Holiday Bragging: Japan (Part 3/3)

At the end of my last holiday bragging post, we left behind the beautiful scenery of Lake Kawaguchiko and Mt. Fuji to get into Tokyo. This is my final holiday bragging post and covers the last two stops in our trip; Tokyo and Sapporo!

We caught the train from Fujikawaguchiko to Tokyo, and then another train to get from Shinjuku Station to Nippori Station, and then finally a bus to the hotel. We checked in, but we were really only interested in food, so we caught a bus to the nearby Asakusa, which was thankfully food heaven. We decided on KFC, officially eating it in every country we stopped in! It was straight back to the hotel and off to bed not soon after; we were absolutely exhausted.

On our first full day in Tokyo we walked to Asakusa to check out Senso-ji Temple. We first went through the Kaminarimon Gate and into Nakamise, a shopping street with traditional crafts, snacks, and souvenirs. There was a lot to see here, and we could have easily spent the day going through the various stalls. However, we decided to get into the temple first, and then come back to the streets. Senso-ji Temple is dedicated to the Goddess Kanon, and Tokyo’s oldest temple. After entering through the Hozomon Gate, we saw the five-storied pagoda, the main hall, and a little garden with the most beauitful koi fish in it (although the water was actually blue? Is that healthy for fish?). There were a few food stalls as well, and we snacked on some bun-like honeycomb, takoyaki, fermented rice drink, and a weird chewy-syrupy fruit skewer, which you played a game to get. After the temple we walked our way back through Nakamise, buying various souvenirs, before walking to the Tokyo Sky Tree. The views from the tower were amazing; you could really appreciate how huge Tokyo is! We also bought extended tickets up to the Tembo Deck, another 100m (110 yards) up the tower. There was a massive Star Wars display, a scary glass floor, and more! After the tower and catching the train back to Asakusa Station, where we went for dinner at a chain-curry restaurant called Coco’s Curry House… pretty nice stuff.

The next day was a Sunday, so we made plans to visit Harajuku. However, we first wanted to visit the Meiji Shrine, dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. We caught a train to get us to Yoyogi Park, which is where the shrine is located. After passing underneath the giant Otorii, we headed into the Meiji Jingu Garden first. Both His Majesty and Her Majesty frequented the garden when they were alive. Inside we found a tea house, the Nan-Chi Pond and its fishing spot, as well as the Kiyomasa-Ido Well. It’s a shame we were there in winter, because I’d really like to see the iris field in full bloom! Afterwards we headed to the shrine, which was very, very busy. There were even two wedding parties! We then headed out past the wine and straw-wrapped sake displays, both sacred offerings for the shrine. It was onto Takeshita Street in Harajuku! There was so much to look at, both in the hundreds of little shops and also the people strolling along the street! With some terrible English slogans and some interesting shirt designs, we were thoroughly amused. There was also a lot of street fashion, I recognised some lolita, goth, and hybrid steampunk styles, but there were a lot where I wasn’t too sure what was going on. We also tried some crepes from a street vendor; there were lots to choose from! After everything starting closing, we headed back to Asakusa and had our dinner at Mos Burger. It was a very interesting day!

Our third full day in Tokyo was a bit of a quite one; I was on a mission to wash my clothes because I only had a clean pair of pajama pants and a single thermal shirt! One of my friends went out for breakfast and the other went to visit Yushima Tenmangu, an education shrine. After my washing was finished, the breakfast-friend and I headed back to Nakamise for some more shopping. We also had some taiyaki and udon, both were delicious. Our other friend contacted us to meet him in Ueno, so we caught the train there. He had found a seven-storey toy shop called “Yamashiroya”, and we decided to explore it. There was a lot to see, so we were in there for a very long time. Afterwards, we setted out for a cat cafe, visiting the nearby Nekomaru Cafe. The cats were really quite cute, although fairly indifferent to us (My cat-owning friends assured me this was normal). We stayed until the cafe closed, and I did get the honour of little Kotetsu settling on my lap for a while. We found a 24 hour restaurant that served a little bit of everything; yakisoba, deep fried pork and beef, Californian rolls, pork fillet, and pork cutlet, as well as pear, grape, plum, and strawberry spirits. Very delicious! We also had fun watching a very drunk business man give one of the wait staff an egg from his bag… the wait staff looked as confused as we did.

