Japan Travel Day 2 – Hiroshima and Miyajima Island Sights

IMAG8816

IMAG8822

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.

IMAG8827

IMAG8838

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.

IMAG8841

IMAG8851

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.

IMAG8858

Advertisements

Japan Travel Day 1 – Fushmi-Inari and Nara Sights

IMAG8547

IMAG8648

IMAG8673

IMAG8719

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. 🙂

IMAG8631

IMAG8656

IMAG8703

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.

IMAG8635

IMAG8664

IMAG8676

IMAG8711

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

IMAG8641

IMAG8645

IMAG8666

 

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

IMAG9090

IMAG8758

IMAG8902

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.

IMAG8748

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.

IMAG8752

IMAG8754

IMAG8760

A Japan ‘Custom’ Checklist

IMAG9027

Japan is such a wonderful country with so many hidden customs.  As a foreigner its well worth doing your research before you arrive in Japan so you can fit in seamlessly and respect local customs and traditions.  Let’s start!

Looking back at the history, ‘right-standing’ rule on escalators and moving sidewalks was first directed in 1960’s in Osaka by the management of train stations and department stores. They had observed that more people tend to stand on the right side and thought it would be safer to unify that. They also figured that it would make more sense for pedestrians to hold the handrail on the right because most Japanese people are right-handed. Tokyo, however, followed the international trend of simulating the road traffic rule. They drive on the left side and the right lane is for passing, and so they chose the ‘left-standing’ on escalators.

The small trays found in your local shops are for you to put your money on when paying a cashier. It helps the cashier to take coins easier. In Japan, money worth below 1,000 yen are only available in coins. Hence, it is very common to pay for things using coins. If you put the coins on the flat surface of the counter, sometimes, it is hard to pick them up, especially the small ones. This is why some money trays are designed with rubbery “hairs” on it so that coins placed on top can be picked up easily. Check out this article for more information, http://jpninfo.com/56067.

IMAG8964

Train Etiquette:

 

Don’t smoke

With the exception of designated smoking cars on the Shinkansen, smoking is a big no-no when riding the trains. You’ll notice people don’t even smoke in public unless it’s in a designated smoking area on the street, or in a restaurant or bar where smoking is allowed. But on a train, no smoking allowed!

Remain quiet or even better, silent

People generally sit or stand in silence while on the trains as being too loud and disturbing other passengers is considered rude. This includes talking on your phone or having loud conversations. If you need to chat to your travel companion, do so in low voices. Also make sure your phone is on silent and that other people can’t hear the music you’re listening to or the game you’re playing.

Don’t eat or drink

Japanese people don’t usually eat in public let alone walk and eat. On local trains, eating and drinking anything other than water should be avoided. The only time where eating and drinking on trains is acceptable is on regional long-distance trains, like the Shinkansen, where every seat has a tray and cup holder. You can buy snacks on these types of trains off a trolley, or bring your own food.

IMAG8969

Priority seating

This is pretty common for any type of public transportation in most cities around the world, but seats should be given up to elders, young children, pregnant women, and those with disabilities. On Japanese trains, there are seats usually near the door specifically marked as “priority seating” and sometimes in a different colour. You may sit there if you like if it’s not too busy, but remember to give up your seat to those more in need of one.

Yellow lines and numbers on station platforms

There’s a special way of queuing in line before getting on the trains. Always stay behind the thick textured line before the edge of the platform, and line up either two by two or single file, depending on the station, at one of the numbered spots on the platform. Some of the larger stations will have “platform conductors” as I like to call them, making sure people are far enough away from the edge when the train arrives. Other stations have a physical barrier and sliding automatic doors. Before getting on the train, make sure to stand to the side and let people off first.

When leaving the train…

It’s best to start moving towards the train doors if you know your stop is coming up, especially if the train is packed since people are quick to get on and off. Generally people will move aside for you anyways if they know you’re inching towards the door (make sure to do the same for others) but if people aren’t moving out of the way, a slight nudge and saying sumimasen (sue-mee-mah-sen), which means “excuse me” in Japanese will often do the trick.

IMAG8973

Don’t take up seat space

Japanese people often work ridiculously long hours and taking the train is often a time to rest before they begin their day, or when their day is over. Make sure you aren’t taking up an extra seat and put your backpack on your lap, between your legs on the floor, or above you on the racks if there are any.

For women only

I was a bit surprised to see this, but in the mornings, some train cars are designated for women only. Apparently this is so women will feel safer taking the train as there have been groping incidents on male-dominated trains when people are in close quarters. The platform is usually marked with a pink sign if a train car is going to be for women only, or you can tell by the signs and seat colours in the train. If by accident you happen to get on the wrong car at the wrong time, you can always move to the next one by exiting through the sliding doors.

