Travel is something that always inspires me. Over Christmas, Craig and I were lucky enough to spend two weeks in Japan. I thought I might share some snippets from our trip over the next few weeks.
All the good stuff you've heard about Japan is true. The neon madness, the ancient culture, natural beauty, impeccable trains, incredible food, cat cafes, and the most welcoming people I've ever met. The received wisdom that Japan is horribly expensive is urban myth. Certainly you can spend a small fortune on food and hotels, but you have to do it on purpose.
Yes, it's black sesame ice cream. Don't knock it 'til you've tried it!
Japan presents some pretty amazing accommodation options. Being a little bit brave and booking somewhere out of the ordinary was one of the best decisions we made. Our route took us from Tokyo to Kyoto via Kanazawa, a small city in the West of Japan. Here our home for three nights was a beautifully refurbished machiya, in an historic geisha district. We had the whole house on a self catering basis which cost us about the same as an apartment at Butlins! If you've read Memoirs of a Geisha (if you haven't, read it, it's amazing!), you'll be familiar with the idea of a machiya, or tea house where geisha live and entertain. Ours was tucked away down a narrow, lantern-lit alleyway, where the atmosphere of old Japan was almost tangible. The wooden slatted facade and a curtain over the doorway keeping the interior a mystery.
We were greeted by the charming Masami - San who welcomed us inside, stepping effortlessly out of her shoes, up a level onto the tatami floor. Needless to say, we shed our winter boots and coats a little less gracefully before following her in. The interior was an enchanting and peaceful space, after our tiny room in a Tokyo business hotel, it seemed to stretch on for days! The warm and slightly springy tatami under foot, and traditional tea set on its little low table welcoming us in.
Further investigation behind sliding paper screens, revealed surprisingly comfortable futons to lay out in our choice of three bedrooms, a tiny internal garden, a tea ceremony room with a burner in the centre of its floor, and a perfect little dressing room. The whole house was furnished with beautiful pieces: a hanging scroll here, a gilded screen there. In the dressing room was a stand just crying out for a kimono, an antique makeup box a mirror you could see a geisha kneeling in front of. Hidden away in cupboards were more exquisite little plates and dishes than I'd have any idea what to do with.
The machiya was one of our trips highlights, I can only describe it as a privilege to stay there and something I'd recommend without hesitation. One word of warning though: before leaving us to our own devices, Masami did mention that sound travels through the walls of these old buildings, so we might hear businessmen singing karaoke next door. As you can imagine, it wasn't very tuneful, but I guess you can't ask for a more authentic Japanese experience!
I'd love to hear about great places you've stayed, I can always use a little travel inspiration, especially at this time of year!