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This article is to document our 14 days-trip to Japan. We traveled like the locals. No conducted tours or pre-booked transfers. This article is a brief summary of where we went and what we did during this period. Occasionally, I may air my personal thoughts and feelings. Hope this can be a little help for those planning the trip to Japan. All my resources are obtained via internet. All my bookings of ryokans and air-tickets are also via internet. The advent of technology is just great. Lonely Planet Thorn Tree travel forum is a great source for info.
My itinerary for the Japan trip is to travel to many stops using the JR pass. I have intended to stay in Kyoto for 5 days as a base for day trips to nearby places. Unfortunately, I could only book 3 days accommodation in Kyoto. Hence, I decide to stay at Hiroshima for one day. All in all, we have 14 days in Japan. Landed in Tokyo for 2 nights -> 3 nights in Kyoto -> one night in Hiroshima -> 2 nights in Osaka -> back to Tokyo for 5 nights before heading home.
Arrived in Narita airport early morning after a midnight flight from Changi airport. From Narita, we took a Kesei limited express (1000y) to Ueno for our first Ryokan. Tokyo is the contrast of new and old. You will find towering skyscrapers and lot of people in Shibuya, Shinjuku, Ginza. In the midst of this concrete jungle, one can retreat from the urban atmosphere to green and park – Meiji Shrine near Harajuku Station or Ueno Park near Ueno Station. Visited the Ueno zoo which is in Ueno Park.
Day trips from Tokyo
Though our JR pass had expired when we came back to Tokyo, we had managed to go for a few side trips :
Ueno Park – is a large public park next to JR Ueno Station. Famous for the many museums found on its ground. Many people also come here to the cherry blossom with more than 1000 cherry trees lining its central pathway. Ueno Zoo, Japan’s oldest zoo is also located here.
Meiji Shrine – a very spacious shrine ground within the city located beside the JR Harajuku Station. Nearby Yoyogi Park makes up a large forested tree which is great for a relaxing stroll. 120,000 trees of 365 different species were donated by the people of Japan when the shrine was estabished.
Kamakura – bought a one day pass from Shinjuku Station for 1430y on the Odaky line. Saw the Great Buddha, a bonze statue of Amida at 13.35 meters high (2nd largest in Japan). Kamakura is too big to cover on foot With its countryside atmosphere and unlimited travel on the rattling old Enoden, a half train/half streetcar, it was a lovely experience away from the overcrowded Tokyo.
Kawagoe – about 30 minutes train ride from Tokyo. Crea Mall has a plethora of shops and eating places. Explore further, we saw some streets that still had traditional Japanese architecture buildings intact.
Mt Takao – another short train ride from Tokyo. About 530m high. A breath of fresh air from Tokyo’s hypermodernity. You can climb or take cable car to reach the top. Try to go early as the night fell at about 4.30pm at this autumn period.
Tsukiji Fish Market – an eye opener for us. Have to be there early to see the action. A short walk from Tsjuiki station of Hibiya line. All kinds of seafood can be found here.
Ameya Yokocho – a open air market which is very near the Ueno Station. Home to over one hundred and eighty one shops selling from fresh food to clothing and time pieces. We actually came here by chance. A very nice experience.
Yokohama Chinatown – largest Chinatown in Japan located in central Yokohama. The many restaurants and food stands are the main attractions. We ate at one of the many Chinese restaurants. The service staff was Chinese but spoke Japanese. Easily reached from Tokyo within an hour by train.
About 3 hours ride from Tokyo by the shinkasen (again we used our JR pass). I had been to Kyoto while on business trip. At that time, I did not really feel I had seen Kyoto -famous for its temples and shrines. This time around, I had a great time in Kyoto, the old capital of Japan. It is more traditional than Tokyo. You can see more kimono-clad Japanese ladies here. Of course, we visited the Kinkakuyi Temple (Golden Pavilion) – the must see while in Kyoto. Very beautiful in the contrast of autumn leaves.
Gion district is the place you should not miss while in Kyoto. Up-market shopping and restaurants. We did not buy anything but just soaked in the atmosphere. Talking about shopping, I notice that it the ladies paradise here and almost every shopping area in Japan. Shops selling ladies products outnumber men.
A day trip to Nara was very pleasant. We went to the Nara Park where the greedy deers were freely roaming around. Also saw Japan biggest Buddha in Todaiji temple. While there, saw many Japanese school children too. As a matter of fact, I notice every place of attraction we went, there were many local Japanese tourists.
Stayed 2 nights in Osaka. Visited the Kaiyukan, one of the world largest aquarium with its 11,000 tons of water. Of course, we also visited Dotonbori district – bustling streets of shops and restaurants. A very touristy place.
Spent a day trip at Okayama. While there, visited the Korakuen garden. We took a bus from Okayama Station to reach the garden, a quiet and peaceful retreat.
