Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Friday, February 17, 2017

Doing Touristy Things in Tokyo

There are so many things to see and do in Tokyo, but we only had two days and these were what we managed to visit:

東京都庁
Free admission
North Observatory
930AM to 11PM
Closed 2nd and 4th Monday of every month
South Observatory
930AM to 530PM (11PM when North Observatory is closed)
Closed 1st and 3rd Tuesday of every month

We visited the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building for its free 202–meter high observatories (north and south). They say that on a clear day Mt Fuji can be seen. It was too hazy to see Mt Fuji that day but it was fascinating to see the city so densely covered in buildings fading into the horizon.

Directions to Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building: Take the subway Oedo Line to Tochomae Station. The station is on the basement of the building. If you'd like to use your JR Pass, the closest JR station is Shinjuku. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building is a 10-minute walk from JR Shinjuku Station's west exit.




Buildings as far as the eye can see


新宿御苑
Closed on Mondays / Admission fee 200 JPY
Shinjuku Gyoen Grounds 9AM to 4PM
Greenhouse 930AM to 330PM

Shinjuku Gyoen has meandering tree-lined paths connecting a greenhouse and three gardens: a Japanese traditional garden (think ponds, bridges, teahouses), an English landscape garden (think wide lawns surrounded by trees), and a French formal garden (think rose bushes and sycamore trees).

When we visited at the end of October, most of the trees were still green, too early for koyo (autumn colored foliage). A nice surprise though were the large chrysanthemums of different colors in the Japanese garden. In Japan, the chrysanthemum is representative of autumn, and most importantly a symbol for longevity and rejuvenation. It is the Imperial Family Emblem and can also be seen on a 50 yen coin and on the Japanese passport.

It was lovely to see families and friends picnicking on the lawns and under trees all over Shinjuku Gyoen, elderly Japanese painting sceneries, and people relaxing on benches or walking along the tree–lined paths. Sadly, we missed to check out the greenhouse.

Shinjuku Gyoen is so large that we entered after breakfast and came out there hungry and longing for lunch.

Directions to Shinjuku Gyoen: Shinjuku Gyoen has three gates, Shinjuku Gate (the closest subway stations are Shinjuku-gyoenmae and Shinjuku sanchome), Okido Gate (the closest subway station is Shijuku-gyoenmae), and Sendagaya Gate (the closest subway station is Kokuritsokyogijo and the closest JR station is Sendagaya Station).

Japanese Traditional Garden

Chrysanthemums


French Formal Garden

Avenue of Sycamore Trees



Meiji Jingu
明治神宮
Meiji Jingu Sunrise to Sunset / Free admission
Treasure House 9AM to 4PM (Closed on weekdays except national holidays) / 500 JPY
Inner Garden 9AM to 4PM / 500 JPY

Meiji Jingu is an Imperial shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji (born in 1852 and ascended the throne in 1867) and Empress Shoken. It was built in 1920. The Meiji shrine grounds cover a large area, and in it are the main shrine, the Treasure House (a museum of items used by the Emperor and Empress), and the Inner Garden.

The main shrine is a 10-minute walk along pathways surrounded by trees starting from either north or south entrance. During the walk to the main shrine, I spotted a wall of sake barrels called kazaridaru. These were donated by sake brewers from all over Japan to ask for prosperity. At the shrine we witnessed a Shinto wedding ceremony, people praying, and people writing wishes on a wooden plate called ema. We did not get to visit the Treasure House (it was closed) nor the Inner Garden. 

Directions to Meiji Jingu: Take the JR Yamanote Line to Harajuku Station. If you have the Tokyo Metro Pass, the closest subway station would be Meiji-jingumae Station.

Meiji Jingu's torii with the Imperial Family Emblem (chrysanthemum)

Sacred trees marked by a shimenawa (straw rope with white zigzag paper strips)

"Ema" are wooden plates where people write their wishes

A traditional Shinto wedding ceremony

There were two wedding ceremonies that day

Kazaridaru


Shibuya
渋谷

Shibuya has many shopping centers but we did not go there for a shopping spree. We went there for two free things. One: to see Hachiko perpetually waiting outside Shibuya Station. And two: to witness the busiest crosswalk in the world. Though it wasn't rush hour, thus the 5-way crosswalk wasn't that busy, we still did not venture to join the pedestrians, instead we watched the masses from the upper floor of Shibuya Station.

Directions to Shibuya: Take either the subway or the JR to Shinjuku Station.

Shibuya 5-way crosswalk

Hachiko waiting outside Shibuya Station



Tokyo Tower
東京タワー
Main Observatory 9AM to 11PM / 900 JPY (1600 JPY for both Main and Special Observatory)
Tokyo One Piece Tower 10AM to 10PM / 3200 JPY

We only satisfied ourselves at admiring the 333–meter tall orange and white tower from street level because we were either too hungry or too cheap (I forget which) to go up the observatory. Admission to the observatory would have cost 1600 JPY for both the main observatory (150m high) and the special observatory (250m high). (900 JPY for the main observatory only.) None of us were One Piece fans so we didn't bother going to the One Piece Tower either (located in Tokyo Tower's Foot Town, the building under the Tower).

