Japan is such an incredible country, I have been here 3 times now and I can understand how people can spend 4+ weeks in Japan, because there is so much to see!
I will be covering off 2 awesome areas in Japan – Tokyo and Oita. Oita is Pronounced – “OI TA” and is on destination that most people haven’t really heard of in Japan, I hope I can provide a few great suggestions because Oita is not a place to be missed when you travel to Japan.
This is essentially a 4 day Itinerary but we have removed the first and last day for travel days (making it a total of 6 days), you can of course chop and change and remove things that won’t work or don’t interest you. The Tokyo section of this guide can either be used on your first day or your last day
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TRAVELLING TO JAPAN WITH ANA AIRLINES
Flying to Tokyo with ANA Airlines is a great option as every fare includes food and checked baggage. With direct flights from Sydney, you’ll be able to find yourself a great-priced fare.
If you want to plan the perfect Japanese holiday, you can visit ANA All Nippon Airways
Day 0 – Arrive into Tokyo
Overseas flights to Tokyo usually arrive either very early in the morning or early afternoon/evening. If you arrive in the morning then you can drop your bags off at the hotel and start Day 1, or relax at the hotel as you might be sleepy. I would recommend the Wired Hotel Asakusa to stay while you’re in Tokyo, it’s around the corner from a small tourist area with lots of eateries and a shopping street.
Day 1 (or Day 4) – Experiencing Tokyo
Kappabashi Kitchenware Town
Start your day wandering along the Kappabashi kitchenware town which is located around the corner from the Wired hotel. I know that the idea of looking at kitchenware on holiday doesn’t sound that appealing but trust me, it’s an interesting walk.
Make sure to pop into any one of the knife stores where you can see some very expensive (and some affordable) kitchen knives which are made using the same method as they use to make samurai swords!
From here you can also see the Tokyo “skytree” which is a great observation tower.
Sushi-making experience at Hassan
The Sushi making experience at Hassan was by far my favourite experience. You are received by very helpful staff and of course a Sushi Master chef, who will teach you how to make 2 different kinds of sushi – The seaweed sushi roll and the traditional sushi (nigiri Sushi). The Sushi chef will also how you how to prepare fresh fish and he will be there the whole time to help you become a “sushi chef”.
At the end, you will be provided with a certificate to show that you completed the sushi making experience. The best part is being able to eat all of the yummy sushi you make with the chef as well as also enjoying a few other dishes.
Cost: 5000yen per person (Includes 2 rolled sushi, 8 nigiri sushi, beef hot pot, miso soup)
Reservations are required a min of 48 hours prior.
Ameyoko walking tour
Ameyoko is an interesting area to walk through, it is an open air market, located near the Ueno train station. Here you will find plenty to see and do, such as purchasing fresh foods from fish and fruit to clothing and a very large (and old) sweet store. This is one of the only areas in Tokyo that you can actually barter for goods.
The “Ame” section os Ameyoko refers to “America” as a lot of American products were sold here after World War 2. This area is open around 10:00am until around 8:00pm, with some stores completely closed on occasional Wednesdays.
Ueno Park walking tour
It’s so surprising to find such green areas in a city like Tokyo, which most people would think it’s a concrete jungle. Ueno Park is such an oasis in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Tokyo and a great spot to have a little picnic or just walk through.
Ueno Park is also very popular during cherry blossom season (which is surprisingly only around 7-10 days) but it is also very busy!
Ueno Park leads to the Ueno zoo and multiple popular museums in Tokyo, however if you don’t have time or aren’t a fan of zoos or museums, then I would recommend visiting the Toshogu Shrine, also known as the “Golden Temple”. The shrine is dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu who was the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate (last feudal Japanese military government)
A short walk from Ueno park is Shinobazu Pond which shows off stunning views of Tokyo city and during the summer months the pond is covered from start to end with lily pads and flowers in bloom.
Dinner at Tsujigahana
I would highly recommend having dinner at Tsujigahana (Ueno location) make sure to order a number of different items from the menu including sashimi, salad and a few hot dishes of steak, pork (similar to bacon) and veggies and try a Japanese Whiskey. Whiskey is a lot more popular in Japan than Sake!
After dinner, head back to your hotel and relax – you’ve earned it!
Day 2 – Your first day in Oita
Today you are heading to Oita prefecture, you may need to grab some breakfast at the Haneda Airport as you’ll want to get an early morning flight. The flight to Oita is only one hour and thirty-five minutes, it’s a super quick flight!
I’d recommend hiring a taxi for the time you are in Oita or your own car if you are comfortable driving in a different country as the public transport system is limited. I will provide contact details for the driver we used during my trip as well contact details for a wonderful local guide if you want to have more of a tour and learn more about the history of Oita. Your first day will be spent in and around Kitsuki castle city and Beppu.