On Australia Day we decided to visit Tokyo’s Disneyland! We caught two trains to get to Maihama Station where we walked to the entrance, bought our tickets, and entered immediately. The first area was called the World Bazaar, and it was full of shops selling various types of Disney merchandise. We were looking through a stationary shop when we heard the sound of music outside, and rushed out to find a marching band! They played through a few Disney melodies before marching off. We noticed that a lot of people in the crowd were wearing various types of Disney headgear, and we wanted in on the action, but first we took our seats for the day parade; “Happiness is Here”. The floats were really cute, and we had fun recognising all of our favourite characters! Afterwards we bought some merchandise before starting to head on a bunch of different rides. They may have not be the most thrilling rides, but the set designs and staging were amazing! Later in the evening, we watched the night parade; “Dream Lights”, which was as pretty as you’d expect! We ate a lot during the day, and stayed right until the park closed, before heading back to the hotel. It was a fun day! The next day was comparatively more quite, with one friend cooped up in bed with (man) flu. My other friend and I headed down to Asakusa for some delicious tempura, before shopping for a little bit. Afterwards, we we headed to Ginza to explore another Tokyu Hands. We caught the train to get to Tokyo Tower, timing our visit to be there for the Disneyland fireworks display that had been cancelled when we were in the park, but they must have been cancelled again. Oh well, at least we enjoyed the spectacular views! Afterwards, we ate at Yoshinoya, a counter-top chain restaurant specialising in beef meals. We headed back to the hotel, reassured ourselves that our other friend was fine, and headed off to bed.

We had planned a day trip to Nikko, and since my sick friend was feeling better, we decided the next day would be the best time to do it! The train trip took about 2 hours, and we mostly slept on the way. Once in Nikko, we were at a bit of a loss as to what to do, but eventually grabbed a map and jumped onto the World Heritage bus. We got off at the Toshogu Shrine, famous for its carvings. There was a lot to see inside the shrine, including the bell tower, the drum tower, the famous three monkeys carving, sacred warehouses, the carved sleeping cat, the palanquin house, and the crying dragon painting. Everything was beautifully decorated! However, the Yomeimon Gate, the main shrine gate, was undergoing restoration, so we missed out on seeing its carvings, but we could still appreciate the beautiful Karamon Gate and main shrine. We were also allowed into the prayer area and right up to the altar; something we hadn’t experienced before. We then walked up a lot of steps to the inner shrine and tomb of Ieyasu Tokugawa. Afterwards, we stopped at the museum cafe for something to eat, but missed the last entry into the museum. Oh well, we still headed out to view the Shinkyo Sacred Bridge and the crystal clear water of the Daiya River. We then went on a bit of a misadventure up the mountain, only to freeze to death for thirty or so minutes before catching the bus back down. By the time we got back to Tokyo, we were freezing and hungry, and so ate at the nearby Denny’s, which proved to be a good choice!

On our next two days we hit up two of the otaku heavens in Tokyo; the Ghibli Museum and Akihabara! We had already purchased our ticket for the museum before leaving Australia, so we made the journey to Kichijoji Station and walked through Inokashira Park to get there. There were so many things to admire inside the museum, you could really tell that a lot of thought and care had gone into the design and interior of the building. Everything from Ghibli stained-glass windows, a massive two-storey clock hiding a staircase, and so much more! We also went into the Saturn Theatre were we watched an original short about Mei from My Neighbour Totoro having an adventure with a baby Catbus! We also explored Mamma Aiuto; the chaotic gift shop! I absolutely loved the museum, but I do wish there was more English in the exhibits. The next day we spent a long time deciding what to do. After having something to eat at a Gudetama-themed cafe (I ate Gudetama 😦 ), one friend and I headed to Akihabara. There were so many anime shops and gaming arcades. We explored a few of the shops, my favourite being Volk Akihabara Hobby Paradise. It was a massive building just full of figurines. After it was closed (and we were kicked out), we wandered around the streets a bit longer, finding a small room full to the brim with gachapon, watching the workers from various maid cafes promoting their cafe, and eating ramen and crepes.  A lot of fun!

