that is so familiar in the “36 views of Mount Fuji” painted by ukiyo-e painter Hokusai – we definitely recognized its shape and, as most of our  neighbours on the train did, we took lots of pictures!


Enjoying traditional Japanese hospitality in Kyoto

Thanks again to our Japanese connection, in Kyoto, we stayed in a ryokan (traditional inn) located in Gion. This wooden structure, small yet so well designed that it has two small courtyards and several rooms, was the perfect place to enjoy traditional Japanese hospitality from morning breakfast to afternoon tea and a good night sleep!


Trying to find the meaning of life at the Ryoan-ji

Always in search of the meaning of life, I thought that the Zen garden at the Ryoan-ji was the perfect place to look for it. We sat there for a while, letting our minds wonder trying to count the rocks (you can’t see them all at once) and figuring how the pebbles were so well aligned – we have yet to experience enlightenment yet figured out the pebbles part two weeks later watching TV at home (!)


Adopting a Tanuki at the Kitano Tenmangu shrine flea market

Thanks to another Japanese connection, we found out that on the 25th of each month, there is a flea market at Kitano Tenmangu shrine. While browsing through the alleys filled with waving cats and kokeshi (Japanese dolls), a Tanuki (Japanese raccoon dog) caught my eye and I decided to bring him home. It’s been a month since we returned home and he’s happy among his new friends Raven, Ganesh & Chinese Dragon!


Walking the ancient pilgrimage trails of Kumano Kodo

A major historical and spiritual place, Kumano Kodo had been on my bucket list for 12 years. This area is where legends place Emperor Jimmu guided by Goddess Amaterasu defeating the ennemies and founding Japan. This is also home to three major shinto-budhist shrines: Hongu Taisha, Hayatama Taisha and Nachi Taisha. Linked by a network of trails, it has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries and it is now enjoyed by hikers from around the world. Walking from Hosshinmon-oji to Hongu Taisha (a gentle 4h hike) with a knowledgeable guide, we enjoyed some soothing “forest bathing” while learning about this remarquable place.


Watching the Shinkansens at Nagoya station

To make our transition from the small village of Yunomine onsen to Tokyo gentler, I had decided to overnight in Nagoya and, as we only had one night, to stay at a hotel located on top of the train station. The view of the tracks and trains brought back the kid in us – for a while we watched the shinkansens come and go, before hopping on one of them to reach the last stop of our trip.

Jaw-dropping at the exquisite beauty of the Honmaru

One of the most exquisite place I have ever seen, the Honmaru is a masterpiece which alone is worth a visit to Nagoya. Using old pictures taken before it was destroyed during WWII and calling onto craftsmen from various fields, the restauration of the Honmaru is a labour of love, 10 years in the making. The wooden structure, the paintings, the ceilings, all are remarquable and my pictures just don’t do justice to the exquisite beauty of this place.


Watching the crowd walk Shibuya crossing

Best place to watch it is the Starbuck of course – in 2006 and in 2018!


Having my first encounter with a robot

A land where the Spirits of Nature are reverred, Japan is also a land where the Spirits of Technology are coming to life. On the last day of our trip, I met him/her/it (not sure what applies) and tried to engage a conversation – still a work in progress!


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Alexandra Nicolas is a Paris expert and provides suggestions for places to stay, dine, visit and shop in the city of lights.

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