Trip Summary

We’ve had an amazing trip, greatly improved our Japanese skills, visited all kinds of interesting places, and went from exploring frozen caves and giant ice statues in freezing weather to sunbathing on a tropical beach. Now that we’re back home, let’s summarize the trip! Photo highlights and links to all the daily posts below!


We planned the trip for months before departing. We got admitted to a language school after an online interview, made a map of places we wanted to visit, charted a route through them, booked all our lodgings, and bought plane tickets and railway passes. You can read more about this in the first two posts:

Part 1: School in Tokyo

We spent all of February in Tokyo, living in a little AirBnB apartment, going to school for three hours every weekday, and exploring the city in the afternoons and evenings. On weekends we went on trips that couldn’t be part of the main traveling route that we took during the second part of our stay.


We arrived a couple days before school started, got settled in, and visited some Tokyo landmarks, like Harajuku, the fashion district, and TeamLab Planets, an immersive art installation.

Week 1: School Starts

This week we started school. We instantly loved the learning aspect of it, but Rachel was still somewhat nervous at class because everything was very new and overwhelming. We explored many different Tokyo restaurants, and established our tradition of having way too many desserts, which we kept throughout the rest of the trip.

Weekend 1: A Northern Adventure

This weekend was our first side trip. On Friday evening we took a plane to Hokkaido, the Northern island of Japan to visit three different winter festivals, then spent Saturday night in a spare room of a cat cafe. On Sunday we got to explore a historical village and try out a unique ice cream shop before flying back to Tokyo.

Week 2: Starting to Get Used to It

We were getting more and more used to school this week, and continued our exploration of Tokyo. We visited shrines, temples, and a museum, danced at a bar with a nun DJ, and even tailored a kimono for Rachel.

Weekend 2: Fuji Trip

We spent Friday night in a cabin near Mt Fuji and relaxed in the nearby hot spring baths, then explored frozen caves and a preserved village full of local folk art on Saturday. That evening we came back to Tokyo and spent the night at a karaoke establishment where we ate, drank, a sang until 5 AM the next day.

Week 3: Getting Comfortable

At this point we were very comfortable with our school life, and our little apartment started to feel like home. We visited more Tokyo landmarks, a variety of museums, and a pig cafe.

Weekend 3: Sakura Festival

This weekend we watched a Noh play, then went south to the Izu prefecture, where we spent the night at a ryokan with a private hot spring bath. On Sunday we continued to the seaside town of Kawazu where the earliest Sakura festival is held, and strolled through a riverside street surrounded by blooming sakura trees.

Week 4: Final Week of School

The last week of school was fun, and it was bittersweet saying goodbye to our teachers and classmates, as well as the little apartment that had become our home. We didn’t spend as much time exploring the city this week, but still got to visit an amusement park, make little bowls of ramen out of wax, and hang out at a language exchange meetup. Before leaving on the second part of our trip, we tried out a capsule hotel – interesting, but would not recommend.

Part 2: A Brief Tour of All of Japan

The second part of our trip, after we had finished school, consisted of traveling all over Japan, from Tokyo in the east to Okinawa in the southwest, mostly traveling via Japan’s amazing train network. We left our bags in Tokyo, and spent the next three weeks with nothing but our backpacks. We visited a new city almost every day, and got to see dozens of cool spots all over the country! Tiring, but well worth it!

From Tokyo to Kyoto

We departed from Tokyo to explore the central area of Japan. We first visited a wildlife reserve where monkeys hang out in hot springs amid a snowy landscape. Then we hiked the picturesque historical trail through the forest between two towns preserved since the Edo period.

Our next stop was Takayama, a town known for its festivals and local art. There we painted little clay figurines, and visited an 80s museum where we played retro games and Rachel practiced her piano skills on a pump organ.

After a stay in a traditional thatched-roof hut in the village of Shirakawa-go, we visited the famous Kenroku-en garden in Kanazawa, followed by the Hikone castle.

Kansai Region

Next we explored the Kansai region, starting with two days in Kyoto. The first day we visited a bamboo grove, explored the city on foot, and had a tea ceremony in the evening. The second day, after a night in a hotel where each room was a unique art installation, we joined a guided bike tour around various temples, then walked through the many torii gates of the Fushimi Inari shrine by ourselves.

After Kyoto we went to Nara, where tame deer wander the main park, subsisting on tourists’ ice cream. There we visited the world’s oldest wooden building, and continued to Osaka. In Osaka we visited the night-time TeamLab art installation, and spent the night at a hotel with robot dinosaur receptionists.

We finished the tour of this region by spending the night in a Buddhist temple at the monastery town of Mount Koya, and exploring the sprawling mountaintop herb garden in Kobe.

The Journey to the West

After Kansai we continued heading west. We visited the Himeji castle, and the picturesque little town of Kurashiki, where we walked the boulevards around the canal, visited an old merchant’s estate, and suffered a cuteness overdose at a manga museum.

Then we spent a day biking around Naoshima, a tiny island full of modern art museums. A ferry and a train brought us to Hiroshima, where we stayed a block away from where the nuclear bomb exploded, and visited the memorial museum that showed the aftereffects of the explosion.

From Hiroshima we visited Itsukushima, an island with a large deer population and a famous semi-submerged torii gate. We spent the night at an Edo period house with a renovated interior, which we rented in its entirety, and explored the nearby castle ruins and surrounding historical district. From there we visited a giant limestone cave and climbed through its “adventure course”.

Finally, we visited a historical park featuring a recreation of a village that stood on that site during Japan’s Yayoi period, between 300 BC to 300 AD. After this we ended up in Kagoshima, the southwestern tip of Japan’s main island.

Getting Subtropical

The final leg of our trip started with Yakushima, a heavily forested island which inspired the Ghibli movie Princess Mononoke. We hiked through the forests and stayed in a cottage in the woods owned by a local carpenter.

After that we spent a day biking around the tiny volcanic peninsula of Sakurajima, which was full of stray cats.

After that we flew to Okinawa, the Hawaii of Japan. There we visited a theme park showcasing local culture, flora, and fauna. We spent a night at a large beachside resort, where we enjoyed the subtropical beach, and Rachel even went snorkeling in an underwater cave.

Getting Home

We flew back to Tokyo, but after retrieving our bags, ended up missing our flight back to the US, arriving at the airport minutes after the check-in cut-off time. This cost us a lot of money, as well as a two-day delay, which we spent in a hotel by the airport. Our rebooked flight, on the other hand, was delayed for four hours, and together with a longer connection flight that we had to change to, we ended up spending 30 hours between arriving in Narita airport and landing in Portland. This was very tiring, but it felt so good to finally be back!