Kitsuki Castle Town
First stop in Oita is to a local Kimono store, where I would recommend hiring a traditional Kimono for a few hours for you to enjoy the sights in true Japanese style. The staff will help dress you and some stores will also offer to help with your hair as well.
Some great photos spots are the “Vinegar shop slop” which was named after a vinegar shop at the bottom of the slope, which is now a miso shop.
Another great photo spot is the Ohara family home (and old style samurai home) which the city of Oita purchased and rebuilt as the home had deteriorated over time, it took 3 years to replace and repair the home. The Japanese gardens here are very well maintained, making it such a good backdrop for photos.
You can of course drive around for a little while and stop off in sections of Kitsuki to take a few photos. Once you are done, head back to the store to get changed back into your everyday clothes and head to lunch.
Lunch at Wakaeya
I would highly recommend having lunch at Wakaeya restaurant, which is very famous in Oita and has been visited by the Emperor of Japan. During your visit, you might get to meet the owner – currently it’s run by the 16th generation owner, the restaurant and its secret recipes are passed down from father to son and kept in the family.
Their specialized fish dish is also served on Japan’s 7 star train every weekend.
What’s so special our their dish? They pour green tea over your rice and sea bream, then put the lid back on and leave it on for 3 seconds and then you may eat. The theatrics make the meal so fun!
Beppu City Traditional Bamboo Crafts Center
Beppu City Traditional Bamboo Crafts Center is a very interesting place to visit as you are able to try you hand at weaving bamboo, which is must harder than you think it is! You have 2 options for bamboo weaving – Option (1) a Bamboo Bell, which is a round ball of bamboo surrounding a bell, you can weave different coloured bamboo – to make it “pretty”. Options (2) Bamboo basket, however, they are much harder to make from scratch.
After your hands on experience, you can take a quick (or long) tour of the Bamboo museum to learn how to make different pieces and some history of Bamboo crafts.
Yukemuri Observation Deck and Kannawa walking tour
The Yukemuri Observation Deck is a great place to look over Beppu, you’re able to see all the steam rising up from the onsens and vents – it’s such a cool spot to view the city and even better in winter!
While a few hours left of sunlight, I would recommend heading down to Kannawa area where you can wander the streets and enjoy a steam foot bath for free along the main road, or you can try out one of the Onsens, some have a small charge, while others are free!
I’d recommend staying at the Yufuin Hotel Shuhokan as it’s located in between your last stop of day 1 and the first stop of day 2 and the views of Mount Yufu an inactive volcano. I would also recommend having dinner here as well, their dinner options options are incredibly vast including Shabu Shabu, Sashimi and a few other local dishes.
Day 3 – OITA
The best way to start your day, is with a walk around Lake Kinrin, it’s so peaceful and calming. The lake is a short drive from the hotel so it’s easy to get to, maybe grab a bite to eat on the way and enjoy your breakfast at the lake.
Lake Kinrin crystal clear still water shows off beautiful reflections of the surrounding mountains and buildings along the lake. Most of the fish in the lake are actually Carp and Koi fish, however, locals don’t fish in this lake.
Hita Gion Yamakoshi hall
Make your way to Hita to visit the Hita Goin Yamakoshi hall which is an interesting place to visit, here they hold the Annual Gion festival floats (when they are not in use). There is a total of 9 floats, which are really interesting to look at up close and you’d be surprised to find out that each float is around 4 tonnes!! Different dolls are placed on the floats depending on what type of story they want to tell each year and the floats have been considered on the list of UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.
The annual Gion festival is held every year around the end of July with 70% of people who come to the festival are from out of town and internationally.
Lunch at Ginsushi
I would recommend stopping for lunch at Ginsushi as they offer “Hitan sushi” which is a little unusual as rather than using fresh fish, they actually use veggies and fresh fruits such as tomato, onion, cabbage, fig and mushrooms which are all sourced locally. As this is a mountain area, they try to use the ingredients they have access to as they are not close to the ocean so therefore fish is more expensive.
They do still offer fish dishes and sushi with fish, however this is slightly more expensive as it has to be imported into the area.
Mameda Walking Tour
Mameda is a great stop off if you want to wander through some local souvenir stores , where you can buy Japanese shoes (called Geta) and items made out of kimono clothing (a type of silk). There is also a local Sake shop and museum, where you can enjoy a tasting of their local Sake which to me tastes like a mix of white wine and vodka and warms your chest like whiskey.
Ontayaki no Sato (Pottery Village)
A few years ago this area was devastated by heavy rains that washed away some main roads, making the village inaccessible. The village has now rebuild the roads and is trying to recover. I think this is a great little village to visit to help support and rebuild the community as well as learning about the history of pottery in the area.
People in this area were initially half farmers and half pottery makers, now you will find around 10 households make pottery from scratch, “harvesting” the clay from the clay rich environment using water powered pounders, it is then washed and cleaned using a special method, made into clay slabs and put out to try and then, handcrafted cups and plates are made.
