I first set foot in Japan December of 2014 with my good friends. It was a quick 4 day tour at Japan’s capital, Tokyo City. I can still remember so well how excited i was for that trip. Upon our arrival at Narita International Airport, we were welcomed with a 10 degrees weather. If you came from a tropical country like me, you will really love that kind of weather and dressing up to this kind of weather is also a part of my excitement.
Japan is an island nation in the Pacific Ocean with dense cities, imperial palaces, mountainous national parks and thousands of shrines and temples. Shinkansen bullet trains connect the main islands of Kyushu (with Okinawa’s subtropical beaches), Honshu (home to Tokyo and Hiroshima’s atomic-bomb memorial) and Hokkaido (famous for skiing). Tokyo, the capital, is known for skyscrapers, shopping and pop culture.
But this blog will focus more on my second trip to this beautiful country wherein we traveled four cities in 5 days!
DAY 1: ARRIVAL IN TOKYO
We arrived in Tokyo around lunchtime. It is a 4 hour flight fro Mactan Cebu International Airport to Narita International Airport. Upon arrival at Narita International Airport, we get our rented WIFI router, Pasmo Card and JR (Japan Rail Pass). All of them can be purchased at the airport. For the many times i traveled Japan, this has always been our first activity upon arrival. This will take around a hour to finish everything especially if this is your first time but once you are familiar with their airport it will take just 30 minutes to do it although it will also depend on the queue and influx of tourists doing the same route as this.
Here are the links for the PASMO and JR Pass.
We checked in at our hotel and settled our things at our room. We immediately looked for a place to have lunch. While walking around Tokyo, we saw Yoshinoya and enjoyed a bowl of Gyudon goodness!
Very full from our late lunch, we took a stroll going to Tokyo Metropolitan Government wherein once can view the city from the 36th floor observatory.
We then strolled along the streets of Tokyo and then decided to head to Menya Musashi in Shinjuku. We waited to be seated for around 30 minutes. But as always, the wait is definitely worth it because their Ramen is to die for! Best seller here is Tsukemen. Tsukemen is a Japanese noodle dish consisting of ramen which is eaten after dipping in a separate bowl of soup.
We then head to Takeshita Dori. The focal point of Harajuku’s teenage culture is Takeshita Dori (Takeshita Street) and its side streets, which are lined by many trendy shops, fashion boutiques, used clothes stores, crepe stands and fast food outlets geared towards the fashion and trend conscious teens. We strolled around and bought Matcha Crepe and Matcha Icrecream stick.
DAY 2 TOKYO-OSAKA
Woke up early to take the first train trip going to Tsukiji Fish Market. Tsukiji Market (築地市場, Tsukiji Shijō) is a large wholesale market for fish, fruits and vegetables in central Tokyo. It is the most famous of over ten wholesale markets that handle the distribution of fish, meat, produce and flowers in Tokyo. Tsukiji Market is best known as one of the world’s largest fish markets, handling over 2,000 tons of marine products per day. However, the market is expected to close and move to a new site in Toyosu in the near future (the move was originally scheduled for November 2016, but then delayed indefinitely by the governor).
Two famous sushi restaurants here are Ryu and Daiwa but the queue was very, very long so we opted to wait for 20 minutes to have a seat at Dontaku.
We hurried back to our hotel to check out and head to Osaka. Quite excited because we are riding Shinkansen.
Japan’s high speed trains (bullet trains) are called shinkansen (新幹線) and are operated by Japan Railways (JR).
Running at speeds of up to 320 km/h, the shinkansen is known for punctuality (most trains depart on time to the second), comfort (relatively silent cars with spacious, always forward facing seats), safety (no fatal accidents in its history) and efficiency. Thanks to the Japan Rail Pass, the shinkansen can also be a very cost effective means of travel.
Upon arriving at Osaka, we settled our things at the service apartment we rented. We always choose a hotel or an apartment near a train station for the obvious reason of convenience in traveling.
Our first stop is to take a late lunch at a Vendo restaurant that are all in Japanese so i just referred to the pictures posted in the machine.
After late lunch, our next stop is Kaiyukan Aquarium.
