Thursday, December 27, 2007

My Japan Trip - Daily Itinerary

This is a monster post that lists the daily details for the 2 weeks I spent in Japan. Pictures are uploaded on Flickr, thumbnails link to the full picture, of course. Some links relevant to Japan:


Nov 19, Monday - Day 1: I get into Tokyo!

  • Land at Narita Airport around 3:30 pm. Figuring out how to get to Tokyo was easy since (1) the Lonely Planet guide Lonely Planet Japan  tells you what to do, and (2) there are English-speaking staff at the airport info center.
  • Sat next to a graphics artist on the Narita Express. She showed me how to write my name in kanji :)
  • I hit Tokyo station right at rush hour, and I had to figure out their subway system. Not fun. But once you get the hang of it, it's not a big deal.
  • Checked into the Khaosan Asakusa Annex, and decided to head out on foot to check out Sansoji temple Sensoji temple from the Asakusa market


Nov 20, Tuesday - Day 2: Tokyo exploration

  • Hit the Tsujiki fish market at 6:30 am frozen tuna at Tsujiki Fish Market Tsujiki Fish Market. It is a pretty impressive place, if you're into fish that is. I find a place to sit and eat a sushi breakfast. Y1980 for soup and a lot of sushi on top of rice sushi at Tsujiki Fish Market
  • Walked through Ginza and saw the Kabuki building tokyo kabuki theater. I would like to catch a performance here sometime.
  • Continued to the Imperial Palace East Gardens Imperial PalaceImperial Palace East Gardens. They are big and beautiful, a nice place to sit and relax.
  • Made my way to the Shinjuku area for lunch. Had Unajo, eel over rice eel with rice. Y2800. Over-priced :)
  • Walked around the Shinjuku streets and window-shopped. Department stores mostly have western brands, so I'm not interested at all.
  • For dinner, went to Rappongi. Had some really awesome food, hibachi-style hibachi cook. Y2900. A lot of money, but the food was worth it.
  • Post-dinner, headed back to Shinjuku and walked around the Kabuki-cho area. The nightlife is mostly for the Japanese. There were a lot of street restaurants and their people outside trying to peddle customers with the menu. Whenever I would walk by, they would hide the menu behind them and start looking the other way.


Nov 21, Wednesday - Day 3: Planning for the trip up north

  • Tsujiki fish market again, around 8 am, for another sushi breakfast more sushi. Y2000. This is some of the best sushi I have ever had. I'm ecstatic.
  • Walk through Ginza again, and people-watch while sipping a Cappuccino from the 2nd floor window seat of Coutor, a café chain like Starbucks. nice coffee in ginza
  • Head over to the tourist info center. Best decision evvvrrrrrr. Helped me with the transportation details and some hotel reservations for trip up to Sapporo and down to Kyoto. Head over to the Tokyo train station to reserve train seats. Reserving seats is highly recommended, since most of the cars are reserved seats and only a few have unreserved seating. In my experience, the unreserved car got filled up quickly and many people, including me, had to stand for the length of the trip.
  • Go to Shibuya, Harajuku, Shinjuku and Akihabara. Shibuya is cool, lots of hip youngsters people dressing up in shibuya. Harajuku is fantastic, my favorite neighborhood in Tokyo, its fashion is contagious harajuku street shopping. Akihabara was okay. I got there when it was closingAikhabara at night, so the first impression wasn't great.
  • Have Japanese curry for dinner japanese curry. Y930.


Nov 22, Thursday - Day 4: Nikko by day, Sendai by night

  • I get up at 4:30 am to catch the Shinkensen (Japanese bullet train) from Ueno to Utsonomiya at 6:10 am. For some reason, I am feeling great :)
  • I catch a local train from Utsonomiya to Nikko, a nice small town with a lot of history. Get into Nikko at 7:45 am. The town is closed, nobody on the streets.the streets of nikko in the morning
  • First I come upon the Shinkyo sacred bridge, which is a fairly popular image for Japanese culture in tourist brochures. shinkyo sacred bridge
  • Then I walk to the shrines and temples. This is the first time I see the Fall leaves turning color in Japan. It's beautiful. path leading to the shrines in nikko
  • I hit the Toshugu shrine first rinnoji temple 4 , then the other shrines. walking towards toshogu shrine 2 toshogu shrine 6 Futarasan Shrine 1 It starts snowing while I am there. All of this is beautiful.
  • Had lunch at Happari Dori, a Lonely Planet recommendation. Hippari Dako food shop noodles. Y800. It is fantastic! The walls are full of currency notes, pictures and business/ID cards of people who have been here. I stick a Pakistan Rupee 100 note on the ceiling Hippari Dako food shop.
  • While walking back to the Nikko train station, I stop and eat a freshly steamed bun filled with red bean paste. Y100. It is delicious. In fact, it is so good that I walked back to eat another one, even though I am pretty full from lunch.
  • I get back to Utsonomiya and catch the Shinkensen to Sendai. The scenery changes pretty dramatically from the Fall colors to snow white. Sendai is covered in snow when I get in. The walk to the hotel is not fun :)
  • Sendai is a little Tokyo. sendai downtown 2 But frankly, if you have the choice to stay/live in the actual Tokyo, why bother with the little one.
  • I walk over to a restaurant called Rikyu, another Lonely Planet recommendation. I order gyukan, which is beef tongue. It is mindblowingly good. Fantastic. Y1500. What a deal!


