In September 2018, after I had spent a year and a half in Japan, seven of my Dutch friends decided to come to Japan for a road trip. It was their dream too to go to Japan and see this fantastic country from up-close. My reasons for writing about our trip is to immortalise our amazing experience. This has been the best trip we ever had, and I had this urge to write about it. More importantly, I wanted to share our experiences with you. I received many questions from my dear readers who would love to visit Japan at least once in their lifetime, but have no idea where to start. All they know is that it is expensive. This blog will inform you of the costs and provide some tips!
This is going to be my biggest blog ever, but unfortunately, it will also be my last. I already returned to my home country, and I have picked up my life here again. I enjoyed writing about my student life, Japan life, and my trips through Japan. Much has been said in my blogs, and I am more than happy with the results. The idea of writing a blog derived from the lack of information regarding APU’s student life and Beppu city life. It felt like it was my calling to share my stories and experiences with you.
My blog was born from this idea, and I have enjoyed writing them it two years. However, all great things come to an end. If I ever go to Japan again, I might write more about my experiences, but for now, this will be my ‘Ultimo Capitolo.’
As this was going to be an epic trip with seven of my friends, we took our planning quite seriously, and we took our time reading about almost everything. For our trip in September 2018, we started to develop a plan somewhere in November 2017.
There was one thing that we had to tackle first; the plane ticket. Getting from Europe to Japan is expensive. The cost of your ticket really depends on when you book your plane and for which period. I already experienced the extreme heat and humid weather of Japan in July and August, and I knew that this is the most terrible time to come to Japan. I advised my friends to go to Japan either April/May or September/October. The weather conditions during the Summer are horrible. In July and August, the humidity is between 90% and 100%, daily. Walking outside is like walking in a sauna with no off-switch.
May and April were not possible for me due to exam week and due to the Ramadan that took place in those two months. Therefore, our trip was planned for September. With September in mind, we looked at the plane tickets through websites like www.flights.google.com. A straight flight from Amsterdam to Tokyo was too expensive. So, therefore, my friends had a stop in between which would in turn drop the price drastically. My friends did not book the plane immediately, as there was more to plan first. The ticket was around €650 (¥70000) and €700 (75000) (roundtrip with a stop) including luggage, and etc.
The next part took most of our time, which was finding where to go and what to do. There are hundreds of itineraries on the internet, all with ideas and tips from other people. These itineraries are meant for people who travel either alone or two to three peoples. We were eight strong. As this was our first trip through Japan, we decided that we wanted to see the big famous cities, Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo. Kyoto and Tokyo had to be visited. Kyoto because it was more of a traditional, samurai era-ish place, where you can see geisha and the traditional temples. And Tokyo, well Tokyo is just crazy, you have to visit it anyway. The reason we decided on Osaka because it has an international airport and it is close to Kyoto. In our opinion, the things we visited in Osaka was quite dull. It is merely a big shopping city. We are not really the shopping-type people. You have Dotonbori, which is the most famous place in Osaka, other than that, nothing really appealed to us, then again we were there for only 2 days. Our main focus were Kyoto and Tokyo). Do try their cuisine. Osaka is renowned for its delicious Takoyaki (dough with a piece of squid inside)! It is very yummy. Takoyaki is by far my favourite snack in Japan (see my other blog about food in Japan).
Luckily, our itinerary was mostly based on a website named TripAdvisor. We looked into the must-sees to not complicate things too much. Some of us had some particular niche things that they wanted to see or do, such as visiting a saké brewery or joining a Jiu-Jitsu dojo, but overall, we had a clear idea of what we wanted to see and experience. But like I said, it took a lot of time. Japan is not around the corner, and we wanted to see as many places as possible.
When we had the lists of what we wanted to see and visit, we then made a schedule. This schedule was not a rulebook, but more for keeping an oversight and to act as a guideline for ourselves.
Now we had the accommodations that needed to be booked. Since we knew what we wanted to see on which day, we could look for the places where we could stay the nights. We booked an apartment, houses, and capsules. Since Japan is the safest place in the world, we were not worried about housing. You can safely book a place through booking.com and airbnb.com. This is what we did; we roamed the web, checked the locations of the sites, space, prices, and availability. I reckon that you will have less difficulty in finding a place as we were looking for places to accommodate eight..
