Thursday, November 28, 2013

Japan Trip November 2013

Ah, Japan... Land of shinkansens, sushi, ramen, sashimi, and endless vending machines. A developed nation, yet still retaining a lot of culture and tradition, a mix of old and new.

Some friends have asked how we planned the trip. Well, I had 6 months to think about it, and had Google a spreadsheet to work on, covering places of interest, locating accommodations and balancing the budget. I referred to japan-guide.com, which is a website with comprehensive information about Japan. I also referred to Tripadvisor for accommodation research. Some friends recommended Airbnb, but I was a skeptic about renting someone's house and risking getting kicked out.

One of hubby's requirement was to experience the shinkansen, high speed bullet train. In order to do that, I decided to get the 7-day JR Pass which is valid for travel on all major forms of transportation provided by the JR Group in Japan (except for the “NOZOMI” and “MIZUHO” trains on the Tokaido, Sanyo and Kyushu Shinkansen lines). You have to buy the JR exchange order in your country first, before you go to Japan. Once you reach Japan, find the JR Office, give them your exchange order and you will get your JR Pass. We bought the ordinary pass, priced at JPY28,300 for 7 days. Green cars are more expensive (JPY37,800 for 7 days), and is just essentially bigger seats. With the JR Pass, you can reserve your seat on the shinkansen at no additional cost.

Shin-Osaka Station. This is the Shinkansen Hikari bound for Tokyo, which we boarded with reserve seats.
Our adventure started from Kansai International Airport (KIX) where we flew to, and from there, we got our JR Pass, took the Haruka Express to Shin-Osaka, and from Shin-Osaka, took the shinkansen for a 3-hour high speed ride to Tokyo. I had calculated exactly on which day our JR Pass would expire, to make sure I made full use of it.

Ameyoko shopping street which runs between Okachimachi and Ueno Stations.
Tokyo is a very big city, and is teaming with everything old and new. The train networks are amazing, I'm still fascinated by their comprehensive system really. The Japanese are hospitable, a few times we had some trouble understanding their train schedules, and when we approach the station masters (who can speak some form of English) they were ever willing to help us out. Communication didn't pose much of a barrier, as most can speak very basic English, which was good enough to understand (sign and body languages also help). 

Hello Fuji-San!
Our second stop was at Hakone, a mountainous region just outside Tokyo and famous for its sulfuric hot springs. We took the shinkansen to Odawara Station, which was about a 40 minute journey. Having the chance to see Mt Fuji on a clear day is like a dream come true, the mountain is magnificent.

Hakone Shrine's lakefront torii gate at lake Ashinoko.
We spend two nights at Fuji-Hakone Guesthouse in Hakone, and Rumi, the lady I was liaising my reservations with had been waiting to welcome us. She even recommended some restaurants for us to have our meals, and also introduced us to some good tourist spots. In the same guest house, we could use the indoor onsen and outdoor onsen (additional charges apply for outdoor onsen). It was quite an experience to soak in an onsen, a good soak to rest those tired muscles after a long day on your feet. Plus temperature was dropping, imagine being super cold and then easing into a hot tub.


Kyoto Station. Isetan is inside, about 11 floors.
Our third leg of the trip saw us in Kyoto, a two hour journey by shinkansen from Odawara Station (Hakone). Kyoto used to be the former capital of the country, and has retained a lot of its culture and temples. This place is full of temples! Some key temples to visit are the Kiyomizudera (they have night illumination during spring and autumn), Tofukuji, Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion), Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion), Fushimi Inari Shrine (shinto shrine just south of Kyoto), oh so many. As it is autumn now, the spectacular changes of colours has attracted many visitors far and wide, all here to see the lovely autumn colours.

Tsutenkyo Bridge is opposite the bridge we were on, additional charges apply to get to that bridge.

The many thousands of vermillion torii gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine.

Yakiniku for dinner. No idea which part of the cow, but it's damn good wagyu.

Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion.

Fiery red leaves.
The last leg of the trip was at Osaka, we took the rapid express train from Kyoto Station (about 30 minutes). Osaka is a huge metropolis, and endless streets for shopping. I also noticed that Osaka folks tend to be less patient compared to Tokyo. Surprising discovery, eh? It is said that people in Osaka are more money-minded too.

Dotonbori.
Osaka Castle.
Wagyu from Kuromon Market.

 We love Japan, and we have been talking about visiting this country for a few years. Now that we have made the journey, we can't wait to go back! :D

2 comments:

that is so nice. How many days you went there? We are going there in April! I can't wait.

We were there for 12 days.