Cannot believe another year came to an end, and what a year it was. It is also the time when you want to reflect on the past 12 months and see what you have done, seen and accomplished. 2016 was filled with very sad events as well as absolutely amazing, rewarding and memorable experiences. We settled into our life in Japan, I got a full time job, and started to dedicate all my free time and effort to developing this blog. Most importantly, I started writing for a travel site Savvy Tokyo and am regularly published in a local travel paper Stars and Stripes Japan which was the biggest personal achievement for me. J and I decided that we would take our first year in Japan to explore this beautiful country, although we managed to squeeze in couple of international trips too. Here are my favorite 2016 travel highlights.
Kanamara Matsuri Penis Festival
It is a bit awkward to start with this one, but I wanted to go chronologically, so here you have it. Being one of the most bizarre festivals I have attended in Japan it was also endlessly hilarious and amusing. It definitely qualifies as only-in-Japan event and is worth attending if you happen to be in Tokyo around that time. Read more details here.
Mario Go-Karts Tour of Tokyo
If you want to have only-in-Tokyo experience then this is it. It simply doesn’t get any cooler than this quirky and exhilirating go-karts tour. We had a blast with our visiting friends and will never forget how fun it was whizzing via Shibuya Crossing as thousands of people were taking our photos and waving at us. The best part? You get to dress up in your favorite character costume! Read the details here.
Cherry blossom season in Japan
Japan is beautiful any time of the year, yes. Although, the fall and cherry blossom seasons are particularly otherwordly, and seeing it in person was an experience of a lifetime (you can imagine how much I am looking forward to spring 2017). For just one week the city is transformed into a fairy tale with oodles of fluffy white clouds everywhere. What some travelers might not know is that there are different types of cherry trees in Japan which bloom during different times. Most importantly, it is also the time to appreciate one of the most important cultural experiences in Japan – hanami, a tradition of picknicking under the cherry blossom trees with family and friends to take time and enjoy the temporal beauty of nature. Read more details here and here.
Hosting Parents in Japan
We were so happy to host J’s parents in Japan. This was the first time they visited us oversees and we were eager to show them around. We all traveled to Kyoto for the first time on a super-fast bullet train. My regular readers know how spellbound I am by the beautify of the former Imperial City, and have dedicated numerous posts sharing my travels and tips. Read all about it here.
Couple’s Getaway to Osaka, Kobe & Himeji
Summer was filled with many exciting short getaways, and a trip to Osaka with J was certainly memorable. While we enjoyed touring the second largest city in Japan and had a blast in Universal Studios, it was the trip to Himeji and Kobe that turned out to be the most noteworthy. Himeji Castle is considered to be the most beautiful among the original castles in Japan. After spending a few hours admiring the atonishing architechture and the interior, we headed to Kobe to savor the famous Kobe beef right from the source. It was every bit as delightful as we imagined. You can read more details here.
Trip to Takayama & Shirakawa-go
Summer blessed me with a new amazing friend Mandy who is one of the most adventurous, enthusiastic and positive people I have met. We also happened to be ideal travel and food partners which we discovered after a trip to Takayama and Shirakawa-go. At times words can be very limiting when you try to describe a place, and Shirakawa-go definitely is one of those places. It felt like we stepped in time and to a magical world straight from the story book. I will never forget those wonderful days and hope you, my lovely reader, will be able to visit Shirakawa-go too, to admire its beauty in person. Read details here and here.
Hosting Girlfriends in Japan
Any expat would agree that the biggest drawback of our lifestyle is being away from family and friends. I miss my friends so much and having two of my besties for couple of weeks was like a gust of fresh air. Poor girls, I was hyperactive as always and wanted to take them to all of my favorite places, talked endlessly and still couldn’t get enough of them. If I had to name just one memorable episode during our two-week ordeal, it would probably be a trip to Odaiba, when we braved a typhoon to sightsee and make most of the day. Read details of how to spend a rainy day in Tokyo here.
Trip to Hong Kong
Our trip to HK exceeded all our expectation and was a total success. From night cruise along the spectacular sparkling Victoria Harbor, tours of the Great Buddha and breathtaking views over the Peak, to the unforgettable fine dining scene, it was an experience we still can’t stop talking about. I strongly believe that HK is much more than an ideal stop-over city and deserves a proper tour. Read details about our adventurous there here.
Tokyo Character Cafes
I also got to check out Tokyo’s character cafes and my top picks of the year were Robot Restaurant, Kawaii Monster Café and Owl Café. I will be hitting more of these in 2017, so stay tuned for more quirky stuff!
Fall in Hitachi Seaside Park
In November we celebrated our Japaniversary with a trip to Hitachi Seaside Park to see the first signs of fall. It was a perfect timing as these fuzzy-looking kochia bushes (also known as kokia, fireweed, burning bush or summer cypress) just turned from verdant green to hot pink and cranberry color. How beautiful are they?? Read the details here.
Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Hiroshima & Miyajima in Fall
Last but not least, after admiring so many gorgeous photos on Pinterest I finally made my dream come true and planned a trip to Kyoto to see the famous momiji (colorful maple trees). Sadly, I arrived a tad late, since the foliage was past the peak season and some of the leaves were fading or completely fallen off the trees. However, I still got a chance to see some vibrant colors in a few temples. My goal on this trip was to discover some of the unique shrines I hadn’t seen before. One of the biggest surprises was awaiting me in Osaka where I spent a day admiring the grounds of a spectacular daibutsu temple. Most importantly, I finally visited three places on my bucket list: Nara, Miyajima and Hiroshima. All three trips were very special and I will tell you all about the latter two in the upcoming posts. Meanwhile, read about my trip to Osaka and Nara here and here.
Here’s to the future 365 days and happy adventures they will bring! Happy New Year, my lovely readers!