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First Trip to Japan Trip Report

The Travelers: DS1 (elder son): age 30, lives in the PNW. Loves things Japanese since childhood. We have not travelled together internationally before. DS2 (younger son age 27) : my usual travel companion. Myself (58F). I was curious how adding DS1 would affect us as DS2 and I have developed an easy travel style. What I found is that DS1 slowed us down in the morning as he has quite an organizational process and he must be fed regularly. It is also just harder to get 3 people going than it is two. On the positive side, DS1 pushed us to go a bit farther and do a bit more and kept our energy up. It was fabulous for the 3 of us to be together.

The Plan: Planning a trip is my absolute favorite activity. I planned this trip over about 12 months. I have taken 5 group tours, planned 2 independent European trips and had one agency supported independent trip (Iceland) in the past. I have come to favor independent travel, but was anxious about Japan, so went with Inside Japan. I communicated with an agent via email and one phone call. They helped to build our itinerary based on our requests, arranged hotel reservations and scheduled experiences. It was more expensive than planning everything ourselves. I was completely satisfied with their services.

I purchased Fodor's Japan guidebook, but didn't use it much. I read countless web pages, watched you tube videos, watched movies, read fiction and non-fiction books and studied Japanese. I loved every minute.

The Language: As mentioned above, I studied Japanese language for about 10 months. Some days as little as 5 minutes, some days as long as 2 or 3 hours. I used Duolingo and 2 web based courses. I generally learn basic polite phrases in the language of the countries I visit, but I found that I love Japanese. I learned hiragana and katakana (Japanese "alphabets") and some kanji as well. Of course, it takes longer than 10 months, less than an hour per day, to become fluent in a language. However, this made my trip much better. I could read signs. I could communicate with service staff better and it gave me more opportunities to interact with Japanese people in general. We ate in several "no English" restaurants. We had more in depth conversations with wait staff and hotel staff as they were more interested in interacting with us due to my efforts. Several people outright praised my efforts saying my intonation and speech pattern was accurate. One woman was almost teary and expressed how touched she was that an American was interested enough to attempt learning her language. She went out of her way to ask me vocabulary words and I was able to come up with every single one! You have heard that Osakans are more outgoing and we found this to be true. It was also at the end of our trip and my confidence was high. I initiated multiple conversations with people and it was well received.

Flights: I am Delta loyal due to multiple factors. I won't fly in economy for multiple reasons. DS1 flew from PDX to MSP and DS@ and I flew from CLE to MSP. We met up there and flew together to HND. The trip from MSP was over 12 hours. We flew Premium Select. DS2 and I were upgraded free to first class on the domestic leg. On the return, DS1 flew from KIX to Seoul to Seattle to PDX and DS2 and I flew ITM to HND to MSP to CLE. The flights were about $3K per person. (I was able to get my flights to CDG for $91.70 plus miles for this coming September). All flights were uneventful and service was good. I did learn something about what meals to order as I have not been impressed with Delta's meals. DS2 taught me to always order the pasta. The pasta dishes are pretty good!

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Posted by
1536 posts

Health DS2 woke up after our first night with congestion and a cough. He was a bit fatigued, but it didn't get in his way much. DS1 came down with same in the middle of the trip and I experienced the same on the last day and am still a bit congested. I took OTC meds including Mucinex, diphenhydramine, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen. Between the 3 of us, we used most of what I took. More of an issue was my arthritis. I have 2 arthritic knees that did fine, but my feet were quite troublesome. I don't know if it is plantar fasciitis or arthritis or likely both, but my feet became swollen and were quite painful. If the trip were even one day longer, I think I would have to take a rest day. I did limit some activities on 2 half days. I had appropriate footwear that accommodated the swelling. I am afraid that this is going to negatively impact my ability to travel in the future.

Out of steam! I will return to add more.

Posted by
86 posts

I’m going to Japan in November so am looking forward to reading more of your report!

Posted by
496 posts

Yes I've booked for mid-Oct to end Nov - really looking forward to it. Sounds like you had a good trip

Posted by
3365 posts

Loving it so far, excitedly waiting for more!
Suggesting maybe you also put this report under trip reports on the forum?

Posted by
169 posts

Curious about your language learning before your trip. After my trip this spring, I returned really wanting to learn Japanese after hearing it spoken so much. I really like how it sounds and wish I could have understood a little bit what people were saying to me haha

I'm thinking of returning this fall (mid-late October) and was thinking of trying to learn the alphabets to be able to at least read a little and learn some more basic phrases. Wondering how you approached your learning. Did you start with the alphabets first? Which one?

I typically fly Delta too and did that MSP > HND flight as well. I'll have to order the pasta next time, I had no idea.

Looking forward to the rest of your report!

Posted by
1536 posts

@Tammy, I started to post this under Trip Reports, but the description clearly states EUROPEAN trips. I am trying to follow forum rules as much as possible, especially based on the drama that has happened while I was traveling!

