Hakone

Although Mount Fuji lies only 80 miles from the heart of Tokyo, it’s hard to see the mountain from the city unless it’s a perfectly clear day. While I arrived in Tokyo at the end of Mount Fuji’s official climbing season, I still wanted to get up close and see one of Japan’s most iconic landmarks.

Mount Fuji Hakone

If you want to enjoy spectacular views of Mount Fuji without climbing it, the tourist town of Hakone offers almost any activity you can imagine, from shopping and exploring museums to relaxing in onsen (hot spring resorts). Hakone lies in the Kanagawa prefecture of Japan, a little over an hour outside of Tokyo.

Hakone Japan

One of the biggest draws of Hakone is Lake Ashi, a scenic lake formed by a crater near Mount Hakone. The lake offers views of Mount Fuji, boat cruises, and several hot springs resorts. Although I stopped at a point where Mount Fuji was barely visible, the beautiful lake more than made up for my lack of view.

Lake Ashi Hakone

Mount Fuji, peeking out behind another mountain in the distance

Lake Ashi Hakone

Many of the pleasure cruise boats on Lake Ashi are modeled after traditional sailing ships, which you can see to the left.

Many vantage points along the shores of Lake Ashi offer souvenir shops as well. If you’re looking for a Fuji-inspired present or a traditional Japanese craft, make sure to stop by.

Mount Fuji souvenirJapanese souvenir

Mount Fuji souvenir

Mount Fuji coin purses! Aren’t these cute?!

 For beautiful views of Mount Fuji, Lake Ashi, and the surrounding countryside, I highly recommend taking a gondola among the mountains, called the Hakone Ropeway. The aerial lift has several stops around the mountains, ending in a stop right by Lake Ashi. This line is one of the best opportunities for sightseeing in the area, particularly during the fall when the leaves are changing.

Hakone ropewayHakone ropeway

Hakone ropeway

While you can take the gondolas for a round trip, I recommend getting off at Owakudani, or the Great Boiling Valley. Owakundani is a volcanic valley with active sulfur vents and hot springs, which offers even better views of Mount Fuji on a clear day, hiking trails along the vents, and souvenirs. You can definitely smell the sulfur in the air, but it’s pretty cool to walk along active steam vents.

Owakundani

Owakundani

Owakundani

Mount Fuji, from a view at Owakundani

Owakundani is known for its kuro tamago, or black eggs. These are a local specialty food in Hakone, where the eggs are boiled in the sulfur hot springs.  As a result, the egg turns black from a chemical reaction and smell like sulfur. Eating a kuro tamago is supposed to add longevity to your life (seven years for every egg), but be warned: if you eat more than two and a half in seventeen years, there could be dire (and unexplained) consequences. I thought the eggs tasted exactly like normal hard-boiled eggs, but eating one gave me a stomachache later.

Owakundani

Hello Kitty/Kuro Tamago photo opportunity? DUH.

Owakundani

Owakundani

The majestic black egg. Oh, and Mount Fuji in the background.

Owakundani Kuro tamago

Just a normal egg on the inside.

If you’re interested in more manmade attractions, Fujiya Hotel is another Hakone must-see. This historic hotel was built in 1891, and is a mixture of both western and Japanese architectural elements that were popular during the Meiji period in Japan. The beautiful hotel has hosted many notable people and celebrities over the years, including the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Charlie Chaplin, Helen Keller, and the Showa Emperor.

Fujiya Hotel HakoneFujiya Hotel Hakone

Fujiya Hotel HakoneIf you can’t stay overnight at the hotel, make sure to take a tour of its rooms and historic artifacts, and plan to stay for dinner. Fujiya is famous for its beef curry, which is served in its French-inspired restaurant.

Fujiya Hotel Hakone

Fujiya’s famous (and expensive!) beef curry.

I ended my time in Hakone at the Hakone Open-Air Museum, a park full of beautiful sculptures, interactive art that you can play on, galleries, and more. With works by Picasso and Henry Moore, it’s a great way to walk around in the fresh air and enjoy some art. My favorite part was a tower constructed from stained glass, which you could climb up inside and enjoy views of Hakone’s countryside.

Hakone Open Air MuseumHakone Open Air MuseumHakone Open Air Museum

Whether you’re looking for spectacular views of Mount Fuji or just want a break from Tokyo, Hakone offers an activity for everyone. Bring good walking shoes and plenty of spending money, as you’ll definitely want to try more than one destination. Hakone is a perfect place to grab an iconic picture of Mount Fuji, and still have plenty more to do.

