Friday, March 14, 2014

Suggested Tokyo itineraries for groups with different interests

Here are some recommended itineraries for a short 5 days visit to Tokyo, tweaked to accommodate whichever type of group that you think best describes you and your travelmates.

Suggested itinerary for a general group.
- A mixture of cultural sights (Sensoji shrine, Meiji Shrine), shopping (Odaiba, Harajuku, Shibuya), landmark (Tokyo Skytree) and fun day for kids and the young at heart (Disneysea/Disneyland).
Day 1: Arrival at Tokyo
Day 2: Visit Tokyo Skytree, and Sensoji shrine in Asakusa in the morning. Then take water bus to Odaiba for the rest of the day. If you have time, you can consider going Oedo Onsen Monogatari at Odaiba too.
Day 3: Visit Meiji Shrine, Harajuku, and Shibuya
Day 4: Disneysea (or Disneyland)
Day 5: Departure from Tokyo

Suggested itinerary for a girls'-getaway.
- A mixture of cute shops and attractions, plus some shopping.
Day 1: Arrival at Tokyo. If you have time on this day, visit Sensoji Shrine and Tokyo Skytree.
Day 2: Sanrio Puroland or Ghibli museum, + Ginza + Tokyo station's character street.
Day 3: Harajuku + KiddylandShibuya
Day 4: Disneysea (or Disneyland)
Day 5: Departure from Tokyo.

Suggested itinerary for purely shopping.
- Shopping, shopping, and more shopping.
Day 1: Arrival at Tokyo.
Day 2: Harajuku + Omotesando + Kiddyland + Shibuya
Day 3: Ginza, then Divercity and Venus Fort at Odaiba.
Day 4: Jiyugaoka + Shinjuku (or go Gotemba outlet mall)
Day 5: Departure from Tokyo

Suggested itinerary for a guys'-getaway
- A mixture of sights, shopping, otaku, electronics, and cars.
Day 1: Arrival at Tokyo. If you have time on this day, maybe visit Tokyo Tower + Roppongi.
Day 2: HarajukuShibuya (if you are into shopping), or go Nakano Broadway (if you are into collectibles)
Day 3: Visit Akihabara + Yodobashi Camera store near Akihabara station.
Day 4: Morning visit Sensoji shrine in Asakusa, then take water bus to Odaiba. Visit Decks (Sega Tokyo Joypolis, and also check out the urinals on 2nd floor toilet with some sort of interactive game at Decks), Divercity (with lifesized Gundam), and Toyota Megaweb at Odaiba. If you have time, you can consider going Oedo Onsen Monogatari at Odaiba too.
Day 5: Departure from Tokyo.

Suggested itinerary for a family with young children.
- Fun for the kids and young at heart, but tough on the wallet. :)
Day 1: Arrival at Tokyo.
Day 2: Disneyland (or Disneysea).
Day 3: Sanrio Puroland (if you have kids who likes Hello Kitty characters) or Omiya Railway Museum (if you have kids who likes trains) or Ghibli Museum, + Character street at Tokyo station
Day 4: Cup Noodle museum at Yokohama, lunch at Sylvanian Families restaurant in the World Porter's shopping mall just opposite Cup Noodle museum (if you have kids who likes Sylvanian Families), then maybe visit Pokemon shop, and then return back to Tokyo and visit either Tokyo Tower or Tokyo Skytree.
Day 5: Departure from Tokyo

Suggested itinerary for those keen on photography.
- For those who likes travel photography.
Day 1: Arrival at Tokyo.
Day 2: Visit Sensoji Shrine in Asakusa, then take water bus to Hama Rikyu, visit Hama Rikyu, then see the view of Tokyo Tower in the evening from the Observatory at World Trade Center.
Day 3: Visit Kawagoe, then drop by 1 of the Yodobashi Camera or BIC Camera stores along the way, then visit Shibuya, esp the large crossing opposite Hachiko exit of JR Shibuya station in the evening.
Day 4: Visit Kawaguchiko, hopefully weather is good enough to be able to view Mt Fuji.
Day 5: Departure from Tokyo

Suggested itinerary for a more matured group.
- For a more matured group to explore at a relaxed pace.
Day 1: Arrival at Tokyo.
Day 2: Visit Hama Rikyu, then take water bus to Asakusa, visit Sensoji shrine, then go Kappabashi (if anyone in the group is interested in kitchenware).
Day 3: Visit Kawagoe, then visit Sugamo, and go visit Tokyo Tower.
Day 4: Visit Kamakura + Yokohama (Chinatown)
Day 5: Departure from Tokyo




Friday, March 7, 2014

Daytrips out of Osaka?


