Japan Travel Diary: Tsukiji, Shopping, and the End of the Trip

Japan Travel Diary: Tsukiji, Shopping, and the End of the Trip

November 10, 2014

Since we were in Tokyo, we had to have sushi at the Tsukiji Fish Market.

One section of the Tsukiji Fish Market
One section of the Tsukiji Fish Market

In Tsukiji, we chose a sushi place based on the menu displayed outside each shop. We didn’t even know the name of the sushi place we ate in. Ruther waited with us in line, but being allergic to seafood, he didn’t eat with us. He ate at the chicken place beside the sushi restaurant instead.

The sushi restaurant we chose. My friend said that the sign reads "Ichiba Sushi."
The sushi restaurant we chose. My friend said that the sign reads “Ichiba Sushi.”

I had a Welcome Set, and Butch and Allan ordered the most expensive omakase set.

My Welcome Set
My Welcome Set

I was very happy with the first sushi I ate—it had teriyaki sauce on it. I’m usually averse to salmon, but their salmon didn’t have the aftertaste I’ve come to hate. The shrimp sushi had a lot of wasabi in between the rice and shrimp that assaulted my nostrils for a couple of seconds. My maki was good, too—I always love me some fish roe. Allan and Butch’s set included fish semen sushi. They said it was creamy but tasteless.

The semen sushi is the leftmost sushi in this photo.
The semen sushi is the leftmost sushi in this photo.

After our sushi breakfast, we went our separate ways to shop. Butch went back to Akihabara. Allan and Ruther went to Koreatown. And I went to Takashimaya in Shinjuku.

My first stop in Takashimaya was the Kinokuniya bookstore, which was in a separate area from the main Takashimaya mall, and once I got there, I was not disappointed. They had copies of Rookie Yearbook Three; Yes, Please; and Rob Delaney’s book. I haven’t seen these titles in Manila. I thought the price would be inflated because this was Tokyo, but they were reasonably priced. I had to stop myself from buying so many books. Sadly, they still didn’t have a copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. Maybe I should just order a copy from FullyBooked once I get home.

I went back to the main Takashimaya building and bought these cute but inexpensive earphones as Christmas gifts for my cousins at Tokyu Hands. I then saw paper bags with a drawing of Santa Claus and when you fold the top, it becomes Santa’s hat so of course I bought those, too. I also got a tax refund for my purchases. Then I went to Uniqlo to look for more Christmas gifts. The price tag for button-down shirts in Uniqlo was half their Manila price! I regret not buying more shirts. But at least I finished most of my Christmas shopping.

I really felt like an adult walking, shopping, eating, and commuting alone in Tokyo. I felt like a subway expert, too, wending my way through the stream of people and no longer looking left and right to make sure I’m going in the right direction. I also enjoyed not worrying about whether the guys were getting bored waiting for me.

I walked back to the hotel to drop my loot and ate the strawberry shortcake and opera cake I bought at Takashimaya.

Sadly not my cake. This was Allan's.
Sadly not my cake. This was Allan’s.

Then I met the guys at Shibuya for dinner. I was finally okay to have my picture taken at Hachiko’s statue. (However, the photo was corrupted.)

We ate in the same sutameshi place we had dinner in yesterday.

Allan's sutameshi
Allan’s sutameshi set

I then went to H&M and found so many clothes were on sale. I wish I went there before Uniqlo because the clothes were so much cheaper. I was able to buy some stuff for myself. I also bought some cute t-shirts for Jonas.

Even though I was there until the store’s closing, it still wasn’t enough time.

I went to a 7-11 and bought different flavors of KitKat and Pocky for pasalubong.

When I was done shopping, I messaged the guys to ask where they were and learned that they had been in the hotel for two hours already.

I packed after Butch finished packing because I found it too confusing to pack with all our shit laid out all over the hotel room. I didn’t know why he didn’t pack while I was still out. Maybe he thought I wanted a companion while packing.

I managed to fit everything in my two bags.

I put Salonpas on my lower back and slept for four hours.

***

November 11, 2014

We rode a taxi to Shinjuku station and bought our Narita Express tickets there. I was asleep the moment the train started moving. When I woke up, we were speeding through rice paddies. I want to visit the provincial parts of Japan, too.

