I know so many of you are travelers like me. As we headed into 2021, I was hoping that I could soon begin traveling again. But, knowing a lot of the countries I’d like to visit are still shut down, I am now looking ahead to 2022.
That being said, what I’ve realized is that 50% of the travel joy I get is actually from planning my trip. As you’ve seen from prior posts (especially my one on Scotland), you know I’m a planner. It has become somewhat of a hobby to me and I get such a thrill out of finding a bargain, an out-of-the-way “must-see” and/or staying at a cool, unique hotel.
So, although I’m not traveling anywhere soon (we decided to remodel our kitchen with the money we saved–tune in next month for that reveal), I’m going to post more about trips I am dreaming about taking. Let’s start with Japan.
As a huge fan of cherry blossoms (I used to schedule my D.C. meetings purposely in April each year) and Udon noodles,, when this sample itinerary from Setouchi Reflection Trip came across my screen one day I pinned pretty much the entire trip! I am so grateful I have the opportunity to share it with you.
Day 1: Tokushima
Awa-Odori Kaikan Hall
The Awa-Odori summer festival in Tokushima city is one of Japan’s most cherished festivals, and one of its most popular, attracting about 1.3 million visitors a year to soak in the atmosphere of a city transformed for four days by infectious rhythms and lively dancing. For those that can’t make it to Tokushima between the 12th and 15th of August, there’s still a chance to experience the festive atmosphere at Awa-Odori Kaikan. Here, a professional dance troupe will not only give a stirring Awa-Odori performance, but they also encourage the audience to join them on stage to teach them this relatively simple, but fun way to get your body moving Tokushima style. For those intrigued by Awa-Odori, there is also a comprehensive museum, and a well-stocked gift shop of artisanal goods.
Inotani (Tokushima ramen)
The pursuit of the perfect bowl of Ramen noodles borders on a national obsession in Japan, with noodle fans traveling far and wide to get their fix. Only 10 minutes away from Awa-Odori Kaikan lies a mecca for Ramen aficionados, “Chuka Soba Inotani,” serving Tokushima’s own take on this national dish. Here you can expect a piping hot bowl of glutinous, slightly elastic noodles in a strong, soy-sauce-infused tonkotsu-style broth made from boiled down pork, seafood, and vegetables, and topped with slices of sweet and spicy boiled pork belly and a boiled egg. Simply delicious! While not considered a gourmet dish by the tourist market, these noodles are dearly loved by Tokushima locals, and sampling a bowl is a great way to have an authentic local experience. From here you will head off to your night’s accommodation in the Iya Valley, so it’s best to return to JR Tokushima Station to pick up your rental car, or otherwise catch a limited express train to your destination.
Accommodation: Mountain Lodge Chiiori
Day 2: Tokushima
Rafting at Yoshino river (Happy Raft)
The Oboke and Koboke Gorges, located in the middle of the Yoshino river near the center of Shikoku island, are famous for having some of the best whitewater rafting spots anywhere in Japan. Taking a trip down the river with the experienced guides of Happy Raft will bring a thrilling encounter with the beautiful nature and crystal clear water found in these gorges. Happy Raft operates between March and October and can accommodate a range of needs with their one day and half-day tours. You can also enjoy fun bonuses like canyoning and jumping off rocks into the aquamarine water. The closest station to Happy Raft is JR Tosa-Iwahara station, which is also a convenient starting point to explore Kagawa Prefecture.
Day 3: Kagawa
Nakano Udon School（Udon)
Amanda’s note: I would probably book multiple classes here. I have an insane love of Udon noodles…
Accommodation: Kiyomisanso Hanajyukai
Transportation to and from JR Takamatsu Station included.
Day 4: Okayama
Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter
Day 5: Okayama-Hyogo
Bizen Osafune Japanese Sword Museum
The Japanese sword is widely acknowledged as being a pinnacle of Japanese craftsmanship and artistry. In the age of Samurai, Osafune township in Okayama Prefecture was renowned throughout Japan for making the finest swords. While times have changed, sword making is still alive in Osafune-cho, and the town is home to a fine museum celebrating all things sword. At Bizen Osafune Japanese Sword Museum, not only do you get to see some of the finest examples of sword craftsmanship in existence, you can also see modern day masters at work as well, continuing the tradition of making blades of superb quality. Although days and times are limited, it is even possible to experience making your own miniature sword, well, actually a letter opener. Regardless of size though, learning the basics of the craft under a master sword-maker’s eye is a memory to be treasured.
Nicknamed the “White Heron” because of its stark white walls rising steeply into the sky, Himeji Castle is not only the largest and most frequently visited castle in Japan, it’s the closest existing approximation of what a castle complex would have looked like in feudal times. The castle dates back to 1333, and periodic expansions have resulted in a network of 83 buildings that simultaneously give an insight into castle life, and a crash course on defensive architecture. Himeji Castle’s claim as one of the country’s most iconic structures was confirmed with World Cultural Heritage status — one of the first places in Japan to receive this recognition. Just next door is Kokoen, a wonderfully compact collection of nine different styles of traditional Japanese garden. Designed to showcase the manicured beauty of Japan’s relationship with nature in all four seasons, a stroll through the quiet garden provides a visual feast, and one well complemented by a visit to the pond-side teahouse for refreshments.
Let me know in the comments if you’ve ever been here and what your must-sees are!