Japan – April 2023

Tohoku, Kyoto and Tokyo

In April 2024 we’ve spent two wonderful weeks in Japan. This was not our first Japanese rodeo. We were here before, twice already. Japan keeps luring us back, we can’t stop ourselves from fangirling. Our first adventure in 2008 was with just the two of us, unwrinkled and fresh-faced. We took the shinkansen from Tokyo all the way to the south of Kyushu. It was magical, baffling and overwhelming. So fast forward to 2014, and there we were again, this time with a baby and a toddler in tow, navigating the Japanese Alps and the occasional ‘musical road’ in a rental car.

Our latest trip in April 2023 saw us blending the bullet train’s punctuality and comfort with the freedom of a rental car, mainly because teenagers apparently require the thrill of shopping in Tokyo’s Harajuku to feel alive. And so, with a mix of dread and excitement, we ventured forth.

We kicked off with a night in Osaka and travelled on to Kyoto by train the next morning. In Kyoto we were just in time to visit the Miyako Odori; the biggest and most spectacular geisha dance in Kyoto, put on by the geisha of the Gion Kobu geisha district. It’s very popular, so I booked it months in advance. It was a very special night.

After immersing ourselves in temples and a scrumptious diner in a traditional wagyu beef restaurant we took the shinkansen to Koriyama. There, we picked up a rental car and spent the next eight days driving a grand tour of Tohoku, all the way up to Aomori. On the way we tried to squeeze in as many traditional ryokans as possible. In total we slept 5 nights in ryokans. All four of us just love these traditional guesthouses. It’s very special; the food, the onsen and the whole atmosphere. We embraced the Japanese tradition of sleeping on floors so exquisitely comfortable that returning to a Western bed felt like a downgrade. Well, not really, sleeping on the floor is and will always be pretty uncomfortable for my bad back and squeaky knees. I just asked for 2 extra futons per night, to avoid bruised ‘futon hips’.

Our journey led us to Aomori and the Nebuta Museum WA-RASSE. This museum is filled with very large floats of the Aomori Nebuta Festival. It’s very colourful, we loved it. We also had very entertaining lunch at the Furukawa Fish Market, where you buy a set of tickets and create your own seafood donburi (called nokkedon) with the seasonal, local seafood sold right at the market. 

We drove on to Tōno, where we rented some way too small bikes and had a very peaceful and beautiful ride through the rice fields. Not a single tourist in sight, this area of Japan is firmly off the tourist trail.

In Hiraizumi we were just in time for the big procession on day 3 of the Spring Fujiwara festival. It’s always a wonderful experience to see a Japanese festival. This procession in Hiraizumi recreates the scene of Fujiwara no Hidehira welcoming the arrival of Yoshitsune in Hiraizumi after fleeing north from the pursuit of his brother Yoritomo. A famous and very hansome Japanese actor is selected annually to play the part of Yoshitsune. He rides a horse and ox-drawn carriage and waves to all the screaming girls, accompanied by a troupe of strong samurai including Benkei in mountain priest’s clothing and handmaids.

Finally, the shinkansen brought us back to Tokyo, where we embraced the full spectrum of tourist experiences, from cuddling with piglets and otters in animal cafés to the digital art wonderland of Teamlabs Planet Tokyo. The cherry on the cake was our son’s dramatic tumble in Shinjuku subway station, resulting in a peek into the local healthcare system and a broken elbow. Never a dull moment with our kids in tow!

Our route:

  • Osaka
  • Kyoto
  • Aizu Wakamatsu
  • Zao onsen
  • Yamadera – Hoshuyama Risshaku temple
  • Nyoto onsen – Kakunodate
  • Aomori
  • Osarizawa Mine and Appikogen Historic Site
  • Tōno
  • Hiraizumi – Spring Fujiwara festival
  • Tokyo

Osaka and Kyoto