Directions to Tokyo Tower: Tokyo Tower can be reached by bus, subway, or rail (JR). There are many options on how to get there, but the closest subway station, a 5–minute walk, would be Akabanebashi Station on the Metropolitan Subway Oedo Line.



Imperial Palace Tour (in Japanese only)
10AM and 130PM (No tours on Sunday, Monday, holidays)
Reservation required for the tour
East Gardens
Closed Mondays and Fridays / Free admission
Winter 9AM to 330PM
Spring and Autumn 9AM to 4PM
Summer 9AM to 430PM

Because we were not able to secure slots for the Imperial Palace Tour, we only saw parts of the Imperial Palace from outside...which were just the Nijubashi Bridge and the Fushimi-yagura Keep. If we had secured slots for the tour, we'd have been able to enter the palace grounds but not the buildings, but we wouldn't have understood a thing because the tour would have been conducted in Japanese.

Directions to the Tokyo Imperial Palace: Refer to the Imperial Household Agency website for the numerous options on how to reach the five gates of the Tokyo Imperial Palace grounds.

 Nijubashi bridge and Fushimi-yagura Keep

Moat





Japan
Know Before You Go
Single Entry Tourist Visa for Japan
Roam Around Japan with a Swagger

From Tokyo to Hiroshima (2015)
10D/9N | Tokyo, Toyama, Kyoto, Hyogo, Osaka, Hiroshima
Tokyo Accommodation: Shinjuku Airbnb
Tokyo: Memorable Tokyo Eats
Tokyo: Odaiba
Tokyo: Doing Touristy Things in Tokyo (you're here!)
Toyama: A Hamlet Called Ainokura
Kyoto Accommodation: K's House Hostel Kyoto
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Wisdom from the Road: On exits #2
Kyoto: By the Thousands (Kyoto Imperial Palace, Sanjusangendo, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove)
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Turning Japanese
Kyoto: Braving the Crowds at these UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto (Kiyomizu-dera, Nijo Castle, Kinkakuji)
Hyogo, Japanecdote: If Only I Could Speak Nihongo
Hyogo: Day Trip to Himeji: Himeji Castle and Shoshazan Engyoji Temple
Hyogo, Japanecdote: Am I an Alien?
Hiroshima: Strolling and Snacking in Miyajima
Hiroshima: Remembering the Past in Hiroshima
Osaka, Japanecdote: How to Lose Friends
Osaka Accommodation: Osaka Airbnb
Osaka, Japanecdote: Where is Bentencho Station?
Osaka: Osaka Castle and Tenjinbashisuji Shotengai
Osaka, Japanecdote: Learn From Your Mistakes

Concentrate on Kansai (2016)
Kyoto Accommodations: Guesthouse Wind Villa, Shiori Yado
Osaka Accommodations: Hotel Raizan, Hotel Mikado

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Odaiba

Odaiba お台場, a shopping and entertainment district on a man–made island, was our first stop in Tokyo. Not for shopping, but for the jaw dropping 18-meter tall Gundam at DiverCity Tokyo Plaza. I am not a fan of Gundam, but still it was quite a sight to see. Especially when it started to move complete with lights and sounds in sync with the short episode (in Japanese) playing on the large screen.

DiverCity Tokyo Plaza

Gundam fans would surely love DiverCity Tokyo Plaza because it also has a Gundam Cafe and Gundam Front Tokyo (a museum of all things Gundam). Unfortunately for Gundam fans who are planning to visit in the next few months, the 18-meter tall Gundam is scheduled to be taken down in March 2017 and Gundam Front to close in April 5, 2017. The good news is something bigger and better are coming! Gundam Base will replace Gundam Front and will open Summer 2017, and a new and an even taller (close to 24 meters) Unicorn Gundam will rise in Autumn 2017.

Odaiba Statue of Liberty

Fuji TV Building

After gracing Gundam with our presence (ha!), we went for a chilly (it was end of October) walk along the seaside park where we saw a Statue of Liberty, tall buildings all lit up for the night, including the futuristic looking Fuji TV Building with its spherical observation room, and a beautiful night view of the Rainbow Bridge which is not rainbow colored (different colors can only be seen during special light up events).

Rainbow Bridge and, beyond that, Tokyo Tower

Odaiba is not only Gundam and nightviews. There are also museums and indoor amusement parks that I would have loved to visit had we had more time:
Oh well. More reasons to come back to Tokyo.




