Dina and Desiree: Screw you, earthquake — we’re going to honeymoon in Japan!

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Honeymooners: Dina and Desiree

Type: Screw you, earthquake! We're going to Japan!

Budget: Spendy ($5000-$10,000)

Where did you go? Desiree and I have long been fans of Japan — Japanese culture, Japanese food, you name it. It has long been a dream of ours to go. And, I'm not going to lie, it's kind of how I bribed her into going ahead with the wedding idea in the first place. 😉

We decided to take two weeks off work and visit Tokyo, Hakone (a mountain resort near Tokyo) and Kyoto.

What did you do? We started off by flying to Tokyo, which was an adventure in and of itself. (Dina doesn't fly well, kids.) Incidentally, if you fly from Sydney to Tokyo (or probably anywhere else), we found Korean Air to be excellent and not too expensive.

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Our wedding was on March 3, and our original plan was to travel to Japan straight after. However, the Easter holiday at the end of April (with bonus Anzac Day!) proved too enticing. And that was a good thing, as the Tohoku Earthquake hit on March 11 — which would have meant we were over there during a major natural disaster. Thank goodness! When we travelled over there in mid-April, Japan was still under a travel advisory by the Australian government — according to them, we shouldn't have travelled to Tokyo. But more on that later.

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We spent our first few days in Tokyo, staying in a tiny, tiny hotel room near Akihabara. While the famed lights of Akihabara weren't shining as brightly as you always see on the teevee, there was little disruption. (Interestingly, places like Shinjuku and Shibuya were still brightly lit, although you could see some signs that weren't on.) The food was spectacular, as you'd expect, and the people were friendly.

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While in Tokyo, we visited places like Mount Mitake (where it rained copiously upon us during what we expected to be a ten minute walk that turned into a hour-and-a-half hike), the Studio Ghibli Museum (highly recommended, especially for you Miyazaki fans) and the Wonder Wheel at Odaiba.

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IMG_0222After Tokyo, we took the train to Hakone. Hakone is a beautiful place, while fairly touristy. We splurged and stayed at a fancy ryokan (traditional Japanese hotel) at an onsen (Japanese hot springs). Every morning and evening they served these amazing meals – multiple courses of traditional Japanese food, including freshly hunted pheasant. It was spectacular!

Unfortunately, it was also more than my tiny stomach could handle, and we had to communicate to our hosts, who spoke very little English, that no, the food was fantastic, we don't need you to cook Western meals for us… We also made friends with a black egg (eat one and you'll add seven years to your life, or so they say).

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After Hakone we headed on the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto. May I just say that Kyoto is gorgeous? Because it is. So many temples and cobblestone streets and, again, AMAZING food. (Miso nabe (hotpot)? YES PLEASE) We also took a side trip to Osaka, which was interesting but not exactly life-changing. Although we did have some wonderful banana crepes there.

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One of my favorite moments in Kyoto was when we got lost coming down from Inari temple. We found ourselves in the middle of some residential Kyoto neighborhood. A middle-aged lady spotted us and, although her command of English was pretty much non-existent, managed (with the help of our phrasebook) to get us to the train station, even going so far as to walk with us. (I really hope that's where she was headed anyway!)

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Another favorite moment was climbing up to Iwatayama Monkey Park, where you could feed monkeys and look down on Kyoto from a gorgeous vantage point. We also took day trips to Osaka and Nara (where I was besieged by tame deer who desperately wanted crackers — scary).

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We took the Shinkansen back to Tokyo for our last day, then flew back to Sydney from there.

I blogged our adventure (roughly) day-by-day, so if you want to read more, the entries start here.

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What would you have done differently? I would have spent more time in Kyoto. Don't get me wrong, Tokyo was nice, but Kyoto was really more my speed! Also, spend about three more months there. I never wanted to leave.

Also, I recommend wearing proper hiking gear if you're going up to Mount Mitake (or really, any mountainy, foresty place). Don't be stupid tourists like we were!

Honestly, though? I feel like our trip was exactly what I wanted it to be. Which was amazing.

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As we left, the young man who spoke the most English of anyone there told us, “Please tell your friends that Japan is not dangerous.”

What's your best travel advice for other offbeat honeymooners? As I said, when we travelled to Tokyo, there was a travel advisory from our local government. Which was a damn shame, because there was nothing wrong with Tokyo at all. Yes, travelling to Fukushima or Miyagi prefectures at that time would not have been a great idea (and you didn't need to speak Japanese to understand the devastation that was shown on the news every night when we were there). But there were many things that were reported by the Western media that simply weren't true. Tokyo was not a radioactive wasteland with gangs of roving Yakuza, shortages of food and bottled water, and major transport outages. The only effect of the earthquake that we could see was that there weren't as many lights on in the buildings.

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When we were in Tokyo, I could have counted the number of Caucasians we saw on one hand. When we went to Kyoto (which was not under a travel advisory), there were many other foreigners there. I can't imagine how much this must have impacted Tokyo's economy, which gets a lot of its money from foreign travelers. I know it really affected our hotel in Hakone, which was nearly booked out when we were making travel arrangements but was a ghost town when we were there. As we left, the young man who spoke the most English of anyone there told us, “Please tell your friends that Japan is not dangerous.” It broke my heart.