@James, I think learning hiragana, closely followed by katakana is completely necessary for understanding Japanese and would recommend starting with that unless a person was only going to learn polite phrases. Then, it also becomes necessary to learn some kanji. I know there are a lot of problems with Duolingo, but it was very effective for me in learning these. I also highly recommend Tokini Andy on You Tube or TokiniAndy.com. He has a lot of nice free videos on YouTube and I think his inexpensive ($90) online course is excellent.

@Beth and Lissie: I hope to return to Japan and would like to go in November for the fall colors.

Hotels The four hotels we stayed in were all pretty similar. They were multistoried, modern and clean with good service. Locations were excellent for our purposes. Room sizes were similar to slightly larger than the 3 star hotels I choose in Europe and the modernity was a nice upgrade.
Hotel Gracery Asakusa in Tokyo. I especially loved this neighborhood.
Hotel Intergate in Kanazawa
Mitsui Garden Hotel Kyoto Station
Cross Hotel Osaka (fabulous location)

We stayed at one Ryokan/Onsen --Iwaso on Miyajima Island. We stayed 2 nights. This is a very old and very well rated ryokan. I am very glad we stayed here for the experience. The service was outstanding. We had one traditional breakfast and 2 kaiseki dinners. Again, we were grateful to be able to experience these meals. However, for 3 people from landlocked Ohio, we struggled a lot to be able to eat a lot of the foods offered. The meals were beautifully presented. The other disappointment is that the hallways were very dusty leading to several sneezing episodes.

PackingWe each carried an Osprey backpack and a personal item. We had no problems transporting our bags on public transportation. We removed them from our backs on the subway if it was busy. The overhead racks were plenty large to hold our bags for our Shinkansen trips. We had 3 pairs of slacks each, about 5-6 tops, 4-5 underwear/socks and a rain jacket. I had 2 pair of shoes and the boys each had one pair. DS1 turned out to be a shopper. On the way home he checked his Osprey because he bought some books/magazines and they were heavy. I gave him my "don't tell Rick" bag (nylon bag that folds into a pocket) so that he could buy some sweets/gifts at the airport. DS2 and I bought more souvenirs than we usually do, as there a lot of cool things to buy in Japan. DS2 had plenty of room in his bag for his purchases. I used a second nylon bag on the way home. I put my Tom Bihn bag inside this bag and then had enough room to buy some omiyage (boxed sweets) at the airport.

Transportation Inside Japan provided us with IC cards that were preloaded with 2500 Yen. We added more money one time. We purchased ID card holders at the Pokemon store the first day. They hold the IC card with nice Pokemon character decorations and can be clipped to your day bag. They have a coiled tether to make access to the cards easy. The cards can be used at most vending machines and convenient stores as well. You don't want to be in Japan without one of these cards. We easily used the cards on subways, trains and buses throughout Japan. I highly recommend understanding how and where to get a card.

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Posted by
1536 posts

SHINKANSEN: Inside Japan provided us with printed tickets for 4 pre-planned rides and we purchased tickets ourselves for a day trip. I always get anxious before riding a train, but things went smoothly. There is a very small learning curve. A few things we did learn--It is pretty easy to find the platform you need. Just look at the boards and look for the name of your train and/or the time of departure. I found looking for the departure time and then confirming the name of the train and the destination worked well. The trains are ON TIME. Don't dally getting on and off the train. Sometimes you will have multiple tickets for one trip. I was very anxious when we bought our day trip tickets. My first idea was to go to the manned desk, however there was a huge line. They have a number system like the DMV or the deli. I got number 27 and they were only on number 6. So, we went to the machines. There was an attendant helping people, including Japanese, and it seemed like people were struggling. The three of us went up to a machine and getting the tickets to our destination was very easy! I used cash. The problem was that our trip was only a 30 minute ride each way and the machine spit out THIRTEEN pieces of paper! We had no idea what to do. I approached an attendant with my bit of Japanese. He was confused at first, but when I explained san jin (3 people) he explained that each trip required 2 tickets. We then found out that both tickets go into the machine at the same time. If you don't put both tickets in, you get rejected. Later in our journey we needed 3 tickets each. The 13th ticket was the receipt.
Another thing that happened on the day trip is that I purchased tickets without reserved seats, however the trains that we got on didn't have any non-reserved seats. It wasn't a problem, just sit in an empty seat, get up or move if someone gets on at a stop and has a ticket for your seats.
We had some confusion during our trip from Hiroshima to Osaka as well. We were supposed to stop at Himeji to see the castle. So, we had to take a ferry from Miyajima to outside of Hiroshima, then a train to the main station and then the Shinkansen. We missed our reserved train to Himeji. It was pouring down rain, so we decided to skip Himeji. What we learned is that if you miss your train, you can get on the next train going to your destination, but you need to sit in the non-reserved seats car, usually 1-3. During this lesson the attendant did use his Google Translate app on his phone to explain everything.

