Sushi, Shrines, and Shinkansen – Touring Japan in Cherry Blossom


Travel together with One Planet Journey’s Valentina Pucciano as she goes touring in Japan, the Land of the Rising Sun. Her unforgettable adventure takes you to temples, national parks, and neighbourhoods in Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, Hiroshima, and Osaka, adorned with cherry blossoms. 


The Dream of Touring Japan

Once a traveller, always a traveller. A globetrotter’s mind constantly works to determine which country to prioritise for the next trip. For the last few years, East Asia’s culture has fascinated me; with Japan my top choice. I cannot deny that my childhood animated cartoon Sailor Moon, a Japanese manga, played a part in my eventual visit.

When deciding the best time to embark, cherry blossom season caught my attention.

Cherry blossom lining a street.
Cherry Blossom in Tokyo


Being stubborn, or I would rather say determined, I booked a flight during the last two weeks of March 2023 to experience the exquisite cherry blossoms. I paid almost £900 for a round-trip from London to Tokyo with British Airways. Considering the popular season, I think I did alright.

I travelled alone at first, then joined an organised group. My itinerary included Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, Hiroshima, and Osaka.

When planning this adventure, I wanted to immerse myself in the country’s culture, observing and learning from its citizens. They come across as patient, well-mannered and willing to help, and I felt confident in embracing their philosophy of never stop being curious and finding your reason for being.

After a 14 hour-direct flight, I landed in the Land of the Rising Sun, ready for my adventure to begin.

Sleepy, jet-lagged and with bags under my eyes, I arrived at my robot hotel in the Ginza district of Tokyo. Robot receptionists welcomed me in Japanese. Thankfully, I could press a button at the front desk for human assistance. Regardless of the eccentric and fun surprise of the robots at reception, I felt relieved to interact with humans. Despite the language barrier, I found Japanese people gentle and formal. But, above all, the country’s impeccable cleanliness impressed me as equal to none.

The excitement won over my tiredness, and soon I left the hotel to explore the city.

Female looking robot receptionist at a hotel.
Robot receptionist at Henn na Hotel in Ginza, Tokyo 



Tokyo is the largest metropolitan area in the world, with over 37 million people living in Greater Tokyo. Before the 17th century, Edo (the former name) could be described as a fishing village. Now it’s home to global financial institutions. 

With its captivating blend of traditional culture and state-of-the-art technologies, Tokyo captured my senses. I loved getting lost in the narrow alleys, stopping at unusual vending machines to inspect what they sold, spotting Godzilla’s head between the buildings in Shinjuku, or passing by a seven-level sex shop in the Akihabara district.

If you felt emotional watching the movie Hatchi starring Richard Gere, you can call at the statue in Shibuya. The loyal dog Hachiko waited for his owner at Shibuya Station every day until his own death almost 10 years after his master unexpectedly died.

The city invites exploration 24/7, leaving you with a sense of wonder whether it’s a 3D digital billboard image of a cat to the most traditional local pub in the Golden Gai. The pubs in this street are so small that only three people can fit, making them perfect for a night of bar hopping.

Shibuya Sky offered me the most breathtaking panorama of the city. At 229 metres, a 360-degree open-air observation deck allows visitors to enjoy Tokyo from above for less than $12.


I embraced the challenge of navigating the crowded and chaotic intersection outside Shibuya Station, known as the Shibuya crossing. Surrounded by advertisements, flashing lights and massive television screens that cover the buildings, it stands as one of the most iconic landmarks.

The morning after, a well-deserved relaxation day at the onsen to alleviate my jet lag, awaited. Onsen are Japanese natural hot springs, enjoyed both indoors and outdoors. The main requirement is that visitors must be fully naked to enter. The baths are divided by gender, but it’s possible to book a private one for a more serene experience. Pay as little as $15 upon arrival for a full day’s stay.

Public transportation is pricey, but you can find reasonable accommodation in the centre at $50-60 per night, breakfast included. The main areas for travellers are Shinjuku, Shibuya, Asakusa, Roppongi and Ginza. I chose Ginza and Shinjuku.

People use cash rather than credit cards. For tube travel, a travel card you top up is helpful since there isn’t any contactless option available.

