This is how i feel right now (pic courtesy of http://kilroyart.deviantart.com/art/Happy-Totoro-198516681)

Oh yeah, I’m going back to Japan!  I have my flights booked to head back to the amazing land of the rising sun. So yeah, I am pretty excited.

I am heading away for just under 4 weeks at the end of the year…. the middle of winter! The timing fits in with work holidays, but also because my friends Glen and Ayako (and Masato!) should be there at the start of my trip. The opportunity to spend some time with them in Ayako’s hometown is too good an opportunity to pass up. Plus it is a great chance to see a different season, quite the opposite from last time’s hot, humid, and rainy visit.

So this blog entry is just me starting to bounce around ideas of what to do. I will work out a rough plan before I go, just in case I need to book any places in the snow, but I also don’t mind leaving a bit up in the air. Keeping in mind last time I spent quite a bit of time in Kyoto and Tokyo, and saw all the big sights there, and visited Hiroshima and Takayama, here is my first pass at what I might do…

1. Starting in Nagoya

Nagoya Castle (photo from Japan-Guide)

Ayako’s family is from that area, so my plan is to start there. I don’t really know anything about Nagoya, except that is a fairly decent sized city, and not that far (relatively) from Osaka. This time is really just about hanging out with friends and soaking up local hospitality. Whatever I get up to will be fun no doubt.

2. Ise

Entry to the Inner Shrine at Ise (photo from Japan-Guide)

Ise was one place I considered going to last time but just didn’t have a spare day. This time I won’t make the same mistake. Ise is a small city on the Shima Peninsula, and is apparently home to some pretty amazing shines and temples. Not far from Nagoya so this will be a no brainer… either as a day trip when I am staying there, or on my way to Kyoto. The only problem might be heading there so close to New Year… supposedly the shrine there is absolutely packed as millions of people visit Ise-jingu to start their year. That could be amazing in itself.

3. Back to Kyoto

This is a lot of Torii (Fushimi-Inari, photo from Japan-Guide)

I just adored Kyoto (and its surrounds) when I visited last year. I spent hours and hours wandering gorgeous temples, parks, forests, and the city itself. There were some key places I didn’t get to, so I have to go back and fill those gaps. Plus what is not to love about hanging out in Kyoto, jumping on a bike, and soaking it all up again.

Must visits that I didn’t catch last time are probably the temples in Northern Higashiyama (including Nanzen-ji, Gingkaku-Ji, and the Philosophers Path), the Imperial Palace, Daitoku-ji, and Fushimi-inari (the temple with the thousands of torii).

4. Kanazawa

Kanazawa Gardens (photo from Japan-Guide)

One city that I will consider is Kanazawa. I don’t really know that much except it apparently has some pretty crazy gardens and is surrounded by some quaint fishing villages. A little out of the way up on the coast, due north of Nagoya it could be something nice and different. Maybe I will head there first, on my way from Tokyo to Nagoya?

5. Up into the Mountains around Nagano

Just hanging out with the Snow Monkeys (photo from Japan-Guide)

This time I plan to get off the beaten track a bit more and the area surrounding Nagano is high up there, for a few reasons… onsen, snow, monkeys, and snow monkeys.

Top of my visit to Japan this time is to meet the fine residents of the Jigokudani Monkey Park. Snow Monkeys! This would be cool beyond belief.

Just near the monkey park is a small onsen town called Shibu Onsen. Apparently they have 9 bath houses that brings good fortune if you visit all of them. A made up tradition to get tourists? Maybe. But who cares? A couple of days doing nothing but visit snow monkeys and soak in onsen sounds perfect to me.

I really need to do some snowboarding while I am there too. I need to have a think about how much. One issue is that my back is a bit dodgy these days, but two, I will head to…

6. Hokkaido

Niseko Annupuri Mountain (photo from Japan Guide)

I will definitely have a rail pass again, and this time I want to really exploit it to get some out of the way places. Hokkaido, the northern most island of Japan is pretty  out of the way.

Hakodate is apparently a nice stop on the way, just on the southern tip of Hokkaido. “Enjoy fresh seafood for breakfast” at the morning markets says Japan Guide. Sounds OK to me.

Hokkaido is home to the main city of Sapporo (yes, the beer!), huge national parks, and shed-loads of snow, this could be my main snow activity destination. Again, not sure how much boarding I will be able to do, but if I visit the massive snow fields of Niskeo, how can I resist snow fields that get 15 metres of powder snow a year?

7. Nikko

Toshogu Shrine in Nikko (photo from Japan Guide)

It must be about time to start heading back to Tokyo to fly home. Kikko was somewhere I intended to visit last time, but again time was my enemy. Nikko seems a lot like Nara, in that it is a small town full of temples and shrines. Conveniently it is on the path heading back south to Tokyo so might be nice to have a couple of days there to chill out.

8. Finish in Tokyo

Sumo!!! (photo from Japan Guide)

Like last time I imagine I will finish in Tokyo. It is convenient in that it gets me close to the airport, but that also means if I get my timing right I can have my rail pass finish as I arrive in Tokyo and then it is just local trains to finish my travels.

No real plans for Tokyo, since I spent quite a bit of time there last visit. But three things on the agenda…

First things first… THERE IS A SUMO TOURNAMENT ON WHEN I AM THERE! Yep. Sumo. How freakin’ amazing would that be? I know what I have to do to get tickets, so let’s see if I can.

Secondly, there is a new exhibition on at the Ghibli Museum WHERE ADULTS GET TO GO ON CAT BUS! Yep. Riding on cat bus. How freakin’ amazing would that be? Fingers crossed that is still on when I am there.

Thirdly, and with less caps-lock, might be a visit to Kamakura, a costal town an hour south of Tokyo. Looks just like a cool place to visit to soak up some more traditional Japan before I head home.

Obviously there will also be some Akihabara shenanigans, record shopping, and maybe chasing some more weirdos in Harajuku. Maybe I might even head to Hakone to get a closer look at Fuji if I have time. Then, quite sadly, it will be back home.

So that is what I reckon I might get up to. Oh, and of course I will be chasing kit kats. Of course. Anway, if anyone happens to chance across my blog and read this post, please feel free to let me know what I might have missed! I will keep you posted in the lead up to my trip.

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