TAXIS: Early on in my travel, I made a loose rule not to use taxis. I did this so I would force myself to learn how to use public transportation. Now I found that I need to put taxis back in the rotation. When it makes sense, it makes sense. I also apparently need to save over using my feet. We took a taxi in Tokyo to get to one of our activities. We used taxis in Kyoto as the subway is very limited there and buses are very full. We took a taxi to the Kanazawa station from the hotel even though we walked with our bags to the station upon arrival. You aren't going to get scammed in Japan. The taxi drivers are courteous, professional and honest. There is NO tipping. DS2 put an app on his phone that we needed to use once. The rest of the time taxis were easy to hail by raising your arm and making eye contact. It was relatively cheap as well. Most of the drivers spoke little to no English. We showed the address when needed from Google Maps.

OK, next will be activities by city. I hope to do Tokyo tomorrow after work. However, I have been warned that I am going back to a mess, so if I have a 12 hour day, I might not be back until Tuesday or Wednesday. Be sure to let me know if there are any questions!

Posted by
960 posts

Thanks for the report! I am very impressed with your Japanese language learning!!

Trains and tickets!! - I've been to Japan a number of times and still manage to sound the alarms at one of the train station gates somewhere along the line. As you say, there are so many pieces of paper - I've tried to enter using a receipt in addition to an actual ticket more than once, even after thinking I had "read" them! I am so glad and grateful that the train station employees are so polite and helpful. I've never had the sense of a "gotcha ya" like I've witnessed at times in Europe.

I'm returning in a couple weeks, taking a first time travel companion. I'm eager to see things through new eyes.

Posted by
1536 posts

@ORD, one of our trips that required a transfer only required one ticket each. It was so different from our day trip that I called the Inside Japan help line. They had me photograph the ticket and email it to them. They reassured me it was OK, but they had never seen them combine 2 rides and the fare ticket into one before. So don't worry if you only get one, it will likely vary.

MoneyAs you have heard, some places in Japan take cash only. This includes street food venders, some souvenir shops and some restaurants. Also, if you want to purchase things at shrines and temples, bring small denomination cash. Very close to the exit of the international arrivals hall, just to the left are 7 eleven ATM machines. This is where I got my first bit of cash. I took out 100,00 yen which is about 640 USD. In total, I took out a total of $1750 which was 280,000 yen. I came home with 40,000 yen which will be a gift for my niece who is visiting Japan this fall. I used a 7 eleven ATM each time I withdrew money.

My preferred credit card is my platinum sky miles AMEX card. I always take a VISA as a back up because not every place will accept AMEX. After reading a thread on this forum, I put my AMEX card on my Google Wallet and boy I am glad I did. Our second day, we went to the Nintendo store to get DS1 a Nintendo Switch. It was pure chaos in the store. They did not accept electronic payment and I did not get my card back from the clerk. As mentioned in the other thread, when I cancelled the card, the new card was automatically uploaded to my Google wallet. Therefore, I was able to continue to earn travel miles. More places accepted AMEX than I was expecting.

Helpfulness of Japanese People Yes, yes, yes. I was very comfortable asking for help and I did on many occasions. Every single encounter was a positive one. In Tokyo, one of the subway lines was not available at our neighborhood station and I asked a salary man on a bicycle, who was waiting for the light to turn, how to walk to the next station. He parked his bike, got out his phone, missed the next light and was very kind. In all of these instances I did ask for help in my best Japanese, but I don't think it would have mattered if I used English instead. As I will mention again when I report about Osaka, I was approaching Osakans left and right for conversation. Osakans were also approaching us because DS1 is 6'3" and both boys were wearing Hanshin Tigers jerseys. We also had very nice conversations with a few monks at temples and a few Shinto shrine attendants. These interactions were the best parts of our trip.

Religion Of course you are going to visit a temple or two and a shrine or two in Japan. We were respectful and learned the appropriate etiquette for both venues. We prayed and donated at dozens of temples and shrines. We enjoyed the famous sites like Sensoji in Tokyo, but we enjoyed the smaller sites even more. They may not have been painted red, but they were still fabulous and each had its own story. We fell in love with the Japanese approach to religion. Buddhism for somber events such as funerals and remembering your ancestors and Shinto for celebrations and Christian churches for weddings. All worshippers are welcome. DS1 especially was interested in visiting these sites of worship. I don't want to start a debate regarding religion or overtly offend anyone, but the Japanese approach to religion, as far as I currently understand it, makes the most sense to me and appears to be the most positive representation of good that I have ever seen. To enhance our experience, we each had a Goshuincho, which is a special book that you can have stamped and calligraphed (Goshuin) after worshipping. Each temple/shrine has its own unique stamp and it includes the date you were there. Now, each of us have a record of where we worshipped and a beautiful book of art.
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Posted by
960 posts

Such a fine detailed report! There’s been such an interest on one of the other threads. I’m sure many are enjoying this. Thanks for your efforts!

I hope the train ticket discussions reassure others. Many travelers, even Japanese, need help at some point.

