Kyoto was the historic capital of Japan, and is pacted full of history but is also incredibly modern.  This is where Super Mario was developed!

There are lots of fab places to see a short train ride from the city but the city itself has plenty to keep you occupied, largely because it escaped bombing during WW2


Kyoto is the home of the Geisha culture.  The Gion District with its super discreet and exclusive wooden tea houses are still their stomping ground.  There were about 250 Geisha entertaining patrons before Covid.  No one is quite sure how many of the Geisha and Maiko (apprentice Geisha) will return.

You might be lucky to spot one if you are around the Gion, (I wasn’t) They are literally works of art, with their kimonos alone costing up to £10,000.   I’d definitely recommend watching Memoirs of a Geisha  to get an idea of the place.  It’s really common to see young couples in traditional dress (you can rent kimonos) while site seeing and being given tours in rickshaws.

The city is awash with breathtaking palaces (the imperial palace is located here) and temples. We visited Nijo-Jo Castle, which is a UNESCO heritage site. It was built 400 years ago by the first Tokugawa Shogun, who’s family ruled for 14 generations and was also a samurai garrison. The castle complex is made up of graceful gardens and richly decorated audience halls with fabulous gold murals (unfortunately photography is not allowed inside). The buildings have what are referred to as “nightingale floors”. The floors are laid in such a way so that the chirp when walked upon, as an early warning system so they could hear intruders.

Food is also fantastic in Kyoto, and a speciality of the region is kaiseki. This is a multi course meal and these can be up to 11 courses, many are less than this but all are beautifully presented and change with seasons.

Saki glasses are always served in these wooden boxes

We treated ourselves to one of the more modest versions that included the usual miso soup and rice, as well as sashimi, marinated whitebait, tofu, and a beef hotpot. We decided to go native and the restaurant we visited served the food on low tables and we sat on cushions on tatami mats (not be recommended if you’re full of aches and pains from 2 weeks non stop site seeing) .

Nishi food market and the surrounding shopping district is also worth visiting, but go early because it gets extremely busy with locals and tourists. It’s a great place to pick up food souvenirs or try new things like squid lollipops.

Squid lollipops
Fruit sandwiches

Tokyo – 48 Hours

Japan has always been on my bucket list, but after a 13 hour flight from Paris and standing in a Customs line for 2 hours, I was less than impressed to find out Air France had lost my suitcase. 

Being on average 6 inches taller, and a foot wider than most Japanese women, finding clothes for 2 weeks in Japan was a challenge. But when these things happen you can choose to let it ruin your holiday or just get on with it and that’s what I did. (Air France are still a pack of d*cks though).

Tokyo is amazing, a city of just under 14 million people, with every square inch of space used. It really is open 24 hours a day.  I was so impressed that the place is spotless you will not find litter anywhere.  You won’t see rubbish bins on the street either, the Japanese will carry their rubbisish until they dispose of it.  You’ll also be impressed at how courteous and polite they are to each other.

English is not widely spoken, if I can make any recommendations its to learn a few key words or phrases i.e. please, thank you, hello etc.  Then make sure you arrange a bolt on with your mobile phone company (or you can buy a Japanese sim card).  Google maps and Google translate will make your life much easier.  WiFi availablity can be bit patchy otherwise.

Japan has only recently opened up to travellers again after Covid and you are required to wear a mask when inside shops, on public transport etc., most people still wear them on the street. Given how densly populated Japan’s cities are, this makes sense to curb the spread of the disease. As always when travelling, be a good guest and respect even the unofficial rules of the country you’re in.

When you’re out sightseeing the metro system is excellent. A two day pass cost just under £8 and the longest you’ll wait on a train is 5 minutes. Signs in the station and announcements on the trains are both in Japanese and English. Station staff are very kind and helpful and this is the time to use your Google translate if you get turned about. Tickets can be bought at machines or at tickets offices (the offices only take cash). I would avoid rush hour if possible as the trains are really packed (personal space isn’t really a thing on the Metro), you’ll also be expected to remain quiet out of respect for other travellers.

We stayed in the Shinjuku area which is very central for most things. Just up the street the local temple was having a festival and the streets were lined with stalls selling cheap fantastic street food. We were also only a few streets away fron the Golden Gai district. This is a little warren of streets made up of tiny izakayas (bars) that are often only a counter than sits 6-8 people. There is usually a small cover charge per person and staff and locals were friendly.

A few stops from Shinjuku you can find the Senso – Ji temple complex. The approach to the temple has a busy shopping area if you want to shop for souvenirs or street food. You can have your fortune told at the temple by shaking a box containing sticks, the one that pops out will have a corresponding fortune)

Foodies should visit Tsukiji fish market, which has brilliant seafood spots, and for a tasty sushi lunch with a beer we paid about £10 per head (and we had a lot of sushi). You’ll find fruit in Japan is surprisingly expensive, with specialist types being given as gifts as a show of status.

Food is unfailingly fantastic in Japan, and even convenience stores (Konbini) sell low cost tasty food. Unless you’re wanting want to go fine dining you can get a filling main meal for £5-6 per per person in most restaurants

If you want to see where the cool kids hang out, you should visit the Harajuku District. Full of quirky shops, and places to eat, drink and shop. If you’re interested in visiting a ferret cafe, or have always wanted to buy a Cosplay Bo Peep outfit this is the area for you.

This was my first visit to Japan and some differences that immediately leapt out at me were, cyclists ride on the pavement, not the road and it’s important to be aware of them. Japanese toilets are unbelievable, with heated seats and water jets. You can choose to play birdsong if you want to cover the sound of doing your business, some will even blow dry your nether regions (an unexpected, but not unpleasant sensation).

Smoking is still permitted in many bars, but it’s illegal to smoke in the street. The place feels incredibly safe, and I would have no hesitation to travel alone in Japan (taking the usual sensible precautions).

P. S. Air France suck!