Ruther forgot the posters he bought at Koreatown in the train. Allan was the most heartbroken that the trip was ending.

I spent my remaining yen buying more pasalubong at the airport. I regret not buying a yukata in Asakusa. Apparently, it’s not available everywhere.

I may not share the same intense separation anxiety Allan has for Japan since this trip has been less than perfect for me, but I still want to go back. We’ve barely scratched the surface of what this country has to offer; there are still so many places to see and food to eat.

I’m definitely going back.

Until next time. Thanks for reading my travel diary!
Until next time. Thanks for reading my travel diary!
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Japan Travel Diary: Meiji Shrine, Harajuku, and Shibuya

Japan Travel Diary: Meiji Shrine, Harajuku, and Shibuya

November 9, 2014

I was in my dream travel destination, and I wanted to cry.

For our second day in Tokyo we went to Meiji Shrine, Harajuku, and Shibuya.

Since we were going to Harajuku—a known fashion hub—we took more care than usual in dressing ourselves. I love dressing up so I was psyched. But once we arrived in Meiji Shrine, my excitement gradually waned. The guys walked ahead together, and I was left behind. I already expected this to happen, but it didn’t make me any less sad.

People watching during the walk to the shrine distracted me for a short while. I thought it would be cold because of the trees, but they actually shielded us from the wind so it was slightly warmer.

The walk to Meiji Shrine
The walk to Meiji Shrine

We chanced upon a traditional wedding. We didn’t write wishes on those wooden things anymore because we found it pricey. We just used our money on food instead.

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There wasn’t a lot of food choices within the shrine’s complex. We ate staple temple food again, this time yakisoba with okonomiyaki.

Oba-chan preparing okonomiyaki
Oba-chan preparing okonomiyaki

We mistakenly took the long way around Meiji Shrine to get to Takeshita-dori. Maybe I was just tired, but during this long walk, with me trailing behind a good thirty paces, I really felt alone.

I decided to rid myself of the guys once we arrived at Harajuku because I didn’t want them waiting for me and unintentionally pressuring me while I look in different shops. So I took a pocket wi-fi for myself and set off on my own.

Takeshita-dori
Takeshita-dori

Most of the wares sold in Harajuku are too kawaii for my taste so all I managed to buy was a printed button-down shirt and earrings. 

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One of the shops on Takeshita-dori

I met with the guys at the end of the busy street, and we walked to Omotesando.

There were so many people in Omotesando. And because it’s situated on a hill, you could see the people, which seemed like thousands, walking miles ahead.

Allan, Ruther, and Butch went in the huge Apple store. I stayed outside and sat on a bench to rest my, by now, dead feet. Wearing boots, no matter how comfy, for two straight days of non-stop walking was indeed a sacrifice for beauty.

Saw these cuties while I was sitting in front of the Apple Store in Omotosendo
Saw these cuties while I was sitting in front of the Apple Store in Omotesando

We then looked for an obscure coffee shop called Omotesando Coffee. Allan, probably sensing something’s wrong, treated me to a cup. I don’t drink coffee so I didn’t really appreciate whatever subtle flavors Omotesando Coffee had to offer.

At Omotesando Coffee
At Omotesando Coffee

Even though we were already hungry, we decided we would travel a few minutes more to eat dinner in Shibuya instead of Omotesando.

I lost all remaining happiness at Hachiko’s statue.

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Once we arrived at the statue, I needed to pee. The nearest restroom I could find was in a mall across the street from the statue. It took me about twenty minutes to get back. Naturally, they already took photos with Hachiko. For me, that was the last straw. When Allan asked if I also wanted to take a photo with the dog, I refused. I felt that if I uttered more than one sentence, I would’ve burst into tears, let alone be able to smile for a picture.

I sound like a whiny fuck because I was in Japan and I should’ve been enjoying myself, but I wasn’t. And the fact that I wasn’t enjoying myself made me that much sadder.

When I crossed the famous Shibuya crossing, I felt like I could disappear in the sea of people, and no one would care.

Is this filter emo enough to express my feelings?
Is this filter emo enough to express my feelings?