Last trip in late 2023, I somehow failed to pick up my ticket for a continuing journey after exiting one area and transferring to another. I think I was too relaxed - been there, done that transfer - and I just wasn’t thinking or looking for the ticket to pop back up at me from the gate. I didn’t realize until I attempted to enter the next platform area and couldn’t. The attendees could not have been kinder. Just return to the previous exit gate and explain the situation. I did, in English (I’m wishing for a bit of vandabrud’s Japanese!), and was handed a replacement ticket. This was obviously a common problem!

Posted by
1536 posts

Thanks @ORD.

I slept 12 hours last night and I still don't think my old body is completely recovered!

Tokyo
DAY 1: We landed just before 2:20 in the afternoon at HND. Going through immigration was a bit confusing. There was a bit of a line. There is a website that you can fill out forms and get a QR code for this portion, but I didn't do that. (I normally would have, but I didn't want to have to harass the boys to do theirs). I don't remember this part very well due to just getting off of a 13 hour flight, but I think we filled out one form and had that checked and then had to fill out a second form and have that reviewed. For the second form you need the address to your first hotel. I think there was a plane just before us. We were in front of most of the people on our flight due to being in premium select and also due to not having to pick up any luggage. All of the staff at the airport were kind.

Inside Japan arranged for a car service and the person was waiting for us just outside the international arrivals hall. I explained I wanted to go the ATM. It is very close once you turn to the left. We had an easy car ride to our hotel. We were able to check in as it was after 3 pm. Generally, there is no early check ins in Japan!
My plan was to try sushi/sashimi early on so that if I liked it, I could enjoy it again without being worried. We went to Kura Sushi near the Tokyo sky tree. I think it was 2 stops on the subway. Kura Sushi is a popular conveyor belt sushi restaurant that offers private booths with curtains and you don't really interact with any staff, everything is automated. This was a comfortable way for me to try sushi. It was good! We ate freely. The cost was 5550 yen or $35. For all 3 of us! We had 16 plates, 3 alcoholic drinks, and 2 bowls of things.
After eating we went to the mall attached to the Tokyo Sky tree. We went to the Pokémon store and bought a few things, including the IC card holders. We then walked through Sensoji temple grounds, beautifully lit up and mostly deserted. Then off to bed.

DAY 2: We were met in the lobby by our guide Seiko. She was awesome! With her, we toured Meiji shrine, Sengaku-ji shrine (the gravesite of the 47 Ronin) and then stopped at a cafe for lunch. I had cold soba with a dipping soup. We then visited the Yasukuni Jinja and the Yushukan museum. 14 of the over 2,000 soldiers listed in the book of souls were charged with class A war crimes, so this place draws controversy. I was there to shed a tear for the teenaged kamikaze pilots that were forced to their deaths by a power hungry political leader. We also said a prayer for the boys' great uncle that died somewhere near Okinawa, his body too obliterated to recover.
We parted from Seiko at the subway and headed to Shibuya. We were dragging our feet a bit by this time, but enjoyed participating in the Shibuya scramble. With difficulty we found the Nintendo store. You learn quickly that the restaurant or store you are trying to find might be on the 8th floor, so look for the sign that lists the building's occupants. This is where I left my credit card. There was another Pokémon store to visit. DS2 was looking for an Ash Ketchum baseball hat, but the brand has moved on from this old character and none were to be found. We quickly discovered that even though the energetic vibe and bright lights were cool, we preferred our quieter neighborhood of Asakusa. We headed back and ate at a modern Izakaya. An Izakaya is a place for drinking and ordering small plates to share. We ordered: lemon sour, beer, chicken soup, Korean fried chicken, fries, sweet potato donuts, edamame, bread with some kind of spread, and gyoza. We did NOT order the chicken sashimi that was on offer. My credit card charge was $69.05.

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Posted by
960 posts

This is the website for entering immigration details pre-arrival.
https://www.digital.go.jp/en/services/visit_japan_web-en

As noted above, it is not required, but can save a traveler from having to manually fill out a form either on the plane or upon arrival.

I always land at Narita, but I have found the same kind, helpful immigration and customs employees as vandrabrud notes.

Again, thanks for the report!

Posted by
1536 posts

Day 3:
Started the day around 9 am with a conbini egg salad sandwich. We spent the morning in Akihabara, doing some shopping. We did enjoy the energetic vibe and it was a blast visiting the retro games stores and seeing all of the figurines. I bought a manga of Kodoku no Gurume (Solitary Gourmet). I love watching this show on kissasiantv. It was too crowded to find a place for lunch, so we headed to the neighborhood of the Sumo Arena. DS1 thought this would be a good opportunity to have McDonalds. We had chicken sandwiches, fries and melon floats. Just like everyone says: the bread is better!
We then headed into the Sumo arena around 3:00. WOW! This was so fun! Being in the presence of so many Japanese people enjoying their traditional sport in their traditional way was priceless. There was a small girl in the section next to us and she made the experience even more special. We watched her to know how to behave. She yelled out the names of her favorite wrestlers.
We took the subway back to our treasured neighborhood. It was more crowded than usual because the Sanja festival and Senso-ji temple had begun. We ate in a small restaurant with plastic models. We had Tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet) and cabbage.

