A lot has happened since we left Tokyo, so it’s the perfect time to catch up on our japanese travel diaries!
Not only have we gone through an entire seasonal shift (as the spring finally seems to be here, thank goodness) but we’ve lived in 2 new cities and seen some amazing things in the meantime. And we’ve also gotten so much done – oh I’m so happy that the crazy busy period that started the year is now behind us. You know us, we’re naturally restless, and there’s always something “cooking” but at least now that spring is here it can all be done at a healthier pace.
When I look back at all the pictures we’ve taken this past month, it reassures me that we always end up finding a good balance between our work and just genuinely exploring those places that we travel to. I gotta tell you, it’s not an easy thing to do, but taking this step back really makes us realize what we just experienced. We praise slow travel but… recently we’ve been moving quite a lot. After Tokyo, we flew straight to the south of Japan and landed in Fukuoka, where we stayed for three weeks. Later, we spent another couple of weeks in Hiroshima. And in between, we even did a couple of side adventures. Naturally, we have a lot of pictures and stories. Time to share!
Fukuoka is a city that we genuinely loved living in. It’s reasonably sized, super easy to get around to and it has a really interesting and creative café scene. Another couple of things that we also noticed straight away was how relaxed and friendly the locals were, and how everything was much more affordable than Tokyo.
Our accommodation, for example, was a huge upgrade. For the same price than we had paid to stay in Tokyo, we actually got to have an entire appartment with a separate bedroom and a fully equipped kitchen, which is quite the rarity in most japanese cities. We’re not too fussy about these things, but it’s fair to say that this upgrade did make a huge difference to us and it allowed us to worry less about how we’d plan our days. Added to that, we were lucky to have a couple of bicycles available, which is just the perfect way to get around in the city. We lived in a quiet area which was just a quick ride away from everything!
It was lovely to explore Fukuoka’s main active areas and watch the local life. We had some amazing food there and found some lovely spots to have coffee and relax. But we also loved to wander in the quiet little streets in our own neighbourhood. No area is ever boring if you consciously look for interesting details – it’s so cool when you can stroll around aimlessly and then all of a sudden find a hidden little café or shop that you would never have expected to stumble upon. It’s strange, but the most interesting ones seemed to be in the quietest of neighbourhoods!
During our stay there, we also had the chance to meet a like-minded creative, Jo Chun Yan who is a fellow designer from Melbourne. We had first encountered her on instagram and when we found out that she lived in Fukuoka (and that our plan was to actually travel there) we got in touch to see if she had any tips of places to check out, as well as planning to meet for coffee. Which we did, several times, and we totally connected and had a good time together! But that’s not all. In the meantime, Jo also needed some new photography for her website, and she reached out to us to do a portrait session. That was an excellent opportunity for us to explore the city together, looking for beautiful spots to take photos and to keep practising our photography skills. It was a lot of fun and we were all so happy with the results!
Looking for inspiring locations to shoot also meant discovering some beautiful places. Fukuoka is an ultra-modern city, however, there are still some pretty authentic sights – and of course, temples. We particularly love zen temples and their minimalist, muted “wabi sabi” aspects, so we actually visited Shofukuji, which is apparently Japan’s first zen temple. We were all alone there, so it was really peaceful!
On random days just walking around the city, we stumbled on some smaller shrines and temples – and on a very cold winter day, Jo told us there would be a flea market at a temple near the center of the city. So we braved the excruciatingly frozen temperatures and went there to watch the locals and spot some more finds for our house, like we did in Tokyo at the Boro Ichi market!
Which really made us realize once again: Japanese flea markets are no joke. Honestly, I’ve never seen so many incredible vintage objects in one place – every stand had a perfectly curated collection with its own mood. All the coolest little things that we revive and find trendy nowadays, such as old medicine jars, tin plates, rough wooden stools, even dried flowers were on sale. It was hard not to buy everything, really!
Fukuoka is a place that we really loved, and that we’d gladly return to. It offered us a lovely, comfortable lifestyle & yet it still surprised us with its unique café scene and lots of little details that we noticed as we strolled around. We met some really lovely people there and also a cat – this one right here was always on our way home, hanging right outside what seemed to be a restaurant 🙂
A side-trip to Ainoshima (Kyushu’s Cat Island)
Speaking of cats! During our stay in Fukuoka we also did a crazy little sidetrip, and… we visited a CAT island. Yup, you heard that right!
