Japan 2016: Kaway-kaway from KANSAI (Part 2)

Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavilion

Nov 14, 2016

Day 2/8

Japan Rail Pass

Days before our trip, we bought 7-day Japan Rail (JR) Passes for each of us. It’s basically unlimited rides on JR trains, including Shinkansen or bullet trains, for 7-days, from/to anywhere in Japan. Aside from the airfare and Tokyo accommodation, this takes one of the biggest cuts from our budget pie chart at a whopping Php 14500 each pass. The pass can’t be bought by Japanese residents nor can it be bought inside Japan. Exchange order is only available online for delivery outside Japan, or through accredited travel agencies, and is designed for tourists.

In our case, we bought the exchange orders in Friendship Tours in Dusit Thani Hotel in Makati. These are not the actual train tickets – these needed to be exchanged for actual JR Pass booklets in any JR station when you get to Japan. We did it when we arrived in KIX. JR Office is located outside but adjacent to the main airport building. We picked our day 2 as the start of our 7-day JR pass.

Actual Japan Rail Passes – you simply show this to the guard to literally let you “pass” through the gate beside the turnstiles.

So there goes this common question: Is it worth it to buy JR Pass? If you are to ask me, the answer is “it depends on your itinerary and who you’re traveling with”. You can skip this part, because there is a long story behind why I needlessly spent a lot of money due to lack of proper planning.

The “Illumination” of trees in autumn – Kiyomizu-dera temple

First, I booked a roundtrip flight from Manila-Osaka, with only one 15 kilos of baggage for Mama and me. November is a very cold autumn month which means more jackets. Initial plan is to tour Osaka only. Second, the sister joined in, and we solidified our plan to include Tokyo (because “mas mahal bumalik” + “YOLO” + other excuses) which made me modify our flight details from 4 days to 8 days stay and add more baggage allowance. I contemplated on changing the airport of return flight, from KIX to Tokyo, but it costs like buying another flight. So, this whole trip means arriving in Osaka, going to Tokyo, and then going back to Osaka for our flight home. For this, our choices would be: 1-hour flight ($$$$$), 8-hour night bus ($ + major inconvenience for Mama) or 2.5-hour bullet train ($$$ + roundtrip bullet train experience + chance to see Mt. Fuji). We chose the latter, hence the JR Pass. JR Pass is worth it IF, aside from the regular JR train rides, you need to ride the bullet train at least twice, because a ride from Osaka to Tokyo already costs around Php 6500.

Airplane-like feels inside the shinkansen (bullet train) going to Tokyo. As you might see, there are 3 seats each row on the right side (ABC) and 2 seats on the left (DE). Left side is the “Mt. Fuji” side, even on trains from Tokyo to Osaka, hence seats on DE are always fully booked. The shinkansen has reserved/non-reserved seating, but JR Pass holders can reserve seats anytime at no additional costs. Here we were seated at Car Number 11.

Key take-aways:

  • Don’t be a lazy trip planner. As of writing, I’m proud to say that I have applied in my recent travels what I have learned from my past travels. (More mindful of spending + more comfortable OOTDs – slightly off-topic, I will forever grudge on the fact that I haven’t worn a nice OOTD during my whole Europe trip.)
  • Being indecisive is expensive. Before clicking on that “Pay Now” button, decide on the dates of your flight and which cities to go. For Japan and other multi-city destinations, make it a point NOT to book roundtrip flights on the SAME airport.
  • Plan your OOTD according to your destination’s weather. Don’t think twice about packing thick clothes and jackets for autumn season. Chances are, you’re not gonna fully enjoy the trip with cold hands and trembling body.

Sorry for the long intro, but there’s a reason why this blog is called virtually talkative. 😀

Mothership and sisterhood at the entrance of the shrine. I know, I look like my father. Hahaha

Kyoto

A brief background about Japan trains and stations as far as I know: there are A LOT of them. The subway maps are insane. The trains are color coded because they are of different train providers (JR is one of them) and are bound to different routes. You must be in the correct queue (triangles and circles on the ground) –  because again you might be queuing for the wrong destination.

Local or rapid? Triangle or circle? And all the other train details I wish I knew before going to Japan. I will leave you the reading.

Consider yourself warned – just don’t hop on any train that stops in front of you (unless you’re 100% sure that it’s the right train, and/or you’re willing to be lost). The first time I saw the subway maps of Osaka and Tokyo, I was strongly intimidated. The lines and loops and different color coding are as complicated as a woman’s brain. (Ha, you found a match in me.) Thankfully there are digital monitors around the station to help us confused tourists. I’d still prefer this problem over the lack of actual trains in Metro Manila.

