In a wonderful whirlwind of a trip, my mom, brother, and I spent our (extended) Golden Week zooming around Japan and visiting nine different prefectures in only 15 days!
For speed, economy, and convenience, we travelled exclusively by train. At first we were worried – Golden Week is a period of four national holidays over seven days and is a notoriously busy travel season. Because Mom and Bro wouldn’t be able to buy their tickets with their Japan Rail Pass (a very useful discount card) until they actually landed in Japan only a few days before the start of Golden Week, we were afraid that the train tickets would sell out. However, we had a great itinerary planned where we travelled on the less-busy days and we managed to get all of our train tickets on the short notice without any problems – yay! In fact, by the end of the 15 days, we had covered over 2,300 km of train tracks (2,000 km of which were aboard various Shinkansen bullet train lines), not including all of our subway rides!
My mom and brother arrived here in Akita on Wednesday, April 23. They were exhausted and jet-lagged after travelling for over 30 straight hours, so our days in Akita were pretty quiet. However, they did get to see the cherry blossom festival in Honjo Park and they got to see Mount Chokai! We even ate tonkatsu with other city ALTs at one of my favourite restaurants.
On Friday, I brought Mom and Bro to my junior high school where I introduced them to the teachers and a few classes of students. I had taken the day off, so we weren’t at school long before we headed to Akita City for furniture shopping, curry and rice, and ice cream. Yum!
It was a tight squeeze, but I loved having my mom and brother staying with me in my tiny apartment. Mom and I even got to watch an episode of Glee together, just like old times!
We didn’t linger long in Akita – the rest of Japan awaited us! Bright and early on Saturday morning, we hopped on the Shinkansen to Nagoya in Aichi Prefecture. Despite travelling by bullet train for most of it, the journey still took us almost eight hours!
Nagoya was a whirlwind. We had less than 24 hours in the city to see everything we wanted to see, and I have to say, I think we did a pretty good job! We chose Nagoya because we wanted to break up the long train ride from Akita to Kyoto – we didn’t want to waste an entire day travelling on a train, so having a stop-over in Nagoya allowed us to see a different part of Japan while still being on course for Kyoto.
We got in to Nagoya around 3pm. Our first stop (after checking in at our hotel!) was the Noritake Gardens. My mom loves their china, so we were excited to see the shop, but the surrounding gardens turned out to be beautiful, too! Bro made friends with the koi and posed with some Children’s Day koi flags!
After, we boarded the subway to Midland Square and the Sky Promenade Observation Deck. Sky Promenade is the highest outdoor observation deck in Japan (although by “outdoor” they simply mean it doesn’t have a roof over part of it). Because it’s on the 46th floor of the tallest building in Nagoya, we had a beautiful view! I always love visiting observation decks and this one was no exception. Having no roof, it was quite windy (and cold!) in some parts, but it was really cool to see Nagoya from so high up!
We didn’t stay long because we were tired and hungry, so we grabbed a late supper of Japanese curry and rice before heading to the hotel to crash.
On Sunday morning, we woke up early and headed straight for Nagoya Castle. Many buildings and parts of the castle grounds are actually under renovation/restoration, including the still-under-restoration-but-open-to-the-public Honmaru Palace. The Palace was beautiful! Although the original Palace was burnt down during World War II, the restored Palace is said to be an exact replica, down to the gold leaf-covered panels. The panels with the traditional paintings were stunning! We even got to meet one of the men who helped with the restoration.
Of course, we went in the main castle itself (called the Main Donjon) and spent some time walking through the different floors. They had observation windows in the top (7th) floor with a nice view of downtown Nagoya!
It was sunny and really hot that day, so we cooled off in the castle grounds with green tea ice cream (delicious!) and admired the view. It was a wonderful morning!
Running out of time, but still wanting to see something Toyota-related, we walked to the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology. We by-passed a lot of the fabric industry-related part of the museum (I had no idea that making looms was how Toyota started!), but we really enjoyed the part dedicated to the Toyota cars! We got to see a full-sized model of the first ever car and truck made by Toyota, as well as a many other full-sized models of different types of cars produced by Toyota since. The staff were so friendly and spoke enough English. It was a nice stop!
By this point we were running quite late, so we dashed back to the hotel to grab our bags before literally running to the train station. We made our Shinkansen to Kyoto with only two minutes to spare – phew! After that, we vowed never to cut making our trains that close again!
Next stop, Kyoto!