Self-guided Tours Recommended by Japan Post
The first stop of our itinerary was Nikko, a world heritage city located in Tochigi prefecture. We arrived in Nikko around 11:30 pm, with a train full of tourists coming from all over the world.
We soon started looking to something for eat. We found a good ramen restaurant, which had really good reviews and it wasn't expensive, and above all, was really close to the main attractions.
The ramen restaurant was really typical and very crowded both with tourists and locals, and the quality was really good.
After eating, we headed to the Sacred bridge of Nikko, one of the most famous and symbolic spots of the town. Here a lot of tourists tried to take the best selfie, and a lot of married couples chose this spot for its incredible beauty.
The bridge links the city of Nikko to its treasure: a magnificent complex of temples and shrines which makes it famous all over the world.
After crossing the Shinkyo bridge, we climbed up the stairs to enter the complex of temples and shrine.
The scene was simply spectacular: the complex architecture and the shiny colours of the temples and shrines mingled perfectly with the red leaves of the momiji, the japanese maple tree.
We visited the Toshogu shrine, a complex dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, one of the most important figures in Japanese history. On the shrines are also represented numerous animals who have a strong symbolic value. The most famous ones, the three wise monkeys and the sleeping cat.
We visited the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, also located in the temple complex, it was the most visited place, interminable lines of people were praying at the tomb.
After vising these amazing sites, we went to the Nikko Toshogu Museum, which hosts a lot of art pieces which belonged or were dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, really interesting especially to those interested in Japanese medieval history.
After the museum, we headed back to the Tobu Nikko station, walking in the main street, full of local shops and typical restaurants, we also tried to eat yuba, the tofu skin, which is the typical dish in Nikko, it is possible to have a taste of yuba in one of the many typical shops in the street, before deciding to go to a restaurant, which sometimes might be a little expensive.
The second day of our journey started taking one of the most beautiful routes I have ever taken by train.
We took the Aizu mount express train from Kinugawa Onsen station, headed for Yunokami onsen station.
Since the train would have taken at least one hour and a half to get to our destination, I thought it was a good idea to take a nap, but as soon as the train left the station, I understood that I could not miss this train journey at all.
The scenery I viewed from the window started to get more and more beautiful as the train continued its ride, the shades of colours of the mounts became even more intense that I could not help but take my camera and start to take pictures. It was also possible to go to the first coach to have a unique view from the front of the train.
Once arrived at Yunokami onsen station, we noticed that the main building of the station had a typical style: it was mainly made of wood with a thatched roof, and when we got in, there was a burning irori (the traditional Japanese sunken hearth), just at the waiting room.
In about fifteen minutes we arrived at Ouchijuku, and we arranged with the taxi driver the time to come back to the station.
When we arrived at Ouchijuku we soon understood why the station had such a unique style: most of the buildings in Ouchijuku had the same style as Yunokami onsen station.
It seems like the time has stopped at the Edo period, this place remains as it was in the former post town. There was an incredible atmosphere walking in that beautiful and old fashioned street , incredibly packed with tourists, although we were surprised to be the only westeners in the village.
Although we did not have so much time to visit Ouchijuku, we spent about two hours and a half going around the village, trying some of its grilled street food (that tasted really good), and going past the big Torii in the main street, we reached a really beautiful shrine, just ten minutes on foot from the main street, I highly recommend it especially for the really peaceful atmosphere that can be felt, we then went to the Ouchijuku pavilion, an historic inn which has been rebuilt and which hosted 1300 items in authentic Edo period rooms.
After going to the pavilion, we went to the end of the main street, climbed some stairs, and had a breathtaking panoramic view of the village, surrounded by multicolored mountains in the background.
Our last stop at Ouchijuku was a traditional restaurant specialized in the traditional dish of the site: the negi soba, whose peculiarity is that has to be eaten using a green onion instead of chopsticks.
The restaurant has an old and beautiful style, and a great view of the village.
We bought a One Day Pass for Haikara-san and Akabe Town Buses, it could bring us everywhere we needed in Aizu, so it was very useful to visit the city.
We went to visit the castle, enjoying the wonderful view of the city from the highest floor and, with the same ticket, we had the chance to visit the nearby tea-room too.
We prayed in a little shrine in the site of the castle and then we went to eat in a restaurant, we had a traditional (and delicious) Aizu Wappa-meishi ("Mage-Wappa" is the container which was used as a lunch box by the woodcutters of Hinoemata Village. "Wappa Meshi" consists in dishes made with seasonal local vegetables, arranged in traditional "Mage-Wappa" containers. )
We had the opportunity to paint a Japanese ceramic cup, drawing our own design. Everyone in the shop seemed very happy to meet us, making us feel truly welcomed. Drawing sunflowers on the ceramics was super fun and I will receive the finished cup in probably one month. I cannot wait to see it!
After the ceramic experience, we took another bus to get to the Bukeyashiki, a reconstruction of an original samurai mansion, which was burnt down during the Boshin War (1868) and rebuilt to replicate its Edo Period appearance. This is the best place for every samurai-related-stuff fan, and for all those who have some interest in Japanese history, not only for the architecture itself, but also for the beautiful mannequins who replicate former inhabitants during their daily life. I felt I saw the real life of samurai.
