We’d been to Japan once before and wanted to see some different things this time around. The Kansai region was high on the list and wife 2.0 had earmarked Osaka for a shopping jaunt. Me? A little sightseeing and sampling the local food and beverage offerings keeps me happy.
A Songkran escapade – there aren’t too many times of the year when Thais can take an extended vacation and with the Mrs organizing some leave we managed to stitch 10 days together out of Thailand.
This turned out to be one of the best trips we’ve had together.
We had a stopover in SIN on the way and stayed a few nights around Clarke Quay. After checking-in we soaked in their rooftop hot tub for a while which was instant stress relief.
Then off to grab some chow – Had trouble finding a decent place to eat within our budget. Settled on Hooters and tucked into some oysters and the Mrs loved ’em.
Next day, up early and headed out to the Gardens by the Bay. Enjoyed them, and then made a crazy trek back to the MRT station via Marina Bay Sands. Think I (as chief navigator) missed a turn-off somewhere! It happens to the best of us!
Remember getting caught in a rainstorm out in Little India – not sure why we had ventured out that way, maybe just for a butchers?
And we finally got around to sampling the Chilli crab. Not a huge fan but when in Rome ..
Hello Japan, again
Oh how we’ve missed you! After settling into seats 60A and 60B we landed at Narita in the early evening after a 9.30 AM departure from Changi.
This time around we purchased JR (Japan Rail) 7 day passes, and when we rocked up to the Narita JR office to exchange the coupons for passes we found it was packed (This is something you need to factor in, and can be a real hassle at the end of a long flight!). Time for plan B.
We decided just to pay for the N’EX tickets into Shinjuku and get our passes the next day. As we had one day either side of the 7 days we were going to have to pay for one airport transfer in any case. After alighting at Tokyo station we made our way to the ComSoleil Hotel in Shiba. Super hotel, reasonably priced and not far from the Daimon metro station (A09 E20). Bit of a pain, had to change twice to get there – not sure if there’s a better way?
Editors Note: Yes there is! Skip the subway and take the JR Yamanote loop line instead. Doh!
Ate at one of the local bars near the hotel, my standard M.O after a long travel day.
Day 2 – Tokyo to Takayama
We headed back to Tokyo station and got our JR passes proper (took an hour or so!) then hightailed it in the Shinkansen to Nagoya before transferring to the Limited Express Hida. The trip up the mountains from Nagoya is postcard perfect.
Got out at Takayama and it was freezing. Like brass monkey cold! Hadn’t factored this into the clothing equation 🙁
Treated ourselves and stayed one night at the Takayama Ouan. Hi-so hotel just down from the train station. As I’m sporting as much ink as Mike Tyson, onsens can be a bit tricky for me. Crazy rule but have to respect the culture when in another country.
It wasn’t cheap, ¥20,000 for the night, but the private onsen with an open view of the mountains made it all worthwhile. (No you can’t see the pics!)
Nightlife in Takayama
After filling up on exceptional Sushi, there are a couple of bars worth hitting in T-town. I’ll warn you that the bar area is a little hard to find, especially on a cold, dark night. Without a smartphone.
Think of the best bar you have ever been to. Got it? This one is better, I assure you. In a class of it’s own thanks to the owner Ken. Don’t believe me? Read this review first, then undertake any further detective work you feel is needed (It will be wasted time).
Here’s more from the beardedkaiju:
But its not just the drunken parties that make Desolation Row so great. The space itself is beautiful in a hole-in-the-wall kind of way. Most of Desolation Row is filled with the bar itself: a six inch slab of an ancient Japanese tree. Ask Kensei about it and you’ll find that though it weighs a ton, it traveled to Desolation Row from Kensei’s old bar, a herculean feat Kensei probably did with ease. Handmade shelves are crammed with vinyl and CDs. The back of the bar is a cozy space that features a Botsudan, a traditional Japanese shrine for dead ancestors, but don’t worry, Kensei got it purified before he got it put in his bar.
The first night we tried to get there we got close but couldn’t find it (hey all I had was my Lonely Planet guide and the maps in them aren’t always the best.)
Tip: Look for the blue door and when you get there make sure to try a few of the local Whiskeys. They are sensational, trust me. Oh and at least a dozen icy cold Sapporos should pass your parched throat.