Still very much hungry, we walked around Shibuya a few minutes more until the guys finally agreed on a place to eat dinner. Allan’s dish was good. I was happy with my burger steak set, too. It went well with one of the dressings. I don’t know why I kept ordering meal sets with shrimp furai when all the previous ones I had ordered had been disappointing.

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Because I couldn’t handle the cold anymore, I went to the Forever 21 building nearby (alone, of course) and bought a sweater.

If the guys noticed my sour mood, they didn’t let it on. I honestly don’t even know if I wanted them to acknowledge my feelings anyway. I just wanted to belong, but I also didn’t want to force it.

But I don’t feel that anymore. At least not as intensely as earlier when I felt like crying. I just have to come to terms with not being part of the group. I’ll be fine if I just do my own thing.

I actually prefer to be alone tomorrow for shopping day, but Butch says he wants to join me.

Hopefully my next Japan trip will be more fun than this.

Japan Travel Diary: Asakusa and Akihabara

Japan Travel Diary: Asakusa and Akihabara

November 8, 2014

We started our first tour day in Tokyo in the afternoon, and our first stop was Sensoji Temple in Asakusa.

The first time I saw Sensoji Temple was in a photo of my mom with the instantly recognizable big red lantern.

We ate staple temple food (yakisoba paired with chicken karaage), before exploring Sensoji.

Allan and Ruther, temple food endorsers
Allan and Ruther, temple food endorsers

As we were walking around the temple, we saw a gathering of people dressed in different Japanese costumes: men wearing kimono-like worker coats, women in kimonos, and children in those same worker costumes.

These worker-like kimono costumes are called happi.
Found out that these worker-like kimono costumes are called happi.

More onlookers and costumed locals continued to gather so we hung around to see what was about to happen.

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It was a lantern parade. The men carried or pushed big, intricately-designed paper lanterns while shouting a battle cry. The women held fish-shaped paper lanterns. And they had a marching band of drums, flutes, and tiny cymbals.

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It was dark when the parade ended, so we got to see Sensoji Temple and the Five-Tiered Pagoda lit up. It was beautiful.

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We then shopped for souvenirs at the line of stalls just outside the temple. We weren’t on a tight budget, but we were still hesitant to buy stuff thinking that since this is a tourist spot, they might price their goods higher.

I bought some “lucky cat” magnets and the wind chime my mother wanted.

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At some point during shopping, the guys walked too far ahead and I was left behind. Luckily, I saw Allan stepping out one of the stores and followed him to see if he would turn back to look for me. (He didn’t.)

Then we went to Akihabara for some duty-free gadget shopping. Allan bought a fancy leather case for his new camera. I bought a waterproof pouch for my phone so that I could take selfies while submerged in water.

Otaku heaven
Otaku heaven

There were buildings housing floors of arcade games, and we went inside one of them. We tried our luck at those claw crane machines, but we weren’t able to grab any prizes.

We did find a hilarious game involving flipping tables though. It’s like those games where you hammer or punch something as hard as possible to get a high score except this one’s flipping tables, like the meme. The game starts with you choosing a scenario. (Ours were a family dinner and a nightclub scene.) Then it will play a story where the character slowly gets pissed off. You slam your hands on the table to release your building agitation. And then, once you deem it the proper time for an outburst, you flip the table. The graphics are hilarious. It even shows a slow motion, 360-degree view of the scene once the table is flipped.

Great for when you need to release some stress
Great for when you need to release some stress

We went to Akiba Achi to look for a place to have dinner and decided on a restaurant specializing in unagi or eel. One of the servers there was so cute. He had a serene face and soft features like a girl’s. He moved quickly and gracefully. I wanted to take him home.

Some people like fatty fish, but I don’t, and the unagi was really fatty. I think, for unagi, being fatty was supposed to be a virtue, but my mouth hated it. Still, I finished my bowl.

Bleeeerch!
Bleeeerch!

We then went to Golden Gai. The walk from Shinjuku Station to Golden Gai was interesting, because we found ourselves in another red light district. We were reminded of home and our world-class entertainers when we saw an establishment named Manila Boom Boom.

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Golden Gai was the type of seedy place that Allan likes with its graffitied walls, cramped bars with yellow incandescent lighting, and a constant haze of cigarette smoke. I think it’s because of his Tony Leung and Wong Kar Wai aesthetic obsession. The speakeasies looked intimidating for the uninitiated. And when we chanced a glimpse of the barmen (and women), they seemed like characters with gripping stories to tell.

