Japan: A Special Country Beyond the Food, the Anime, and Mt. Fuji

Whenever I get asked where my dream destination is, my no-brainer answer would always be Japan. Actually, it has always been Japan - and it's not about the food, the anime, or even Mt. Fuji. For some reasons, my heart gets ecstatic with a simple thought of experiencing Japan. So for all it's worth, I finally had the chance to visit this expensive, good-mannered, systematized, happy, and special country.

Kinkaku-ji or the Temple of the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto

To revive this blog (and ok, for those who have upcoming Japan trips soon) here's a quick summary of our 8-day Japan trip (Tokyo-Kyoto-Osaka) last October.

Japan Basics
○ Dream on but despite the false hope the media was spreading, Japan visa is still REQUIRED. I want it to be "free processing" but not "visa free" at all. Why? Because abusive people might overstay or do something illegal in Japan. The result? In no time, Japan would bring back the visa requirement, but this time it will be stricter. Who will suffer? People whose pure intention is to have a leisure trip in Japan.

Japan visa is still required but on the brighter side, the requirements are just easy.
I applied through Reli Tours in Dusit Hotel and got my visa 4 days after. Processing fee is P1200.

○ As always, our cheap flights are courtesy of Cebu Pacific's piso fare. We got our round trip tickets for a little over P6,000. Yeah, mahal na talaga ang piso fare. Anyway, point of entry and exit is Osaka dahil eto lang ang sale on our preferred dates! Haha! Given a chance, I would prefer to book Manila-Tokyo then Osaka-Manila tickets, or vice versa. If I will just choose between Tokyo and Osaka - I will go for Osaka.

○ Because I've been through hell work months (yes, plural), I forgot to reserve my Yen. Luckily, Czarina's Money Changer's main branch at Ayala Triangle accepts walk in customers. I got to exchange the whole amount I needed for the trip.

better to directly exchange your Peso to Yen here in Manila
photo credits: google image

JR Pass, WiFi Connection, and Hotel Accommodation
Japan Rail Pass or the JR Pass allows foreign tourists to have unlimited train access. Sounds amazing, yes! The catch, this 7-day unli ride ticket costs a whooping Y29,110 or P12,500. Don't faint since the Shinkansen or the bullet train fare from Osaka to Tokyo costs P5,800 alone, and round trip costs P11,600! Of course, there's the overnight bus for cheaper options, but what's a Japan trip without experiencing the Shinkansen. With that, our group decided to avail the JR Pass. Pikit-mata!

we paid the amount of P12,500 at Universal Holidays Inc in Dusit for these JR Pass Exchange Orders. bear in mind, you cannot buy a JR Pass in Japan. buy here in Manila then exchange order in Japan.

○ Upon arriving in Kansai, we looked for the JR office right outside the airport. Just present your Exchange Note + Passport and the staff will be giving your JR Pass in return.

JR Ticket Office in Kansai

and finally, my very own  JR Pass!

○ Since we arrived in Kansai at 8PM and we cannot activate the JR Pass just yet (we can but if we did, our tickets will expire on the 8th day), Remay and I argued whether to sleep in the airport or not... and I won. Haha So there, we killed time and slept in the airport. Tipid-tipid din pag may chance.

sleep in Kansai airport? why not?! look, these sofa turned into sofa beds at night. awesome!

 paranoid about your things? or just want to leave them behind while you stroll? there are automated coin lockers in the airport and train stations

what's more awesome? the ultra high speed free wifi and the airport lounge for some quick shower!

 ○ As expected, Japan's rail system is extremely efficient. It's actually overwhelming at first but you'll get used to reading the train schedules and 10 exits per station. Use Hyperdia for the train's real time schedule. Btw, when using JR Pass - you may reserve seats for no additional costs or either way you can just occupy the free seating train car.

the shinkansen experience
Osaka to Tokyo is around 3 hours. Mt. Fuji can be seen on the left side but unfortunately the skies were not clear on that day. Oh well.

○ For our Tokyo leg, we stayed at my cousin's house in Tochigi area. Thank you Menggay and husband Kazu for accommodating and for driving us around. Ang bongga na pwede ang left hand drive and right hand drive cars in Japan. Thanks sa realistic na Tokyo dirft!

○ For the Osaka-Kyoto leg, we chose to stay in just 1 hotel for 4 nights. Less the hassle of transferring from one hotel to another. Anyway, since the hotels in the city center of Osaka and Kyoto are more expensive, we settled for a hotel outside Kyoto. We booked a room at Reiah Hotel for P22,000 for 4 nights, good for 3 persons. This includes a 25% discount and free daily breakfast. I recommend this hotel for its spacious, clean room, and high speed free wifi. The best part why we booked this hotel: the nearest JR station is just 1 minute walk or 200 meters away! Just very convenient plus we got to optimize our JR pass.

 spacious room for 3 at Reiah Hotel

Tokyo, Edo Wonderland, and Disney Sea
○ First impression of Tokyo is all about skyscrapers, enormous train station, busy people, and flawless highways. Everything is just an eye-candy. Even the smallest details in the streets are oozing with cuteness. Imagine bunnies as traffic cone signs. Now how dare you bump a bunny. Hehe

