Check out my Amazon page for gear that I personally use and products similar to those I pack on my travels (many of which are listed below).
As a photographer, my priorities for travelling always have been photography first. This time around, unlike my Peru – Machu Picchu trek, my walzflex 120mm film camera made an appearance once again.
For 14 days of travel through Japan, I decided against a rolling hard case luggage. I have since replaced my Kata Camera bag with a new bag from PRVKE as my personal camera bag and my trusty Yellow North Face Basecamp Duffel as my main luggage, My philosophy when travelling is purchase only as much as you can carry back.
Japan Packing List
Wearing onto Plane
1 pair of tights (Underarmour are my choice of preference)
Woke up and took the train back to Kanazawa station to reserve our bullet train tickets for the next 2 days.
Morning reservations for the express trains were completely full so we had to take the local train which was an hour longer ride with 1 more transfer point than the express. We ended up roaming the mall beside the station for a bit before our train was departing. The ride was pretty smooth but broken up into 1 hour, 1 hour 1.5 hours. We purchased ekibens – I got this square one with 9 little samplers for 1000y but decided not to eat it right off the spot but regretted it because only our first train was a bullet train and had a tray to eat on but the other 2 local trains were just seats like a normal train but we were rebels and ate on it. The train went through the mountain side.
The Takayama station is absolutely stunning. Takayama is known for their furniture (high quality of timber), hida beef and sake as well as their well known mascot Sarubobo – Monkey Baby. The mothers and grandmothers would make these dolls for their child out of scrap materials and made them faceless. They are amulets bringing protection and happiness and in the future luck in marriage, fertility and childbirth.
The weather was significantly warmer than our pervious day in Kanazawa so we decided a 30 minute walk to our Hotel would be no problem. We didn’t realize our hotel – Takayama Kankou aka Hagi (Japan, 〒506-0852 Gifu Prefecture, Takayama, 八幡町２８０) is actually on the side of a mountain/hillside. The windy angular roads led to the perfect lookout point over the city. We took the route google maps had provided which was actually the longer way up that hugged the corner of the mountain. We got checked in and we had booked a 5 person room. Our entrance has a sliding wooden gate then you open the door and find yourself stepping on these tiles with pebbles between then leading you into the room. Its a tatami covered floor room with a little seating area and sliding doors everywhere to configure the room to what is necessary for the time.
The best part of this room – the view. Mind you, there are trees in the way for a clean view, the city behind it with its sun setting is absolutely stunning. The hotel provides a turn down service around 6PM where they come in and transform one of the rooms into a sleeping area with the futons and also provide you with yukatas to wear indoors, to the onsen, to dinner or wherever else you would like to go. BUT remember, the slippers and your shoes are not to touch the tatami mats.
We were waiting for Glenn & John to arrived but in the meantime we had to figure out dinner plans. There is an option for room service however they were sold out by the time we called and because we had reserved the room so long ago and thought nothing of it that we didn’t know we needed to make reservations for the dining hall and had to fend for ourselves. The man at front desk recommended this one cafe just down the street from us but it was closed so we had to venture down the hill to the main part of town to find food. Apparently stores and restaurants for the main part close incredibly early leaving those hungry needing to look for the flashing lights outside the stores to beckon them in their direction. It got extremely cold as temperatures dropped once the sun went down. Cold enough to see our breathes.
We made it back to Takayama station as there were a few stores open there. We have also been told that we need to try pasta at least once while we are here so that settled things. We arrived at Salute (サルーテ) for Italian and it was a nice change of pace from ramen. We ordered a hida cow pizza, a margarita and tomato crab pasta. Manwai kept eyeing the giant half wheel of cheese that was sitting under its own heat lamp ready to be scraped off onto the next order or broccoli, fries or pasta.
Back up the hillside we went to await Glenn and John. We tried to wait it out but they missed one of their connecting trains and we had to wait longer. We went to front desk to see if we could leave our key with them but the 2 men there didn’t speak english but with the help of our phones and translator, we were able to communicate. The onsen was nice but after visiting Oedo Onsen in Tokyo, this was just ok. The rooftop onsen is only available for the women in the afternoon to night while the morning is reserved for the males. We went to the rooftop one but it is just 1 giant tub. I think if we had gone earlier when we could’ve seen the scenery outside, it would’ve made it more worthwhile. We ended up transferring down to the main onsen but because it was so late at night, Manwai and myself had it all to ourselves. One giant tub inside with a nice rocky open air one outside.