One of the older trains which got seats parallel to the walls, and ceiling fans :O

The agenda for that day was temple-hopping in Kyoto, one of the cities in Kansai region and one hour away from Osaka via train. In contrast to the current capital Tokyo – modern and vibrant urban concrete jungle; Kyoto is the rural, quiet former capital of Japan and features the more historical and traditional side of the country. First on the list: Fushimi Inari Shrine. With JR Passes + pocket wifi + HyperDia (train route web app) in hand, we aimed to reach our destinations via JR trains only. From JR-Namba (Osaka) we had to get to JR Kyoto Station – a major station, then change trains going to Inari Station. The trip took about an hour.

Inside a Limited Express train to Kyoto Station. Different trains have different interiors.

This was a Monday but look at all these swarms of tourists. Pro-tip: Get there early!

There is no entrance fee in the shrine.

This is just one among the thousands of torii gates inside Fushimi Inari Shrine, patterned after foxes (black ears/feet, orangey body) which are believed to be the messengers of Inari, the Shinto god of rice.

You can see the Japanese names of donors inscribed per torii gate. Also, you can see that it was hard to take photos without the unintentional photobombers.

After some walking through the torii-gate covered trails, we reached this plaza with stores and water wells.

The whole trail going up and down Mt. Inari. We didn’t go to the top, just closed the loop from the entrance. The hike to the top would take around 2 hours.

From here we had the option to continue hiking or go back to the entrance. We did the latter.

Mama: “Nak dito yung way pabalik”

“Wait lang ma mowdelling muna ako”

“Ako din ma”

“Ako dapat bida”

Mama’s laughter is priceless 😀

At around 1 pm we left Fushimi Inari Shrine to get back to Kyoto Station.

We had curry for lunch in Soup Stock, Kyoto Station.

Second stop: Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavilion. Unfortunately, most tourist destinations in Kyoto are not directly reachable by train so we had to take a bus. We went to Kyoto Tourist Information Center somewhere in Kyoto Station and bought a Kyoto Bus One-day Pass (500 JPY each). Fret not, there are plenty of signage in the station to help commuters.

Even though the buses look old, there are monitors inside showing the stops so you’ll know when to get off.

The map of Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavilion. There is an entrance fee here of JPY 500 each,

It was starting to rain when we got there.

There are plenty of tourists on that side. We stayed in that area for quite some time thinking that that’s just how close we can get to the temple.

Interestingly, the top two floors of this temple are made of gold leaf. Visitors are not allowed inside.

A closer look.

Autumn in full bloom!

We capped off the Kinkaku-ji trip with matcha ice cream despite the cold weather. You gotta do it for the ‘gram yo.

It was just past 4pm but the skies were already turning dark.

We waited for the bus going back to Kyoto station…

Aaaand it was jam-packed (rush-hour).

Back to Kyoto Station, only to ride a bus again to our last stop for the day.

Third stop: Kiyomizu-dera Temple. There’s an entrance fee of JPY 300. It is 15-minutes from Kyoto Station by bus. From the bus stop, we just went along with the crowds of tourists going up to the temple. It was a long 15-minute walk. When you reach the Y-path, do yourself a favor and take the left path with all the lights and stores and people. We took the right path which was dark and boring.

Finally, after the tiring long walk and a disgruntled mother, we have arrived.

Maple and cherry trees in all their orange glory

It totally rained when we got there

This is the Kiyomizu-dera Temple and a view of Kyoto Tower and city from afar.

Autumn Illumination

In front of the temple entrance

Some cute shops along the way back to the bus stop

A day is simply not enough to visit all of the temples in Kyoto. Exhausted, we made our way back to Osaka.

You can read Part 1 here, which was written nearly 4 months ago. One of my life goals is to document my travels before their 1st anniversary. Kidding! Or maybe not. 😀 Stay tuned for parts 3-8 of Japan 2016 series, a 5-part Taiwan 2017 series, and a 4-part Hong Kong 2017 series. Hopefully before the year ends. LOL

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Japan 2016: Kaway-kaway from KANSAI (Part 1)

 

Dotonbori in Osaka

Japan Quick Facts:

Timezone: UTC +9 (1 hour ahead of PH time)

Currency: JPY or Japanese Yen

Denominations: Smallest bill is 1000 JPY = around 450 PHP; 10000 JPY = around 4500 PHP; for coins, there are 50, 100, 500 JPY coins. Typical meal costs 700 JPY. Typical vendo drinks cost 100 JPY. I didn’t see anything you can buy with a 50 JPY coin.

Power outlet: Same with PH, 2 flat parallel prongs BUT voltage is 110V. It will work fine with most chargers for mobile phone and camera but double check the specs. Might have problem with hair curlers/straighteners/dryers, make sure they’re compatible with 110V. Really guys, we girls often bring them with us during travel, don’t fret. 😀

Geography: Kansai region is located at the southern part of Japan and is comprised of many cities including Osaka, Kyoto and Nara.  Osaka is 1 hour away from Tokyo by plane, 2.5 hours away by shinkansen (bullet train) and 8 hours by bus.