Hakone Open Air Museum

Next time I’m in Japan though, hopefully I’ll be able to photograph Mount Fuji from its summit instead.

Mount Fuji Hakone

Kyoto

Kyoto is the final stop on my Kansai journey, and one of my absolute favorite places in Japan. Kyoto is truly the cultural capital of Japan, with buildings and temples that are hundreds of years old and rich history around every corner. Kyoto served as the capital of Japan for over a thousand years (until 1869) and was formerly known as Heian-kyo, or “the capital of tranquility and peace.”

A first glimpse of Kyoto- along the canals

A first glimpse of Kyoto- along the canals.

Although Kyoto is only the 8th largest city in Japan, millions of tourists flock to Kyoto to check out its amazing fall foliage, spring hanami, beautiful temples, and more. With over 2000 Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, Kyoto is one of the best culturally preserved cities in the world.

Kyoto

I began my journey at Yasaka Shrine, a Shinto shrine that draws thousands of people for New Years celebrations and the Gion Matsuri, a world-famous festival and parade. Just inside its gates, you can purchase Japanese street food from a variety of vendors as you make your way to other sites.

Yasaka Shrine Kyoto

Yasaka Shrine

Yasaka Shrine Kyoto

Many people pass through Yasaka Shrine on their way to Maruyama Park, another extremely popular place to view cherry blossoms in the spring and autumn foliage in the fall. The park has dozens of beautiful walkways, ponds, and Japanese gardens, and many people come here to take pictures in kimono or traditional dress.

Maruyama Park

Maruyama Park KyotoMaruyama Park Kyoto

Maruyama Park Kyoto

Maruyama Park is a perfect place to take pictures. Many tourists visit in beautiful kimono, such as this woman.

From Maruyama Park, you can easily walk to other temples or cultural heritage sites in the area. My favorite was the Higashiyama district, one of Kyoto’s best preserved historical areas. Between its narrow lanes, wooden buildings, traditional architecture and hundreds of small shops, you truly feel as if you are in Heian-kyo or the old capital city.

Higashiyama district kyoto

The crowded streets of the Higashiyama district.

Higashiyama district kyoto

The district is based on the lower slopes of Kyoto’s eastern mountains, so the walk includes many sets of stairs and inclined walkways. However, the hundreds of traditional shops definitely make up for the physical effort. These souvenir shops, cafes, traditional goods markets, and restaurants have been open for centuries. They continue to sell many local goods- including sweets, fabric crafts, pickles, pottery, and more- today.

Higashiyama district kyoto

Kyoto is famous for its fabric goods, which can be found in many of its traditional shops. These are little plush sushi souvenirs!

Higashiyama district kyoto

Higashiyama district kyoto

A sign for a famous cosmetics company in Japan

When walking through any part of Kyoto, you may also see young women dressed in bright and elaborate kimono, with white makeup and intricate hairstyles. These women are known as geisha, Japanese entertainers who perform traditional arts such as dance and classical music. Geisha are often regarded as one of the most famous cultural symbols of Japan, even though their numbers are severely decreasing. While there used to be over 80,000 geisha in Japan during the early 20th century, today there are less than 2,000.

Kyoto geisha

Kyoto geishaHowever, most of the women you see dressed up on the streets are not true geisha, but tourists who pay anywhere from $100 to $500 to be dressed up, have their photo taken, and walk around. Real geisha are often swarmed by photographers as they leave their homes or entertaining sites, and carry themselves in an extremely sophisticated and professional manner. Many of the “geisha” you see on the streets in Kyoto are laughing, taking silly pictures, or are wearing accessories that aren’t appropriate for the current season. Either way, they still look beautiful!

Kyoto geisha

Kyoto geisha

These girls definitely knew that I was taking their picture.

Kyoto geisha

This girl is a gaijin (foreigner) dressed up. I still could’t resist taking taking her picture.

Gion, a traditional district in Kyoto that originated during the Middle Ages, is one of the most well-known geisha districts in all of Japan. This district may sound familiar; it’s the setting for Arthur Golden’s famous novel Memoirs of a Geisha. The streets, which run along the Shirakawa Canal, have a number of traditional teahouses (called ochaya) and other entertainment venues that geisha still frequent today. We didn’t see any, but it was still an amazing experience to walk along the same streets that I had only read about before.