Tokyo SkyTree

blurred i know, but these bunnies as traffic cones are worth sharing

the famous Shibuya area

but Hachiko's statue is surely the most photographed spot in this area

in a nearby flower park with a Christmas-themed village

glam Tokyo Tower by night

○ It's our Disney Sea day on a fine Monday morning. We planned our visit on a weekday to avoid the crowd, but still there's a long queue to every attraction. Nevertheless, the weather is not too cold and it's fun to stroll around. We all enjoyed it.

  a lovely crowd

  the Tower of Terror and the gondola at American Waterfront

 group shot with Max Goof

Journey to the Center of the Earth / Mediterranean Harbor

inside the Mermaid Lagoon

fun day with my only pinsan Menggay

○ If you ask what would be the highlight of our Japan trip, a strong contender would be our visit at Edo Wonderland. It's a 2-hour drive from Tokyo but definitely worth our time. Edo Wonderland is a historical theme park recreating Japanese town life. The park is built in Edo style architecture and the staff are all in their historic costumes. Guests do have the opportunity to dress up as well, for a fee of course.

Edo style architecture

 right outfit for a 5deg temperature

crossing the bridge

kids in their ninja costumes

a Shinto shrine

torii gates

ema: wooden wishing plaques

live stage performace in Japanese

in character Japanese actor

street food and some indoor restaurants

with the lady who sells sweets to the park guests

our favorite part of the park: the traditional houses, prison cell, crimes, and death sentences to those criminals

people in the government fight for power and title (nothing's changed i supposed)

bloody samurai fight

the punishment for committing murder

Osaka Castle, Dotonbori, the best Ramen and Takoyaki
○  Osaka is a more laid back city compared to Tokyo, but nothing less of beauty. The people are equally friendly but I think the people in this region are extra nice. If I only have a short time in Japan, I would definitely pick Osaka-Kyoto over Tokyo.

the Osaka Castle against the colors of autumn

nature colors

one of the many quiet parks in Japan

in my leather jacket on a cold sunny day

○ While Tokyo is famous for its skyscrapers, Osaka is famous for its food. Aside from clothes shopping, it's also a food lover's paradise. This is also where we bought some of our pasalubong and personal-use Meiji chocolates.

night lights at Dotonbori

the famous Glico man

Dotonbori river cruise

another icon, the clown Kuidaore Taro - meaning “to ruin oneself by extravagance in food.”

○ And we can't agree more, I've tasted the best ramen and best takoyaki along Dotonbori. We tried the conveyor belt sushi too and it didn't disappoint! We read Tripadvisor for recommendations but actually when you see people line up in-front of a restaurant, then that's your clue. Basically the food are awesome yet cheap! If only it didn't rain on our last day, we could have visited this place one last time before heading back to Manila.

tripadvisor is correct, Ichiran has the best tasting ramen!
strongly recommended - will line up again in an extreme cold weather just for this

we also lined up for around 15mins for this Takoyaki. ansarap grabe!
do not miss this, store is beside Ichiran

melts in your mouth salmon sashimi
..though i seriously believe the ones we have in Manila are already good enough

heavenly uni sushi - my super favorite!
for some reasons, i find the uni sashimi in Manila tastier..

○ One good reason why choose Osaka over Tokyo is simply the Universal Studios. Im pretty sure you've heard that the Wizarding World of Harry Potter has arrived in Japan. Tokyo Disney Sea or Universal Studios Japan? We go for USJ. 


the Universal Globe

it's trick or treat time for everyone

people anticipating a show

first glimpse of Hogwarts

○ For the Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction, we reserved our admission tickets and chose the 11:30 AM entry time. At that early, that area is almost full. Still, the tour inside the castle and the Forbidden Journey indoor ride were all worth it. It's also one of the highlights of our Japan trip.

the Black Lake and the Hogwarts castle

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

the crowd slash Harry Potter fanatics

i may not be a fan, but this castle and the music all over the place gave me goosebumps

..and it's not everyday you get photobombed by that man, whoever he is ^_^

Kyoto Shrines and Torii Gates
○ As per a Japanese proverb, "Dress in Kimono till you drop in Kyoto, eat till you drop in Osaka". While Osaka loves food, Kyoto loves to dress up. Either way, I like Kyoto and its being traditional Japan. It's just 30mins away from Osaka, by the way. Nakakaiyak sa ganda ang train station na to, basura kahit ang airport natin. Oh well, anong bago?! Haha

the futuristic Kyoto Train Station is a perfect contrast to the Kyoto's tag as the traditional Japan
we had countless tambay moments in this area - for its restuarants, coffee shops, supermarkets, and malls

○ Honestly, in terms of itinerary - we came unprepared for this Japan trip. The only thing Im sure I wanted to see are the Torii Gates in Kyoto. The Fushimi Inari Shrine is probably one of the most famous attractions in Japan. And it didn't disappoint, this place is just wow. Sure it's crowded, but don't miss this place. It's also one of the highlights of our Japan trip.

the way to the shrine

ema: wooden wishing plaques

Shinto Shrine

torii gates are donated by individuals and companies
..and yes those are the donors' names inscribed at the back of each gate

Fushimi Inari - photogenic and equally beautiful in real life

find your picture perfect spot!
this is a very crowded place and you cant stop the people from walking. tip: find your spot, stop, and just be ready for the crowd to pass. the people will surely understand you want that area to be yours. this works. of course, be mindful of other people too when it's their turn.

