Culture and saké: Takayama (2 days) Kampai! Takayama is home to dozens of saké breweries, and is the place to sink down jugs and jugs of this rice-based beverage. If you don’t like the taste that much, try and start with some warm saké after a day of exploring — nice, right? To fill up the day before boozing hour, visit the morning markets, explore the old town on foot, and snap pics of the traditional wooden houses and old-school shops. Or maybe spend an afternoon hanging out in a cafe, sipping on tea and writing postcards while listening to jazz records. Oh, and make sure you hop on the train back to Tokyo during daylight hours: the ride is stunning.
Matsumoto is a lot more touristy when compared to Hakuba as it is the second largest city in the Nagano Prefecture. Home to one of the oldest castles in the country along with some excellent shrines and museums, it morphs into a cherry blossom heaven during the months of March and April. While it is more of a university town, the traditional edibles available in Matsumoto, especially the 'Soba noodles', are loved by locals and travellers in equal measures.
Nikko truly is a magical place, because the next tale is also from this land of eternal beauty. I was handed a chit with the name of a vegan café in Nikko written in English. I walk up and down the lane twice, but unable to spot any shop with that name. I then spot a local unloading a dispatch truck, I show him the chit, hoping he would know the place. Hard luck, he did not. Good luck, he is a Japanese. Unlike what most of us would do, he did not send me away with a simply sorry. He first searched for the place on google map, figured it’s a two minute walk on the same lane I was and then took the chit from me and wrote the English word in Japanese characters, so that I can match it and identify the shop’s name board. All this took a good five-seven minutes, but that man was more than happy to help. And did I add, he did not know English, I did not understand Japanese. All you need to help someone, is intention I guess. I walk the lane for two minutes, now matching the board names with the chit in my hand and in a matter of time, I found what I was looking for, and realized the place did not have an English board at all. Thanks to the truck guy or I would have never found this place.Arigato Japan
Shinjuku Neon Lights are one of the must-experience things to do when you are visiting Tokyo, Japan. The incredible district is one of the 23 special wards of Tokyo and it is also a major commercial and administrative center, housing the busiest train station in the world which is the Shinjuku Station. Can you imagine two million people use the station daily and at least 12 different lines pass through here. One could easily get lost inside the station. Anyone and everyone that visits Tokyo will at least make a stop at this unique part of Japan and as for me, my last visit here was back in 1990. You can only imagine how it was back then. On my last visit here in February 2011, it seemed like nothing had changed. Below are pictures I took while I explored this place on foot. Please click on the pictures to see in full size. Walking around at night is probably the best way to experience Shinjuku, especially along the main roads at Kabukicho where you can get a good view of the neon lights that tantalize your eyes. Every nook and cranny was almost covered with all sorts of neon. Even walking pass lanes, you could see lights leading all the way deep into the lanes.Overall, if you like the vibrant nightlife, Shinjuku is one of the places worth exploring as they offer all kinds of shopping and entertainment. Luxury brand stores are also found around here. There are some excellent places with great Japanese food while specialty coffee cafes can be seen here too. Be careful of street promoters that approach and offer you good deals to special clubs and bars as once you are committed, you would most likely end up paying exorbitant prices. Note that various subway lines stop here but the train service stops at midnight so if you plan to stay late, you need to take a taxi back. Some of the best clubs in Tokyo are found here too.