Two years later we return to Japan, starting with Narita, the city where the airport is located. We wanted to come back for 2019 but we couldn’t wait that long.
At 6.20 in the morning we took off from Barajas to Paris. With Air France. Only 2 hours of flight and the plane very average.
We landed around 8:30 in the morning and we had a 5-hour wait ahead of us. We went to the departure terminal and spent the long and boring time there. Until 1:35 p.m. when we finally took off for Tokyo.
This plane, also from Air France, was comfortable with a good food service and a not very good entertainment offer. The crew… the crew is something else. I have never flown with such an unfriendly and unpleasant crew. My partner was a bit sick and it was one hell of a trip. It was terrible.
After an 11-hour flight, we landed at Narita airport at around 8:40 in the morning. After passing the pertinent controls, we went to change the JR Passes, although at the moment we were not going to activate them.
You can buy your JR Pass and receive it comfortably at home through the following link:
Then we took out yen at a row of ATMs that were near the JR counter and went down to the platforms to take the train to the city of Narita. We took the Keisei private line for 260 yen (2€-2.40$) and in about 20 minutes we were at the Keisei-Narita station.
We had the hotel next to the exit of the station. This is the APA Hotel Keisei-Narita. It was like 12 noon and we couldn’t get in until 3pm.
As my partner was not feeling well, they gave us the option of entering earlier for 1,000 yen (€7.50) per hour. So after more than 24 hours since we left Granada, we don’t think about it. We paid 4,000 yen (about €30).
The hotel was very good. A three star that, for Japan, the room was quite spacious with two single beds.
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We rested a bit and went to eat at the Ton Ton Tei tonkatsu restaurant. The food was to die for. The meat melted in the mouth. It’s a bit far but worth the visit.
Already with a full stomach and infernal heat, we walked to the nearby Narita-san Shinsho-ji Temple (成田山新勝寺). It is a Buddhist temple of the Shingon Tochiyama school founded in the year 940 (3rd year Tenkei) and its main image is Daishou Fudo Myo (不動明王).
The temple compound is huge and mixes old and modern buildings, as well as huge gardens. It takes a long time to go through it, especially if it’s hot. Admission is free.
On leaving the temple we went for a walk along Omotesando street, a commercial street where many old buildings are preserved, which, incidentally, brought us closer to the hotel. That night we wanted to go to rest early since the trip had left us exhausted.
Next to the hotel there was a kombini where we bought something prepared to eat and go to sleep early.
Here you can find a map with the points visited in Narita:
Very early we set off for Tokyo. With the JR Pass already activated, we boarded the Narita express at Narita station to Shinagawa station. There we changed to the Keihintohoku line to Kamata station to get to the hotel.
For value for money we decided to stay at the Chisun Inn Kamata, the same one we stayed at in 2016.
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We left our things and went to the Setagaya neighborhood. We got off at Sangenjaya station and went straight to Carrot Tower, the tallest tower in Setagaya at 124 meters. On the 25th floor it has a free 360º viewpoint from which you can see spectacular views.
After the tower we go to the back where the terminal station of the Tokyu Setagaya tram line (東急世田谷線) is located.
It is one of the two tram lines that remain active in Tokyo. It has stops at various interesting points so we took a day pass. He had a hard time getting it out because not being too touristy, the box office only spoke Japanese. The price of the pass is 330 yen (2.70€). To our surprise, when the tram arrived, it turned out to be in the shape of a cat. How horny are the Japanese.
We got off at Kamimachi Station to visit the Daikan Residence (世田谷代官屋敷) and the Setagaya Tenso Temple (上町天祖神社). Neither of them was too spectacular, but since it caught us almost on the way, we had to visit it.
Retracing our steps, we reached Setagaya Joshi Park (世田谷城阯公園).
Setagaya Joshi Park is a historical park located in the Setagaya neighborhood opened in 1945. It is actually the ruins of the old Setagaya castle.
The castle is believed to have been built in the 14th century during the Muromachi period and belonged to the Kira clan (吉良氏) for more than 200 years.