Japan
Know Before You Go
Single Entry Tourist Visa for Japan
Roam Around Japan with a Swagger

From Tokyo to Hiroshima (2015)
10D/9N | Tokyo, Toyama, Kyoto, Hyogo, Osaka, Hiroshima
Tokyo Accommodation: Shinjuku Airbnb
Tokyo: Memorable Tokyo Eats
Tokyo: Odaiba (you're here!)
Tokyo: Doing Touristy Things in Tokyo
Toyama: A Hamlet Called Ainokura
Kyoto Accommodation: K's House Hostel Kyoto
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Wisdom from the Road: On exits #2
Kyoto: By the Thousands (Kyoto Imperial Palace, Sanjusangendo, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove)
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Turning Japanese
Kyoto: Braving the Crowds at these UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto (Kiyomizu-dera, Nijo Castle, Kinkakuji)
Hyogo, Japanecdote: If Only I Could Speak Nihongo
Hyogo: Day Trip to Himeji: Himeji Castle and Shoshazan Engyoji Temple
Hyogo, Japanecdote: Am I an Alien?
Hiroshima: Strolling and Snacking in Miyajima
Hiroshima: Remembering the Past in Hiroshima
Osaka, Japanecdote: How to Lose Friends
Osaka Accommodation: Osaka Airbnb
Osaka, Japanecdote: Where is Bentencho Station?
Osaka: Osaka Castle and Tenjinbashisuji Shotengai
Osaka, Japanecdote: Learn From Your Mistakes

Concentrate on Kansai (2016)
Kyoto Accommodations: Guesthouse Wind Villa, Shiori Yado
Osaka Accommodations: Hotel Raizan, Hotel Mikado

Monday, February 13, 2017

Memorable Tokyo Eats

I haven't eaten anything in Japan that I didn't like or maybe I really just like food. We had ekiben which are boxed meals sold at train stations, bento (boxed meals) and onigiri (rice balls) from konbini (convenience stores), curry, ramen, donburi, etc. from whatever restaurant our hungry selves happened to gravitate towards. (For some reason we never thought to go to a conveyor belt sushi restaurant. Tsk.)

Of the six meals we had in Tokyo, all in different places, these two were the most memorable for me:

Komoro Soba

We stumbled upon this little restaurant while walking from Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden to Yoyogi Station. We were quite hungry and the shokuhin sampuru (plastic food samples) in the clear glass shelf outside this small corner restaurant caught our eye. We don't know what the dishes were—the descriptions (and prices) were all in Japanese—but everything looked good. Thankfully, I had paid attention to my elementary Chinese lessons way back when, that I could read the prices...and it was quite cheap with dishes starting from 230 JPY.

Order and pay here...if you can figure it out. It's in Japanese!

Although the restaurant's name is Komoro Soba, it does not only serve soba, but also donburi (rice toppings). We studied the display outside, picked what we wanted to order, went through the door and found a white kiosk where we had to input our order and pay. It took us quite some time because it was in Japanese! (Tip: Memorize or take a photo of the Japanese label on the display! Or just go before or after the usual meal hours when the restaurant isn't busy, the kitchen staff can surely help.) After paying, the kiosk spit out the change and the meal ticket. We gave our tickets to the kitchen and waited for our order. With speed and efficiency, we didn't have to wait long. As soon as we got our food, we settled down and ate our rice bowls (yes, it's a soba restaurant but all of us rice eaters chose a donburi). The serving looked small but turned out to be filling. We all agreed that the food was very good (mine was ten don 天丼 or tempura donburi). But we couldn't dilly dally in this place as more office workers on lunch break were spilling in through the door.

天丼 ten don, 四二0円 420 yen

Where can you find Komoro Soba? It has more than 80 branches in Tokyo! The one we stumbled upon was at 5-20-16 Sendagaya, Shibuya-ku.



Somebody in the group had the sense to search for ramen places and suggested we hunt for Gogyo, a restaurant that serves burnt ramen so says whatever it was he found on the internet. Off we went, no questions asked, after having our mandatory tourist photo taken with Tokyo Tower in the background. From Kamiyacho Station on the Tokyo Metro, it was just one stop and a 10-minute walk away. But I was so hungry that it felt like such a long walk and I had to ask "Are we there yet?" To my relief, and I am sure to my friends' relief (no more hearing the annoying "Are we there yet?" question from me), we found Gogyo.

I don't know what else was on the menu because I just zoomed in on the burnt ramen offerings: kogashi shoyu ramen and kogashi miso ramen. According to the menu, the kogashi broth is "prepared with lard (!) flambéed at 300°C." I am no food expert and don't know how to describe food, but, my oh my, my kogashi shoyu ramen with char siu was really really really good!!! Quite expensive at 1,130 JPY but well worth every yen I had to squeeze out of my wallet!

Kogashi Shoyu Ramen with char siu, 1130 JPY

Where can you find Gogyo? There is only one in Tokyo and it is at 1-4-36 Nishiazabu, Minato-ku. Aside from Tokyo, there are two other branches in Japan: Kyoto and Nagoya.