Suggested daytrips out of Osaka:


Kyoto
(My visits to Kyoto here)
1 of the most popular destinations of Japan. 
Actually, it would be even better to stay overnight at Kyoto and spend at least 2 days there. 
But if you don't have much time to spend in Japan, and you happen to stay in Osaka, then I would strongly recommend a visit to Kyoto for at least a daytrip.
Fushimi Inari Shrine
Kiyomizudera during autumn
Old street at Higashiyama district near Kiyomizudera.
Nishiki Market
More info on Kyoto:
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2158.html & http://www.kyoto.travel/

Suggested itinerary:
0800-0830 Osaka to Kyoto
0830-0845 Go to Tourist info office at Kyoto station to collect maps of Kyoto and bus routes.
0845-0900 Kyoto to Inari
0900-1030 Visit Fushimi Inari Shrine
1030-1100 Inari to Kiyomizu-gojo station 
1130-1300 Visit Kiyomizudera
1300-1430 Have lunch at Higashiyama district, and explore the old shopping street at Higashiyama.
1500-1530 Walk through Hanami-koji street in Gion district.
1530-1600 Walk from Gion to Nishiki market.
1600-1700 Visit Nishiki Market.

How to go Kyoto from Osaka?
(If you have the nationwide JR Pass)
Shin-Osaka station to Kyoto station via Shinkansen (14mins)

(If you don't have any railpass, or if you are using either JR West Kansai Area Pass or JR West Kansai Wide Area Pass)
Osaka station to Kyoto station via JR Special Rapid Service on Kyoto line (30mins, 540yen)

(If you are using Kansai Thru Pass)
From Osaka station, walk to nearby Umeda (Hankyu) station.
Umeda (Hankyu) station to Karasuma station via Hankyu Kyoto Line Ltd Exp (45mins, 390yen)
From Karasuma station, walk over to nearby Shijo station.
Shijo station to Kyoto station via Kyoto City Subway Karasuma line (4mins, 210yen)




Nara
(My visits to Nara here)
In some parts of Nara, you can see deers roaming about freely. 



More info on Nara:

Suggested Itinerary:
0900-1000 Osaka to Nara
1030-1130 Visit Kofukuji
1130-1200 Walk to Todaiji. Along the way you can see deers roaming around. You can consider buying deer biscuits to feed them if you want. 
1200-1300 Visit Todaiji
1300-1430 Have lunch and then go to Kasuga Taisha
1430-1600 Visit Kasuga Taisha
1600 onwards, return back to Osaka.

How to go Nara from Osaka:
Osaka to JR Nara station via JR Yamatoji Rapid Service (55mins, 780yen).

(This is a slightly cheaper method, and also for those with Kintetsu Railpass or Kansai Thru Pass)
Osaka Station to Tsuruhashi station via JR Osaka Loop line (16mins, 170yen)
Tsuruhashi station to KintetsuNara station via Kintetsu Nara Line Rapid Exp or Semi Exp
(32mins for Rapid Exp, 45mins for Semi Exp, 480yen)




Kobe
(My visit to Kobe here)
Kobe Chinatown
Kobe Harborland
More info on Kobe:

Suggested Itinerary:
0900-1100 Visit Kitano area
1130-1230 Lunch at Nankinmachi (Kobe Chinatown)
1300-1500 Visit Kobe Harborland
1500-1600 Kobe Harborland to Mt Rokko
1600 onwards (until sun sets) Visit Mt Rokko Observation deck (Mid Jan-End Mar closes at 1700hr, Rest of the year at 2100hr)
Return back to Osaka after viewing the evening view of Kobe from Mt Rokko.

