Category: Japan


Nagano

After Kyoto, my next stop was to stay in an Onsen (Japanese hot spring) hotel called Koishiya in Yudanaka, which is in the Nagano prefecture.

This area is most famous for its bathhouses, hot springs, and it’s location is near areas to go skiing and to see snow monkeys. The town itself is small, and not much is in the town in terms of a night life. However, the architecture is of traditional style, and the look of a more feudalistic/classical Japan vibe that the city gave off was too much to pass up on. Also most of the hotels in the area gives their guests yukatas and wooden sandles to walk around in. A great place to come, relax, and slow down. While in Kyoto, I found myself always moving, and this was the first time since my trip began where I was finally able to stop, take a deep breath, and truly the fact that I’m in another country.

If you are familiar with Asian bathhouses, then these bathhouses and onsens will not be new. If you’re not, then this may be an uncomfortable experience as you do get naked to go into the bathing areas. They are gender separated though, and it’s ok if you don’t feel comfortable doing something like this. However I will say that from my experience, the  culture there doesn’t have a shame or humiliation feeling about being naked in that way. In fact, some of the locals living in the area don’t have showers in their homes and so goes to these bath houses to wash themselves. Everyone minds their own business and no one stares/glares at you because to them it’s nothing new.  I would say give it a try at least once in your life. You may find that it’s not as bad as you may have thought.

The Snow Monkeys were cute to see. The walk up to Snow Monkey park was a bit of a trek, but it was still an enjoyable walk. Again I’m just amazed at how clean the path was and Japan’s custom to to not liter. A good time to see these monkeys are in the Winter time as there will be snow, and they will all bathe themselves in the pond/hotsprings. Do dress warm as the weather tends to be on the colder side.

I also spent some of my day in the Nagano area itself, visiting Zenko-ji temple and looking at some of the shops nearby. Nagano is famous for it’s apples, and if you find yourself in the area during the Summer seasons, look out for apple festivals. This is also the only location where you can find apple flavored kit kats.

Overall I loved my stay in the Nagano prefecture and I enjoyed the downtime that I was able to get here. I only stayed 2 nights myself and felt that that was all that was needed. Since my trip was only about 2 weeks in length, I did not wanted to stay too many days here otherwise I would feel that I didn’t see enough or do enough on my trip. One night wouldn’t have been enough to enjoy the area, but 2 nights was perfect.

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Tokyo

Tokyo was a beast of it’s own to behold. There was so much to do and to see in the city itself that one could easily make a week long trip staying in just Tokyo itself and still feel that there’s a lot more to do and to see. This city pretty much has everything to accommodate everyone’s interest. What made me really fall in love with the city though, was for all the anime themed attractions. As a fan of anime, and Japanese animation, I couldn’t help but to feel really at home here.

Disneyland

Starting off this list of things in Tokyo is the Tokyo Disneyland. While smaller in size to America’s Disneyland, the amusement park was still very nice to see, housing a lot of similar rides as to it’s American counterpart. One of the few differences was Japan’s love for Stitch and Monsters Inc. Not only were there more merchandises of these two franchises, but Japan’s Tiki Room sings songs from the Lilo and Stitch soundtrack, and their Monsters Inc ride was more interactive. People on the ride had flashlights that they use to shine on the monster’s helmets to get them to do things and move. They also had the country bears, which was removed from the US Disneyland many years ago. Great to see, once you get over the fact of seeing western country bears singing and speaking in Japanese. And best of all, it was a lot cheaper to get into the park than in America. The Disney castle here is based off of Cinderella’s castle. I did not know this beforehand, but the castles in the Disneylands around the world are all based of different castles. i.e. Disneyland California is based of Sleaping Beauty’s castle.

There is also the Disney Tokyo Sea amusement park, which is their version of America’s California Adventure in terms of being another park sitting next to Disneyland. The theme of Tokyo Sea was more aquatic themed rides, a huge emphasis on Duffy the Bear, and also has the Tower of Terror and Indiana Jones rides.

A definite must for any Disneyfans. The only downside is that once you leave the train station that takes you to the area, you have to take the Disney Monorail to get to the park itself, which is separate from the train pass that you may have. Although it’s inexpensive anyways. I stayed at the Hilton in Tokyo Bay, so I ended up purchasing a 4 day pass for the Monorail since I needed to take the monorail constantly to get to and from my hotel anyways.