The best and most enjoyable manner to move across the country is bullet train, known as Shinkansen. Running at a speed of up to 285 km/h, the Shinkansen is lauded for its punctuality, comfort, and safety. Passengers can purchase tickets online, and the price varies depending on the route. A one-way ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto costs $86-$92.

High speed train at a station in Japan.
Shinkansen bullet train


Kimono in Japan

Wearing a kimono proved to be the most exciting activity that I had planned. With the help of the Internet, I came across a kimono rental store in the Asakusa district of Tokyo. Upon arrival, an elderly lovely woman greeted me and asked me to leave my shoes at the entrance. In about 15 minutes, I turned into a local by sporting a long red kimono adorned with colourful flowers and the typical footwear (rental cost $17). While walking, Japanese people smiled at me, and foreign tourists wanted to take a picture, leaving me pleasantly surprised.

Woman wearing a Kimono in front of a Buddha statue
Myself disguised in a Kimono


Mount Fuji

I felt triumphant after travelling four hours for a round-trip from Tokyo to Fujiyoshida to admire the Chureito Pagoda with the majestic Mount Fuji in the background. It’s a must-see spot I recommend to every traveller. Reach it either by train or bus.

After climbing a long flight of stairs, I finally reached the highest point, where the breathtaking vista compensated for the physical effort.

Seated on the steps, I admired the view of the pagoda, with Mount Fuji emerging from behind. People around me enjoyed the panorama in silence, as if experiencing a sacral moment. Even though the flowers on the trees hadn’t bloomed, the landscape offered us a sense of peace and calmness, much needed in a chaotic city. At the time I felt like the sight whispered to me: Welcome to Japan.

Multi level pagoda with white capped mountain in background.
Chureito Pagoda & Mount Fuji 


Food in Japan

The chopsticks and I did not get along. During my two weeks in Japan, I didn’t learn how to use them well, annoying the locals by stabbing the sushi to pick it up. Note to self: It turned out to be bad table manners and disrespectful.

Despite this unfortunate circumstance, I loved the food. Delicate, tasty, and fresh, Japanese cuisine ended up being one of my favourites.  

Fluffy Pancakes stole my heart: with a slightly eggy flavour, the texture is best described as light and soft, a perfect choice for breakfast.

Oyster Udon took pole position on my list of Japanese food: a pot of noodles in soup with oysters and other seafood that brought joy into my mouth from the first bite. The taste is fresh with a mild flavour which allows the ingredients to meld and release their distinctness.

Sushi, synonymous with Japan: the name refers to rice paired with egg, vegetables, or seafood. You will notice some restaurants serve sushi by sending it to you on a rotating conveyor belt that moves past every table. Tangy, sweet, and savoury, take your pick. Delicate and yummy!



Kyoto came across as much quieter and peaceful compared to Tokyo. The city is famous for its numerous Buddhist temples, gardens, Shinto shrines, and palaces. Japan’s former capital is also the heart of the geisha world. Geishas are young ladies who train to become professional artists in traditional Japanese performing arts to entertain and converse with the hosts.

Together with the other travellers, I visited the famous shrines, along with the torii gates and the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove.

A Shinto shrine is a place of worship and the residence of the kami, the Shinto gods. To reach the 400 shrines, visitors will have to pass through the torii gates. Made of wood and painted orange and black, these gates represent the passage from the mundane to the sacred. Fushimi Inari Shrine constitutes the ultimate experience: thousands of torii gates alternate, creating a network of trails leading into the forest of Mount Inari. Passing through these ports felt like going inside a labyrinth, transporting the soul to a secret garden.


Arashiyama Bamboo Forest is one of Japan’s landmarks. While walking down a paved walkway surrounded by tall bamboos, I could not help but look up at the sky admiring the length of the bamboo sticks. The purpose of this grove is still a mystery, but the plants add a decorative touch to the area.

Kyoto gifted me with a relaxing and pleasant night sleeping on the Japanese floor beds named futons. It’s a type of quilted mattress stuffed with cotton or fibrefill that sits directly on the floor. To my surprise, I did not wake up with back pain. I highly recommend it.

Immersing myself in Kyoto’s traditional culture felt like a grandmother’s hug, whose ancient wisdom and strong background is there to protect and guide you.