Don’t leave anything behind

It’ll become normal to start carrying around all your trash as the Japanese are very conscious about cleaning up after themselves and not littering. The same goes on the train–take everything with you that you bring on, even a newspaper. There’s often a trash bin on the train platform or within stations to throw away your garbage.

Keep moving

To make sure everyone can get on the train, keep moving into the middle so you aren’t blocking others from entering behind you. It sounds simple but when it’s busy, it’s not the greatest feeling when people are pushing past you, so it’s best to move as far into the train as you can.  Make a note of the exit you are entering and leaving from the train stations that you visit. This is crucial – if you forget you maybe walking around circles until you figure out where you should be exiting from to get to your destination.

IMAG9009

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

IMAG9348

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.

IMAG9338

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!

IMAG9140

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!

IMAG8983

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.

IMAG8535

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.

IMAG9045

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

IMAG8804

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.

IMAG8765

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.

IMAG8794

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.

IMAG8766

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.

IMAG8968

Japan Travel

IMAG8871

Planning your trip to Japan can be incredibly overhwelming. Here are some tips to get you started and to help in curating the trip of your dreams without spending a lot of money. The key in travelling for any trip is doing your research. I hope you find the following series of articles of help.

Getting Started

As a note, I bought my ticket to Japan a month before I left Toronto and was able to get a ton of research done ahead of time.

Go to your local library and grab a bunch of travel books on Japan to start reading up on culture, customs and itinerary suggestions. I liked Fodor’s Japan.

Here are some links of interest that maybe worth checking out. Add their social media links to your networks.

Japan Official Travel Guide http://ilovejapan.ca/

https://www.youcouldtravel.com/site-search?keywords=japan&=Search

https://www.bing.com/search?q=trip+itinerary+between+tokyo+kyoto+osaka+&form=EDNTHT&mkt=en-ca&httpsmsn=1&refig=c24a9c32fb774699605fd64cb52c13&sp=-1&pq=trip+itinerary+between+&sc=0-23&qs=n&sk=&cvid=c24a9c32fb774699a0605fd64cb52c13

https://www.kyotostation.com/traveling-between-kyoto-and-narita-international-airport/

https://www.projectgora.com/2016/01/7-day-suggested-itinerary-osaka-kyoto.html#

https://www.jrpass.com/blog/7-day-sample-itinerary-tokyo—kyoto—nara

http://www.balukootravel.com/11-days-free-easy-itinerary-for-japan-tokyo-osaka-kyoto-hakone/

https://trailtopeak.com/2016/05/21/kyoto-to-tokyo-a-10-day-itinerary-for-visiting-japan/

https://insideosaka.com/osaka-kyoto-tokyo-10-day-itinerary/

 

IMAG9084

Youtube

After I booked my trip to Japan I was riddled with anxiety about if I could really travel on my own. I looked up a bunch of YouTube links that helped in taking some of the edge off.

I liked these links:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bkDGHrR11ZU

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDsvL48jluG3tvlyurB4K3g

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCT4PUnuuDEC5dvt4NTrlDlQ

Airlines

I liked Skyscanner to find the best deals on a flight. I ended up going with Delta Airlines and paid around $1300 CAD for 14 days in May 2018. I left right after Golden Week which offered the best weather and was not super busy when travelling around Japan by local train and Shinkansen. If you can pay the extra – travel direct.

https://www.skyscanner.ca/

Hotels

Finding a hotel can be a pain especially if you don’t know the prefecture (local areas). I liked agoda.com as it gave me the best deals within some central locations. I opted staying close to train stations that gave me quick links to the city. I encourage you to research the neighbourhoods for your needs before you book a hotel. If you stay anywhere around the Yamanote line in Tokyo you will be fine. I liked the Ikebukuro (Tokyo) neighbourhood as it was near the train stations and had Shinkansen connections. The same applied in Osaka – my hotel was near Shin-Osaka and Osaka Namba train stations which had Shinkansen connections. I chose to stay on Osaka as my home base in the south as Kyoto could be a tad more expensive and then took day trips around Osaka.

In Osaka, I stayed at https://www.apahotel.com/ja_en/ and in Tokyo I stayed at http://www.centurion-hotel.com/ikebukuro/. They were both decent and I had no issues at either. I also really liked that they were kitty corner to a subway station, clean, had great Wi-Fi and were in safe areas as a woman travelling on her own.