Visa Required? Yes, for Philippine passport holders. Around 1 week processing time. Always through accredited agencies, direct application to Japanese Embassy not possible.

 

Nov 13, 2016

Day 1/8 – Osaka

Still basking in the afterglow of my short twoweek European affair, a month later – I found myself packing my overused/over-Instagrammed leather jacket and tossing rolled winter jackets for Mama and Ate in the luggage. This was the “planned” Japan trip, booked immediately after my Korea trip with Mama last March. Having spotted a good deal from Jetstar, I booked roundtrip flights to Osaka without much thinking (calculated risk, of course).

At around 3am we left Migi (Ate’s car) in Park n’ Fly, and then boarded their shuttle to NAIA Terminal 1. I remember being stressed out the day before due to some imaginary problem I was having related to the credit card I used to book. I read somewhere that Jetstar requires physical presence of the card and its owner before checking in, otherwise you will be denied to check-in. Because I don’t have my own and I borrowed Rean’s card and he’s not joining us in the trip, and because I can’t find any working contact number for Jetstar to validate this, I requested him to come over at 4am in the airport. That was a Sunday. By the time we reached the check-in counter I asked the lady about it, and she casually answered “That’s not necessary, at least for Osaka-bound flights from Manila.” If you read this, sorry for wasting your time and effort, Be. At least you got to see me before we left, that’s more important. Hart hart.

This is how crowded Metro Manila is.

Sea of clouds.

So, at 7am we flew to Osaka. That was our first time to ride Jetstar, and it’s not far off from other budget airlines. After almost 4 hours, we landed safely in Kansai International Airport. Welcome to Japan!

Mama’s smile was worth the gastos. LOL.

I booked a ride to our AirBNB place via KLOOK. What a very millennial sentence that is, using apps to get things done. Anyway, our driver was very kind because he waited for us for more than an hour. The delay was caused by us getting our JR Passes, and getting lost finding where to.

It was around an hour drive from the airport to our place near JR Namba Station. I recommend our driver, whose name I forgot, because he was patient while trying to locate Ellie’s Apartment (Consolare Namba Building). He assisted us with our luggage, and didn’t leave until we figured out how to enter the secured building. To be fair, for first-timers in Japan, self-check in is quite complicated – that’s why, my friend, read the instructions your AirBNB host sent you.

I was quite amazed with myself having booked a totally fab accommodation near a JR train station. Ellie’s Apartment is centrally located, spacious, modern, and let us have our first experience of the famous Japanese toilet seat.

Really. First time in Japan and the first thing you look for is the high-tech toilet seat.

You’re lucky if you find something like this in Tokyo. And not to mention the price! This place was PHP 3100/night only.

Most AirBnBs in Japan offer free pocket wifi you can take outside! It’s hard to get around a foreign country without Internet, even with proper planning.

The bathroom is separated from the toilet. Shampoo, conditioner, body wash and hand soap are provided, even laundry detergent! This place has washing machine and flat iron. How handy.

Mama is sitting on a sofa bed. There’s enough space for 3, I was supposed to sleep in the upper deck but the bed was wiggly, so I slept beside Mama. There’s an extra futon bed, pillows and blanket in the cabinet and Ate slept on it on the floor. Also, that split-type aircon double-functions as a heater, as it was normally 15 degrees outside when we were there.

After some rest, Ate and I went to a nearby 7-11 for grocery shopping. And guess what we bought? Freaking noodles, and bento meals! I love the bento meals there!

Meanwhile, here’s a Soju that looks casually like a mineral water. We almost got it until we looked at the price.

There goes this tourist posing beside a bike, because Japan. You can also see some autumn foliage in the background.

At around 7PM we walked from our place to Dotonbori, a place very much like Seoul’s Myeongdong and Taipei’s Ximending, where there are endless shops, cafes, night lights and the most important thing – street food.

The famous Glico sign!

Very long queue outside Pablo, home of the famous cheese tart, which already has a branch in Manila

Shinsaibashi roofed shopping arcade

Japanese restos can’t tell you enough what they’re serving

Huwaw pare laki ng G-Y-O-S-A

I don’t know what the heck this is but probably a really fat fish

Uhmm I wonder what’s the specialty of this place. Grilled dragons?

Ang okonomiyaki at ang Waray. Dito po tayo – sa Warai Okonomiyaki. Waley

They say Ichiran is home to the “best tasting ramen in the world”. They have many branches around Japan. There was a very long queue here, so we had it in Tokyo.

Don Quixote is one of the famous discount stores in Japan.

A quaint resto that’s not as bold as its neighbors

There’s this little place with tables so we ordered some food to eat here for convenience.

Melonpan!!!

Yakisoba

Takoyaki!!

 

“The second most delicious melonpan ice cream in the world” LOL. How honest and specific 😀 I wonder what’s the first?!

It was a very cold mid-November autumn night

We passed by this interesting building while walking back to our place.

Stay tuned for more Japan posts!