J World and Pokemon Center Tokyo 

Located right next to each other, the J World is a mini amusement park all themed around the comic books found in Shonen Jump. (Dragonball, One Piece, Naruto, Bleach to name a few)
Japan loves the anime One Piece, which I love as well, so this place was perfect to feed my anime nerdy needs. You have the option of paying to get into the park or going in for free, but any rides/mini games you have to pay separately. If you want to go just to see the place and maybe buy some souvenirs or eat at the anime themed restaurants there, then there’s no need to pay. However, if you want to try some of the mini games, then pay the admission fee for it will definitely be worth it.

There is also a cheaper ticket if you come into the park in the evening, after 6pm I believe. However, one thing I discovered about Japan is that even if a store says it is closed at 10pm, pretty much 9:30 is when people start leaving and the workers may try to hurry you up to leave. It’s different than here in the States where if a business closes at 10, they essentially will stay open right until the last minute and don’t rush anyone out until closing time itself. I suppose it is a courtesy aspect of the Japanese people.

The Pokemon Center in Tokyo, for some reason, I thought would be bigger. It was a descent size, but I would say it didn’t feel too much larger than the Pokemon Center in Osaka. Some of the Pokemon centers do sell different products than others, and I thought that the Tokyo one would be the largest and house pretty much everything. I bought myself a mini snorlax plushie I found back in Hiroshima Pokemon Center, which I didn’t see here at the Tokyo one. So my suggestion is that if you see a product from one of the centers you like, best to get it there than think “oh another location will have it” because there is a chance that it will not.

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Ikebukuro 

This is located near the J World so I decided to walk over to this area. It was only about a 15-20 min walk. There are a few anime malls in the area you can check out as well, though I would say I prefer Akihabara for it’s atmosphere to do anime shopping.

One thing you should stop by here near the Ikebukuro train station is the KitKat Chocolatory store. It took me a little while to find it, but if you find yourself at the station and seeing a lot of make up stores, then you are on the right track. You just have to find an escalator to go one floor down, to where you can see a lot of food being sold. The KitKat Chocolatory is on that floor and this is where you can go buy more high end flavors of KitKats such as Passion Fruit Chili, Maple Strawberry, and Butter to name a few. They make great gifts for people. I myself bought two sets of multi flavored Kit Kats for a friend and for my coworkers. As strange as this may sound, my favorite flavor is Butter. It’s a white chocolate KitKat but testes richer and was suprisingly delicious.

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Akihabara

Often called the Electric City. Filled with lots of department stores, multiple stories tall, selling anything from beauty products, suitcases, and clothes to anime figurines and models. There are also a lot of maid cafes here with ladies dressed up in maid outfits advertising for you to eat at their location. It is up to you if you want to go for that or not. There are also a lot of arcade machine games to win anime figurines or plushies that are open fairly late. This town is big on the anime and collectibles community as there are tons of shops specializing in trading card shop, figurines, plastic models, and anime collectibles. And this is all within a block away from the train station. Those who are a fan of Gundams can eat or purchase gundam related products, minus the models, at the Gundam Cafe located just outside the station.

Studio Ghibli Museum

I will describe how to get tickets to Studio Ghibli in another post, but for now I will say that visiting the museum was magical. A definite must if you are a fan of Hayo Miazaki and his work. Upon entering, you are given a 3 picture film reel from one of his films as your “ticket” into the museum. The entire place is themed around his work. There is a giant Totoro Standing in front of the museum, a giant robot from Castle in the Sky located on the rooftops, lots of pictures and decor relating to his films as well as a theater area where you can view six animated shorts that Miazaki created for the museum. You can not see any of these elsewhere, and they are randomly chosen on the day you visit as well. The short I got to see was of 6 sumo wrestling mice. Very kawaii.
There is a gift shop here as well, selling many Ghibili related products such as plushies, cards with ghibli artwork, pins, stationaries, models, and much more. Though it may get crowded at times. There is also a restaurant and to go eating area just outside the museum to eat as well. I decided to get a beer there that the label was designed by Miazaki’s son. A great novelty gift to take home with me to remember my visit there, even though I wasn’t the hugest fan of the beer. It was too hoppy for my taste.