In the year 1590, during the Tenshō period, the Tokugawa clan won the war and the Kira clan had to leave the castle and it fell into oblivion.
Less than a 5-minute walk away is a truly essential visit: Gotokuji Temple (豪徳寺), the temple dedicated to the lucky cat Maneki-neko (招き猫).
Goutoku-ji is a Buddhist temple of the Sōtō School, founded in 1480, by the Li family of the Hikone clan.
In addition to the Gotokuji Li Family Cemetery, which is a nationally designated historic site, there are many cultural heritage sites related to the Li Family, including the Buddhist temple and the Bell.
Legend has it that Maneki-neko (招き猫) originated here.
In the seventeenth century, one day the feudal lord Naotaka Li, who was hunting, was surprised by a terrible storm, took shelter under a tree. A while later, he saw a cat beckoning him with its right paw to come closer to the temple. Moved by curiosity, Naotaka Li approached the cat and, just at that moment, lightning struck the tree, destroying it. In gratitude for saving his life, Naotaka Li helped finance the temple, which was then in ruins.
Since then Maneki-neko (招き猫) has been a symbol of good luck in Japan (and almost all over the world).
There you can buy a Maneki-neko at the temple offices and leave it as an offering or take it home. I bought two, a small one to leave as an offering and a larger one that I have in my store.
The pavilion where the maneki-neko offerings are left is truly spectacular, not only for its beauty and that of the surroundings, but also for the number of maneki-neko that are left as offerings.
Among those hundreds in the photography, there is mine, but how to find it next time…
After taking a quiet walk around the compound and through the cemetery, we returned to the tram station. The next stop: Shoin-jinja-mae Station. From there we took a short walk through a non-touristy shopping street to the Shoin-jinja Shrine (松陰神社). That is the best thing that Setagaya has, since it is not touristy at all, it is purely Japanese and you can see what normal Japanese life is like.
It is a shrine dedicated to the thinker Shoin Yoshida who was famous during the Meiji Restoration and was built between 1923 and 1952.
The sanctuary is a haven of peace within the hustle and bustle of the neighborhood and has very pretty little gardens. But it has a drawback, when entering one of the gardens there was a sign with a gigantic mosquito drawn on a tree. We figured out what it meant and before going in we bathed in repellent just in case.
After this visit, we took the tram back to the JR station and headed straight for Shibuya. There we ate in a place that we already knew before, one of the Gusto cafe, the food is good and not very expensive and it has an open bar of drinks, which is important considering the tremendous heat it was.
With our stomachs already full and well hydrated, we took a quiet walk through Shibuya.
As night fell, we approached the Shibuya Hikarie Mall building, an impressive 34-story shopping and cultural center. From the 11th to the 16th floor is the Tokyo Theater Orb, a theater with a capacity for almost 2,000 people. From the door there is a huge window from which you can see the famous Shibuya crossing, which is also free.
On the way down, we went for a walk around the Shibuya 109 shopping center, which was getting cold. When we left, as it was still quite early, we took the train to Takeshita Dori, which we had never been at night.
There we took the opportunity to go around a bit in a Daiso, a chain of stores selling everything for 100 yen and buy some things like a camera case for 108 yen (€0.85) and an envelope filled with something chemical that when you hit it gets cold and It is ideal to cool off with the heat it was doing.
That night we had to eat something from the konbini at the hotel because we were very tired.
Today it was time to get up early and look for an internet cafe to print a part of the guide that I forgot at home, thank goodness I always have a flash drive with everything. I left my partner still convalescing at the hotel and went on an adventure.
Finding a cyber didn’t cost me too much, there was one in front of the JR Kamata station called Net Room, from a chain that is all over Tokyo. The difficult part was making himself understood. They only spoke Japanese so from signs I was able to understand that it was full and that I would have to wait an hour. So I went for a walk around the neighborhood, had a coffee and came back. Again with signs I got them to give me a room for an hour. In the cyber there was a washing machine and shower and you can spend the whole night in it for about €20. At that time there were people leaving to spend the night.