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So here is my advice to other offbeat honeymooners (and offbeat travelers in general): be sensible in the face of disasters, and get information from as many sources as you can. I suppose I was lucky in that I had a friend who was actually in Japan when the earthquake hit, and he was able to tell us that life went on unabated in Tokyo, at least. I also got my information from English-language Japanese newspapers and English-speaking Japanese bloggers/Twitter users (Many thanks to @makiwi of justhungry.com who was my main source of information for a while there).

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Take what your local government advises you into consideration, but remember that they're not only considering young, able-bodied, experienced travelers but also families with little kids, older people and people who haven't been outside the country much. (Which, of course, might describe you. It didn't describe us.) Consider your own circumstances, gather information from everywhere you possibly can, and make your decisions from there. Don't just take the Sydney Morning Herald's (or, worse, the Daily Telegraph's) word for it.

Enough talk, show me more honeymoon pics!

Comments on Dina and Desiree: Screw you, earthquake — we’re going to honeymoon in Japan!

  1. This makes me miss Japan so, so much. I’m so happy you guys finally got to go. Although next time, take me. I’ll talk Japanese to people 😉

    • Yesss! (Just like how we’re bringing Desi’s mom when we finally go to Hong Kong… ;))

  2. The earthquake hit two days before our wedding, and two weeks before we were due to fly to Japan (from Melbourne) for four weeks for our honeymoon. We agonised for a week about going (and copped a lot of ‘omg of course you’re not going??!’ comments at work and from family). We finally decided that as most of the country seemed fine, we would go anyway. (And really, it was a bit like the Queensland floods – parts of Qld were a mess, but the rest of the country was fine.)
    All we did was change our inbound flight to land in Osaka rather than Tokyo (then did Osaka-Nagoya-Fukuoka-Hiroshima-Kyoto-Tokyo). It was amazing: the people were so nice and friendly and often would come and strike up conversation with us, or go out of their way to help us get un-lost.
    I guess we also helped the Japanese economy by spending a few thousand dollars on toys (mainly Transformers and Pullips), not to mention the postage to get them home!
    We also noticed a distinct lack of western tourists. We were sooo glad we ended up going. My man was super excited that we felt about half a dozen earthquakes while we were in Tokyo (biggest was a 6).We had a blast, and the only thing we couldn’t do was go to Tokyo Disney because it was still closed due to the uncertain power situation.
    We’re already planning to go back next year.

    • I got a lot of those comments, too! The week before I left, I told a colleague I was going to Japan, and she responded in a horrified voice, “Whatever for?!” I said the first thing that came to mind: “Because it’s beautiful.” And it was!

  3. Regarding PDA in Japan: yes, excessive PDA like passionate and emphatic snogging may draw some – if not stares, glances (people generally don’t stare in Japan, except for little kids and old ladies). However, if you are girls, you can hold hands or have your arms around each other while walking on the street without worry. Girls do that all the time in Japan. Also, young (hetero) Japanese couples do kiss and hug in public more these days in the big cities.

    As a non-Japanese person, you are not regarded as being bound by Japanese conventions, so your behavior will be by and large tolerated, unless it’s criminal of course. In any case, I can almost guarantee that you will never be outright hassled for any PDA in Japan, unless you go to a particularly seedy area, late at night, and run into drunks (esp. the non-Japanese kind, in Roppongi).

    • Thanks for that, Maki!

      My opinion is that when I come to visit another culture, I at least try to respect the local customs. To me, it’s like going to a Muslim friend’s house and bringing bacon as a side dish. I know we probably wouldn’t have been run out on a rail if I’d smooched my wife in public, but I still don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable unintentionally!

    • The Japanese are very gracious about non-Japanese not knowing the customs. It’s almost the opposite of the US in that way. But I tended to be hard on Westerners who’d made no effort to learn the local customs before coming. Even as gracious as my Japanese hosts could be, I couldn’t help but think stuff like public PDAs made them uncomfortable. I feel like if you’re a guest in another country, you should be as good a guest as you can be.

  4. Nice to see Japan getting some of its tourism back. News networks overseas definitely took the earthquake way out of proportion, especially concerning the radiation dangers.

    I mean I live in Shizuoka prefecture and I had all kinds of crazy calls from family members on a mission to bail my fiance and I out ASAP even though our area was in no danger and or any different besides the scheduled blackouts at first.

    I hope ya’ll both had a great time. 🙂

  5. I just had to comment and say that I too went to the deer park in Nara once. I was about 7 years old, and the deer terrified me. My mother had to carry me on her shoulders because they were SO HUGE and SO HUNGRY.

    Yay for memories I had almost forgotten! Looks like you had a wonderful time!

    • A deer at Nara bit my mother’s bum while we were there! They do get aggressive looking for snacks. The local deer on Miyajima are much better-mannered, as it’s illegal to feed them.

  6. My beau and I had talked about moving to Japan the day before the earthquake. We still want to, and I am happy to see that you visited.

    Also my inner fan girl just flipped when she saw the Studio Ghibli Museum!

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