Gion kyoto

Gion kyoto

A beautiful lantern in Gion

Gion kyoto

Shirakawa Canal

Gion KyotoAlthough there are thousands of beautiful temples and shrines to see in Kyoto, one final point of interest that I recommend is Fushimi Inari-taisha, a Shinto shrine that is famous for its thousands of torii gates. This shrine has walking trails up a mountain that are flanked by thousands of wooden torii, which are donated by businesses and individuals. This shrine is the most important out of thousands of shrines across Japan dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice.

Fushimi Inari-taisha Kyoto

Fushimi Inari-taisha Kyoto Fushimi Inari-taisha Kyoto

I unfortunately visited Fushimi Inari-taisha in the dark, but the thousands of torii were still breathtaking. I recommend visiting with plenty of daylight left, so you can climb the mountain and enjoy some spectacular views of Kyoto.

Fushimi Inari-taisha KyotoDSC_4762 If I ever return to Japan, I want to spend at least a week more exploring Kyoto. There’s so much to see and do, and yet I barely scratched the surface!

Thanks again for reading, and happy Thanksgiving!

Osaka

Osaka is the second largest metropolis in Japan, and is located in the Kansai region about 3 hours away from Tokyo by bullet train. It’s the capital of Osaka prefecture as well as the largest part of the Keihanshin metropolis, which is composed of the cities of Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe.

Via Flickr

Via Flickr

 Historically, Osaka is the commercial center of Japan and was the country’s center for trading rice in the Edo period. Today, Osaka still functions as a major center for the Japanese economy and is home to several important electronic companies, including Panasonic and Sanyo.

Osaka Skyline via Flickr

Osaka Skyline via Flickr

 Although I didn’t spend much time in Osaka, this is one city that I definitely want to revisit. Because Osaka is also known for its food, I began my travels in Dotonbori, a street in the center of the city that is famous for its flashing neon signs, dozens of restaurants, and regional cuisine.

Dotonbori OsakaDotonbori OsakaDotonbori is a huge tourist attraction and the main destination for food travel in the Kansai region. Here, you can try many cuisines such as takoyaki, okonomiyaki, udon noodles, and sushi. We visited a well-known takoyaki restaurant and spent a half hour in line just to try it!

Dotonbori Osaka

Takoyaki restaurant in the Dotonbori

takoyakiOsaka

Takoyaki

Takoyaki lights!

TakoyakiIn Osaka you often hear or see the word kuidaore, which literally means ““to ruin oneself by extravagance in food.” This is exemplified in many local proverbs, particularly ones that compare the city to Kyoto. One old saying says that while Kyotoites spend all their money on shopping and kimonos, Osakans are ruined by spending money on food.

DSC_5280

Zubora-ya

Zubora-ya, a famous pufferfish lantern outside of a fugu restaurant

And with so many delicious options, it’s easy to see how.

Dotonbori Osaka

If you need somewhere to walk off all the food in Dotonbori, Osaka Castle is another popular tourist destination and a beautiful history site. Surrounded by Osaka Castle Park, the castle is one of Japan’s most famous buildings and played a major role in uniting Japan during the 16th century.

Osaka Castle Park

Osaka Castle Park

Osaka Castle ParkOsaka Castle

Osaka Castle was built in 1583 under orders of Hideyoshi Toyotomi, a territory lord and general who is revered as Japan’s second great unifier. While it was burned down in several battles, the castle was rebuilt in the early 20th century and is considered a symbol of Osaka.

Osaka Castle

The castle is open to the public, and contains a museum inside with many artifacts and displays about the 16th and 17th century. On the 8th floor, you can also enjoy amazing open-air views of the city.

Osaka Castle

DSC_5389

DSC_5434Osaka also offers attractions for all ages, including the second largest aquarium in the world, traditional theaters, shopping districts, an enormous Ferris wheel, and more. Plan to stay for a few days, and make sure to bring plenty of money for food. You may leave a few pounds heavier than when you came, but with so much to try and do, it’s definitely worth it.

Osaka Castle

Osaka CastleI’ll be finishing my tour of the Kansai area next week, but thanks again for reading! What kind of travel destinations do you prefer, historical or modern?

Nara Prefecture

Although I spent most of my time abroad in Tokyo, I had the amazing opportunity to check out other famous cities and areas in the Kansai region of Japan. One of my favorite places to go was Nara, a small prefecture and city about 3 hours away from Tokyo by bullet train. Nara was the capital of Japan from 710 to 784, and lends its name to the Nara period.

