10 May TRIP: 7 Days in Japan
I love Japan.
Straight up with no reservations, I love the kind people, clean streets and efficient transportation (heated toilet seats too). My experience travelling to Japan was everything I thought it would be. My dad had been to Japan in the 90s and he described his experience much to be like mine when I shared my thoughts upon my return.
7 days is not enough to fully see and experience Japan fully so I recommend taking more time (3-4 weeks) to take advantage. However for those who are strapped to 1-week vacations like I am, here is our itinerary blended with my own personal impressions and tips.
PRE-TRAVEL TIPS FOR JAPAN:
- Get a JR Pass before leaving your country. For about CAD$350ish (7-day pass) you can ride the Shinkansen and city JR rails an unlimited amount of times! Just for comparison, a round-trip between Tokyo and Osaka is roughly CAD$330.
- Order your Pocket WiFi. You can get it shipped to your lodging by ordering in advance. 10GB is good and lasted us 7 days (unless you’re a power social media user). https://www.econnectjapan.com/
- Order Japanese Yen before you go, as the rates domestically are better than overseas. You’ll also be surprised at how many places (mostly outside of Tokyo) don’t take cards.
- Loading up a Suica or Pasmo (equivalent of VISA and Mastercard) card with Yen can be useful and convenient if travelling for a longer period of time. Suica is more accepted than Pasmo from what we noticed and were told.
- If you know you’ll be travelling on the subway a lot within the city you might benefit from getting a 3-day or 1-day unlimited subway pass. Your JR pass will only allow you access to JR stations.
- A power adaptor is not needed! The Japanese use the same plugs as North America.
- Learn a few Japanese words, it’ll go a long way when interacting with the locals and make them less nervous about interacting with foreigners. I can’t tell you how many times saying “Arigatou Gozaimasu, Ohayou-Gozaimasu, Sumimasen” has won big smiles and gratitude from the locals there.
- Use Apple Maps instead of Google Maps. It has integrated Japanese transit data since iOS10. Street names and signs are hard to come by in Japan.
Japanese Traveller Cheat Sheet
DAY 0: TRAVEL DAY TO OSAKA
Friday, April 13 to Saturday, April 14
We flew to Vancouver and had a quick 2.5 hour layover in the Plaza Premium Lounge before boarding our flight to Narita on the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner.
Finalizing itineraries in the Plaza Premium Lounge in YVR before our flight to Japan
07h35 – 09h53 | AC 301 | YUL to YVR (A330-300)
13h25 – 15h15+1 | AC 3 | YVR to NRT (B787-9)
Air Canada Signature Class Pod
Entree Dish: Salmon, Potatoes, Salad
Main Dish: AAA Beef Tenderloin with Mashed Potatoes and Asparagus
Dessert: Fruit and Cheese Plate
Dessert: Chocolate Cake
Time for sleep: Lie-Flat bed for the 9.5 hour flight
Shortly after arriving in Narita and clearing immigration, we picked up our Shinkansen passes from the ticket office. There was a 30-45 minute lineup before actually picking them up. Staff are very organized but to my surprise, did not speak english fluently. However it was enough to get by.
JR Pass for Shinkansen
There are conditions to the JR Pass, but the biggest one you have to know is you can’t ride the NOZOMI or MIZUHO trains. You don’t necessarily have to reserve a seat, but always better to do so especially if you are trying to catch a glimpse of Mt. Fuji (Sit on the left side from Osaka to Tokyo and right side from Tokyo to Osaka). You must also show your pass when entering/exiting through the manned gates at each station.
17h16 – 18h27 | Narita Express 40 | Narita Airport (Terminal 1) to Shinagawa
18h40 – 21h26 | Hikari 527 | Shinagawa to Shin-Osaka
Hikari 527 to Shin-Osaka, a 2.5hr journey from Tokyo to Osaka.
Shinkansen reserved seat tickets
4 nights at the Marriott Courtyard Shin-Osaka. Our average rate was CAD$260/night. Considering sakura season and booking a week prior to departure, $260 was a steal. For all the points/elite status readers, each room is the same size so asking for a larger room is futile. A room with a view looks like the below. My Gold status with Marriott also got us access to a daily free breakfast and access to the Executive Lounge.
Executive Lounge entrance at Courtyard Shin-Osaka
Morning view from our hotel room
Classic ICBM warning
DAY 1: OSAKA
Saturday, April 14
Our daily template was more or less the same. We started our day around 10am every morning, saw 3-4 sights, came back around 4-5pm for lounge snacks, and finishing off by going to town for dinner.
Our first day was a bit cloudy. Since it was a weekend, we managed to get around Osaka with the unlimited day pass for ¥600 (CAD$7). A single fare will depend on the zone you are travelling to. More on how to ride the Osaka subway here.