DAY 4.
Today, we had a 9 am class at Shunkaen Bonsai Musuem. This was an interest of DS1. I was a bit worried about embarrassing myself as I am not a creative/artsy person. We were planning on taking a taxi because it was outside of the reach of the subway. But we hit a snag because our street was blocked off from car traffic due to the festival. We ended up taking the subway one stop, then hailing a cab. Our class was fabulous! I even received a sincere compliment about my technical wiring ability ! After the class, we were able to look at all of the bonsai trees, including a 600 year old beautiful tree. Wow!
We returned to Asakusa and walked around the festival. We had a beautiful bowl of ramen for lunch. We split up around 2 pm because it was too hard to keep track of each other in the massive crowd of the festival. DS2 didn't like the masses of people and headed back to the hotel. I did some shopping and bought some silk fans for friends. DS1 also did some wandering. It was lucky that we were able to experience our quiet neighborhood the first 2 days and then later the festival. Over 1.8 million people attended the festival!!
This afternoon, we were all hit with the affects of jetlag. We laid down to take naps and didn't get up until morning!
This was the end of our time in Tokyo. I can picture myself going back many times. There were so many neighborhoods that we didn't make it to. We learned that we enjoy the big city with busy streets, but will avoid the massively popular areas that have shoulder to shoulder people.

Posted by
1536 posts

I started planning for my September trip to Paris and have neglected my trip report!

DAY 5
Today we took the metro to Ueno train station. Ueno is one of the neighborhoods that I look forward to exploring on another trip. We arrived to the station too early. We were a bit nervous about missing the train and expected the train station to be interesting to see. But we shouldn't have entered the Shinkansen area so soon as there weren't very many shops after the ticket gate. We did purchase some sandwiches and snacks at a small conbini for the train. We took the 10:38 Shinkansen to Kanazawa.
It was a 20 minute walk to our hotel and we decided that was easier than figuring out the buses. This was the only time that we were able to check into our hotel before the 3:00 official time. I think we were about 25 minutes early. They did make a fairly big deal about breaking the rules!
After check-in, we walked to the Omicho market. Some of the stalls were closed because of it being afternoon, but we enjoyed seeing all of the seafood. We purchased an expensive snow crab. It was boiled and cut for us. The gentleman told us there were tables in the basement. After our appetizer we found a Curry Champion restaurant in the basement and enjoyed a great Kanazawa curry. We stocked up on snacks at 7-eleven and called it a day.

DAY 6
I was so looking forward to eating dozens of onigiri, but I am just not a big fan of seafood. This morning I did have a beef onigiri that I purchased at the 7 eleven the night before. We had a guided tour of Kanazawa today. We had a beautiful, rainy walk through Kenrokuen Garden (one of the top 3 curated gardens of Japan), a visit to the preserved Nomura family Samurai house, and a tour of the Kanazawa castle complex. I enjoyed the Gion area of Kanazawa more than in Kyoto because of the crowds. I absolutely loved the garden at the Nomura house. For lunch, we ate at one of the downtown 5 star hotels. We all chose wasabi beef, yum. Our guide took us to a gold leaf craft shop and we each decorated a pair of chopsticks in patterns with gold leaf. A little cheesy, but fun.

In the evening, we walked the streets looking for a particular souvenir that the boys wanted (a tin of Peace cigarettes). We didn't find any, but DS1 had a memorable interaction with an elderly woman that was running a cigarette shop out of her front room. We bravely entered a hole in the wall ramen shop in a back alley. I don't think the master was very happy to see us, but we successfully purchased our food tickets from the ancient vending machine, and I was able to speak enough Japanese to him to get by. This experience fulfilled one of my wishes. I called it a night, but the boys did more walking. They didn't find the tin, but DS2 found a Turkish kabob shop for a second dinner.

DAY 7
Today, we ventured to Eihe-ji, The Temple of Eternal Peace. This is one of the Soto sects two head temples and was founded by Dogen in 1244. The trip required a Shinkansen trip to Fukui and then a bus ride to the temple. I was nervous, but we managed it quite well with help of eki staff regarding the 13 tickets. Throughout our trip, I kept being surprised at the few "white" tourists that we saw. Predictably, they were in abundance in Shibuya, Akihabara, Gion Kyoto, but not that many elsewhere. We saw a lot of domestic and perhaps foreign Asian tourists. This day, we only saw 2 other white people. It made me feel like I had chosen the right place to visit (i realize this is a bit off). The temple grounds were extensive. My visit was augmented by the fact that I had just finished reading the book "Eat Sleep Sit" written by a Japanese salary man that spent a year in training here, the day before. I recommend visiting here. We had dinner at the Fukui train station. We bought sweets to enjoy on the train ride back to Kanazawa.