Japan
Know Before You Go
Single Entry Tourist Visa for Japan
Roam Around Japan with a Swagger

From Tokyo to Hiroshima (2015)
10D/9N | Tokyo, Toyama, Kyoto, Hyogo, Osaka, Hiroshima
Tokyo Accommodation: Shinjuku Airbnb
Tokyo: Memorable Tokyo Eats (you're here!)
Tokyo: Odaiba
Tokyo: Doing Touristy Things in Tokyo
Toyama: A Hamlet Called Ainokura
Kyoto Accommodation: K's House Hostel Kyoto
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Wisdom from the Road: On exits #2
Kyoto: By the Thousands (Kyoto Imperial Palace, Sanjusangendo, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove)
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Turning Japanese
Kyoto: Braving the Crowds at these UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto (Kiyomizu-dera, Nijo Castle, Kinkakuji)
Hyogo, Japanecdote: If Only I Could Speak Nihongo
Hyogo: Day Trip to Himeji: Himeji Castle and Shoshazan Engyoji Temple
Hyogo, Japanecdote: Am I an Alien?
Hiroshima: Strolling and Snacking in Miyajima
Hiroshima: Remembering the Past in Hiroshima
Osaka, Japanecdote: How to Lose Friends
Osaka Accommodation: Osaka Airbnb
Osaka, Japanecdote: Where is Bentencho Station?
Osaka: Osaka Castle and Tenjinbashisuji Shotengai
Osaka, Japanecdote: Learn From Your Mistakes

Concentrate on Kansai (2016)
Kyoto Accommodations: Guesthouse Wind Villa, Shiori Yado
Osaka Accommodations: Hotel Raizan, Hotel Mikado

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Shinjuku Airbnb

For our three nights in Tokyo, we stayed at an apartment in Shinjuku booked through Airbnb. If I travel to Tokyo again with three friends, I would stay here again. Why?

Location. The apartment is off the main road in a quiet residential area. There are several convenience stores and restaurants nearby. And it is just a 5-minute walk from Higashi-Shinjuku Tokyo Metro Station and a 10-minute walk from Shinjuku Station. It was very easy to find thanks to the clear instructions given by the Airbnb host.


Privacy. The apartment sleeps four (two bunk beds), has a mini kitchen, and a toilet and bath. Though small—when we have to open our luggage at the same time, there is barely room to move from the bedroom to the bathroom or the kitchen; the size of the bathroom is okay for Asians but will be too small for westerners — it's our own little apartment and we don't have to share it with strangers.

WiFi. A pocket WiFi is provided.


Price. The apartment cost us only 34,400 JPY for three nights for four persons. That's about 2870 JPY per person per night. About the same or even cheaper than staying in a dorm bed in a hostel, which usually ranges from 2500 JPY to 3800 JPY per person per night.



Japan
Know Before You Go
Single Entry Tourist Visa for Japan
Roam Around Japan with a Swagger

From Tokyo to Hiroshima (2015)
10D/9N | Tokyo, Toyama, Kyoto, Hyogo, Osaka, Hiroshima
Tokyo Accommodation: Shinjuku Airbnb (you're here!)
Tokyo: Memorable Tokyo Eats
Tokyo: Odaiba
Tokyo: Doing Touristy Things in Tokyo
Toyama: A Hamlet Called Ainokura
Kyoto Accommodation: K's House Hostel Kyoto
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Wisdom from the Road: On exits #2
Kyoto: By the Thousands (Kyoto Imperial Palace, Sanjusangendo, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove)
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Turning Japanese
Kyoto: Braving the Crowds at these UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto (Kiyomizu-dera, Nijo Castle, Kinkakuji)
Hyogo, Japanecdote: If Only I Could Speak Nihongo
Hyogo: Day Trip to Himeji: Himeji Castle and Shoshazan Engyoji Temple
Hyogo, Japanecdote: Am I an Alien?
Hiroshima: Strolling and Snacking in Miyajima
Hiroshima: Remembering the Past in Hiroshima
Osaka, Japanecdote: How to Lose Friends
Osaka Accommodation: Osaka Airbnb
Osaka, Japanecdote: Where is Bentencho Station?
Osaka: Osaka Castle and Tenjinbashisuji Shotengai
Osaka, Japanecdote: Learn From Your Mistakes

Concentrate on Kansai (2016)
Kyoto Accommodations: Guesthouse Wind Villa, Shiori Yado
Osaka Accommodations: Hotel Raizan, Hotel Mikado

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Itinerary and Budget: Tokyo to Hiroshima

Japan has always been on top of my to-visit list, but my wallet, convinced that it is a very expensive country, kept pushing it to the bottom. Then my brain slapped my wallet hard on its leatherette face and said "If not now, when? This mustache is not getting any younger." I bought a ticket with nary a travel companion in sight.

It was months after buying a plane ticket did I find three travel companions. When they themselves finally found and bought not so expensive tickets, we came up with a 10-day itinerary.

How we spent our 10 days

Arrive in Narita, blaze from Tokyo to Hiroshima, spending just a day or two in each of the six prefectures our ten days would allow, then wave またね "mata ne" from the plane in Kansai. We and our wallets can do this!  頑張って! Ganbatte!

How much I spent for my 10 days in Japan
This trip happened in 2015 when the exchange rate was 0.38 PHP per 1 JPY.
At the current exchange rate of 0.45, the total in Philippine peso would be 45,325.