Anthony Bourdain featured Golden Gai years ago in No Reservations, so maybe that’s why there were a lot of Caucasians.

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We wanted to drink, but we were too tired and still had an early morning for Meiji Shrine tomorrow. We’ll just go back another time. Hopefully, it’s not demolished by then.

Japan Travel Diary: Universal Studios Osaka and Shinkansen

Japan Travel Diary: Universal Studios Osaka and Shinkansen

November 7, 2014

This day made a huge damage to our budget.

We had a small “adventure” on our way to Universal Studios. We waited at the platform where the train to Universal Studios stops and rode the first train that arrived. We were relaxed as we talked about the highlights of our Kyoto tour yesterday, until we heard an announcement through the PA system saying that the train was going to be separated at one of the stations ahead—the first six cars will be going in one direction and the last six cars in another. We looked at each other’s befuddled faces. What if we were in the wrong car once the split happens? Should we change cars? We checked Google Maps and saw that we were not moving anywhere close to Universal Studios. The entire train line that we rode was wrong.

Although I would’ve loved to see the train cars being separated, we hopped off the train before it happened, then rode the correct one to Universal Studios.

It was already 10:15 a.m. when we arrived.

I didn’t know if it was because it was Halloween month or Japanese pop culture dictates it, but there were a lot of people in cosplays. My favorite were these three guys wearing radish costumes and one of them was carrying a tiny baby radish plushy.

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Because most of the rides had a long waiting time, we were only able to ride the Spider-Man 3D ride which was like the Transformers ride in Universal Studios Singapore. We should’ve just bought the cheaper express pass because that allowed pass holders to skip lines.

The Harry Potter park was also packed with tourists even though a timed entry system was already implemented. There were long lines everywhere. I wasn’t even able to go inside Honeydukes to buy a box of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavoured Bean or a mug of butterbeer because we didn’t have time to waste on long queues.

But Hogsmeade and Hogwarts were still a sight to see. We toured inside the Hogwarts castle. I managed to buy an overly priced Chocolate Frog so I’m happy.

Hogsmeade is filled with Muggles
Hogsmeade is filled with Muggles.

I want to go back once the hype has died down and there are fewer tourists.

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We bought our shinkansen tickets at the Universal Studios Station. It was more expensive than our round-trip flight tickets.

After eating dinner, we went back to Hotel Kinki to pick up our luggage, then we went to Shin-Osaka Station.

Shin-Osaka Station was a vast, intricate, and bustling web. Luckily, the ticketing officer at the Universal Studios Station already told us which platform to go to. The platforms for the bullet trains were outdoors so waited in the cold night.

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We rode the Nozomi train which was the fastest bullet train line.

The train was stable for something that moved so fast that you didn’t feel it shaking once you’re seated inside. The most impressive part was how the train could stop smoothly despite its high speed.

Lugging our baggage in the bullet train was no big deal because it was spacious. But once we arrived in Tokyo Station, it was a different story.

We arrived at Tokyo Station at 11 p.m., but there were still a lot of people. The train to Shinjuku was one of the older ones, so the cars were narrow. It wasn’t even rush hour, yet it was packed. What more during then?

Once we arrived in Shinjuku, we didn’t know which exit to take. We took our time figuring out which was the correct exit until we saw the exit gates in front of us being lowered down. We hurried to find another exit because we didn’t want to spend our first night in Tokyo trapped inside a train station.

Despite the lateness of the hour, our luggage situation, and our state of semi-exhaustion, we were still adamant in our refusal to hail a cab. We were in Tokyo and we welcomed adventure. So we walked from Shinjuku Station to Citadines. It was Friday night; we passed by a lot of drunk people on our way to the hotel.

We finally arrived at our hotel at 1 a.m. We were tired and happy, and we made it in one piece—that deserved a group hug. We then went to the nearby Yoshinoya to celebrate.

This is the first time I’m going to sleep with Salonpas patches on. I hope it helps relieve my tired muscles. I also have foot patches stuck on the soles of my feet that are supposed to remove toxins. We agreed to sleep in and start our tour later than usual.

