When asked what culture do I admire most from all my travelling, I would have to say the Japanese win the cake on this one. Politeness and discipline have been instilled in Japanese society and you will get to see that when you’re visiting their country.
This post is dedicated to travelling to Japan, what you should do and which attractions you should plan to visit.
Before you begin the trip, make an itinerary and see whether it’s worth it for you to buy the 7-day JR Rail Pass (this can either be purchased in the States or in Japan which is more expensive). I used this site for mine https://www.japan-rail-pass.com/
Allow a minimum of 2-3 weeks for them to deliver your certificate by mail. You will then use this certificate to exchange for the actual rail pass in Japan. You will have an option of buying the regular pass ($270) or the Green 1st class pass ($361). We opted for the first class pass and the seats were noticeably more comfortable with extra reclining capability. For long travels, we thought it was worth it for the upgrade.
When you get to Japan, find a JR station and ask for the Exchange Office (please note: only some JR stations would have the exchange office and they close at 7:00 pm). Tokyo Station and Shinjuku Station both have an exchange office. Upon arriving at the exchange office, you will have to fill out a form. They will use this form to attach to your Rail Pass which you would show to the “gate-keeper” every time you enter or exit the station. The benefit of having the Rail Pass is you can use it for 7 days from the date of exchange by midnight. You will also not have to buy any tickets if you are using the JR line across Japan including the Shinkansens (with the exception of Nozomi train). Other private lines, you will need to buy additional tickets, I will give an example in a little bit.
Below is our tightly packed itinerary but it’s best if you want to see the most of Japan in only 6 days.
Day 1: Arrive in Tokyo (if possible, choose to arrive in Haneda Airport instead of Narita Airport).
We chose to stay at Keio Plaza Hotel because the Airport limousine takes you directly to the main lobby, plus they offer shuttle service to Disneyland which is great for families with small children. The cost from Narita to the hotel was $27 per person and a 2-hour limousine bus ride. On the contrary, the cost for Haneda was $11 per person and a 45 minutes bus ride.
Day 1 in Tokyo is just exploring the city. Popular attractions include but not limited to:
- Meiji Shrine
- Ueno Park
- Tokyo National Museum
Around dusk, we started making our way to Shibuya to see the busiest crosswalk in the world. Took the JR train to Harajuku for some cotton candy. Walked to Shinjuku Red Light District from Shinjuku Station and stumbled upon this random ramen place where you can buy tickets from a vending machine (to me that was the coolest thing ever). To top that off, you can actually have unlimited noodle refill!
Day 2: We took a 1-day trip to Lake Hawaguchi. The best way to get there is by bus but since we had the JR Rail Pass, we decided to take the train instead. If you take the train, you would have to get off at Otsuki Station and buy another ticket on the private Fujikyu Railway to continue the trip to Kawaguchiko Station. Sometimes, we would have to pay extra for an express ticket.
When you get to Kawaguchiko Station, go over to the Tourist Information Desk and ask the receptionist to contact your hotel for pick-up. Most hotels are within 5 minutes from the station hence you don’t have to wait long. We chose Konansou for our ryokan (Japanese style home) experience. Our suite is decorated with modern Japanese decor and a private onsen bath.
Before dinner, you can take a short walk to the cable car where you can see Mount Fuji at sunset. They stop the cable car service at 4:30 pm so make sure you time accordingly. Dinner is served in the room and the beds are made around 9:00 pm. Food and presentation were amazing, even the breakfast buffet the next morning was really good.
We went around January 21 and there were fireworks outside of our balcony right above the lake. Only lake view rooms would get to see the fireworks, mountain view rooms would be facing Fuji-san.
Day 3: From Lake Kawaguchiko, we had to go back to Tokyo Station to take the Shinkansen to Kyoto. Arriving at Kyoto around 4:00 pm, we checked in to Kyoto Hotel Okura. The best thing about this hotel is the subway entrance is part of the hotel itself, how much more convenient can that be? We only had enough time to go see 1 attraction so we decided to check out the famous Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine. We climbed all the way up the mountain and there was a small lake at the top which I didn’t expect.
From Fushimi-Inari Station, we took the Keihan train to Gion (Geisha District). We had dinner at Teppan Tavern Tenamonya and had the cheapest Wagyu beef I’ve ever had, and it was so good that we ordered a second one for each of us.
Day 4: A 50 minutes commute took us from the hotel to Arashiyama. First thing to do is to visit Tenryu-ji Temple (which is one of UNESCO World Heritage). From the temple, exit via the North Gate to enter Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. At the end of the forest is Okochi-Sanso Villa that you can also visit. Ticket to the villa also come with a cup of green tea in the tea room.
We wanted to check out the best eel restaurant but it was too crowded during lunch time so we decided to make our way towards the water and had dinner on the second floor over looking the view. Arashiyama would have to be my favorite part of Kyoto.
We then took the train to go see Kiyomizu-dera Temple before boarding the 6:00 pm train from Kyoto to Osaka. We decided to stay at the Ritz-Carlton Osaka (amazing breakfast buffet) for this leg of the trip.
It was recommended that we check out Dotonbori which is a foodie attractions where they have hundreds of food stalls lining up on both sides of the street. You can just literally zig zag your way to foodie heaven. Popular dishes known in Osaka are the takoyaki octopus balls, the puffer fish, and crabs, you’ll see multiple of these restaurants everywhere.
A friend told us that we should also check out Ichiran Ramen when we’re in Osaka so here we are, a bowl of delicious ramen noddles. You sit behind a curtain in a stall and they just serve the ramen to you. Very cool concept!
Day 5: Last day before going back to Tokyo, we decided to visit another UNESCO World Heritage, the Himeji Castle, which is another 45 minutes from Osaka. The Castle has 2 parts, the main keep and the garden. The garden was actually where the king resided, the castle itself was more like a fortress.
Getting back to Tokyo around 4:00 pm allow us some time to rest and get ready for dinner. I made reservation for Sky Restaurant 634 which is on the first observation deck of Tokyo Skytree. From here you will see all of Tokyo skyline, Tokyo Tower, the Rainbow Bridge, etc. The food was great and the view really made the best out of our last night in Japan.
Day 6: We made reservation in advance to tour the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. The tour was decent but some what boring since the Imperial speaker didn’t speak English too well. We also only saw the outside of the building, walking roughly 1 mile on the premise, without being able to go inside (unlike Himeji Castle). After that, we walked to Tsukiji Fish Market for a sushi lunch at Sushi Zanmai. From the fish market to Ginza is a short 5 minutes walk so we spent the rest of our afternoon just walking around chilling. There are so many consignment stores at Ginza and I have not seen so many Hermes Birkins and Kellys in my life.
On the way back to Shinjuku, we stopped by Pablo to pick up a cheesecake to bring on the plane. We flew All Nippon Airways premium economy class back home but there wasn’t much difference between economy and premium economy, maybe just a tad bit more inclination and the bottom leg rest. The lounge, however, was a perk to premium economy passenger because usually they only offer it to business/first class customers on other airlines.