Summary of all the days19 March, 2013 by Chad
It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these posts, but with some writing in for requests on their itineraries and insufficient time to respond on a personal basis, I thought I’d throw up a summary for all of the days of the year end Japan trip previously published. Due to the nature of things, a lot of the events mentioned won’t be applicable to future trips, but hopefully it’ll show what is achievable in one day, highlight some key attractions and provide some tips for those traveling to Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto or Nagoya.
Due to the length of stay, we’ve decided to cover the Kanto (Osaka/Kyoto), Aichi (Nagoya) and Kanto (Tokyo/Yokohama) areas in all. While we’d be covering a similar Kansai-Kanto route to a past trip, this time we’d actually stop over at Haneda Airport and take a connecting flight to Osaka. Even after factoring in the costs of the local transit, this came with the advantage of saving quite a bit of money that would had otherwise gone towards a Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass).
We flew with ANA, which allowed us to plan a custom trip. Starting off at Haneda Airport, we’d take a local flight to Itami Airport (Osaka’s domestic airport), work our way north through cheaper land transport, and finally fly back to Singapore from Haneda. This way, our entire expenditure for the flight and cross country transport for a month amounted to only about SGD$1,100. A 21 day Rail Pass alone would had set one back SGD$865 during this time.
Domestic flights in Japan are cheap, more so than Shinkansen at least. ANA is now offers flights anywhere within Japan for 10,500 yen, though it’s part of a “Cool Japan” and only applicable to foreigners. There are also budget airlines that operate even cheaper flights. Flying by ANA, there’s about 2 hours between flights, which is narrowed to about 1 hour after all the logistics are settled. It takes just an additional hour by plane to get from Haneda to Itami. Given ANA’s timings, this would mean that in total we’d leave Singapore at about 10 PM and reach Osaka at about 9 AM. For those with the energy to continue on after a flight, this might be a plus.
As covered in greater detail in the Day 1 article, taking a domestic flight also comes with the benefit of Itami Airport being more convenient than the more commonly traversed Kansai International Airport. A coach from Itami to the city is just 490 yen and 20 minutes, less than 1/3rd it would cost and take if one were to arrive by Kansai International Airport.
We would be staying at three different accommodations in Japan this trip. A hotel in Osaka would serve as our Kansai outpost, Nagoya, Aichi and an apartment in Tokyo. I was really happy with how the first two hotels turned out, not so the apartment. Definitely recommend the Osaka and Nagoya hotels to readers.
Shin Osaka Sunny Stone Hotel
It’s hard to find faults with the Shin Osaka Sunny Stone Hotel. At just SGD$52 per room, Sunny Stone gives even hotels in “cheaper” countries a run for their money. If that wasn’t nearly enough, the hotel is located within walking distance from Shin-Osaka Station, Osaka’s Shinkansen terminal, giving you convenient access to not only Osaka itself, but also adjacent cities like Kyoto, Kobe and beyond. Add in some of the most spacious rooms and a complementary buffet breakfast, and you’ve got yourself a real bargain.
Unizo Inn Nagoya Sakae (Formerly Chisun Inn Nagoya Sakae)
Hotels in Nagoya are generally more expensive. Unizo Inn Nagoya Sakae is quite affordable though, especially when considering its location. Located smack in the center of Nagoya’s Naka (center) Ward, Unizo Sakae grants you the best access to all of the city’s sights, without burning a hole in your wallet. Rooms are SGD$67 a night. Amenities-wise Unizo Sakae is a pretty standard business hotel. It’s value comes from being located within the Sakae shopping district, a lovely city center with plenty of parks, cafes and restaurants. It’s also walking distance from Nagoya Tower, Nagoya Castle, Sunshine Sakae, Osu and many of the city’s museums.