Tomorrow Later we’re going to Asakusa and Akihabara.

For now, good night, Tokyo!

Japan Travel Diary: Kyoto and Dotonbori

Japan Travel Diary: Kyoto and Dotonbori

November 6, 2014

I woke up at 5 a.m. to get ready for our first day touring Japan.

We surprisingly were able to leave the hotel at our agreed time of 8 a.m. And since we had Pupuru now, we could finally use Google Maps to navigate our 10-minute walk to Osaka Station.

The station was bustling with people. The commuters walked as if following a current known only to them. We gawked for a few minutes before we finally walked through the surge of people.

I’ve been on trains before, but riding one in Japan felt different. I guess it’s because trains are almost a Japanese cultural symbol; one can read about them in their literature and see it in their movies.

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Inari Station

We had to change train lines to reach Kyoto. But since we didn’t have prepaid cards—we opted to buy single journey tickets for every train ride—we didn’t know what to do at first. At the station where the lines interchanged, we found a ticketing machine that commuters inserted their ticket into and selected a station. The machine then ejected a new ticket. We did the same thing and out came the same ticket we inserted. We concluded that we weren’t supposed to do this at the interchange. So we hopped on the train bound for Kyoto and found a similar ticketing machine at our exit station. It worked this time around. Our brains still worked! And of course we were amazed at the technology.

Our first order of business once we arrived at Fushimi Inari was breakfast. There were food stalls near the entrance to the shrine. We decided to have yakisoba and grilled pork.

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I expected Fushimi Inari to be grander, but it was pretty low-key. It was also orange, not red. I don’t know why, but I always pictured it to be red.

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There were a lot of tourists that day, so it was hard to get a photo with the torii without getting photobombed. We did the whole “praying for good luck” thing, and then we went to Kiyomizu-dera by bus.

The bus was another discovery. At stops, the bus tilted on its left side to level with the sidewalk. I think it was for the benefit of disabled people and children. It was pretty cool.

At Kiyomizu-dera, I went to Okamoto, a kimono rental place, while the guys looked for a place to have lunch. I felt pressured to quickly choose a kimono because the attendant kept checking up on me. It would’ve been easy if the only thing I had to worry about was the actual kimono but it had so many elements—the inner lining, obi, accessories. And there were hundreds to choose from. It was a decision I really didn’t want to rush. It had to be perfect.

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I wanted something with the color pink, but I also wanted to stand out from the many girls already wearing pink. I chose a purple kimono with pink accents. The inner kimono had a green collar to highlight the green colors of the outer one. My obi was beige with pink accents. They fixed my hair in 10 minutes; the whole process took about 40.

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I liked wearing the kimono because it was perfect for the cold weather. The tightness of the obi forced you to stand straight. The narrow hemline forced you to walk with tiny steps. I felt quite feminine. I think the desired silhouette for kimono-wearers is that of a bamboo—straight and narrow. I succeeded at that because my body is already straight even without wearing kimono. The guys enjoyed teasing my kimono-clad self.

We explored Kiyomizu-dera after lunch. The main temple itself was okay. I guess the place didn’t look as impressive because the leaves of the surrounding trees haven’t changed color yet when we arrived. Walking toward the edge of the terrace to join fellow tourists was worrisome, knowing that our collective weight was supported only by thick wooden stilts. Plus, the terrace itself had a slight downward incline.

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After changing back to my clothes, we left Kiyomizu-dera.

We rode the correct bus to Kyoto Station, but it went to the opposite direction. (Just like in Korea!) When we realized this, we got off at the next stop. The driver didn’t make us pay for our ride. He was so considerate.

We hung out for a while at Kyoto Station’s rooftop before returning to Osaka, because we enjoyed the cold air whipping our faces. Plus, it had a good view of the Kyoto Tower and the city’s skyline.

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Kyoto Station
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Kyoto Tower seen from the Kyoto Station observation deck

We were really hungry when we arrived in Dotonbori. It didn’t help that once we stepped off the train platform, the smell of food assaulted our senses. Even if you’re not hungry, your stomach would’ve grumbled in appreciation.

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So many food choices, so little time

We went to Ichiran to eat ramen, thanks to the suggestion of Ruther’s friend. (God bless his life, his family, and his future grandchildren.) It was monumental—not only because it was the first bowl we had in Japan, but because the ramen itself deserved a monument.

