A working holiday should not only be about work but also about discovering the country. There is so much to see and experience in Japan that you should not miss out on while you are here! We wanted to get out of Tokyo city life for a long weekend and it wasn't difficult to decide on Nikko. Only a 2-hour train ride away from Tokyo, this town in the hills makes for a perfect weekend getaway if you want to sniff some culture and be surrounded by nature. We booked the Turtle Inn Nikko Annex Hotel which is not too far from the train station with its own onsen (Japanese style hot spring), and after dropping off our luggage in the lobby and getting some good advice from the receptionist for our stay we headed out for our first lunch in Nikko. Of course we wanted to try yuba, a by-product of tofu production that is ubiquitous in Nikko, being a center of Buddhist activity since its foundation. We found this cute little udon noodle restaurant called Kanman Teahouse that served yuba as a side dish, perfect for our lunch. The yuba was very smooth and flavorful, and we loved the cold udon and tea with Japanese sweets that we got afterward. A good start of our weekend Our First Day: History and Beauty Then it was time to immerse ourselves in Japanese history. After passing through a foresty road with old jizo statues we headed to the Tamozawa Imperial Villa Memorial Park. Here you can walk around the huge Japanese style villa that used to be the vacation home of the imperial family. It's not just the house that breathes a quiet atmosphere, the garden also makes for a peaceful little stroll in a typical Japanese garden. If you come at the right time you can also see a very old Sakura tree bloom. This was the green oasis we were hoping to find when we left Tokyo! As a visit to Nikko is not complete without visiting its main shrine, the Toshogu, it was next on our list. As expected there were many tourists, foreign as well as Japanese, but we could also easily tell why this shrine complex is so popular. Its wood carvings are exquisite, there are so many beautiful little details that the buildings are like pieces of art. At several locations within the complex priests carried out Shinto rituals in order to bring fortune to the people, and stones on the ground were arranged to look like turtles to bring good luck. What most people don`t know is that it is worth it to walk the extra 1.5 kilometer up the hill on the east side of the temple. Here you can find the rarely visited Takio shrine in the middle of the woods, surrounded by small water streams. We enjoyed being away from the crowds and savored the silence. By the time we left the Takio shrine it was getting dark, meaning it was time to look for a place to eat because restaurants and even bars close early in Nikko (and other places outside the big cities in Japan for that matter). We decided on Bar de Nikko because of its good reviews on TripAdvisor, and we did not regret it. The food was delicious and nicely presented, and there was a large assortment of drinks available. It was open until 21.00, which is quite unique in this small town. In the evening we soaked in the hotel onsen with a nice view of the fast streaming river outside through a large window and went to bed early. The Second Day: Hiking and Nature One of the purposes of the trip was to get out there and take a long walk in a beautiful, natural area. We wanted to breathe some nice, fresh air in the spring sun! We took the bus to the Chuzenji lake, an area that used to be a popular place to vacation for foreigners as well as well-to-do Japanese people. As we were there late March it was still off-season and very quiet. We first stopped by the Kegon falls, we didn't pay the few hundred yen to go downstairs and see the waterfalls up close, but I would recommend doing it anyway because I later heard from others who have gone down there that it was worth the money. We then walked almost all the way along the northern shore of the lake, which was great as we barely saw anyone else as soon as we left the little town. It was peaceful and quiet, and we walked around 4 kilometers before we got to the boathouse where we were surprised to find the restaurant open. Of course we were the only customers, but the noodles (yes, again as they are so good here in Nikko) were tasty and we were ready to go again. As we went more inland the road went up, and after 2 kilometers or so we hit a trail up Mt. Takayama. Feeling adventurous we went in even though the sign warned us of bears and deers, the former scaring us a bit more than the latter. But the trail was snowy, and after taking a selfie of the 'courageous us' and the snow we decided to turn around and go find the Ryuzu Falls which we came here to find. We soon found fast streaming clear water and went down the trail to see a cute tea house overlooking the falls which are named after the dragon it resembles. They served delicious ice-cream with the flavor of, you guessed it, yuba. It might be a surprising flavor, but it was actually surprisingly good! We then took the bus back to the hotel and ended up having the most thrilling part of our trip, a ride down the Iroha slope. I'm sure the driver knows this road like the back of his hand, but sitting right behind him and seeing the bus steer dangerously close to the slope's edge with a drop of a few hundred meters deep behind it about 20 times, made for a blood-curdling ride. I think Julia was very happy when we were back at 600 meters above sea level again instead of the over 1000 meters that we were above sea level before. After all this excitement we first went for a long soak in the hotel onsen again before we went out for dinner again. This time we went to a Chinese restaurant near the hotel that was almost completely full, a good sign. The food was indeed delicious, I would just stay away from the hot sake as I could tell why it was sold as hot sake instead of chilled or at room temperature. We then headed back to the hotel for some card games and our futons. The Last Day: A Temple and an Old Hotel After having a perfect brunch in the Kanaya Hotel Bakery (very much recommended) we first visited the museum right next door. Kanaya hotel was once the first hotel where Westerners could stay during the period in Japanese history when foreigners were still very rare in Japan and couldn't always stay in a regular Japanese hotel. The people who work there conduct short tours, most of them don't really speak English but it is still nice to hear a bit of simple explanation of what you see. Some parts of the hotel are original which is quite rare to see in Japan, especially in Tokyo as most buildings don't last this long here. We then went to our last stop on this trip, the Taiyu-in temple. What we loved here was that it was so much quieter than at the Toshogu, and it was a lot easier to relax and enjoy our surroundings. There was another mass blessing ceremony, and there were 4 beautifully colored statues near the main hall. For those who like wood sculptures, there was also a lot to see, as almost every animal was represented somewhere in the decorations on the walls. Some parts of this temple reminded me a bit of Persian or oriental art with the many colors and wood carvings. Also, we were not sure if we were supposed to go here, but a bit east of this temple up a hill there seems to be an abandoned temple with a vshery big statue in a closed off hall. There was almost no one there and it looked like no one was taking care of it, so it was a bit spooky over there. It was unfortunately already time to go home by the time we came back to the main road, but we didn't leave before a last bowl of noodles, ramen this time, and a Harajuku style desert near the station. If you are on a working holiday (or regular holiday for that matter) in the Tokyo area, you should definitely not skip Nikko. As they say in this locale: don't say 'kekkou' (I'm good) until you have been to Nikko! " order_by="sortorder" order_direction="ASC" returns="included" maximum_entity_count="500"] About the Author Stefanie has lived in Japan for 5 years, and is working as a coordinator for World Unite! since 2017. Together with her colleague Julia she decided to get out of Tokyo city life for a long weekend.
