Japan – Tokyo and Hakone

We have talked about visiting Japan during the cherry blossom season for quite a few years now. Finally, it was the moment and all the plans were in place. The plan was simple, three weeks travelling around Japan with the last leg of our journey in South Korea. I really did not have any idea what to expect once arrived in Japan as there weren’t any research done prior to the trip. There should be a sense of mystery and spontaneity with every adventure so that was how I wanted the trip to be. All excited as we arrived in Tokyo one late evening. For a city with close to 35M people, it was rather quiet. Our hotel was within walking distance from the Shibuya District, or rather, the equivalent of a larger, busier, and crazier Times Square or Oxford Circus. But all was quiet that evening except for a hint of glimmering cherry blossoms. Our five day stay in Tokyo was all about the blossoms and more blossoms. Interestingly enough, the cherry blossom look their best for only a week or so and we couldn’t have been any luckier as they were in full bloom. The sight was beautifully overwhelming and the blossoms were absolutely heaven. They were both mesmerising and ever so delicate to look at. It was indeed quite breathtaking and the whole city seems to be awaken to this magnificent realism, with thousands gathered with family and friends to celebrate this once a year event.
And aside from the blossoms, Tokyo is a fascinating place to explore. By all means, it is a very large place but within what seems to be chaos, there is always a sense of calm and organised momentum. The energy was contagious and there are so much to do. As it was our first visit, the natural order of things were visits to the Meiji Shrine and Sensoji Temple as well as the once and only Tsukiji Fish Market. On top of a very long to do list, the shopping in Tokyo was absolutely unbelievable. Here, you can find anything from International Designers to national labels. There were no shortages of places to wander from an area known as Ginza lined with high end shops to a more alternative choices along the Takeshita Dori. So whatever your fashion preference is, Tokyo is a city that will not disappoint.

And my favourite part, the exquisite flowers wherever I went
Tokyo Shrines
After Tokyo, we took the train approximately 1 1/2 hour to Hakone, a small town up by the mountains famed for its hot springs. The weather was a lot cooler and damp yet the scenery was surreal. There were some signs of blossoms but for me, the real attractions were the surrounding natural habitat. Thick fog covered the sky but the beautiful curvature of tree lines seemed to wash all that gloominess away. We wanted to have a real traditional experience so it just had to be the Gora Kadan in Hakone where we stayed as an accustomed Japanese would. First impression was pure serenity as all that was cold and dark outside evaporated once you entered the main entrance of the hotel. Staff greeted us with hot tea while we sat by branches of white blossoms listening to the pouring rain. The architecture was simple yet inviting and alluring. One cannot help but feel a sense of relaxation and tranquility overcoming any previous sentiment of a long and cold train journey. During our time there, the rain never stopped so we truly spoiled ourselves with the hotel amenities that included bathing in the hot springs (indoor and outdoor under the rain) and feasting on a delicious kaiseki (multi course) dinner and breakfast all in the comfort of our room. Needless to say, there was not a need to leave the hotel except when we had to depart and on to our next destination, Osaka.

More on Osaka, Hiroshima and Kyoto in Part 3 of our Japanese adventures but first, I must share with you the most delicious and innovative meal we have ever had right here in Tokyo and in the most obscure place, Kogetsu, in Part 2 coming up next so stay tuned……

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