By Chloe Gunning, Traveller, adventurer and mojito lover behind www.wanderlustchloe.com. Tweet me @WanderlustChloe
Tuesday 16 Oct 2018 12:00 pm
See Tokyo by night, eat your way around Osaka and enjoy the hilariously over-functional toilets.
These were the generic recommendations from friends when I started planning my two-week adventure around Japan.
I added them to my list and promptly returned to my research.
Japan has been firmly at the top of my dream countries to visit list for three years.
Primarily it was to feast on my favourite cuisine, but also to experience a totally different culture and explore the countrys natural beauty.
I was determined that my first visit would involve more than robot shows in Tokyo and ramen in Osaka.
I began planning a tri-peninsula trip, visiting the Izu, Noto and Kii peninsulas, travelling at lightning speed on Japans highly efficient bullet trains.
With no more than konichiwa (hello), arigatou (thank you), and Google Translate in my back pocket, I wondered how the next two weeks would go.
The Izu Peninsula
After a brief stint in Tokyo, sampling rainbow candy floss, the aforementioned robot show and staying at Shinjukus weird and wonderful Godzilla Hotel, it was time to start the adventure.
Japans Izu Peninsula is located in Shizuoka Prefecture, around 100km southwest of Tokyo.
The region is famed for its volcanic origins, creating rugged coasts, sea caves and mountains.
Atamis views are comparable with Italys Amalfi Coast, while the jagged formations of the Jogasaki Coast will have you feeling like youve stepped onto another planet.
With volcanic roots come hot springs, and a trip to an onsen (a Japanese hot spring bath) is a total must.
Clothing isnt permitted in these traditional public baths, but dont let that put you off – the initial awkwardness swiftly melts away in the soothing warm waters.
The town of Shuzenji feels like the epitome of the word zen, with its ancient temple, warming springs, meandering river and bamboo forest all worth visiting.
Venture along the east coast and youll reach the mysterious Ryugu Sea Cave.
Once you reach the top and peer in youll see why people have associated it with mystery, as the undeniable outline of a heart comes into view.
This is a top region for foodies too, famed for tricky-to-grow wasabi (lots of dishes come with a whole wasabi root and grater!) and healthy soba noodles.
The highlight of the Izu Peninsula for me was visiting Kawazu Nanadaru – a series of seven waterfalls, along a serene river trail.
The finale? Nanadaru Onsen Resort where you can relax in 40 degree waters, with an awe-inspiring view of the largest waterfall.
The Noto Peninsula
A few hours northeast of Tokyo, the Noto Peninsula is another region of natural beauty, with mountains, waterfalls, rice paddies and rock formations aplenty.
Hire a car and go on your own adventure, kicking off with a ride along the unique Chirahama Beach Highway.
Its the only beach in Japan where driving is permitted, and lets face it, its not every day you see a main road directly on the sand.
Fancying a break from driving, I spent one morning learning a form of calligraphy-based art with Noto resident Ayane Muroya.
While attempting to create something worthy of hanging on my wall at home, I learned about her life in Noto, and her years living and studying in England.
As for the calligraphy, it was a very soothing experience – but with my wall space at a premium, Im not sure my finished work will make the cut!
Ive heard visiting the town of Wajima was a must, mainly for the market, which sells fresh fish, seafood and the regions famous lacquerware.
It was a great place to stock up on gifts for friends and family, including chopsticks, bento boxes and handmade ceramics.
After days soaking up the isolation and nature of the coastal route around the Noto Peninsula, it was a surprise to find such a buzzy city waiting at the end.
Kanazawa, nicknamed Little Kyoto, is metropolitan and youthful, with a downtown filled with hole in the wall bars and restaurants.
Its also a cultural hub, with Kenrokuen (one of Japans top landscape gardens), Kanazawa Castle, the Nagamachi Samurai District, Omicho Market, and the 21st Century Museum Of Modern Art all vying for your time.
The Kii Peninsula
South of Osaka is Wakayama and the Kii Peninsula, a mountainous region with mist and low-lying clouds creating magical views.
Named as one of Lonely Planets top regions to visit in 2018, the region was described as the perfect place for visitors to dig a little deeper into Japan.
After using soy sauce everyday over the past few weeks, it was fascinating to learn how its made at Yuasa Soy Sauce Factory.
Theres a chance to taste one of the regions most intriguing delicacies too – soy sauce flavoured ice cream, topped with a few drops of soy sauce.
It was surprisingly delicious, with a salty/sweet sensation similar to salted caramel.
Many visit this region to hike the Kumano Kodo.
The ancient pilgrimage route is dotted with sacred shrines and passes through some of Japans most stunning scenery, including bamboo forests, waterfalls and vast mountain ranges.
The iconic view of Seigantoji Pagoda with Nachi Waterfall was a great reward after an active day hiking in the region!
This tri-peninsula trip was a great introduction to Japan, showcasing the countrys natural beauty, traditions and culture.
I still enjoyed the robot show in Tokyo, but I was so happy to have ventured beyond the countrys obvious attractions.
Where to stay and how to get there
Several airlines offer direct flights from London to Tokyo, with returns starting from £620 depending on the time of year.
Once there, Id recommend picking up a Japan Rail Pass (approx. £315 for 14 days) so you can visit each peninsula by train. When trains are busy, its advisable to reserve seats in advance, which can be done for free at the station ticket office.
Id also recommend renting a WiFi device for your trip. You can collect these at the major airports, and youll appreciate being able to check routes and translate on the go.
I stayed at a mix of hotels, B&Bs and traditional ryokans across my trip.
Ryokans are Japanese inns, usually with their own public bath, and offering an authentic Japanese dinner and breakfast as part of the package.
Youll get a real flavour of Japan when you tuck into the huge number of tiny dishes (mostly seafood, fish and pickled vegetables), wear a yukata (a cotton kimono) and sleep on a futon.
My favourite ryokan experience was at Hyakurakuso in the Noto Pensinsula, which had breathtaking views over Tsukumo Bay, a cave bath, and exceptional food, worthy of several Michelin stars.