Nov 23, Friday - Day 5: Sapporo Sapporo

  • I catch the morning Shinkensen up to Sapporo. The stops are: Hanoche, Amoiri, Hakodate, Sapporo.
  • I check into a Pension. These are Japanese-style lodgings, something between a hostel and a Ryokan, run by families. This one also has an Onsen-like bath. my japanese style room 3
  • I walk to a place called Ramen Alley ramen alley in sapporo 2 (ramen yokocho), near Sapporo's downtown. The best Ramen I have ever had. Period. the best ramen i've ever had. Y700.
  • Sapporo has an active nightlife, and it's even more closed to foreigners than Tokyo's nightlife. I get bad stares and pointed fingers from people.
  • Ignoring them, I go and have dessert. A crêpe filled with Nutella and bananas. Y395. Ummm ummm good.


Nov 24, Saturday - Day 6: Genghis Khan

  • I take the subway to Nijo fish market, Sapporo's answer to Tokyo's Tsujiki, albeit at a much smaller scale. I ask for a recommendation and get sushi, rice and soup set up in 5 bowls. It tasted like the freshest sushi I have ever had. sushi breakfast at nijo fish market in sapporo. Y2079.
  • I sit and people-watch at a café in Sapporo's big shopping mall, called the Sapporo Factory. sapporo city shopping mall
  • I start thinking about money, and do some quick calculations. Right now, I am spending ~ÙS$30/night on accommodation and ~US$60/day on everything else (food, transport, etc.). This is not bad, considering what I have been eating.
  • For dinner, I head over to the Sapporo Beir Garten sapporo beer-en garden and museum and have a dish called Genghis Khan :) or rare lamb Genghis Khan-style. Y2520. It is amaaaaazing. All you can eat, trays of rare lamb pieces brought in, with a hot pot in front to cook them on. Genghis Khan rare lamb at sapporo beer-en restaurant What a treat! I stuff myself with 2 trays of lamb.


Nov 25, Sunday - Day 7: 11 hours on the train to Tokyo

  • Woke up early to catch a 6:45 am Shinkensen back to Tokyo. It takes me ~11 hours.
  • I spend the night in Tokyo at Ace Inn, which is near Shinjuku. It's a nice place to stay. Relatively cheap with excellent facilities.
  • For dinner, I head to Omoide-yokocho street omoide-yokocho food alley in shinjuku, a few small alleys lined with food shops, right on top of the Shinjuku train station. This area is supposed to be demolished in mid-2008 for a new development, so I thought I should enjoy it while I can :)
  • I have a soup and barbecue meat soup at omoide-yokocho food alley in shinjuku bbq at omoide-yokocho food alley in shinjuku Again, amazing food. Y2850.


Nov 26, Monday - Day 8: Kyoto, finally!

  • I wake up early and head to Tsujiki :) 3rd morning in Tokyo, 3rd sushi breakfast at Tsujiki. I am going crazy, need to contain myself :) sushi breakfast at tsujiki fish maket again!. Y2100.
  • I catch the noon Shinkensen to Kyoto. I have been reading a lot about it and expectations are high.
  • By the time I check into the hostel and head out, it's getting a little late. I make my way to the main shopping district, between Sanjo Street and Shijo Street, but it's late and most places are closing. I see a shop with a lot of swords and knives and ask the owner about Samurai swords and katanas. He tells me that there is only one shop making and selling real swords in Kyoto. It's opposite Nijojo castle.
  • I have dinner at Misoka-an Kawamichiya, a 300 year old noodle restaurant. Soba noodles and fish. IMG_1010 IMG_1011. Y1550. It's okay, not great. But the restaurant atmosphere is awesome IMG_1017.