You are not allowed to take pictures inside the museum though. So please be respectful of their wishes. You can take as many pictures as you want of the outside of the Museum though.

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Odaiba

If you watch anime at all, this is where you can find the Odaba TV Station and giant Ferris Wheel is. This is also where you can find the mini amusement park Gundam Front, which is all themed around Gundams. And also where you can see the giant, lifesized Gundam. If you are a fan of the franchise, definitely stop by here and enjoy the view. You can also find a lot of Japan exclusive Gundam models here as well for it’s retail price. Trying to purchase them outside of Japan usuall means there’s a price increase of anywhere from $40-80 since you can only find it in Japan. To get here, you do have to take a different train station, which is fairly pricey in comparison to the other train stations. But definitely worth the money for true fans. There’s also a One Piece themed restaurant on the 7th floor of the TV station based on the character Sanji’s first restaurant the Baratie. Unfortunately for me, they were closed for a private party so I wasn’t able to try the place out.

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Kobe Beef at Kaiseki 511

My final night in Tokyo and in Japan and I decided to spoil myself by eating Kobe Beef, something that you can only authentically get here in Japan. The Kobe beef in the States is apparently just called Wagu, which is just Kobe Beef style beef, but is not the authentic thing. From what my waitress told me, there is a lot of marbling, fat, and tenderness to the meat, so it is very hard to export the beef. Though it was pricey, it was definitely worth my money as not only was the beef so tender, so well cooked, and was essentially butter in my mouth, but there was so much flavor and depth to the meat. Because of the price tag, I may not eat here the next time I go to Japan, and I do know you can buy kobe beef foods from street vendors and other food shops as well for a fairer price. If that is something that fits your budget better, or if you’re only slightly interested in trying Kobe Beef, then that should be fine. However, if you want to try something that you really can not get anywhere else, and try food that will truly lift your taste buds, then I would recommend going to a fine dining restaurant to get the Kobe Beef. Even though my meal was on the pricey side, around $200 since I wanted to get the larger steak portion, I know that if this dish was in America, I’d be paying $500 for the dish. Overall, I am very happy with the price I pay for food in Japan. I never once felt that I was being over charged for anything, plus the service I receive is always amazing. I may not have been the richest guy to walk into the restaurant, but I never once felt that they treated me any differently than their richer customers, and was given exceptional service from beginning to the end of my meal.

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Don’t worry, it was a 4-5 course meal, so don’t think I paid $200 for just the steak.

 

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And that pretty much sums up my trip to Japan. I had an incredible experience and was able to explore so much of Japan. From cultural to the modern, countryside to city, and from sushi to kobe beef, I loved every single minute I was there and can not wait for the day that I return. There were a lot about my trip that I did not posted up, mainly because I didn’t want to write too much. Hopefully my posts will help people get ideas for their own trip and if anybody ever has any questions or suggestions, feel free to leave a comment or just send me an email and I’d be glad to help. I also think the site links to my facebook, so you can always shoot me a message there too. Just put Japan in the message so I know. Happy Traveling!

 

From April 8th – April 22nd, I was fortunate enough to take a 2 week trip to Japan and I have to say it is one of the most beautiful countries I have ever visited. Granted, I haven’t don’t much overseas traveling in my life, but hopefully this will be a start of something new with my life.

As much as I want to talk about my love for the country, I do want to try to make this post informative and descriptive without being too over zealous about my feelings nor too long in length. The goal of this post is to inform, and hopefully give people some insight and ideas should they plan their own trip to Japan. Without further ado, lets get started.


 

I specifically chose to the date to travel so that I could go to Japan when the Cherry Blossoms, or Sakura trees, were in bloom. They bloom around March – April time, and if you are only able to travel once to Japan, going during this season is a great time. Not only are the trees planted in so many areas in Japan, but it truly makes the view of everything breath taking.

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Kyoto Region

Kyoto was an interesting city to see. There were lots of buildings, of both new and traditional architecture, electric wires, with a lot of trees growing in between buildings. A balance of housing and nature was breathtaking to see.