That’s it for our time in Tokyo; the next day we repacked to catch a train to Narita Airport. I went and got my suitcase wrapped because I was convinced it wouldn’t last the trip to Sapporo. We were a little late checking in for the flight, so we were rushed through security, onto a shuttle bus, and straight onto the plane. The flight was only an hour and a half, and soon we were in Sapporo, Hokkaido… which was -4°C (25°F)! After catching a couple of trains and walking through some very icy roads, we arrived at our hotel… definitely the nicest place we’ve stayed in so far.We could see a Ferris Wheel from our hotel room, and we decided to go out to see if we could find it. However, we first stopped at “The Grill Market”, a cool little restaurant where we pigged out on gnocchi, Camembert, lamb chops, beef kebabs, cedar salad, onigiri, and fruit “brandy”… wholesome food to keep us warm! We then found the Norbesa Ferris Wheel, which was on top of a building so it was really high! Apart from playing around with some gachapon machines and visiting a gaming level, we went back to the hotel and to bed.

2016 01 31 (1)

Flight into Sapporo!

The next two days we spent exploring Sapporo. On the first day, we did a lot of sleeping (starting to get worn out from this holiday), but we did get up in time to get into central Sapporo. There was a massive shopping centre attached to Sapporo Station which we explored (yay, another Loft!). We also ate (a lot!) at a teppanyaki restaurant before navigating through the maze to get to Tower Three Eight. Looking over Sapporo was pretty amazing, since it’s very different to the other cities we had visited. While Tokyo and Osaka were both a sprawling, confusing, mass of buildings, Sapporo’s neatly organised into a grid system. We stayed until closing before returning to the hotel. The next day we decided to further explore Sapporo. We visited the Clock Tower first, one of the long standing symbols of the city. It was originally built as a drill hall for the university, and its (still working) clock is the original one installed in 1881! We then walked through the freezing cold to the former Hokkaido Government Office building, also known as Akarenga. There was a free warm drink stall at the front, an an older man offered to take a photo of us with the giant snowman out the font. Afterwards, we explored a few of the exhibitions inside the building, before heading off to the “Yuki Terrace”, a little plaza. There were four igloos lit up and with different light displays inside; one had been painted with rainbow black-light paint, and was really cool! We went to a yakitori-styled restaurant for dinner and managed to spend ¥‎11 468 ($140 AUD, $110 USD), which was probably the most we spent on food! We also found a Donguri Republic in the shopping mall around Sapporo Station, where we did some more shopping. Back at the hotel it was snowing fairly heavily, so we ran around in a nearby park to make the most of it!

We went out on a day trip on the next day, to the picture-perfect town of Otaru! The train ride only took about 40 minutes and we were soon walking from the station to the canal in light snow fall. Otaru is well known for its glass blowing, and there were lots of little shops to stop and look in. There were a lot of very cute glass figurines, and all of us parted with a little bit of money! Once we got to the canal, we found it super pretty! There were also a couple of small ice-sculptures in the area, in preparation for Otaru’s Snow Light Path Festival (which we wouldn’t be there for). We then started on our way to the Otaru Music Box Museum, passing two interesting and delicious food stalls! One was selling a potato and Camembert cheese fritter, and one was selling giant takoyaki balls. Once we were at the museum-shop, I was in absolute heaven. I adore music boxes, and I spent a long, long time fiddling around with them all and exploring the shop. I ended up only buying three boxes, which I thought was pretty good! We were among the last customers to leave the shop, but hung around a little longer to watch the steam-powered clock at the front chime the time. We found another souvenir shop full of glassware that we spent a long time admiring it all. We had dinner before heading back to Sapporo and the hotel. We were pretty exhausted, so we all fell asleep quickly, which was a good thing, since we had two action-packed days left…

Our last two days in Sapporo were both spent at different festivals. On our second-to-last day, it was the Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival that we wanted to check out. We first had to get out to Chitose, where the airport is located, to catch a bus to Lake Shikotsu. The train was pretty quick, and the bus trip only took an hour. It was snowing when we first arrived, and we hadn’t seen snow fall that was as cute or as fluffy as this before! We worked our way down to the shores of the lake, which was really pretty. The lake has an average depth of 265m (290 yards) and was formed when a mountain’s cone collapsed following volcanic action over 30,000 years ago! We then headed to the festival site, which was breathtaking. Over the course of 2-3 months, water is pumped from the lake and sprayed over various support structures to make a huge collection of ice sculptures. Inside the walled ice area was a shrine with coins stuck to the ice, two ice towers 8m (8.75 yards) tall, a long tunnel with frozen pine branches and fish, and even ice slides! After having a lot of fun, we continued further around the lake and made a brief climb up the to the Shikotsu-Toya National Park, before heading back to the festival to see it all lit up at night! We caught the last bus back to Chitose, and then the train back to Sapporo; both were very packed! Back at the hotel we had to pack our bags, because we’d be changing hotels the next day.

