One of my favourite things to do is travel, from planning itineraries to exploring a new city. I’ve already visited a tonne of places in Japan, but even so, I’m itching to visit more.
Last year I compiled a list of my top travel goals and it really helped with deciding where to stay next so I figured: why not do it again? Now updated for early 2020, here’s where I want to go this year…
Hiroshima & Miyajima
Originally, this was going to be my next big trip. I’d started researching, looking at hostels and night buses, but after consulting a few websites, there was one issue that threw a spanner into the works. One of the main draws to Hiroshima Prefecture is Itsukushima Shrine in Miyajima, and I was more than a little interested in going. It’s famous for its great red torii standing a short way off the shore, and the rest of the shrine is beautiful too.
However, the iconic gate is currently undergoing renovations, so it’s covered by scaffolding and black netting. While a similar thing happened at Kiyomizu-dera and it was still a good time regardless, I’d rather wait until it’s finished before I make my way down there.
As well as Miyajima, I’d like to pay a visit to Hiroshima City itself. I feel like it’s important to learn from the horrors of the past, and even though it may not be what you’d usually do on a vacation, I want to take a trip to the Atomic Bomb Dome, the Peace Memorial Museum and its accompanying park. I’ve already seen the memorial at Ofuna’s Kannonji temple, and that was enough to make me feel something, so I think I’ll have to be careful about how well I can handle seeing the location itself.
Despite its past, Hiroshima does have more to give, and I want to see it as it is today – a city which literally rebuilt itself from the ashes and survived in spite of unimaginable loss. If that’s not inspiring, I don’t know what is.
One of my main character flaws is the fact that I’m a huge perfectionist who has a slight obsession with completing collections and challenges. During my travels in Japan, I thought: “why not take it to the next level? Why not visit all four main islands?” I’ve already done Kyushu twice, and I live on Honshu, so it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to include Shikoku and Hokkaido… right?
I haven’t yet decided which of the prefectures to go to, with all four having interesting things to do and see. From Matsuyama in Ehime, with the famous Dogo Onsen which inspired Natsume Soseki’s Bocchan, Kochi Castle in (yep, you guessed it) Kochi, the Awa Odori museum in Tokushima which teaches visitors about the traditional dance from the area, and all the way round to Yashima Temple with its views of the Seto Island Sea in Takamatsu, it’s hard to choose. If I had unlimited time and money, I’d seriously consider doing all four. My travel diary might be filling up, but you never know, I haven’t decided what to do for my birthday this year…
Like I mentioned with Shikoku, my perfectionist ‘collect everything’ side would hate me if I didn’t go to Hokkaido too. I’ve wanted to go for a while – even before I moved to Japan – so it beats Shikoku on that front.
I want to prioritise going to Sapporo because, as the capital, it just makes sense. I’m really interested in visiting the Sapporo Beer Museum, and if I time my visit for the summer vacation, I can also check out the Beer Festival that’s held in Odori Park (another one of the city’s main sights). There are quite a few other museums, old buildings, and places to learn more about Japan’s northern island, including the Hokkaido Ainu Center.
The Ainu is the indigenous population of the Hokkaido region, and for the most part, their culture has been suppressed by their neighbours in the south. However, much like Wales and the Welsh language, the Ainu language and culture are being preserved and kept alive by their people. As a linguist, this is something I find fascinating and I would love to learn more.
Hakodate is another city I’d like to cross off if I manage to visit the area. Like Yokohama and Kobe, it has a history of foreign trade dating back to the mid 1800s, and you can see those influences in some of the architecture. I’m not sure how the logistics would work, but I’d probably try and do a day trip there. I’d also really like to go to the city of Wakkanai, which is the most northern point of the entire country, only 43km away from Russia. That one might be a little ambitious though.
At the time of writing, the famous snow festival recently ended, and I suddenly had an influx of posts on my social media feeds, sowing a little seed of doubt in my original decision. I was certain that I’d try and visit Hokkaido one summer, escaping some of the unbearable heat in Kanto, while avoiding the crowds and freezing temperatures of the winter tourist season. However, seeing the wide streets of Sapporo covered in white snow was enough to shift my mindset a little.
It’s fair to say that I prefer to see snow from a distance, with my circulation system barely equipped for British weather, let alone Northern Japan (damn you, Raynaud’s). But after seeing those photos I hesitated, thinking how much of a great experience it would be, regardless of any pain the weather might cause. I mean, there’s not much saying I can’t do both times if I save up money…
I’m really hoping I can visit at least one of these places this year, because last time I wrote a post like this, it actually motivated me to travel more and I crossed off practically all of them within a few months! I doubt I’ll be able to have as many trips this time around but I have an indeterminate amount of time left in Japan and I want to make the most of it. Just typing this out is tempting me to start booking things, but for now I’ll have to be patient.
Which of these places would you like to visit most? Let’s see which is the most popular!