The 4 areas I will be covering in this post are the Fushimi Inari Shrine of Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, and Hiroshima

Fushimi Inari Shrine

So my first stop to Japan was in the capital of Kyoto, staying about 10 min walk away from Inari Station, the train station directly across from the Fushimi Inari Shrine, most famous for it’s red gates.

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It is a great first stop and pretty much a must see/tourist attraction for tourists. Also conveniently located directly across from the Inari Station, so traveling here is very easy. The area is like a giant park that leads upwards to a hill, as well as a lot of open areas to walk around. There is even a shrine where Shinto ceremonies are often performed. Beautiful to walk around and enjoy the cultural and nature loving side of Japan. Also a good area to take pictures, either with the gates or among the forest. One interesting thing you can do here, or most other temples, is purchase a small wooded red gate where you write your name and wishes on it. Though I am not sure of the exact reason, there are many different areas around the park where you can place your gate and leave. I believe the idea is that you’re praying for your wish to come true. I took mine home because I wanted a souvenir. There are also fortunes you can purchase, which sadly are all in Japanese, so if you get one, try to find someone to translate for you. I went on a weekend and there were lots of food stands selling assortments of hot foods. Make sure to bring cash as most places will not take card. There are also lots of shops nearby, selling all sorts of souvenirs. There was a store that sold chopsticks where they will engrave your name onto them, either in English, Japanses, or both if you desire. There was definitely a chopstick with my name on it at that shop. Zing!
Overall, I do think people can spend a good couple hours here, probably not an all day excursion, but half a day I think is good. Perfect if you want to plan on seeing multiple areas of Kyoto in one day. There are a few other temples around Kyoto to see as well. Though you can definitely make this place an all day excursion if you like. Make sure to bring water as the hike might make you thirsty, especially on a warm day.

I did took the time to just walk around the city, and just exploring the neighborhoods and finding beauty wherever I walked. As Ferris Bueller once stated:

“Life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop to look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

This was honestly one of my favorite parts of Japan and I would recommend to anyone to try this. The Cherry Blossoms really made the exploration worth the effort. At one point, I found an old man reading a book along the waters, just relaxing and enjoying himself. There was something about it that amazed me, and I think it is because here in the States, we live a very fast pace life style, most don’t even think about sitting down in a remote area to just read a book. Take some time to take in the fact that you’re in a different country and truly enjoy and embrace all the different beauties that this country has to offer.

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Osaka


I like to describe Osaka as a grey city, meaning not as much of a combination of nature and buildings like Kyoto, but lots of tall business buildings and Japanese business men walking around. Despite this, there is still a lot of things to do here and nearby. I took the train line from Kyoto Station to Osaka Station, which took maybe 20 min to get there. Not far at all.

If you are a Pokemon fan, then definitely stop by the Pokemon Center at Osaka Station. Once you exit the trains and find yourself in the shopping plaza inside the station area, just look for an elevator. I forget which floor the Pokemon center is exactly, but there were signs and a directory near the elevator that will tell you which floor the Pokemon center is in.

My next stop was the Ando Cup Noodle Museum. To get here from Osaka Station, you have to take a train line that isn’t part of the JR Pass (I will get more into this in a later post) so you have to pay separately to use it, but it honestly is not expensive anyways.

At the Cup Noodle Museum, you can see the history of the Cup Noodle, there are English programs here, and for 300 yen, you can make your own cup noodle, color and decorate however you wish, and customize the flavors and ingredients for your cup noodle. Workers will tell you to eat the noodles within 3 months or it will go bad. A fun activity for anyone who lived off ramen noodles in college, I would definitely recommend. Plus it is free to enter, you only have to pay for the cup noodle should you wish to get one.

Osaka is also home to the Osaka Castle, a beautiful castle from the Sengoku (feudal) era of Japan. It has a giant moat, and is located inside a giant park, which is amazing to walk around and see. The castle has a museum which closes at around 4-5pm. Be aware of the time if you plan to go, because I wasn’t and didn’t arrived on time. There is also a statue of Tokugawa Ieyasu in the park, the warlord who pretty much conquered everyone, unified and ruled Japan in the Sengoku era.