Finally, our last full day in Sapporo was spent at the Sapporo Snow Festival! We were planning to store our luggage at Sapporo Station so we could easily get to the last hotel (near the airport) that night, but it seemed everyone else had the same idea in using the lockers. Fortunately, the station had opened up a luggage-drop place because of the crowds, although it was only open until 6.00pm. We’d have to keep an eye on the time! We made our way to Odori Park, right underneath the Sapporo TV Tower. The first section was a skating rink that wasn’t open to the public, but the second section had a couple of small mascot-y type ice sculptures. It was the third section where things started to get really exciting; a massive ski-jump had been constructed, and there were snowboarders doing stunts. Some of them were so talented, I could have easily watched them all day! However, we had to keep moving, and after a brief stop for food, we continued through some massive snow sculptures; Macau’s St. Paul’s Ruins, and an Attack on Titan display! There were hundreds of smaller sculptures too, featuring lots of characters from Disney, Star Wars, Snoopy, and even my beloved Gudetama! There was even a section for international artists, although a lot of them were still being carved (it was only the first day of the festival, after all). We soon realised the time and rushed back to the station to collect our bags, and, finding free lockers available, stored them again so we could continue onto Susukino Station for the other part of the festival. Here there was one street with ice sculptures on display, all prettily lit up. A lot of the sculptures seemed to be for sponsors of the events, but they were all very beautiful, regardless. After stopping for ramen for dinner, we were on a mission to get out to Chitose and our last hotel. Our last night proved to be quite eventful; a siren and fire warning sounded in all of the hotel rooms, with the fire apparently being on our floor. Luckily it was a false alarm, but we still managed to get locked out of our room!

Our final two days of journeying involved the exhausting 21-hour trip back to Perth, Australia. After catching the 7.40am bus to the airport, I was shocked to discover that there was no wrapping service available. Really, really worried my suitcase wouldn’t survive the long trip home, I improvised… and a roll of strapping tape later, my suitcase was a secure as it was going to get. We had the chance for some last minute shopping before catching the 7 hour flight to Bangkok. At Bangkok we had the chance to eat and nap, before getting on a 11.55pm flight to Perth. Another 7 hours later, and we were home! My suitcase thankfully held together, and after sixty two days together, the three of us finally parted ways to get back to our respective houses and sleep.

That wraps up my time in Japan, as well as the entire two-month holiday! It was exhausting, it was exciting, and I had certainly made memories to keep for a lifetime! I can’t wait to visit all of the countries again, and I hope that you too have a chance to check out these unforgettable places!

-S

WANT TO VISIT JAPAN?

MUST DOs:

There is a lot to do in Japan, so make sure you thoroughly research before heading over! However, there a couple of cities that I think everyone should stop in, and you probably already know what they are; Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo. But before we get to that, I think everyone visiting Japan should also try to get out of the major cities, and into the country’s beautiful nature! The mountains in particular were absolutely gorgeous. If you happen to be there during winter (and the timing of the snow festival in Sapporo), you have to go!

I found Osaka to be a bustling city, obviously not on the same scale as Tokyo, but still not as sleepy as Kyoto. The Minami area in Namba is a pretty interesting place to visit if you want a taste of Osaka’s youth area, with gaming buildings, lots of food, and just a very vibrant atmosphere. I would also recommend Osaka Castle to anyone wanting a taste of Japanese history, and to see views of the skyline. Osaka is also perfectly situated for day trips into other parts of Japan (we technically did these day trips from Kyoto, but the two cities are so close to each other, it doesn’t really matter). Consider visiting the demanding deer in Nara or the beautiful Himeji Castle!