Posted by
1536 posts

DAY 8
This morning, my feet are swollen and painful. We took a taxi to the train station! Two short hours later and we are in Kyoto.

I need to go back in my forum posts and figure out who, but I do owe someone an apology. I made an incredulous comment when another poster recommended Osaka over Kyoto. I couldn't understand this at the time. All visitors to Japan should see Kyoto. I still think this is true, however, I don't think I will ever go back. It has a little bit to do with my sore feet, I think. Kyoto is spread out and there is a public transportation problem. I do regret making an uninformed comment. I definitely want to go back to Osaka.

We continued our enjoyment of shrines and temples. We had lunch at a Chinese restaurant and spent the afternoon walking to and praying at many beautiful sites. We learned that the smaller, deserted places were the ones we enjoyed the most. The attendants were so welcoming and so gracious to explain the history. They seemed genuinely happy that we were visiting and participating in their culture. We donated coins and were well behaved!
We had dinner at a Nepalese restaurant. I asked for vegetable Korma (not on the menu) and they accommodated me. DS2 and I try to have an Indian meal or 2 on every trip. This might have been my best Indian meal anywhere. Among others, we visited Sanjusangendo, Imakumano, Mishima jinja.

DAY 9
Today was our guided tour of Kyoto. We visited Fushimi Inari Shrine, Gion, Nonomiya Jinja, Takio Jinja and the bamboo forest.

DAY 10
Today, we had no schedule. We went to the downtown area. DS1 purchased a Casio watch and we did some shopping. We had Tonkatsu for lunch. We split up after lunch. The boys visited more shrines and temples. I walked through the shopping district and met them back at the hotel. For dinner, we went to a British Pub. It was great to experience the Japanese version of a pub!

DAY 11
This morning we did one of my favorite activities. We had an in home cooking class sponsored by Women Association of kyoto. I highly recommend this activity. We were picked up at the hotel and taken by taxi to Machiko's beautiful home. We cooked Miso soup, omelet, slaw, Teriyaki chicken, sauteed vegetables (pumpkin, lotus root) and fried tofu skin wrapped vegetables. We were so warmly welcomed. We had great, sharing conversations. The women were touched that I spent 10 months studying Japanese and they kindly quizzed my vocabulary. I loved this because I got to show off and I could answer every question!
We spent the afternoon visiting more shrines, including Higashi Hongan. I had my first royal milk iced tea at a cafe. Delicious! We ate dinner at "ramen street" in the train station and spent the evening exploring the rest of the beautiful station.

Posted by
467 posts

I am so enjoying your trip report. I have only ever been mildly interested in traveling to Asia, but after reading what you've written so far I am much more interested. I love that you made such an effort to learn Japanese in preparation for your trip and I know how rewarding that is. I did four months of Duolingo before I traveled to Germany for the first time and being able to read the signs, ask and respond to basic questions, and understand train announcements made the trip so much more memorable.

Posted by
4007 posts

I am anxiously reading along as we are booking our trip to Japan through Inside Japan also. The gentleman we’ve been corresponding with is in Japan now and upon his return we will put down our deposit. So excited! Our trip is March 2025.

Posted by
1594 posts

Japan is a fascinating country to visit. Thank you for your detailed report!!!!

Posted by
468 posts

I've been to Tokyo once, in 2002, for a very short trip and loved it. I have thought about returning for a longer trip to see more of Japan and after reading your trip report so far, I really want to make the return trip happen. Thanks for sharing!

Posted by
1536 posts

Thank you for reading! I get so many ideas and learn so much from reading other's posts and I am happy to return the favor!

Posted by
1536 posts

DAY 12
OK, so this was the worst day of a terrific trip, and it wasn't even that bad. I am a detailed trip planner and usually well prepared. However, I sometimes get stuck at the beginning of a trip and fail to be as careful about the end of the trip. I double and triple checked details, but I didn't for this day. The plan was to transfer to Hiroshima by Shinkansen, store our bags, spend the day and then transfer by ferry to Miyajima in the early evening. I discovered that our ferry tickets were for 2:30 pm. The next problem was that we were late getting started and DS1 didn't get breakfast. The next problem is that The Peace Memorial Museum is not for the faint of heart. When you add the feeling of being rushed, fear of missing your ferry, hunger and then the emotional misery of witnessing a very graphic accounting of the death of so many children......sometimes you need to stop in your tracks and reboot. I had failed to consider how this day might affect my children. My career has taught me a method of emotional detachment, but my sons were deeply affected. We cut our tour of Hiroshima short. We found a cafe next to the ferry terminal, ate and decompressed. The Memorial Park is a beautiful place to visit. I think it is extremely important to stand in a place, familiarize oneself with the history of the tragedy, weep for the victims, and to let the knowledge shape one's beliefs. But, please be cautious about visiting this museum, definitely be prepared for the weeping.
The 45 minute ferry ride through Hiroshima Bay, took us to Miyajima Island. We walked about 20 minutes from the pier to our ryokan and checked in. Our traditional room was a corner room, so we opened all of the windows. We had views of the forest on one side and views of the sea on the other. To finish processing the sadness of the day, DS1 took a walk through the woods and DS2 took a nap.
That evening, we had our first kaiseki meal. This turned out to be a different kind of challenge. Kaiseki meals are traditional meals with rules regarding the preparation and presentation of the food. It involves many courses with many small plates. Many of the dishes were not pleasant to our land-locked American palates. It was a very good experience and I feel grateful to have shared it with my sons.
That night, the three of us slept in a row, on the floor, on futons. This also, was a good experience, however, I don't feel the need to stay in a ryokan again in the future : ). None of us are bathers, so we did not visit the onsen.

