Sunday, July 23, 2017

Itinerary and Expenses: 9 Days of Nerdiness in Kansai

I'll tell you a secret. I fell in love sometime in my 10-day Japan trip in autumn of 2015. I had a quick love affair with Ainokura Village in Toyama Prefecture and I fell madly and totally in love with Kyoto. I fell in love and I promised I'd go back for another visit.

381 days later, I was back in the arms of Japan. This time I made like a gentleman and took it slow; I did not bolt through cities like what my friends and I did in 2015. I stayed in the Kansai Region for nine days, stepping foot in just four (Wakayama, Nara, Kyoto, and Osaka) of seven prefectures (the other three are Hyogo, Mie, Shiga).


Since I was traveling alone, I went all out in nerdiness, visiting temples, shrines, and historical places, and, most importantly, as many UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Kansai Region that time and distance would allow.

In planning out my itinerary, I tried to keep within the same budget as my 2015 trip: an average of Php 4500 per day for accommodation, food, transportation, and admission fees.

This trip happened late November 2016 with the exchange rate at 0.465 PHP for every 1 JPY

Accommodation. Like my 2015 trip, I set aside Php 1500 a night for accommodation, for a total of Php 13,500 for 9 nights (about 29,000 yen with an exchange rate of 0.465). In Osaka, the cheapest hostel I found was 1100 yen a night, but I eventually settled for a single room (though bathrooms were shared) in business hotels, which cost me 2500 yen (less than Php 1200) per night. In Koyasan, I wanted to try the temple stay, but it was way beyond my budget (temple stay would cost at least 9,700 yen a night, with breakfast and dinner), so I settled for the only guesthouse in town, Koyasan Guesthouse Kokuu, where a capsule space costs 3500 yen a night. Nara and Kyoto hostels were a bit more expensive compared to Osaka (dorm beds would cost an average of 2500 yen a night; whereas in Osaka, 2500 yen could already be a single room), but still within my budget. If you're comfortable staying at hostel dorm rooms, set aside a budget of at least 2500 yen per night (some can cost up to 3800 yen a night, depending on the area).

Transportation. Neither the JR Pass nor the JR Kansai Area pass was beneficial to my itinerary. Instead, to get around, I paid the regular fare using the Kansai One Pass (only for tourists), an ICOCA or IC transportation card that could be used in various train/subway lines in the Kansai area. Although this did not offer fare discounts, it did provide convenience. Rather than buying a ticket every time I had to ride the train/subway, I could just tap the card at the turnstiles (provided, of course, I had enough credits in the card). The Kansai One Pass also offered discounts/benefits at various tourist sites. For traveling within the city, I took advantage of unlimited ride passes such as Koyasan World Heritage Ticket, Nara bus pass, Kyoto bus pass, and Osaka Visitor's Ticket (for Osaka municipal subways/buses/tram only). I planned out my route in advance to make the most of these unlimited ride passes.

Food. I spent an average of 2,200 yen a day for 3 meals, snacks, and drinks. It was a good mix of convenience store boxed meals (400 to 600 yen), set meals from donburi shops (450 to 1000 yen), and restaurants (meals from 1100 to 1500 yen). For Japan, I advice to budget at least 3,000 yen per day for food.

Admission fees. There are temples, shrines, parks, gardens that can be entered for free. Most though would charge an admission fee (from 200 to 1500 yen). Some transportation passes offer discounted admission fees to some tourist attractions (expenses marked with an asterisk in the above table are discounted rates). The Koyasan World Heritage Ticket came with 20% discount coupons for Kongobuji, Kondo Hall, Daito Pagoda, and Reihokan Museum. The Kansai One Pass offered discounts/benefits to many attractions around the Kansai area, but I was only able to use it at Monkey Park Iwatayama in Kyoto (100 yen discount) and Osaka Museum of Housing and Living (free audio guide rental worth 100 yen). With the Osaka Visitor's Ticket, I was also able to get a 100 yen discount on the admission fee for the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living.

Pocket WiFi. It was important that I had a pocket WiFi for this trip. Luckily, Flytpack let me use their pocket WiFi for free for the entire duration of the trip. If not, it would have cost me an about Php 3000 for the 9 days rent and courier fees.