While the city itself isn’t much to look at, Nara is rich with history, particularly when it comes to temples. There are 8 temples, shrines, and ruins in Nara (known as the Nanto Shichi Dai-ji), which remained powerful even after the capital of Japan moved to Heian-kyo (modern Kyoto) in 794.

Nara Park Nara Japan

However, my favorite part about Nara was…the deer.

Sika Deer Nara Japan

Hi there!

Yes, that’s right. I said deer. According to local folklore, deer in Nara became sacred after one of the four gods of the Kasuga Shrine appeared on a nearby mountain riding a white deer. From then on, the deer were considered to be divine, and killing one was a capital offense punishable by death. Although the deer were stripped of their sacredness after World War II, they’re still considered National Treasures of Japan.

Sika Deer Nara Japan

Sika Deer Nara Japan

Whutcha doing?

Sika Deer Nara JapanToday, the miniature Shika deer can be found wandering around Nara Park and on some temple grounds. They’re extremely friendly and can be pet (although you might want to wash your hands afterwards).

Sika Deer Nara JapanSika Deer Nara Japan

You can also buy stacks of rice crackers from vendors along the road and feed the deer from your hands. Just be careful though- once the deer know you have food, they won’t leave you alone. I was stalked by a deer for a good 15 minutes, and when I wouldn’t keep feeding him, he head-butted me several times.

Sika Deer Nara Japan

This deer knows what’s up. He’s stalking one of the cracker vendors from behind.

Sika Deer Nara JapanSika Deer Nara Japan

Sika Deer Nara Japan

Here’s my stalker deer friend literally moments before he head-butted me. Notice the sheer terror in my face.
Don’t worry though, I survived.

The deer are also extremely intelligent and have been known to wait at stoplights before crossing the street. You can even bow to the deer, and some will even bow back! I had an elderly Japanese couple laugh at me when I tried this, but once I walked away, I saw them trying the same exact thing.

Sika Deer Nara JapanSika Deer Nara Japan

Like I mentioned earlier, Nara is home to several important temples and shrines in Japan. I visited Todai-ji, a large Buddhist temple complex. Todai-ji is known for its Great Buddha Hall (Daibutsuden), which was the largest wooden structure in the world until 1998.

Todai-ji Nara Japan TempleDSC_5086

Todai-ji also houses the world’s largest bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana, which stands at almost 50 feet tall. The statue was completed in 752, has undergone several restorations and repairs since then.Todai-ji Nara Japan Temple

Todai-ji Nara Japan Temple

Guardian of the Great Buddha

Todai-ji Nara Japan Temple

At the Great Buddha Hall, visitors can see the many statues, purchase ema, and visit a small gift shop with deer paraphernalia.

Todai-ji Nara Japan Temple

Japanese ema (prayer plaques)

Todai-ji Nara Japan TempleNara may not be as exciting as downtown Tokyo, but it still has plenty to do. Check out ancient Japanese history, enjoy a relaxing day in the park, and pet some deer. Just make sure to bring some hand sanitizer, and plenty of money for rice crackers.

DSC_5103

I’m staying in the Kansai area for next weeks Travel Tuesday, so make sure to keep an eye out! Until then, thanks for reading and enjoy!

Kamakura and Daibutsu

It’s only November, but here in Boston it already feels like the dead of winter.  To escape the cold, I’m revisiting Kamakura on today’s Travel Tuesday, and exploring a town with both history and fun in the sun.

DSC_2922

Kamakura is located in the Kanagawa prefecture of Japan, about 30 miles southwest of Tokyo. Although it’s a small town, Kamakura used to be a formal capital of Japan and served as the seat of the shogunate (feudal government system) during the Kamakura period (1185-1333). Because of its proximity to the city and its many attractions, Kamakura is a popular tourist destination year round.

DSC_0875

I first visited Kamakura during early September and headed straight for the beach, which is extremely popular during the summer months. Even though it was still 95 degrees out, we arrived shortly after the end of the official season and had the beach almost entirely to ourselves.

DSC_0889DSC_0899DSC_0918If you ever visit a beach in Japan, keep an eye out for sea glass! I never realized how interesting it could be in other countries, and I collected a wide variety of pottery shards, sea-green glass, and even part of a teapot.

