A Travellerspoint blog

Introduction to Japan / Trivia

Why Japan?

When my 30th birthday was around everyone was pressuring me what I wanted to do and if I was doing a party. So I decided to go abroad.
I was always interested in the Japanese culture, so I decided to find out, what I could do in Japan. It was clear pretty soon, it was perfect for my birthday in April. If I was lucky, I should be in time to see the cherry blossoms.
Now while I’m interested in the culture, I won’t be giving many tips. There are tons of website about the cultural rules and honestly it’s not something I specialise in. I just try to read up front and adjust. So if they were a face mask when sick, I will do the same. I remove my shoes indoors and so on.

The cherry blossoms

Now seeing the cherry blossoms is not too hard, if your flexible the cherry blossoms are not only a few weeks. The first blossoms are in January in Okinawa and the last in May in Hokkaido.
There are also quite a few lists, where the best place is to see cherry blossoms.
I loved Himeji Castle, but also the philosopher’s path.

Japan has many offers for foreigners that are very useful.

There sometimes is a discount for foreigners, if you rent a car. Strangely the advertisement for the car company I used was only on the original website. So you had to go to the Japanese website and click on the English advertisement.

The Japan Rail (JR) Pass for 7, 14 or 21 days is a good hassle way to travel. You got unlimited access to trains, some busses and a ferry (Miyajima ferry) of the JR Line. If you want to take a few train rides, you should definitely check it out. There are some restrictions though like you can’t use the two fastest Shinkansen Nozomi and Mizuho. Also there are some trains with only reserved seats, while there is no reservation fee, you need a free seat. I was once told I couldn’t take a train the full way because there wasn’t any free space.
Therefore I was supposed to take one train earlier for the first part of the journey and then change trains, when a seat was available midway through the journey. I missed the first train, so I smuggled myself in the second rain, even though I did not have a reservation for the whole trip. No really the only check-point was for the Shinkansen platforms and as I had a valid ticket (my JR Pass), I was allowed through. I was not the only one that was standing between two compartments and when I was controlled, the ticket inspector didn’t say anything. Then again I had a valid ticket (just not the free reservation) and he might not have wanted to have a discussion in English. I’m not proud of it, but it was the last train, so I think it is forgivable.

Another thing you should think about is to use a pasmo/suica card. It is a cash card that you can use in the bus, vending machines and also in some convenience shops. You can also use it for trains.
Paying by cash in the bus:
When you get into a bus you generally enter through the rear door and have to get a numbered ticket that shows when you entered the bus. The fare depends on your number and is shown on the display, if you are uncertain asks the driver. The money is put with the numbered ticket in a clear box near the driver. If you need change there is a change machine to help you. However I think it only exchanges up to 1000 yen.
Using an IC (pasmo/suica) card
The alternative is to put the pasmo/suica card against the blue plate with “IC” on it when you board and leave the bus. The fare is calculated automatically. If it is a standard fare you use it only once. As I didn’t use buses in the metropolitan area, I always had a distance based fare.

Punctuality, service and profitable:

The trains, buses and so on I used were very punctual.

Some things didn’t seem very profitable, but it is indeed a good thing for tourists. For example I took a cruise and was the only passenger. I was expecting them to tell me, that there weren’t enough passengers and they had to cancel. This would have meant that I would have to wait an hour for my next cruise. However to they actually did the cruise with one passenger. When I got off the boat, I got a few strange looks, but well sometimes getting up early has its strong points.
There are also some offers for sightseeing that are not profitable. I think it is supposed to get more tourists to some spots. For example there are Taxis according to a timetable with a big discount (800 yen instead of 3500) to Kitayamazaki Coast.
I got the impression that the Japanese people want to show other people their beautiful country. Now, I was generally looking at nature, where there are fewer tourists, so you might not get that behaviour in tourist hot spots.

All the Japanese People I met were very helpful and the staff generally walked the extra mile. Now you expect customer service, but that after your flight was cancelled, they return you the money in cash, make a reservation for an alternative transport, help you get a bus ticket and put you on the bus is not what you expect. Or let me be honest: it’s not what you can expect. Still this is exactly what happened.
Also the rental car firm gave me a steep discount when I arrived later as intended, because I could not use the car as long as I had rented it for. In every other country it would be bad luck, after all I did not call and they couldn’t use the car for anything else either.
Be careful with tips as Japanese people don’t have a tipping culture. The internet said it can even be seen as rude. You can however make gifts. If you have a Japanese host or tour guide, you want to give something to you can use small tokens (like a typically sweets or souvenirs from your home country). However if you go with food first find out if you can import it to Japan.

