Monthly Archives: July 2018

Japan Travel Day 5-6 – Kyoto Sights

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Kyoto

11 a.m. Kyoto Walking Tour http://www.kyotofreewalkingtour.com/. This a great tour that gives you a lay of the land locally. It is pay what you can tour.

This free guided walking tour with an experienced English speaking guide provides a 2 – 2.5 hours stroll through the historical streets of Kyoto.

You will get to know the real Kyoto, great of information about Japanese culture, religious, gourmet experiences.

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During the tour you will visit Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. Walk through the geisha quarters of Gion and Higashiyama district.

After the tour is finished, your guide will answer questions and is happy to provide advice you on what to do and what to see during the rest of your stay.

Golden Pavilion or Kinkaku-Ji Temple didn’t disappoint. It took an hour to get there in traffic – but worth it to see its luxurious elegance.

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To book your ticket – state you are ‘Going’ on the tour on their Facebook page and the guide will meet you even if there is one person who rsvp’s. On my tour there was a good 20 people who attended.

Itinerary:

Kiyomizu-dera Temple 300y

Sannen-zaka and

Ninen-zaka

Shoren- in Temple

Yasaka Shrine (Gion stop)

Nishi Hongan-ji

Nanzen-ji 300y

Nishiki Market – desc

Kinkaku-ji/Golden Pavilion 400y

Kitano Temmago 300y

Daitou-ji 350-400y

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Japan Travel Day 3-4 – Osaka Sights

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Osaka

9:30 a.m. Osaka Free Walking Tour http://www.osakafreewalkingtour.com/. This a great tour that gives you a lay of the land locally. It is pay what you can tour.

The Osaka Free Walking Tour and will show you why Osaka is called the “Kitchen of Japan”, you will learn about the unique Otaku culture and will travel back in time to the beginning of 20th century visiting the old New World of Osaka.

During this 2 to 2.5 hour trip you will take a walk through Dotonbori street with its huge billboards, hundreds of restaurants and food stalls selling local foods including the famous Takoyaki and Okonomiyaki.

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You will pass through Kuromon market, a traditional Japanese market offering different foods with a great choice of seafood.

For Manga and Anime fans the Nipponbashi DenDen town would be a paradise on earth with its numerous shops specialising in selling manga, anime goods, figurines, etc. You will see the famous maids, girls wearing maid uniforms trying to get new customers into one of the many maid cafes in the area. The tour will end in Shinsekai , the New World, with it’s Tsutenkaku, the Osaka Eiffel tower, kushikatsu and Billiken , the God of wealth and money.

To book your ticket – state you are ‘Going’ on the tour on their Facebook page and the guide will meet you even if there is one person who rsvp’s. On my tour there was a good 20 people who attended.

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The hotel that I stayed at was a 3 minute walk to where I met the Osaka Free Walking Tour group.

I never used the Osaka Amazing Pass, https://www.osp.osaka-info.jp/en/about/whats.html, but if you are in Osaka for a few days it maybe helpful to you.

The Osaka Amazing Pass is a set of one card pass (unlimited times of rides for 1 day or 2 days) with barcode for entering free facilities for about 35 tourist spots input on it, and a guidebook with TOKU×2 Coupons, which allows the holder to enjoy a great deal trip during the day(s).

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IMAG8800Itinerary:

Midosuji Street

Hozenji Yokocho

Doguyasuji Arcade

Osaka Castle/Garden 9 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Keitakuen Garden 9 a.m. – 8 p.m. 300y

Nagai Park 9:30 – 5:00 p.m. 200y

Tempozan Ferris Wheel

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Try Takoyaki (たこ焼き or 蛸焼) is a ball-shaped Japanese snack made of a wheat flour-based batter and cooked in a special molded pan. It is typically filled with minced or diced octopus (tako), tempura scraps (tenkasu), pickled ginger, and green onion. Takoyaki are brushed with takoyaki sauce (similar to Worcestershire sauce) and mayonnaise, and then sprinkled with green laver (aonori) and shavings of dried bonito. There are many variations to the takoyaki recipe, for example, ponzu (soy sauce with dashi and citrus vinegar), goma-dare (sesame-and-vinegar sauce) or vinegared dashi.