Hankyu Umeda is a giant, 7 story department store located right next to Osaka Station. The different floors offered different products and is definitely fun to browse around for gifts. The floors range from electronics, clothes, video games, plastic models, anime figurines and collectables. It was here that I bought some shoe insoles, which really helped because I realized I was doing a lot of walking and my feet, knees and legs were starting to hurt. Imagine how sore your feet are walking around Disneyland, now do that for multiple days in a row. So unless you have legs of steel, I would definitely recommend investing in some insoles, if anything to help ease your legs.

For dinner, I ate at a restaurant called Chayamamchi Maguroya, famous for selling fresh fatty tuna, and is ridiculously cheap! Well, I found it really cheap. Most plates were around 700 yen (less than 7 us dollars), and the tuna cuts were nice and think as well. They also have Kirin Beer on tap, and I say it is my favorite Japanese beer. Very smooth and and light. Perfect for anyone interested in eating very fresh cuts of fish including Tuna, Salmon and Uni.

It did took a little while to find, and my google maps originally gave me the wrong directions as I had problems finding an exact address. I was able to find the place using the directions given by this blog. The place is a Japanese bar style, so their hours are 5pm – 2am. So don’t go there early like I.

3 Specialty Izakaya Restaurants with Bizarre Offerings to Try in Osaka

The blog lists 3 different restaurants, it is the first restaurant listed and the directions on it, I found the most helpful to find the restaurant.
You can also use this blog to look at better pictures of the food and also some pictures of the restaurant to help you find it.

Melt-In-Your-Mouth Tuna at Osaka’s Chayamamchi Maguroya

Osaka was an amazing city to explore and eat. There are a lot of different places to eat, and next to the station, on the streets, are many ally ways of restaurants ranging from ramen, sushi, okonomiyaki, to even a Yoshinoya. Don’t be fooled though, the menu looks a lot more appetizing than the menu here in the States (sorry if I offend any Yoshinoya fans out there). Though I did not go, Universal Studios Osaka is here as well, which does have their Harry Potter world available as well as a lot of anime related products. Particularly if you are a fan of Evangelion, there is a 4D ride based on the series there as well as a lot of merchandise from the show.

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Nara

Nara is a very old and traditional town that is most famous for having a large park with wild deers. Fans of Naruto can easily make the connection between Nara and deers.
Nara is actually the oldest prefecture in Japan (according to my rickshaw driver so don’t quote me on that), so there are a lot of old traditions in the city. One of them is their respect for deers, which in old customs, deers were sacred as they were believed to be sent from the gods. Though the deers are accustomed to people and you can buy biscuits for 150 yen to feed the deers. They are so used to people that most will bow to you in hopes that you feed it. Very kawaii-desu.
The deers will start crowding you when they see you have food, and will not hesitate to nip at you to feed them. My shirt became a little more holey after my trip here if you know what I mean, so just a tip, you might not want to wear your nicest closes here. Just do not antagonize the deers as they are wild so they can bite or headbutt you. Their antlers are shaven down so at least you don’t have to worry about getting skewered.

To get to the park, take the train to Nara Station, and you will have to walk a bit to get to the park. The walk is maybe 20 min at most, not far plus you walk through an area where cars do not enter, so the walk is nice. Plus you pass by a lot of stores and shops. As a traditional town, there are a few shops that sell caligraphy products if you’re into that. There are also lots of pachinko (pinball slot machines) here if you like to play those as well. If you walk through some of the ally ways, you will find a some clothing, souvenire shops, and restaurants ranging from Sushi, Shabu Shabu, Onokomiyaki, Ramen, a McDonalds, and even a vietnamese restaurant.

The park is very large and not only are their deers to feed, there is also a temple with a very large Buddha statue. You do have to pay to get in, but it is nice to see if you are into it.
At this part, I found a rickshaw driver to show us the area a bit and drop us off at the Buddha temple. Though it wasn’t the cheapest, I did not regret my decision. He was very nice, spoke a good amount of english, showed us some nice spots to take pictures, and even game us both handkerchiefs  as a present (which came in VERY handy as I will explain in a different post). His name was Kazu, and was a very present guy to  meet and talk to. He even showed us filming spots that are popular in Asian and samurai films.

