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Japan Trip Recap ~ Michelle A Photo

Japan Trip Recap

I don’t know if I have ever been so excited to write a personal blog post! It has been a couple of weeks since we returned home from our absolute dream trip to Japan and today I am sharing all about it. It goes without saying that this post is going to be a long one but I hope you can all enjoy a little tidbit of Japan!

My bestie Cassie from Hope Harbour Photography and I spent about 9 months planning for this trip. Between making sure to book flights, accommodations, attractions and everything else needed we had a pretty well planned out trip! Not going to lie, some things didn’t go 100% to plan, but all 4 of us were on the same page to go with the flow as much as possible.

I debated whether or not to do a full break down of each day but figured why not! If I can be any sort of help to people wanting to travel to Japan in the future then I would love to be. I also am completely obsessed with Japan now and will take any and all opportunity to chat about it.

So without further ado, please enjoy Japan from my eyes and experience!

Arriving & Day 1:

We flew direct from Toronto to Tokyo, which was a 14 hour flight. You don’t know just how long that is on a plane until you do it. But we made it and headed right to our hotel for some sleep. We made sure that our first full day was more relaxed, we started off by heading to Ueno Park and Ueno Zoo.

The blooms weren’t quite ready when we arrived, but we got to wander through shrines and food stalls in the park. We then spent some time in the zoo that is also part of Ueno Park to see the Giant Pandas!

Japan, Ueno ParkJapan, Ueno ParkJapan, Ueno ZooJapan, Ueno Zoo

Following exploring Ueno, we headed over to the Shinjuku area and Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. The gardens were so stunning and we got to find some trees in full bloom with Sakura! We spent the rest of the evening checking out Hanazono Shrine, which was so cool as a shrine right in the middle of skyscrapers and wandering Shinjuku. We found the famous 3D cat billboard and giant Godzilla!

Japan, Shinjuku Gyoen National GardenJapan, Shinjuku Gyoen National GardenJapan, Hanazono Shrine

Day 2:

We spent the whole second day at Tokyo Disney Sea! We had to purchase tickets about a month in advance and it was a very chilly, rainy day. This was my first time ever at a Disney park and Disney Sea was definitely a cool experience. The whole park is done up with different worlds, when you enter everything is done up like Venice, as you walk it turns into the 1920’s, then a castle setup. Following that, it becomes decorated like The Little Mermaid and Aladdin. The details were absolutely amazing!

Japan, Tokyo Disney Sea

Day 3:

The third day was equally as rainy, but we were pretty used to it at this point. We headed to Hie Shrine in the morning which was such a cool shrine right in the heart of Tokyo. Not only was it stunning, we got to experience a stairway of Tori Gates with absolutely no one around! Which can be tricky to find during peak tourist season.

Japan, Hie ShrineJapan, Hie ShrineJapan, Hie Shrine

Following the shrine, we took the the train back to explore Shibuya! I was super excited about this neighbourhood as it is known for it’s famous crossing and lots of cool shopping. We headed over to Shibuya Parco, a super cool shopping mall that has a Pokemon Centre, Jump Shop and Nintendo Store. It also had a Dark Souls (our favourite video game) store and lots of cool food spots!

We finished off the evening with Shibuya Sky, which is a super cool viewing deck of Tokyo. Unfortunately, because it was so rainy we couldn’t go up to the rooftop deck but we still got to see Shibuya Crossing and all of Tokyo at night!

Japan, ShibuyaJapan, Shibuya Sky

Day 4: 

On the fourth day, we took a day trip to Yokohama which is about an hour away by train from where we were staying. I was incredibly excited about visiting Yokohama for a few reasons. We got to visit the Giant Gundam and Gundam Factory, which shut down on March 31st 2024. We were so lucky to get to see it before it was all gone. We also got to explore some areas around Yokohama, this is the location of my favourite manga and anime so seeing some of those locations in person was super cool!

We also got to make our own ramen at the Cup-a-Noodle Museum which was something I had booked by accident. I thought I was booking a different experience at the museum, but this ended up being one of the funnest things we did! We also got to go right across the street to Cosmo World to ride the viewing Ferris Wheel. The views were just stunning!

Japan, YokohamaJapan, YokohamaJapan, Cup-a-Noodle Museum YokohamaJapan, Yokohama

Day 5:

We hopped on the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) bright and early to head to Kyoto. We were all pretty exhausted at this point and changed up our itinerary a little bit as there were less trees in bloom then we were planning for. So we headed to the Kyoto Imperial Palace and honestly, I am so glad we did! It was massive and had so much to explore. It even had quite a few trees in bloom and it was so amazing getting to wander the grounds and gardens of the palace.

Japan, Kyoto Imperial PalaceJapan, Kyoto Imperial PalaceJapan, Kyoto Imperial PalaceJapan, Kyoto Imperial Palace

Day 6:

We headed to the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest bright and early again to make sure we could explore before it got too busy. As one of the most popular tourist attractions in Kyoto, by 9am this place is always swamped! We came across a small shrine (Nomiya Shrine) inside the forest before wandering up and finding the most gorgeous garden and temple I have ever laid eyes on, Tenryu-ji Temple.