Plane ticket. Like all my other posts about trip expenses, I did not include the plane ticket, because the ticket cost would depend on where you're coming from and which international airport in Japan you wish to start/end your journey in. But since this post is about Kansai, I will tell you that I flew in and out of Kansai International Airport in Osaka via a budget airline, with a connection in Manila. Much as I wanted to fly direct to Osaka from Cebu, I found it too expensive. The regular roundtrip ticket for the direct flight would cost around Php 22,000 (on sale it would cost at least Php 13,000).


Japan is the most expensive country in Asia that I have traveled to, but with a bit of planning and research, a trip to Japan need not break the bank. Fewer number of days, of course, will cost less. But, I warn you, once you visit Japan, you will want to keep coming back!



Japan
Know Before You Go
Single Entry Tourist Visa for Japan
Roam Around Japan with a Swagger
An Ignoramus in Japan: Vending Machines
An Ignoramus in Japan: Bathrooms and Toilets
An Ignoramus in Japan: Manhole Covers
I Spy With My Little Eye: Japan's Fashion Contradictions
I Spy With My Little Eye: On the Go in Japan

From Tokyo to Hiroshima (2015)
10D/9N | Tokyo, Toyama, Kyoto, Hyogo, Osaka, Hiroshima
Tokyo Accommodation: Shinjuku Airbnb
Tokyo: Memorable Tokyo Eats
Tokyo: Odaiba
Tokyo: Doing Touristy Things in Tokyo
Toyama: A Hamlet Called Ainokura
Kyoto Accommodation: K's House Hostel Kyoto
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Wisdom from the Road: On exits #2
Kyoto: By the Thousands (Kyoto Imperial Palace, Sanjusangendo, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove)
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Turning Japanese
Kyoto: Braving the Crowds at these UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto (Kiyomizu-dera, Nijo Castle, Kinkakuji)
Hyogo, Japanecdote: If Only I Could Speak Nihongo
Hyogo: Day Trip to Himeji: Himeji Castle and Shoshazan Engyoji Temple
Hyogo, Japanecdote: Am I an Alien?
Hiroshima: Strolling and Snacking in Miyajima
Hiroshima: Remembering the Past in Hiroshima
Osaka, Japanecdote: How to Lose Friends
Osaka Accommodation: Osaka Airbnb
Osaka, Japanecdote: Where is Bentencho Station?
Osaka: Osaka Adlaw, Osaka Ako sa Osaka
Osaka, Japanecdote: Learn From Your Mistakes

Concentrate on Kansai (2016)
9D/9N | Wakayama, Nara, Kyoto, Osaka (you're here!)
UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Kansai Region
Kyoto Accommodations: Guesthouse Wind Villa, Shiori Yado
Osaka Accommodations: Hotel Raizan, Hotel Mikado

Monday, July 17, 2017

I Spy With My Little Eye: On the Go in Japan

Observations of a mustache while...

Walking the streets of Japan:

1. The Japanese do not eat while walking. When one eats while walking, especially in crowded places, there is a possibility of bumping into another person and spilling food or drink on them. Thus, the Japanese consider it impolite to eat while walking.

Most mornings I would leave the hostel early and would buy food for breakfast from a convenience store, but then, if the convenience store didn't have a sitting area, I'd have a problem: where could I eat my breakfast? My options were to eat standing outside the convenience store or find a park where I could sit down and eat.


2. There are no trash bins along the streets of Japan yet the surroundings are clean and free of rubbish. I only saw trash bins by the door (or sometimes, inside) of convenience stores. I'd also see bins next to vending machines for drinks, but these bins were for specific bottles or cans only. Whatever trash the people have they make sure to throw it in the proper bin or, if they can't find a trash bin nearby, they just bring it home and sort it properly (sorting trash is a whole new ballgame in Japan).

3. They have 5-way / 6-way crosswalks, making it a cinch to get from one street corner to the corner diagonally opposite! Forgive my ignorance, but I live in the Philippines where there are no 5-way / 6-way crosswalks and where crossing the street, whether on a pedestrian lane or not, is done at your own risk (risk is lower at the few areas where there are pedestrian signal lights, haha!).

5-way crosswalk at Shibuya. Photo by Shibuya246/Flickr

6-way crosswalk at Kyoto Station. Screenshot from Google Maps

4. Even narrow streets have a crosswalk and pedestrian lights! In just four steps I had crossed a very narrow street in Kyoto and only noticed there was a pedestrian light when I had reached the opposite side.

