I'm less than a week away from my next visit to Japan, and my first going there solo. Describing myself as excited hardly does the emotions justice, but safe to say, I'm thinking about it daily now.
Since initially booking the trip, several elements have changed. My other half - a self-confessed aviation geek - noticed that several First Class seats had opened up on the JAL London to Tokyo route, meaning I could bring my flight forward by a couple of days for a minimal fee. This means I get an additional weekend in Tokyo - what's not to love?
I've also booked a couple of trips out of Tokyo with one of my friends who lives there. We're going to celebrate my birthday was a visit to Hakone Onsen for a good soak in the hot springs. And then, for my second weekend in Japan, we'll head north, to Sendai. It's a city neither of us have visited before, so I'm looking forward to some new sights and experiences.
Soaking away the time...
In addition to Hakone, I plan to visit at least four onsen in Tokyo. I got addicted to the onsen experience on my first visit back in 2013. I was already a fan of saunas, but Japanese bathing takes it to a whole new level. I plan to dedicate a post to navigating the public bath experience, as it can feel awkward and complicated for visitors - at least at first.
The main hurdle I hear about from visitors is the nudity. As a naturist, this doesn't bother me at all, but I can understand others' reluctance to bare all in front of strangers. Trust me, you forget all about it as soon as you sink into a piping hot bath! Watch this space for a full guide in the coming weeks.
My favourite of the baths close to my hotel is Therme-Yu in Shinjuku. Immaculately clean, beautifully finished and with a selection of baths to soak in, it's my idea of a morning perfectly spent. In addition to the baths, there are outdoor baths, a steam room and a sauna. Plus, you can enjoy a meal in the restaurant while you're there. At 2,700 Yen (about £15) it's an absolute bargain. Yes, that's for as long as you like!
New sights and sounds
One of the new venues on my Tokyo list for this trip is Azabudai Hills, a relatively new destination for lovers of shopping, art and...Japanese food. I'm planning to spend a few hours there one morning, to simply have a wander around and sample some of the delicious bites on offer.
It seems to be quite a high-end destination, so I doubt I'll doing any shopping (cossie lives, you know?) but as with so much of Japan, it's about soaking up the atmosphere and taking in the little things, the attention to detail.
I've also pulled together a short list of recommended sights in Sendai, which looks like a really beautiful place. It's famous for the quality of its beef and a local ice-cream made from edamame beans. So I won't go hungry!
Old haunts too!
And no trip to Tokyo would be complete without visiting some of my favourite bars in Shijuku Ni-chome, wandering around in the peace of Yoyogi Park, and lazing over a coffee while doing some people-watching in Harajuku.
(It's not that I'm an overly-frequent visitor of Ni-chome's bars, but I am on first name terms with several of the bar men. I guess I'm memorable?!)
It might sound strange to revisit places I've been countless times before, but each experience is different and the opportunity to see something new is always there. I'm hoping for good weather (better than the snow they've had recently, anyway) so I can walk between all of my favourite neighbourhoods. When in Tokyo, I average 25,000 steps a day - which helps (a little) when it comes to balancing out all the delicious food and drink I consume!
Getting there, in style
As far as I'm concerned, the holiday starts as soon as I check in my bags at Heathrow! The JAL experience is second to none and their attention to detail and customer service are legendary. So I'm looking forward to my flight to Japan almost as much as the visit itself!
I've been pouring over the in-flight menu and a ton of reviews of JAL's First Class cabin. It seems other worldly, compared to flying in Europe. This isn't something I'm going to repeating any time soon, so I want to enjoy every moment. And while 14 hours on a single flight might sound long, the service from JAL cabin crew makes the time go by.
I've felt truly pampered when flying Business Class with JAL previously, so I'm wondering just how much better it can get! I mean, the on-demand food is an excellent start and I plan to make liberal use of the remote control to access the menu - probably arriving in Japan several kilos heavier.