I've always thought I'd need about Php 10,000 per day in Japan. As you can see from the table of expenses above, I was wrong. And I'm so glad I was wrong. Yes, it is still expensive for a white collar worker like me. And yes, this is the most expensive trip I have ever been on. But not an impossible trip, see?

Plane Ticket. Regular priced roundtrip plane tickets between the Philippines and Japan can go from Php 10,000 to Php 25,000 depending on the destination and on the airline. Like all of my posts about expenses, I did not include the cost of the plane tickets because I usually buy them six to twelve months in advance, during airline promotions. Since Filipinos need a visa to enter Japan, it is recommend to obtain a visa first before buying a ticket. I risked it though knowing full well that if I wasn't granted a visa, my tickets would not be refunded.

Visa. Philippine passport holders should apply for a visa not more than three months before their intended date of travel. Visa applications can only be processed through accredited travel agencies. Applying for a single entry visa would cost Php 1,300. In addition to the visa fee, expect to shell out some cash to obtain these requirements: photo, bank certificate, birth certificate, marriage certificate.

Accommodation. I had set a budget of Php 13,500 per person for 9 nights for accommodation (average of Php 1,500 a night) and the one we had assigned to take care of booking accommodations did a very good job of keeping within budget. My three friends and I stayed in Airbnb apartments, a hostel, and even a minshuku (a family operated bed and breakfast)! There are many properties on Airbnb, you just have to be meticulous as the initial price shown is the cost per night only; there will be additional fees (cleaning fee and service fee). A dorm bed in a hostel would cost 2,500 JPY and above; most hostels in Japan do not offer free breakfast. The most expensive accommodation for this trip was the minshuku in Ainokura Village, which set us back 8,800 JPY (Php 3,350) each for a night, but this also included awesome home cooked breakfast and dinner and a very memorable stay at a farmhouse.

Food. You can save on food if you are willing to eat onigiri (rice balls) for your every meal. We decided not to be such tightwads and ate at a variety of places. Sometimes we'd buy boxed meals from convenience stores, sometimes from shops at the stations, sometimes we'd eat in fastfood donburi or soba or curry shops, sometimes in restaurants (like Gogyo in Roppongi, their burnt ramen was so good!). Our meals would range from 400 JPY to 1,200 JPY, spending an average of 2,300 JPY per day.

Transportation. Fares in Japan are really high (minimum fare for the subway is 150 JPY) and taking the shinkansen (bullet train) would cost a chunk. It would be expensive to get lost in Japan. It is best to research and plot your itinerary beforehand then see which passes would be beneficial for your trip. In Kyoto, we forgot to buy a 1-day subway pass (600 JPY); with the pass we could have saved 130 JPY (see * in table of expenses). The 7-day JR pass (29,110 JPY if bought outside of Japan; 33,000 JPY if bought at select stations in Japan, on a trial run until March 31, 2018) ate almost a third of my budget, but with our itinerary, we also made the most out of it (we used the JR Pass for a total of 55,530 JPY on regular fares, taking the shinkansen seven times, and local lines and limited express trains several times).

Admission Fees. Most of the temples, castles, and gardens will charge an admission fee from 200 JPY to 1,500 JPY. Some would also have audio guides available for rent. Some would also offer combo tickets. Do research beforehand.

Others. For this trip, we did not rent a pocket WiFi. Our Airbnb accommodations in Tokyo and in Osaka provided one, so we were connected in those cities. We survived going around Kyoto without one. What we did spend on were lockers to lessen our burden: we were staying just one night in Ainokura Village and did not need to take all our belongings with us; in Osaka, we left our bags in a locker because the check in time wasn't until late in the afternoon; on our last day, from check out time until flight time, we did not want to drag our bags around Osaka. Lockers can be found in every station, but not all stations will have the large lockers (700 JPY per day for a large locker; 500 JPY for a medium locker; 300 JPY for a small locker. The locker fee is per calendar day, not per 24-hour period).




In the end, I was tired (we were always on the go, moving from one place to another), but I was absolutely glad I did it. Even before the plane could take off for home, my brain was already plotting a return (with my starving wallet shivering at the thought).



Japan
Know Before You Go
Single Entry Tourist Visa for Japan
Roam Around Japan with a Swagger

From Tokyo to Hiroshima (2015)
10D/9N | Tokyo, Toyama, Kyoto, Hyogo, Osaka, Hiroshima (you're here!)
Tokyo Accommodation: Shinjuku Airbnb
Tokyo: Memorable Tokyo Eats
Tokyo: Odaiba
Tokyo: Doing Touristy Things in Tokyo
Toyama: A Hamlet Called Ainokura
Kyoto Accommodation: K's House Hostel Kyoto
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Wisdom from the Road: On exits #2
Kyoto: By the Thousands (Kyoto Imperial Palace, Sanjusangendo, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove)
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Turning Japanese
Kyoto: Braving the Crowds at these UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto (Kiyomizu-dera, Nijo Castle, Kinkakuji)
Hyogo, Japanecdote: If Only I Could Speak Nihongo
Hyogo: Day Trip to Himeji: Himeji Castle and Shoshazan Engyoji Temple
Hyogo, Japanecdote: Am I an Alien?
Hiroshima: Strolling and Snacking in Miyajima
Hiroshima: Remembering the Past in Hiroshima
Osaka, Japanecdote: How to Lose Friends
Osaka Accommodation: Osaka Airbnb
Osaka, Japanecdote: Where is Bentencho Station?
Osaka: Osaka Castle and Tenjinbashisuji Shotengai
Osaka, Japanecdote: Learn From Your Mistakes