Day 3 – Shirakawa-go day trip
Up early and down to the train station to stash the bags in lockers then we booked a day trip out to the UNESCO area of Shirakawa-go. While I’m not a huge fan of bus trips this seemed the easiest way.
The bus station is conveniently located next to the train station and we just wandered in and picked one of the trips on offer. It included two villages and a lunch stop.
This turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip and I have the Mrs to thank as it wasn’t on my radar.
Back in town in the late afternoon, we found a great little hostel priced at just ¥10,000 and we also stopped in at the local Thai restaurant (every town has one right?) and discovered that they too have rooms available.
Hit the Red Hill Pub that night (an expat hot-spot) and after a few drinks headed back to Desolation Row. No contest, really.
We also hit a small bar run by a Star Trek mad Japanese guy and had a bit of a chat. Jazz-themed, I can’t recall the name – sorry. (A quick googling suggests it might be Haruton)
Day 4 – On to Kyoto
Bags packed we made our way to the station (at least I did – the Mrs had gone to check out the morning markets in the Old Town) to once again stash them in lockers and explore a little more of the town before heading to Kyoto.
Taking the train back down the mountain and then a Shinkansen on to Kyoto was enough for the day. We found a great Ryokan style hotel near the Kyoto station which had an onsen accessible to the tattooed.
Maccas for dinner – some nights you have to, eh! And of course, I grabbed some of those 500ml cans of Japanese beer from the mini-mart. C’mon you know I did!
Day 5 – Sightseeing in Kyoto then on to Osaka
Kyoto – think Temples, Geishas and Climate Change. And more temples.
Should have allowed more time in Kyoto, but hey you’re not going to see everything anyway. The money runs out sooner or later 🙂
Bags stowed (again) got the subway to Keage then a 15-minute walk to Nanzen-ji. Good choice! Lovely temple grounds, we wandered, thought spiritual thoughts and took some great photos. Tried to hike to Nanzen-ji Oku-no-in but didn’t make the distance. Oh to be fitter, I guess.
Exiting the temple we traced the well-trodden and picturesque Philosophers path to Ginkaku-ji which was worth the entrance fee. Some more digital snaps and then it was time to head back to the station, retrieve our bags and head for Osaka, only a short train ride away. Kyoto and Osaka are very close to each other – only about 30 minutes on the bullet train.
I had pre-booked a business style hotel (Daiwa Roynet) in Osaka for three nights (¥52,000). Was pleasant enough with a good bath – always nice to soak tired feet at the end of a long day.
Pop quiz: What do Thai women love to do? (Ok, so women in general.) Did you answer Shopping? Well done you!
The last few days were spent eating and shopping and we were both happy to spend our time that way. I explored the seedy shops around Den Den town while the wife hit up various cosmetics retailers.
I think we both came away with what we were looking for 🙂
Walking around Dōtonbori at night is a good way to kill a few hours. Make sure you eat plenty of takoyaki and take a picture of the Gilco man sign.
Another gem that we came across. A small izakaya located near our hotel, we feasted on the fried chicken that owner Ryuji kept turning out. A spiritual dining experience in of itself. Just go and thank me later! (PH: 06-6223-5805)
Japan is a smokers paradise – be warned if you hate 2nd hand smoke. (you still smoke? In 2017?)
Before we knew it, the time had come to head to Kansai International airport (KIX) to grab a flight back home.
- Lockers at train stations are great to stow your bags during the day. Make sure you pack light and don’t have super-sized suitcases.
- There are two ways to get to Tokyo proper from Narita airport. The Narita Express (NEX) which heads for Shinjuku and surrounds or the Keisei Skyliner which goes to Namba station. The Skyliner is a little quicker and may suit you better so check them both out! (If using the JR pass you need to take the N’EX)
- You need to buy the JR Rail Pass outside of Japan (I’m sure you knew that already)
- I could have planned the trip better. Should have flown into Kansai instead of Tokyo, methinks
PS: It’s hard to get great value out of the JR pass. You need to be on the go pretty much all the time. Worked out well for us with a 7 night/8 day Japan trip.
PPS: Hotel walk-ins in Japan are not the norm and can be sometimes difficult. This takes some spontaneity out of the trip.