The floor was made of mattress and it was very comfortable. It also has slippers to walk around the facilities since in the room you have to be barefoot. It had a computer with a printer and a tv with dvd. At the reception they had movies and magazines. After fumbling with windows in Japanese I managed to print the document. As it took me practically the entire hour, there was little else I could do in there. The hour cost me 300 yen (€2.20-$2.50).
With everything ready, we headed for the Zōjō-ji Temple (増上寺), next to the Tokyo Tower, which offers a beautiful mix of tradition and modernity. It was founded in 1393 as an orthodox nembutsu seminary and central to Jodo shu in the Kanto region.
Zojoji was moved to the present site in 1598 after Ieyasu Tokugawa, founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, chose Edo (present-day Tokyo) in 1590 to establish his provincial government. After the start of the Edo Period when the Tokugawa shogunate ruled Japan, Zojoji became the family temple of the Tokugawa family.
We quietly visited the temple (it’s free) and we sat for a while inside, which had air conditioning.
From there we went to Shimbashi station to visit the Hama Rikyu gardens (浜離宮恩賜庭園). These are traditional gardens that were built as a residence for the Tokugawa family and later converted into a duck hunting ground.
It is known for its saltwater pond that enters directly from Tokyo Bay. The haven of tranquility surrounded by the modern skyscrapers in the area is very impressive. At the entrance they provide you with free umbrellas to mitigate the terrible heat of the Tokyo summer. I consider it an essential visit.
After the impressive visit to the gardens, we went to Ueno looking for a revolving belt sushi chain restaurant that I had seen on the internet and highly recommended: Sushi-ro.
We found it but the queue was huge.
You had to get a number on a screen that, of course, was in Japanese.
After several minutes looking at the screen as if looking into space, a girl approached us to whom we managed to explain that we wanted to take a number to eat at the restaurant since it seems that the screen gave several options. The girl very kindly takes us a number.
Second problem, there is no screen indicating the number she is going for and they sing the numbers in Japanese. So we wait to see what happens. In this they call the girl who had helped us. When she approaches the waiter, she comments to him pointing at us… nothing happens.
About 45 minutes after we entered the restaurant, they suddenly shout our number in English! We already know what the girl told him a while before.
Conclusion: The Japanese are the kindest people in the world. It wouldn’t be the first or the last time they’d give us a hand. It was worth the wait and the sweating of the Japanese language since the sushi was amazing and it was really cheap. We will be back.
After eating we went for a walk in Ueno Park to wash down the food and returned to Shimbashi to see the night show of the Ghibli Clock, in the building of the Japanese television network NTV. Two years ago we saw it during the day but we had been wanting. It is highly recommended even if you are not a fan of anime.
After the show we went to Shiodome station to take the driverless train on the Yurikamome line to go to Odaiba to see the new Gundam Unicorn next to the Diver city Tokyo shopping center, since they had changed it since we were there in 2016. On the way, we took a walk through the Venus fort shopping center where the corridors simulate the canals of Venice (Permanently closed since 2022). It’s all very, very freaky… After taking a good walk we decided to go back to the hotel so we could get up early the next day.
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Today it’s time to get up early and go on an excursion to a place rarely visited by Westerners and highly recommended: Mount Nokogiri (鋸山).
It is located on the west coast at one end of Tokyo Bay, already in the Chiba prefecture. There is the largest ancient Buddha statue in all of Japan, with 31 meters high. It is located within the grounds of the Nihonji Temple (日本寺), which literally means temple of Japan. It is a Buddhist temple founded in the year 725, being the oldest in all of Kanto and occupying the entire slope of the mountain.
At 8:30 we took the JR Keihintohoku Line to Yokohama Station, and there we transferred to the JR Yokosuka Line to Kurihama Station. On this train we realized that we were leaving the touristic Japan since during the whole trip we were the only westerners in the whole car. I love hehehe.