Concentrate on Kansai (2016)
Kyoto Accommodations: Guesthouse Wind Villa, Shiori Yado
Osaka Accommodations: Hotel Raizan, Hotel Mikado

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Roam Around Japan with a Swagger

With a swagger, a portable WiFi in my pocket, and these apps, I roamed around the Kansai Region of Japan (my 2016 solo trip) like I owned the place...at least that's how I imagined myself. The point is, with the help of these apps, I didn't look like a lost puppy in the streets of Japan. Or so I hoped.


I didn't sleep in streets or alleys or subway stations in Japan like a homeless person thanks to Booking.com. I love this website/app because:
  • it is easy to use – I just enter the location, date, number of persons, and click search. And because I have a maximum budget, I filter it by price and choose from the list.
  • it has a map – it shows the exact location of the hotel/hostel/guesthouse/inn and also shows other nearby accommodations (and the corresponding price).
  • it encourages guests to leave reviews – guest reviews are important!
  • it offers free cancellation – most accommodations on Booking.com offer free cancellation up to a certain number of days before the trip.
  • it requires no down payment – most accommodations on Booking.com will only ask for credit card details to confirm the booking but won't charge it (unless you cancel the booking after the free cancellation period). There are also accommodations that don't require credit card details to book! Payment will be upon check in.
Download Booking.com app here: Android | iOS


In Japan, time is gold. And transportation fares are as expensive as gold! Before the trip, I pinned all the places I wanted to visit. Doing so helped me save time and money. How? During the trip itself...
  • I didn't have to search for places and reorient myself every time. Minutes saved.
  • I could change around my itinerary based on my energy level, weather, and the location/proximity of the sites I was interested in. Bus/Train fares saved.
  • I could find shortcuts or take less trodden paths, like alleys or through residential areas (an added adventure).
  • If I find something new and interesting that wasn't part of the plan, I could pin it on my map to remember its location in case I wanted to go back. Minutes saved from searching again and/or from racking my brain trying to recall the location.
Download Google My Maps app here: Android


Japan Trains
Japan's rail network is impressive that it can get impressively confusing. Even locals get confused! (I have seen it with my own eyes!) There are many different rail operators. There are many types of trains: shinkansen (bullet train), express, limited express, local, etc. In short, there are many choices to get from point A to point B anywhere in Japan! The Japan Trains app will pare down the options depending on the information you have entered. The results will show the departure time, arrival time, fare, and number of transfers. Click on one of the options to find out more about the route: which lines and connections to take, arrival and departure times for each connection, fare for each connection, and time it takes to transfer/walk between stations.

Download Japan Trains app here: Android


In the city of Kyoto, Arukumachi Kyoto app trumps the Japan Trains app. Although there are subway lines and railways in the city of Kyoto, most of the city's attractions can be reached by bus, and obviously the Japan Trains app is only for trains.

For Arukumachi Kyoto app, just enter the departure and arrival areas (it doesn't have to be specific, just enter the street or tourist spot) and it will give more specific suggestions (station, bus stops, or spots). Search results will give you several options to get to your destination, showing the departure and arrival times, total bus fare (and if the 1-day Kyoto City Bus pass can be used), number of transfers, and what modes of transportation to take. Click on one of the options to find out more about the route: which bus/subway/rail to take, arrival and departure times for each connection, fare for each connection, and time it takes to transfer/walk between stops. Click on a connection to view the map. What I love about Arukumachi Kyoto's map is that it shows your current location, so when you're on the bus and have no idea if your stop is approaching, just check the map and watch the dot (you) move. Don't forget to press the bus stop button nearest you lest you miss your stop.

Download Arukumachi Kyoto app here: Android | iOS


Weather
With the guidance of the weather app, I could strut around the streets not looking like a fool for not wearing the right clothes, not looking like a newly hatched chick if I was caught in the rain mid-strut without an umbrella, not looking like a jello shivering on a blustery day.



Japan
Know Before You Go
Single Entry Tourist Visa for Japan
Roam Around Japan with a Swagger (you're here!)