When we had finally decided on what we wanted to visit, one of my friends opened Google Maps (G-maps) and added all the locations on a map which he then shared with us on Google Drive (G-drive). Basically, we shared all our ideas and predicted costs on G-drive. G-maps is a great tool to use. It visualised the locations, and if we would ever get lost in Japan, we would know where our accommodations were located and the locations of the places we would visit. We also sharWe marked all the locations on G-maps prior to our arrivaled all kinds of links of webpages that provided information on all the places. Some accommodations had specifications such as codes to enter the house or time slots when we had to enter and leave, and etc. All the info was shared in the same G-drive for everyone to read. We all shared the responsibilities together.
Note: Under each section, I will share with you the links of the accommodations and the costs.
When arriving at the airport get these three things first:
This one speaks for itself. Your foreign currency cannot be used in JP. Make sure you have enough cash. Japan is a cash-heavy country. Don’t even think about your fancy credit cards or debit cards. Cash, cash, cash, cash, and cash. If you think you had enough cash with you, think again, get more cash. And like I said before, Japan is the safest country on the planet. Don’t worry about your pockets. Criminals are slim to none in Japan. Just be careful with other tourists, though.
When traveling in JP, get yourself an IC card. It is a card which you charge with ¥, and you can use it almost anywhere, from trains to busses, arcades to restaurants. We mostly used it for public transport. This IC card can be purchased at every train- or metro station. You will be traveling by public transport a lot, so get one of these cards and charge it. It is very convenient, and it made our trip easier.
¥2000 (€17) for a first time purchase. In reality, the card will only cost ¥500 (€4.50), and your card will be charged with ¥1500 (€12). From thereon you can charge it at every station.
The most important thing in my honest opinion. Get yourself some internet when traveling in Japan. A lot of info is provided in English, but the vast majority is simply not. It is not that difficult to get lost in Japan. Always bring a small power bank with you and internet so you can always use G-maps to find your way back (I assume you have a smartphone). You should have marked all your accommodations on G-maps by now, so no need to search.
As I was already living in Japan, having internet was not an issue. I simply had a sim card. Sim cards in JP require a one-year subscription. I did read there is a version without a subscription for tourists, but it’s a bit of a hassle to acquire it. When my friends arrived at the airport, they rented a pocket WIFI at a shop. Pocket WIFI is a small WIFI router with a sim card. You turn it on, and you will have WIFI for as long as you require. Make sure to recharge the battery every evening. This will make your life in Japan much more comfortable. Of course, at every hotel, and hostel, there is internet available. Or when you are in a pickle, go look for the nearest convenience store (it will not take long finding one), and tap on their WIFI for free. Internet was vital for our entire trip.
What we paid for the pocket WIFI: ¥7700/ €69 for 16 days.
Our Trip Through Japan
Osaka (12 Sep – 14 Sep)
After finally finishing our preparations, booking, and paying lots of stuff upfront (accommodations), the day came for us to meet in Osaka. Since I was already in Japan, I took the ferry from Oita to Kobe (a city right next to Osaka). My friends took the plane from Amsterdam to Frankfurt, Germany, and from Frankfurt to Osaka. Unfortunately, my friends flew to Osaka a week after a huge typhoon had hit Osaka and Kyoto. Osaka airport was damaged, and as a result, my friends did not land in Osaka, but in Nagoya. This was quite a pity, as they had to take the shinkansen (bullet train) from Nagoya to Osaka. Shinkansen is quite pricey, but we were glad that we were reunited in Osaka.
We immediately dropped our stuff at our accommodation. The great thing about Japan is the cleanliness of their places. Everything was clean, and all the apartments are equipped with all your needs. Air conditioner, foot-massage-machine-thing (no idea why it was there, but it was very convenient), television, refrigerator, and more! We chose a strategic location, close to the metro, and close to the city centre. We love to walk, so we did not mind taking our time to go to the city centre. My friends were a bit jet lagged, but it did not stop them from roaming the city.
We walked through the Shitenoji area, and of course, we ended up at Dotonbori. Shitenoji area is not a special place per se, but we were staying in that area, we wanted to explore, and so we did. Unfortunately, it was a rainy day, I arrived at Osaka early. I looked for a Daiso. Daiso is a ¥100 (€0.90) shop, which sells lots of cheap stuff. Umbrellas were cheap, and I had them prepared for my friends.
Nara (13 Sep)
The next day we traveled to Nara. Luckily public transport is easy to get used to. Even though everything is in Japanese, in the tourist areas we visited, a lot of the signs were in English. And when in doubt, Google it.