Day 1. Haneda Airport, Itami Airport, Umeda, Osaka Aquarium
Clearing customs and dropping off our luggage the our hotel we still had the rest of the afternoon available. After visiting Endo Sushi to celebrate our arrival in Japan, we headed over to the nearby Umeda district for a bit of shopping and to get B-Mobile 3G Data Sim Cards, which we would have much trouble activating later. Finally, we made the ill-advised decision to press on to Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan in the evening, when we would had been much better spent recovering from the post-flight fatigue.
Day 2. Senrichuo, Namba, Dotonbori
This morning we’d head over to the Selcy Mall at Senrichuo for the free SUPER☆GiRLS mini-live. The rest of the afternoon would be spent over at central Namba especially it’s Den-Den Town area for it’s amusement centers and the new AKB48 Cafe & Shop opposite the NMB48 Theater.
At night, we walked over to the nearby Dotonbori area to catch the night time illumination there, and bumped into a bunch of Halloween partygoers. We ended the day with a set meal at the original shop of the famous Kani Doraku crab restaurant, which was nothing short of amazing.
Day 3. Osaka Castle, Sakuya Konohanakan, Umeda
Thought we’d spend the day tackling some “cultural” landmarks. We purchased the one day version of the Osaka Unlimited Pass, an all inclusive transport and attraction bundle pass but would later regret it. Would learn that is particularly difficult to make the one day parth worthwhile, since it costs more than 2/3rds the two day version. Faced with poor weather, we’d stick indoors by visiting Osaka Castle in the morning.
The past days’ tiredness and issues would slowly build up resulting in us reaching our next destination Sakuya Konohanakan only at closing time. In my haste, ended up dropping my camera and damaging the lens. Umeda’s Yodobashi Camera was of little help, so got some pliers from a Don Quixote outlet to take things into my own hands.
Day 4. Arashiyama Monkey Park, Tenryuji, Umeda
Meeting the Japanese Macaque monkeys at Arashiyama was one of the highlights of our trip. The Monkey Park at Kyoto’s Arashiyama provides a means of meeting the monkeys up close, without infringing too much upon their natural habitat or behavior. The rest of the surrounding area makes for a nice visit too. The main temple Tenryuji is not bad as far as temples go. We also enjoyed lunch and snacks at the traditional Japanese shopping streets. Such touristy places tend to close early, so there was still ample time in the evening to catch up on more shopping back in Osaka city.
Day 5. Kiyomizudera, Higashiyama, Gion
We’d finally head over today to Kyoto’s most popular shrine Kiyomizudera. Forgot about how Kyoto is mainly serviced by buses, so ended up wasting some time and money taking a train to a nearer station, when we could had taken a direct bus from Kyoto Station. Kiyomizudera is definitely worth a visit. Rather than one temple, its a complex of temples and shrines.
There’s a great deal to see at the surrounding Higashiyama neighborhood where we spent the rest of the afternoon. More traditional Japanese shops here than any other touristy area. Gion, where we found Kyoto’s shopping malls and contemporary shops was within walking distance and would had been deserving of one full day itself.
Day 6. Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, Mitsui Outlet Park, Kobe Tower, Kobe Chinatown
Kobe is easily accessible from Osaka by regular local trains. It takes 30-40 minutes to get there and makes for another nice day trip. Took the rest to the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge in the morning again, though we dropped off at a different station this time. Also checked out some of the old colonial houses there. We spent just a bit of time shopping at the Mitsui Outlet Park, before realising that we were late for lunch at the Mouriya.
Ended up missing lunch timings on the dot and having to pay a bit more. Finally satisfied my wish of visiting Kobe Tower in the evening. Definitely one of the nicer towers in Japan, due largely to the city’s unique ambiance. Chilled out for a good while at an inexpensive rotating cafe inside the tower, before taking a look at Kobe Chinatown.
Day 7. Mount Hiei, Enryakuji, Otsu
Shiga’s Biwako, the largest lake in Japan looked like an impressive attraction to see. It’s located about an hour east of the city at the midway mark between Nagoya. Due to the size of the lake, there are actually quite a number of cities surrounding the lake, meaning that unfortunately, there really wasn’t one default place to visit Lake Biwa. This was further made worse by how little information, English or otherwise, was available online.