Stayed one night here. Nice little town with trams running. Visited the A-bomb park. Cannot imagine it was a barren land of total destruction more that 60 years ago!
Again with JR pass, we spent an afternoon visiting the Majimaya island (an easy daytrip). Needless to say, everyone comes here to view the Tori Gate, rumoured to be the most photographed object from Japan.
I have no regret buying the 7 day JR pass for about S$360. (need to purchase outside Japan) If not for the pass, I do not think we could travel to so many places with ease. Transportation is not cheap in Japan which is famous for it massive railways communication. For us, we found it was very complicated but not difficult. I always used the option of writing down where I wanted to go and showed it to the station master. Get a map. It helps too. There are many kinds of passes used here. We bought the PASMO card for our daily use in the last 5 days in Tokyo. It is a convenient bus/train pass where you top up when fund is running low. At the end of day, one can get the refund of the balance if not required anymore. There is a handling charge of 210y. The pass is a major convenience over buying single ticket each time one has to ride a train or bus. There is also the JR one day pass of 730y which you can have unlimited travel around the Tokyo cosmopolitian line.
Frankly, I am very fond of eating Japanese food. Many kinds of Japanese food can be found here. Unfortunately, as we do not understand Japanese, many times we had to find restaurants that had the display of food in the front. Then we would point to the waiter what we wanted. I am sure there are a lot in the menu that were not displayed. By chance, we had the delicious ramen at the 10 floor of Isetan in Kyoto station. The best we had while in Japan. At Tsjukiji fish market, we had our most expensive meal – 3500y sushi set. As we are not used to eating too much raw seafood at home, we had hard time swallowing uncooked prawn and sea urchin ! I notice that Japanese like to eat red beans. There are red bean cake, red bean ice cream, red bean bread, red bean dessert… At one dessert shop in Kawagoe, we had red bean ice cream dessert that came with hot green tea. Yummy.
We all know the Japanese are very courteous and polite. I fully agree with that. Generally, they are also very helpful and kind. A few episodes mentioned here show the friendliness of Japanese :
#1 – seat in the train. A Japanese lady moved away to another seat so that three of us could sit together.
#2 – asking for direction. We asked two Japanese ladies for direction to our guesthouse in Kyoto. Apparently, they were also touring Kyoto and did not seem to know the place well. Nevertheless, they went all the way to ask help from another person to assist us. What kind act !
#3 – again asking for direction to guesthouse in Tokyo. The young Japanese lady was not very sure. I could sense she did all her best to help. Thank you.
#4 – appreciation. While in a bus in Kyoto, I gave a seat to an old lady. She was so grateful and kept on thanking me. I could sense her sincere appreciation.
Most service workers are young while most shopkeepers are more matured. People seem to be in a hurry all the time especially in train stations. Stress level should be quite high, I reckon. Most office workers are very well dressed. Maybe it was cold at this time, boots for the ladies are a common sight. Also, high heel for the ladies seems to be the trend. Saw some running on high heels to catch the train with remarkable ease. Salarymen seem to wear the same colour coat – black Smoking is very common here. Smoking in restaurants is allowed. Suffocation for asthmatics and non smokers !
I booked all my accommodation through internet. We were not disappointed with all we had stayed. They were clean and safe. I normally rate the accommodation by reading feedback from those who have stayed there before.
Aizuya Inn (Tokyo) – need to pay 100y for the shower. About 15 minutes from the nearest station.(Minamisenju)
Gojo annex (Kyoto) – very difficult to locate in a very quiet residential area. Traditional wooden building. Restrooms are at the basement. To reach, need to climb a steep staircase. Bus ride from Kyoto station took about 10 minutes.
J-hoppers (Hiroshima) – backpackers culture here. Very well equipped. No lift here. Price is reasonable. Worth your money to stay here. From Hiroshima station, tram ride took about 12 minutes.
Kameya (Osaka) – run by an elderly couple. Feel more like staying in someone’s home. Very cosy and near to Osaka aquarium. 6 mins walk from nearest train station (Osaka-ko)
Sawanoya (Tokyo) – another family run Ryokan. Very well maintained with small onsen in shower room. 10 minutes walk from nearest train station (Nezu). Charge is little pricey but worth it.
I had enjoyed this trip very much. We were never been harassed to buy any thing or ripped off. We feel so safe. The communication infrastructure is superb that makes traveling very simple and convenient. I love the food. It is simply delicious and authentic. Though it was cold during this visit, the autumn season is ideal for long walks along the endless labyrinths of shopping malls and streets dotted with ancient Japanese architecture and small tiny shops and restaurants.. The friendliness and kindness of the Japanese people is admirable. Yes, it is expensive but joyfully rewarding experience. Now, I am thinking of planning another trip to Japan….
Useful links :
1) For hotel reviews – I use mainly tripadvisor
2) Places of interest, how to get there – wikitravel and Japan travel guide
3) General info on accommodation, transport, etc – Lonely Planet travel forum