The method they use is not taught to other people (outsiders) and they don’t take apprentices, the method is taught and handed down from family member to family member.
If you would like to buy a few things from this area, I would highly recommend you take cash with you as they don’t have access to EFT or ATMs. Most of the homes have their own small stores attached to their homes, all you need to do is walk into the store and say hello or Kon’nichiwa and they will come out to greet you.
Umehibiki Umeshu Gura Oyama
The plum liqueur factory is a place where you can learn about how plum liqueur is made and bottled and then afterwards you can enjoy a tasting of different liqueur such as plum, blueberry and citrus liqueurs.
There is also a small shop attached that sell local clay made items from the pottery village, liqueurs, Sake – make sure you know what your customs duty free limits are before you go crazy buying all these yummy liqueurs as this store does not ship internationally.
Sakura Waterfall is by far the best way to end an amazing day of sightseeing! It’s a great spots to stop, especially in summer (which is Japan’s rainy season)
The waterfall has a small car park a very short walk on the main road, as well as a train station if you choose to come and go via train.
There are a few small benches that you can sit on and relax, enjoy taking in the view and relax after a long day of sightseeing.
A word of warning though, there are some small rice patty areas on the walk to the waterfall that have electric fencing as there are a lot of wild boars in the area that are trying to get into the rice fields – Do not touch these fences are the shock could hurt or even kill you.
I would recommend staying at Ukiha Bekkan Shinshiyo, it’s located just around the corner from Sakura Waterfall and provides you with a traditional Japanese room called ryokan. Some of the rooms also come with an outdoor hot spring fed bath, you can relax in the bath while listening to the river below.
This hotel only has wifi in the lobby and not in the rooms, however, it’s nice to switch off from technology for a few hours, however if you really do need wifi, please check out my suggestion to use Tep Wireless at the beginning of this article.
Day 4 – OITA
I know you are probably tired but this is your last day in Oita prefecture so make sure you make the most of it, take those few extra few steps to see the sights and take 1000 more photos!!
Take the windy road up to the Takkiri Valley and wander along the river, the river bed is around 2km long. I’d recommend walking until you get to the 1.3km mark/sign, take off your socks and shoes and walk along the river bed. The water here is only ankle deep, the water is so lovely lapping against your feet! You could easily spend most of your day here.
This is generally a better activity to do in summer as in winter the path can be slippery and the water can be icy and very cold, make sure to take care.
This area also offers 13 small cottages (9 of which are brand new), if you would like to spend a night here, however everything in the room is in Japanese and no wifi is offered here as it is a full forest experience.
The Ajium winery offers different wines to taste (and purchase), from white, red and sweet wines. There is also a winery museum here for visitors who want to learn more about the wine making process and history of wine making in this area. It’s a nice little spot to stop off before you head to lunch.
Lunch at Shozan
Here are Shozan you can enjoy a local USA specialty of fried crispy chicken, salad, dumplings and miso soup. The chicken is super tender and juicy and is very different from most of the traditional Japanese meals you would have enjoyed throughout this trip.
Firstly, no, this isn’t actually the “USA” it’s actually pronounced “ooo-sa”. Usa Jingu is an area with a number of interesting shrines. You can hire an audio guide from a nearby store that are really easy to use and interactive – they would be perfect for self-guided tours.
The scenery was a mixture of green shrubs and specks of red from the branch shrines and main Shrine. Here you will learn all about the intertwining of religious history with the Buddhists and Shinto.
At the start of the Futago-ji temple there are the same protective Noi Guardian statues as they have at the Oita airport – the Nio Guardians are there to protect and ensure you have a safe trip.
This temple itself is a Buddhist temple that does nature and fire worship which is evident by the temples and of course the incredible nature scenery surrounding the temples and associated buildings.
You can wander through the temples (make sure to read the signs and respect the no photo in the temple rules) as well as wandering around the surrounding nature reserve.
You can even meet a monk here which is unusual as not many other temples offer this to its visitors. Some of the monks also speak english so you are able to ask questions and learn about the history of the area.
Day 5 – Last day in Japan
It’s up to you and the flight you book back home as to whether you fly back to Tokyo on your last day or if you fly back to Tokyo on the evening on day 4.
I’d recommend staying at Keikyu EX Inn Haneda, which is a hotel close to the domestic and international airport, making it easy to get to and from the airport for your flights.
Taxi: [email protected] (Elishi – Nickname: A.C) – He communicates via google translate and know a little bit of english. I would recommend contacting Kimiko to organise a tour through her and asking to use A.C as the driver – he was absolutely wonderful!
Travelling King was supported by the TCVB (Tokyo Convention and Visitors Bureau) for this trip but all of the opinions, recommendations, suggestions and terrible “jokes” are our own.