It just so happened that my uncle was planning a visit to Japan, so Ben and I decided to coordinate our trip to Japan for when he would be there.
We spent six days traveling around Japan in November, and I really liked how our travels went. I thought we had enough time in each place to really get a taste of Japan. Plus, it was pretty easy just taking the bullet train/regular train between the cities.
We flew into Tokyo on a Wednesday, spent the full day exploring on Thursday, and were on our way to Kyoto the next afternoon. We then spent Friday evening, Saturday, and Sunday morning exploring Kyoto before taking the train to Osaka and departing back to Beijing on Monday afternoon.
Once we landed in Tokyo, I quickly realized how much I had forgotten on what I had been missing out on. I guess when you live in a place for awhile and haven’t visited a true first world country in over a year that you forget about what life used to be like (not that it’s so hard here in Beijing, but there are definitely things I have missed…like a nice glass of ice cold water!).
We flew into Haneda airport which put us closer to downtown than Narita. My uncle definitely helped us out by recommending the best way to get to our hotel from the airport as it is VERY expensive in Japan (subways and taxis are triple the amount of what we would pay here in Beijing–one positive to life in Beijing!). We ended up taking the monorail from the airport to put us closer to the hotel before getting a taxi, which saved us some money.
*Side note on the subway/train situation in Japan: they are all very nice with comfy seats; however, they are very expensive (even for kids) starting at $4/person compared to 60 cents here in Beijing. It’s also VERY confusing reading the maps of the subways in Japan. The underground systems are huge, and I found the maps to be much easier to read in Beijing. However, people are very friendly and will help you out if you look lost (someone even walked us to where we needed to go). In Beijing, we’re used to the exits being A-D, sometimes G but in Japan, the exits could go to 19, 20, 21. I think in time it would get easier to navigate on our own. It was nice having my uncle to help when we did use the subway. It was also nice using the taxi to put us right by our next destination (and save some time and confusion), although that was not the cheap option. Taxis may start at $6-8 and a short trip can end up being $20-$30 but sometimes it’s worth it. (P.S. no tipping in Japan)
When we first made it to our hotel, we decided to explore the neighborhood a bit until it was time to meet my uncle. We had a delicious lunch just down the street at Wolfgang Puck’s Pizza Bar. The pepperoni pizza and caesar salad were SO yummy. The ice cold coke and ice cold water were also very refreshing!
That evening for dinner, after exploring the Roppongi area, we ended up at an Outback. I had just written in an earlier blog post how I missed Outback and for someone to enjoy it for me–little did I know that I would get to enjoy it! It hit the spot!
For lunch the next day, we ate at Shake Shack. We had burgers, fries, and shakes. I’m glad to say I tried it but it would not be something I would have to have again.
Now, we didn’t just have Western food (people say how you have to try Japanese food but when you’re living in a country with “almost” Western food, you just want some true Western food again). We also tried Ramen (I wasn’t too impressed-sorry for all you Raman lovers out there!) while in Tokyo and some steak at a Japanese Steakhouse in Kyoto (not too bad).
Tokyo has lots of neighborhoods. We could walk to Roppongi from our hotel and experienced that area (lots of restaurants and night life happening there). The next day we went to the Shibuyaa neighborhood. It’s another popular area and had one of my “must do’s” activities while in Japan–seeing the Hachiko Statue. While I have never seen the movie Hachi (I know it would make me cry), I have always loved the story. I expected the statue to be bigger but I guess it was more life-size. When we came back around to the statue after exploring the area, someone had put a cat and kitten under Hachi.
After seeing the Hachiko Statue, we walked around the area and checked out a couple of the malls/department stores. I actually found some nice pearl rings that were very reasonably priced.
We headed to the Harijikoo neighborhood for some more shopping. We also went to Shinjuku for some shopping and food (and a Krispy Kreme donut…or two! I thoroughly enjoyed catching up on some Western food.). We went to Ginza and saw some of the famous department stores there.
We went to the one famous shrine in Tokyo-Meiji Shrine. I couldn’t believe that it was free to enter!
