Written by Lourdes
Planning your honeymoon is a part of the wedding process. And even if it doesn’t happen for over a year after the “I dos” as was the case with mine, it's never too early to think about where to go. I didn’t honeymoon in Japan, but I have been and I loved it! If you’re considering a honeymoon to Japan, there are some fabulous things to see and do in the Land of the Rising Sun.
My Japan Travels
FTR, the idea to travel to Japan was all my husband’s. As a military kid, he’d lived there once, and had been wanting to go back as an adult. I’d say he’s pretty much a Japanophile. As for myself, I'm not quite to his level. I’d watch the Japan-related YouTube video he was watching in the months leading up, but I had no set expectations. Well, other than wanting to eat as many new and delicious things. Which I did!
We spent one week in Japan. Out of the seven days we were there, six of them were exploring Tokyo and the surrounding areas. Our “homebase” train station was Shinjuku, and it was about a 20 minute walk to our AirBnb. The one day we weren’t in Tokyo was because of a day-trip whim to Kyoto on the bullet train. In seven days, we hardly scratched the tip of the iceberg of things to do in Tokyo and Kyoto (let alone the rest of Japan). Nonetheless, here are my top 3 travel tips for each city!
Tokyo Travel Tip #1: Explore the Major Train Stations
This sounds a little odd, right? I know. But as it turns out, the major train hubs like Shinjuku Station and Tokyo Station have great shopping and dining. Like I said before, Shinjuku was our homebase. That’s where we left from and arrived to every single day and night. The best discovery we made there was in the basement of the Odakyu department store building, which is attached to the station. In the basement you’ll find food galore! And it’s organized by categories of food: bakeries, lunch/savory, fresh fruits, and candies. We’d stop in every morning to grab a pastry for our breakfast. If we wanted to carry something to go for lunch, we’d get some gyoza, steamed buns, or chicken wings. If we wanted to kill time or escape the heat, we would wander upstairs to the retail part of the store.
Tokyo Station was also a great mix of shopping and dining, and it was all underground. Tokyo Stations shopping had a section of more “outlet style” stores, as well as, plenty of souvenir stores. While there was no floor dedicated to the food, the restaurants were here and there. There was also variety in the type of restaurants: from the more quick-bite-on-the-go to "fancier" sit-down places. And since it was all underground, there was no need to ever step foot outside when the weather was not behaving.
Tokyo Travel Tip #2: Visit the Towers!
Two of the most iconic buildings in Japan are Tokyo Tower and the Tokyo Skytree, and I recommend going to both. Mind you, this is coming from someone who’s afraid of heights.
Tokyo Tower with it’s red and white paint resembles the Eiffel Tower in design and height (333m). There are observation decks at 150 and 250 meters. There’s even a glass floor in one part to look straight down. There are a lot of high-rise buildings in the area so the views are limited by what you can see between the buildings. The shopping and dining is also limited at Tokyo Tower, but still worth a look. (Sidenote: The Momiji Dani park outside of the tower is a great little escape from the urban surroundings.)
Tokyo Skytree is the bigger of the two towers - it’s almost twice as tall as Tokyo Tower (634m). This one is northeast corner of Tokyo so the train ride is a little longer from Shinjuku. The Skytree also has two observation decks (350m and 450m). The three-story Tembo Deck is the lower of the two, and the only one we went to. It has 360º panoramic views of Tokyo and the surrounding areas. With nothing to match or surpass its height, there is nothing to obstruct your view. And if it’s a clear day, you’ll also see Mt. Fuji in the distance… we did not :( It also has a glass floor at the bottom level of the Tembo Deck. It’s nerve-wracking to say the least to see the ground so far away. There are also FIVE ground floors under the Skytree that are nothing but shopping and dining. It’s super easy to make a day trip of it all and stay until the Skytree is lit up at night.
Tokyo Travel Tip #3: Take a Day Trip to Kamakura
So this travel tip does technically take you outside of Tokyo, but not very far from it. From Tokyo you’ll need to jump on the Yokosuka line to get to Kamakura. This is exactly what we did in Kamakura:
Once at the Kamakura Station, we used Google maps to navigate our way to the Great Buddha. It was about a 30 minute walk. Even though it was humid and I sweated a lot, there were so many wonderful old buildings and little shops to see along the way. Btw, they don't call him the "Great Buddha" for no reason. His size is impressive! You can also climb to the top of his head from the inside, but we did not.
