Last year, when anyone asked me which country at the top of my travel wish list – my answer, without hesitation was Japan.
It’s a county that has always fascinated me. I think part of the attraction is the mystery of the unknown. As well as being a place of striking beauty and diversity, Japan is often described as ‘the closest you’ll ever get to visiting another planet’.
So when I was invited by Lonely Planet to join Kash Bhattacharya from Budget Traveller and Abi King from Inside the Travel Lab in Japan for a special video project in collaboration with Japan National Tourism Organisation, I couldn’t have been more excited. I’ve always loved Lonely Planet’s guide books and it was a huge privilege to be involved in such a big campaign to promote Japan.
*** Exciting prize announcement: You can have a chance to win 1 of 10 flights to Japan by clicking here and voting for your favourite blogger. ***
So what happened in Japan?
Kash, Abi and I each visited different parts of Japan and were given challenges to discover its many wonders.
My first challenge was to find unique food experiences in Kyoto – Japan’s ancient capital. The city is packed full of temples, shrines and palaces and I imagined I was stepping back in time as I wandered down the narrow streets of the Gion district and spotted Maiko (apprentice Geiko, Kyoto’s version of Geisha) walking towards me.
Food highlights included having a vegetarian temple breakfast with a Buddhist monk and I also tried Kyoto style home cooking at an ‘Obanzai Ryori’ restaurant called Renkonya. You can read about both experiences here or watch the Lonely Planet video here.
My second task was to find unique cultural experiences in Osaka. I went to Graf Studio – a collaborative modern art space, a cafe and a shop that showcases local artwork. I was also very privileged to witness traditional Japanese Noh theatre; the oldest existing type of theatrical performance in the world. The moves mimic the gestures of Samurai warriors and the whole performance is masked and accompanied by live music. What an experience!
Finally, I had to find one common and one lesser known attraction in Nara. I visited Nara Park and befriended some semi-tame deer and then had a pottery lesson. You can read all about my deer encounters or watch the Lonely Planet sights and activities video here.
Japan impressed me in so many ways. The food I tried in Japan was hands down the best I’ve ever tasted anywhere in the world. I never had a bad meal. So much care and precision goes into making the dishes; from sourcing the freshest quality ingredients to making the food look like artwork on the plate. You can read more about my guide to Japanese food here.
I always felt safe in Japan and I think that is hugely important, especially for solo travellers. Japanese people are wonderful to be around; they are so kind and polite and made me feel welcome everywhere I visited. Even if they didn’t speak English, the people I met always went out of their way to try and help.
Japan is the perfect blend of the old and new. Imagine a place with zen gardens, historic temples, a robot restaurant, ryokans, anime, geisha, onsens, cat cafes, owl cafes, samurai and more! Japan has it all!
If you want to know even more about Japan – check out these 60 things that surprised me about Japan here.
Special thanks go to Yutaka Yamamoto for being there throughout filming & working relentlessly to make this campaign a success. Thanks to our brilliant producer Christa Larwood who taught us so much, our talented director of photography Ryan Newman and the mastermind with sound Gus Berry. We were very lucky to be guided around by our knowledgeable and entertaining fixer Chikayo Morijiri. Huge thanks also to Ivey Hanson, Seb Neylan, Emma Sparks, Katie Johnson, Matt Parish, Matthew Sterling, Mike Johansen and all of the amazing team at Lonely Planet for your great organisation, JNTO and all of those who helped bring this exciting project together.
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