Sisterly strolls through Japan’s streets and shrines. Photo / 123rf
Two’s company on an unforgettable trip to Japan, writes Kristie Kellahan.
It takes about five minutes to convince my sister, Cherie, to join me in Japan. It’s late October when plans for my last-minute work trip to Seoul and Tokyo fall into place. Three weeks later, business taken care of, my sister and I marinate in the piping hot thermal waters of Beppu’s onsens, feast on chicken yakitori in Osaka and gulp down icy lemon sours, the citrusy cocktails served in izakayas all over Japan.
We marvel at the brilliant red, gold and orange autumn foliage as we tour Shinto temples and ride Shinkansen bullet trains from the west to the east of the Land of the Rising Sun. Dodging rambunctious deer in Nara, we see the funny side of Japan and of each other. Every day, I’m reminded of the Japanese proverb: Good things come to families that laugh.
Such is the joy and freedom of international travel with an adult sibling, when there are no kids to consider and Mum is happy at home, healthy and independent. We can avoid the school holiday rush, nabbing affordable flights and hotels at short notice, as we bypass expensive theme parks that hold no interest for us. This is grown-up fun, with the person I’ve been giggling with for as long as I can remember.
To say we feel fortunate to have the time, funds, health and desire right now to travel together is a huge understatement. We know we’ve won the lottery of life and we seize every travel opportunity that comes our way, now more than ever.
We had been to Japan before the pandemic, loved it and immediately made plans to return and explore further. Those plans were, of course, shelved for several years, only deepening the desire to revisit the country that is now winning the post-pandemic popularity contest.
A favourable exchange rate, delightful people, a slew of new hotel openings and incredible food have put Japan on the top of travellers’ wish lists for 2024. Many will fly in to one of Tokyo’s airports, Narita or Haneda. The capital is a thrilling introduction to a country that’s a mix of ultra-modern skyscrapers, neon-lit amusement arcades, sacred temples and tranquil green spaces. We shop the busy streets of Shinjuku, admire the elegant holiday decorations in Ginza and clink glasses of cold Asahi beer with locals at a raucously fun bar located underneath the train tracks in Shimbashi.
If you’re heading off to Tokyo but don’t know where/what/how to start planning, read our ultimate travel guide to Tokyo
For a change of pace, we spend a few days admiring the natural beauty and many attractions of the region surrounding Mount Fuji. It’s a pity most tourists just catch a glimpse of the snow-capped mountain as they speed past in a bullet train. Unesco World Heritage-listed shrines and pagodas, steaming onsens and wonderful local cuisine make this area well worth a longer visit. From our room at Highland Resort Hotel and Spa, we enjoy a spectacular, unobstructed view of the mountain.
Growing in popularity, Osaka is known as Japan’s kitchen for good reason. In the buzzy port city, eating is a sport and a favourite hobby. It is, after all, the birthplace of takoyaki octopus balls and my new favourite thing, kushikatsu. Turns out just about anything can be skewered, deep-fried and dipped in a scrumptious sauce. We squeeze into a kushikatsu restaurant that’s smaller than my kitchen, laughing and joking around with 10 other patrons as the white-aproned chef fries up skewers of wagyu, prawns, salmon, zucchini, pork belly and lotus root.
It’s a good thing we love to walk and walk – 25,000 steps some days – or the skewers and steins would have added up to a lot of excess baggage by the end of our two-week trip. We revive our tired legs by soaking in healing waters, in the age-old tradition of onsen bathing. In Beppu, one of the most famous hot springs resorts in Japan, we book a private ‘family bath’ experience. Steeping in the warm, mineral-rich water of a rockpool built for two, it’s almost as if we are, once again, young girls at the end of the day.
Kids no more
To make the most of a holiday with adult siblings, follow these six tips for carefree travel.
1. Agree on money matters: It’ll work best if you’re all on the same page about travel budgets and how/where you want to spend money.
2. Compromise is key: Even if said budgets or interests are not exactly aligned, do it your way one day and their way the next.
3. Leave old arguments at home: As you navigate the streets of Paris or climb Machu Picchu, it’s not the time to rehash old squabbles.
4. Carve out alone time: Travelling 24/7 with anybody can be intense, so make time for a solo morning walk, afternoon nap or coffee run.
5. See each other as adults: Forget the roles of childhood – let the youngest take the lead, encourage the responsible one to have fun.
6. Enjoy the moment: Fractured families are not uncommon, so recognise how fortunate you are to like your siblings enough to travel with them.
Air NZ flies non-stop from Auckland to Tokyo-Narita International Airport in 11 hours.