We decided to try ahead with the nearest Mount Hiei to hopefully get a view of the lake but it turned out to be mostly a flop. The Enryakuji temple on the mountain wasn’t too outstanding and the view from the mountain was obstructed by foliage.
We returned to Otsu, the capital city in the evening to catch an advertised fountain show on the river, but it turned out to be a major disappointment. The rural city ceased to function as soon as it got dark and so we spent the evening at a dilapidated shopping mall beside the port. Should I decided to give Biwako another chance in the future, it will probably be for the farmers’ markets on the eastern shore.
Day 8. Shinsekai, Tennoji Zoo, Osaka Port
Our last day in Kansai. Bad weather predictions had us staying in Osaka, a decision we would at least partially regret. Without any concrete plans, the morning was spent visiting Shinsekai, which we had originally had the good sense to skip. The only saving grace to the tourist trap was an affordable sushi restaurant we chanced upon. The adjacent Tennoji Zoo turned out to be a disappointment, despite apparently being one of Japan’s larger zoos.
Spent the rest of the afternoon and evening at Osaka Port, where time seemed to had stood still since the 90s. Thankfully, we had another spectacular meal here courtesy of Sakon. One thing we noticed is that we tended to enjoy ourselves more when venturing outside Osaka, perhaps because we had spent too many consecutive days there. It would probably had been better to split up the days instead. Had spent at least one too many days in Osaka too.
Day 9. Sakae, Osu Kanon, Osu, Nagoya Station
The morning was spent struggling with our baggage on local trains to Nagoya. Would recommend taking a coach bus instead, something we had neglected to book in time. The train stations to and in Nagoya were some of the least luggage/wheelchair friendly I’ve seen in Japan. Arriving in Nagoya, we had a hard time finding lunch and the only things open were fast food outlets. We initially thought that this was due to the public holiday (it was Bunka no Hi) but later learned that Sakae only came alive at night.
We spent the late afternoon and evening first at Osu, visiting the Osu Kannon Temple and the shopping district there. Osu is Nagoya’s main shotengai, and seemingly also the city’s humble equivalent of Akihabara. Stopped by Nagoya Station last, where some of the city’s larger department stores are, only to learn that like Osaka, they close early.
Day 10. Japan Monkey Park, Nagoya Station
Aichi has its own Monkey Park, though it’s nothing like the Arashiyama one, being actually a combination of children’s theme park and zoo. As a result, entry is an expensive 1,600 yen. Getting there is a lot of trouble too since its quite a distance from Nagoya. Wouldn’t recommend anyone visit here as the monkeys here are kept in depressing conditions. One of the bigger regrets this trip. The evening was spent back at the shopping malls around Nagoya Station, this time well in advance of closing time.
Day 11. Sakae, Osu,
There was a Passpo concert to attend this evening so we opted not to go far. Instead, we’d spend the afternoon at Sakae, Osu and everywhere in between. Being at the city center, many of Nagoya’s sights could be reached by foot. Staying in Sakae has its benefits. I’d visit Nagoya Tower and some of the shopping malls around Sakae in the morning. Due to the cold weather, and later rain, we’d try staying indoors as much as possible for the rest of the day. Passpo’s concert by all accounts was incredible. Before heading back we’d stop by Yamachan to try one of Nagoya’s culinary specialities, Tebasaki.
Day 12. Nagoya Aquarium, Sakae
Our final day in Nagoya would have us finally visiting the eagerly awaited Nagoya Aquarium and it didn’t disappoint. Nagoya’s Aquarium is many times larger than even Osaka’s and houses an expansive variety of marine animals. It comes highly recommended and we now add ourselves to the list of fans. Depending on how fast you go through the place, you can spend a good 3 to 4 hours here. It was back to Sakae for the late afternoon and evening to tie up some loose knots before taking an overnight coach to Tokyo.