Heaven
Gateway to heaven

It was glorious. The broth really tasted like pork, so much so that I remember it better than the actual chashu. It was the perfect temperature—hot but not scalding. It had a dab of chili paste that enlivens the broth. Not one element of the ramen—from the ajitama to the noodles—outshone the other. It was a bowl of happiness and contentment.

Heaven in a bowl
*Hallelujah chorus plays in the background*

We also enjoyed the place’s cubicle setup. We agreed it was designed that way so that you can foodgasm in the privacy of your own space.

Maybe it was Japan or that we were all there together, but it was the perfect way to end our first day.

The faces of happy, satisfied people
The faces of happy, satisfied people

I called my boyfriend after eating at Ichiran because I wanted to share my overflowing happiness with him. He loves ramen more than I do. I will go back to Dotonbori and eat this ramen with him.

Japan Travel Diary: Non-Jitter Jitters

Japan Travel Diary: Non-Jitter Jitters

November 5, 2014

I’ve been waiting for this to trip to happen for months (years, even, if you count the number of times I’ve fantasized of going to Japan) and I’m not even excited.

All I’ve been focused on the past few days is getting everything ready—packing my things and making sure everything in the house is set once I leave. I even did the laundry this morning.

I can’t sleep anymore so I’m  spending the remaining flight time writing today’s entry on the plane. Allan manifests his excitement by being stressed. Ruther is pretty laidback. I wonder how Butch, who will be flying from Taiwan, is feeling. Earlier we sent him a picture of us three before we turned off our phones.

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See you in Japan, Butch!

The pilot just announced that we’re about to land so I’ll have to stop writing. I’m still not pumped up. I guess I’ll be once I’m through immigration. Then I can finally stop worrying.

***

Upon arrival at Kansai, we learned that Butch’s flight got pushed back. Our agreement was that we will go ahead without him if he gets delayed for more than an hour. We messaged him through Viber before we left and lost the free Wi-Fi at the airport.

The bus that would take us near our hotel was at Terminal 1, bus stop 5. This bus dropped us off at Osaka Station near Hotel New Hankyu.

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We were clueless on how to get to our hotel. But still, we refused to take a taxi. Allan dragged us to the front of Osaka Station to take pictures and, luckily, there we found a locality map showing Hotel Kinki. Allan took a photo of the map using his phone and we used it as our guide.

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By that time, I was finally giddy with excitement. I was outside the streets of Japan and potentially getting lost in the cold autumn night.

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We walked for thirty to forty minutes, all the while dragging our luggage. We almost missed Hotel Kinki, because though you could glimpse it from the sidewalk, it wasn’t exactly on it. I’m proud to say I was the one who spotted it.

The area around Hotel Kinki was like a low-key red light district. But it felt safe; we weren’t harassed when we explored the alleys.

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We learned that you need an ID to verify if you’re of age to buy cigarettes from a vending machine. A Japanese man who saw our confusion inserted himself in our huddle and tapped his wallet on the machine and out came Allan’s pack. We also discovered a Coco Ichibanya Curry during our stroll which made Allan really happy because eating at Coco Curry was one of his goals in Japan. And then Butch arrived and joined us at the restaurant. We were finally complete.

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Roomies!

Our room, where I’m writing, is clean and spacious enough. It has a lot of power outlets. But the best thing about it is the separate toilet and shower. Very convenient for Butch and me because it will save preparation time in the morning.

It’s almost 2 a.m. and I set my alarm at 6 a.m.

Tomorrow Later, we’ll be exploring Kyoto, where I’ll have my Memoirs of a Geisha moment at Fushimi Inari Shrine.

It’s never too early to plan for your Japan trip

I’ve always wanted to go to Japan. Every picture of destinations in Japan and every show or movie shot in it makes the country seem like a fascinating place to be in. I’m also curious about the country because I love Japanese food and grew up on anime. I got to live out my Japan travel dreams last November. To all of you guys who also have Japan in your travel bucket list, here are some quick facts about my Japan trip to help you plan yours.

