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Monday, January 28, 2013

Japan - After thoughts & Tips

After thoughts

On the last night in Osaka, H & I stayed in the hotel packing up our luggage,  drinking beers, eating snacks, and watching Japanese game shows on TV.   I was not ready to put our trip to an end.  I would have loved to spend another day to wonder around window shopping, people watching, resting in a cafe, having dinner in a restaurant, and just taking everything in.  I can now understand why my Taiwanese friends visiting Japan over and over again.    

I did not expect to feel this way since this was my 3rd trip.  Perhaps it was more enjoyable because I saw Japan through H's eyes as a westerner coming to Japan for the first time: polite and reserved people, clean and orderly society,  meticulous attention to details, a relentless pursuit of aesthetics,   the refined, understated elegance in almost everything you see, and the contrasting and rebellious energy you found in pockets of the city. 

H enthusiastically said to me that he would like to come back again.  I smiled and nodded in agreement.  Yes, I'd like to come back again.  Hokkaido 北海道 is another region in Japan I would like to visit.   It probably will not be for awhile though.  I mean, there is still the Safari trip that I have been wanting to go for years, Machu Picchu has been calling my name too, and the list goes on and on........


  • Lodging: When travel to this part of JapanOsaka and Kyoto are both popular cities to stay. If you only have limited time and want to immerse yourself in the old JapanKyoto without a doubt is the best option, preferably a ryokan in Gian district if you have the money to splurge for at least one night.  If you have more time and want to visit other places in the Kansai region, Osaka is an ideal base with plenty of hotel options that meet your budget. Try to find a hotel near the Umeda station as it is the major hub for both Osaka subway railway systems so you do not need to deal with transfers from Osaka Subway to JR rail system. 

  • Railway:  Japan's railway system is a great way to travel.  They are clean, frequent, and amazingly on-time.  However the system is quite complex since there are several national and private owned railway companies and each company issues its own packaged deals.   It is worth doing your homework and learning to navigate the railway system. It will also make life easier if you pick one railway company as the mean of your main transportation during your stay to simplify your trip planning.

  • Kyoto Buses: Do not  feel intimidated to take buses in Kyoto.  The subway stops are limited and taking buses is the best way to travel from one temple to another.  Grab a bus route map,  and learn to take buses like the locals. 

  • Money: Credit cards are not as commonly accepted as in the U.S. and maybe other parts of the western world.  Most temples only accept cash payment. Same goes for the day passes for subways, trains, or buses.  Be sure to exchange enough Japanese Yen. 

  • Shoes: You will, without a doubt, be walking A LOT when you visit.  Bring a pair of comfortable shoes for walking that are also easy to take on and off, since you will be doing it a lot when you visit temples and staying in ryokans. 
  • Language: English does not seem to be as commonly used at the Kansai region as in Tokyo. The English channels we saw on TV, CNN & BBC, has Japanese voice over. Many websites does not have an English version (Google translation will be a great tool when navigating these websites).  Some locals shy away when you ask simple questions in English.  It makes the travel easier if you can read Chinese characters and it is definitely useful to learn some basic Japanese phrases.  But don't let it discourage you from visiting Japan.  All the trains, subways, and buses and major tourists sights have English directions. A little patience and some hand gestures will get you very far.  

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