Trip report:Japan, October 2018
We are a couple in late 20s who visited Japan in October 2018 for 10 days, coming from India. During our stay, the weather was pleasant during the day and just a little chilly at night - one jacket needed. (22degC daytime to 14degC at night).
Unfortunately we did not visit during the cherry blossom season, although we did end up seeing one rogue cherry tree that decided to blossom off season, thanks to some earlier typhoons . We were also a couple of weeks early to see peak autumn season, so I would really recommend looking up forecasts for either of these before planning a trip (although cherry blossom season can be crowded, I believe).
We stayed in hostel dorms for our entire trip, and our stay was divided between Tokyo and Kyoto, with various day trips in between. Here’s a summary of our itinerary day by day.
Day 0: Depart from Mumbai. Flight to Narita airport via Singapore
Day 1:Land at Tokyo
We landed at Narita airport at 5.30pm. The airport is about an hour away from Tokyo city. (Haneda airport is a lot closer). It took us about an hour to clear immigration, pick up our wifi device (We got ours from here ), JR passes (bought here) , and Pasmo card (see how to buy at vending machine here ).
We took the Keisei line train to Asakusa, where our hostel was (K’s House Tokyo Oasis). After dropping off our bags at the hostel, we roamed around the Asakusa area. The sensoji temple and Karminon gate were lit up and really beautiful to wander around.
We stopped by a conveyor belt sushi restaurant on the way to our hostel to get a quick bite. ( Ganso Zushi Asakusa Honten ). The prices range from 100- 500 yen a plate, based on the color of the plate. You can pick up whatever you want from the moving belt, and at the end a waiter will come and total up your bill based on what plates are left beside you.
One thing we noticed was that most restaurants and shops closed pretty early. Shops closed by 8pm and most restaurants by 10, so do plan to have your meals early. We later ate and had some sake and plum wine at one of the many izakayas on a lane near the Sensoji temple.
The convenience stores (FamilyMarts or 7-11s) were open 24/7, so you can always find food there.
The next day we spent the day seeing Asakusa area by day, wandering around the souvenir shops on Nakamise shopping street and eating the sweets/snacks in the area. Later in the afternoon we headed to Ueno park, the Ueno zoo and the Nature and Science museum.
Nakamise shopping street was right outside the Asakusa temple and was full of stalls with food and souvenirs.
Ueno park was a lovely green area in Tokyo. We found the zoo and Science museum a bit underwhelming.
Day 8: Tokyo
Returned to Tokyo this day. Took an early shinkansen back to tokyo (Had a bento box on the train).Later at night we headed to Shinjuku.
We headed to the Tokyo Metropolitan govt. building for a view of Tokyo skyline at night. (Free!)
Spent the afternoon exploring Akihabara (Yodobahi camera, M’s pop life ‘adult store’ ;). There was a shop “Sweets paradise” near the station selling the best cheesecake ever at 108yen, must try!
Later we explored the streets of Shinjuku - the insane bright lights and billboards, the so called “Piss alley” (right), and Golden Gai. The last two were of interest for the food and bars. Golden Gai seemed rather touristy and expensive (cover charges at all bars!)
Day 10: Tokyo.
On our last day in Japan, we visited the Tsukiji fish market. Unfortunately, the market had recently moves to Toyosu, so although we didn’t get to see the actual market and auctioning, we did see the outer market and visit a sushi restaurant.
Later in the morning, we took a train to Shibuya, where we went to the Meiji Shrine. We happened to catch a Japanese wedding happening at the shrine (left). Then walked to Takeshita Dori, a crowded shopping street, saw the Hachiko statue (right)and the crazy crowds at the famous Shibuya crossing (from the Starbucks on the first floor!).
By evening we got bored of Shibuya and decided to go back to Asakusa one last time, since that was our favourite place. We headed to the Asahi beer hall which served Asahi beers with a nice view. Notably, it is right beside a building with a giant golden poop on it, noticable from many places in Asakusa.. .
Finally ended the night at one of those izakayas we went to on our first night, where we ran into some locals. We chatted a bit with them (all through Google translate!) and had a pretty memorable time having large amounts of hot sake.
A point to note, do carry your business cards for such encounters! Japanese people will always exchange business card, so would be great to have yours too.