DSC_0961DSC_0968DSC_0972

Watching the sunset on the beach is also a perfect way to end a day in the sand before heading back to the nearby train station.

DSC_1082DSC_1144 If you’re interested in sightseeing or you visit during the cooler months, Kamakura still has plenty to see and do. The city has a dozen temples and shrines to visit, great shopping for traditional souvenirs, and tons of delicious restaurants.

DSC_2886DSC_2940One of the most famous sights of Kamakura, is the Daibutsu, or Great Buddha. This towering bronze statue was built in 1252, and despite a series of earthquakes and storms, still stands proudly today. Daibutsu is approximately 44 feet tall, weighs a whopping 267,000 pounds, and is one of Japan’s most iconic symbols.

The ticket to see Daibutsu

The ticket to see Daibutsu

DSC_2815

DSC_2823

Hundreds of tourists flock here everyday to see the giant Buddha, pay their respects, pray, and even purchase charms that will help them succeed in daily life. I bought a small token that was good for one wish, which I spent standing in front of Daibutsu.

DSC_2813

A small charm that I purchased at Daibutsu. This particular token was good for one wish, which I asked for in front of the Great Buddha. Don't ask me what it is though, or it won't come true!

A small charm that I purchased at Daibutsu. This particular token was good for one wish, which I asked for in front of the Great Buddha. Don’t ask me what it is though, or it won’t come true!

Because of its popularity with tourists, Kamakura also has tons of souvenir shops, unique crafts for sale, and many different types of cuisine. I ate Hawaiian food twice when I visited, which I had never tried before (even in the US!).

Handmade pottery

Handmade pottery

A Miyazaki shop! Miyazaki Hayao is a famous Japanese director (kind of like the Walt Disney of Japan). You can find shops with cute products from his films all across Japan.

A Miyazaki shop! Miyazaki Hayao is a famous Japanese director (kind of like the Walt Disney of Japan). You can find shops with cute products from his films all across Japan.

Sometimes, I missed American food in Japan. This burger at a Hawaiian restaurant near the beach really hit the spot.

Sometimes, I missed American food in Japan. This burger at a Hawaiian restaurant near the beach really hit the spot.

Another Hawaiian meal. A fried egg and gravy over rice.

Another Hawaiian meal. A fried egg and gravy over rice.

My favorite food, however, was the sweet potato ice cream. It’s made with murasaki-imo, which give it a nice purple color. It’s deliciously sweet and mellow, and unlike anything I’ve ever tried before. It seems to be a specialty in Kamakura, as we passed many different booths and cafes offering this unique flavor.

Sweet potato ice cream. This was probably the best ice cream I had in Japan…I wish I could find it in the US!

Sweet potato ice cream. This was probably the best ice cream I had in Japan…I wish I could find it in the US!

Whether you want to learn a little history or just enjoy a day on the beach, Kamakura has something for everyone.  Although it’s about an hour by train from the center of Tokyo, it’s another wonderful chance to get outside the city and experience a little more of the amazing sights Japan has to offer.

Mount Takao

Although Tokyo offers a dizzying array of activities for any weather or season, it’s also nice to get away from the concrete jungle and explore a little bit of nature. I often feel this way in Boston, where I currently live; although the city is amazing, the changing leaves remind me just how much I’m missing out on beyond the skyline.

Last November, I decided to leave the sprawling streets of Tokyo and check out some rural scenery at Mount Takao, a peak at the edge of the Kanto Mountains. Now, I know mountains. I spent most of my childhood hiking in the Adirondacks, a mountain range in upstate New York. The paths on those peaks are dirt and rock, and offer little besides nature and a view at the top. Although you’ll probably run into a few other hikers or families on the trail, Adirondack hikes are largely private. With this in mind, I thought I knew exactly what I was getting into.

Fun fact: Mount Takao is often called Takao-san, using the suffix “san” that is used to address people (for example, Mr. Smith would be Smith-san in Japanese). In Japan, all living things are believed to have a soul or spirit. By using ‘san,’ Takao becomes personified, as the mountain definitely has a spirit of its own.

Fun fact: Mount Takao is often called Takao-san, using the suffix “san” that is used to address people (for example, Mr. Smith would be Smith-san in Japanese). In Japan, all living things are believed to have a soul or spirit. By using ‘san,’ Takao becomes personified, as the mountain definitely has a spirit of its own.

Boy was I wrong.

