Next stop for VB Getaway: Japan! Here's a tour of the country through Veronica Miele Beard's eyes. Check out her must-see recs on the island—plus, the photo diary below.
First stop: the Japanese capital. We spent four days but, with so much packed into the city, we could have easily spent weeks here. We saw Harajuku and Omotesando, downtown Ginza and bustling Akihabara, experienced old-world culture and new... Highlights on the more traditional side: Meiji Shrine (which is dedicated to the emperor who ushered Japan from the feudal age to the modern age), and the temples of Nikkō (a UNESCO World Heritage Site, since 1999). Among the new: the towering Tokyo Skytree, which clocks in at over 2,000 feet high and is the second tallest structure anywhere. Sushi lovers, meanwhile, should definitely head to Sushi Dai at the Tsukiji fish market—it's the best in the world!
Every day there was an incredible adventure, with new sights to see and places to explore, but what my family really loved was really digging deep into the culture. Our tour guide, Yampu, organized fun origami, kimono and sushi workshops. The kids even took a "ninja action" class!
Hakone is a mecca for the Japanese hot springs experience called onsen. Absolutely not to be missed. If you don't have time to relax in one of the many traditional ryokan spas, take a walk around the open-air museums and make sure to see Ōwakudani Valley (but check the latter in advance; this area closes depending on volcanic activity). Throughout, you'll soak up stunning views of Mount Fuji... Pro tip: The best spot for pictures is...from a canoe on Lake Kawaguchi.
Kinkakuji Temple, Nijo Castle, Otowa Waterfall, the zen garden at Ryõan-ji... There's so much to see—and do!—in Kyoto. We participated in a traditional tea ceremony and even enjoyed a samurai "kembu" sword dance. If you're a foodie, make sure to stop by Nishiki Market. You can pick up incredible delicacies to bring back as gifts or, if you have time, eat at one of the restaurants inside.
Nara Park is home to over a thousand wild sika deer, long considered sacred in Japan. And even though, after WWII, they were downgraded from "holy" to "national treasure," it's still an amazing experience to see them roaming freely.
You know how I mentioned Hakone is renowned for their onsen? Well, Osaka has some pretty fabulous ones too. And when you're in Japan, do as the Japanese do... We stayed at Wakura Onsen Kagaya.
We visited the massive Kanazawa Castle, which has a beautifully serene garden out back, and Nomura Samurai House, where actual samurai once lived. We stopped by a ninja temple—which my kids loved, having already taken that ninja class in Tokyo—and walked through the old town of Higashichaya, the teahouse district, too.
And, of course, more sushi... Kanazawa is renowned for its conveyor belt sushi so we had to try it. The restaurant ttabulates your bill and uses a handheld device that scans the plates you grabbed from the belt—it was unbelievable.
You'll feel like you've stepped back into Japan's historic past in Takayama. There are lots of beautiful and awe-inspiring shrines, temples, markets and farmhouses to explore. From here, we took the bullet train back to Tokyo—the views on board are just as scenic...