A lot may have changed in the past four years, but my interest in and intrigue for travelling Japan has been unwavering. It was 2020 when I had to give up on flying to and living in Japan for a year due to the pandemic. A few months ago, Japan finally reopened to foreign tourists and now westerners seem to be flocking in droves to the country. I intend to be one of those droves this year. I will arrive in mid-April and spend 90 days criss-crossing the nation. How does one even begin planning such a thing!?
Long time readers of my blog may remember a post I made in the Before Times where I outlined the long, long, long list of places I wanted to visit on my trip. Well, my thinking has evolved since then. As mentioned above I plan to spend 3 months rather than 12 in the country, so I’m being a little more selective in my itinerary – not at all a bad thing. The other thing that has evolved is technology; rather than a bunch of screenshotted google maps pasted onto the page I can now make use of a swizzy interactive map that you can play with, shown below.
Rather than making you read a long list of place names (because if you’re anything like my dear mother, they’d probably mean nothing to you) I will talk more about what sort of things I’m hoping to find across Japan’s 5 main islands. I’d like to stop thinking about my trip as a box ticking exercise to see as much as possible, and instead let myself be guided by my interests and passions a little more. I’m hoping this translates into it being a more rewarding experience.
One of the things I craved most during those long lockdown months, where I spent 80% of my life inside a single room, was spending time in the great outdoors; being far away from my laptop and crowds of people, surrounded by trees, where my only concern was finding the next beautiful vista. I would daydream endlessly about hiking through forests, along coastal cliffs and around serene lakes. Add in seeking respite at a smattering of tranquil temples and you’ve just described a large portion of my itinerary.
I’m planning to visit the Fuji 5 lakes region, make a 4-day pilgrimage across the Kii peninsula, explore the wild forests on the island of Yakushima and hike the hills of Kyoto to visit the city’s most beautiful shrines.
I’m also keen to spend several days on two wheels. Japan is a haven for cyclists and there’s no shortage of excellent trails and routes to take. I’m anticipating that cycling the Shimanami Kaido, a 60km ride over 6 islands and 7 bridges in the Seto Inland sea will prove to be a highlight of my 6 month trip.
When it comes to art and culture, Japan has it in sumo-sized quantities. Within the numerous cities I will pass through, there are countless galleries, museums, botanical gardens, historical quarters and castles for me to explore. Any attempt to list them all out here would be completely futile, neither you or I would make it to the end!
As well as being a lover of nature and an erudite appreciator of sophisticated sh*t, I’m also a huge geek. Some of my favourite media franchises originate in Japan. Rest assured I will be making a beeline to every Pokémon related attraction, the Studio Ghibli park and museum and the country’s most fantastic theme parks (Mario World anyone?). Japan has no shortage of weird and wacky attractions that need to be seen to be believed so of course I’ll be seeking them all out to get the very best photos.
Finally, I’m interested in meeting LGBT people in all the places I visit. It’s always the people you spend time with who make a visit to a place memorable. I want to better understand what it’s like to be gay in Japan. As I’ve written before in here, I believe that having the shared experience of being queer acts as a bridge between people, transcending culture and language. I find it endlessly fascinating to learn about how people live their lives – no matter how much you think you know, you can always learn from those who live differently to you.
So there we have it. Nature, scenery, art, music, history, cuisine, geekery, history, architecture, hiking… Japan has it all. To get to spend 3 months of the year there, not working… I count myself extremely lucky. I hope you will stick with me as I share the experience here in my blog 😊
That’s great Charlie, looks like you have a lot planned already ! Love the photo at the top of this article by the way, sadly you won’t be there for the Fuji climbing season but a ryokan/onsen stay and a sake brewery visit are super things to do. Looking at your map it seems you will get close to where I used to live – Fuchu on the outskirts of Tokyo. I look forward to following your progress !