Apple Country

Stories of rural life as an ALT in a northern Japanese fishing town.


Sakura, Temples and Naughty Deer

That’s probably how I’d sum up the week with my sister when she came to see me in Japan.  We actually arranged her early April visit without knowing that cherry blossom season would be in full swing, so it was the perfect time for both of us to experience Japan during its prettiest time of year.

I headed to Tokyo by myself first to spend the weekend with some friends from university (I also got to fulfill my dream of going to the Ghibli museum!), then met up with Lindsey on Monday morning.  In my slightly hungover state and Lindsey in her jet-lagged daze, we weren’t feeling too fresh, but we somehow managed to fit eight hours of exploring into our day.

The first thing we did was get a panoramic view of Tokyo from the top of the Government Building.  This was the first thing I did when I arrived in Japan so it felt a bit weird and nostalgic.  Before Lindsey arrived, I’d discovered the huge supermarket/deli in the basement of Shinjuku station, so we got some sushi (including anago which is my FAVOURITE even though it’s eel) and fancy cakes which we ended up not really eating because omg so much chocolate.

We had our lunch underneath the cherry blossoms of Shinjuku Gyoen and wandered around the park just being amazed at how pretty it was, and ruining people’s selfies by standing right behind them.  We later walked to Harajuku and did purikura (I’ll post a photo later) but the road was so crowded we genuinely couldn’t move for about ten minutes, so we didn’t go THAT way again.

We met up with my friend in the evening and went to a yakitori place.  Despite not really liking it when I first came to Japan because I thought it was all chicken hearts and stuff, we’ve eaten it whenever we’ve met up so I get him to order everything and it turns out there’s a lot of variety!  It’s pretty much Japanese tapas but with an emphasis on chicken. I love tapas.  One of our favourites is just a bowl of raw cabbage, which we tear bits off and dip in the sauce… Japan knows how to make the simplest food taste good.

The next day was spent roaming around Asakusa, seeing Rev. Run (of Run-D.M.C.) and his family and camera crew which gave us a right giggle, and eating the best and biggest mango kakigouri (shaved ice with syrup) of my life.  We tried to go to the Imperial Gardens but dunno what happened because it seemed like there was nothing really to see and we couldn’t work out how to get to the actual gardens but nevermind.

We were heading to Osaka by shinkansen the next afternoon, but managed to fit in a trip to the Korakuen garden which was very pleasant.

Tokyo (click the photos to make them bigger)

I love Kyoto so seeing some of the same attractions I did with mum and dad didn’t bother me, as they are simply stunning.  Kinkakuji is probably one of my favourite buildings.  We also saw its silver sister Ginkakuji which I hadn’t been to before, although that one never actually got its coating done, so it should probably just be called Kakuji… (Just looked it up and it’s officially called Jishoji, “Temple of Shining Mercy”, so there you go.)  I preferred the gardens at this one, particularly for the view of Kyoto at the top and the sand garden.  We saw yet more temples in the afternoon, then evening came and we headed to the bustling alley of Pontocho near the geisha district to find somewhere to eat.

We bravely chose somewhere which was clearly not catered for tourists, hidden away down a side alley lined with softly glowing lanterns.  I wasn’t entirely sure what I was ordering but we got some delicious mackerel with rice, tempura, tofu and sesame salad and THE BEST pork I’ve ever had.  So crisp and juicy.

The next day we were kinda beat from all the walking, so we set about Kyoto with a little less vigour than before.  Highlights were the orange gates of Inari shrine (which I forgot to take pictures of!) and Nishiki market.  We had dinner at an okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake) restaurant which covered five floors of one building.  I love any meal where we get to cook it ourselves, so that was fun.

Kyoto and Osaka

We spent our last full day together in Nara, which I was really looking forward to because I’d never been and was desperate to go to its famous park and hang out with all the deer.  I was not prepared for how dauntless those deer would be.  I made the mistake of buying some crackers and within moments I’d been targeted.  They formed a circle and it wasn’t long before they started pushing me and biting me on the arse to get a cracker.  Meanwhile Lindsey was being terrorised on a whole other level and I would’ve taken a photo if my hands hadn’t been full of crackers and I wasn’t trying to avoid being chased across the park myself.  They were quite cute though when they weren’t being naughty, and they knew it.  They reminded me of a certain dog I have.

The temple itself was the largest wooden structure in the world until 1998, and even though it’s been rebuilt a few times like many historic buildings in Japan, it was still really impressive.  Original construction of the Buddha was completed in 751, but has been recast several times due to reasons such as earthquake damage.  The hands were my favourite part – the last time they were remade was in the 17th century.  The photo I got of the whole statue is a bit crap so you can’t really tell that the Daibutsu is the largest bronze statue of Vairocana Buddha in the world!