The language:

I was fascinated how well I got along in Japan. I generally understood the announcements in trains - I don’t mean the words but the destinations. I also was capable to pronounce them in a way that might not have been perfect, but where recognisable by Japanese people. I have been in English speaking Countries, where that wasn’t the case.
I think is the trip is to split the words in syllables - for Example Jo-do-ga-ha-ma beach or Ki-ta-ya-ma-za-ki Coast. Even if they don’t understand beach or coast, they will still understand you.
Otherwise I only knew a few words: Arigato (Thank you), Gomen (sorry), Sakura (Cherry Blossums), Onegai (Please), Hai (yes) and Iie (no) – not very helpful, if you don’t understand the questions...

The food:

First of all it is delicious. There are a lot of tasty noodle soups – I just say Ramen. The best beef I ever had I ate in Kyoto.
I guess it is best to be open and try lots of food. Even if the card is not in English there are often plastic replica of the dishes, so you have an idea what you get.

On a personal note - Japan is a land of many firsts for me:

Rental Car
Japan was the first time I rented a rental car, even though I had to drive on the left side. Well I managed quite well, after nearly crashing on the way out of the rental car parking lot. You should really look at the right and left side of the road. Luckily Japanese People are used to the idiotic foreigners, so except for some honking nothing happened. It would have been very embarrassing walking back to the rental car office and explaining that I didn’t make it off the parking lot.
Especially as I rented the car on an island with very low traffic and it pretty much looked like I waited for the only car to crash into. Probably would not have helped my case.
Well beginners problems, afterwards driving worked okay. Parking was a bit of a challenge, but I’m not that god at parking in general, so don’t worry about it.
Also at the rental car website there is a video how to change the language setting in the navigation system. Well I never got to try it the employees always did it for me. They even put in the address of my hotel and explained me how to use it and what buttons to press, when I wanted to return to the rental car parking lot. Great service!

Snorkelling
Japan was also the first time since I was a kid, I went snorkelling. I didn’t get along with my snorkel and swallowed a lot of seawater, but I was immediately hooked. No really the corals and underwater world had me fascinating and wanting for more.

Posted by Steffi Kay 08:32 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

2 weeks in Japan

You really should spend more time here

GPS and Prices:

As a birthday present I got a GPS devise, my parents were joking around, that I would get lost otherwise and never return. Well it was helpful, but I would have managed without it. However that is the reason, I have many GPS coordinates in my description. While most of you won’t need them deleting them didn’t seem too practical, maybe they will help someone.
I searched the prices up front and did not check them for accuracy it was just for me to get a feeling for the prices. They also probably have changed since 2017 so don’t take them too seriously.

Day 1

Tokyo:
I arrived at Haneda Airport, but didn’t see much of Tokyo. Nor did I intent to do so at my first day. I decided to do Tokyo on the end of my trip and immediately left for Miyako

Train Tokyo Station to Morioka Station (2h13min)
Train Morioka Station to Miyako Station (宮古駅) (2h15min)

Day 2:

Jodogahama Beach (浄土ヶ浜) - 39°39'08.4"N 141°58'43.4"E

Bus from Miyako St to Jodogahama Visitor Center (15 min, 180 Yen)
From the vistor center to the Jodogahama Beach is a 10 minutes walk

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Afterwards I took a Cruise to Sanruki Coast. It took around 40 Minutes and cost 1400 Yen
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I also took a more famous 20 Min Blue Cave Tours for around 1500 Yen
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Kitayamazaki Coast (北山崎)

Train Miyako Station to Tanohata Station (田野畑駅 - 47 Min, 990 Yen)
Taxi to Kitayamazaki Coast
As mentioned in the Introduction there is a scheduled Taxi service for 800 Yen (normal Price 3500 Yen). It takes around 20 Minutes. When I went to the visitor centre I found out the schedule is pretty much going to the visitor centre and asking for a scheduled taxi. I might have been of season, as I was the only tourist around. The scheduled taxi was pretty much a normal taxi to the special price of 800 Yen. The driver asked when I wanted to return, if I remember correctly I could have also called, when I was ready.