Nov 27, Tuesday - Day 9: Kyoto by bike, temples all day AND night

  • I rent a bike from the hostel and figure out a route to the temples and shrines. Biking in Kyoto is a great feeling. It's mostly because I love moving faster and racing other bikes while weaving through the people and the cars.
  • First is Yongenin temple IMG_1033 and then Sanjusangendo temple IMG_1053 IMG_1049. Sanjusangendo is very nice, very popular with the tourists and locals as well.
  • Onwards to Kiyomizu temple IMG_1094, which is great as well. But the walk from it to Ninen-zaka street, San-nen-zaka street and Ishibe koji street is faaaantastic IMG_1105 IMG_1146 IMG_1158. I see a lot of women dressed up in geisha costumes. They are not Geisha, or Maiko (Geisha in training), but regular people who pay to dress up and walk around as geishas and have their pictures taken. IMG_1104 IMG_1129 IMG_1156
  • On to Kodaji temple IMG_1167 with some fantastic Feng Shui IMG_1168 IMG_1166.
  • I decide to spend some time just biking around and get a better feel for Kyoto city. Bike next to the river all the way up to Kyoto University and then back towards downtown.
  • I bike all the way to Nijojo castle and visit the sword shop IMG_1369. Look but don't touch. The prices definitely are news. IMG_1464
  • I bike back to the hostel to take a shower before dinner. Dinner is a simple bowl of noodles at a small hole-in-the-wall joint IMG_1201. Y450.
  • From there I go to Shoren-in temple for the night lights show. It's fantastic. Some of my favorite Japan pictures IMG_1209 IMG_1323 IMG_1263 IMG_1262 IMG_1302.


Nov 28, Wednesday - Day 10: I buy a sword

  • After breakfast, I rent the bike again and go to Fushimiinari-taisya shrine. It's really cool IMG_1359. Some kids there take my picture with them because I am not Asian :)
  • Next is Nijojo castle IMG_1379 IMG_1411. It is very peaceful and very nice. The floors in the Shogun's building have air pockets under them which make them squeak when you walk on them. This is to alert the Shogun in case an intruder comes into the building. It's cool.
  • I go the sowrd shop afterwards and buy my sword :) IMG_1471 I decide to ship it back, so I'll write a full post on it later.
  • I eat lunch at a standing noodle shop with only a curtain separating it from the busy street outside. Tempura and noodle IMG_1489. Y270. Fantastic.
  • The evening is spent people-watching at a very nice café on one of the main streets IMG_1490
  • Dinner is ramen noodles at Nagehama Ramen IMG_1491. Y600. I also get a few shots of Kyoto at night from the 4th floor of a building IMG_1498.


Nov 29, Thursday - Day 11: Shopping in Harajuku

  • I take the early morning Shinkansen and get into Tokyo about noon. After catching up on email, I head to Harajuku and shop :) I buy totally ridiculous shoes and 2 jackets. Harajuku fashion is contagious.
  • I come back to Shinjuku for dinner and end up at a very popular barbeque place. It is amazing IMG_1505 IMG_1508. Y1590.


Nov 30, Friday - Day 12: Tokyo is where I feel good

  • One of the few days when I wake up late. After a quick coffee, I head to Akihabara. I was initially planning a day trip to Kamakura, but it is raining, plus I've had my fill of temples and shrines in Kyoto.
  • Akihabara is not as impressive as I thought it would be, or maybe I'm just lost and can't find what all the buzz is about. I check out some manga stores, some toy stores and a big electronics store. Lunch is at Classic Curry IMG_1517. Y880.
  • I ship my Harajuku shopping back to the US rather than packing it in my bulging backpacks. Have an interesting experience at the post office trying to communicate with someone who understands or speaks no English :)
  • I am trying to find this noodle place in Shinjuku for dinner, but can't figure it out. I ask a parking lot attendant and he points me to the door. But since I am blind, I go into the wrong door and end up in this expensive tapas place. I hate expensive food (when there are such tasty cheaper food options). When I finally find the noodle place, it's okay, not great IMG_1521. Y950.


Dec 1, Saturday - Day 13: Feast of fantastic food

  • Another day when I wake up late. I decide to just take in Tokyo for the last full day I am there.
  • I spend a few hours at the Imperial Palace East Gardens IMG_1537, then walk out and run across a Mochi Cream store. My God! What fantastic food hath thou created!
  • I find that there are no Kabuki shows for today, so I go and watch Beowulf (Japanese site) to get the Japanese cinema experience.
  • I eat something a Yoshinoya, a local chain that's everywhere. The food is pathetic and this chain should be avoided at all costs!
  • Disappointed, I head to the Omoide-yokocho alleys in Shinjuku. First I have a full meal of some good Ramen noodles IMG_1563. Y930.
  • Then I walk 5 seconds to another place and sit down for a massive dose of barbeque IMG_1566 IMG_1570 IMG_1577. Y2650. What a feast, and what a great way to end the trip to Japan. My legs are barely able to carry by portly body back to bed.


Dec 2, Sunday - Day 12: Sayonara

  • I get to Narita Airport much earlier than needed. I've become really conservative about air travel I guess. I exchange some US$ and Japanese Yen for Chinese RMB. The rest I spend on noodles :)
  • I board the flight to Beijing. Sayonara Japan.


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