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Try Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き o-Konomi-yaki) is a Japanese savory pancake containing a variety of ingredients. The name is derived from the word okonomi, meaning “how you like” or “what you like”, and yaki meaning “grill”. Okonomiyaki is mainly associated with the Kansai or Hiroshima areas of Japan, but is widely available throughout the country. Toppings and batters tend to vary according to region. In Tokyo, there is a semi-liquid okonomiyaki called ‘monjayaki.’

Umeda Building/Garden/Base – Observatory (Free 10 p.m.)

Harry Potter Wizarding World – https://www.usj.co.jp/e/attraction/att_detail/the-wizarding-world-of-harry-potter.html

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Japan Travel Day 2 – Hiroshima and Miyajima Island Sights

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Hiroshima and Miyajima Island

Book your ticket on the Shinkansen the day before at the Midori-no-madoguchi office in your local JR Rail Station and grab the earliest train out of Osaka. You will arrive at the Hiroshima JR Rail station. Find the Information Office, they will direct you to where you can find the local sightseeing bus which is free with your JR Rail Pass. If you have time, grab the map on the bus and it will take you to the main sights in Hiroshima. I really liked the Orange Route as it took me to the Atomic Bomb Dome, The Peace Memorial Park and the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for Atomic Bomb Victims.

After you spend half the day or more in Hiroshima take the same sightseeing bus back to the JR Rail Station and grab the local train to Miyajima Island. The Miyajima-guchi is 9th station from Hiroshima. Trip time is about 30 minutes.

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After get off the train at Miyajima-guchi, you will transfer onto a Ferry. You will see the ferry terminal at the entrance of Miyajima-guchi station. It is a 3 minutes walk to the ferry terminal. JR Ferry can be accessed for free using your JR Rail Pass.

The ferry service runs every 15 minutes and every 10 minutes in peak season. Usually three boats are operated continuously.

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It is very short cruise to Miyajima. It takes only 10 minutes. The big Torii Gate of Itukushima Shrine is usually on your right side.

Miyajima Island was a dream and probably my favourite place in Japan! An awesome Pagoda, a serene shrine and the Torii sea gate was epic. The side streets were so calming to get lost in. I sat on the beach for a few hours and took it all in and I’m no beach girl. Say hello to the wandering deer on the island. Pure magic.

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Japan Travel Day 1 – Fushmi-Inari and Nara Sights

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Day 1 – Sights

Fushmi-Inari and Nara

https://www.insidekyoto.com/kyoto-five-day-itinerary

https://www.kyotostation.com/jr-nara-line-for-tofukuji-inari-uji-nara/

http://inari.jp/en/

A UNESCO Heritage site. The journey up the mountain is very tranquil and a wonderful introduction to Japanese shrines. It is pretty popular with tourists but the hike up to Mount Inari in the bleeding heat is penance done and indeed one of the best views of Kyoto. The space is tranquil and a wonderful introduction to Japanese shrines. Keep an eye out for the stone foxes. 🙂

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I spent half the day at Fushmi-Inari and then took the train to Nara. It is on the same train line.

Nara is a small prefecture maybe an hour outside of Osaka by train. Totally sun stroked but I pushed myself to visit the Great Buddha in the Todaiji Temple (tear worthy), Kohfukuji Temple and the Three Story Pagoda. Epic, serene, gorgeous and twenty years after taking a course in Asian art and architecture in university – seeing these structures up close is beyond awe inspiring. I’d encourage to walk around Nara and avoid using public transit. You can cover more ground this way and Nara is a small enough town and it is totally doable. Said hi to the bowing deer in the Deer Park who will charm you for biscuits.

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Itinerary

Fushmi-Inari

Nara Park

Nara National Museum 520y 9:30 a.m. – 8 p.m.

Todaiji Temple 9:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.

Nigatsu-do temple 230 Y

Yoshikien Garden 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Kasuga Grand Shrine 6 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Manyo Botanical Garden 6 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Konfukuji Temple

Heijō Palace

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Japan Day Travel – Tote Bag Essentials vs. 7-11 and Lawson Eats

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Japan Day Travel – What do you pack in your Tote Bag?

Pack in your cloth bag or back pack water, some snacks, cash (Japan is a country that doesn’t lean on credit card use), maps and your itinerary for the day.   I would stop off at the local 7-11 or Lawson’s to pick up snacks, water or a sandwich if I was taking a train journey into another city on a day trip. I would also bring some Kleenex or toilet paper because some subway bathrooms or train station bathrooms may not have toilet paper in the stall.