Screenshot from Google Streetview

5. Some small streets have no curbs but are clearly marked to show where the sidewalk is.

Screenshot from Google Streetview

6. Many people wear a surgical face mask. My first thought was that they were sick and didn't want people to catch whatever they have. A bit of googling revealed that another reason for wearing a surgical face mask was to avoid getting sick. And some wear it just because. (In the Philippines, people have started wearing masks, but I believe it's to protect themselves against dust and air pollution.)

On my trip in late November 2016, my body was adjusting to the low temperature causing my nose to run. While waiting for Horyuji Temple in Ikaruga Town in Nara to open, an old lady stopped to talk (by talk, I mean communicate with hand gestures) with me. In the middle of our "conversation", I sniffed, and she pointed to me, then to her nose, then made an X with her forearms, and then covered her nose and mouth with her hand. She didn't mean to say I had stinky breath (I'm sure I brushed my teeth!), but that I should wear a mask because I had colds.

Photo by Hinochika/Shutterstock


Commuting around Japan:

1. No matter how crowded the station is, everyone knows how to queue, whether getting on the train, taking the escalator, exiting/entering through the turnstiles, etc. So it was quite embarrassing for me when I accompanied Hitomi, a Japanese Couchsurfer, to Cebu South Bus terminal to catch a bus for Oslob. We were first in line and when the bus arrived, everyone behind us just surged towards the bus, fighting to get in through the narrow bus door. Needless to say, we were not the first ones to board. When Hitomi finally got on the bus, two other people squeezed in with her, and her slipper fell off but no one bothered to pick it up and give it to her (everyone was busy elbowing their way in to secure a seat). I told her to take a seat and I had to block the way in order to fish out her slipper. When we had finally settled in, she remarked, "It was chaos."

People line up patiently to get in the train. Photo from Fast Japan

2. On escalators, people stand on one side and keep the other side free to give way to people who are in a hurry. In Tokyo, people stand on the left side of the escalator. In Osaka, people stand on the right side.

3. It's oh so quiet in the bus/train. Nobody talks on the mobile phone while in a public transportation. Everyone keeps to themselves, keeping their eyes glued on their mobile phones, getting some shuteye, or just staring into space. Those who do talk with their companions keep their voices low.

4. Nobody eats inside the train even if there is no sign prohibiting so. With the train shaking and braking, spills are likely to happen. Plus the train cars can smell like food. Like eating while walking, it is also considered impolite to eat and drink in the train.

5. Oftentimes priority/courtesy seats are left empty even if there are no other seats available. Other times, people who sit on the priority/courtesy seat would stand up and give way to those who need it like a pregnant lady, a mother carrying a baby, elderly, and disabled.

6. There are Women Only train cars. Lucky for the ladies they get to ride comfortably when us men would have travel like sardines in other train cars. But I understand they have implemented this so the women would feel safer and not have to worry about perverts groping them in a crowded train car.

Photo from Business Insider



Japan
Know Before You Go
Single Entry Tourist Visa for Japan
Roam Around Japan with a Swagger
An Ignoramus in Japan: Vending Machines
An Ignoramus in Japan: Bathrooms and Toilets
An Ignoramus in Japan: Manhole Covers
I Spy With My Little Eye: Japan's Fashion Contradictions
I Spy With My Little Eye: On the Go in Japan (you're here!)

From Tokyo to Hiroshima (2015)
10D/9N | Tokyo, Toyama, Kyoto, Hyogo, Osaka, Hiroshima
Tokyo Accommodation: Shinjuku Airbnb
Tokyo: Memorable Tokyo Eats
Tokyo: Odaiba
Tokyo: Doing Touristy Things in Tokyo
Toyama: A Hamlet Called Ainokura
Kyoto Accommodation: K's House Hostel Kyoto
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Wisdom from the Road: On exits #2
Kyoto: By the Thousands (Kyoto Imperial Palace, Sanjusangendo, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove)
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Turning Japanese
Kyoto: Braving the Crowds at these UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto (Kiyomizu-dera, Nijo Castle, Kinkakuji)
Hyogo, Japanecdote: If Only I Could Speak Nihongo
Hyogo: Day Trip to Himeji: Himeji Castle and Shoshazan Engyoji Temple
Hyogo, Japanecdote: Am I an Alien?
Hiroshima: Strolling and Snacking in Miyajima
Hiroshima: Remembering the Past in Hiroshima
Osaka, Japanecdote: How to Lose Friends
Osaka Accommodation: Osaka Airbnb
Osaka, Japanecdote: Where is Bentencho Station?
Osaka: Osaka Adlaw, Osaka Ako sa Osaka
Osaka, Japanecdote: Learn From Your Mistakes