One thing we haven’t really been doing on this trip is staying in later in the morning even though many things aren’t opened early. I tend to rise with the sun and the sun comes out at 530-6AM. We walked from out Airbnb to our first location for the day – Kenroku-en Garden that opens at 8AM. It was a chillier of mornings however the park was quiet and peaceful even though some of the trees still remain bare. Upon entering this park (from the Kenroku-en entrance), we only did a small portion but made it to the lookout point which got even colder with the wind. It was about 10-1030AM at this point and we decided to goto the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art – There are free exhibits but the paid exhibit only costs 1000y. Purses are allowed but backpacks and anything larger must be put into the lockers. No photography allowed in the exhibit but you can carry it and are allowed to take photos of the swimming pool. The sculptures outside are very fun to play with and photograph especially the multi colours circle (Olafur Eliasson Color Activity House 2010).
We finally went in and the exhibit for this time was for Ikeda Manabu – an artist that works mainly in pen medium using fine lines to create masterpieces that usually integrate waves and nature in his work. In his interview, Ikeda talks about how long it takes for him to create an art piece. the smaller 10x10CM art pieces take about a day but the massive ones take about 3 years and when life experience happen such as a death or birth, he incorporates those moments into his work as well. He also does a fine job hiding his signature in each piece. If you continue downstairs, you can enter a blue room which part of a permanent installation called “The Swimming Pool” by Leandro Erlich. In this blue room, if it is a sunny day, you will see the glistening water dancing on the walls with the bottom of what looks like a ladder making you feel like you are in the bottom of a swimming pool as you look upwards to the sky seeing a layer of water that separates you from what looks like people who are looking down at you from above the water. Overall, a cool museum – whether it be the architecture or the installations or the exhibit. If you happen to be in Tokyo, Japan between November 18th 2017 – April 1st 2018, his work “Leandro Erlich: Seeing and Believing” will be showcased at the Mori Art Museum.
By the time we finished the museum, we were already peckish so we opted to goto the Omi-Cho Fish Market. We ate at Omicho Inoya (33-1 Shimoumicho, Kanazawa-shi, Ishikawa (石川県金沢市上近江町33-1) had Kaisendon which consists of a bed of rice with what looks like chirashi topping but made into 2 patties on top of the rice that you use a spoon to smooth down the mountain. Once its been flattened, you pour the sesame soy wasabi sauce over top and eat about half way. Once the half portion is finished, you call out oi dashi and the server brings over hot soup which you then add to the bowl and boom, it becomes a whole new meal in itself. The raw fish then cooks as the hot soup engulfs the bowl and enriches the flavour. I ordered a large Maruti-Don (crab, tuna toro, tuna tatami, shrimp, octopus & scallop) 1480y. Highly recommend this place! Once we finished out Kaisendon, we walked back around the market and grabbed a small basket of white strawberries (400y?). The first one I ate wasn’t anything special but the second one i had was perfectly ripened and it was so delicious.
After lunch, we walked to Kanazawa Castle and entered through the giant open space before entering into the Castle grounds. It was such the perfect day with cherry blossoms everywhere. We walked around the grounds before exiting through what I guess was the main entrance and made our way north to the Higashi Chaya district where we stopped by Hakuichi ( 株)箔一 東山店)(Japan, 〒920-0831 Ishikawa-ken, Kanazawa-shi, Higashiyama, 1 Chome−１５ 東山 1-15-4) – Gold leaf speciality store. This store sold products made in Kanazawa with gold whether it was gold flecked sake to gold plated chopsticks to gold leafed ice cream (the big pull in for me). The gold leafed ice cream (980y) sounds exactly as its named. They delicately wrap a sheet of gold leaf onto the side of your ice cream cone and you sit down and enjoy it. The gold leaf breaks off so easily and as it touches your tongue, a faint taste of sweet metal passes over top your tastebuds. If it touches your lips, that sweet taste lingers.