There were also very interesting souvenir shops and little museums inside.
It was already 6pm when we got back to our hotel. We were a little tired, but also extremely grateful for every experience we had the chance to try today. I think this has been the best day of this journey so far.
仙台・松島Sendai & Matsushima
This morning our trip moved from Fukushima to Miyagi prefecture: we arrived in Sendai, the most important city in the Tohoku region, founded by Date Masamune, one of the most powerful rulers in the Tohoku region. First, we decided to go to the restaurant, the specialty of the restaurant is the most traditional food that can be found in Sendai, called "Gyutan", it is the beef tongue, served with a soup and rice. It had a really good taste.
We then went to get the loop bus, which brought us to the main attractions in Sendai.
The loop bus brought us to the Zuihoden, the mausoleum of Date Masamune and the rest of his family, completely immersed in the nature, the buildings had a really beautiful and colorful style.
After that, we took the loop bus again, to go to the Sendai city museum, where you can find the history of Sendai, along with pieces of art who belonged to the most important figures of the city, some art pieces unfortunately had only Japanese descriptions, and this might be a little inconvenient to somebody who doesn't speak the language.
After the museum, we took the loop bus to stop at Osaki Hachimangu shrine.
In the entrance there is a red, huge torii, We couldn't miss it. We went there just after the sunset, and even though it rained before, the atmosphere was absolutely magical.
In the evening we went to a traditional and small restaurant located in an old district near Aobadori Ichibancho, the restaurant serves Japanese dishes along with a large selection of sake. I found really interesting the way in which the sake was served: the glass was put on a small plate and the sake was poured until it went out from the glass, to finally fill the small plate, the style is called "mokkiri" Sendai is a city that, compared to the others we visited, offers a larger choice of things to do: it has a large shopping district near the stations, many museums and historical places, along with a unique cuisine.
This morning we left Aizuwakamatsu to reach the most important city of the Tohoku region: Sendai!
We took the train from Sendai and reached Matsushima around 2pm.
We had the opportunity to make our own Juzu (Japanese rosary) in the Entsuin Temple, where everyone can create their own by paying a certain amount depending on the material you choose to work with.
It was super interesting and fun to create them; all the people there were friendly and kind and made us feel welcomed immediately.
After visiting the Entsuin Temple, we walked on the famous bay of the city and then decided to check the famous red bridges which connect the land with the Oshima Island and Fukuura Island. I really recommend especially the second one, which gave us the opportunity to take very beautiful pictures and to enjoy at its best the seaside. If you have the time ― as we had ― to wait until evening, the bridge will be lighted up by some red lights and we will experience a wonderful view of Matsushima bay.
It was already dark when we went back to Entsuin Temple, where the autumn leaves of the Entsu-in garden were decorated with some illuminations.
In conclusion, I think that both Sendai and Matsushima are places that should be visited at least once. Both of them offer different activities, delicious food and beautiful views.
I really wish more tourists knew about the Tohoku region.
Today we visited Yamadera, a thousand year old temple complex on the mountain. From Sendai station we took the rapid train, and we arrived there in less than 1 hour. First we visited the post office there. We got useful information about the place. They welcomed us, gave a detailed, colorful map as well, made us feel comfortable. After it, we ate tama-konyaku, which is a famous food here. It is made from a kind of potato, and its texture reminds me of a harder jelly. It is cheap and delicious, worth to try it at least once.
Eating a stick of tama-konyaku, we entered the main hall of Yamadera and I felt immediately surrounded by the beautiful Japanese nature; it was love at first sight.
Even if the stairs can make your journey hard, they also work well with the scenery, creating a sacred and mysterious atmosphere which you will probably never forget. Feeling a little bit like the famous poet Basho, we climbed the stairs until the top, stopping to touch the Hoteison statue, to burn some incense, and to enjoy the beautiful views from the highest spots. What this journey has taught me is that Japanese nature will always manage to astonish you, in every single season: even though the momiji (autumn leaves) in Yamadera are not at their best anymore, it remains a wonderful place to wander in the nature, under the watchful eye of the Nio (guardians of the gate). And maybe, if you feel lucky, you can try to stick a coin in the Midahora Rock or try to pick some omikuji (Japanese fortune-telling tools) at the foot of the mountain. After the climbing we felt like we deserved a little reward, and we went to one of the restaurants the post office's staff recommended: we had a delicious soba and the owner welcomed us warmly (we also got some aster pickles for free from her)
After eating we did not have so much time, but we still managed to check one of the many omiyage shops near the site: I bought some mixed flavor chips, which I want to share with my friends once back in my country.
We took the train from Yamadera to Uzen Chitose station, where we waited for another train, which brought us to Oishida station. Here we took a local bus to the Ginzan Onsen, where we are going to spend the night.
We left Yamadera at around 14:00 and headed to Ginzan Onsen, transferring at Uzen Chitose station and heading to Oishida station. There we took a local bus which brought us directly to this traditional town, famous for its hot springs and really old ryokans.
