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Category Archives for Japan

travel lessons

Travel Lessons Learned After Japan and China

We learned many travel lessons as we planned our trip and lived it day to day. We used information from the internet together with some second-hand, out of date travel books. Added to this we got advice from the hotels we stayed in as well as the city tourist departments.

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visiting japan

Visiting Japan a Top Bucket List Experience

Visiting Japan was an absolute pleasure. For many reasons, we were grateful we went there after China.

While China is impressive with its massive infrastructural growth in a short period of time. It has not brought the society along at the same rate. Where Japan is gentile, China is brash. Where Japan is spotlessly clean China is grimy. For some contrasts you can read about my views of China by clicking here.

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Ryokan onsen

My First Onsen Experience

We arrived at our ryokan in Hakone  and after a walk around the village it was time to experience our first onsen.

There may be some trepidation at wandering around naked in public but those concerns are all funny games in your own head!

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Hakone ryokan Japan

A Ryokan Experience in Hakone

Our first experience of an onsen was at a traditional ryokan. Situated in the village of Hakone, a small town a few hours’ drive from Tokyo. The day was grey, rainy and quite cold.

We went with my cousin and his Japanese wife so our experience was enhanced by her guidance and knowledge. It made this occasion very special.  

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Nara Todaiji Temple

Nara – Home of the Friendly Deer

Nara is situated a short train ride away from Kyoto and makes for a very enjoyable day trip.

Although it would have been nearly as easy to use the JR pass we took the Kintetsu train down to Nara … it was the more convenient and direct option.

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Kyoto – The Temple Capital of Japan

Our Kyoto experience was 4 days sightseeing and 4 days trying to master the railway system!!

We missed stations and we missed trains … tripping like real amateurs. But all problems were quickly resolved by the Hyperdia app.

We stayed in an AirBnB in south Kyoto in an area which is crisscrossed with 3 railway lines. These took us some time to figure out. In the Kyoto region the JR lines are not dominant so we had to resort to using Kintetsu lines.

To add to our confusion there were two lines that cross and these led to further confusion. On a few occasions we had to retrace our steps and reset our Pasmo cards at a JR office as we had used a ticket to enter a station and the JR pass to exit.

With the JR Rail pass, our Pasmo cards, a one day Kyoto bus ticket plus a lot of walking we saw all the temples and shrines that we had in our plan.

In most of these temples and shrines there is no photography so you have to soak the sights into your memory.

The entry fee in most of these varied from Y400 to Y600 excluding any audio guided tours where they were available. Some sites have QR codes which supply interesting facts about the site.

Sanjusangen-do Temple

This temple houses 1 000 statues of women lined up behind various gods and some ugly looking protectors. It has a strong Hindu feel about it with the women

Unfortunately, the National Museum was closed. Although it was a Tuesday, it was the day after a public holiday.  

Chisshaku-in Temple

This was the place of the quiet garden.

A sightseeing “oasis” with few people and area where you could sit on bamboo mats and look at the garden on the hillside to the sound of a splattering waterfall.  

Kiyomizu-dera Temple

From temple calm to temple hectic.

After a walk of about 30 minutes, we started up the narrow road to this temple. Tour buses were maneuvering their way up and down and the crowds got thicker and thicker.

There were many young women dressed in kimonos. Dressed up, made up and coiffured they were a colourful traditional sight. There were also a few young men in traditional robes. Together they made elegant couples and groups.

The temple is very large and is situated high up on a hill overlooking the city. It has an enjoyable and easy to follow circuit route.   

On the following day we used the Kyoto one-day bus pass to visit the following sites. It was good value even though we didn’t travel as much as we could.

Nijo-jo Castle

This was the palace of the shogunate​. Beautifully preserved and now undergoing a major restoration. The displays are well documented in English … but result in a quickly forgotten information overload.  

Kinkaku-ji Temple (Golden Shrine)

This was a perfect experience of “production line” sightseeing.

Ushered on by security guards dressed in blue uniforms. You line up to take pictures of the shrine or “selfies” or group photographs and then get squeezed out onto the path around the shrine.

It was a grey gusty day but the temple is an impressive sight. 

Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine

The pictures of the thousands of vermillion torii do not do justice to this shrine.

It is massive and stretches for kilometer after kilometer, higher and higher into the mountain. There are many smaller temples and paths leading off the main 4-kilometer-long path.

Around Kyoto

During our stay in Kyoto we decided to take a day trip to Nara


  • ​To avoid the crowds, get to the main temples and shrines early. I’m not sure if they happen throughout the year but after midday it was ​into school outing season. Thousands of excited, chattering children, identified by yellow caps or flag waving guides are shepherded through these venues. They are well behaved and considerate but there are ​lots of them!!
  • At times you may get “templed out” – a phenomenon which happens to a lot of tourists who subject themselves to visiting a lot of temples.
  • In the Kyoto area (which includes Osaka) the escalator rule like nowhere else in Japan or the world is “stand right walk left”.

Kawasaki – A Little Tokyo

We arrived at Narita Airport in Tokyo en route to Kawasaki.

Flying on a Jetstar (low cost Japanese/Australian airline) flight from Hong Kong we noticed a difference in the attitude of the staff.They were more polite and less abrasive than we’d experienced in China.

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Nagasaki – Survived Devastation to be an Example to the World

Unaware that it was a long weekend in Japan we booked our stay to stay in Saga as we couldn’t find any reasonably priced hotels in Nagasaki or Fukuoka. It turned out that it was all we needed.

The hotel was within walking distance of the station (which had a super boulangerie for breakfast). It was very easy to find. The rooms are small but adequate. The hotel had coin operated washing and drying facilities and the staff were obliging and helpful.

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hiroshima japan

Hiroshima – The Spiritual Centre of the Peace Movement

After activating the JR Rail Pass our first trip was the long ride from Kawasaki near Tokyo to Hiroshima. First a short metro trip to Shin-Yokohama then the Shinkansen bullet train to Hiroshima.

On this train ride we first experienced the hospitality and helpfullness that is Japan.

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japan tokyo

Tokyo – Like Switzerland on Steroids

We spent a few days wandering around Tokyo experiencing a tiny part of their vast and complex railway system. It can be overwhelming, but ​despite its complexity it operates unbelievably efficiently and reliably. ​We marveled at the organization and cleanliness of the city. Being overawed ​by the crowds and amazed at the graciousness of the people.

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