A Bit Off Japan’s Beaten Path

It is time to say goodbye to Hong-Kong.

Dear Hong-Kong, thank you for the scorching heats and dripping sweats from the armpit of hell, the delicious pork barbecue, the stinging incense in your temples, and the pumping beat of your underground music. You are a city I have come to love and despise at the same time, but I can say that there is nowhere else like you and I am so privileged to have spent this time with you…

But hello Japan!

Japan is one of the most mystical, captivating countries in the world (in my opinion). I have been lucky enough to visit several times, so I struggle with what kind of rambles I can offer the world on the much photographed and talked-about nation. I’m not a good “10 best things to see in Tokyo!” writer, so let me see what I can add to the black hole that is the internet. So here are some off the beaten path places I think are worth the journey when heading to Japan.

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Getting out of Tokyo, we (Ivana aka Black Hummus Diaries and my mom) headed to a cute Airbnb in a town called Omachi near Nagano.

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I can not recommend getting out into the little towns of Japan enough. There is no better way to experience the beautiful culture than to wander crunchy snow paths through ancient forests to come upon an elegant Shinto shrine. We rented a car, which I would recommend to view all of the nearby shrines and nature spots wherever you may go.

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Getting back into civilization, most people go to Kyoto at some point in their Japanese adventure. This is a fantastic city, but it is of course rather touristy. But some cities are touristy for all the right reasons. Kyoto is steeped with some of the most interesting and historical temples in the country.

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To see a temple off the beaten path, head to Otagi Nenbetsu-Ji to see the 1,200 little disciple statues.

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They’re all moss covered and whimsical, lending a whole Ghibli film kind of feel to the temple. Well worth the journey.

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(Photo creds to Ivana)

The neighborhood nearby is worth a walk as well to get a look at a different, more countryside feeling of Kyoto. Tiny cute shops and soba restaurants abound, making for a cozy stroll to beat the crowds.

For a day trip, we made our way to Nara to feed the deer and see a different side of the Holy part of Japan. While I have been before, I am glad to have experienced the enchanting city once again. Get into the hills behind Nara park to see some more wild deer and hillside shrines away from the crowds.

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Tokyo, while big, is quite a fun city to visit and worth the trip. It is the kind of city that requires years to unravel, but there is one additional neighborhood I would recommend visiting along the usual Ginza, Shibuya, and Shinjuku stops.

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The neighborhood around Shimo-Kitazawa station is one of the best up-and-coming areas, with excellent (and cheap) thrift shops and restaurants. I learned about the neighborhood after reading Banana Yoshimoto’s novel, Moshi Moshi, and decided I had to visit on my next trip to Tokyo. I was certainly not disappointed. The neighborhood is full of locals shopping or grabbing a coffee. But the neighborhood should be on any thrift shoppers list with some real bargain shops around. Chicago would be my recommendation for male thrift shopping.

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Japan is full of wonderful sites, sounds, and flavors. So much so that I, even as I write this, struggle with what I should be typing. I hope these couple stops have been useful for your Japanese adventure, or have spiked a curiosity to make one.

Thank you for reading, and there are more rambles to come soon!

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