Going to Japan for the first time was, as you may imagine, quite a shocking experience for someone living in America her whole life. During the Summer of 2013, I took my first trip to Japan along with about 20 other students from my high school’s Japanese National Honor Society. The trip was 100% student planned, and we all had a certain city in Japan that we were in charging of planning out the itinerary for the group. The city that I was in charge of was Osaka, which ended up being my favorite city in Japan.
Our trip consisted of traveling all around the Kanto and Kansai areas of Japan to see experience Japanese culture, food, and people. Let’s just say that Japan was completely different than what I thought it was going to be like. Although my Japanese teacher did a pretty good job of explaining the basics of how we should act in Japan, we all made plenty of mistakes and also made some discoveries about the pros and cons of being in Japan as a foreigner.
Osaka, as I said earlier, is probably my favorite city in Japan. When we went to Osaka, we spent about two full days there, and since we were staying at a hotel in the Umeda area, we got a chance to experience a variety of places – from shopping to historical museums, we were pretty close to most of the places we wanted to go. We shopped at Hep 5, visited a museum that recreated an Edo Period town, and visited Osaka Castle, probably the most famous tourist sight in Osaka.
If you are planning to go to Osaka, I would strongly recommend trying their Okonomiyaki and Takoyaki dishes!
Next, we took a Shinkansen from the Shin-Osaka Station all the way to Hiroshima. We spent a day in Hiroshima checking out the Peace Museum and Park. Although I am ethnically Indian, my nationality is American, so seeing a museum dedicated to the destruction caused by nuclear weapons, specifically the Atomic bomb that America dropped on Hiroshima, made me feel very guilty for some reason. We do study the effects of the Atomic Bomb in Japan at school, but going to the museum, despite being a bit of a downer, was overall a very important experience and one that I will never forget.
In Hiroshima, we also visited a high school called Misuzugaoka High School. The people there were very friendly, and I finally got to see what a real Japanese High School is like!
After spending the day in Hiroshima, we took a ferry to Miyajima where we staying in a Ryokan, or a Japanese traditional style inn. Miyajima is home to one of the three sites of Japan at Itsukushima Jinja, and has beautiful hiking spots, so if you want to have a very spiritual experience or just want to see Japan’s beauty, then Miyajima is the place to visit!
From Miyajima, we took the ferry back to the mainland and took the train to Himeji! The Himeji Castle was still under construction during the time we went, but we got to bike around the city and see…the construction I guess (^^’)
From Himeji, we took a train to Kyoto (my other favorite city for its historically important sites). In Kyoto, I think I really started to understand what Japan is all about. This is where I really realized that yes, Japan is WAY more than what you can see or read in anime and manga. I have always loved the Japanese language, but Kyoto is where I fell in love with Japanese culture.
If you’re a history lover like me, or you want to know more about Japan as a country with a rich culture, then you should head to Kyoto.
From Kyoto, we took a day trip to Nara, an important place for Buddhists because it is where Todai-ji, or the largest statue of Buddha in Japan, is located.
Finally, we ended our trip in Tokyo! We were all tired by the time we got there, but the bright lights and large crowds gave us all the energy we needed to get through the last three days of our trip. I loved exploring Harajuku, Akihabara, and all the big places, but I definitely enjoyed Tokyo a lot more the second time that I went the following year. From Tokyo, we took a day trip where we visited the Cup Ramen Museum in Yokohama to make our own ramen!
All in all, that was my first trip to Japan. It was super fun but stressful as well, so If you get to go to Japan, I would focus on certain cities that pertain to your interests. Do your research! Not every city in Japan is the same, and each place has something totally different to offer, so just keep that in mind when you’re planning your next trip to Japan!