We started our journey in Tokyo. It is an amazing city with so many things to see and to do! We could have easily spent the whole 3 weeks in Tokyo alone. Especially interesting to see is how the big modern city meets the peaceful traditional Japanese way of life. We had two great tours around Asakusa and the area around the Imperial Palace with goodwill guides. They told us many interesting things about the Japanese culture and life, while showing us around. We wanted to see the cherry blossom in the beginning of April, but it was almost a bit too late in Tokyo and the petals were already falling off. We visited the Tokyo National Museum and the National Museum of Nature and Science and both are well worth the visit.
Mount Fuji and the Five Fuji lakes can be easily visited as a day trip by train from Tokyo. The mountain is often hidden in the clouds, but we managed to see it through a gap in the clouds. We were already walking back when we saw that the clouds are pulling away and ran back up to the Chureito Pagoda for the best photo spot. The gap closed 5 minutes after that... The cherry blossom was also much better there than in Tokyo, because of the higher elevation.
We left Tokyo heading to Kanazawa, but decided to do a stopover in Takayama to see the famous Spring Festival. The people of Takayama prepare richly decorated wooden floats with mechanical puppets on top. The floats are then pushed around the city's streets and in the end gather at the central square for a puppet show.
We stayed in Kanazawa for two day. The city is famous for its beautiful garden and for the well-preserved Samurai district. There you can also enter some of the museum houses. Another place worth visiting was the geisha district Higashi Chaya, where you can again enter one of the tea houses and learn more about the Geisha life.
Kyoto is a very special city with its countless temples and shrines, but we only managed to see some of them. We took a guided tour around the center which also showed us some of the many small manufacturing shops. Kyoto is also the city of the Geishas and we managed to see couple of them on the streets in the evening.
A trip to Japan is not complete without staying at a traditional Japanese guest house, called ryokan. You sleep in a tatami-matted room, you were a traditional yukata and a special dinner is brought to you in your room. The place we stayed also had a nice onsen with great views on the mountains.
We did another day trip to Nara - one of the old capitals of Japan. The city has some impressive temples and is also famous for the friendly and fearless deer which walk around everywhere in the city.
Our next stop was Hiroshima, which turned out to be a very pleasant city. We learned a lot about the atomic bombing dropped above Hiroshima in 1944 and the terrible consequences of it.
The island of Miyajima can be visited on a day trip from Hiroshima. It is a very pleasant place to spend half a day with a nice harbor and a tori gate put directly in the water so it appears to be floating.
On our way back to Osaka, we stopped to see the largest castle in Japan - Himeji Castle. It was truly impressive and very interesting with its white walls.
To learn more about Buddhism we spent one night in a Buddhist temple on Mount Koya. The monks there live a very simple life. They told us a lot about their religion and view on the world. We had an interesting Kanji tracing session in the evening and had an interesting with one of the monks. In the morning we also attended the morning ceremony. The whole mountain is a very spiritual place, especially when you are walking around the Okunoin Cemetery.
We only had one day in Osaka, so we couldn't explore a lot, but it has some interesting things to do like the Tempozan Ferris Wheel and the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan. The skyline of the city at night is also worth seeing!
Our trip ended on Ishigaki Island, Okinawa. The island is pretty far away from mainland Japan and only 40 kilometers from Taiwan. The city itself was nothing special, but there are some very nice beaches in the north. The highlight there was scuba diving and seeing the giant Manta rays that live in the waters around the island.