Karen & Chi were heading into Kanazawa that evening so we continued to wandered and check out the Namagachi Chaya district which is the samurai district but by the time we arrived, it was roughly 5PM and many of the places like the samurai houses were closing or closed. It was a nice walk though as the sun was slowly setting and the weather was still quite nice. I was able to grabbed so locally made azuki bean ankoro dessert from a dessert shop before it closed to bring home. We walked along this one street where we saw a team setting up either for a movie video or a movie/television shot where they have umbrellas laying on the ground with lights behind them. One thing that pulled us in was also the fact that all the grips were all females – styling females (yay woman power). We tried to wait around for a bit but I think they were waiting for the sun to set or nightfall so we continued on.
We met up with Karen & Chi for dinner at this ramen place and then called it a night because it turned really cold. We went back to the Airbnb and watched 3 episodes of Terrace House – Aloha State on Japan Netflix (not released in North America) then went to bed.
The original plans as to visit Chidori-fa-guchi Park during the day but it was raining so we opted out of it. We met up with Kanako again at Tokyo station by the popular gin no suzu bell (which was actually confusing to find). We had to go reserve tickets for the afternoon but then Mike wanted to drop off their other bag to the lockers which was even more confusing to get to and ate up some time. Got the bag near our main luggage locker and finally off we went to Shimokitazawa.
We aimed to start our day early but we got there really early that nothing was opened and it was pouring rain. Everything in Shimokitazawa seems to open around 11AM. The only good thing about thing being closed is that the gates to some of the stores are nicely decorated or graffitied. We walked out of the station and wandered all the way to the bottom of Shimokitazawa area and then turned back around and stopped by the arcade which was one of the only things somewhat opened.
We did purikura photos to kill time. We then wandered again searching for food – mainly Italian but we couldn’t find a place or it wasn’t opened but Kanako pointed out a conveyor belt sushi place that was opened and also rather cheap 108-110y a plate. We went to Kaisen Misaki ko – 海鮮三崎港.
There was a mini bullet train delivering orders from the iPad but also the normal conveyor belt that goes around where you can pull plates off. Kanako and me ate like beasts. The price of plates is designated by the colour of plate and once you finish eating one, you stack them. When you are done, the person comes around and counts the amount of dishes and their colours. Individually, both of us (Kanako & I) ate more than Mike and ManWai combined but it was good quality and cheap that in the end, it only totalled roughly $15CAD especially since we added them on Line App and you get 1 plate automatically off.
Back into the rain but this time we decided to walk the other side of the station and I was so sad that it was raining so hard and I didn’t bring my umbrella so I couldn’t shoot all the characters in this neighbourhood as its known for its hipsters. We stumbled upon a couple of stores – vintage – second hand etc. Finally stopping at a corner, we spotted a store on the second floor selling only raw Japanese cotton denim goods called Beauty of Life or something like that. Very cute little shop and I picked up 3 denim woven bracelets.
Right beside the store we saw some these neon lights and something about avocados. Since we needed a break from the rain we went in to a drink break. Madosh Cafe where everything on the menu has avocado. Just finishing a large conveyor belt sushi meal, all we could stomach was a drink. Kanako and I ordered the avocado and coconut smoothie 1000y while Mike and Manwai the Avocadoacino (unlimited refills) and a tiramisu. They had a sign in their window reading that if you tag them on social media using their hashtags, they will give you a free avocado. I did it but completely forgot to ask or show the post to receive it.
Our plan of attack was to continue back towards Tokyo station with a stopover at Meguro River which is a well known spot for cherry blossoms that hang over the river and when blossomed, it is truly a sight to be seen. We looked outside and the rain didn’t seem to be letting up so we had to forego those plans and decided check out Recipe Mall nearby that had 2 floors of Uniqlo, Daiso, a fabric store and a grocery store. Once we got warm and a little drier, we took he train back to Tokyo Station where we parted ways with Kanako and grabbed ekibens (meals made especially to be eaten on long train rides at the station) before departing for Kanazawa.