Japan, Arashiyama Bamboo ForestJapan, Nomiya ShrineJapan, Tenryu-ji TempleJapan, Tenryu-ji TempleJapan, Tenryu-ji Temple

In the afternoon, we hopped back on another train for about an hour to head to Nara! Nara is known for its deer park, these deer will bow to you as you offer them food. They were so sweet and would just come up to you for snacks and pets. I was a little nervous as I like many millennials have trauma from the Marineland deer but these sweet little guys were nothing like them!

We then made our way over to Tōdai-ji, also known as the Giant Buddha Temple. When I tell you that you don’t know what big is until you see this temple, I am not kidding! The Buddha inside of the main hall is over 49ft tall and there were also several other incredible statues inside.

I really adored Nara, out of all the places that we saw and went, Kyoto and Nara definitely make the top of the list!

Japan, NaraJapan, NaraJapan, Tōdai-ji
Day 7:
Our final day in Kyoto, we spent the morning exploring Nijo Castle which we even got to explore the inside of. Sadly, they don’t let you take photos inside the castle, but the history was so cool to witness. We then went and got some ramen before heading to the famous Gion District!
We got lucky because although Gion is quite massive, the most famous part where the Geisha’s work has recently been shut down to tourists. We were able to enter between 4pm and 6pm but since April began they have needed to shut down this area due to tourists being disrespectful. It is such a bummer that some people have to ruin things for others. It was a very interesting street to be able to wander!
Japan, Nijo CastleJapan, Nijo CastleJapan, Nijo CastleJapan, Gion District

Day 8:

My bestie Cassie and her hubby Kirk went to explore the Fushimi Inari Shrine the previous morning, but I needed an extra sleep in day so Tylor and I got up early to head there before we left for Osaka. I am so glad we made the quick train ride over before we left Kyoto! This shrine is very famous and was already packed with people when we arrived around 8am. It is known for its rows of Tori Gates. The whole shrine is actually an hour or more of an uphill hike but we spent about an hour exploring closer to the bottom. I took so many photos, it really was one of the most incredible shrines we went to!

Japan, Fushimi Inari ShrineJapan, Fushimi Inari ShrineJapan, Fushimi Inari ShrineJapan, Fushimi Inari ShrineJapan, Fushimi Inari Shrine
Around 11am we packed up our backpacks and headed to Osaka! After dropping off our bags at the hotel, we headed to Shitennoji to check out the grounds and pagodas. We then took the rest of the day pretty easy, we checked into our hotel and then in the evening headed over to Dontonbori which is a famous street know for its shopping and street food. We also found the famous Glico Man sign for some photos!
Japan, Osaka, ShitennojiJapan, Osaka, Dontondori

Day 9:

We woke up and headed right to Osaka Castle! We also found some of the prettiest blooms on our way into the castle grounds and grabbed some photos. Osaka Castle is a well know landmark of Osaka, we heading inside to check out the museum and observation deck before exploring more of the grounds and gardens!

Japan, Osaka CastleJapan, Osaka CastleJapan, Osaka Castle
In the afternoon we had purchased tickets to go to the Naruto x Boruto Park located on the island of Awaji. This was also our first MAJOR travel blunder. We had gotten pretty lucky up to this point with travelling around. The trains in Japan are actually not as scary to navigate as one might think. But the buses, the buses are a little bit harder. Once got off the train, we had to hop on a bus to get to the park…well we ended up on a bus that was going to the TOWN of Naruto. We had no idea there even was a town called Naruto, let alone on the same island.
Anyways, long story short, we spent an hour driving around the island before being able to get off the bus and having to take a very expensive cab ride back. I personally thought this was kind of hilarious that we ended up in Naruto AND Naruto in one day.
Once we finally made it to the park, it was fun getting to wander and take pics with some of the characters from the anime!

Day 10:

We split up this day, Cassie and Kirk headed to Universal and Tylor and I took the Bullet Train to Nagoya! I was desperately trying to find some car things for Tylor when we were planning our Japan trip. We spent the morning at the Toyota Automobile Museum checking out all the old cars and history of Toyota.

We then ended up finding some cool spots to shop back closer to the station and then headed over to Nagoya Castle. You can’t go inside this castle like Osaka Castle but the grounds were so cool and they had a Sakura Festival happening with lots of different food and desserts.

On our way back to the station to take the train back to Osaka, we came across this tiny little shrine right in the middle of a shopping street. One of the coolest things about Japan was how many shrines there are right in the middle of modern day settings!

Japan, Toyota Automobile MuseumJapan, Nagoya Castle

Day 11:

We had another super early day as we took the Bullet Train back to Tokyo at 6am! Cassie and Kirk had a Sumo event to go to so Tylor and I decided to all take the train together back into Tokyo. We headed right from the station to Gotokuji Temple aka The Lucky Cat Shrine. This was one of the shrines I was the most excited to visit. I had promised my sister I would bring her home a genuine lucky cat.