From Kurihama station we walked (5 min) to the main entrance of Keikyu-Kurihama station and there we got on bus number 8 (¥200) and in about 15 minutes we were at the Tokyo Wan-Ferry2 ferry terminal minutes before it came out. We bought the tickets in a hurry, one way for 720¥ (roundtrip 1320¥). About 40 minutes later we got off the ferry at Kanaya. We walked about 15 minutes, with a stop in the middle in a kombini to buy supplies for the excursion, until we reached the cable car that was going to take us to the top of the mountain. For another 500 ¥ we bought a one-way ticket (930 ¥ round trip). The ride showed only 5 minutes but the views are truly spectacular.
When you get to the top there is a visitor center and from there the route begins. To enter you have to pay ¥600 (€4.50). The views from the center terrace are brutal. The first thing we did was head towards the gigantic statue of Hyakushakukannon. It is carved into the rock and is spectacular, both the statue and the path to reach it.
From here, everything is down. We go down the path of the arhats. Along this path we can find 1,500 stone statues of arhats sculpted between 1779 and 1798. It is a very curious walk as well as beautiful inside the lush forest.
We continue down and finally we arrive at the esplanade where the jewel in the crown is located: the Great Buddha. It is really gigantic. It was definitely worth the exhaustion and sweltering heat. Next to the temple there is a shady picnic area where we sit down to eat something and drink something cold from one of the machines there (of course).
After resting we begin the descent towards the Hota train station. The descent was still spectacular passing through more temples of different sizes.
We had decided to return to Tokyo by train and we made a huge mistake. It took us more than three hours to return, it seemed that the journey would never end. The worst thing is that that night we had a hotel in Nagoya. So we highly recommend coming back by ferry.
As soon as we arrived in Tokyo, we picked up our bags at the hotel and rushed to Shinagawa station to take the shinkansen to Nagoya.
For dinner it was time to buy a bento to eat on the train. We took the shinkansen at 7:10 p.m. and around 9:00 p.m. we were arriving in Nagoya, but not getting off the train. Just before entering the station, it stopped and we stood there for almost half an hour. Every two for three a message in Japanese sounded over the PA system in which I suppose they were saying the reasons, but we will never know. The chosen hotel was the UNIZO INN Nagoya Sakae Higashi. Well located but quite seedy.
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Today is an excursion to the city of Ise (Mie Prefecture). We visit the Ise Grand Shrine or Ise Jingū (伊勢神宮) which is the most important shrine in Japan. We were going to visit the Inner Naikū Shrine (内宮) and the Outer Gekū Shrine (外宮).
We got up early and at 8.37 in the morning we were already on the train. We took the Mie line that went directly to Iseshi station where it dropped us off at 10:20. At one point during the journey, an employee of the company passed by charging an extra because one of the sections of track belong to another company. The price was 510 yen per person (€3.50). It is well indicated on the JR Pass. All this the boy explaining everything in Japanese.
We left the station and walked to the Outer Shrine «Geku». The Sanctuary is truly spectacular. It is nestled in a beautiful wooded area with giant trees and ponds. There were a lot of people since it is one of the main pilgrimage points in Japan. The walk takes a long time but it is very enjoyable.
After a long and relaxing spiritual walk, we left the complex and at the same entrance we took bus number 51 to the outer sanctuary (bus number 55 is also valid). About 20 minutes later we were getting off next to the entrance of the Sanctuary.
The outer shrine was founded 2,000 years ago and is one of the holiest places in Japan. The enclosure is a gigantic haven of peace even though many people walk through it. Despite the time that can be invested to get to Ise, it is worth getting closer because it is really spectacular.
Despite the oppressive humid heat, it is a fairly pleasant and calm walk. In the visitor center near the exit, there are screens with explanatory videos about the temple (in Japanese) as well as air conditioning, cold water and free tea.
After the well-deserved rest and several liters of fresh water, we left the temple and toured Oharaimachi. It is a commercial area next to the temple, with very old buildings and many shops and restaurants. It is a very touristy area although we were the only westerners that were there. As soon as we entered, we bought some ice cream and we walked through it calmly. It is a highly recommended walk.