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7-11 and Lawsons

I really loved checking out foods and quick eats for my day and train trips at these two very affordable shops. Check out David Chang’s ‘Ugly Delicious’ (on Netflix) episode for yummy eats in 7-11’s. Keep in mind the 7-11 in Japan is not like our North American shops. You can get yummy buns, chips, sushi, rice triangles, fried chicken, sandwiches, hot tea and bottles of water for decent prices.

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Welcome to Japan! Now Let’s Navigate the Narita Express, Shinkansen, The Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto Metros!

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For me it was over an 18 hour journey from Toronto and by the time I got through immigration, picked up my JR Rail Pass and got to the Shinkasen in Tokyo and was on my way to Osaka I was jet lagged and cultured shocked. It was my first time in Asia and although not scary – I did feel like I was on a different planet.

I opted to use my JR Rail Pass to the max and activate it on my first day in Japan. You can activate it whenever you like – you just need to let the JR Rail Office Attendant know at Narita Airport who will stamp your JR Rail Pass book accordingly.

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Don’t be afraid to use public transit and the Shinkansen in Japan. Not only is it easy to use but it is safe, labelled with English signage and there are Train Station Gate Attendants who may speak limited English but are happy to help if you point out your destination on a map.

I would recommend to start off in Osaka. Use Osaka as your home base for hotel accommodation and then take day trips to Kyoto, Hiroshima, Inari, Nara etc.. After 7 days in the south I made my way back up to Tokyo and spent my remaining 7 days in the city whilst using local subways to get around. I rarely used the bus lines as the subways were faster. Be aware you will be walking miles underground to catch subway connections. Wear comfy shoes in transit!

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Narita Express and the Shinkansen

The first stop for me was to take the Narita Express to Tokyo and transfer to the Shinkansen to Osaka.

When you arrive at Narita Airport and activate your JR Rail Pass at the JR Rail Office the Office Attendant will reserve you a ticket on the Narita Express into Tokyo. The Narita Express is covered with your JR Rail Pass into Tokyo. The journey takes little over an hour. Once you get into the city, grab the Shinkansen to Osaka which is around a three hour journey. The JR Rail Office Attendant also reserved me a ticket on the Shinkansen to Osaka.

The Narita Express also stops at certain stations in the city during high traffic times – look at the schedule online and keep that mind when booking your plane ticket. You don’t want to pay too much cash for transit into the city if you can help it. http://www.jreast.co.jp/e/nex/

Keep you tickets safe as they will indicate your seat number and train cab number. They may also be checked by a Train Station Attendant inside the train. The platforms are labelled with the cab numbers so find your spot before the Shinksansen enters the station. The Shinkansen arrives on time and leaves on time. It waits for no one. J

If you are going to be strategic with your JR Rail Pass and when you choose to activate it – grab another option into the city. Timing your JR Rail Pass use is important. My JR Rail Pass was used to give me a round trip journey between Osaka and Tokyo. That was a huge savings for me. The Narita Express just happened to fit into my first leg of my journey so I took advantage of that. The JR Rail pass can get you onto sightseeing buses and ferries for free so it is worth the investment. Keep it on you at all times once it is activated along with your id.

For local train travels (Ltd. Express, Super express etc.) using the local trains between Osaka and Kyoto, Nara, Inari etc. – you do not need to reserve a seat. Just show your JR Rail Pass to the Train Station Gate Attendant and they will wave you through. If you are going to Hiroshima on a day trip from Osaka and then back to Tokyo within your JR Rail pass activated timeline, get a Shinkansen ticket and reserve a seat ahead of time at the Midori-no-madoguchi office at a local JR Rail Station for both trips.

Note: The local city Osaka and Kyoto subway and bus lines are not covered with your JR Rail I rarely used them when I was in those cities. In Kyoto, I bought a 500 yen day pass for after my walking tour to get over to the Golden Temple and back. This was worth the investment as each journey would be 250 yen which is very affordable and cheaper than a taxi stuck in traffic.

On my way home between Tokyo and Narita Airport, I paid $30 CAD to grab the Narita Express. I could have used the Skyliner or the Friendly Airport Limousine (bus) as they were cheaper, but I had a long journey home back to Toronto and wanted to save my energy and splurge on the comfy Narita Express again. It was a good choice!