Kaiyukan is one of Japan’s most spectacular aquariums, world-renowned for its innovative presentation. Kaiyukan shows the aquatic animals of the Pacific Rim at their most vibrant and dynamic, by recreating the natural environment of their habitats.
At Kaiyukan there are over 15 large tanks, each recreating a specific region of the Pacific Rim, taking visitors on a virtual tour of the Pacific Ocean. The tanks include, “Japan Forest,” which recreates a sunlit, beautiful Japanese forest; the icy, snow-clad “Antarctica;” and the centerpiece of the aquarium, “Pacific Ocean,” a 9 m deep, 34 m long tank containing 5,400 tons of water, serving as the home of whale sharks, the largest fish species in the world. They can even let you touch baby sharks and other species!
It was a night well-spent exploring the vast aquarium. Outside, you can get a glimpse of the Tempozan Ferris Wheel. It is sitting at the mouth of Osaka Bay next to Kaiyukan Aquarium.
After an enjoyable time at Kaiyukan Aquarium, we head down to Dotonbori. Dōtonbori or Dōtombori is one of the principal tourist destinations in Osaka, Japan, running along the Dōtonbori canal from Dōtonboribashi Bridge to Nipponbashi Bridge in the Namba district of the city’s Chuo ward. It is where the famous Glicoman is located!
Right at the heart of Dotonbori is where the famous Ichiran located. It is a vendo ramen restaurant. We waited for an hour to get a table at Ichiran but while waiting we love the view of the river and enjoyed people watching.
Bought Osaka Mug at Starbucks Dotonbori.
DAY 3: OSAKA-KYOTO
We took off early again to catch the 9:00 am World Heritage Bus.
1ST STOP: NISHIHONGANJI TEMPLE 9:06 AM
Hongan-ji, also archaically romanized as Hongwanji, is the collective name of the largest school of Jōdo Shinshū Buddhism. ‘Hongan-ji’ may also refer to any one of several actual temple buildings associated with the sect.
2ND STOP: NIJO CASTLE 10:13 AM
Nijō Castle is a flatland castle in Kyoto, Japan. The castle consists of two concentric rings of fortifications, the Ninomaru Palace, the ruins of the Honmaru Palace, various support buildings and several gardens.
3RD STOP: KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (THE GOLDEN PAVILLION) 11:34 AM
Kinkaku-ji, officially named Rokuon-ji, is a Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan. It is one of the most popular buildings in Japan, attracting a large number of visitors annually.
After the Kinkakuji Temple, we explored Kyoto on our own to have lunch at Ippudo Kyoto. It was another gastronomic experience for Ramen lovers like us!
After lunch, we checked out Nishiki Market for some dessert and check out other food.
After our quick lunch detour, we joined again the World Heritage Bus.
4TH STOP: GINKAKUJI SHRINE (THE SILVER PAVILION)
Ginkaku-ji, officially named Jishō-ji, is a Zen temple in the Sakyo ward of Kyoto, Japan. It is one of the constructions that represents the Higashiyama Culture of the Muromachi period.
We then head to Katsu Kura at The Cube, the mall on top of the Kyoto Train Station. One of the best katsu’s i ever tasted. Everything in Japan is just delicious!
After dinner, we strolled around Gion area to spot real-life geisha’s. Gion is the center of Kyoto’s traditional arts and the most famous entertainment district.
Before going back to Osaka, we dropped by Starbucks Shijo to buy Kyoto City Mug.
Sharing this Haagen-Dazs Green Tea Icecream before going to sleep. Bought this at 7-11 near our service apartment.
DAY 4: OSAKA-KYOTO-NARA
We left the apartment at 6:30 AM and this time we had a DIY tour to some of the temples we were not able to view on the previous day.
1ST STOP: ARASHIYAMA
Arashiyama is a district on the western outskirts of Kyoto, Japan. It also refers to the mountain across the Ōi River, which forms a backdrop to the district. Arashiyama is a nationally designated Historic Site and Place of Scenic Beauty.