Nara, the capital of Japan from 710 to 784, is located less than an hour by train from Kyoto and Osaka. The city combines modernity and tradition. The emperor palaces, large Shinto shrines, and over 1,400 sacred deer beckon tourists to absorb its historic charm.

The animals are linked to the gods in Shinto, and a legend says a white deer arrived from Kashima Shrine as its divine messenger, becoming a symbol of Nara.

Visitors may feed them by purchasing biscuits at Nara Park. If you are not quick enough, they take the food from your hands and chase you for more.

After enjoying the company of deer, I headed to Todai-ji Temple, the primary temple of all provincial Buddhist temples in Japan. Its main hall is the world’s largest wooden building. Inside it, tourists can admire the 15-metre-long statue of Buddha.

Built in 728, this giant Buddha served to spread Buddhism across Japan and help protect the country.

Despite feeling small in front of the statue, the peaceful face welcomes you into the temple, radiating positive vibes.



Travelling offers the unmissable chance to dive into history.

On the 6th of August 1945, Hiroshima became the first city to be hit by a nuclear weapon, the atomic bomb, which killed over 70,000 people.

Nowadays, it’s a manufacturing centre with more than one million citizens. Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, with belongings from the victims, stands as a message to stop cruelty and violence. Displaying articles and actual images, the museum shows the devastation of the bombing, the damage from the radiation and survivors’ testimonies.

At only $1,30, anyone can visit and learn about the history of Hiroshima and how it affected the later generations.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, next to the museum, is dedicated to the city and its people. The memorial known as Genbaku Dome is the only structure that survived the attack. It’s preserved in the same state and became a symbol of hope for world peace and the elimination of all nuclear weapons.

With eyes that avoided eye contact and a low soft voice, our guide, a middle-aged man from Tokyo, told us how his family members passed away due to the illness caused by the radiation. No one asked further questions to respect his sorrow and privacy and we left the place with many thoughts in our mind.



Love food? Osaka has you covered. Known as the nation’s kitchen for its amazing street food, the city offers a wide range of options, from grilled octopus balls, takoyaki, to a pancake-like dish named okonomiyaki.

Osaka, the third largest city in Japan, became the most important centre of commerce during the Edo period (1603-1868). Being a hub of manufacturing and distribution, Osaka attracted many traders from across the country.

Nowadays, expect neon lights, shopping arcades, modern bars, and Universal Studios!

Dotombori is Osaka’s main entertainment district that runs parallel to the canal. The area is also famous for its eye-catching billboards, such as the Glico running man, which creates an amusement park-like atmosphere. As I strolled the streets, I got the sense of being catapulted into a futuristic movie.

City-scape with ads on buildings.
Glicoman, Osaka 


Touring Japan again? 

Japan is a country I will go back to. It’s safe to explore and has lots to offer and discover. From the kindness and good manners of the locals, the combination of old tradition and modern technology, to the impeccable cleanness, Japanese society has mastered the skills of patience, respect, and thoughtfulness. 

Among the many inspiring philosophical concepts from Japan, ikigai expresses the notion of finding meaning in our existence. It encourages us to find what really matters, living a life full of joy. And I believe I’ve found mine: travelling. 

Touring Japan turned out to be nothing short of a whirlwind adventure, filled with dazzling cityscapes, tranquil shrines, and the enchanting beauty of cherry blossoms in season. From the hectic streets of Tokyo to the historic charm of Kyoto, every moment fed my senses. Indulging in the rich flavors of Japanese cuisine and marvelling at iconic landmarks, as I zipped across the land on the sleek Shinkansen bullet trains, has truly been a once-in-a-lifetime experience. As I bid farewell, with a profound appreciation for Japanese culture and heritage, I know the country has a place in my heart. I get nostalgic every time I think of my trip. Arigato gozaimasu, Japan, until we meet again!


Have you been to Japan? Which cultural aspect did you find most fascinating? Let us know in the comment section! Subscribe to our newsletter and benefit from travel guides, sustainable tourism and luxury travel tips, insightful interviews, and inspirational places to visit. One Planet Journey – The World’s First Deep Travel Magazine.


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