This is a bit of a recap for my wife and I’s trip to Japan in the summer of 2018. I figured I’d write some of it down before it turned to a blur! Our goal for this vacation was to have enough time to appreciate everyday Japan. We also were taking a late honeymoon and celebrated our one year wedding anniversary in Japan. This trip was made possible by wedding “gifts” from family and friends through Wanderable at https://wanderable.com/hm/swanspoon. We really appreciated the monetary help for airfare, fancy meals, sake, arcades, and general fun. We are soo thankful that we had the support to make the trip more special than we could have made it alone!
The general trip timeline began on Sept. 6th as we flew from Portland, Oregon on Delta directly to Narita Airport. We stayed in Tokyo from Sept. 7th to the 19th in the Akasaka neighborhood, then took a Shinkansen (bullet train) down to Osaka, where we stayed from Sept. 20th through Oct. 3rd. Then we traveled by local trains to the Otsu and stayed on the edge of Lake Biwa. From there we rode the train into Kyoto to explore for a day. Finally, the day before the plane home, we traveled on the Shinkansen (bullet train) again to Tokyo, transferred to local trains to head to Narita for our stay at a simple hotel near the airport and be ready for our flight home to Portland on Oct. 8th. In each place we stayed, we explored nearby areas and towns, such as Kobe, Yamazaki, Tokyo’s Ikebukuro, Mitaka and Odaiba, for example. This strategy gave us a safe ‘home base’ at our hotels, and then we could explore as we liked.
Tokyo MIMARU, TOKYO AKASAKA:
Sept 7th, 2018 -> Sept 19th, 2018
MOXY Osaka Honmachi:
Sept 20th, 2018 -> Oct 3rd, 2018
Lake Biwa Otsu Prince Hotel, Otsu:
Oct 3, 2018 -> Oct 7, 2018
Hotel Nikko, Narita:
Oct 7, 2018 -> Oct 8, 2018
Favorite Sites & Photos!
General Gallery: https://www.icloud.com/sharedalbum/#B0oGrq0zwGNirz7 Here’s our curated photo gallery, with some of our favorite sites and scenes captured over our month-long adventure. We also wanted to highlight just a few of the memorable attractions we visited. Maybe they’ll even inspire your own trip to Japan!
Tokyo Megaweb: This is a museum/showroom run by Toyota, featuring different aspects of their automotive history and technology developments, located on the island of Odaiba. All kinds of car photos
Diver City: Also located on Odaiba, this is best known for the life-size Gundam that towers over the mall. Inside the mall features the Gundam Base, a shop/display of Gundam models, a great place for mecha nerds.
Sunshine City: Located in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro, it is a mega shopping district complete with a Pokemon Center, aquarium, planetarium, restaurants and so, so many shops.
Studio Ghibli Museum: Grown into the trees of Inokashira Park, the museum is designed to both transport visitors into the world of Ghibli while celebrating the art of animation in general. A worthwhile place for young and old fans alike, there are nods to much of the studio’s movies built into the stain glass, signs and rooftop garden. Be sure to plan ahead for this one and buy your tickets in advance.
Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan: One of the largest aquariums in the world, it is best known for the whale sharks and towering tanks, the biggest tank is over 9 meters deep, 34 meters long. The aquarium features sea life from the Pacific Rim, from the seals of Monteray Bay to coral of the Great Barrier Reef. Our many aquarium photos
Suntory Yamazaki Distillery: For whisk(e)y fans, this is a trip for the senses. Explore the museum’s tasting room to try elements of famous whiskies or you can splurge like we did for some awardwinning sips of aged whiskies. And there’s plenty to appreciate in the museum’s depictions of the passion of building a brand now sought around the world for its distintive approach.
Kyoto Train Museum: If you like trains, even just a little, this museum is the place to be. Not only does it document the eveolution of trains in Japan, it also highlights the different cars, technology and culture that’s sprung up around transportation. There’s a lot of interactive features for all ages, along with some great rooftop views of southwest Kyoto. Our Train Museum Gallery
Don’t give them!! - many cultures staff depend on tips to earn a livable wage, in Japan it is expected the business pay the staff a livable wage, not the patrons. Any and all fees will be on the bill, such as a small table seating fee.
Do not feel afraid to go to Japan, it’s different, probably far away, but it is a welcoming country to any respectful traveler.
Japan is an island, with a vertical layout that includes different climates and micro-climates. In the summer, it can be very humid, and very hot, and in winter, it can be very cold. Spring and Fall can be truly magical. - Check the climate, and then watch the weather.
Konbinis are more than convenience stores - Konbinis as they are called are commonplace, extremely well kept, have very good food, drinks, access to international ATMs, and generally are a thing that is easy to find. The main brands are 7&iHoldings (Japan’s version of 7-Eleven), Lawson’s and Family Mart. Tuna mayo onigiri (rice balls) are the pefect snack.
It is a cash-based society for most things - but do not worry about theft, it’s extremely rare. Definitely bring a coin purse, and save your 100 yen coins for vending machines.
A lot of attractions, museums and restaraunts recommened advanced reservations or advance ticket purchases. Much of this due to there are a lot of people in Japan, and it is easier to manage crowds through limiting access. Just plan ahead for your top must-go places, but don’t sweat it if you have to wait in line.
Police are helpful, and assume the best, talk to them, joke with them even! - They want to help you have a safe and fun time.
There is a lot of walking to be done (we averaged 20-30KM/day), which is awesome, but there will not be many places to sit - plan your trip with breaks at destinations like parks, or restaurants.
Try to be neat, don’t make a mess, and if you do, clean it up. Avoid making messes in public, eat food at home, or at a destination. There are not a lot of trash cans out and about - because it’s uncommon to need them in public.
Top Japanese Phrases
Firstly - don’t be afraid to ask, there are many English speakers in Japan especially so among younger generations, and many signs in many languages from around the world. Mastering Japanese is not essential for many activities. I did not have a lot of time to learn the language before hand, and I knew I’d be learning as I went. It’s important to try to learn enough to accomplish basic tasks, but also to be respectful and show you are making an effort. Here are the phrases from my notebook I worked on the most, and used the most while I was in Japan. This is not a text book perfect set of translations - because more study would be needed to get beyond these basic uses, but you will be understood with the below phrases. My best advice if you haven’t pursued a more complete study, is to learn some basics and watch what the local people do and say, if they say thank you during an activity, do the same. I’d love to learn more so that my next trip I can speak more confidently, which I’ll be starting with Duolingo to study up and go from there.
- Konnichiwa - こんにちわ - Hello
- Arigato Gozaimasu - ありがと ございます - Thank you
- Sumimasen - すみません - Excuse Me
- Gomen nasai - ごめんなさい - I’m Sorry
- Kudasai - ください - Please
- Wakarimasen - わかりません - I don’t understand
- Hai - はい - Yes
- Iie - いいえ - No
- Hitotsu (one) / Futari (Two) Desu - ひとつ です / ふたり です - One/Two for Table (when asked how many to seat, holding up hand signals of how many is extremely common as well.)
- Kore Onegaishimasu - これ おねがいします - This one please (Point at menu item, etc)
- Okaikei onegaishimasu - おかいけい おねがいします - Check please (Usually you will be given a bill, so that when you are ready you can walk to the front of the restaurant and pay as you are leaving. Don’t feel rushed when handed a bill)
- Gochisosama Deshita - ごちそさま でした - Thank you for the meal (say after paying at restaurant, you’ll usually get smiles when you do!)
YouTubers to Watch
If you are considering going - give these and other videos by them a watch. Many videos will cover topics, locations, fun ideas and things to do, and help get you prepared for your trip!