Japan in Two Weeks: a Queer Martha Itinerary
Updated: Aug 4, 2020
It's a grey, rainy night in Philadelphia. A perfect evening to definitely not get out of bed. I am under covers with Rachel sleeping on my left and Riley the cat sleeping on my right. One of them is snoring. The other wakes up periodically and licks my face. I'll let you decide which one is which.
We did get up long enough to cook up some soup for dinner. Oh, yes, we are still pretending that we are in Japan. You guys, Japan was seriously a magical land of spotless public restrooms, warm towels in restaurants, and a stunning attention to detail. We miss it.
Maybe you are thinking about taking a vacation to a far-away land. If your vacation destination checklist includes having incredible food, wonderful people, beautiful landscapes, and be easy to navigate while still being very, very different from what you are used to in America or Europe, you should probably head to Japan.
Added bonus - it seemed to me that Japan is a country equally enthused about cats and dogs. You see - there is something for you no matter who you are.
"Lizzie," I hear you saying, "Japan sounds great, but what would my itinerary look like? It's so overwhelming!"
I hear you. There is so much to see, and it's all in a different alphabet. It's sort of tricky to plan a trip when all of the place names are written with characters. That's why Queer Martha is here to plan your trip for you! Just follow this nifty schedule and you will fall so hard for Japan that you will also come home eating soup for dinner and wearing a yukata around the house.
14 day trip:
Ok, this is actually a 15-day trip because it actually takes 2 days of travelling to get to Japan, but that didn't fit in my cute little grid as well, so... just keep that in mind. After you arrive, the plan is 5 days in Tokyo, 1 night in Koyasan, 3 days Osaka, stop in Nara on your way to spending 3 days Kyoto, then 1 day of travelling home from Tokyo. This is the itinerary we developed, and it gave us a great tour of the Japanese hot spots. The only regret we had was not spending two nights in Koyasan. That said, we couldn't decide where we would give up a night to make that happen, so I didn't change the itinerary to reflect that regret. Sometimes the only right answer is, "We have to go back to Japan as soon as possible."
Tokyo is not to be missed. There is so much to do, and we left after 5 days feeling like we needed another year. The above photo is actually not emblematic of our time in Tokyo at all... we somehow managed to stay out of the glitzy areas of the city and just hung around some of the quieter parts. In fact, we have very few photos from Tokyo because we sort of felt like we lived there after a few days. Tokyo is a choose-your-own-adventure city. You can shape a trip that is full of bright lights and skyscrapers, or you can plan something full of greenery and hot springs. Whatever you do - don't miss Tokyo.
Koyasan is a sacred mountain and the seat of Shingon Buddhism. It's known for having the largest cemetery in Japan, its exceptionally beautiful cedar forests, and boasting over 200 Buddhist monasteries, many of which open their door to pilgrims. When they say, "open their doors," they mean serve you incredible dinners and breakfasts in your room, invite you to morning prayer services, and provide you with a traditional hot bath facility. It is paradise in the mountains. It took 6 hours by train to get to Koyasan from Tokyo, but it was 100% worth it.
Osaka is the Philadelphia of Japan. Yes, we saw litter and homelessness for the first time in Osaka, but we also had the best food and the warmest welcome (that is what Philly is like for those of you who are unfamiliar with our fair city). Osaka has long been the belly of Japan - all the country's crops came through the warehouses of Osaka during the time of the Shoguns. Osaka is equal parts fresh seafood and Kobe beef, and it will be served to you by a charming cook who doesn't speak a word of English but thinks that you are adorable. We made friends in the bars of Osaka that paid for our drinks and gave us their emails (in case we had any questions about Japan). If you get board of eating in Osaka, you can always head to Universal Japan which is accessible by subway!
Nara: go for the wild deer and the giant Buddha, stay for the persimmon leaf wrapped sushi. Seriously, that stuff is the shit.
Kyoto is classic and classy. We saw the most people dressed in traditional garb, and we also had the most amazing meal on the 7th floor of a fancy department store surrounded by ladies who lunch (on eel). This was the place where we spent the most time doing touristy things. It is significantly smaller than Tokyo and Osaka, but there are endless things to see, do, and eat. If Tokyo is the head of Japan and Osaka is the belly, then Kyoto is the heart.
Stay tuned for itineraries of the individual cities!