We started off by going to Kema Sakuranomiya Park. This is the place to be for peak cherry blossoms. Unfortunately because of the warmer weather this year, sakura season for Osaka ended towards the end of March. We did manage to catch a few trees with flowers left.
Sakuranomiya Park is the place to be during peak Sakura season
Just a 30-minute walk away was Osaka Castle. This was our first of a few castles. The amount of castles and shrines in Japan equates to the amount of McDonald’s there are in America. Nonetheless, these are impressive structures that have been around for centuries. Admission is ¥600 (CAD$7). Inside you’ll find lots of artifacts and history about Imperial Japan. It’s advised to go before noon when the tour buses arrive.
Osaka Castle on a cloudy day
After Osaka Castle we made our way to Kuromon Market. I had to admit that Apple Maps led the entire way since street names and signs are hard to come by in Japan. Kuromon Market is one giant street with plenty of street food stands. Some of the eats that we sampled include tempura, yakitori, green tea ice cream. You’ll find these bites anywhere between ¥100-¥1000 making it a great afternoon snack.
Kuromon Market is filled with shops and street stands
Lots of tempura selection for under ¥1,000
Kobi Beef Yakitori
Kuromon Market Stands are filled with delicious eats
Down the street from Kuromon Market is Namba, one of the city’s major city centres offering entertainment, dining, and shopping. We managed to snag a stuffed animal in one of the city’s many arcade gaming centres, Taito Station. These arcade centres have many floors, each dedicated to its own gaming genre.
Just prior to dinner we grabbed some snacks at the hotel lounge. I had no problems indulging in the selection of bites they offered.
Lounge self-service bar
Edamame beans, vegetables, broccoli mini-salad, assorted chips, meat, cheese, cracker plate
Spring rolls, Quiche
Takoyaki, Fried squid
For dinner, we went to Grand Front Osaka, a shopping mall outside of Osaka station. While many stores close at 9pm, restaurants located on the top floors stay open until 10 or 11pm. We had some delicious soba noodles to close off a great day.
Soba Noodles at Grand Front Osaka Shopping Centre
DAY 2: KYOTO
Sunday, April 15
After a delicious breakfast consisting of eggs benedict/poached eggs, ha gao, siu mai, congee, miso soup, noodles, black tea, fresh juice, we took the Shinkansen to Kyoto which is about a 20 minute ride.
Daily Breakfast: Miso Soup, Congee, Poached Eggs, Dim Sum, Noodles, and other various items
The first stop was Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. As seen on many Instagram accounts, the bamboo trees that bend over the walkways are absolutely breathtaking. It’s just a shame that the sheer amount of tourists ruined the serenity, however all is not lost, because the further you walk, the number of tourists begin to drop off. Given the right moment, you’ll even snap a shot with no one in the background. We ended up spending an hour here and walked most of the path. What we didn’t know was that there was a zoo for monkeys. Add that to your list as we hear they are very friendly!
Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
Another big attraction is the Fushimi Inari Shrine, which was our 2nd stop of the day. Fushimi Inari Shrine is one of a kind. With 10,000 orange torii gates, it makes for some creative pictures. So don’t be surprised if you see ladies with full on kimonos walking around with their photographers posing at various stops along the walk. For those with a bit more time, you can hike all the way up the mountain. Again, you’ll end up getting better shots.
Fushimi Inari Shrine: Torii Gates
Fushimi Inari Shrine Temple
Just prior to eating at Nishiki Market, we walked through the Gion district in hopes of seeing a Geisha. Unfortunately we had no luck as we were probably too early. Nishiki Market is the same concept as Kuromon Market. Lots of street stands with foods to eat.
Streets of Kyoto
Kyoto’s Nishiki Market
To cap things off for the day, we went to a Ippudo ramen restaurant where we ended meeting a Canadian/American couple, and decided to close the night off at Kyoto Monk Bar for some sake. Very knowledgeable bartender with a huge selection of spirits. Highly recommend both spots!
Shiromaru Classic Ramen
Ippudo’s Menu: A popular ramen chain around the world
Kyoto Monk Bar
Most bars have a cover charge of ¥500. O-Toshi is a small ‘munchies’ appetizer.
DAY 3: KYOTO
Monday, April 16
We had such a great time in Kyoto, we decided to head back for another round of sights. This time we went off the beaten trail to Toji, a Buddhist temple with a pagoda and a lot less tourists in sight.
Getting away from the crowded tourist areas was a nice breather
To get to Philosopher’s Walk from Toji we took a cab. This was our first and only cab experience in Japan. We used JapanTaxi app to get there mainly to avoid the language barrier (Promo Code: B9BD1E for ¥1,000 off). The drivers are all very friendly and white glove. And despite the language barrier, they try communicate with you as was the case when we entered the wrong address.
