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  • Writer's pictureRuss Tierney

Japan - An Itinerary - 17 days - Week 1

Japan - An Itinerary - 17 days which is absolutely not enough!

So it's August, and we fly out at the end of the month. It's my first time on a plane in 21 years I think, and I'm writing this a day after I just rewatched the movie "Flight" - so if we're going down, at this point I'll take a drunk Denzel Washington to glide us upside down to 'safety'. I figured I'd share with you all what we're doing, minus the hotels of course for security reasons, even if Japan is considered one of the safest most considerate and low crime places in the world.. plus we can talk hotels in a blog when I'm back.. probably with endless photos of, well, everything! For some reason, in Japan travel groups on Facebook, people are always asking for itineraries, which seems strange to me that you'd make up your mind to go somewhere, spend all that money, and then not have a clue what you want to do - but hey ho, hopefully you're here for ideas in the research stage rather than wanting to copy somebody else's plans. Equally thankfully, as the UK is maybe a little less crime-free, we've family back home while we're away, so they'll be looking after our homes, so I feel quite comfortable sharing the excitement.

We fly out from Manchester on Sunday 27th, but only down to London so we can avoid dodgy trains and the roads delaying us, and then from London is where we actually take the 14-hour stint to Tokyo, arriving at 11am(ish) Monday morning. From there we have to do all the formalities of course before exchanging our paperwork for the JR pass (Japan Rail) and me picking up a pre-ordered SIM card given I don't have a eSIM compatible phone - I never even knew that was a thing 'til a week ago. At some point, as the JR pass doesn't cover many of the local metro lines, we'll need to get an IC card for at least one part of the way on our journey heading in to central Tokyo to our hotel, and of course the multiple local journeys there after - I say need, you can of course buy tickets from a machine too. I won't go into the JR pass in much more detail, I'll just advise you do a little research to see if it benefits you buying one, or whether simply buying your tickets individually will be cheaper in the long run. If you're doing bigger journeys often, it's considered a good thing, but there is going to be a price hike come October too!

Anyways, IC cards, or at least the most talked about SUICA card, are harder to come by at the moment due to a shortage of chips. I gather we can get ones with our names on as foreigners regardless, in much the same way the JR Pass is reserved for named travellers rather than residents. This may or may not be the 'Welcome SUICA' card, I'm not sure. People are making a mountain out of a mole hill about IC cards at the moment it seems, as it's my understanding that the whole named version of the thing is still available for tourists, and as mentioned, I've read that the 'welcome' card is available at airports, just not at stations any more. Apparently there are other cards available regardless too. A SUICA type card allows you to preload it with credit for travelling on non-JR-lines, but they can also be used to pay for things at certain shops and vending machines, but ultimately, the real use for travellers is doing the old tap and go to get on to trains, and what not, pretty hassle-free without a language barrier. I think the biggest draw back of the welcome SUICA is that you don't get your balance refunded at the end, so you don't want to be preloading it with plenty of money nearing the end of your trip. They do have digital SUICA wallets too that you can use on your iPhone, but I have a feeling they don't have them on androids yet, either way, I'll try and pick-up a card at the airport as I'm pretty sure it's the same terminal as my SIM pick up.

Day 1 There's not much to report here. We obviously pass through the airport, get confused by the transport system and make our way to check in at our 'hotel', which by public transport is between 45 mins to an hour away from where we land. Obviously, Japan is renowned for their trains and how on time they are, but I gather this can change during typhoon season, which of course is when we're there! In fairness, they have much the same seasons as we do, but I've read their real rainy season seems to be summer too, in June/July, and that typhoon season is winding down as we're there. I've been told by a local that it gets hot and humid, and we should mostly avoid rain, so fingers crossed for very little rain! Not because I'll mind too much, as neon lit wet streets will probably be amazing to photograph, but it may quash some plans. Anyways, we really wanted to do a capsule hotel, and we figured at the point of minimal luggage from not buying stuff yet, and probably maximum tiredness, this was the day to do it! Hopefully we'll have a few hours to have a wonder and snap some photos locally before passing out with jet lag, and of course there's the matter of food n such.

Day 2

We head North to Mount Haruna, which is quite possibly the most challenging journey we have in terms of navigation (not distance) because it was also the one that confused us the most when using Dr Google. As you may have seen from my previous blog, Mount Haruna is the real life mountain that the fictional mountain in the anime Initial D is based on, and was a request of my nephews. You can get a bus up the mountain from our hotel near there, where at the top there's a lake and some scenery. Said scenery includes a 'mini Mount Fuji'. Hopefully it'll be a peaceful start to the holiday, so we can get settled in and digest the commute and our short stint in Tokyo, and hopefully we'll also be a little more confident travelling with a language barrier against us. I can speak a little Japanese... watashi wa sukoshi nihongo ga hanasemasu... but I'm not fluent enough to get us out of trouble. The hardest part is the sheer amount of vocabulary, especially recalling 'masu' verbs for different actions, and then doubting it when you want to recall it. I think we figured this was on the way to Kyoto somewhat when we booked hotels and started planning, and then when we sat down, we found out that was not quite the case! The 2.5 -3 hour journey is a snip compared to tomorrow!