Concentrate on Kansai (2016)
9D/9N | Nov 2016 | Wakayama, Nara, Kyoto, Osaka
UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Kansai Region
Kyoto Accommodations: Guesthouse Wind Villa, Shiori Yado
Osaka Accommodations: Hotel Raizan, Hotel Mikado

Saturday, July 15, 2017

I Spy With My Little Eye: Japan's Fashion Contradictions

Observations of an unfashionable mustache in a land where the modern and the traditional commingle, where simplicity and outrageousness walk side by side.

Conformity

I don't think I had seen any Japanese wearing sunglasses during my trip. Yeah, I went during autumn, but, hey, there are sunny days in autumn, too! The Japanese don't seem bothered by the sun's dazzling light. Is it because they are in the Land of the Rising Sun? I asked my Japanese friend if he wears sunglasses. He doesn't. Why? Because everyone else doesn't. If he wears one, he thinks he'd stick out like a sore thumb. My friend conforms to blend in.

While waiting for the train, while walking in the streets, I'd see double. Or triple. I'd see two or three (or more) friends, usually young ladies, wearing the exact same outfit or the same outfit but in different colors. We call it "twinning." The Japanese call it "Osoroi Code" (osoroi means "matching"). These young ones conform to stand out.

Photo from Tokyo Fashion

Modesty

For Japanese women, showing d├ęcolletage, even in a casual setting, is deemed inappropriate. But that doesn't mean women in Japan walk around all covered up. Because, strangely, short short skirts are not frowned upon. So ladies, when in Japan, remember: low necklines, not okay; high hemlines, a-okay. Go figure!

Photo from Tokyo Faces



Japan
Know Before You Go
Single Entry Tourist Visa for Japan
Roam Around Japan with a Swagger
An Ignoramus in Japan: Vending Machines
An Ignoramus in Japan: Bathrooms and Toilets
An Ignoramus in Japan: Manhole Covers
I Spy With My Little Eye: Japan's Fashion Contradictions (you're here!)
I Spy With My Little Eye: On the Go in Japan

From Tokyo to Hiroshima (2015)
10D/9N | Tokyo, Toyama, Kyoto, Hyogo, Osaka, Hiroshima
Tokyo Accommodation: Shinjuku Airbnb
Tokyo: Memorable Tokyo Eats
Tokyo: Odaiba
Tokyo: Doing Touristy Things in Tokyo
Toyama: A Hamlet Called Ainokura
Kyoto Accommodation: K's House Hostel Kyoto
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Wisdom from the Road: On exits #2
Kyoto: By the Thousands (Kyoto Imperial Palace, Sanjusangendo, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove)
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Turning Japanese
Kyoto: Braving the Crowds at these UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto (Kiyomizu-dera, Nijo Castle, Kinkakuji)
Hyogo, Japanecdote: If Only I Could Speak Nihongo
Hyogo: Day Trip to Himeji: Himeji Castle and Shoshazan Engyoji Temple
Hyogo, Japanecdote: Am I an Alien?
Hiroshima: Strolling and Snacking in Miyajima
Hiroshima: Remembering the Past in Hiroshima
Osaka, Japanecdote: How to Lose Friends
Osaka Accommodation: Osaka Airbnb
Osaka, Japanecdote: Where is Bentencho Station?
Osaka: Osaka Adlaw, Osaka Ako sa Osaka
Osaka, Japanecdote: Learn From Your Mistakes

Concentrate on Kansai (2016)
9D/9N | Nov 2016 | Wakayama, Nara, Kyoto, Osaka
UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Kansai Region
Kyoto Accommodations: Guesthouse Wind Villa, Shiori Yado
Osaka Accommodations: Hotel Raizan, Hotel Mikado