Day 13. Tokyo Station, Akihabara
The overnight bus to Tokyo was a lot more pleasant than any of us had expected. Those looking to save on intercity transport might want to check out Willer Express. We reached Tokyo Station at dawn and killed some time at the McDonalds there until our apartment manager arrived. Learned out lesson this time, so after checking into our rooms at Kurumi Lease Mansion, spent the rest of the morning and afternoon catching up on sleep.
We stepped out in the evening for Tokyo’s otaku contagion zone, Akihabara and met up with Yan, who had flew in earlier today. For dinner, we headed over to the Nogizaka outlet of Uoshin to celebrate Yan’s birthday. Food there was awesome, yet affordable.
Day 14. Ginza, Akihabara
Our second day and first morning actually waking up in Tokyo had us heading over to Ginza to do some shopping. Unfortunately as experience would teach us, it’s literally impossible to shop efficiently in anything more than a pair, and there’s a lot of ground to cover at Ginza. The evening would have us returning to Akihabara again for some actual shopping. Given the company, we’d visit the place quite a few times this trip. However for anyone else, once should be more than sufficient.
Day 15. Meiji Jingu, Harajuku, Shibuya, Odaiba
In response to the sudden news that Eri would had to leave soon, we made the frantic decision to try to fit in as many touristy destination within these last few days. Unsurprisingly, that didn’t turn out to be such a good idea, since we’d end up being only able to barely scratch the surface of these areas. Meiji Jingu, being one of the main Shinto shrines in Japan was a given.
Tackling Harajuku and the adjacent Shibuya in the same day on foot, is our usual norm but as we also had plans to visit Odaiba in the evening, we really shouldn’t had spent that much time at these places. Unfortunately, the rest had forgotten it was Randy’s birthday and that we had planned to celebrate his birthday in the evening there. Ended up being rather rushed for time in Odaiba, which deserves a full day’s trip in itself. Moral of the story, regardless of circumstances, it’s better to take one’s time.
Day 16. Shibuya, Akihabara
Convinced Eri and Yan to at least visit DisneySea once before leaving. In the meantime, had made plans to meet up with my director in Japan for lunch. Amusingly, he brought us over to the Biohazard (Resident Evil in the west) Cafe over in Shibuya. While the boss and Randy were fans, wasn’t into Biohazard but the cafe turned out to be a really novel and enjoyable experience. Think maid cafe, with zombies and guns, complete with a silly dance routine and hi-touches for everyone.
Had the buffet lunch there, which was a little pricey but wasn’t bad. Chilled around Shibuya in the afternoon, though we actually spent more time trying to find a place which had space. The place was completely packed with tourists this Saturday afternoon. Would usually advice to avoid popular city areas on the weekends. In the evening, we returned (yet again) to Akihabara but this time for a private idol birthday event.
Day 17. Yokohama Arena
This afternoon, we’d visit Yokohama for the only real concert we’d attend this trip. Had pre-ordered tickets for the “girl’s side” of Happy Music Love 2012, featuring Scandal, Nogizaka46, Becky, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and NMB48. We were expecting poor seats but they turned out to be decent.
The concert was great, though it lacked the crowd lacked the enthusiasm of that of a single fanbase. There was something for everyone at the concert though, with Kyary’s segment really surprising me. My pick for the show, definitely Takemura Kiriko and her crazy dancers. Wouldn’t recommend Kyary to idol fans, but if you’re remotely interested in electro-pop and open to performance art type things, do try to hit up one of her shows, at least before the hype dies down and she fades into obscurity.
Day 18. Asakusa, Nakano Broadway
Eri’s last day in Tokyo would have us visiting Asakusa in the morning for Sensoji Temple, probably the most popular Buddhist place of worship in the city. It’s one of the prettier temples and the shopping streets that lead up to Sensoji make for some great, albeit touristy shopping. The many traditional snack shops along the street are especially popular.
