Honeymooners: Dina and Desiree
Type: Screw you, earthquake! We're going to Japan!
Budget: Spendy ($5000-$10,000)
Where did you go? Desiree and I have long been fans of Japan — Japanese culture, Japanese food, you name it. It has long been a dream of ours to go. And, I'm not going to lie, it's kind of how I bribed her into going ahead with the wedding idea in the first place. 😉
We decided to take two weeks off work and visit Tokyo, Hakone (a mountain resort near Tokyo) and Kyoto.
What did you do? We started off by flying to Tokyo, which was an adventure in and of itself. (Dina doesn't fly well, kids.) Incidentally, if you fly from Sydney to Tokyo (or probably anywhere else), we found Korean Air to be excellent and not too expensive.
Our wedding was on March 3, and our original plan was to travel to Japan straight after. However, the Easter holiday at the end of April (with bonus Anzac Day!) proved too enticing. And that was a good thing, as the Tohoku Earthquake hit on March 11 — which would have meant we were over there during a major natural disaster. Thank goodness! When we travelled over there in mid-April, Japan was still under a travel advisory by the Australian government — according to them, we shouldn't have travelled to Tokyo. But more on that later.
We spent our first few days in Tokyo, staying in a tiny, tiny hotel room near Akihabara. While the famed lights of Akihabara weren't shining as brightly as you always see on the teevee, there was little disruption. (Interestingly, places like Shinjuku and Shibuya were still brightly lit, although you could see some signs that weren't on.) The food was spectacular, as you'd expect, and the people were friendly.
While in Tokyo, we visited places like Mount Mitake (where it rained copiously upon us during what we expected to be a ten minute walk that turned into a hour-and-a-half hike), the Studio Ghibli Museum (highly recommended, especially for you Miyazaki fans) and the Wonder Wheel at Odaiba.
After Tokyo, we took the train to Hakone. Hakone is a beautiful place, while fairly touristy. We splurged and stayed at a fancy ryokan (traditional Japanese hotel) at an onsen (Japanese hot springs). Every morning and evening they served these amazing meals – multiple courses of traditional Japanese food, including freshly hunted pheasant. It was spectacular!
Unfortunately, it was also more than my tiny stomach could handle, and we had to communicate to our hosts, who spoke very little English, that no, the food was fantastic, we don't need you to cook Western meals for us… We also made friends with a black egg (eat one and you'll add seven years to your life, or so they say).
After Hakone we headed on the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto. May I just say that Kyoto is gorgeous? Because it is. So many temples and cobblestone streets and, again, AMAZING food. (Miso nabe (hotpot)? YES PLEASE) We also took a side trip to Osaka, which was interesting but not exactly life-changing. Although we did have some wonderful banana crepes there.
One of my favorite moments in Kyoto was when we got lost coming down from Inari temple. We found ourselves in the middle of some residential Kyoto neighborhood. A middle-aged lady spotted us and, although her command of English was pretty much non-existent, managed (with the help of our phrasebook) to get us to the train station, even going so far as to walk with us. (I really hope that's where she was headed anyway!)
Another favorite moment was climbing up to Iwatayama Monkey Park, where you could feed monkeys and look down on Kyoto from a gorgeous vantage point. We also took day trips to Osaka and Nara (where I was besieged by tame deer who desperately wanted crackers — scary).
We took the Shinkansen back to Tokyo for our last day, then flew back to Sydney from there.
I blogged our adventure (roughly) day-by-day, so if you want to read more, the entries start here.
What would you have done differently? I would have spent more time in Kyoto. Don't get me wrong, Tokyo was nice, but Kyoto was really more my speed! Also, spend about three more months there. I never wanted to leave.
Also, I recommend wearing proper hiking gear if you're going up to Mount Mitake (or really, any mountainy, foresty place). Don't be stupid tourists like we were!
Honestly, though? I feel like our trip was exactly what I wanted it to be. Which was amazing.
As we left, the young man who spoke the most English of anyone there told us, “Please tell your friends that Japan is not dangerous.”
What's your best travel advice for other offbeat honeymooners? As I said, when we travelled to Tokyo, there was a travel advisory from our local government. Which was a damn shame, because there was nothing wrong with Tokyo at all. Yes, travelling to Fukushima or Miyagi prefectures at that time would not have been a great idea (and you didn't need to speak Japanese to understand the devastation that was shown on the news every night when we were there). But there were many things that were reported by the Western media that simply weren't true. Tokyo was not a radioactive wasteland with gangs of roving Yakuza, shortages of food and bottled water, and major transport outages. The only effect of the earthquake that we could see was that there weren't as many lights on in the buildings.
When we were in Tokyo, I could have counted the number of Caucasians we saw on one hand. When we went to Kyoto (which was not under a travel advisory), there were many other foreigners there. I can't imagine how much this must have impacted Tokyo's economy, which gets a lot of its money from foreign travelers. I know it really affected our hotel in Hakone, which was nearly booked out when we were making travel arrangements but was a ghost town when we were there. As we left, the young man who spoke the most English of anyone there told us, “Please tell your friends that Japan is not dangerous.” It broke my heart.
So here is my advice to other offbeat honeymooners (and offbeat travelers in general): be sensible in the face of disasters, and get information from as many sources as you can. I suppose I was lucky in that I had a friend who was actually in Japan when the earthquake hit, and he was able to tell us that life went on unabated in Tokyo, at least. I also got my information from English-language Japanese newspapers and English-speaking Japanese bloggers/Twitter users (Many thanks to @makiwi of justhungry.com who was my main source of information for a while there).
Take what your local government advises you into consideration, but remember that they're not only considering young, able-bodied, experienced travelers but also families with little kids, older people and people who haven't been outside the country much. (Which, of course, might describe you. It didn't describe us.) Consider your own circumstances, gather information from everywhere you possibly can, and make your decisions from there. Don't just take the Sydney Morning Herald's (or, worse, the Daily Telegraph's) word for it.
Enough talk, show me more honeymoon pics!