Before entering the temple, they have all these water stations set up. This is how you cleanse your hands before entering. There is a particular way to do this (luckily, there was a sign in English with directions). You wash one hand first (I think right) and then the other. Then you take a sip (not directly from the spoon) and hold the spoon straight up to let the water fall over it. We saw these throughout our travels in Japan.
Japan is such a pretty, clean city. We got to taste some Japanese food/drinks but we also got to have some good, old Western food again. I loved Tokyo. From the shopping to the food to just the feeling in general, it was a nice place.
We took the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto. We made sure to have tickets on the right hand side so we could get a glimpse of Mt. Fuji on our ride (it unfortunately clouded in a bit as we went by). While the train terminal in Kyoto was huge (and a bit confusing), we pretty easily found our exit and were at our hotel by walking just down the road. After checking into the hotel, we walked to the Kyomizu-dera.
It was just such a nice time of year when we went to Japan. While all the leaves were gone in Beijing, fall colors were still happening in Japan. It was a bit chilly, but it helped on our walks.
We walked from the hotel to Kyomizu-dera and it was a bit of a walk, but such a nice one to explore the city. Kyoto has such a different feel to it from Tokyo. It’s older and seems a bit calmer.
This was so pretty to see. It had the fall colors still and was lit up so pretty at night. It’s on top of the hill, so it gives a great view of the city.
Kinka-ji aka Gold Pavilion
This one was so pretty! Unfortunately, it was a bit crowded with Chinese tourists which took away some of the beauty of it.
Ginka-ju aka Silver Pavilion
I expected this one to be more silver like the Golden Pavilion but it was still nice to see.
Fushimi Inari Shrine
This was cool place that actually involved some hiking–although it didn’t feel like we were going up a mountain at first. I think it was cool how you kept walking through these Torii Gates.
It was extremely crowded when we first started but then the crowd died down as we continued on. Since we started in the late afternoon, we didn’t make it back down until dark.
This was my favorite place we visited because it was so quiet. While there may have been a light rain, it was just so peaceful there with pretty fall colors.
This is a popular place to visit in Kyoto. It was nice that it was big, so it didn’t feel too crowded.
We also went to the market which is a VERY long stretch of food, items, etc. for sale. It was interesting walking through but also very crowded!
We took the subway from Kyoto to Osaka. The subway system is definitely more difficult to use in Japan than in Beijing. I think with a bit more time we would have it mastered though. It’s important that you get on the correct line as there are numerous options leading to the same place but each option costs different amounts, so it’s important to know which train you’re getting on (some are local, some are semi-local, some are express). Depending on the train, depends on how long it takes to get there because some have more stops than others.
We didn’t leave Kyoto until late morning, so we arrived to Osaka by early afternoon (it’s only about an hour away by subway). Once we got to the train station, we opted to get a taxi to the hotel as opposed to taking the subway. The taxi driver knew exactly where we wanted to go (I guess it was a pretty well-known hotel!). I picked this particular hotel because of its proximity to the Osaka Castle (the biggest draw for us coming to Osaka). We got upgraded to suite with a great view of the Osaka Castle (pretty nice!).
Once we checked into the hotel, we headed out to walk around the neighborhood and by the castle itself (we saved going inside for the next day). After exploring a bit, we tried to find some dinner. After missing out on some of our favorite places from back home, we found another Outback—it was so yummy!
The next morning, we got up and visited the Osaka Castle. It was a nice, pretty fall walk over. We bought our tickets and headed into the Castle. It really has been transformed into a museum which each level having pictures/captions. There was one floor that was cool with these 3-D scenes that explained some of the history.
Overall, we found Osaka to be a bit of a sleepy town. We thought the Osaka Castle was the only draw (for us) there. I found the Castle to be better from the outside as opposed to actually going inside. However, we are glad that we went to Osaka. We found it the perfect amount of time flying into Tokyo, taking the bullet train to Kyoto, and then taking the train to Osaka and flying back from there. It was a great taste of Japan!
TOTE: Save your money for Japan and be prepared for the expenses (it’s still worth it!)!