How to go Kobe from Osaka?
Shin-Osaka station to Shin-Kobe station via Shinkansen
(13mins, 1450yen for unreserved seat, or 2810yen for reserved seat)

(If you don't have any railpass, or have the JR West Kansai Area Pass)
Osaka station to JR Sannomiya station via JR Special Rapid Service train (22mins, 390yen)

(If you have Kansai Thru pass)
Umeda (Hankyu) station to Kobe-Sannomiya station via Hankyu Kobe Line
(29mins for Ltd Exp train, 45mins for Local trains, 310yen)



Kurashiki + Okayama
(My visit to Okayama here, and Kurashiki here)
If you have the nationwide JR Pass, or JR Kansai Area Wide Pass, or JR West Sanyo Area Pass, you can consider making a daytrip to Kurashiki and Okayama. 
If you don't have any of the railpasses mentioned above, it would be pretty expensive to visit this area from Osaka due to the transport costs.
Kurashiki's Canal Area
Okayama castle
Korakuen
More info on Okayama:
More info on Kurashiki:

Suggested Itinerary:
0730-0900 Travel to Kurashiki
0900-1200 Explore Kurashiki Canal Area
1200-1300 Kurashiki to Okayama, then go to Okayama castle
1300-1400 Visit Okayama Castle
1430-1600 Visit Korakuen Garden

How to go Kurashiki from Osaka?
If you don't have any railpass, yet would like to visit Kurashiki/Okayama, I would strongly recommend that you get the JR Kansai Area Wide Pass. That railpass costs 7000yen and it covers the journey between Shin-Osaka to Kurashiki.
Considering that a 1 way journey without any railpass would already cost 5670yen (5350yen + 320yen), thus a return trip would cost 11,340yen. Therefore just spending 7000yen on that railpass is worth it.

(For those with nationwide JR Pass, JR West Sanyo Area Pass, or JR West Kansai Wide Area Pass, this journey is covered)
Shin-Osaka station to Okayama station via Shinkansen
(50mins for Shinkansen Sakura, 60-80mins for Shinkansen Hikari, 5350yen for unreserved seat, 5860yen for reserved seat)
Okayama station to Kurashiki station via JR Sanyo line or JR Hakubi line (17mins, 320yen).



Ise
(My visit to Ise here)
Okage Yokocho
Oharaimachi
Ise Inner Shrine

More info on Ise:

Suggested itinerary:
0800-1000 Osaka to Ise
1030-1400 Visit Okage Yokocho, Oharaimachi and lunch
1400-1530 Visit Ise Inner Shrine
1600-1800 Ise to Osaka.

How to go Tsuruhashi station from Osaka station?
Osaka station to Tsuruhashi station via JR Osaka Loop line (15mins, 170yen)

How to go Okage Yokocho/Oharaimachi/Inner Shrine?
(If you have Kintetsu Rail Pass or Kintetsu Rail Pass Wide)
Tsuruhashi station to Isuzugawa station via Kintetsu Ltd Exp train
(110mins, 3040yen for reserved seat, 1 Ltd Exp train departure every 40mins-hourly)
Ideally, take the 0813hr Kintetsu Ltd Exp train from Tsuruhashi, and arrive Isuzugawa at 1001hr.
(train timing correct as of 7/3/14, pls check hyperdia website to double check train timing for your visit)

Remember to go the the Ltd Exp counter at the train platform at Tsuruhashi to get your Ltd Exp Reserved seat tickets using your Kintetsu Rail Pass before you take the train. Remember, you can only use the Kintetsu Rail Pass to take up to 3 Ltd Exp train journeys within the 5 day period.

