Surrounded by Sakura

I last visited Japan in April 2010 to fulfil my birthday wish of “wanting to be surrounded by cherry blossoms” (oh, dear Aries child!). Thankfully my Mum indulged me and luckily she had always wanted to visit Japan.

All the reports indicated it was going to be an early cherry blossom season that year. Meaning March. Meaning they would be gone when I got there in around the 9th of April. As we flew into Narita, there were a few cherry blossom trees dotting the landscape, and I thought to myself, well at least you’ve seen a few from the plane, but that’s probably all you’ll see. Oh well, you’ll still have a fantastic time.

But as the train rushed toward Tokyo, there were more trees dotting the landscape, and we could even see them outside our hotel window. How lucky!

Our first day there though, we decided to take a train ride to Yanaka for a quick wander around. And I can’t describe what I felt when we got there and the place was just covered with cherry blossom trees. Yanaka cemetary could only be described as exactly the kind of place I would want to be buried -the place was not only covered by cherry blossom trees, with their petals gently wafting down through the breeze, but there flower beds filled with pansies, cats and dogs running around and people picnicking! It was such a happy place!  We ended up spending a lot more time here than we thought we would.

The cherry blossoms were everywhere, but that wasn’t all this trip had in store for us. When we arrived in Takayama, it was cold. No, actually it was freezing. We had on about four or five layers of clothing on! And the next morning, we found out why. I woke up on my birthday to see out my window, not cherry blossoms, but snow! I had never seen snow in my life and certainly wasn’t expecting it in ‘light jacket wearing’ spring!

The trip was awesome. We saw Tokyo, Kyoto, Takayama, Nagoya and Osaka. We saw snow, cherry blossoms, the Spring Matsuri and perfectly packaged strawberries and apples. We saw strawberry shortcake in Harajuku and geisha in Gion. But we didn’t see Mt Fuji (we tried, but she was hiding in 10 degree cold, rain and fog). We ate sakura flavoured icecream and octopus balls. We went white water rafting in Arashiyama. The experience was awesome. The people were so friendly and helpful.

And it was this experience that makes me think, yep, I can do this trip. by myself. And if I can’t do it in Japan, then there’s no hope for me!

Shinkansen, Geisha & Me

Flights? Check! Accommodation in Narita for my first night? Check! Accommodation in Kyoto?  Check!  Accommodation in Tokyo? Check (red light district seems suitable for a single female traveller – right???).

It’s all coming together. I know what I want to do and where I want to stay.  But I’ve never travelled by myself and I am freaking out!

I will arrive in Japan on the late afternoon of 21 November, so I’m not even going to chance getting on the trains. Instead I’ve opted to spend the night in Narita near the airport at the Holiday Inn Tobu Narita. Next morning I’ll go back to the airport, sort out my trains and head to Kyoto.

In Kyoto I’ll stay as near to Gion as possible (or rather as I can afford!).  I’ll be there for three nights and was thinking about doing a day trip to Hiroshima and Miyajima, but there seems to be so much in town I didn’t see on my last trip that I might just hang around Kyoto and explore it properly. I’d like to do an afternoon trip to Nara though, and would love to head back to Arashiyama to see what flavour ice cream is on the menu for Autumn (in Spring it was Sakura which was DIVINE!).

Then I’ll get back on the train and spend three nights in Tokyo. I’m booked in at the Best Western Astina Shinjuku, which is where I stayed with Mum on my last visit in April 2010.  Even though it’s in Kabukicho, it’s not too far from Shinjuku Station, there was lots of shopping and dining, and the hotel itself was wonderful. So it’ll be familiar to say the least…I’ll just have to keep away from the hustlers!

I didn’t get to visit Golden Gai either on my last trip, so I’ve found a tour company that does a night time tour of Tokyo, taking in Shibuya and Shinjuku, and of course Golden Gai.  I also want to do a day trip out to Nikko, which I believe is gorgeous in Autumn.  I’ve also booked a “Dynamic Tokyo Tour” that visits quite a few sights (some which I did see last time, but most that I didn’t get around to) and includes a barbecue lunch and a boat ride along the Sumida River. Apart from that, I want to do more shopping, hopefully pick up some of those divine, individually packaged strawberries from Isetan again and hopefully get to Yoyogi Park to do some people watching.

Then back on the train to stay another night in Narita. I’ll have about half a day to explore Narita, which a lot of people probably bypass.  There’s a lovely temple and park there, which will be interesting to check out.  Then I’ll be hopping on a plane home!  Easy!  Surely!

So 8 months to go, and I am so excited…