Mount Takao is located about an hour away from central Tokyo by train, making it a popular destination for both families and tourists. On weekends, particularly in the fall, Takao-San is also extremely crowded, as the mountain offers one of Tokyo’s best autumn foliage sites. I went in the beginning of November, and saw just how popular this nature retreat was.

Heading with other hikers from the train station to the base of the mountain

Heading with other hikers from the train station to the base of the mountain

DSC_2967While I wasn’t able to get away from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, Mount Takao offers six different hiking trails, a cable car and chairlift for the athletically challenged, beautiful foliage, and stunning views of both Tokyo and Mount Fuji on a clear day. We decided to take the most popular trail, with a conveniently paved path up the mountain.

DSC_2964

A map of all the different trails Takao-san offers. I took the most popular one (light red) but other trails offer views of a suspension bridge, a waterfall, and a panoramic ridge.

A map of all the different trails Takao-san offers. I took the most popular one (light red) but other trails offer views of a suspension bridge, a waterfall, and a panoramic ridge.

After a short yet extremely steep hike to the halfway point (which can be avoided by taking a cable car ride), the ascent to the summit only takes 45 minutes. However, with so many attractions, you can spend hours exploring the mountain before reaching the peak.

A conveniently paved trail for the first half of our hike. I even saw girls walking this in flats and wedge sandals....not sure how they fared once the trail got really steep!

A conveniently paved trail for the first half of our hike. I even saw girls walking this in flats and wedge sandals….not sure how they fared once the trail got really steep!

DSC_3024DSC_3011Halfway up the mountain, visitors first encounter a rest stop near the cable car platform, complete with vendors selling traditional Japanese street food. Here, you can see some of the first views of Tokyo.

The halfway point. Here, people can get on and off the cable cars and chairlifts that will take you to the base of the mountain.

The halfway point. Here, people can get on and off the cable cars and chairlifts that will take you to the base of the mountain.

A vendor sells dango, a type of Japanese dumpling on a stick

A vendor sells dango, a type of Japanese dumpling on a stick

A view of the sprawling city of Tokyo. Can you believe how large it is?

A view of the sprawling city of Tokyo. Can you believe how large it is?

DSC_3034If you’re traveling with small children or just want a fun afternoon, Takao-san tourists can also visit a monkey park just beyond the rest area for only a few hundred yen (under $5 USD). Here, you can see dozens of different monkeys at play, get up close with trainers, and still enjoy stunning views of the countryside.

How cute is that?!

How cute is that?!

DSC_3115

DSC_3141There are also several nature trails in the park, with beautifully cultivated plants and a variety of wild flora and fauna.

A few beautiful flowers I found on the nature trails in the monkey park

A few beautiful flowers I found on the nature trails in the monkey park

DSC_3219DSC_3175While the monkey park is great for visitors with small children, the main attraction of Mount Takao is Yakuōin Yūkiji, a Buddhist temple located towards the peak. Takao-san has been a center of worship for over 1200 years, after Emperor Shomu ordered the temple to be built in 744 AD. Here, visitors can pray to both Buddhist and Shinto mountain gods for good fortune and prosperity.

DSC_3231

DSC_3236

DSC_3263

This was built in 744 AD...can you imagine carrying all that wood up by hand, with no paths?

This was built in 744 AD…can you imagine carrying all that wood up by hand, with no paths?

DSC_3267DSC_3277

Tengu, guardian spirits of the mountain and temple

Tengu, guardian spirits of the mountain and temple

Standing at 599 m, the peak of Mount Takao offers stunning views of Tokyo, the surrounding mountain countryside, and even Mount Fuji on a clear day. By the time I reached the peak, Fuji-san was hidden behind afternoon haze, but we still enjoyed the summit.

It's official, we reached the summit. Yahoo!

It’s official, we reached the summit. Yahoo!

DSC_3286

Feeling a bit peckish after your climb? Not to worry- Mount Takao is also famous for its soba noodles. We went to a small restaurant directly on the peak, and enjoyed a bowl of noodles and beer to commemorate our climb.

DSC_3313

A few noodle restaurants right before the peak

A few restaurants right before the peak

Refreshing sake that we purchased from a vendor on our way down. I wouldn't recommend drinking too many of these before hiking though.

Refreshing sake that we purchased from a vendor on our way down. I wouldn’t recommend drinking too many of these before hiking though.