Nara is famous for its huge temple called Tōdai-Ji. We were stunned by its size.. The temple is impressive, and the location is beautiful. Furthermore, Nara is, probably, more famous for its deer. The deer roam freely outside the temple, and they bother the tourists for snacks. There are stands where they sell snacks for the deer. If you hold the snack in your hand, you can count on ten deer who will surround you like a mob and demand you to hand over the dough :p. The deer are harmless, they do not bite, but they are very curious creatures. They will look into your bags for food. The area is beautiful, lots of forestation, and small temples. We had a great day, and we walked a lot.
Accommodation we had in Osaka for 2 nights ¥23000/ €216 = ¥3000/ €27 per person.
Kyoto (14 Sep – 17 Sep)
After spending a day in Nara and two days in Osaka (mostly Dotonbori), it was time to travel to Kyoto. Fortunately, Kyoto is only 30 minutes away from Osaka. The house we rented in Kyoto was unbelievable big and beautiful. The house was equipped with all the necessities. The landlord even provided us with jukatas, and clean towels everyday. We had no idea that it was this amazing. Below the pictures of said house:
After settling in our accommodation, we headed out for Fushimi Inari Taisha. It is a mountain that has allegedly 1000 torii gates all the way to the summit. Believe me when I say it is a lot more than 1000…. It is a beautiful mountain with lots of trees. The mountain is 233 meters high. As a bunch of fanatics who love to walk, we decided to go all the way up the mountain. The stairs are steep, the weather was very humid and hot, but we managed to do it. It took us one hour to reach the summit. We hoped that there was something special on the top, but it was just another shrine, nonetheless it was great to get to the top. The higher you get, the fewer people you will meet. It was very crowded at the foot of the mountain. The big hike is only for those who are crazy enough :).
On the same day there was a special event at the Kiyomizu-dera temple. Once a year there is a blue dragon event. The Japanese were carrying a long dragon through the streets of Kyoto. Starting from the temple, and after an hour finishing at the temple. We rushed to the temple to see this event. It was a great sight. There were priests with instruments walking behind the dragon, and priests who were chanting. This event is called Seiryū-e (青龍会). We, of course, went in to the temple; which has a magnificent view of the city. I advise you to leave no temple unvisited. Just around a corner at this temple, there is a funny superstitious place where two rocks are standing across each other. The idea is to start at one rock, walk with your eyes closed to the other rock in one straight line, if you reach the other rock without missing it, you will find true love. There is so much I would like to tell you, but I will need a book to fit it all.
Later that evening, we decided it was time to go to Gion; the place where the geisha live. Due to its worldwide fame, the book and movie ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ had a big effect on Gion. The book and movie romanticised the work of geisha. Due to its terrible representation, people in the West tend to think that they are exotic, oriental prostitutes, but this is far from the truth. They are merely entertainers. Unfortunately, the damage has been done, and Gion is swarmed by tourists. I really hated how the streets were crowded with tourists looking for geisha. It is tough to see a geisha in Gion as they live an obscure life. The geisha travel by taxi, because on the streets they will be chased by tourists for pictures. We were lucky to see a geisha on the street, and surely we made a picture from a distance, but other tourists would make a big commotion of seeing one. The streets were lovely, very typical traditional Japanese architecture. But there is not much to discover other than hoping to bump into a geisha.
The next day we visited Kinkakuji. You cannot tell your family or friends that you have visited Kyoto without visiting the most famous place in Kyoto. The golden temple. You cannot enter the golden temple/ pavilion, but that is not the point. The temple is fully covered with golden leafs. It was built at a large pond, and it is surrounded by a typical Japanese garden. When visiting the place, you can feel the zen around you. In one word; tranquillity.
After our visit to Kinkakuji, we visited the bamboo forest. An incredible forest with giant bamboos. Pictures cannot describe how fascinating it is to walk there. Unfortunately, many of the bamboos were bent due to the typhoon that passed by a week earlier. The amazing sight of the bamboo forest kept us in awe. It felt like walking through a samurai movie scene.
It was originally not part of our plan, but monkey mountain was close to the bamboo forest. We went to monkey mountain, as the name implies, it is a large mountain where all the monkeys roam freely. Just like the deer, the monkeys are very curious too. However, these monkeys are used to people; basically, they do not pay any attention to you. Only if you have food, otherwise you do not exist. Monkey mountain had the best view over Kyoto, in my opinion.