So yeah I enjoyed this temple a lot.  We finished up with a nice lunch, went back to Osaka and hung around the castle, then had our last dinner – yakitori!  It was fancy yakitori though.  I was so confused by the seating at first because it looked like we’d have to sit on the floor, but the room was actually built on a platform so you could put your legs in a sunken bit under the table.  I still have trouble sitting in seiza so this was a relief.


Going on holiday always amazes me because I do so much more in one day than I normally would.  It depresses me that it’s already past lunchtime and I could be walking around a city somewhere, but instead I’ve just studied Japanese and written this blog post.  The break was definitely needed though!  And now I’m counting down the days until my solo trip to Beijing…(20!!)

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First 24 hours in Tokyo

Finally landed in Tokyo at 8:30 yesterday morning after a smooth but sleepless 11-hour flight from London.  Can’t believe Dad cried when I left, which made me cry too but also secretly pleased that he got emotional about me leaving haha.

Checking in ze suitcases.

Checking in les baggages.

Not sure my body enjoyed being given an overly processed cooked breakfast at 10:30pm (6:30am Japan time), it felt really wrong but when do I ever turn down free food.  Even though I’d heard about the extreme heat and humidity that slaps you in the face as you leave the airport, I don’t think anything could’ve prepared me for that, and I promise never to complain about it being ‘muggy’ when I’m in England ever again!

After arriving at the Keio Plaza at midday I ventured out into Shinjuku in search of food that didn’t taste like death, and after deciding we weren’t quite ready to attempt ordering anything in a restaurant, picked up a salad at a combini (convenience store).  It was beautiful.  We also remembered that in Japan there is a rule that you don’t eat and walk at the same time, so we had to awkwardly eat the ice cream we’d just bought standing in one place and examining the plastic food on display outside one of the restaurants.  Also, there are NO BINS.  Are Japanese people so neat that they don’t actually create litter?  Where are you supposed to get rid of anything??  We walked past a pachinko arcade (kind of like pinball) and wanted to go in, but as soon as the sliding doors parted it sounded absolutely terrifying and there were all these pink flashy lights so we ran away.

We made our way back to the hotel and got our room keys, had the best shower ever and a power-nap for 30 mins before I met Yuki in the lobby.  We went to the observation tower which gives you a spectacular 360 view of the city.  The Tokyo landscape is a lot different to London in that there aren’t many particular buildings that stand out as much, but the colours are pretty and of course it has Mount Fuji in the distance… but it wasn’t clear enough to see it when we were there.

View of the shrine from the observatory

View of the shrine from the observatory

Shinjuku station

Shinjuku station

We took the train to Harajuku, and went down a street which was very crowded and full of stores selling frilly clothes and weird t shirts.  I think it’s a good people-watching place!

Apparently this is where everyone takes a photo so I felt obliged

Apparently this is where everyone takes a photo so I felt obliged

We walked on to a shrine across the road (the mass of green in the Observatory picture) which was in the middle of a kind of park with huge trees either side of the pathway.  On the way in there were these barrels of Sake but I can’t remember why!  I think they were blessings…

Sake barrels

Sake barrels

Before you enter the shrine you can purify yourself with the water using wooden ladles so we did that.  Then made an offering where you bow and clap and make a wish but I forgot to make one at the right time so it probably won’t come true!



Wishes. Quite a lot of them were about girls.

Wishes. Quite a lot of them were about girls.

Next stop was Shibuya! Walked over the famous crossing and it was getting dark by this point so all the lights and adverts were lit up and the atmosphere was really lively.  There was a constant buzz of electronic noises and excited Japanese announcements.

Shibuya Crossing

Shibuya Crossing

We went to get dinner at an izakaya which was tucked away up a flight of stairs inside a building on the street which I would never have known existed, and were greeted by all the waiters yelling IRASSHAIMASEEEE! (“Welcome”) which I loved.  Japanese waiters/shopkeepers are so enthusiastic and friendly and they all yell at you again as you leave which sounds kinda terrifying but it made me laugh a lot.  They should totally do that in the UK…



You could get unlimited cabbage there ♥ The food was really yummy. 

Finished the night by getting mini fireworks and setting them off in the park and climbed a tree and went back to the hotel and had SUCH A GOOD SLEEP.  Sorry if my writing is rubbish, I’m quite tired! 

P.S. Martha I remembered your note, it was lovely 🙂