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Travel Highlights 2020

2020 is finally coming to an end, and what a crazy year it was. Although the coronavirus pandemic hit everybody by surprise and caused us to reduce our travels and video shoots drastically, this year still had its share of nice moments. Here are five of the best highlights of my year at japan-guide.com.

#5: Traveling back in time in Aizu Wakamatsu

My first highlight for this year is not related to work but to my honeymoon trip, where we drove up to Aizu Wakamatsu. Staying one night at Mukaitaki in Higashiyama Onsen was one of the best ryokan experience I ever had. Not only is the traditional inn absolutely beautiful, the service and meals were truly memorable. Not to mention the very old hot spring baths, which really made it feel like we had travelled back in time. I'm glad that we managed to feature it in our How to stay at a ryokan video.

#4: Trying Funazushi

While filming a video arount Mount Hieizan a few months ago, we headed to the city of Otsu in Shiga Prefecture, where we got to try funazushi. Funazushi is the ancestor of sushi and is made using a technique dating back to the Edo Period. Having seen many wacky videos on YouTube about funazushi showcasing it as an extremely stinky dish, my expectations were very low. However after trying it I realized it was strong but very savory, almost like a nice blue cheese. Definitely a nice surprise and a highlight of this year.

#3: Visiting the Hakkaisan sake brewery

During a trip with friends we headed to Niigata Prefecture to visit Uonuma no Sato, a very pleasant open space surrounded by beautiful nature where the Hakkaisan sake brewery is located. The spot is also dotted with cafes, bakeries and restaurants, all promoting the famous sake. The highlight of the free tour was getting to visit the brewery's warehouse where sake bottles are stored next to 1000 ton of snow to keep it cool.

#2: Night in Okuhida

While filming our 4-day road trip across central Japan video, we spent a night in a beautiful ryokan in Okuhida. The wild animal furs on the tatami floors, the irori (traditional Japanese hearth) and the retro atmosphere definitely set the mood as soon as we arrived. The highlight definitely was the robatayaki dinner, where food is grilled on hot charcoal.

#1: Zen meditation in Kyoto

My top highlight for this year has the be the Zen meditation experience we filmed at Kenninji in Kyoto. The Zen monk who received us was extremely friendly and showed us the basics of Zen meditation. The weather was pretty bad on that day, but the sound of rain in the Japanese garden definitely added to the atmosphere.