Day 3

Kyoto, a mere 5 hours away, mostly because we have to do the 2.5 hours back to Tokyo as it's quicker to travel along the south coast than it is across the country for some reason. Possibly we'll break up the journey with an hour in Tokyo for food or something, I duno, i've not spoken to the guys yet about it, but in fairness, we should get views of the proper Fuji in passing and have some stunning coastal views too, so it won't be the end of the world. From Tokyo to Kyoto we'll be on a shinkanzen, aka bullet train, there may also even be one for part of the journey from Haruna to Tokyo, but we'll have to keep the JR passes in mind to make the most of them. They cover various bullets and some non-JR lines, but certainly not the majority. We have nothing written down for day three, it was suggested that we do lake Haruna today originally, but with such a massive journey ahead, and hopefully plenty of time the day before, and possibly the potential of a lake sunset I guess, I think we should do the lake on day 2 given we'll have little chance to sleep in in a capsule hotel, so can get on the move nice and early.

Day 4

This is where we part ways with half our group. Two of the guys are learning to forge swords the traditional way. They'll head a couple of hours out and make a Japanese kogatana with an artisan swordsmith. As both Marc and Dex do Iaido (a Japanese martial art that emphasizes being aware and capable of quickly drawing the sword and responding to sudden attacks), the concept of forging their own Japanese kogatanas using the same techniques as a full size katana was an exciting prospect. They can legally bring back their own creation to the UK given the size of Japanese kogatanas too.

Myself and my other newphew Linc have a day to wonder Kyoto, but I've outlined that I want to visit the Fushimi Inari Shrine during it. It's only about 30mins on the train, I think, and that includes the walking. The famous endless red gates are an image that I have seen across the internet for many many years, and it's one that I have always been drawn to, yet I had no idea where it was until researching this Japan trip. As unimpressive as it may seem, it's actually a bucket list shot. Maybe with a model more so than on its own, but i'll take what I can get. Behind the shrine, these gates extend up the mountain, which is a daunting prospect given how poor my knees are, but i'd like to go to the halfway point where there are views over Kyoto. We can explore the culture along the way as there are shops and stops, some of the little nooks look interesting in themselves. Check out the video below.. I don't think we need to head to the very top.

The great thing about Japan is there are shrines everywhere, and major train stations are also typically big shopping precincts too, so even just aimlessly wandering near the major station we'll find plenty to look at, or shops to mooch around. Then of course we'll join up with the others later and explore locally further, assuming our bed aren't calling.

Day 5

Staying pretty local to our base, we'll head to the Samurai & Ninja Museum. There was talk about doing it as part of a tour where we visit a few shrines with guides, and it either starting or finishing at the museum, but I'm not sure if we're doing that now. The tour seemed something we could possibly do off our own backs, however, what we are doing is a cutting experience! Tying in with the Iaido, this was one planned by Marc as he often trains to cut here in the UK himself, but having grew up doing martials arts and around swords myself, it's something i'm sure i'll appreictae too. With it being Japan, it'll certainly be a unquie experience, especially with potentially being in close proximity to samurai armour! As always during the trip, and assuming they let me, i'll have my cameras close to hand so I can relive it all back in the UK in while editing and share it here. Half the excitement for me is photographing the activties as much as seeing them first hand.

Day 6 Is another one for the walking boots. As we're staying pretty central in Kyoto, I've worked out a round route we can take on foot to check out three things on our list that are never more than about half an hour way from our hotel, and less than that from one another.

Sanjūsangen-dō - home of the 1000 Kannons. A temple with 1,001 statues of Kannon, the goddess of compassion in her thousand-armed incarnation - check out more information here.

Sannenzaka Ninenzaka - traditional Japan. A narrow widing road with restored wooden townhouses which are now occupied by cozy tea houses, traditional restaurants, and shops selling snacks and handmade crafts.

And finally, Gion, Kyoto’s geisha district. I think technically Sannenzaka Ninenzaka is also classed as Gion but it is 10 mins out of where Dr Googles takes us to the above view of Sannenzaka Ninenzaka, so I imagine we can expect more of the same but expanded somewhat. I believe working geisha are often walking the streets here, and there are signs asking you to not stop and ask to photograph them as they have places to be! Click here for more information - apparently, the best plan is no plan!

Day 7

About an hour and 20 on the train, we head to our next hotel in Osaka. We toyed with the idea of either just staying in Kyoto, or just staying in Osaka given it's not too bad of a journey to get to either, and I think we settled on the former initially. I then had the brain wave that we'd miss out on too much nightlife in Osaka, or more importaintly for me, 'that' neon laden shot of Tsutenkaku Tower and it's surroundings, so we should consider pitching up there too. I was picturing British summers where it's still light after 10pm, but from research, in Japan it always gets dark between about 5 and 7! If you don't know what I mean by that shot by the way, just check out the search on Google here. With such a short journey, we should have plenty of time explore some parts of Osaka. Again, with the assistance of Dr Google, I have found a route to a bunch of sights I'd like to see. Things like the tower are only a short walk from the hotel too, so of a night, an aimless walk with the camera could be in order. A few musts for me are Namba Yasaka Jinja, which is in part a dragon shaped shrine, and then in the main town you have the famous Glico Running Man, plus there's the shopping area of Amerikamura which is a street fashion and street food vibe.

We could have made a case to stay longer in Osaka and visit neighbouring places too, some of which i'll cover in the third part of this blog given it should be shorter as we're not in Japan for a full 3rd week, so check back soon for week two and that one!



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