Day 11: Depart to Mumbai
We returned our wifi device to the post office at the airport, returned and got refunded for our Pasmo cards, and picked up some sake from the duty-free stores.
Public transport is excellent (if not cheap). Between the trains and buses (for Kyoto) you can get around pretty much everywhere. But we also just walked a lot ( 20 km a day!) because cabs are expensive. So carry some comfy walking shoes, as you’ll be on your feet a lot. Contrary to what I read, we did not have to take off our shoes a lot, only at a couple of temples that we went to.
Where to stay and what to expect
We stayed in hostels for the entire duration of the trip – we were on a budget.
- K's House Tokyo Oasis
- Backpackers Hostel K's House Kyoto
- Planetyze Hostel
The hostels were all excellent - clean and well maintained. Both the K’s houses had kitchen and laundry (paid), which were really useful. The prices were around INR1500/night per bed when booked on hostelworld. Makemytrip and other such sites also show these hostels and often offer great offers (we got 30% cashback on 1500/night!). All the hostels had a peaceful atmosphere (not ‘party hostels’) and there was a significant older crowd (40s +), which we found unusual at a hostel, especially considering we booked the cheaper places. The hostels had (paid) laundry facilities (100 yen a load) and kitchens if you wanted to bring and cook/heat anything. They had lockable compartments (but bring a lock for these).
10 Days in Japan – Expenses & Budgeting
Japan is a planner’s paradise. If you love planning your itinerary down to the last minute, this is the place for you. It’s also pretty easy to get a fair idea of what your expenses will be beforehand.
Between Hyperdia and Japanguide, it’s easy to find the costs of transport and entry fees to pretty much any attraction you may want to visit. The trains also run precisely on time, which means it really is possible to make plans to the minute. Do budget some time to figure out how to use the trains though ☺
Budget breakdown for a couple in October 2018 (9N/10D)
Actual expenses excluding flight tickets:
- Accomodation: $450
- Attractions (tickets etc): $200
- Food and drinks: $570
- Insurance: $15
- Miscellaneous: $15
- Souvenirs: $160
- Transport: $685
- Visa: $35 (for Indians)
- Wifi $70
Total: $2200 for a couple
‘Transport’ includes the cost of JR pass and any other local trains/buses we took. Attractions include all tickets and entry fees to temples, gardens, museums etc. .
Among all of these, food is the really variable component that depends on what you choose to eat. More details below.
So we are not vegetarians, and generally not fussy eaters. One of the main attractions for us in Japan was the various foods to try. Mmm, sushi!
Convenience store food was really great - it’s possible to have a filling (non-vegetarian) meal at 500yen. (See pictures) . So if you’re OK with sticking to convenience store food, it’s easy to get by on 2000 yen a day for food. Even less if you’re willing to eat cup noodles… We ended up spending 3500 yen per person per day on average - breakfast was usually from a FamilyMart and two meals at some cheaper restaurants. The FamilyMart/7-11s had great 100yen coffee! A meal at decent restaurant was around 1500 yen per person, although we did find some great places (Yoshinoya) which had meals at ~600 yen. Restaurant meals usually had quite large portions. Drinking out was pretty expensive (700 yen for a beer at a cheap place!) so we mostly stuck to buying our drinks from convenience stores (~250 yen). The budget indicated here includes only 1 beer a day per head, usually from a conbini.
Prices are usually displayed outside the restaurant/store, and many display (very realistic looking) plastic models of the food.
Food to try:
- Udon, Soba noodles
- Bento boxes, especially from the train station
- Mochi - little sweets sold at many temples
- Chicken Katsu
- Sake (cold and hot)
- Takoyaki at Osaka
- Onigiri from a 7-11
- Unagi (eel)
We applied through VFS center at Pune… the charges were INR 490 for the visa and INR 650 VFS fee. We applied together as a couple with one cover letter stating our purpose of travel, intended itinerary, confirmed hotel bookings and return flight tickets.. also letters of leave consent from our workplaces showing we intend to return after our holiday, and 3 months’ bank account statements (only one person’s was needed, since we were traveling as a couple!). In the account we had a bank balance of 2 lakhs between the 2 of us, and apparently that was sufficient to get us our visas. The Japan embassy does not have a required amount..