While we had considered visiting the Tokyo Sky Tree in the evening, the rest seemed more keen on Nakano Broadway instead. Nakano Broadway is what I would refer to as Tokyo’s real “otaku haven”. The shops here cater to just about every (legal) niche interest one can think of. Used toy stores take up the majority of space at Nakano, but cover a much wider variety than just the anime figures of Akiba. The evening was again spent at another live where our idol friend was performing.
Day 19. Shinjuku, Harajuku, Shibuya
Met up with our idol friend for lunch at Shinjuku this afternoon. She introduced us to an affordable and delicious shabu shabu restaurant in Shinjuku. We then went to shop for frilly dresses at a nearby department store, with Randy eventually settling for a Liz Lisa one piece for a friend back in Singapore. Next we went over to Harajuku after to meet Chisaki, who had just flew in. Our idol friend had to get a birthday present for another idol’s birthday performance this evening, so we spent the rest of the afternoon window shopping.
It’s not easy getting stuff for adults at Harajuku, so instead she found what she was looking for at the Omotesando Body Shop. Took a train over to Shibuya in the evening for some sinful small bites at Tengu Izakaya. At night, we strolled around Shibuya and back towards Meiji Dori, where many of Tokyo’s home grown boutiques had sprung up. It was nearing closing time, but given the chance, would probably want to visit again some time to check out the fashion here.
Day 20. Ueno, Ueno Zoo, Tokyo Sky Tree
Randy’s last day in Tokyo. We’d meet up with Chisaki again in the morning at Ueno for an early lunch and to visit the zoo there. So far Ueno Zoo seems to be one of the better zoos in Japan with a large variety of animals. The animals were a lot more lively this Autumn than they were during Winter trips. We stopped by the Tokyo Sky Tree in the later afternoon in hopes of traveling up the tower but the queue was far too long, 3 hours long to be precise. Not sure if it was because of the season, or just too soon since the Sky Tree became public, but we’d have to try again some other time.
Day 21. Kamakura Daibutsu, Hasedera, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu
Made the poor decision to visit Kamakura today, despite being down with the weather. Spent the most of the afternoon at places of worship, first Kotokuin Temple for the Kamakura Daibutsu then at Hasedera Temple. The temples at Kamakura for the most part, were unimpressive but you can get a nice view of the area from Hasedera Temple. The temples at Kamakura make for a pleasant distraction from Tokyo but if you’ve already seen your fair share of temples around Japan, you can safely give them a pass.
The Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine might be worth a visit on account that such large shrines are a rarity. There’s a particularly beautiful view from the main hall of the shrine approach and Wakamiya Oji street leading up to it. It’s also surrounded by a fairly extensive shopping district. For those with only a day to spend, I’d suggest visiting the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu and shopping areas in the early morning and spend the rest of the afternoon at Enoshima instead.
Day 22. Odaiba, Akihabara
Revisited Odaiba in the morning. The island doesn’t really come alive until later than the city, so we ended up reaching too early. Spent half a day at Odaiba, which even then, was barely enough to cover half of the island. Checked out the Round One Stadium at Tokyo DiverCity, for a fixed fee, you can get unlimited usage of all the sports facilities and old amusement machines here. Those visiting Odaiba for the first time, or with any intention of shopping would probably want to allocate at least a full day there. Returned to Akihabara (again) in the evening. This time we were in for Kasai Tomomi’s birthday AKB48 Team A birthday show. Sadly, the members put up a disappointing performance.
Day 23. Tokyo Dome City, Akihabara
True enough to weather forecasts, heavy showers would last the entire day, starting in the early morning, which made it difficult to leave the apartment. Decided at the last minute to go for the SUPER☆GiRLS handshake nearby after all and then to Tokyo Dome City for the free Fairies mini-live there. Arriving late and thanks to the poor weather, didn’t manage to get a proper view of the show. The most amusing thing to happen today was a meeting and resultant dinner with two women Fairies wota, who turned out to be cultists.