Visa requirements

For Filipinos, the application process for a Japanese tourist visa is pretty straightforward. You only need to submit the requirements through accredited travel agencies. There’s no need to go to the embassy anymore. A round trip plane ticket isn’t one of the required documents so it’s up to you if you want to buy one before or after you apply for a visa. Time your application to your flight because a Japanese tourist visa is only valid for three months. Our visa application at Reli Tours & Travel Agency cost Php 1,200. Results of the application are released a week after submission, at the latest.

When to go

Once you and your travel buddies have decided that you’re going to Japan, one of the first things you have to consider is the timing of your trip. Japan has four seasons. Right now, it’s spring and cherry blossoms are blooming. I haven’t experienced cherry blossom season so if we want to, we still have a whole year to save for it. Let’s prepare our pockets though because this is peak season. Hotel rates and plane tickets could get pricey.

You might want to go during winter to experience snow but consider that you’ll have to buy bulky winter clothes that will occupy a chunk of your storage space and you’ll never be able to use them in the Philippines. You could go in summer but then Philippine summers are much better because of our many beautiful beaches so why bother? My friends and I went on a week-long trip in autumn because we wanted to experience sweater weather without the hassle of dealing with snow.

Where to go

Sensō-ji, Asakusa, Tokyo

Japan is divided into prefectures each with their own thing going on. We wanted to visit so many places like Nara to see a deer up close or Hiroshima for the floating torii or even Hokkaido for the food. And it’s possible to see all these places in the span of a week if you avail of the Japan Rail (JR) Pass.

The JR Pass gives you unlimited access to all JR trains including their shinkansen or bullet train. It’s available for foreign tourists only. You have to buy the ticket in advance through a travel agency and have it exchanged for the actual pass upon arrival in Japan.

We were tempted to buy the pass but we knew we wouldn’t be able to maximize it. Availing the JR Pass would pressure us to see as many sights as possible without actually appreciating them so we decided against it. Plus, it was expensive.

We focused on three cities for our trip instead. We went to Osaka, the nearby Kyoto and then took a one-way shinkansen to Tokyo.

How much do you need

Hogwarts Castle, Universal Studios, Osaka

Another major travel consideration is how much money you’d need for a trip, mainly airfare and accommodation. It’s easy to find cheap plane tickets if you have patience and foresight. Just wait for the many Cebu Pacific seat sales and you could purchase a round trip ticket to Japan for less than Php 10,000. We booked ours for Php 7,900 (USD 180) in one of those piso fare promos in celebration of Labor Day.

Our accommodation of two rooms for six nights cost each of us Php 18,400 (USD 415). To be more specific, that’s Php 4,100 for two nights in Osaka and Php 14,300 for four nights in Tokyo. This sounds expensive but bear in mind that it’s Japan; everything’s more expensive. You could definitely find cheaper accommodation though. There are inns, dormitories and capsule hotels that run at around Php 1,000-1,500 a night. However, you have to share bathrooms with other guests and if I’m not mistaken, some shared bathrooms in Japan don’t have individual stalls. So depending on your traveling style, airfare and one-week accommodation range from Php 20,000 to 30,000.

My friends and I wanted a comfortable trip so we opted to stay in strategically-located hotels with bathrooms all to ourselves. We agreed that our airfare and accommodation should not exceed Php 30,000, so in our minds, we actually saved a few bucks.

Another variable to consider is your pocket money. How much of it you need for your trip will depend on what activities you’ll be doing. If you’ll only be sightseeing, you can have a smaller budget. But if you plan to go to theme parks and ride the shinkansen, that would increase significantly.

The Sorting Hat placed me in House Lannister. Weird.

Most people visit Universal Studios in Osaka especially Potterheads because of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. A one-day pass at Universal is around Php 2,700 (USD 60). You could save a little if you go for the Universal Express Pass which I recommend if you want to avoid the long lines.

A one-way shinkansen ride from Osaka to Tokyo is around Php 5,500 (USD 125). If you’ll be coming from a different city and want to find out how much a shinkansen trip would cost, you can check out fares here and trip schedules here. The information given in those links can be confusing but you can always ask for bullet train schedules from information counters at train stations. You can also buy your tickets directly from them.