After the walk we returned to take the bus to Iseshi station and eat something there while we waited for the train to leave.
It had gotten a little late for lunch, we looked for something in the surroundings but everything was closed and there wasn’t even a kombini. We decided to take the train and we would eat when we reached the next destination.
We got off at the Futamino-ura station, which was more of a halt than a station. It had neither lathes nor employees. We still couldn’t find anything to eat but we found a tourist information office. BINGO! We went in to ask to see where we could eat, but to our “surprise”, the man only spoke Japanese. Well very good.
We continue our way towards the Hinjitsukam temple (賓日館) with such bad luck that it closes on Tuesdays. And all this without eating.
The area reminded me of some declining tourist spot, with big hotels on the beachfront but deserted and rather old. No one was seen there.
As we were next door, we approached the Meteoiwa temple (夫婦岩) where the so-called “Married Rocks” are located. They are two rocks (one larger than the other) joined by a thick rice straw rope (shimenawa) that represent the gods Izanagi and Izanami, the creators according to the Shinto religion and that represent masculinity and femininity united by marriage. . Here crowds of couples gather to ask for a happy marriage.
At the time we were there it was low tide but, according to the guides, when the tide is high, the rocks seem completely separated and it is quite spectacular, especially at sunset.
After all this, it was about 5 in the afternoon and we still didn’t eat. Luckily on the way to the station we found a Lawson and took a good look at the fridge.
At 7:30 p.m. we were already in the city and, as soon as we arrived, we rushed to Takayama to reserve a seat for the next day, where we had rented a car to go to Shirakawa-go and tour the area. Bad luck caught up with us. It turns out that due to the floods of several weeks ago, together with the heat wave that hit us, the reconstruction work had not been able to be finished and public transport had not yet been restored. So canceling the car rental and looking for plan B for the next day.
After the upset, we squeezed an exquisite ramen for dinner at the Rich miso ramen Sakaeya restaurant, which was very close to the hotel, so that the penalties were less. After dinner we took a short walk through the Sakae area and went to Don Quijote to browse and buy some wasabi and green tea kit-kats.
Since we had to cancel the visit to Takayama, we decided to get up early and go to Kyoto and Nara to see some places that we had missed in 2016 and that we had removed from this year’s itinerary due to lack of time.
At 9:08 we took the shinkansen and at 9:45 we were in Kyoto. When we left the station, the heat was almost unbearable. But it was not a plan to stay locked up.
We went for a walk to the Tō-ji Temple (東寺). It is the main temple of the Shingon Buddhist school, declared a World Heritage Site. Its main attraction is the 5-story pagoda built in the year 826, which is the tallest wooden pagoda in Japan.
After visiting the temple, we went back to the station and took a train to Nara.
At Nara station we got off and walked about 10 minutes to Kintetsu-Nara station to take the Kintetsu-Nara line train to Yamato-Saidaiji station, where we changed to the Kintetsu-Kashihara line to Nishinokyō station.
There we got off and walked for about 10 minutes in hellish heat to the Tōshōdai-ji temple (唐招提寺). It is an essential temple in Nara but it is too far from the city and it takes a lot of turns to get there.
It was founded in the year 759 by the monk Gaijin and is the upper temple of the Buddhist Risshu sect. The entrance to the enclosure costs 600 yen but it is worth it. The golden hall is impressive (photos are not allowed) and the gardens are absolutely amazing. It is ideal to walk very quietly because of the tremendous peace that the enclosure spreads. 100% recommendable.
Back in Nara, we ate a curry at the Coco curry house next to the station, with several jugs of ice water and we went for a walk through the temple area, which we had already visited in depth in 2016 but did not want to return still to Nagoya. At 18.55 we take the Nara line back to Kyoto we take the shinkansen at 19.59 to Nagoya where we arrive at 20.36. We ate dinner and went to bed to get up early the next day.