From the Great Buddha, we walked down to the beach. Our only stop was at a cafeteria for some rainbow malasadas along the way (aka colorful fried doughnut balls covered in sugar). 10/10 would highly recommend! From the beach we walked uphill via the main road to the Kamakura Shrine Gate.
Once at the gate, we moved from the sidewalk to the pathway that is on the median itself. We took that path *uphill still* to the Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shinto shrine. The grounds are beautiful and peaceful. The size of the lily pads they had in the ponds... amazing! Headed back to the train station from the shrine, there are shops for souvenirs and restaurants to eat at. And if you do it all in this order, by the time you are headed back to the train station from the shrine, it’s all downhill!
Kyoto Travel Tip #1: Visit the Fushimi Inari Torii
On our second to last day in Japan, we took a day trip via the Shinkansen bullet train to Kyoto. This was after we had gotten our breakfast bread from the bakery of the Odakyu building of course!
Once in Kyoto, we hoofed it over to the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine, which is famous for its orange torii gates. (Sidenote: you can take a train if you’d rather not walk 45 minutes.) If you’ve seen Memoirs of a Geisha, then you know which gates I mean. Off to the side when you first walk in to the complex, there’s an area where people have left their 1000 folded cranes. It’s a sea of color and a testament to patience!
Just past the big shrine is the start of the hike up the mountain, but that’s how you get to the torii from the movie. It was a dream come true. I was on the verge of tears because I couldn’t believe I was there! Walking through the tight-spaced torii headed up the mountain is usually pretty packed. However, if you head back down the other way, it’s much easier to get a picture of the torii with no one in it.
You also have the chance to hike to the top of the mountain. We only made it part way… I don’t think we even made it halfway! It is a 3 hour hike to be fair and we weren’t prepared with enough water so back down to the temple area we went. Within the shrine grounds and the nearby area, there are also plenty of street food vendors and souvenir shops.
Kyoto Travel Tip #2: Walk the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
Walking the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove was another one of those things you didn’t know you needed to do it until you did it. This was not something on our radar at all when arriving in Kyoto. I’m pretty sure that we found it on a list of things to do, and I’m so glad we did!
The bamboo is so tall that it feels like you’re in a different world. Plus, its shade is so refreshing from the sun. If you don’t want to walk the paths in it, there are jinrikisha that will take you through the grove. Jinrikisha are human-pulled taxi carts that will take you wherever you’d like to go. Which in of themselves, are an amazing thing to see because let me tell you those guys are ripped!
Kyoto Travel Tip #3: Hike to the Arashiyama Monkey Park
From the bamboo forest, it’s a 15 minute walk to the start of the Arashiyama Monkey Park. And yes, I mean start. Why? Because the park itself is at the top of another mountain and the only way to get there is to walk. Sorry, no jinrikisha for this. Unlike the Fushimi Inari hike, I needed to make it to the top of this one for 3 reasons. 1) I wanted to see the freakin’ monkeys if it was the last thing I did. 2) the park closed at 4:30, and we arrived with 30 minutes to spare, and 3) it was only 15 minutes to the monkeys! Not going to lie, it felt like it took me more than 15 minutes, but I’d also been walking all day so my legs were spent.
Making it to the top was such a victory! A sweaty one, but a victory nonetheless. Once at the top, you do have a cool view of Kyoto and there’s the added bonus of cute little baby monkeys! There’s also the chance to feed them, and take pictures of them. Remember, these are wild animals that will defend their space and/or young if provoked. So, please don’t risk your safety in trying to take what you think will be a cool selfie.
You can pretty much hang out there all day. That is, until the monkeys have decided they’ve had enough human interaction for a day and they all leave. (They head farther up the mountain into the trees for the night.) I know I don’t have to say it, but I’ll say it anyways: the downward trek was a breeze and my legs loved that!
Never would I have thought before this trip that I could be so enchanted by a culture. Even after all this time, I'm still eagerly waiting to go back and explore more of Japan! There’s still so much I have yet and want to see. Including, but not limited to:
So, if you have any other suggestions of things to add or questions about what else to do, let me know down below in the comments. Or if you take my suggestions, I’d love to hear what you thought!
Arigatou gozaimasu! -L
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