Round the World in 50 Days – Stage 1: Japan

See Japan in three days!

Well of course you can’t, but the three days I spent exploring the Tokyo area and the foothills of Mount Fuji provided me with a flavour of Japan and whetted my appetite for future, longer visits.

Great Pagoda of Peace, Naritasan Park
Great Pagoda of Peace, Naritasan

At the start of my Round the World trip, I wanted to break up my flight from London to Australia whilst avoiding the usual stop-over venues in the Gulf States and SE Asia as I had already visited these areas. My British Airways RTW ticket allowed me to travel further north, so Japan, a place I had not previously visited, was the answer. Unfortunately my tight RTW itinerary would only allow for a three day stop, so I had to plan my time carefully.

I decided to stay at a hotel close to Narita International Airport in order to avoid wasting time in transfers, whilst having access to good transportation from the airport into Tokyo and beyond. This turned out to be a good decision in that Narita itself proved an interesting place to visit.

I stayed at Narita Holiday Inn, now called the Narita Tobu Airport Hotel. Nothing special about this hotel, but was pleased with the views from my 10th floor room, until shaken by a strong earth tremor on the second night! The hotel staff seemed to think nothing of it.

My first day in Japan – after the overnight flight from London – was devoted to visiting Tokyo, an easy train journey from Narita International Airport to Shinjuku station. It was fascinating to see how many people, schoolchildren to businessmen, got on the train and seemed immediately to fall asleep, although waking up almost by cue as their station approached. It was also curious to see how many people wore face masks; did they know something we didn’t!

Mount Fuji from Lake Kawaguchi
Mount Fuji from Lake Kawaguchi

The day in Tokyo was bit of a disaster. After managing to extricate ourselves from Shinjuku station, not an easy task with several floors of platforms and shops, and more than 200 exits, we emerged into torrential rain that did not stop all day. So, although I saw some of the sites of Tokyo, such as the Meiji Shrine and the Shibuya Crossing (thousands of brightly-coloured umbrellas converging), I didn’t take a single photograph. I suppose the same could have happened in London, although the rain that day seemed that much more intense and persistent. At least I did manage to sort out the coach journey from Shinjuku coach station to the Mount Fuji district for the next day.

On the coach journey to Lake Kawaguchi, nestling below Mount Fuji, it was interesting to see the way that almost every flat piece of land was taken up with buildings squeezed closely together.

There are two great ways to view Mount Fuji from the Kawaguchi area: from a lake boat trip on the Ensoleille sightseeing boat and from the cable-car (the so-called Mt Kachi-Kachi Ropeway) which takes you up to 1000 metres. Although not a bright sunny day, it was at least rain-free and Mount Fuji was clearly viewed from both of these vantage points.

Narita fair shop display
Narita fair shop display

I spent the final day in Narita town. It happened to coincide with the annual Hatsu Fudō fair and so the shops throughout the town and additional stalls were resplendent. The fair centred around the Naritasan Park, a temple complex which includes fours Halls and two Pagodas. The attached Naritasan gardens feature as one of my Top Ten Gardens of the world, not because of its size – it is only 41 acres – or the number and variety of plant species, but because of the way that the gardens blend in perfectly with the majestic temple buildings. There are three lakes surrounded by luscious woodland including plum trees and cherry blossom.

So that was my three days in Japan, but I’ll be back. Next stop Australia – see Stage 2: Australia, Tasmania.