Photo Travelogue of Japan – Tokyo/Kyoto

If you want to experience a hanami spring, or the bloom of cherry blossoms, check out this photo travelogue of Japan and bask in the beauty of Japan’s sakura season. This travelogue comes in three parts, and if you liked this post, do check out parts 2 and 3 on Derrick’s blog!

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This is a photo-travelogue that documents my trip to Japan with one-half of the Nyanrovers gang from start to finish.

We planned this trip over February and March as an ORD trip to somewhere we all have never been to. Of course, I am extremely particular about details so I made sure that planning had to go well. Initially, we wanted to go as a group of eight people but it was eventually cut down to four because a huge group would be difficult to manage.

We settled on Japan because Scoot had a 50% fare promotion to Tokyo for a day and we grabbed it immediately. I think we kinda acted on impulse but we never looked back. This worked out to about S$500 per person, including airport tax and a 15kg baggage allowance. There were no meals on board and this was something to manage because our flights were either overnight (12am to 10am) or throughout the day (12noon to 10pm). The fact that we didn’t buy on board meals (scoot doesn’t allow food purchased outside the cabin to be consumed too) and we had to make a quick one-hour stopover in Taipei meant that we had to go hungry for long hours.

The other considerations were accommodation, rail passes and the broad itinerary. Travelling during the cherry blossom period meant that accommodation in Kyoto – where the cherry blossom views were the best – would be hard to find. In fact, we booked them pretty late and could only manage two nights there, in secluded locations with less well off facilities. We spent the other nights in cities like Nara and Osaka, which are about 40 minutes away from Kyoto.

We also did our research on the JR rail pass. After some deliberation, we decided to buy it about S$340 per person, giving us unlimited travel on JR lines and Shinkansen (for use from Tokyo to Kyoto and back) for seven consecutive days. It is activated upon request at any JR offices in Japan.

Finally, my itinerary. For those interested in planning a trip to Japan, you might be interested in my itinerary –

Day 1: Tokyo / Arrival
Day 2: Tokyo / Ueno Park, Asakusa, Shibuya, Hot springs
Day 3 (Started JR Pass): Tokyo – Kyoto / Kyoto Imperial Palace, Nijo Castle
Day 4: Kyoto / Arashiyama district, Monkey Park
Day 5: Kyoto / Philosopher’s Path, Nanzenji Temple, Kiyomizudera, Gion
Day 6: Kyoto – Osaka
Day 7: Osaka / Osaka Station City, Osaka Castle
Day 8: Osaka – Nara / Nara Park
Day 9 (Ended JR Pass): Nara – Tokyo / Shinjuku
Day 10: Tokyo / Shinjuku, Fuji Five Lakes
Day 11: Singapore / Departure

We initially wanted to visit places like Mount Koya but those plans ended up being discarded because it was too out of place and we had enough of visiting temples there. In fact, most of our travel destinations were only settled the day before.

The Japanese are extremely polite and courteous, bowing their heads whenever they say thank you. I always end up bowing back to them, and it just ended up us giving each other a series of bows. Do carry a trash bag when you are travelling around as it’s difficult to find litter bins there, although can find recycling bins in front of most convenience stores.

My cost breakdown: $500 for flights, $400 for accommodation, $340 for the JR pass and $900 for food, transport, entry passes and shopping.

I’ll split this travelogue into three parts, one for every three days of fun. There are tons of photos in the travelogue so it might take a while to load!

Let’s Go!

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Our happy faces when we touched down at Narita Airport, seven hours later after an overnight flight on Scoot transiting at Taipei.

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First things first – exchanging our Japan Railways (JR) exchange order for a JR pass at the counter located at the airport station. This 7-day pass allows us unlimited rides on the JR-operated lines (including the Hikari-class Shinkanesen on the Tokaido Shinkansen)

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Wearing my FBO at the airport station while waiting for the train to arrive.

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Junyan and Shaolun just trying to get each other into pushed onto the train tracks.

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Examining the JR line metro map: Train services here in Japan are extremely complicated, especially if you’re travelling here for the first time. They have tons of platforms at every stations, sometimes up to 15. They have different kinds of trains running on each platform at different timings; some are express and others on regular service. You have to check the timings regularly, otherwise you’d miss your stop.

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Here’s how Ueno station looks like. 13 platforms, each with different types of trains arriving, to different locations. In order to get to your destination, you have to see which lines are able to get you there (there might be multiple!) and you’d have to check whether the type of train (e.g. local, rapid, limited express etc) arrives at your station.

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Junyan chatting up with a Scoot cabin crew member we saw on the flight. We were heading towards Asakusa (where our hostel was located) but the train we took didn’t stop there, and instead, went on to Ueno.

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We decided to alight at Ueno and not take another train back to Asakusa since we could actually walk about 3km towards our hostel. On the way to the hostel, we came across a ramen stall and decided to fill our stomachs first.

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Our first satisfying meal in Japan. A bowl of ramen with dumplings and fried rice per person. Wow.

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After a longgggg walk and almost getting lost, we found our hostel hiding away in a really secluded street.

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A 4-man double-decker bed bunk: space was pretty crammed but we had a private shower and toilet. It was quite comfortable and the people there were nice and polite.

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At night, we caught our very first sighting of cherry blossoms in Japan. When we arrived in Tokyo on the 1st, they had just reached full bloom!

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Within the temple itself, there are omikuji stalls. For a suggested donation of 100 yen, visitors may consult the oracle and divine answers to their questions. Querents shake labelled sticks from enclosed metal containers and read the corresponding answers they retrieve from one of 100 possible drawers.

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Our dinner on the first day: Curry Tonkatsu; yummy yummy.

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There was this shopping street near Ueno station so we had to check it out.

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A man on the streets sketching a portrait of a couple.

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Lanterns at Ueno Park, Tokyo’s most popular city park.

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Attracting millions of visitors especially during the cherry blossom season, Ueno Park was filled with people snapping photos of the beautiful cherry blossoms.

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Cherry blossoms in a variety of colours and types: some are white.

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They were also performances on the streets, for example, this lady was among the many others dancing along to the music played in the background.

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Sometimes I’d find really cute puppies in the park as well.

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Moats and walls surrounding the Tokyo Imperial Palace – we wanted to visit it but unfortunately it was closed since we arrived late.

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We headed to Shibuya instead. This is the famous cross intersection: when the green lights appear, people start crossing in all directions. Did I mention ALL?

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The shopping arcade in Shibuya – food, clothes and more food. Plenty of night life here too.

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It was really crowded, even on a weekday night. Think, IT Show crowds, at night.

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A ‘music lorry’ – I don’t know what it’s actually called but these trucks actually broadcast music on the go.

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In Japan, crêpes, or thin pancakes are a local favourite. They come in sweet (e.g. ice cream, fruits) and salty (e.g. eggs, hams, chicken, tuna) variations!

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Day 3: Choosing lunch from a Japanese menu. We do know what we’re ordering actually!

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This time, it’s a katsudon — a bowl of rice topped with a deep-fried pork cutlet, egg, and condiments.

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Continue reading  Part 2 | Part 3

This post was originally published on http://derrickchin.com/blog/2014/japan-travelogue/.

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