Our Trip to Japan!

himeji castle, japan, travel

Konichiwa! We’re back from our AMAZING three week trip discovering Japan by rail. It’s a fascinating country with a unique culture, cuisine and friendly people. Our route looked like this:

map of our route
map of our route

We flew direct from Frankfurt to Osaka with Lufthansa for a very reasonable €1700 for two people return. We stayed in Osaka for 6 nights in total at the beginning, the first two nights in a hotel and then after that we took an Air B&B apartment which I would fully recommend. We bought our 21 day Japan Rail passes in advance with this company. You have to buy an exchange order for them before you go since they’re only available to purchase for foreigners and then on arrival find the ticket office to swap them for the JR pass. Getting about on the trains was so easy, even if you don’t speak any Japanese like us. However, since the Japanese rail system is divided up into different rail companies (this is different than in Germany where the vast majority are owned by DB), the JR pass often did not cover us and I had assumed it would. I will maybe explain a bit more about our experiences on that topic later.

Osaka
Osaka

We really enjoyed Osaka. It has a wonderful street-food cuisine and is situated close to Himeji (the castle above is the Himeji castle) and Kyoto. A visit to the Iga-Ryu ninja house and museum would have been much easier from Osaka as a starting point. It is also much cheaper and much less hectic than Tokyo. Apparently Tokyo Narita airport is a nightmare, so we were glad we chose to fly to Osaka. Highlights here was the Aquarium, trip to Universal Studios and the new Harry Potter world, Himeji-jo, and Kyoto City trip.

Kyushu

We then took the bullet train into the countryside which was the best part of our whole trip. We stayed in a little hot springs town on the Kyushu Island called Yufuin and stayed in a wonderful tradition guest house ryokan there. It took about an hour and a half to reach it from Osaka. Here we enjoyed the outdoor (private) onsen, walked in the countryside and ate kaiseki cuisine and took it easy. I wish we’d have had a few more days in this area. We even said hello to a shinto priestess here!

Lakeside shrine, Yufuin
Lakeside shrine, Yufuin
Yufuin Riverside walk
Yufuin Riverside walk
Breakfast time at the Ryokan. This was served with a LARGE miso soup and rice and usually some other vegetables and fish or meat.
Breakfast time at the Ryokan. This was served with a LARGE miso soup and rice and usually some other vegetables and fish or meat.
Private use outdoor onsen at Iyotomi Ryokan
Private use outdoor hot spring “onsen” at Iyotomi Ryokan

We did manage to leave the onsen to do a daytrip to the Ohara-tei Samurai residence in Kitsuki City, which was about an hour’s train ride away. This was well worth the journey. There was also a wonderful bakery in this city, run by a very nice little old lady.

Kitsuki
Ohara-Tei Samurai residence garden Panorama

Then we travelled onwards to Tokyo to stay with a friend from our hometown who is teaching english. It was interesting to see how the people lived in the suburbs and we took a train out to Enoshima island. The views of the pacific ocean here were just incredible with wonderful shrines built into the hill.

IMG_2483

Enoshima
Enoshima Island Bay

This was one of the occasions where our JR pass was not valid. Our friend gave us these Suica cards that you can top up like a London Oyster Card and these are accepted at every station for every rail provider- even stations out in the back of beyond.

Tokyo

We then travelled into Tokyo and stayed there a few nights and saw all the famous parts of town, Akihabara “electric town”, the posh “Ginza” area, The busy Shibuya and Shinjuku area and Harajuku. I felt that Tokyo overall somehow felt more westernised somehow compared to the rest of Japan that we had seen in our short time there. It is very clean and somehow it manages to feel like there is a lot of space. I didn’t expect it to be so hilly. Of course we visited the usual tourist haunts: the Sky Tree, 100 yen shops, maid bar, Meji-Jingu, Asakusa Market. We didn’t get up for the fish market – didn’t fancy the early start on our holidays! LOL!

National Museum, Tokyo
National Museum, Tokyo
Tokyo Sky Tree
Tokyo Sky Tree
view from Tokyo Skytree
view of Tokyo from the Sky Tree window

Iga

On our last day, we got really lost trying to go from Tokyo to Osaka via the Iga-Ryu ninja house and museum. We didnt realise that our JR passes wouldn’t cover us and we spent the last of our notes cash on tickets – which turned out not to be enough since it wouldn’t cover us all the way there. We were stranded. We had to run around with our backpacks trying to find a 7/11 or post office to dispense us some cash. Luckily, we did find a post office in the end.

The ninja museum was a lot of fun and everything was done with so much humour, from the pink ninja train that took us there…

Ninja train at Igakanbe station
Ninja train at Igakanbe station
Iga Ninja City
Iga Ninja City

…to these adorable little street sculptures.

The house itself was full of clever hiding places. We saw a ninjustu demonstration that was also done with a lot of humour and a small but really interesting exhibition about ninjas. Although it was a lot of effort to get out here, we were very happy that we hadn’t missed it and didn’t give up.

Ninja exhibition at IgaRyu
Ninja exhibition at IgaRyu

Overall about Japan:

  • It was not as expensive as I had thought:
    – We found good value accommodation on hotel comparison sites and Air B&B. This was great because we could pay it off in Euro before we left.
    – Good food to go in a convenience store costs about the equivalent of about €4. This makes a cheap, filling and nutritious breakfast or lunch to take away. They will even heat it up for you if you want. Often convenience store bentos were better than the €10 hotel breakfasts.
    – There are a lot of cheap options for a meal other than ramen. The Izakaya pub grub is very reasonable with great variety, as are the “carousel” sushi places such as Genki Sushi. There are also very cheap chain restaurants such as Matsuya and Yoshinoya. There are also many cheap and good curry chains.
    – You are always offered free water with your meal or free green tea (and as much as you want). Free bathrooms at all train stations and often elsewhere in the city! Woop!
  • Traveling around was really easy, whether by bus or train and the dispensing machines have an english option.
  • Ordering food with no Japanese was really easy because the people are lovely and help you and most places will either have an english menu or one with pictures of the food
  • We enjoyed our time in the smaller places much more than the cities
  • We felt really good after 3 weeks of healthy japanese food that we have already bought a rice cooker with the hopes to eat more japanese meals!

Thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoyed looking at the pictures of our trip :)

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