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Tokyo Subway

I purchased a Tokyo Subway 72 hour Adult Pass (1500 yen) x 2 for my last week in Tokyo. This was far more cost effective than buying a $500 CAD JR Pass for the two weeks I was in Japan.

I passed on the Suica Pass. I’m glad I did – it would have been a waste. Being a foreigner take advantage of the travel deals. But again it really depends on your needs – map out your journey ahead of time for your Tokyo travel. If a JR Rail pass, Suica, ICOCA, bus pass etc. are more to your liking – do what fits your needs.

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Trains are super to easy navigate in Japan. Ask a Train Station Gate Attendant if you have questions – they may speak limited English but if you are polite and say “Hello” in Japanese and then ask for “Osaka” for example? They will point you to the platform to grab the train to Osaka. You shouldn’t have any issues – check the digital train platform boards and grab the train that applies to you.

Information Centres

I hit up Information Centres in a local mall or shopping centre when I arrived in the cities that I visited to pick up maps, ask for directions and just get acclimatized. I encourage you to do the same. I liked the Seibu Tourist Information Centre Ikebukuro when I was in Tokyo. They were very helpful and kind. In Osaka and Kyoto you can find Information Centres in the local train stations. Check their hours of service before you leave the hotel for the day.

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Planning for Japan – What do I pack for Japan? What’s the scoop on the JR Rail Pass?

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What do I pack for Japan?

I packed light and brought as few clothes as possible. I packed cereal and some granola bars in my suitcase to cover me for breakfast in the mornings before I left my hotel. My hotel always had water in the fridge and a kettle in the rooms. I picked up some milk and kept it in the fridge to keep me moving when I woke up. The granola bars were good to have when I was hungry on the road. Bring some plastic bags with you to house your garbage. There are very few garbage bins in Japan so you may find yourself carrying your garbage around with you all day until you get back to your hotel.

Pack a good pair of sneakers, passport, camera, necessary chargers, socks, underwear, a few t-shirts, yoga pants, a rain jacket, a scarf and a hoodie. Your cosmetics should be kept to a minimal amount. I brought a suitcase, a small back pack for my flight travel and then used a cloth tote bag when I was travelling in between cities on day trips. I also packed toilet paper and Kleenex as some public bathrooms may not have toilet paper in them.

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JR Rail Pass – Purchase before you leave your home country

You can only buy a JR Rail Pass in your home country. It will allow you to travel around Japan using JR Rail trains for an unlimited time within the time period you so choose. I paid around $300 CAD from a local approved travel agent in Toronto and they gave me a voucher which I was able to trade in for a JR Rail Pass at Narita Airport when I arrived. I opted for a 7 day pass to capture travel on JR Rail (only) trains and the Shinkansen for the first leg of my trip between Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and then back to Tokyo. I was able to make daily trips between Osaka and Kyoto using the same JR Rail Pass.

I purchased a Tokyo Subway 72 hour Adult Pass (1500 yen) x 2 for my last week in Tokyo. This was far more cost effective than buying a $500 CAD JR Pass for the two weeks I was in Japan.

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Planning your travel

I encourage you to use http://www.hyperdia.com/en/ for your Shinkansen and local train travel trip planning. I printed out each trip I would be taking before I left Toronto. A project in itself but it was helpful if my phone was giving me an issue and I could easily show it to a Train Station Gate Attendant if I had questions. I liked hyperdia as it gave me the exact time to my destination so if for whatever reason I was panicked that I missed the station – I could check quickly to confirm to my printed sheets in my tote bag.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/tokyo-rail-map-lite/id503098185?mt=8 is another good app to download onto your phone.

Add Google Maps onto your phone as well. It will help you on the ground as there are no street addresses written in English. I used this app every morning before I set off for my day so I had a visual in my mind when I was on the ground.

When you are in train station the signs are labelled in English and train announcements on the train and in the station are announced in English and Japanese. You should have no issues navigating the train networks within Japan.

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Wifi and Your Cell Phone

I didn’t buy a SIM Card and Wifi unit for whilst I was in Japan. For me it would have been a waste of money – I opted for a $30 data plan with my home country’s cell phone provider and used Wifi whenever I could. I noticed in my Tokyo hotel that they offered a free cell phone to use for long distance and wifi use. I never used it – but that’s always an option if you want to leave your cell phone at home. Check with your hotel ahead of time if they offer such a feature.

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