Two weeks ago marked seventeen months of living in Japan, and I’ve mostly traveled around the same area, due to one reason or another.
I have decided to change that in the coming year. I’m here to experience Japan, and while I have the whole daily life thing down, I want to see more than just the Kanto region. I’ve studied in Fukuoka and visited places in Nagano Prefecture, but everywhere else is Kanto.
That needs to change.
So, here are my top three places that I want to visit…
3) Himeji & Kobe (Hyogo Prefecture)
Hyogo Prefecture is probably most famous for its meibutsu (名物, speciality), Kobe Beef. With it being some of the most high quality meat in the country, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to eat it at least once. I mean, I’ve already eaten caviar with gold leaf in the last few months, so I can’t get much fancier than that. Kobe beef is often cited as the best gyuuniku in Japan, and where best to find it than at the source? Plus, you can find it for relatively cheap in some restaurants.
Aside from its culinary appeal, Kobe has other reasons why it’s worth a visit. While a lot of buildings are relatively new after the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, the city still retains some of its history as a port town. Between Fukuoka and Yokohama, it seems like I have an affinity for port-side areas, especially those which opened Japan to the world. Reflecting its past, Kobe has a district of mansions that were built for foreign business men and diplomats, and you can go inside them for a small fee.
I would love to visit Kobe but I really want to visit its neighbouring city, Himeji.
Being truthful, Himeji’s main attraction for me is the castle. It’s one of the most famous and one of the most beautiful castles in the whole country, and despite it finding notoriety as the backdrop of a Bond film, that’s not why I want to see it.
A fact I like to whip out every time someone mentions Himeji Castle is that it was twinned with a castle in Wales just last year. I spent a considerable chunk of my childhood visiting the North Welsh coast, so it’s no surprise I ended up living there for three years. North Wales holds a special place in my heart, with so many good memories.
I visited Conwy Castle quite a few years ago, and I actually traveled past Himeji-jo’s new sister every time I went to and from university. I feel like it would be ‘coming full circle’ if I could see both castles.
2) Kyoto & Uji (Kyoto Prefecture)
Fortunately enough, this is going to be happening very soon if all things go to plan. As touristy as it is, I have wanted to go to Kyoto for a long time. It’s one of the first places that comes to mind whenever anyone thinks of Japan, and it seems like a massive shame to live here and not even visit once. Unfortunately with Kyoto, there are so many famous hot-spots and so far I haven’t been able to decide where to go in my 1.5 days in the city.
On the other hand, I know exactly where I want to go for my next day in the area. I have plenty of time to kill between check-out and the night bus back to Kanagawa, so without much deliberation, I’ve decided to go to Uji – a nearby city about a thirty minute train journey away.
I won’t go into too much detail right now – spoilers! – but I have a whole itinerary planned. Let’s just say that Uji is most famous for tea, but in the anime community it’s also known as the home of Kyoto Animation… one of my favourite studios. I have only come across one series of theirs that I didn’t like (looking at you, Musaigen no Phantom World) and shows like Lucky Star and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya hold a lot of nostalgia for the formative years of my anime obsession. My love may be a lot more casual ten years on, but who said I can’t indulge my otaku side occasionally?
Fortunately, everything I want to see in Uji is relatively close to each other so hopefully I can fit in as much as I can.
1) Northern Kyushu (Saga, Nagasaki & Fukuoka Prefectures)
But wait a minute, Jen. Didn’t you say earlier that you studied in Fukuoka?
That might be true, but thanks to my busy schedule during my study abroad trip, I wasn’t really able to leave the city. Because of that, I don’t really feel like I’ve finished with the area just yet. Back in 2016, when I was organising my trip, I’d realised that it was pretty easy to get to Nagasaki from Hakata.
After visiting the City Museum in Fukuoka, I’d learnt more about Northern Kyushu’s role in Japan’s history, particularly as its ‘doorway’ to the rest of the world. A long, long, long time ago, rice came to Japan from the Asian mainland via the ports on its southern island, benefiting from the close proximity to places like Korea. And in the 17th Century, Western influence came to Japan via the port at Dejima, Nagasaki after Dutch and Portuguese traders brought foreign weaponry, foreign language, and foreign religion to the island.
I wouldn’t be living here and teaching English if I didn’t think that globalisation was a good thing and when it comes to history, I’m really interested in learning more about how Japan’s relationship with the rest of the world developed. I’ve read quite a bit about it, but it would be something else to actually be able to visit the places where it happened.
And on a more nerdy note (as if that wasn’t nerdy enough already), I would also love to take a day trip to Karatsu in Saga Prefecture. Given that I’m an anime fan who stayed in Fukuoka in 2016, it’s no surprise that I fell in love with Yuri!!! on Ice.
Yuri!!! On Ice is a sports anime about champion ice skaters, which is set in the fictional town of Hasetsu, a town heavily based on Karatsu. There are some scenes in neighbouring Fukuoka (including the airport scene – one of my favourites!) along with international locations like Sochi and Barcelona, but right at the heart of the series is Hasetsu. It is Yuri’s home after all. It’s a shame that I didn’t get chance to watch Yuri!!! On Ice until after I left Kyushu because it would have been a perfect little trip.
This is by no means a full list of all the places I want to go in the future, especially as I’m sure that I want to visit all four main islands at some point. I currently have two of those sorted, but I still need to research where is best to go in Shikoku and Hokkaido. Also Okinawa would be pretty nice, too. That’s the problem with Japan… too many great places to see and not enough time to do it!
Where would be your top place to go in Japan? Do you agree with any of my picks? Let me know in the comments section!
(All photos which aren’t mine are labelled for reuse and have the sources linked.)