Staying in a Traditional Japanese Ryokan in Izu

The dish that arrived on our table was met with confused feelings of fascination and disgust. Dressed in our yukata, sitting cross-legged under the low Japanese table, we’d enjoyed round after round of incredible food – thin, oily slices of beef that sizzled on a tabletop grill and melted in our mouths; chilled tofu with vegetables and pickles; grilled fish and crispy chicken karaage.

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Beppu: an illustrated guide to Japan’s spa city

As we stepped out of the ticket gates at Beppu station, a family was waving enthusiastically at us. We had never met our hosts, but they seemed to recognise us straight away. Japanese hospitality was already impressing us – they instantly welcomed us as part of the family.

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Which Is The Best Okonomiyaki? Tokyo Monjayaki vs. Hiroshimayaki

Okonomiyaki is one of my favourite things to eat in Japan, a kind of fried pancake-omelette, based on cabbage and egg, with different combinations of vegetables and meats. It is fried on a teppan, a large hotplate, until both sides are brown and crispy, then served to the plate sliced up with a small spatula for eating.

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Visiting the Highlights (and tourist traps) of Osaka

Osaka Castle

The samurai screamed a short, sharp battle cry, and drew his sword to expose the blade halfway from the hilt. The noise caught my attention, and I turned to see the commotion. The tourist walked away, and a new one walked up, also dressed in samurai costume, to join the staff member in full samurai gear.

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Where to watch the craziest New Year’s Eve in Japan

With a splash, the first crazy reveller jumped into the icy canal from the arching bridge. A laughing cheer rose from the huge crowd in Dotonbori, the centre of Osaka’s entertainment district, a high-rise cacophony of neon billboards, crushing crowds and outrageously decorated restaurants.

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Hiking the Magome – Tsumago trail (in winter)

We were the last ones in the bus, sitting in the back seat with our backpacks still on. We craned our necks to find any kind of sign as to where we were, but night had already fallen, and there were no streetlamps on this zig-zagging mountain road. It reminded me very much of the bus stop scene in My Neighbour Totoro – a cold rain drumming on the roof of the bus, the dark and eerie forest climbing over the mountains, the squeaky old bus, occasionally a weathered street sign in Japanese characters.

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A few little reasons that make you want to visit Japan

Japan was one of most wonderful destinations we had ever been to. I always imagined two sides of Japan – ┬áthe historical and traditional Japan of temples and geishas, against the hyper-modern cities, cartoons and robots.

In-between it all, there are so many tiny quirks and conveniences that are the cherry on top of an already alluring destination.

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