Accommodation we had in Kyoto ¥140000/ €1231 for 3 nights = ¥17000/ €153,90 per person.
Mt. Fuji (17 Sep – 19 Sep)
Part of the Japan experience was visiting Fuji-san. Kyoto is very far away from Mt. Fuji. We had already planned for this and did our research on the web. We really wanted to experience Japan to its fullest, so we had to travel by Shinkansen (the bullet train) at least once in our life. The bullet train travels 300 km/h (186 mp/h). The trip from Kyoto to Fujikawaguchiko (a town near the mountain) was only 3 hours (!). It travels extremely fast! And the shinkansen is exceptionally luxurious and spacious. I now understand why traveling by shinkansen is so popular. You do not need to reserve a seat. You can just go to the ticket shop and buy a ticket any time of the day.
We wanted to climb Mt. Fuji; however, we were offseason. You can only climb Mt. Fuji till the first week of September. the authorities deem it dangerous as the mountain is starting becoming cold again. Nonetheless, it was our mission to see Mt. Fuji from up close.
When we arrived at our accommodation, we were not able to see Mt. Fuji. In fact, we had no clue which direction it was, as the weather was very cloudy. It was not until the evening of the following day that we were able to see Mt. Fuji, the clouds finally broke. There was a small window of time to see Mt. Fuji without the clouds, but luckily, we were able to take pictures. We went up a mountain by ropeway two or three time to see Fuji-san, but we had no luck. Some of my friends went at 6 AM to see Fuji-san, but it was even worse due to the mist. We were very fortunate to witness Japan’s largest mountain on the very last night.
Kyoto to Mishima by shinkansen ¥12000/ €109 per person
Mishima to Fujikawaguchiko by bus = ~ ¥2000 (€17)
Accommodation we had in Fujikawaguchiko 2 nights ¥50000/ €464 = per person ¥6500/ €58
Tokyo (19 Sep – 27 Sep)
On 19 September 2018, we finally arrived at the crazy town, Tokyo. Visiting the world famous city was no longer a dream, it had become reality. After finding our way to our capsule hotel, we decided to go to the most important place in Tokyo, namely Akihabara. Akihabara is THE Mecca for all the gamers, geeks, nerds, and anime lovers. Akihabara is a vast area with large buildings that have all the niche things for gamers and whatnot. All the buildings are emitting lights, making sounds, and like a moth, you will walk into one of these buildings without you even noticing. We practically stayed at Akihabara the entire day. There is much to discover, much to see, and much to buy. We even made friends with the donür kebab guy. I strongly advise you to visit Akihabara at least once!
In Tokyo, we spent an entire week visiting all kinds of places:
- The Owl Cafe
- Tsukiji Market (famous fish market, however, it has been relocated now)
- We attended a Kabuki show at the Kabukiza Theatre
- Shinjuku Park
- Yoyogi Park
- Asakusa (free park)
- Tokyo Sky tower (largest Japanese tower)
- Robot Cafe (¥8000 (€74)f overpriced-batshit-crazy-no-idea-what-happened-robot show)
- Shibuya crossing
- Nikko National Park
- Harajuku street (niche shopping street)
Each of these deserves their own blog post. On the other hand, I also love the element of surprise. If I spoil too much, it wouldn’t be fun for you :p.
Fujikawaguchiko to Tokyo by train = ~¥2000 (€17)
Staying a night in a Capsule hotel ¥20800/ €160 = ¥2600/€20 per person.
Apartment we had in Shinjuku ¥211571/ €1654 = ¥26446/ €203 per person.
Total Costs of our Japan Trip
It is difficult to give you an exact number on our expenditures per person. Surely, the big expenditures such as plane tickets, shinkansen, accommodations, were all documented here, but of course, we spent much of our money on food, drinks, tickets for sightseeing, omiyage (souvenirs), and whatnot.
However, I asked my friends, and we think that our entire trip would have been around €2000 (¥250000) per person.
It was a fantastic experience, and we had an amazing time. I love Japan, and I will definitely revisit Japan. To all my dear loyal readers, thank you a lot for joining me on my journey. I hope you enjoyed reading my blogs, and I hope I was able to bring Japan closer to you.
Arigatou Gozaimasu, Dankjewel, Sukran, Danke Schon, Merci, Grazie, Gracias, Salamat, Terima Kasih, Gomabseubnida, Dhanyavaad, Xièxiè, Thank you very much!