DAY 13
This was the vacation from our vacation day. We were up early and experienced our traditional breakfast. Filling, despite the fact that we had trouble eating some of the dishes again. We walked the shoreline and visited Itsukushima Jinja as well as the other shrines nearby. It was raining and foggy and this gave the floating torii gate and other worldly appearance. It was beautiful. We walked all morning. For lunch, I wanted to sit down to a hearty meal with familiar looking food. There are a lot of street food stalls on the island and most of the stalls have big, beautiful oysters. We don't like them. We found a restaurant with homemade pasta, wonderful homemade bread, and wagyu beef tomato gravy.
After lunch, we split up. I visited the shops and walked more along the shoreline for about 90 minutes and then put my feet up in the room. Thankfully, there were two regular chairs in our room! The boys took the ropeway as far up the mountain as it goes and then walked the rest of the way to the peak. continued

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Their photos are wonderful. I am sure the views are spectacular on a sunny day, but on this day the fog and wispy clouds created a spooky, but still spiritual atmosphere. They walked from the peak down to the ryokan and this took several hours. They reported that the trail was quite difficult and DS1 stopped to acknowledge every Buddha statue along the way. I believe there are about 500! They found many hidden temples/shrines along the way.
We had kaiseki dinner again. DS1 was feeling tired and satisfied after his trek and successfully ate all of his meal. DS2 and I ate less.
Some of the foods we were served were: sashimi, shrimp, anago (sea eel), uni (sea urchin), century egg, different types of fish, mochi, pumpkin, pickles of many vegetables, miso soup, fried oysters. These we did pretty good with. We had more trouble with quite a few things that we didn't know what they were, but tasted fishy, slimy, or fermented. There was different sea weeds, natto (fermented soy beans) steamed oysters, and other fermented things. There was some alcohol involved. There was laughter and nice conversation with our attendants, who encouraged DS1 in his eating and appeared very pleased with his success.

DAY 14
This is the only day where the weather negatively impacted us. It was pouring rain. We took the hotel shuttle to the pier to take the quicker ferry to the mainland. Then was a 30 minute train to Hiroshima station. We missed our Shinkansen train to Himeji. We were planning to stop to see the castle. We are starting to get stimulus overload by now and we didn't want to walk in the pouring rain. So we got on the next train and instead of stopping, went all the way to Osaka. When we arrived in Osaka, we got drenched walking to the hotel. We had to wait close to 2 hours to check in. We ate pancakes, bacon and eggs (DS1 had curry) in a restaurant at the hotel. After lunch, DS1 ventured out into the rain, while DS2 and I waited in the lobby browsing the internet on our phones. After check-in, we got settled in and rested for a bit.
That evening, we had a food tour with Arrigato Japan Tours. We though we were going to be in a larger group, but we ended up having our own guide, Kentaro. Even in the rain, Osaka revitalized us. Our guide was terrific. As is typical of a food tour, in addition to the food, Kentaro told us about the area and educated us about Osaka history. We ate: takoyaki, kushikatsu, dotei yaki, zaru tofu, yaki soba, ika maruyaki, buta kakuni, tsukune, dashi tamago, fried bean sprouts, potato coroke and taiyaki. We enjoyed all of these dishes, even the cow intestines (dotei yaki). It stopped raining somewhere along the way and turned into a beautiful evening. The boys found their tins of Peace cigarettes along the way.

DAY 15
The last day of a trip can be difficult. We were appropriately feeling homesick and at the same time sad that our time in Japan was coming to an end. I was also feeling sad that my time with DS1 was coming to an end.
We went to a cafe called Eiko for coffee and tea. We had excellent service. We then went to Kuromon market for brunch. We ate from one end of the market to the other. We had pork buns, meatballs and gyoza from Horai 551, we ate a slice of expensive melon, we had many skewers of A1 wagyu, beef and potato croquette and unagi (freshwater eel with bbq sauce).
We walked to Nanba Yasakaa Jinja, the shrine with the giant dragon's head. There we received are last Goshuin.
By now, my feet are killing me so we got a cab back to Dotonbori. DS1 headed off in one direction. DS2 knew that I wanted to find a Godzilla gift for my husband and some stationary, so he walked to Parco with me.
continued