Where to convert money
We used an ATM card to withdraw money (since I had a card with really low fees…) Many temples and parks took only cash,as well as some smaller restaurants, souvenir shops. All convenience stores, our hostels and bigger shops accepted credit cards. For converting dollars, the exchange shop at the airport actually offered a decent rate, so we changed some money there. We didn’t see any option of converting INR.
JR Pass or Not?
Once you’ve planned your itinerary, put in your major train journeys on Hyperdia to estimate how much it would cost, and see if it’s worthwhile to buy a JR pass. For us, we travelled Tokyo -> Kyoto ->Hiroshima->Kyoto-> Tokyo, and for this itinerary, a 7 day pass definitely gave us savings.
Train option and costs: We got a PAsmo card for the non-JR buses and trains we took. It’s just a pre-loaded card, so it makes train and bus travel a lot easier. It can also be used at many stores and vending machines. There is a 500 yen deposit which you can get back when you return the card at any metro line. Read about Pasmo and Suica cards <here>
Useful websites and apps
- https://www.japan-guide.com/ - for pretty much all details, ideas for itineraries, prices and timings of attractions, getting around. A great resource!
- http://www.hyperdia.com/ - Tool for finding and planning train journeys. IT allows you to filter for trains using JR pass, something Google maps won’t do
Willer Bus pass:
Another way to save costs are to take an overnight bus instead of the expensive shinkansens… Willer express is the recommended bus service, they offer a 5 day bus pass for 15000 yen (the 5 days need not be consecutive!) They offer a 3 day pass at 12500 yen pp (http://willerexpress.com/st/3/en/pc/buspass/ ) They even have a slightly cheaper option if you take the buses only Mon-Thur!
As they’re overnight, each journey will also save you one day of accommodation. You can take up to 3 buses on any day. An overnight journey only counts as one day.
That is, you can make 5 long overnight journeys in 15000 yen… so Tokyo -> Kyoto ->Hiroshima->Kyoto-> Tokyo would have been 4 overnights, plus we’d have another day left to use the bus as we wished… That’s a lot cheaper than the JPY29000 JR pass which is only usable on 7 consecutive days, plus you will save 4-5 nights of accommodation as well!
In the end we chose to buy the JR Pass, as the photos of these buses all showed semi sleeper types, and I can’t handle sleeping in buses… But they incline almost completely horizontal and looked pretty comfortable, so if overnight bus journeys are something you can handle, this is a really great way to save a good chunk of money! I think a Shinkansen ride is part of the japan experience, so I would recommend taking one on some route, even if you use the bus option! Kyoto → Osaka is a short and relatively cheap route to take a Shinkansen, just for the sake of a Shinkansen experience :D
Things we missed:
- Cherry blossom season, peak autumn
- Universal Studios: They have a Harry potter section! Although I’m a huuuge Harry Potter fan, I sadly chose to skip this, since we only had 11 days planned and I didn’t want to spend a whole day mostly waiting in lines…
- Disney Land/Sea: Same as above
- Sumo Wrestling: Not the season
- Studio Ghibli: Not an anime fan
- Animal Cafes, Maid Cafes: Didn’t get around to doing this, although I might have been interested
- Places: Kamakura, Fuji five lakes, Hiking Fuji, Himeji castle,snow monkeys, Onsen. If you would like a private onsen, you would need to book in advance as the day we went to Hakone, all the places were reserved :(
- Ryokan experience: Ryokans are the traditional Japanese type of hotel. Although we read really great things about this and how it’s a must-do, sadly we had to skip this as Ryokans were well out of our budget.
- Check out the Daiso (100 yen( shops etc where everything is sold for 100yen- we picked up lots of little things.
- Consider taking a stroller bags if you’re usually the type who takes a backpack. The roads are excellent and it’s easy to take a stroller pretty much everywhere. Some places have stairs, especially train stations, but all have escalators/elevators.
- Do look out in advance for any events that may be happening in the cities you visit, we saw the Jidai Matsuri at Kyoto.
- Also, a lot of attarctions have strange closing days/hours, so check on japan-guide beforehand what attractions are close on what days. You don’t want to reach a place and then be disappointed that the main attraction is closed that day.