Japan Trip 2016 Part 1/2




My wife and I just came back from a trip to Japan in early June, and it's a fascinating and memorable one.

After a "not-so-good" experience from a group tour to Jiangnan area of China 2 years ago, we decided that we will backpack to Japan this time, and plan everything on our own.

The plan started in December 2015, in which we decided to go to Kansai area (Osaka & Kyoto). This trip marks our 10th year wedding anniversary. 

We booked air tickets through Airasia X in January 2016, and accommodation through Booking.com & airbnb.com.

Initially we planned a 7 days 6 nights tour, with 4 nights in Kyoto, followed by 2 nights in Osaka.

However, we heard from a friend in May that the snow wall in Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is opened to public at that period of time (mid April to mid June every year).

This Alpine Route is famous for its high snow wall. Since it is not too far away from Kyoto, we decided to change our original plan to add in two tourist attractions further up north-east, which are the Alpine route and Shirakawa-go.



Besides from Kyoto, these 2 tourist attractions can also be reached easily from the south/east direction such as Nagoya and Tokyo.

Luckily Booking.com has free cancellation 3 days before check-in. So we cancelled the initial hotel bookings done through Booking.com. Homestay reservation through airbnb could not be changed so we did not cancel it.

Our schedule was changed to first 2 nights in Kanazawa, followed by 4 nights in Kyoto and a day without hotel stay in Osaka before heading to airport for a midnight flight.

However, Airasia X then changed our return flight schedule from 0005H-0620H to 1640H-2240H. This has affected us a lot because we need to stay another night in Japan and another night in KL. So, there were 2 extra night stays in hotels.

Our final schedule:

Departure Flight
Penang (1925H)- KL (2025H)
Next day: KL (0815H) - Osaka Kansai Airport (1540H)

Accommodation
1 night in Tune Hotel KLIA2
2 nights in Kanazawa
2 nights in Kyoto Arashiyama area
2 nights in Kyoto Station area
1 night in Osaka
1 night in Tune Hotel KLIA2

Return Flight
Osaka Kansai Airport (1640H) - KL (2240H)
Next day: KL (1035H) - Penang (1135H)


Final Itinerary in Japan

Day 1: Kansai airport - Kanazawa
Day 2: Kanazawa - Alpine route - Kanazawa
Day 3: Kanazawa - Shirakawa-go - Kanazawa - Kyoto Arashiyama
Day 4: West Kyoto (Arashiyama) & North Kyoto
Day 5: Central Kyoto & South Kyoto
Day 6: East Kyoto
Day 7: Kyoto - Osaka
Day 8: Osaka - Kansai airport


Japan has one of the most efficient public transport system and it is very true.

Since we are travelling long distance between Osaka-Kyoto-Kanazawa-Toyama, we bought a rail pass online which covers all these areas before we travel.

There are 2 prominent websites which sell Japan rail pass online, they are www.japanrailpass.net and www.japan-rail-pass.com. I chose the latter which was more fitted to my plan.

This rail pass is only eligible for foreigners. I purchased two 5-day Central Pass (Takayama Hokuriku Pass) which cost me USD123 per person, plus a shipping fee of USD16. The pass were sent to me in about 3 days time. However, this pass cannot be used until it is converted to a real pass in Japan with your passport.




I chose this pass mainly because it covers bus to Shirakawa-go as well (orange route above), and my long distance travelling is mostly on the first 3 days and I don't really need it beyond that. You can't use this pass when travelling on local trains within the cities of Kanazawa, Kyoto and Osaka.

Other website www.japanrailpass.com sells 7-day pass for almost similar region but does not cover bus to Shirakawa-go.


       Area covered during the trip


The transport system in Kyoto & Osaka looks a bit complicated because they are run by different companies besides the city council and Japan Railway (JR), such as Keihan, Hankyu, Kintetsu, Keifuku, Nankai, Hanshin etc. If you buy a transport day pass with unlimited rides within a city, it might not cover everything but most will be covered.

In Kyoto, each bus ride carries a fixed rate of Y230. If you take bus rides more than 2 times a day, then it is advisable to get a Kyoto city bus one-day pass that costs Y500 per adult (children Y250). If you plan to take subway frequently besides bus, then there is a bus+subway pass that costs Y1200 a day (children Y600).