2ND STOP: TENRYU-JI TEMPLE
Tenryū-ji (天龍寺?)—more formally known as Tenryū Shiseizen-ji (天龍資聖禅寺?)—is the head temple of the Tenryū branch of Rinzai Zen Buddhism, located in Susukinobaba-chō, Ukyō Ward, Kyoto, Japan. The temple was founded by Ashikaga Takauji in 1339, primarily to venerate Gautama Buddha, and its first chief priest was Musō Soseki. Construction was completed in 1345. As a temple related to both the Ashikaga family and Emperor Go-Daigo, the temple is held in high esteem, and is ranked number one among Kyoto’s so-called Five Mountains. In 1994, it was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as part of the “Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto”.
3RD STOP: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE
Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社?) is the head shrine of Inari, located in Fushimi-ku, Kyoto, Japan. The shrine sits at the base of a mountain also named Inari which is 233 metres above sea level, and includes trails up the mountain to many smaller shrines which span 4 kilometers and takes approximately 2 hours to walk up.
We then head to Nara. And at the Nara Train Station, we found MOS fast food chain. One of the famous fast food chain in Japan. We stopped by for a quick lunch.
4TH STOP: NARA DEER PARK
The park is the home of hundreds of freely roaming deer. There are deer food available for sale if you wish to feed these fellows. They are literally everywhere! So cute!
5TH STOP: TODAI-JI TEMPLE
Tōdai-ji is a Buddhist temple complex, that was once one of the powerful Seven Great Temples, located in the city of Nara, Japan. It is the home of the Great Golden Buddha.
Walking around Nara by foot we got tired so we decided to have a quick coffee and chococro break at St. Marc Cafe in Nara.
6TH STOP: UNIVERSAL STUDIO OSAKA
It was another full day and we capped the night at Universal Studio Osaka.
DAY 5: OSAKA-TOKYO
Osaka Castle is a Japanese castle in Chūō-ku, Osaka, Japan. The castle is one of Japan’s most famous landmarks and it played a major role in the unification of Japan during the sixteenth century of the Azuchi-Momoyama period.
We then bought food from 551 HORAI and Takoyaki that we will eat at the train going back to Tokyo. Takoyaki stalls are found every corner in Japan even in train stations. I so love it!
We arrived at Tokyo and ready to roam around with one of our couple bestfriends, Franco and Via, who were also at Tokyo during that time having their vacation. They just got engaged yesterday (October 29, 2016) at Showa Kinen Park Tachikawa, Tokyo! We are so happy for you F and V!
We had dinner at Hachibei at Roppongi Hills which is known to serve the best yakitori in Tokyo.
It was indeed a fast paced vacation as we want to make the most out of our time spent here in Japan. It was tiring. I also jokingly refer this vacation as “Amazing Race:Japan Edition”. Everyday i have to wake up early around 5:30-6:00 AM and we end up at almost midnight. We want to savor all the time exploring and experience the beauty and culture of this country. I survived 5 nights and 6 days of too much walking. So if you are traveling with your kids or with your parents, i do not suggest this itinerary BUT If you are young, bold and adventurous, this itinerary is for you! The Japan Railway system is just amazing! Trains arrive on time (to the second).
Kyoto World Heritage Bus Tour is highly recommended. There are other World Heritage sites that we were not able to see but we prioritized the most famous and popular temples. Kyoto is just a lovely city. It is like going back centuries ago. They preserved the city well. I am in awe of the beautiful temples right in the heart of the city. I say this is one of the best cities of Japan if not the best.
The people may not be able to speak English fluently but on two separate occasions, we were blessed to to be assisted by two Japanese men to took us to where we wanted to go by showing a map. They guide us until we reached our destination and we were just grateful to them.
For this itinerary, JR Pass is the most convenient and cost-effective means of transportation. That is why i also recommend that you rent a hotel or service apartment near any train station so that it will be easier and cheaper to just walk to the stations everyday than ride a taxi as everything in Japan is expensive.
WIFI router rental is a necessity when traveling in Japan especially in looking for directions as every signage is in Japanese and most of all to update your friends through social media all the awesome places you went!
There are myriads of cities that i still want to explore in Japan. As a matter of fact, i am going back next week to explore more cities and explore gastronomic feasts. I can’t wait to share more of Japan!
Send me a message or email me for any comments or queries about this blog. I am thrilled to hear from you!
This blog is also for my bru Johanna, who is traveling to Osaka tomorrow. I hope you find something helpful on this travel blog. Enjoy your vacation bru!