I don’t think you can go to Kyoto without visiting the Higashiyama district. Who doesn’t want to wander these beautiful streets and let their imaginations go wild with what Japan would have been like only a couple of hundred of years ago? With everything from pretty temples and shrines to unique stores, it should be a must on everyone’s list (and it’s also the perfect place to rent kimono)! I would also recommend spending a day out in Arashiyama for some beautiful scenery and the lovely garden at Tenryuji Temple. It was one of my favourite places in Japan! Finally, Kyoto is well known for its shrines and temples, and I would recommend checking out its two most famous; The Temple of the Golden Pavilion and the Fushimi Inari Shrine. You can even easily fit both in a day!

Finally, Tokyo. As the major hub of Japan’s train network, day trips to beautiful areas such as Nikko or Mt. Fuji, amongst others, are very easy. Inside Tokyo itself, I had a lot of fun in some bright areas such as Harajuku (perfect for people watching) and Asakusa. Harajuku is also right next to the Meiji Shrine, while Asakusa contains Senso-ji Temple and the excellent Nakamise shopping street. If you’re visiting Tokyo, you should also check out at least one of their novelty cafes, and get right into the nitty-gritty of what makes Japan Japan. From cat cafes, to maid cafes, and even a robot restaurant, there’s bound to be a unique experience in Tokyo that will tickle your fancy!

HOTELS: 

I enjoyed every place we stayed at in Japan. I’ll list the hotels and what I liked most about them; most of them are highly recommended;
OSAKA: Hostel Zoo. A quick train ride from central Osaka, incredibly clean with friendly staff. Great value for money.
KYOTO: Amenity Hotel. Very clean, right next to Higashiyama, and well connected to central Kyoto. Good choice for budget travellers.
NAGOYA: Nagoya Sun Nishiki. Had trouble with the wifi, but we were only here for one night. Clean room, nice staff.
NAGANO: 1166 Backpackers. Offers traditional styled rooms. A little further from the nearest train station, but staff are incredibly friendly. Would suit those wanting a backpackers’ or hostel atmosphere.
FUJI: Kagelow Mt. Fuji Hostel. Beautiful decor in rooms and views of Fuji! Staff were friendly, bathrooms very clean.
TOKYO: Hotel New Koyo. This one’s more of a mixed bag. The rooms are very, very small (you’ll need to stay in singles unless you’re really friendly with who you’re travelling with), but the place was very clean. The hotel was quite old, but they were clearly renovating while we were there. Should be a lot nicer now. Good value for budget travellers.
SAPPORO: Quintessa Hotel. Our most expensive hotel, but really, really nice. Very comfortable and clean. Full hotel services.
CHITOSE: ANA Crowne Plaza. Very nice hotel, we only stayed for one night for our flight the next day. Staff very helpful, hotel offers shuttle bus to the airport.

TRANSPORTATION: 

Japan has a really good public transport system, making it possible to get around the country without having to set foot in an airport (we could have even done Tokyo to Sapporo without flying!). There are lots of buses throughout all the major cities, highway buses between cities, and buses designed for tourists at population destinations (the World Heritage bus is something you’ll see everywhere). Interestingly, there seemed to be different systems for paying on buses; in Kyoto we found that you enter through the backdoor and pay the driver as you leave through the front. However, in other places you took a number as you got on the bus through the front door, and then watched the fee screen at the front of bus to see what your fare was to pay when you hopped off. If you’re not sure what to do, follow everyone else! It seemed that throughout Japan, you’re expected to have the exact change when using the bus, so try to keep your coins.

I personally found Japan’s train system incredibly confusing, although the infrastructure is amazing! Basically the train lines in each city belong to multiple companies. You’ll find JR (Japanese Rail) lines everywhere, and there’s also the subway for each city. However, there’s also a range of lines belonging to other companies, and only some stations are used commonly by all lines. We found that Google was pretty reliable for giving us directions for using the trains to get to our destinations (both inside cities and between cities). Another thing to note is that JR Rail does a pass specifically designed for tourists. Be aware that you can only use this pass on their lines, and it might just work out cheaper (and easier!) to just buy as you go.

BEWARE!: 

Japan is known for being quite a safe country, and after spending a month there, I can see why. Much like South Korea, you can be as cautious as you are in your own country.

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