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Day 3:

Cruise from Shiogama to Matsushima or the other way

Train Miyako to Morioka (2h10 Min)
Train Morioka to Sendai (40 Min)
Train Sendai to Hon-Shiogama (29 Min)
From the stations to the Pier is a 5-10 minutes walk.


The price for the Cruise was 1500 Yen for 50 Min.
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Return: Train Matsushima Station to Sendai Station (25 Min)
Train Sendai Station to Tokyo (2h4Min)
Train Tokyo to Shin-Fuji Station (1h7Min)
Fuji Station is only 20 Minutes on foot from Shin-Fuji Station.

On the way from Matsushima to Shin-Fuji you can also include the Kegon Falls (there is a train connection from Sendai to Utsunomiya), but then you need more time. I did it later from Tokyo.
From Fuji there are some nice views of Mount Fuji.
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Shiraito Falls (白糸の滝, Shiraito no Taki)

There are two options to get to the Shiraito falls:

You can go directly by bus from Fuji Station (55Min) or you take a train to Fujinomiya St. (18 to 20 Minutes) and afterwards the bus (30 Minutes). There are more Connections, if you take the train and then the bus.

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Day 4

Dogashima (堂ヶ島)

Train Fuji Station to Mishima Station (25 Min)
Train Mishima Station to Shuzenji Station (36 Min)
Bus to Dogashima takes 1h30 Minutes.


I took a Cruise from Dogashima for 2300 Yen for 50 Minutes.
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The Cave Tour took 20 Minutes and cost 1200 Yen.
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Kawazu Nanadaru (河津七滝)

Bus Dogashima to Shimoda (58 Min)
Train Shimoda to Kawazu (11 Min)
Kawazu to Kawazu Nanadaru by bus (35 Min, 650 Yen)

It is a one hour walk on which you see seven waterfalls. The bus between Kawazu and Shuzenji station stop at the start and end of the walk.
As I was pretty late, so I can’t recommend doing the Cruise and the walk on one day. I was walking the path at dawn and managed to take the last bus back. The bus driver didn’t want to let me out and translated from his phone that the sunset was soon. I was prepared and showed him my headlamp. Still it is nicer to have a relaxed walk. You also have less trouble making photos.
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Return to Tokyo

From Kawazu Nanadaru you can either take the bus to Kawazu Station (30 Min, 610 Yen) or Shuzenji Station (65 Min, 1440 Yen).
Train Kawazu to Ito (46 Min)
Train Ito to Atami (24 Min)
Train Atami to Tokyo (48 Min)
OR
Train Shuzenji Station to Mishima (36 Min)
Train Mishima to Tokyo (57 Min)

Day 5:

Miyakojima (Miyako Island)

Flight Tokyo to Miyakojima (Miyako Island)

To get around the island I rented a car.
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  • Irabu bridge longest toll free Bridge in Japan

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  • Sunayama Beach – clear water, rock formation

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  • Yoshino Beach – You can do some snorkelling here, but I didn’t have enough time.
  • Higashi Hennazaki Lighthouse

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  • Tori-ike Sea Passage – 2 Ponds side by side

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Ogami-jima (Ogami Island)

Ferry from Shimajiri Port (15Min)
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Departures in green are from Ogami, the white ones are from Shimajiri Port (Miyako Island)
Ogami is known for strangely formed rocks. They look even better, if you see them at ebb.
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Day 6-8:

Ishigaki

Flight Miyako to Ishigaki

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  • Yonehara Beach - 24°27'20.1"N 124°11'14.8"E

Famous for the easy-snorkling access - I did some snorkelling. However I did not make any good photos underwater, that I could show you. You’ll just have to take my word, that it was beautiful.

  • Kabira Bay - 24°26'43.6"N 124°08'05.8"E

It wasn’t my cup of coffee/tea, but perhaps you find it more interesting.
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  • Sabiti Cave (サビテ洞) - 24°31'21.5"N 124°16'52.9"E

You can walk through the cave and have a nice view of the beach behind.
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  • Fukidou River Kayaking

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  • Oganzaki Cape

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  • Tamatorizaki Observatory

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  • Hirakubozaki Cape

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  • Other Sights:

Ishigaki Cave (石垣島鍾乳洞) - 24°21'40.8"N 124°09'16.8"E
Akaishi Beach - 24°32'20.7"N 124°18'10.6"E - easy snorkling acess blue coral
Diving with Manta Rays

Oriomoto

Oriomoto can be visited as a daytrip from Ishigaki
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In the Evening of day 8, I flew to Kagoshima