From Tokyo to Hiroshima (2015)
10D/9N | Tokyo, Toyama, Kyoto, Hyogo, Osaka, Hiroshima
Tokyo Accommodation: Shinjuku Airbnb
Tokyo: Memorable Tokyo Eats
Tokyo: Odaiba
Tokyo: Doing Touristy Things in Tokyo
Toyama: A Hamlet Called Ainokura
Kyoto Accommodation: K's House Hostel Kyoto
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Wisdom from the Road: On exits #2
Kyoto: By the Thousands (Kyoto Imperial Palace, Sanjusangendo, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove)
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Turning Japanese
Kyoto: Braving the Crowds at these UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto (Kiyomizu-dera, Nijo Castle, Kinkakuji)
Hyogo, Japanecdote: If Only I Could Speak Nihongo
Hyogo: Day Trip to Himeji: Himeji Castle and Shoshazan Engyoji Temple
Hyogo, Japanecdote: Am I an Alien?
Hiroshima: Strolling and Snacking in Miyajima
Hiroshima: Remembering the Past in Hiroshima
Osaka, Japanecdote: How to Lose Friends
Osaka Accommodation: Osaka Airbnb
Osaka, Japanecdote: Where is Bentencho Station?
Osaka: Osaka Castle and Tenjinbashisuji Shotengai
Osaka, Japanecdote: Learn From Your Mistakes

Concentrate on Kansai (2016)
Kyoto Accommodations: Guesthouse Wind Villa, Shiori Yado
Osaka Accommodations: Hotel Raizan, Hotel Mikado

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Single Entry Tourist Visa for Japan

Philippine passport holders can enter some countries visa-free. Unfortunately, Japan isn't one of them. It is best to apply for a tourist visa to Japan not more than three months before your intended travel date. Reason for this is that a single entry visa,  if granted, is usually valid for three months.


REQUIREMENTS
These are the requirements for a single entry tourist visa to Japan:
  • Philippine Passport – The passport should have your signature and should have at least two blank pages.
  • Application Form – Write N/A for not applicable items; do not leave blanks. Print the application form on A4 size paper. Do not forget to write the date and sign the form.
  • Photo – 4.5 cm x 4.5 cm, with white background, taken within six months from the date of application. Affix the photo on the application form.
  • Daily Schedule in Japan – Use the Schedule of Stay template found in the website. Indicate the address and contact numbers of the accommodations you plan to stay in.
  • Bank Certificate – should be issued within three months from the date of visa application
  • Photocopy of Income Tax Return (ITR Form 2316)
  • Birth Certificate – issued by NSO within one year from the date of visa application
  • Marriage Certificate – for married applicants; issued by NSO within one year from the date of visa application
  • Old passports with previous visas to Japan – If you have previous visas to Japan, there is no need to submit your birth certificate and marriage certificate.
Other documents that you may want to include:
  • Certificate of employment – if you are an employee. The document should contain your position, hire date, and salary.
  • Photocopy of company ID – if you are an employee
  • Photocopy of previous visas to Japan – no matter how old! Mine was from 1997!
  • Photocopy of plane ticket – if you were tempted to buy a promo ticket before applying for a visa. (Buying a ticket before applying for a visa is NOT recommended though.)
Note: All printouts and photocopies should be on A4 size paper.

For the list of requirements for other visa types, please refer to the Embassy of Japan in the Philippines website.


PROCESSING
Tourist visa applications can only be processed through accredited agencies in Manila, Cebu, and Davao. The visa fee for a single entry visa is Php 1300 and the processing time is at least one week.


EXPERIENCE
Of the four accredited agencies in Cebu, I processed mine through Friendship Tours in AS Fortuna St, Banilad, Mandaue City since it was the most accessible for me. They checked my requirements before accepting my application (if a document is lacking, they will wait for you to submit it before forwarding your application to the consulate). Upon acceptance of my application and requirements, I paid them and was issued a receipt with the application number. They contacted me through text message once the passport was ready for pickup.

I applied for a single entry visa and was unexpectedly and luckily granted a 5-year multiple entry visa. I don't know if having a used Japan visa no matter how old (mine was from 1997) played a part in that. As for the bank certificate, I read a blog that the blog author had about Php 60,000 in his account and was granted a visa for his 5-day planned trip; a friend had Php 80,000 in her account and was granted a visa for her 10-day planned trip. With this, I suggest having Php 60,000 as the minimum amount; Php 100,000 and above, even better. (The suggested amount is not a guarantee though—I really have no idea what the consul's basis are!—but I'm just sharing from what I have read and from friends' experiences.)



Japan
Know Before You Go
Single Entry Tourist Visa for Japan (you're here!)
Roam Around Japan with a Swagger

From Tokyo to Hiroshima (2015)
10D/9N | Tokyo, Toyama, Kyoto, Hyogo, Osaka, Hiroshima
Tokyo Accommodation: Shinjuku Airbnb
Tokyo: Memorable Tokyo Eats
Tokyo: Odaiba
Tokyo: Doing Touristy Things in Tokyo
Toyama: A Hamlet Called Ainokura
Kyoto Accommodation: K's House Hostel Kyoto
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Wisdom from the Road: On exits #2
Kyoto: By the Thousands (Kyoto Imperial Palace, Sanjusangendo, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove)
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Turning Japanese
Kyoto: Braving the Crowds at these UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto (Kiyomizu-dera, Nijo Castle, Kinkakuji)
Hyogo, Japanecdote: If Only I Could Speak Nihongo
Hyogo: Day Trip to Himeji: Himeji Castle and Shoshazan Engyoji Temple
Hyogo, Japanecdote: Am I an Alien?
Hiroshima: Strolling and Snacking in Miyajima
Hiroshima: Remembering the Past in Hiroshima
Osaka, Japanecdote: How to Lose Friends
Osaka Accommodation: Osaka Airbnb
Osaka, Japanecdote: Where is Bentencho Station?
Osaka: Osaka Castle and Tenjinbashisuji Shotengai
Osaka, Japanecdote: Learn From Your Mistakes