I only use bus pass which can be bought at the bus office in front of Kyoto Station north exit and also conveniently from the driver in the bus.

All the buses are "traveler-friendly", as there is a LED TV inside the bus that shows the next & subsequent stops that the bus will make, besides the audio announcement. You get on the bus through the rear door and get off through the front door. You have to press the bell for the bus to stop at the next stop, and pay into a machine beside the driver or show the pass to the driver while alighting the bus.

To travel in Kyoto by bus, you need to have a bus map which should be available at major stations. Just follow the bus number and colour code to see which stops the bus will make. Each bus stop will show what time the bus will reach.


       Kyoto Bus Map: A must-have in Kyoto

For convenience, one can use an IC card or rechargeable prepaid card to pay for buses, subways and trains. For example there is ICOCA card issued by JR West for Kansai area (Osaka). SUICA card is the same thing but it is issued by JR East for Kanto area (Tokyo). Of course you can only buy ICOCA card in Kansai area but it can also be used in Tokyo area. They are exactly like Touch n Go card in Malaysia.

We bought "Kansai One Pass" which is a special edition of ICOCA card by JR West. It is an ICOCA card with additional offers & discounts at certain shopping facilities. We bought it at JR West office at Kansai airport station while exchanging for JR rail pass. Kansai One Pass user has to pay Y3000 per card (Y2000 for normal ICOCA card) including a Y500 deposit. The card can be reloaded at any ticket  vending machines at train/subway stations.




You might also heard of ICOCA & Haruka. It is just a normal ICOCA card plus a one-time or round-trip discount ticket for Haruka train between Kansai airport - Osaka - Kyoto. The discount seems not much but we didn't need it anyway since we have already bought the JR rail pass.

During our trip, we used JR rail pass for travels between cities such as Kansai airport, Osaka, Kyoto, Kanazawa & Toyama. As our rail pass only valid for 5 days, we used the Kansai One Pass to pay for trains from Kyoto to Osaka on day 7 (Y560) and Osaka(Tennoji) to Kansai airport on day 8 (Y1060).

When taking the trains, there are a few things to take note. There are a few types of trains such as normal, limited express, rapid service & special rapid service trains. It's not that those trains are travelling at different speed, but just stop at fewer stops along the same route. Even for intra-city trains there are such difference. So just check whether the train stops at your destination before boarding other than a normal train.

In Malaysia we call every segment of the train "coach" but in Japan and perhaps other countries, they are called "car". Before you take intercity trains, just make sure you wait at the right place on the platform. Some cars are only for reserved seats and some for non-reserved seats. During our trip, we only take non-reserved seats but we always got our seats without much difficulty.

When you take a train from Osaka to Kansai Airport, even though you are on a correct train, do not think that you can sleep all the way to the airport station unless you are in the correct car. The train that we took split into two before reaching airport, in which one half traveling to airport and the other half to other place.


       The "Haruka"

When travelling within a city, we didn't use the ICOCA Kansai One Pass for most of the time, as we can save some money by using a day pass with unlimited rides.

We bought a bus-only day pass in Kyoto on day 5 and day 6. In Osaka on day 7, we bought a one-day "Enjoy Eco Card" at subway station ticket vending machine which cost Y600 during weekend (Y800 during weekday). This card gives unlimited rides on buses and subways in Osaka.

In Osaka, we didn't take any bus as our hotel is very close to a subway station. We did take a tram ride which was not covered by the day pass.

There are numerous day-passes available such as Osaka Amazing Pass (Y2300 per day) which also covers admission fees to various tourist spots. We didn't buy this because it is not worth for our plan. Actually we have decided on which day pass to buy before coming to Japan.

While doing research for this trip, I have benefited tremendously from related articles and websites available online. So, I will share my experience in this blog so that those who are interested can benefit from it, besides keeping all those memories here before I lose them.

I will write about this trip in more detail in the next part of this article. However, I can't ensure that all the information written here are accurate and up-to-date.

Part 2 to follow...


http://bursadummy.blogspot.my/2016/07/japan-trip-2016-part-12.html