Elliot Johnston travelled to Japan in February, visiting Osaka, Hiroshima, Kyoto and Tokyo. An avid Harry Potter fan, Elliot really enjoyed the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Japan. He also loved having an opportunity to play piano in the Yamaha store, and took delight in sampling the many sweet, local treats, such as Pocky (chocolate-covered biscuits). Let’s join Elliot as he takes us on a tour of his highlights of his first overseas holiday, in Japan…
Universal Studios, Osaka
My favourite thing in Osaka was a full day spent at Universal Studios. I spent most of my time in the Wizarding World Of Harry Potter, where there is a recreation of Hogwarts Castle, The Hogwarts Express, and even Hogsmede. I tasted butterbeer, which was non alcoholic for the kids. In Ollivanders, I purchased a magic wand that I could use to do various tricks around Hogsmede. Dad and I rode on the Flight of the Hippogriff but found the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride more exhilarating.
Miyajima Island (Itsukishima)
I recommend a visit to Miyajima Island (near Hiroshima). We caught a ferry over (free with our Japan Rail Pass) and spent a day there. We took our time wandering through the lovely streets of the village. There I found so many different foods on offer such as their specialties of oysters and sweet Momiji Manju Cakes. There were also many local craft shops, and beautiful shrines/temples to visit. The main attraction at the island is the Floating Torii Gate, which is the entrance to the Itsukishima Shrine. The gate looks like it is floating because at high tide, the water covers the bottom of it. There is also wild deer wandering around so make sure they don’t eat your return ferry ticket!
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
My mum and I spent a very moving afternoon visiting Hiroshima. First we stopped at the A-Bomb Dome, which is all that was left of the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall after the atomic bomb exploded above it. We then walked into the massive Peace Park which is where all of the old village was before the bomb. There are many different memorials in the Peace Park including the children’s memorial (where you can find collections of paper cranes sent from all over the world) and the Bell of Peace that anyone can ring to remind us to never go back to the use of nuclear arms, or war. My mum advises you to take tissues.
Kyoto was awesome. We stayed five nights in a self contained apartment, a few blocks from Nijo-Jo Castle. We caught the Randen Tourist Tram to Kinkaku Ji Temple (The Golden Temple). I really liked this temple because of the way the gold shimmered on the water and the beautiful gardens surrounding it. We also spent a day around the Arashiyama area. We walked through the bamboo forest (a very popular tourist spot) and continued up through the parklands for a wonderful view of the river. We stopped for a lunch of udon noodles at a traditional inn next to the river. We then crossed the Togetsu-kyo bridge and climbed up the mountain to feed the snow monkeys (yes, it was snowing). On the way home, we walked through Sanjo Dori, which is a really long arcade full of little food stalls.
In Tokyo, I enjoyed the shopping district, Ginza. Lots of expensive stores like Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Swarovski were situated there. There was also a Yamaha store with a ‘free to play’ piano inside, so of course I had to bring Australia to Japan by playing ‘I still call Australia Home’. Overall, Ginza was very expensive, but enjoyable. The food in Tokyo was very good. We visited the Tsukiji Fish Market, and I recommend you do too. You can buy a wide range of seafood, fresh from the sea or you can sit in and watch the sushi chefs prepare an amazing array of sushi for your lunch.
Elliot’s Top Five Tips For Getting the Most Out of Japan:
- Utilise free apps to smooth your way around Japan: Download Hyperdia (a local train-info app which has a one-month free trial); Google Translate (focus your phone camera on the text and it translates it for you – easy!); Google Maps; and Wotif (we used this for booking all of our accommodation, tracking our itinerary, and receiving reminders about hotel check-in times, etc.). These apps will help you understand Japanese, Navigate the streets, Book hotels, and see when trains are leaving and where they stop.
- If you are travelling between major cities, like Tokyo and Osaka, buy a Japanese Rail Pass online before you go and it will be mailed to you. This will allow you to travel on train lines without buying a ticket and having to wait in queues or deal with Japanese ticket machines. All you have to do is show the Station Attendant your pass and you’re through! Read the instructions carefully as you must have your Rail Pass validated at an international airport or railway station. Try and avoid travelling with suitcases in major cities, during peak hour.
- Don’t be afraid to carry lots of cash on you, as Japan has one of the lowest rates of crime in the world. Credit card usage is limited in restaurants and small businesses. ATMs are few and far between. (Most 7-elevens have them.)
- Culturally, there are a few things to be aware of. Personal space is a priority so be careful not to invade that of others as you walk down the street or interact in other ways. They prefer not to shake hands. Try not to blow your nose in public. They are incredibly helpful and want to please you so accept their generous offers graciously.
- Wear very comfortable shoes because most temples and shrines are located at the top of hills requiring walking up steps or steep inclines. Do some step work and get trip-fit before you go then do some calf stretches on the trip and you’ll hopefully avoid hurting your Achilles tendon, as my mum did.