(If you don't have Kintetsu Rail Pass nor Kintetsu Rail Pass Wide)
Tsuruhashi station to Isuzugawa station via Kintetsu Exp train
(135mins, 1760yen, 1 train departure every hourly)
Ideally, take the 0818hr Kintetsu Exp direct train from Tsuruhashi, and arrive Isuzugawa at 1032hr.
(train timing correct as of 7/3/14, pls check hyperdia website to double check train timing for your visit)

How to go Okage Yokocho/Oharaimachi/Inner Shrine from Isuzugawa station? 
(Choose 1 of these 3 methods)
1) By bus (about 15mins bus ride)
2) By taxi (about 10 mins journey, it cost me about 1000yen for the taxi ride during my visit there)
3) Walk (about 30mins walk to reach Okage Yokocho and Oharaimachi from Isuzugawa station)


- Map of Okage Yokocho. Oharaimachi is located just next to Okage Yokocho.
And Ise Inner Shrine is located at the end of Oharaimachi.





Hikone + Nagahama
(My visit to Nagahama here)

Kurokabe square at Nagahama
More info on Hikone:
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e7000.html
More info on Nagahama:
http://kitabiwako.jp/nagahama/

Suggested Itinerary:
0815-1000 Osaka to Nagahama
1000-1200 Visit Nagahama
1200-1230 Nagahama to Hikone
1230-1600 Visit Hikone (Castle Road and Hikone castle)
1600 onwards, Hikone back to Osaka.

How to go Nagahama from Osaka? 
*Only covered by nationwide JR Pass or JR West Kansai Wide Area Pass
Osaka station to Nagahama station via JR Special Rapid Service Kyoto/Biwako line train
(100mins, 1890yen, about 1 train departure every 30mins for the direct train)

How to go Hikone from Osaka?
*Only covered by nationwide JR Pass or JR West Kansai Wide Area Pass
Osaka station to Hikone station via JR Special Rapid Service Kyoto/Biwako line train
(80mins, 1890yen)

How to go Hikone from Nagahama?
*Only covered by nationwide JR Pass or JR West Kansai Wide Area Pass
Nagahama station to Hikone station via JR Special Rapid Service train
(18-25mins, 230yen, about 1 train departure every 30mins)




Ski areas in Kansai region
(during winter season, usually from end dec to early march)

Hakodateyama ski area (no overnight accommodation)
(My visit to Hakodateyama ski area here)

How to go Hakodateyama ski area from Osaka?
Osaka station to Omiimazu station via JR Special Rapid Service Kyoto/Kosei line train 
(75-85mins, 1890yen, about 1 direct train departure every hourly)
Alternatively, you can go to Kyoto station and transfer to JR Kosei line local train (more trains per hour, but train journey duration will increase by additional 20mins) to reach Omiimazu station.

Omiimazu station to Hakodateyama's gondola station by bus 
(about 35mins bus journey, 220yen, you can find bus timings from Hakodateyama ski area's website)

Take gondola (cable car) ride up to Hakodateyama ski area 
(about 8mins, 1800yen for return trip on gondola)


Biwako Valley Ski area (no overnight accommodation)


How to go Biwako Valley ski area from Osaka?
Osaka station to Kyoto station via JR Special Rapid Service Kyoto line train (30mins)
Kyoto station to Shiga station via JR Kosei Line train (45mins)
Overall train fare from Osaka station to Shiga station is 1280yen.

From Shiga station, take a short 10mins bus ride to Biwako Valley ski area's gondola station. (320yen)

Take gondola (cable car) ride up to Biwako Valley ski area (1800yen for a return trip on gondola I think)



---information correct as of 7/3/2014

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Daytrips out of Tokyo?


Suggested Daytrips out of Tokyo:
Besides the more popular locations like Hakone and Kawaguchi-ko, here are some suggestions on where else you can consider visiting for a short daytrip out of Tokyo.

Kamakura + Yokohama
(My visits to Kamakura here, and Yokohama here)
Kamakura
Yokohama's Chinatown
More info on Kamakura: 
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2166.html
More info on Yokohama: 
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2156.html 
http://www.welcome.city.yokohama.jp/eng/travel/

Suggested itinerary:
0730-0830 Take train to Kamakura
0830-1200 Visit Kamakura (maybe Kenchoji Temple, Hachimangu Shrine, and Great Buddha)
1230-1400 Lunch at Yokohama's Chinatown
1430-1600 Visit Nissin Cup Noodle museum and try customizing your own cup noodle.
1630 onwards, shop at 1 of the shopping malls in Minato Mirai area.
Return back to Tokyo after shopping is done.

