In 2015, I set foot in Japan for the first time and instantly fell in love. At the start of 2016, Jia and I were fortunate enough to learn Japanese under the wonderful Morikawa-san. Since it would be a waste if we did not put what we learnt to practical use, it was a straightforward decision to come back for Jia's graduation trip.
In our previous trip, we spent too short a time in the metropolis of Tokyo. This time, we decided to focus on exploring the wonders of Tokyo and make two short trips to the nearby areas of Fuji Five Lakes and Izu Peninsula (a weekend destination popular with the residents of Tokyo).
We landed at Narita Airport and took the Keisei Skyliner into Tokyo, on which we received a good dose of Japanese hospitality from the friendly conductor.
From Shinjuku station, we took a bus to our first destination - the Fuji Five Lakes area.
We stayed at a small ryokan by the smallest of the five lakes - Lake Shoji. In the previous trip, we went to Hakone, but we didn't get to see Mt Fuji as it was too foggy. This time, we were blown away.
We went around the Fuji Five Lakes area for different views of the revered mountain.
And some other sights along the way.
This is Yamadaya Hotel, a small family-run ryokan where we stayed for 2 nights. They served dinner and breakfast and the spread was very impressive. They also changed the menu for us on the 2nd night of our stay.
There are 2 private onsen rooms that guests can book for half-hour slots. We chose the sunrise slot.
We were supposed to wake up early to catch locals fishing on the quiet lake. Alas, Jia's tatami proved to be too comfortable.
From Fuji, we went down south to the Izu Peninsula.
We trekked along the rugged Jogasaki Coast, listening to the waves crashing (and irrationally fearing for the next tsunami). The beautiful shapes on the coastline were formed when the lava flowing out of a volcano met the Pacific Ocean.
Taking the ropeway, we went up Mt Omuro, an extinct volcano. It is now covered with grass and offers spectacular views of the peninsula.
We visited Ito, a quaint onsen town, famous for Tokaikan, a hot spring ryokan built of wood from the early Showa period.
Shirahama Beach was dotted with surfers despite the drizzle and freezing winds, but the weather quickly turned fine and we spent much longer than we expected on the beach.
After 5 days, we finally headed back to Tokyo. This time, we chose the quiet (in comparison to Shinjuku) neighbourhood of Asakusa.
It is home to the famous Sensoji and there are photos to be made on every turn.
We had a view of the Sumida River from our hostel.
With the Tokyo Skytree lit up, Sumida River is even more beautiful at night. It was drizzling the night we took a stroll along the river (pardon the water droplets in the photos).
It is always slightly challenging to navigate the intertwined subway lines of Tokyo, but once you get familiar, it becomes very convenient to get around. Be sure to get the Tokyo Subway Ticket!
The streets of Tokyo are filled with colours.
And Mario Karts.
We went to picnic at Yoyogi Park. As it was transitioning from spring to summer, there was plenty of sunlight but still rather cooling. Perfect.
Coincidentally, there was a massive political demonstration going on.
We then visited the nearby Meiji Shrine in the evening.
Sometimes, I wonder if we are only here for the food.
Special mention goes to this tiny shop selling shio (salt) ramen. There are no signs on the outside, just a pork bone hung on a chain to indicate that the shop is open. There are only a couple of seats, and all are by the counter.
The Yakitori Alleys (one at Shinjuku and the other in Ginza) are particularly charming. Okay, we just couldn't resist the skewers and had to visit both.
Based on the advice of an Israeli couple we met at the yakitori, we walked over to the Tokyo International Forum where there were food stands and musical performances.
One night, we took a train ride up to Saitama to watch the Urawa Red Diamonds and Pohang Steelers play out a 1-1 draw in the AFC Champions League. The match was rather eventful, with each team awarded a penalty and a scuffle between both sets of players at full-time. We also got to witness firsthand the legendary Red Wall support.
On other nights, we roam the streets of Shinjuku.
This second trip allowed us to experience even more of Japan and we just can't get enough. We will be back soon.