If you’re looking to get away from the concrete jungle of Tokyo, enjoy beautiful views, or check out Japanese history and culture, Takao-san is great for all ages. Just don’t expect to get away from the crowds of the city on weekends, as many Japanese families and tourists have the same exact idea. Either way, it’s a great day trip and an amazing chance to smell fresh air, see the changing leaves, and enjoy a few treats along the way.

Celebratory ice cream, of course

Celebratory ice cream, of course

 Mount Takao is a little bit different from other hikes and mountains (such as those in the Adirondacks in New York). Do you think you’d enjoy this type of climb? Thanks for reading, and be sure to let me know!

You can just barely see it, but Mount Fuji is creeping in the haze!

You can just barely see it, but Mount Fuji is creeping in the haze!

Ueno

Two weeks ago I took you to Asakusa, a traditional Japanese district in the northeast reaches of Tokyo. Today, I’m heading to Ueno, a nearby district that showcases some of Tokyo’s best points of interest.

DSC_0534

Ueno is home to a wide variety of activities and is a particularly appealing destination for tourists. This district is home to a huge park, ponds, a zoo, Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, a major concert hall, and many well-known museums, all within walking distance. Whether you’re looking for a nice nature walk or want to learn more about Japanese culture, Ueno definitely has something for everyone.

Walking in Ueno Park

Walking in Ueno Park

DSC_0550My favorite part about this district was Ueno Park, Japan’s first and most popular public park. Ueno Park surrounds Shinobazu Pond, a small body of water with extensive lotus beds and marshlands. As you walk along the shoreline, you can see many varieties of birds that have taken shelter in the marshlands, as well as carp, turtles, and other wildlife. Ueno Park is also home to a huge population of feral cats, who you can see slinking around under the trees.

Shinonazu Pond

Shinonazu Pond

Huge carp in the pond

Huge carp in the pond

One of the many feral cats that call Ueno home

One of the many feral cats that call Ueno home

DSC_0568

Check out how mossy these turtles are!

Check out how mossy these turtles are!

DSC_0579Although I didn’t get a chance to see them, Ueno also has over 800 sakura trees. From the end of March to early May, thousands of people flock to Ueno park for hanami (flower viewing) to see the beautiful cherry blossoms throughout the walking paths.

Thousands of people in Ueno for the flower viewing, or hanami

Thousands of people in Ueno for the flower viewing, or hanami

Vendors along the walking trails in Ueno offer a variety of street foods during hanami

Vendors along the walking trails in Ueno offer a variety of street foods during hanami

The park itself is also home to several Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, one of which sits on an island in the middle of the pond. At the temple, visitors cleanse themselves with water, purchase incense to burn, find out their fortunes, or even leave prayers behind in hope that they’ll be answered. I’ll cover some of these practices more in another post about religion, but until then, enjoy some of the pictures from that area.

DSC_0504

Before entering the temple grounds, guests purify their hands and mouth using water provided in a small fountain

DSC_0532

Visitors can purchase sticks of incense to burn while they pray.

Visitors can purchase sticks of incense to burn while they pray.

DSC_0511DSC_0513

Japanese ema (Shinto prayer plaues). Visitors purchase an ema and write a prayer on it, then hang them up at the shrine where the gods can receive them

Japanese ema (Shinto prayer plaques). Visitors purchase an ema and write a prayer on it, then hang them up at the shrine where the gods can receive them

DSC_0525If you’re in the mood for more nature, Ueno is also home to Japan’s oldest zoo, which opened in 1882. For around $6 visitors can see over 2500 animals and 450 species, including giant pandas, giraffes, hippos, tigers, elephants, and more. Ueno Zoo is definitely a popular spot for families, but I think that no one is ever too old to enjoy a zoo. I know I did.

DSC_6165

DSC_6187DSC_6217DSC_6296

This monkey was not pleased to be photographed.

This monkey was not pleased to be photographed.

DSC_6493

This guy…

Ueno also showcases a dozen different museums, including the Tokyo National Museum, the National Museum of Nature and Science, the National Museum of Western Art, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, and the Shitamachi Museum. It’s a great place to visit to learn more about Japanese art, or even the history and culture of Tokyo.

DSC_6796

DSC_6571DSC_6164It’s easy to make a full day of travel out of Ueno’s attractions, but before you leave, make sure you try one of Ueno’s specialties: panda pan. It’s a great way to leave Ueno on a sweet note, especially after a full day of walking.

DSC_6804

What was your favorite part of Ueno? Thanks for reading, and let me know in the comments below!