Our arrival into Kanazawa was later in the evening and once we go to the station, we had to go find the local bus that would bring us to our Airbnb. Our Airbnb was located in the basement of an apartment building however it was raised up so we were actually overlooking the riverside and you can see the bridge. We called it an early night and tried to do laundry with their 2-in-1 machine however the drying portion wasn’t quite working that well. The apartment is actually quite large to Japanese standards. It was a 1 bedroom apartment with 1 bed but could easily fit the 3-4 futons they had in the closets. We watched a few episodes of Terrace House before I falling asleep. Going into this trip, a bunch of us got hooked on Terrace House and because we were in Japan, We were able to watch Japan Netflix which has the most recent releases of the show which aren’t offered in North America for a few months.
If you haven’t joined and booked with Airbnb yet, follow the link and get credits for your first booking. www.airbnb.ca/c/ruu
This was my second time travelling to Japan. My previous visit was short but sweet staying in Osaka with a day trip to Nara & Kyoto for less than a week. Japan is definitely one of those countries that can and need to be explore multiple times. I travelled to Japan with Mike, Manwai, Cassie, Glenn, John, Karen & Chi with guest appearances along the way. The flight deals were too good to miss out on especially during Hanami (cherry blossom festival). We found our deal on www.nextdeparture.ca for $730CAD roundtrip to Tokyo (1 stopover in Chicago each way). Originally, it was just myself plus Mike & Manwai that booked together. As the next few weeks past and a few meals Mike & Manwai had with friends, our group became 8. During the trip, I mainly travelled with Mike & Manwai. Total of 14 days.
We booked many of our accommodations with Airbnb. If you haven’t joined and booked with Airbnb yet, follow the link and get credits for your first booking. www.airbnb.ca/c/ruu
Included in this Itinerary, I have included some helpful information to know in advance before you go.
–www.hyperdia.com – This is awesome for figuring out your bus and JR routes but you need to know what stations you are leaving from and arriving to.
-Google Maps works well too. If Google Maps does not load/poor connection, enter the directions into the internet browser.
-100y = $1USD roughly.
-The Japanese use cash over credit for majority of their day to day living and it isn’t unusual to break a 10,000y bill on something small.
-The 2000y bill is actually quite rare in Japan as its been phased out and was started in Okinawa for unknown reasons. When exchanging money outside of Japan, you may receive 2000y bills which a few Japanese collect HOWEVER, not all the machines take 2000y bills.
-For many Japanese, they may or may not accept it at their work establishments but some will keep as a keepsake similar to Canada’s old $2 bill that is now replaced with the toonie.
-You can pay for some meals in coins alone as the largest valued coin is 500y which is roughly $5USD.
-For 14 days, I took out just over $100CAD a day. $1502.45CAD – 123000Yen
Book in Advanced
–Studio Ghibli Museum tickets can only be purchased 1 month in advanced and sells out quickly. The 10th at 10AM Japan time of every month. Much cheaper to purchase from site than through a tour group (service charges are killer). The actual ticket is only 1000y
-JR Pass must be purchased outside out Japan. Maximum 90 days before your trip. JTB Canada is where I purchased mine. For 14 days of travel, my JR Pass was $539CAD
–Sumo Wrestling Tournaments are held 6 times a year. If you have the chance to go see it, tickets will go on sale a month in advanced so be aware they are highly sought after and sell out fast. Another option if you are going during non tournament months is to go visit a Sumo Wrestling Beya (practice) at multiple locations and watch their early morning practice.
-I highly recommend bringing a portable battery pack to keep your phone charge especially if you are using your phone for directions.
-JR Pass holders need to go through the manned gate to get through at each station.
-You need to make reservations on certain trains but if you don’t, there are a few carts where it is first come first serve or you can sit but if the person with the reserved seats shows up, you give them the seats. The reserved seats also swivel to have 2 facing one another if preferred.
-With the JR Pass, if you miss you train, you can easily get the next one without any penalty fees.
-If you plan on reserving seats for trains for peak times, go earlier to reserve them.
-If taking the bullet train from Tokyo to Osaka/Kyoto etc – request mountainside view to see Mt Fuji!