Philosopher’s Walk was one of my favourite spots of the trip, not only because the walk was peaceful, but because it allowed us to wander the mountainous streets of Kyoto. There were about 10-15 temples and shrines in that area, with no obligation to visit any of them. If you are going to take the walk and wander after, be sure to have a good pair of shoes as you’ll be doing a lot of walking, with no public transport in sight.
Philosopher’s Walk is about a 2km walk. Very peaceful and tranquil.
Wherever you go in Japan, even in the most remote areas, you’ll always find a vending machine
A quick stop for café at Philosopher’s Café
We wandered around these streets for hours. No destination or attraction.
Our last stop in Kyoto was Nijo Castle. At this point we were exhausted and spoiled with castles and shrines, so we decided not to enter and hopped on the Shinkansen back to Osaka for our last evening and dinner in Osaka.
Dotonbori, Osaka’s nightlife and entertainment district
Tonbori River at Dotonbori
Japan is lit in the evening
A Japanese classic, Udon. There are different styles of Udon depending on where you go in Japan.
DAY 4: TRAVEL DAY TO TOKYO
Wednesday, April 18
“Travelling across Japan by Shinkansen is still probably one of the coolest things I’ve experienced. I mean you’re getting on a train, it’s nothing mindblowing. But I’m also writing this from a developed country like Canada, where to travel the same distance (Osaka-Tokyo), takes twice as long…”
Riding the Shinkansen is a lot of fun and borderline addicting
When travelling between Osaka and Tokyo, you’ll want to be sure to catch Mt. Fuji. However, even on a sunny day, the odds see Mt.Fuji fully is about 25%, due to the clouds. In order to do that you’ll need to be sitting on the left side when going West to East, and on the right side when travelling East to West. This is where reserving a seat comes in handy.
I saw Mt.Fuji in its entirety for 2 seconds, turned away to grab my camera, and it was gone.
12h16 – 15h10 | Hikari 520 | Shin-Osaka to Tokyo
Upon arriving in Japan, we were instantly greeted by the waves of people in the metro station. You know you’ve arrived in Tokyo when everyone is walking in 100 different directions, heads buried in their books, phones, yet no one bumps into each other.
We stayed at the Ritz-Carlton Tokyo. Full details of the stay here.
50th floor city views from the Ritz-Carlton Tokyo
Our evening in Tokyo was spent at a conveyor belt sushi restaurant in Shinjuku. The best places are found on Google Maps while wandering with no direction. There wasn’t a long lineup, but the place was packed with both locals and tourists. After a short wait, we were seated and began taking plates off the conveyor. The price is determined by the color of the dish. And if what you want isn’t on the belt, you can order it from the menu. A good 45 minutes later and 7-10 dishes deep, we were filled and satisfied.
Total cost for two: ¥2,000.
Conveyor belt sushi in Shinjuku
There are plenty of alleyway restaurants as well to satisfy your hunger.
After dinner we roamed around and found Kabukicho, Tokyo’s entertainment and red-light district. Dubbed the “sleepless town”, this is where all the evening action happens, from Robot Restaurant to Piss Alley. It’s probably the world’s most mild RLD, but that’s considering we weren’t approached by any African street touts – perhaps they thought I was local. There’s lots to read about this area of town before you go – a quick read of TripAdvisor is always suggested. We walked through many narrow alleyways with small bars, both for locals and tourists before making our way back to our hotel.
Piss at your own discretion
DAY 5: TOKYO
Thursday, April 19
With an evening sample of what Tokyo had to offer us, we started off by going to the Imperial Palace in Chiyoda. After seeing a million castles and shrines, a quick glimpse of what it looked like from the outside was enough for us. We then walked to the Ginza district. Lots of high end luxury shops to window shop at, with plenty of tourists looking to buy everything in sight. What we noticed on our walk there, was how orderly everyone was in Tokyo. No jaywalking, people walked on one side only (left), patrons waiting next to the metro doors to let people exit before entering (crazy how it’s not the norm in other countries).
Tokyo Imperial Palace
Ginza, Luxury Shopping
Yellow medians to organize pedestrian traffic
A rooftop break from window shopping luxury brands
Another bowl of Japanese Udon, this time in Tokyo
To add to the above, on our way to Akihabara, we saw a 4-year old in school uniform walk to the metro by himself, presumably to get home. Another thing that blew our mind, safety, in Japan.
Speaking of Electric Town, this is where you’ll find most of the *insert animal or maid* cafés. With no shortage of oddities in this district, it’s also home to gaming arcades, anime, gaming and electronic shops like Don Quijote and Yodobashi. You can also even drive around in a “Mario Kart” as we saw some people do.
