“Japan has much too much to offer for just one holiday.” When she travelled to Japan the first time, Austrian Airlines fan Judith was surprised to find it was every bit as beautiful – beautifully kitsch – as the travel guides had said it would be. Too beautiful, you might say, to only visit once. And too beautiful for only one travel report.
Japan does have the appearance of being slightly kitsch in some travel guides. Even though Mount Fuji’s always enveloped in cloud, any other photos of the country you see will be dominated by brilliant blue skies, blazing sunshine, turquoise seas and radiant green forests and gardens. And indeed, venture beyond the city limits of grey Tokyo, and you’ll soon find out that all that natural perfection wasn’t just invented by the travel guides !
Taking time to get out of Tokyo itself is well worth the effort. Japan has one huge advantage over other destinations – it’s very comfortable, practical and quick to travel around the country by train . The Japan Rail Pass is designed especially for tourists, and should be ordered at the travel agency before you leave. It’s good for seven, 14 or 21 days. Then there’s nothing to stop you setting out on a wild adventure by train anywhere you want in the country.
First stop: Tokyo
If you’ve never visited a mega-city like Tokyo , then prepare to be impressed – and possibly a little overwhelmed at the same time. The Japanese capital is hugely varied, loud, colourful, shrill, romantic and exciting, and has something new and more astonishing to offer on the corner of every street. Fashion victims will simply love it here , as will lovers of the arts and anyone interested in history .
From the styled Ginza district , through the vibrant and colourful Shinjuku , to Tokyo Bay , probably at its most romantic in the evening. You can get around quickly and easily by underground , but be sure to avoid the rush hours. Even Japanese people who know the system absolutely inside out often find it difficult to squeeze in through the doors then.
Quick fun fact: it’s forbidden to make phone calls on Tokyo’s underground trains. This doesn’t stop the locals busily typing messages into their smartphones, of course, but it’s still quieter than you might expect on the trains, which are often full to bursting with people.
Be sure to take a stroll through the Ikeburo district, with its impressive shopping centres, and the entertainment and shopping district of Shinjuku at least once. While there, take a detour to Shibuya Crossing , where vast crowds of people scramble in every imaginable direction across the crossings, once a minute, every minute, when the traffic lights turn green. The best time to see this spectacle is when it’s already dark, when the effect is even more enduring because it’s not just produced by the acoustic drone of the crowds of people, advertising jingles and shopping music, but also by the optical impression of the neon signs.
When the weather’s good, the platforms of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices offer an amazing view over the city. The best place to learn about Tokyo’s history is at the Edo-Tokyo Museum . And if you’re a fan of anime, be sure to book the hotly sought-after tickets for the famous Ghibli Museum before you leave home.
And finally , romantics and fans of the sea and all its wonders should be sure to make the long journey by underground train to Tokyo Bay . The shopping centre directly next to the Marine Museum offers a variety of restaurants with a view on the kitsch but romantic sunset over Tokyo . If you want to relax in between all that tiring sightseeing, you’re best off taking a break in one of the city’s wonderful parks. It’s hard to believe, in fact, just how quiet it can be in such a deafening city.
Living over the top
If luxury’s your thing, then you’re best off visiting the Park Hyatt Tokyo , as seen in the film ‘Lost in Translation’ . The bar and hotel are certainly worth seeing and experiencing, and it’s hard to find such an amazing view anywhere else in Tokyo. Those with a slightly lower budget should book early and choose carefully. Hotels are expensive in this city. If you want to go out, you’re best off looking for a hotel in the right district, because taxi rides can be prohibitively expensive as well. Alternatively, just stay at the club until the underground starts running again the next morning.
Singing karaoke at the Whirlpool or crossing the road with 15,000 people at the same time : click here to find out what else you should be sure not to miss in Tokyo. The second part of Judith’s travel report takes us south. That’s where she meets the traditional Japan, living (!) national treasures, and anything but sushi. By the way , with Austrian Airlines you can fly non-stop from Vienna to Tokyo every day (except Wednesdays); to find low-priced flights right now, just click here .