I also purchased a Ema (which are small wooden plaques) that are left at shrines with written prayers or wishes on them. I wrote out a wish for my sweet Nani, she would have LOVED this shrine as she was a major cat lover.

It was so cool seeing all of the lucky cats left by visitors of the shrine and this one will definitely stick out as a favourite experience from our trip!

Tylor and I then headed back to the Ginza District to check out Nissan Crossing, a showroom and unique cafe that prints pictures of cars on lattes. We then wandered around checking out the shopping and ended off the evening at the ART AQUARIUM MUSEUM!

Japan, Gotokuji TempleJapan, Gotokuji TempleJapan, Gotokuji TempleJapan, ART AQUARIUM MUSEUM

Day 12:

We bought our tickets to go to teamLabs Planets about a month before as it was hands down a must for us on our trip! If you ever get the chance to go to Tokyo, you are going to want to check out teamLabs. It is described as an interactive, fully immersive art experience. You walk through rooms of water, flowers, gardens, lights and projections. It was hands down one of the coolest things we did and I would 100% recommend anyone experience it for themselves. Photos can’t do it complete justice!

Japan, teamLabs PlanetsJapan, teamLabs Planets
Tylor and I then headed back to Ueno Park area for the afternoon. I had seen the swan boats the first day we were there but we didn’t have the time to do them. I wanted to go on the swan boats so bad that Tylor took me! I was so happy cause the first time we were at the park almost no trees were in bloom so it was amazing to get to see the park in full boom!
Japan, Ueno Park

Day 13:

It was our Fuji/Lake Kawaguchi day! And also our second major travel blunder of the trip. We headed to the station in the morning to purchase bus tickets to get to Fuji. It was one of the only things we didn’t think to pre-book and when we arrived they had no tickets available until after 3pm.
The attendant at the bus station suggested we take the train, so we took off to track down the first station we needed. Google Maps although an amazing resource and got us everywhere on the trip just wasn’t helping and we eventually had to ask someone to get us there.
Finally after the first train ride, we were in the right spot and ready to hop on the Lake Kawaguchi train only to find out 5 minutes before the train left we needed an additional ticket. We scrambled to the ticket machines to get tickets and ran onto the train just in time. Well, turns out we had bought tickets for the train coming an hour later and we had to sit and stand in the washroom area the whole ride…
It was an interesting ride to get there to say the least but we finally arrived to a VERY foggy and rainy day. We headed immediately to Chureito Pagoda which is a famous Mount Fuji lookout. Needless to say, we did not get to see Fuji but still got to see the Pagoda and purchased some Fuji charms.
We took the train back to the original station to make sure we got a bus ticket back to Tokyo for the following day and headed back to our hotel. We booked a traditional Ryoken with a private Onsen (outdoor hot bath) for the evening. It was such a special experience and the view of Lake Kawaguchi was stunning!!
We may not have got a clear view of Fuji, but I did get to see it briefly on our bus ride out of town.
Japan, Lake KawaguchiJapan, Lake KawaguchiJapan, Lake Kawaguchi

Day 14:

After spending the morning in Fuji, we took the bus back to Tokyo in the afternoon. We wanted to make sure we stayed at least one themed hotel during our time in Japan so we spent our last few days staying at Hotel Travino, a manga themed hotel.

We were also only a 10 minute walk away from Sensoji aka Asakusa Shrine which is known for being the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo! We got to walk through it in the evening and I captured some of my favourite images from our trip.

We also had a “fancy” dinner at a Wagyu Beef restaurant. I am not usually a beef eater but Kirk and Tylor really wanted to make sure to have a good beef dinner while we were there. It was actually delicious and such a fun activity as we got to cook some of the meat ourselves.

Japan, Sensoji, Asakusa ShrineJapan, Sensoji, Asakusa Shrine

Day 15-18:

We spend our last couple of days exploring Asakusa, Akihabara, Ikebukuro and Harijuku. We did lots of shopping, went to a themed mini pig cafe (I practically died of cuteness) and came across a cosplaying event and got to take a picture with our favourite anime character.

We found gachapon and claw machines, wandered around some cool streets and got some delicious treats!

Japan, MiPig Mini Pig Cafe
And there you go, if you made it this far, thank you for reliving my Japan trip with me! It was honestly a dream come true as I have wanted to travel to Japan since I was 9 years old and Tylor and I have been talking about going since we began dating 15 years ago.
It was a LONG time coming getting to Japan but completely worth the wait!
We definitely miss it and some days it feels like a fever dream that we even got to experience something so incredible. I am by no means an expert on the Japan front but if anyone wants tips, recommendations or has any questions about our trip, please feel free to send me a message! I would love to help out in any way that I can.
There is a very good chance we will go back to experience more of Japan in the future. We approached this trip as a “one and done” mindset but after our trip, we have fallen in love and will be back one day!

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“Michelle is a featured and award winning London Ontario Wedding Photographer, who loves to capture unique relationships and create lasting memories! Behind the camera, I am a wife to my high school sweetheart, a mom to a little corgi named Samson, a collector of cute pins and supporter of small business!”

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