-Make sure to purchase ekibens before your ride (bullet train specific meals that differ per region and have have seasonal regional speciality foods – all cold)
-Eating is not permitted on trains besides Shinkansen
-JR Pass does not cover all train lines – only JR lines (minus Nozomi/Mizuho/Hayabusa (Shinkansen)) and a Suica or a Pasmo card (similar to Octopus card of Hong Kong or Toronto’s Presto) are indeed very useful and refillable
–Pasmo & Suica cards can also be used to pay for other things such as drink machines and whatnot.
-Pasmo can be used in Tokyo, Osaka & Kyoto (from my experience)
-There are women’s only carts depending on time of day
-Trains end around midnight-1AM. There are taxi queues.
-The Japanese are large in numbers but when walking, they don’t necessarily have a sense of urgency and the pace to my standard is slow
-The Japanese do stay in shape by the amount of stairs they need to climb each day while commuting. The train stations are floors upon floors with limited elevators and some floors have escalators while many are just stairs upon stairs.
-You stand on the left side and pass on the right on the escalators. (Although in Osaka, they did opposite)
-Walking is the same – Walk on the left side
Weather (From what I experience this April trip)
-It is normal for Japanese people to stay covered up even it is hot outside as they care about their skin getting dark (similar to Hong Kong) They are more conservative in terms of covering cleavage but will wear short shorts. I wore a tank top because it was hot but got looks.
-April – light jacket/trench coats (Japanese fashion trend) and umbrellas are key.
-Tokyo is humid. April – average temp – high of 20, low of 6 – chances of showers high but muggy.
-Kanazawa – chilly and windy but otherwise warm during the day, can see breathe in the evening
-Takayama – Hot during the day – really hot as in we got slightly burnt but once the sun goes down, cold and chilly.
-Kyoto – Hot! (average 21-26C during the day) but cools down at night.
-Osaka – Just right! Not too hot, not too cold; bearable to walk around in a t-shirt majority of the day.
-Carry your passport around for many places you go shopping you can get tax free!
-Outlets are the Western 2 prong style instead of the american 3 prong
-There are a lot of people but they tend to move slower than the average if compared to Toronto foot traffic.
-You don’t tip in Japan – the only time you tip are in fancy high end restaurants or when you see fit.
-There are designated areas for people to smoke but the smoke still billows the streets and still litters the streets
-Smoking is not allowed while you are walking
-Smoking is allowed in certain food establishments
-There are rarely any garbage cans on the streets of Japan – 1 reason – you mainly goto establishments to eat or eat at home. 2 – in the past, terrorist attacks with packages left in garbage bins now detour garbage bins
-non combustibles and combustible garbage separation
-some wear masks but others don’t and when they sneeze or cough, they just let it out so be aware of that. Coming for Canada, where its customary to sneer into your elbow or cover your mouth, this might put you off a bit like it did me.
-Sailor moon make up by Beaute Creer – You can pick this up at Its Demo stores.
-In some cities like Takayama at night, they have flashing red lights outside of an establishment to signal that they are still open as other stores or restaurants close early.
Now onto my actual Itinerary. My itinerary got very extensive and ambitious with things and places I wanted to see and goto. Everyone else built their own itineraries but we made sure at certain aspects, we would all meet up in a different city for certain events such as the Takayama festival in Takayama and Temple running in Kyoto. In the span of 2 weeks, my goal was to make it through all these cities (Tokyo, Yokohama, Enoshima, Kawasaki, Kanazawa, Takayama, Kyoto, Osaka, Nagoya) but of course not all goes to according to plans and we cut out some areas to explore other areas more. This was the itinerary that actually happened. There will always be another time to visit Japan once again to get more accomplished and more land covered.
Some places and things I originally had on my itinerary for the surrounding area but wasn’t able to accomplish were the following:
-Baseball – much different than Western Baseball – Hanshin Tigers VS anybody – the atmosphere is completely something to take in
-Enoshima – fujisawa – cute city – view of Mt Fuji in painting
-Ramen museum (yokohama)
-Cup Noodle Museum (yokohama)
-Kawasaki Warehouse – arcade games
-Tokyu Plaza – escalator & rooftop
-Akihabara Gachapon Kaikan – Tōkyō, Chiyoda, Sotokanda 3-15-5 Gee Store Akiba – 11AM-7PM
-Nagoya Dome – Purchase tickets – ticket booth near gate 1 – 10AM-5th inning