Concentrate on Kansai (2016)
Kyoto Accommodations: Guesthouse Wind Villa, Shiori Yado
Osaka Accommodations: Hotel Raizan, Hotel Mikado

Friday, February 3, 2017

Japan: Know Before You Go

Before going to the Land of the Rising Sun, it might help you to know...

...that their language is Nihongo or Japanese. こんにちは みんなさん! Konnichiwa, minna-san! Hello, everyone! Prepare yourself to be greeted in Japanese and see signs in Japanese, written in a mix of Kanji (Chinese characters), Hiragana, and Katakana (used for non-Japanese loanwords). But do not worry, most tourist sites will also have signs in English and will have staff who speak English.

...that their currency is the Japanese yen . One US dollar is about 100 JPY, or 1 JPY is about 0.50 PHP. The current exchange rate might be lower or higher (do check the current rate), but I used that conversion just to give me an idea how much I was about to spend on a ramen (for easier mental calculation; my brains don't work when hungry).

...that their watches are set to Japan Standard Time (JST) which is 9 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time or Coordinated Universal Time (GMT/UTC +9), or one hour ahead of the Philippines. Speaking of time, for the Japanese time is very important. So never ever be late!

Warm autumn colors at Tofukuji in Kyoto

...that the country has four seasons: winter (December to February), spring (March to May), summer (June to August), and autumn (September to November). Depending on what month you visit (and which part of Japan you go to; for example, Okinawa is located on the south and rarely goes below 9ºC in the winter months), be prepared with the right clothes.

...that Japan has a total land area of almost 378,000 sq. km., has 47 prefectures (these prefectures are further grouped into 8 regions), and has a million things to see and do. Thus a warning: planning a trip to Japan might be a bit of a challenge... a challenge on what not to include in the itinerary.

  
Type A (left) and Type B (right) plugs

...that Japan uses Type A and Type B plugs at 110V. Most mobile phone and gadget chargers nowadays can be used for 100 to 240V, so you probably won't need a voltage converter. Some hostels/accommodations might also have USB ports.

Transportation passes

...that Japan's transportation network is so extensive it can get rather confusing. Adding to that confusion are the many passes to choose from: countrywide pass (like the Japan Rail Pass, which is best if you plan to travel between regions a many number of times for the duration of the pass), regional passes (12 options from JR East, 8 options from JR West, 6 options from JR Central, and other rail company-specific passes), down to city-specific passes (city bus passes, city bus and subway combo passes). Which pass should you buy?!?

Flytpack pocket WiFi

...that free WiFi is hard to come by. But there are many options for pocket WiFi rentals in Japan: Japan Wireless, PuPuRu, SoftBank, to name a few. But if you'd like to announce to the world that you have arrived in Japan the second your plane touches down, you can also opt to rent a pocket WiFi from Flytpack, a pocket WiFi rental company based in Taguig City whose Japan partner is SoftBank.



Japan
Know Before You Go (you're here!)
Single Entry Tourist Visa for Japan
Roam Around Japan with a Swagger

From Tokyo to Hiroshima (2015)
10D/9N | Tokyo, Toyama, Kyoto, Hyogo, Osaka, Hiroshima
Tokyo Accommodation: Shinjuku Airbnb
Tokyo: Memorable Tokyo Eats
Tokyo: Odaiba
Tokyo: Doing Touristy Things in Tokyo
Toyama: A Hamlet Called Ainokura
Kyoto Accommodation: K's House Hostel Kyoto
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Wisdom from the Road: On exits #2
Kyoto: By the Thousands (Kyoto Imperial Palace, Sanjusangendo, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove)
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Turning Japanese
Kyoto: Braving the Crowds at these UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto (Kiyomizu-dera, Nijo Castle, Kinkakuji)
Hyogo, Japanecdote: If Only I Could Speak Nihongo
Hyogo: Day Trip to Himeji: Himeji Castle and Shoshazan Engyoji Temple
Hyogo, Japanecdote: Am I an Alien?
Hiroshima: Strolling and Snacking in Miyajima
Hiroshima: Remembering the Past in Hiroshima
Osaka, Japanecdote: How to Lose Friends
Osaka Accommodation: Osaka Airbnb
Osaka, Japanecdote: Where is Bentencho Station?
Osaka: Osaka Castle and Tenjinbashisuji Shotengai
Osaka, Japanecdote: Learn From Your Mistakes

Concentrate on Kansai (2016)
Kyoto Accommodations: Guesthouse Wind Villa, Shiori Yado
Osaka Accommodations: Hotel Raizan, Hotel Mikado