Akihabara is home to anime, gaming, and maid cafés
Something to try next time! Obvious a massive tourist gimmick.
A massive gimmick we tried while in Shibuya was high-speed/fast food/monorail sushi at Genki Sushi, a chain in Japan. There was a massive wait that went outside the door, but moved pretty quickly because of turnover at the 90+ seats inside of the restaurants. Side note: any place with a lineup in Japan, is worth waiting for because the food is good. The concept is simple, you sit down at a booth, order your food using a tablet, and in no time, the food comes racing down one of three rails carrying your food. Obviously you can’t expect the food to be AAA-grade, in fact, it was down right one of the more disgusting sushi experiences I’ve ever had. But, still an experience to be had while in Japan.
Order by selecting what you want to eat from this tablet
In minutes, your food arrives on a high-speed monorail! No guarantee on quality though.
Our last stop of the day was Shibuya Crossing, the world’s busiest intersection. We didn’t arrive at a peak time but still got to experience walking across the intersection several times, posing for selfies, doing a photoshoot in the middle of the intersection, and standing watching everyone go by before running to the sidewalk. For a better view and to end the evening, we went up to the Starbucks, sat and watched bikes and people weave through each other from all different sides.
Shibuya Crossing from the 2nd floor Starbucks
DAY 6: TOKYO
Friday, April 20
Our last full day in Tokyo was spent at Ueno Zoo and Harajuku. Ueno Zoo is home to the popular panda cub Xiang Xiang. In addition to buying an admission ticket, you’ll need to secure a seperate ticket to see the cub. Once you scan in your ticket, you’ll approach the gate agents who will give you a ticket with a time indicated to see the cub. The earlier you go, the earlier your time will be. We showed up around 11AM and ended up with a ticket for 4:00pm. Viewing sessions are limited to 3-5 minutes. If you are not panda obsessed, you can still see the Father, Ri Ri, like any other regular animal at the zoo. We ended up doing just that and left after doing the rounds.
Ri-Ri the Father Panda can be seen without an extra ticket
Harajuku was our last official stop of the trip. This is where most of our shopping took place for sports apparel, souvenirs, and treats. This is also Tokyo’s most buzzing and colorful fashion scene. You’ll find lots of stores with quirky and vintage clothes, and “out-there” styles. Each district in Tokyo has its own character. Of all the districts we visited, Harajuku was the most colorful one.
Harajuku has its own swagger
Finally, after a fantastic 7 days in Japan, we went to Hakushu, a Teppanyaki place in Shibuya. You’ll need reservations for this small and intimate place of 20-seats. We again, happened to stumble upon this place, walked in, and got seats, but it is highly recommended to call in before hand.
Call and make a reservation in advance. Trust me.
DAY 7: TRAVEL DAY TO MONTREAL
Saturday, April 21
One last stop before boarding our flight, was to Shirotae in Akasaka, for Japanese Cheesecake. The Japanese do cheesecake differently than North America, with a much softer texture and crustless base. A proper way to end the trip.
Japanese Cheesecake from Shirotae
17h40 – 16h45 | AC 6 | HND to YYZ (B777-300ER)
19h45 – 20h45 | AC 498 | YYZ to YOW (B767-300)
Duty Free Pro Tip: TIAT Duty Free has all the Kit Kat you need to bring back as souvenirs and gifts. If you buy one box of each flavour, it’ll cost CAD$100. Completely worth it in my opinion. What I recommend is going to public market sand buying all the flavours of Kit Kats available, and then go to the Duty Free to complete your set, as the Duty Free may not have certain flavours available in stores and markets.
…and yes, we flew to Ottawa, because #standbylife.
All great trips must come to an end…until next time Japan, arigato.
Other notable sights we didn’t have time for:
- Kyoto: Kiyomizu-dera Temple
- Kyoto: Kinkaku-ji
- Osaka: Den Den Town
- Osaka: Shitenno-ji
- Anywhere in Japan: Onsen (hot spring baths)
- Tokyo: Odaiba
- Tokyo: Tsukiji Fish Market
- Tokyo: Meiji Shrine
Products that I use and swear by on my travels:
GoPro HERO5 Black – https://amzn.to/2rnVSO0
V-MODA Crossfade LP2 Over-Ear Noise-Isolating Metal Headphones – https://amzn.to/2KBH9aZ
Sony Alpha a6000 with 16-50mm and 55-210mm lens – https://amzn.to/2rric9k
Sigma 30mm f/1.4 Lens (e-mount) – https://amzn.to/2wiymHV
Sony 18-105mm f/4 G OSS Lens (e-mount) – https://amzn.to/2rpLZPN
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All images by William Chan.