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Closeby to the Buddha temple is another temple that you can walk through. To get to it, look for the red gates located nearby and follow the path until you reach the spot. You do have to go up some steps, but the view from the top is amazing. Nara has a lot of forests, hills, and trees, and the combination of forests and temples is truly a sight to behold. And to me, it felt like a bit of a pilgrimage. Most of my friends who came to Nara only stayed at the park to feed the deers and left, but if you would like to truly experience the beauty of Nara beyond the deers, then take the extra time and extra hours of the day to see the Buddah statue and temple above the steps. The walk back might seem like a trek, but be sure to stop by some of the shops for some gifts. There are a few deer related items that you can only find here. Also, there is a strawberry mochi food item that I think was around 150-200 yen. It is a big fat strawberry and the mochi is filled with red bean. It was absolutely delicious, definitely worth it and buy at least 2 because you will be scarfing them down pretty fast. The strawberry was very fresh and the mochi tasted freshly made.

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I ended up spending the entire day at Nara, but you can definitely make it a half day drip if you only want to see the deer. It does take a little while to get here from the trains, I believe it was about 30-40 min, so I didn’t mind spending the entire day here. Just like Kyoto, the cherry blossoms located at multiple areas of the park really highlighted the beauty of Nara Park.

Hiroshima

The final area that I will be covering in this post. A town that reminded me the most of home (Orange County). The streets here were wide and what seems like you would want to either drive or take the bus to get to places. Other cities felt more compact so you would walk everywhere. Hiroshima had more of a suburb feel to it. Hiroshima was about a 1.5-2 hour train ride from Kyoto Station, taking the bullet train. Though it is a little far, definitely worth the trip.

The goal of my trip here was to see the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, which was bit of a walk from Hiroshima Station. Of course you could take one of the many buses to the park, but if you want to be an explorer like me, it is about a 20 min walk to the park. Or for me, it was about 40 min because I kept stopping at random shops. Along the way, there are neighborhoods with lots of shops, restaurants, and souvenir stores. One in particular was the Shonen Jump Shop, which if you are a fan of the Shonen Jump Mangas (Dragonball, Naruto, One Piece to name a few), this shop is a definite must see. The merchandise is only Shonen Jump related and you can not find anywhere other than Japan. Don’t worry if you don’t stop here though because there are multiple Jump Stores in other cities as well.

The park itself was very peaceful and nice, filled with lots of memorial shrines dedicated to those lost from the bombing. The museum was free to enter and you can see pictures from the bombing, a database of those who perished and survived the bombing as well as documents and audio recordings from survivors of the bombing and their experience from it. It may not have been the easiest to listen to, but it does give you the perspective of Japan’s desire for peace and a world without weapons of mass destruction.

Not in the park itself, but very close to it on the street area is a clinic that was the center point of the nuclear blast. It was a clinic when the bomb stuck and is one day, as a symbol of Japan’s desire to move forward from the tragic event.

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On a random note, while walking through the Hiroshima Park, if anyone is familiar with the Youtube channel Screwattack, I saw someone who looked a lot like Boomstick (Chad James), and was very tempted to say hi or shout out “It’s time for a death battle!” but decided not to because I figure it wasn’t the guy and didn’t want to bother him. Turns out, it was him, and I am so disappointed in myself for not saying anything. So if you’re somehow reading this Mr Boomstick, hope you had a great time in Japan, and I love your channel!

Be sure to try the Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki, the restaurant that is popular for this is located very closeby to the park entrance. You will most likely spot it from the line of people in front of it. If you’re lucky enough to get there when it is not crowded, I recommend. If not, there are other places that sell it as well.

Other places to see around Hiroshima are the Hiroshima Pokemon Center and Hiroshima castle. There you can pay to enter the castle museum, learn about Hiroshima’s history, take pictures wearing Japanese clothing and samurai armor (which totally makes me look manly btw), and when you reach the top, get a nice view from the castle’s highest floor.

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Definitely a day trip on its own because of it’s distance from Kyoto, but a definite must for those who are interested in the Peace Memorial park. Though there were other things in the area to do as well, I do understand if people skip out of Hiroshima because they feel it might be too depressing. Let me at least say that the park did not projected an atmosphere of depression or sadness; rather one of reflection. I felt that people there more reflected on what happened, and feel that the best way to honor those lost is to move forward to a better future. This was what I took from Hiroshima, and hopefully, you can take in something soulful as well.

 

That is all for now, my next posts will be of my trip to the country side of Japan and of Tokyo.