Day 24. Tama Plaza
Wasn’t completely satisfied with yesterday. So after learning that Fairies Kanagawa performance wasn’t that far off, took a train over to Tama Plaza where they would be having their last live event. Managed to get a decent view this time, so despite the weather being really cold, it was an enjoyable experience. Returned to the apartment area in the evening in search of food but found nothing within the neighborhood except for some 24 hour fast food. Made a bad decision to try it out and regretted it almost immediately. Sometimes it’s just better to stick to the convenience store food.
Day 25. Nakano Broadway, Shinjuku
After a bit of research discovered that there was actually a whole other better neighborhood in the other direction of the apartment that we had missed until now. Considering this, the apartment was actually located in a pretty good spot in Tokyo. Though the actual living conditions still left much to be desired. Had an amazing brunch at a Sushi Zanmai outlet. The servings there were huge and like other chain restaurants, it was competitively priced. Paid Nakano Broadway a quick return visit in the afternoon to pick up some previously missed items before heading over to Shinjuku. Since my appointment ended up running late, spent the rest of the afternoon and evening at bookstores and shopping malls there.
Day 26. Enoshima, Kamakura, Shinjuku
Since we shared a free day, ended up meeting up with Chisaki this morning for a trip over to Enoshima. Being an island, Enoshima has its own unique ambiance and there are just enough sights on the little island for a day trip outside the city. Getting there is also convenient and affordable, since it isn’t too far from Tokyo and doesn’t involve complication transfers or alternative forms of transport. Probably one of the best Tokyo side trips I can recommend. Tried visiting Kamakura for its shops just after sunset but the shops there close early. Instead, we’d return to Shinjuku to pay the Tori no Ichi festival a better visit.
Day 27. Asakusa, Harajuku, Shibuya, Haneda Airport
The final day in Japan. But since the flight back was at night, still had the most of the day to look forward to. Would head on down to Asakusa in the morning to absorb some of the last touristy vibes, shopping and some great meals. In the afternoon, it was over to Harajuku to accompany Chisaki for more shopping then to Shibuya for some pre-flight sushi.
Getting back was easy enough logistically. The T-CAT terminal within walking distance of the apartment, operates Airport Limousine buses to Haneda for a decent price (but not so for Narita). Arrived at the airport well in advance of the flight this time, though the large amount of baggage on hand limited my mobility over there. Instead caught up on news thanks to the free power and internet points there. The last I checked, you had to pay to use the internet at Narita.
Regardless of how long you plan to take a trip, while a good amount of flexibility is required, I cannot stress enough the importance of having travel plans ahead of time. Having an idea of what to do helps keep your days motivated. It’s hard when catering plans to multiple people. The good solution is to actually have everyone contribute toward the planning, though this isn’t always possible in practice.
The best solution is of course to have each person have their own individual things to do over there, but this only applies if you’re being accompanied by more experienced travelers. You don’t want to work yourself into a situation where everyone is depending on you to provide the itinerary for the day. There’s also bound to be things that not everyone is to keen on, it’s more efficient to tackle these separately and an overdependence makes it very difficult for the odd one out. It’s much easier to break off and do separate things if everyone does their due diligence. When that isn’t possible, at least plan one thing that everyone would enjoy (including yourself!) each day.
Ultimately however the most important thing to consider when traveling overseas is who you’ll be going with. The tendency is to go with friends that you know well or for long enough, but that doesn’t necessary translate into a good travel companion. In fact, oddly enough, some of the best travel accomplices are those that you do not know too well, since they’d be much more conscious about their behavior.
This matters, since while you’d typically see your friends every once so often, traveling together involves seeing (or even living together with) them continuously for a matter of days or weeks. Personally, the best travel companions for me tend to be collaborative, voicing their opinions on matters clearly while still being sensible enough to strike a fair balance. Avoid those who go for “anything” and those who push aggressively for their way or are poor at striking a compromise.
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