Japan is known for having “animal sanctuary places” such as islands or even cities populated with certain animals, such as foxes, deer, rabbits, or cats. Last year, we visited Nara, a city near Kyoto which is populated with friendly deer who’ve been there for the last 1000 years. It was so much fun.
And so in the Kyushu region, where Fukuoka is located – there was apparently an island filled with cats. A japanese friend told us about it and although at first we were a little nervous because of David’s allergy to cats, we decided to go for it. Oh, we did not regret it one bit!
We took a train to the port, then a boat to get to the island. We were alone, with just a few locals who knew about the islands main attraction 🙂
When we arrived on this tiny island, the sun was shining and cats were already awaiting in all corners, which was a really funny experience! However, we also got really intrigued by this island in general – it was tiny, remote, there were no shops, no restaurants, no hotels – literally just a small fishermen’s village complete with a few vegetable patches and we also noticed a school.
We started walking around the island on the one and only road that encircled it. It was silent, sunny, peaceful but also eerie in some way. We felt so alone in this remote piece of land – and occasionally spotted a tiny shrine or a few abandoned fishermen’s houses on our path. We imagined how life must be “still” and relentlessly simple here, literally just living off the land & the sea on this tiny island.
Needles to say though, visiting this little island was one of the coolest, most fun experiences we’ve ever lived. It was the perfect little side-trip away from Fukuoka’s buzz and we would do it again anytime.
After Fukuoka, we travelled to Hiroshima for a shorter stay of just a less than two weeks. Hiroshima had never been on our list of places where we’d want to sample living in, but we still wanted to experience it so we decided to have a little stay there anyhow.
Although it was definitely quieter than Fukuoka, it was still a delight to spend some time there. We got ourselves a tiny airbnb and a couple of bikes – which was everything we needed to have a comfortable lifestlyle there.
We were blessed with lots of sunny days, and some pretty good food. If you ever travel to Japan, Hiroshima is the place to be for all those yummy eats – it is known for the its Okonomiyaki (japanese omelette), for example. In fact there are tons of Okonomiyaki places all around, and even an entire building called Okonomimura that is fully dedicated to this comfort food.
We were very lucky to have amazing weather so we could find a lovely balance between getting our work done and exploring the city on our bikes.
We got to see Hiroshima’s famous dome (or what remained of it after the atomic bomb) and the peace memorial, which brought so many emotions. It’s horrifying to think of what happened right there and how many innocent people were hurt. And what’s even worse is that every day, there are still locals on these premises that are trying to get signatures for petitions against the use of nuclear weapons. As much as everyone “seems” to agree on that, there’s still so much progress to be made…
Exploring Hiroshima was very pleasant. In fact this city turned out to be way more charming than we expected! As several rivers and canals go through it, there’s a lot of greenery – especially on its east side. This is a great little area, studded with cute cafés and shops along the river, and just nearby, the beautiful Shukkeien Garden which is like a peaceful green haven in the middle of the city, and where bamboos & gingko trees remain miraculously alive. Nature is always the best role model when it comes to strength & resilience…
Daytrip to Miyajima
An easy day trip away from Hiroshima is Miyajima …and we knew we couldn’t miss it. Miyajima (also called Itsukushima) is a sacred island, known for it’s floating Tori gate and its beautiful nature that has been continuously worshipped in Shinto spirituality.
On a sunny wednesday, right after we finished catching up on our morning work – we took a train there, as well as some food we had purchased, and we made our way there to have a picnic. It was a funny experience as we quickly got surrounded by hungry deer, just like we did back in Nara!! Later, we took the cable car up to mount Misen. And wow… this was absolutely worth it. What an incredible, immaculate view. Just one of these moments that makes you feel so grateful for being alive on this planet.
All of these beautiful experiences happened over a month ago… and so much more has happened since then, as we are currently in Kyoto and we’ve also been to Osaka & Seoul in the meantime. Even when we choose to travel slow, there’s so much that we accumulate visually. So many photos and so many memories that we collect day after day. I hope you don’t mind me taking things one step at a time, it allows me as well to reflect on all of it little by little.
I will be posting our next travel journal about Osaka & Seoul soon! Stay tuned. In the meantime, make sure to subscribe to our newsletter if you don’t want to miss anything. Arigatou (thank you in Japanese) 🙂