Flight Ishigaki to Okinawa (Naha)
Flight Okinawa (Naha) to Kagoshima

Day 9:

I intended to fly to Yakushima in the morning. Unfortunately my flight was first delayed and then after a longer flight, we landed right back where we started. Because of bad weather we had to turn around and fly back. I had to take the ferry. . Luckily they returned my money in cash, made a reservation for an alternative transport, helped me get a bus ticket and put me on the bus to the ferry terminal. After the ferry ride, my rental car firm had a transfer, since other people were on the same ferry. So even though I lost a whole day, I had a lot of luck. Ironically I took the flight not only because I get sea sick, but because I was told the ferry sometimes can’t go because of bad weather.

Flight Kagoshima to Yakushima
Ferry Kagoshima to Yakushima

Day 10

Yakushima

I finally got to look around Yakushima Island.
I only had time for the most famous sights:

  • Shiratani Unsuikyo

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  • Yakusugi Land

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The Jomonsugi giant cedartree is also famous, but I didn't have enough time to see it.
In the Evening I already leave Yakushima to spend time in the Kansai Area

Flight Yakushima to Osaka

Day 11 – 14

Kyoto

Train Osaka to Kyoto (15Min)

  • Tenryuji temple

In the temple is a replica of the ink painting „Dragon and Clouds” by Soga Shohaku. It’s made available to the public by the Tsuzuri Project that tries to show remarkable examples of Japanese art and culture to a wide audience.
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  • Arashiyama Bamboo Forrest / Sagano Bomboo Forrest

It is indeed beautiful, unfortunately other people are also very fond of it, therefore it is nearly impossible to make photos without lots of other people in there that dominate the photo.
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  • Kinaku-ji (Golden Parvillion)

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  • Philosopher’s path

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You walk along a stone path next to a canal, which is lined by cherry trees. There are also some aspiring artists that make pictures of the cherry blossoms. You can buy little art prints for little money. You can also enjoy a snack in one of the restaurants or cafes or visit one of the little shops for a souvenir. The two most famous sights along the way are:
The Ginkaku-ji (also called Silver Pavillion)
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The Nanzen-ji Temple
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  • Kiyomizu Temple

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  • Fushimi Inari Shrine

Main building
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Tori Tunnels
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Tojinbo (東尋坊)

rugged basalt cliffs

Train Kyoto Station to Fukui Station (1h20Min
Train Fukui Station to Awara Onsen (17Min)
Bus from Awara Onsen (40Min, 790 yen)
Alternativ:
Train Fukui Station to Mikuniminato Station (50Min, 770 Yen). Afterwards take a bus (5Min, 200 Yen) or walk the 2,5 km – supposed to take around 30 min

In my plan I wrote there is a bus directly from Fukui St., but I can’t find any reference.
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Himeji Castle

Train Kyoto to Himeji (45Min)

It is only a 10 Minutes walk from Himeji Station
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Osaka:

Train Himeji to Shin-Osaka (30Min)
Train Shin-Osaka to Kyoto (15Min)

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Osaka Castle
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Nishinomaru Garden
view of Osaka Castle; night time illumination during peak blooming
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Other sights near Osaka:
Kii Peninsula with Nachi Falls & Engetsu Island
Miyajima - famous Tori gate 1 h from Hiroshima, the ferry to Miyajima is included in the JR Pass

Day 15:

In the Morning of Day 14 return to Tokyo

Train Kyoto to Tokyo (2h)

I originally intended to look around Tokyo. I searched for spots to see the Cherry Blossoms and intended to visit the following spots in Tokyo.
Sumida Park (隅田公園) – near Asakusa Station 35°42'44.6"N 139°48'15.1"E
Ueno Park (上野恩賜公園) – near Ueno Station 35°42'51.5"N 139°46'24.2"E
Shinjuku Gyoen (新宿御苑)– 10 minutes from Shinjuku Station, 200 Y entrance fee 35°41'11.6"N 139°42'32.5"E
However when I saw the full trains, I decided otherwise. Instead I visited something else:

Kegon Falls (華厳の)

Train Tokyo Station to Utsunomiya Station (50Min)
Train Utsunomiya Station to Nikko Station (37Min)
45 Min Bus ride from Nikko Station to Chuzenjiko Onsen for 1150 Yen

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Unfortunately that was the End to my journey and I had to return home.

Posted by Steffi Kay 01:26 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

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