Wild Frontiers' James recently returned from Japan. Here he talks about some of the trip's highlights, from experiencing Japan's incredible cuisine, hiking along the Nakasendo Trail to being featured in a local newspaper and learning how to make soba noodles!
From the 31st Floor of the Park Hotel, Tokyo. Rooms on this floor are all beautifully hand-painted by an artist, I was lucky enough to stay in the Zodiac room - as you can see from the huge tiger in the picture above! Each room has a large square window seat with a panoramic view of this incredible mega-city. If you’ve seen Bladerunner, you can see where it got its inspiration from.
Okonomiyaki, I ate this in both Hiroshima & Osaka; it’s a pancake, cabbage & noodle dish cooked on a hotplate in front of you (Teppanyaki), usually served with an egg on top, lots of mayo and a sweet brown sauce. Completely yummy and very moreish! Food as a whole has been a major highlight of my trip to Japan. I was prepared to be challenged at times, and eating in Japan certainly rewards the adventurous. The food is always carefully presented and thoroughly delicious, but at times can be hard to recognise, so just be brave and give it a go!
Best Night's Accommodation
Iwaso Ryokan, Miyajima. This small island off the coast of Hiroshima is famous for the floating red O-Torii Gate, considered one of Japan’s three most beautiful views. The island also has many deer roaming freely about, and a short cable car up to the summit of Mt Misen, where you’ll find many Shinto-Buddhist shrines, offers spectacular views of the Inland Sea and its many islands. It’s ideally located for a one or two nights stay, the service is impeccable and you’ll love the Onsen (Thermal Baths).
Walking on the Nakasendo Trail in the Kiso Valley. This Edo period trail stretches from Kyoto to what is now Tokyo, but to see the best of it visit the Kiso Valley, between Nagano & Nagoya. Old post towns such as Magome, Tsumago & Narai-Juku are some of the best examples of the traditional houses & streets of this period, where samurai, messengers & traders crossed Japan and needed a place to stay for the night. With lovely woodland trails and shrines lining the route, easy to follow sign posts and great Ryokans to stay in, it makes for a pleasant way to spend a few days walking through the Japan of old. In the summer months (July to September) there is also the option to climb Mt Ontake, the country’s second highest volcano after Mt Fuji.
Being welcomed in Kiso-Fukushima train station by a group of local school children. They’d made us origami gifts and kept giving us high-fives whilst cheering “Welcome to Kiso!”. So cute! Such was the scene, we made it into the local newspaper the next day!
Learning how to make Soba Noodles first-hand. At a cultural visitors centre in Kiso we were shown how to make these delicious buckwheat noodles; mixing, folding, rolling, chopping & boiling our way to a great lunch. They’re usually served cold, or in soups, and are a really hearty food. I can’t wait to make a mess of my own kitchen with attempt number two!
Not having more time in Japan. The country is so interesting and varied, I’ve barely scratched the surface. I’m hoping to go back one October to see the amazing fall colours (as big a highlight as the famed Sakura Cherry Blossom of April) and a trip in mid-winter to enjoy the incredible powder skiing at Hakuba & Niseko is also high on my list.
Tips for Travellers
The Japan Rail Pass is a great option for getting around the country. It’s only available for purchase outside of Japan and we can include it in your itinerary, hopping between high-speed trains couldn’t be easier once you understand how it works. Also, it’s important to remember that as much as you’d like too, you can’t see everything Japan has to offer on one trip. Rather than rush from place to place, spend the time to get to know a place and its people. Slow down from time to time. Japan has so many layers, it’ll keep you coming back for more!