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Perhaps the most fun we had the whole trip came that evening. We had tickets to see the Hanshin Tigers baseball team play. The stadium was sold out with 55,000 fans. Boy, this was fun. Every situation and every player has their own chant. It seemed as though every fan was singing, the ENTIRE game. Both boys purchased game jerseys. We had so many conversations with fans. DS1 was approached by so many people, I think because of how tall he is. Most fans stayed the whole game. After the game, 55,000 fans orderly left the stadium, walked to the train station and got on trains. It was like a ballet. Despite a lot of the fans being drunk, everyone was orderly and polite! On the train, I noticed a young man with a Portland, Oregon tote bag. It is a small world, right? I told him in my best Japanese that DS1 lives in Portland. The young man spent a semester studying there. We had another terrific conversation. Luckily, his English surpassed my Japanese. We were starving and it was late. Again, we found a tiny place that isn't listed on Google Maps, where the master didn't speak any English. We ate fried chicken, chicken wings, fried rice balls and other small plates. What a perfect last day in Japan!

DAY 16
This morning, we part ways. DS1 flew with Korean air to Seoul, then Seattle, then Portland, starting at KIX. DS2 and I flew ANA from ITM to HND to MSP to CLE. Our travel home went smoothly.

This trip was so meaningful for me. It was so great for DS2 and I to reconnect with DS1. We had a terrific time. I hope the 3 of us can travel again together next year. I am trying to talk them into a trip to Uzbekistan with Adventures with Sarah..........to be continued.

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3365 posts

Bravo! Terrific TR! I am probably going to change some things on our Japan itinerary because of your report. I may have one or two too many ryokens booked. My DH is not an adventurous eater! And I might add the sumo. What was the seating like? How many temples all together did you see and did you feel like it was too many? I’m afraid I might get templed out (this happened in Egypt), but not sure how many will send me over the edge of “too many”

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1536 posts

Hi Tammy!
You helped my trip so much! Please ask me any questions!

Sumo: first, you will need to see if there is a tournament happening during your visit. We were lucky that there was! In the upper tiers of the arena, there are nice seats with backs. In the lower tiers there is cushion seating. I imagine those seats might be for season ticket holders and/or they are probably very expensive.

Ryokans: I wouldn't change our ryokan experience, but I definitely won't stay again.
1. None of us like to sit in hot water. Not all ryokans have onsen, but probably most do. Most will be public baths. I assume that rooms with private baths are even more expensive. If you enjoy public baths, it will increase the value of staying.
2. The next value is the service. If you really enjoy having a room attendant and a meal attendant that gives extra service, then it will increase your enjoyment. I would read about each ryokan individually to see if the meal service is in the room or in a restaurant setting. Ours was in a restaurant setting, but our tables were in alcoves almost like a separate room, so very private. We enjoyed interacting with the attendants, but we are also introverts, so don't always want the extra fuss.
3. Kaiseki: again, you will want to read the details because not all ryokans have a meal service. If they do have a meal service, you can opt out, but you will want to do this at booking. These meals take a lot of preparation. Even though the meal service was quite challenging for us, it was a huge part of the whole experience.
4. The room. So, I really enjoyed seeing the old traditional houses in Kanazawa, Kyoto and others. I enjoyed the Japanese ascetic of our room. I liked walking on the tatami mats. But sleeping on the floor, on a thin futon, just isn't for me. If it was just a relaxing, weekend trip, it would be a different matter. But on a 2 week+ trip, my feet hurt, my knees hurt, my you name it hurt, and I want a comfortable bed and I don't want to be getting up and down off of the floor. YMMV!!!

I wanted our Island time to be 2 nights so we could completely relax for a whole day, so our 2 night stay was perfect for us.

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Shrines/Temples: I didn't expect to visit so many shrines and temples. I thought that after 2 or 3 that would be enough. But DS1 really enjoyed them and DS2 and I did as well and we also enjoyed DS1's enthusiasm. I counted that I have 18 Goshuin, the calligraphy stamps. So I would estimate that we visited close to 25 shrines and temples. We would have continued to visit more and more if our trip was longer. The nice thing is that you don't really need to plan for most of them. When we had free time, we just organically fit more in to our schedule.

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7033 posts

vandabrud, thanks so much for this! I am loving everything so far!

Just an FYI, what I would do is put a second entry in the Trip Report forum that just says something like, "My trip report for Japan is posted in the Beyond Europe forum" and then include a link to it. That way it's easier for some people to find. I guarantee you that Andrew will not be bothered by this (or anyone else). :-)

And that's so wonderful that you learned Japanese. I have always found it helpful to learn the language before I visit a country. I lived in Japan for 2 years over 45 years ago, but learned Japanese while I was there, and really enjoyed the learning process. I found it relatively easy to learn although it's hard to master (sort of like the guitar). :-) But I plan on re-learning when I visit Japan in (hopefully) 2026, so it will be interesting to see if any muscle memory kicks in.