○ We took the train 99% of the time except when we visited the Temple of the Golden Pavilion. There are just no train stops near this area and the only option is to take a bus. So we did, and it actually requires less walk which means more fun! Like in trains, the buses have automated voice-over to announce the current stop and the next stops. Amazing! Tip: you pay when you get off the bus.

bus ride in Kyoto

Kinkaku-ji or the Temple of the Golden Pavilion

○ Aside from the common Sakura Kitkats and Meiji Chocolates, I tried this Tokyo Banana Tree - for the sake. It's a little expensive but it's worth trying!

buy at the aiport for the tax free goods

So how much did I spend for this barely 8-day Japan trip?  
P12,500 for the JR Pass
P6,000 for the round trip airfare
P2,000 for the departure tax and terminal fee at NAIA
P1,200 for the Japan visa processing
P7,300 for the hotel accommodation (4 nights)
P8,000 for USJ, Disney Sea, and Edo Wonderland tickets
P15,000 for the food, shopping, and misc

Total cost is around P52,000 (or a little over it). Of course it depends on which hotel you will stay, and what food you will eat. Could be a lot cheaper too if you will take the bus instead of the bullet train. But then again, what's a Japan trip without experiencing the bullet train?

Did we optimize our JR Pass?
Absolutely! As I mentioned in this post, the one-way Tokyo to Osaka shinkansen ticket already costs Y15,660. The JR Pass for 7 days costs Y29,110. Do the math. As an added perk, we stayed in a not so expensive hotel outside the city center but is conveniently connected with a JR line. The usual cost of our train ride from our hotel to the attractions we visited is around Y2,000 per day. So the answer is yes, we optimized our JR Pass pretty much. Note: If you're just going to use the shinkansen just once, then drop the idea of getting a JR Pass.

Are there free public wifi everywhere?
The answer is no. There are free public wifi connections in the airport, major train stations, and hotels - but not in the malls, restaurants, and attractions. Speaking of wifi connection, initially we planned to avail the Pocket Wifi Rental which is around P600/day. Not bad specially our group of 3 can share with the allotted bandwidth and surely this is extremely high speed. Since our group failed to have a reservation for this Pocket Wifi Rental, we ended up availing Globe's P599 Flat Rate Data Roaming which is good for 24 hours. Achieve! Globe is tied up with SoftBank in Japan so it's quite decent and reliable. We only used it for 3 days, the rest - we depended on the free public wifi.

Realizations, Interesting Finds and More!
○ Japan pioneered the high-speed shinkansen or the bullet train. Their train system is the most complex and most efficient I've ever encountered. It's unbelievably on time and highly organized. The only time it gets delayed is when someone commits suicide. Yes, Japan (and other first world countries) has a high suicide rate. 

this is the JR East - Tokyo map. imagine 32 lines for Tokyo alone!

○ Another outstanding thing in Japan is their toilets. How would you like a toilet with: warm seat, sound, deodorizer, spray, and bidet? Mind you, these toilets are common in Japan, even in public areas. Another reason para mainggit how they have the technology and resources for everyone's comfort.

public toilet with warm seat, sound, deodorizer, spray, and bidet

○ The food, as expected, is better than what we have in Pinas. True that the ramen, takoyaki, and salmon sashimi will never taste the same again after having the authentic ones in Japan. The bento meals in Family Mart, the street food, and the sashimis in the grocery are actually great too. But I have to say this, for the record, madaming masarap pero hindi lahat masarap.

it's always a sushi and sashimi feast for me!

 but of course, these Family Mart delights are also good for cheaper alternatives

○ Vending machines are everywhere, and I mean literally everywhere! It's as common as the light posts! Aside from the usual drinks, Im surprised to see these cup noodles and ice cream vendo stands.
Haagen Dazs vendo machine

○ So what makes Japan really amazing?   
- it's not the extremely efficient train and bus system
- it's not the wonder toilet in all areas
- it's not the free public wifi which is 44mpbs
- it's not the super smooth expressway and impressive skyline
- it's not the oozing cuteness everywhere
- do i have to mention the food?

So what really makes Japan special? One word: MANNERS
This is beyond being polite, nice, warm, friendly and helpful. This is about behaving correctly in all aspects with high respect and consideration to everyone. While we use a face mask to avoid the pollution, Japanese who already have illnesses wear masks as a courtesy of not spreading the virus. With that, Japan is one of the best countries to live in. Systematized, considerate, and safe.

Japanese are happy, warm, and cute people with good manners!
 hindi nabibili sa suking tindahan =)

So much to see, so much to eat, so many to try, but so little time! *sigh*
Thank you Japan for that priceless experience. 
..and letting us realize that we live in a tough city. haha!

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