The atmosphere is simply magical, you can see a river flowing between traditional buildings, people wearing yukatas strolling along the streets, and a free hot spring to use for your feet.
Here we arrived at our hotel, we had a warm welcome, but the staff only spoke Japanese, but we did not have particular problems to understand.
Then we went to the onsen of the hotel. There were three types: one available to everyone, and two others that you could reserve for yourself. We first went to the first one, and then I reserved the other one just for myself. It was an amazing experience, I felt really relaxed inside a traditional onsen made all of wood.
We then wore the yukatas available in our room and went outside to take some pictures.
The onsen I tried in Ginzan Onsen are the ones that I liked the most so far, because of the traditional style and the good feeling that the hot water gives to your body.
I highly recommend to visit Ginzan Onsen, it is unique in its own way and gives you unique insight of the Japanese culture.
In the morning, we left the traditional hot spring town Ginzan Onsen and headed to Kakunodate, famous for its Samurai residences.
We left from Oishida station and changed the train at Shinjo, took the JR Line to transit at Omagari to finally reache Kakunodate with the Akita shinkansen. We arrived in Kakunodate at around 13 o'clock, it took around four and half hours from Ginzan to Kakunodate.
After our arrival, we went to Kakunodate's samurai district. Here, a part of Kakunodate town transformed completely, it felt like we entered in the past, with a big, large street full of momiji, the typical Japanese autumn trees, with incredible shades of colours.
This street, called "Bukeyashiki street", it's full of samurai houses where is possible to enter in some of them for free, and see how was a samurai house back in the Edo period.
We then deciced to have lunch with one of the traditional dishes in Kakunodate: the inaniwa udon. They had a different texture from the usual udon, but they tasted really good.
After eating, we went to visit the Aoyagi samurai house. A really beautiful mansion which also hosted some art pieces which belonged to the samurai family, it was also possible to hold a real katana, it was absolutely amazing for me, since I love katanas very much, the beauty not only lies in the structures of the mansion, but also the gardens are of a unique beauty, hosting beautiful trees, ponds and old wells.
The next samurai mansion we visited was the Ishiguro Samurai House, the oldest samurai house in Kakunodate. Here we had an interesting explanation made by one of the main family descendants, who explained us how a samurai residence is divided, the role of each room, and the respect showed to the most important member of the family. It was really interesting.
We then went around the main street, where you could also see rickshaw drivers explaining stories of the city to the people who they were carrying, to go to have a stroll to the Hinokinai River. The river pathway has 2 kilometers of cherry blossoms, which were not of course in bloom, but made me imagine how beautiful the scenery would look during spring, and made me want to come back again.
It was one of the most enchanting moments in my life, when I woke up today in the morning, and I could see the sea from the hotel room.
We went to the morning market. The atmosphere was lively there, everything was vivid, people went up and down, the sellers talked to us, used some English words they know.
We ate at a restaurant in the market, and selected a donburi with roe, squid and scallops. You can choose from five seafood with the breakfast ticket, the other two were salmon and crab. The lady in the restaurant was really curious about us, and she was really nice to us. She gave us free a small piece of roasted squid to try.
We were walking around in the market, met with the old man from the wooden craft shop again, he was asking about where have we been in Hakodate.
After we checked out, we went to the fort Goryokaku by tram. I have only tried once in Nagasaki, so for me it was a whole new experience to travel on it again. First we went up the tower, where we could enjoy the spectacular view of the city. We visited the fort's park too. It was really pretty,For lunch we bought ikameshi (squid filled with rice) and kaniman (steam bun filled with snow crab), and ate them on the train. I strongly recommend it for those, who like seafood.
We had to say goodbye to Hakodate to head to Sapporo. The train ride was kind of long, but I used the time to rest. Unfortunately the train had some problems and we arrived in Sapporo around 18:20, more than half an hour later than the scheduled time.
We headed to the hotel, and immediately got a taxi to go the Sapporo beer museum, we could not waste more time.
The museum was mostly empty because of the time, and also because the beer tasting closed at 19:00 and we went there at 19:15. But we enjoyed the visit anyway, we then went to a bar nearby and got a Sapporo beer and some potato chips with chocolate on the outside, one of the typical snacks in Sapporo.
We left the museum to go to eat sushi located on the B1floor of Sapporo station, I think the place is really convenient if you do not have so much time. Once there, there was a small waiting line, we wrote our name in the waiting list and entered about 10 minutes later. The sushi was absolutely amazing, and the price was also very reasonable, we were highly satisfied.
After this great dinner, we felt tired because of the long trip, but we did not want to come back to the hotel without seeing a little of the city, because there are lots of night spots in Sapporo!
We then decided to explore the vicinities of the station, took a walk to the clock tower and then to the TV tower and went down the park to finally get back to the hotel. Seeing huge skyscrapers and neon lights, I felt like walking in a big city like Tokyo.
I thought about how these ten days of trip have been, the delicious food I ate, the kind people I met, the immense beauty of these places that definitely deserve more recognition than what they have now. When I came back to my home I still had to figure out whether these days have been real or not, it seems like they were.