We bought our shinkansen tickets from the information counter on the Universal Studios platform. The receptionist told us which platform we should wait on once we arrive at the Shin-Osaka station. In the vastness of Shin-Osaka, it is highly likely that we might’ve missed our train if not for her directions.

The cheaper way to get to Tokyo from Osaka is by bus. Traveling by bus takes around 8 hours while the shinkansen takes two hours. Buses range in price depending on the type of bus but all of them are cheaper than taking the bullet train.

Food and transportation (excluding shinkansen) for a seven-day trip will cost around Php 10,000 (USD 230). This budget already includes a semi-fancy sushi meal at Tsukiji Fish Market. Of course you can cut down expenses by eating cup noodles and other convenience store food but why the fuck would you do that? Japan has so many delicious things to offer. Eat those things! Scrimp on everything else but not on food.

Where to eat

Since we’re on the topic of food, here are some places where you wouldn’t regret spending your money:

Ramen at Ichiran Ramen, Dotonbori, Osaka – Life-changing!

Sutameshi at Sutameshi Dondon, Shibuya, Tokyo

It’s difficult to find Sutameshi Dondon on Google Maps but you could search for “Napoli’s Pizza & Caffe, Shibuya” and it’s the one beside that. It’s in between Napoli’s and Gaspanic Shibuya. If you’re going to the statue of Hachiko at Shibuya Station, it’s the street across Hachiko.

Omakase at Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo – for sushi and sashimi lovers

Coco Curry House, various outlets across Japan – My friend will be mad if I don’t include Coco Curry on this list even though there’s already Coco Curry here in Manila.

Honestly, it’s hard to have bad food in Japan. Even the yakisoba and chicken karaage that you can buy from food stalls at shrines are good. At worst, you’re going to have boring food. But a bad food experience in Japan is unlikely. Unless you eat natto, I guess.

Okonomiyaki!

Where to stay

Hotel Kinki, Osaka

The name of our hotel in Osaka may not be promising and even though it’s located in a red light district, the area doesn’t feel unsafe. Hotel Kinki has clean rooms and is only a ten-minute walk away from Osaka Station.

One of the challenges of traveling is the morning preparation and what I like about the rooms in Hotel Kinki is their toilets and bathrooms are separate. If someone is pooping, the other person doesn’t have to wait for him/her to finish in order to bathe. Also, the sink is outside the shower so one person could brush their teeth while the other person is bathing. It’s a time-saver.

Citadines, Shinjuku, Tokyo

Citadines is an apartment hotel so our rooms were spacious. It had a small kitchen (with utensils!), a desk big enough that you could actually see yourself working on it for a few hours, and comfortable, clean beds. It’s a five-minute walk from the nearest train station which is Shinjuku Sanchome. I have absolutely no complaints on this hotel except that it was expensive. But we were in a central area of Tokyo so it wasn’t much of an issue.

Getting around

Trains and buses are the cheapest and easiest way to travel in Japan. The trains can be a little confusing. We rode the wrong bus and train at least three times. To minimize riding the wrong train, download Japan train apps on your smartphones. They’re incredibly useful.

You can buy postpaid cards to ride buses and trains. When we were researching about them, we learned that there are different cards for different lines or train companies. It was complicated and we didn’t know if we would be able to maximize postpaid cards since we’re going to different prefectures so we decided we’ll just buy a ticket every time we ride a train.

You’ll also need a pocket wi-fi to get around. Aside from posting awesome photos on Instagram, we used it mainly for Google Maps and talking to each other when we split up.

You can rent a pocket wi-fi in Japan on a daily rate. We rented two pocket wi-fi from Pupuru for seven days which cost Php 4,600 (USD 105). You have to purchase Pupuru at least a week before your arrival date. Once they’ve confirmed payment, they will deliver the device directly to your hotel in time for your arrival. There’s no need to worry if you’ll land in one city and leave from another. The cost of Pupuru already covers postage fee, so after your trip, all you need to do is drop the device in any mailbox you can find. The instructions will also be on the package itself.

Those are the basic stuff you need to know in order to prepare for your Japan trip. I know this won’t be the only blog you’ll be reading for tips. We researched a lot, too, when we were planning ours. It’s tedious work but if you want to make the most out of your travel, then it’s worth it.

Here’s some torii at Fushimi Inari-taisha to wish you all the best on your travels.