To many people, foreign tourists as well as Japanese locals, Hokkaido's image is one of low temperatures and snowy mountains. It's no wonder most people go to Japan's northernmost island for winter sports. However, this amazing place has so much more to discover than just skiing down a mountain! I already visited the landscape in summer of 2009, and this time I wanted to see it during winter as the weather during summertime is a bit similar to Germany. But unlike Germany, Hokkaido turns into a snowy wonderland during the winter. If you are in Japan for a working holiday, do yourself a favor and make sure to spend a week or so at Japan's prime winter sports destination! Sapporo This year I spent around one month in Hokkaido. I decided to set up my freelance headquarters in Sapporo because the capital city has the best connection to the public transportation. Another aspect is that most of my friends are living in or near Sapporo. During the first weeks I explored Sapporo and its vicinity. As Sapporo is not a sprawling city, you can reach many spots within an hour of walking, so I walked to the Okurayama Ski Jump Stadium when a Ski Jumping event was going on. I never saw this sport before, and it was so amazing to see the competitors flying! If there is no event going on you can watch a training if you are lucky. Next to the stadium, there is a winter sports museum. Unfortunately it turned out to be closed in January, but when I visited Sapporo in 2009 it was open and I recommend you stop by. The best part of the musuem is that you can practice different winter sports with simulators, it's almost like being on the slopes for real! Other interesting spots you shouldn't miss when you are in Sapporo were the Sapporo Clock Tower where you can explore the history of the city, the Susukino nightlife district, and Mount Moiwa. When I went up this mountain using two ropeways, I was stunned by one of the most beautiful views of the city and the ocean from the top. Penguins in Asahikawa In the begin of February I went to visit a friend in Asahikawa. Because I stayed with his family, I got the chance to see from up close how a Japanese family lives in Hokkaido. My friend and I visited popular spots in the city, like the science museum and the zoo. The zoo of Asahikawa is quite a famous place in Hokkaido. It is not big, but the highlights are the nice arranged habitats and the penguin walk, where a group of penguins walks through the public area as seen in the picture. The renowned Asahikawa Yuki Matsuri (Asahikawa Snow Festival) is also a must-see. You will see snow sculptures along the river, ice slides, and be able to try many delicious kinds of food. I also visited the judo club of my friend's sister and watched the class practice. At the gym we met the class teacher of my friend, and he invited me to come to the high school the next day. I was really excited to get the chance to see a Japanese high school from the inside! The students were really amazed to see me, a foreigner, in their school. During English class, I assisted the teacher by helping the students while they prepared a group speech. After class finished, the teacher guided me around the school. This experience was a unique moment I will remember for sure! During my stay, the Sapporo Yuki Matsuri (Sapporo Snow Festival) also happened to be in full swing. I even arrived in time to see how artists built up their ice sculptures. After the event kicked off, the city was full of gigantic snow walls with pictures and ice sculptures lit up in every color. For the last week of my stay I visited several places. First on the list was visited Obihiro. I am a horse lover, so my main reason for visiting this city was the horse racing stadium, which is unique in the world. Here you can see how one of the mightiest horse breeds in the world is running on a special racetrack. Bannei horses are not cantering through the track like they do during a normal race, but they are pulling a heavy sled over 2 hills. It was very special to me to be able to watch this spectacle. Hot Springs, Bears and Drift Ice The next city on my list was Noboribetsu, which is popular for its hot springs, old city with people in ninja costumes, and bear park. In the bear park, you can see brown bears doing funny tricks to get attention and food from visitors. When I took a short walk through the city something that stood out were the many statues of Oni (demons) along the way. There is a place near the city named Jigokudani, also known as 'hell valley', hence the statues. It is a spectacular place with hot steam vents, sulfurous streams and other volcanic activity. It is from this valley where most of the onsen in the vicinity get their hot spring water. At last I went to the eastern part of Hokkaido. My first stop was Kushiro, which is famous for its wild nature and Japanese cranes. In the evening I took the train to Abashiri and stayed here for one night because it would be an early wake-up call the next day for a boat trip to see the drift ice. On an icebreaker, we went for a one-hour tour through the bay and the drifting ice, which I already saw from the train one day before. We were also lucky to see Stellerˋs sea eagles next to the boat. It was a great end to a trip to remember! About the author Michaela has been interested in Japan since she was young, and aged 25 she decided to go on a Working Holiday to the country that has always felt like a second home to her. Feeling safer by going to Japan through an organization, having the back-up of World Unite! turned out to be a good investment. Michaela found some great jobs during her stay on a Working Holiday visa (one job was scuba diving assistant!), and she also took the opportunity to travel around many areas of Japan. In the end, Hokkaido turned out to be my favorite place, as here you can find a great mix of nature and city.