How to go Kamakura from Tokyo station?
Tokyo station to Kamakura station via JR Yokosuka line (56mins, 890yen)

How to go Yokohama from Kamakura station?
Kamakura station to Yokohama station via JR Yokosuka line or JR Shonan-Shinjuku line (25mins, 330yen)

How to go Yokohama's Chinatown from Kamakura station?
Kamakura station to Yokohama station via JR Yokosuka line or JR Shonan-Shinjuku line (25mins)
Yokohama station to Ishikawacho station via JR Keihin-Tohoku line (8mins)
Total fare from Kamakura to Ishikawacho is 380yen.
Chinatown is about 7mins walk from Ishikawacho station.

How to go Nissin Cup Noodle museum from Chinatown?
Motomachi-Chukagai station near Chinatown (about 8mins walk from Chinatown) to MinatoMirai station via the Minatomirai line (4mins, 180yen)
Minatomirai line is a non-JR line.
From MinatoMirai station, it's about 10mins walk to reach Nissin Cup Noodle Museum.

How to return to Tokyo from MinatoMirai?
MinatoMirai station to Yokohama station via Minatomirai line (3mins, 180yen).
Yokohama station to Tokyo station via JR Tokaido line (30mins, 450yen).
Minatomirai line is a non-JR line.



Kawasaki
(My visit to Kawasaki here)
The street leading up to Kawasaki Daishi
1 of the shopping area that's about 7mins walk from Kawasaki station

More info on Kawasaki:
http://fujiko-museum.com/ (Fujiko F. Fujio Museum, aka Doraemon museum)
http://www.nihonminkaen.jp/ (Nihon Minhaen Open-Air Museum)
http://www.kawasakidaishi.com/ (Kawasaki Daishi)


How to go Kawasaki from Tokyo:
Tokyo station to Kawasaki station via either JR Tokaido Line (towards Odawara direction) or JR Keihin-Tohoku line (towards Ofuna direction).  *JR Tokaido line's travelling time is slightly shorter.
Both lines take about 16-23mins travelling time, and costs 310yen, and have frequent train departure timings)

How to go Yokohama from Kawasaki:
Since Kawasaki is not far from Yokohama, you could probably pair up a visit to Kawasaki + Yokohama within 1 day.  In the day time, visit 1 of these Kawasaki attractions (Fujiko museum OR Kawasaki Daishi OR Nihon Minhaen), and then afternoon onwards visit Yokohama for some shopping and food.

Kawasaki station to Yokohama station via JR Tokaido line (towards Odawara) or JR Keihin-Tohoku line (8-13mins, 220yen). *JR Tokaido line's travelling time is slightly shorter.





Kawagoe + Omiya
(My visit to Kawagoe here, and Omiya Train museum here)
Kawagoe's warehouse district.
Train museum
More info on Kawagoe:
More info on the train museum at Omiya:

Suggested itinerary:
0900-1130 Visit Kawagoe's warehouse district
(Either have early lunch at Kawagoe, or at the train museum at Omiya)
1130-1230 Travel to Omiya
1230-1500 Visit Train museum near Omiya station.
1530 onwards, return to Tokyo.

How to go Kawagoe from Tokyo?
Tokyo station to Ikebukuro station via Tokyo Metro Marunouchi line (17mins, 190yen).
Ikebukuro station to Kawagoe station via Tobu Tojo Line Exp/Semi Exp (33mins for Exp or 43mins for Semi Exp, 450yen) or the JR Saikyo line Rapid (50mins, 650yen).
From Kawagoe station, it's just a short 15mins bus ride to the Warehouse district.

How to go to the train museum at Omiya from Kawagoe?
Kawagoe station to Omiya station via JR Saikyo line Rapid (25mins, 320yen)
Omiya station to Tetsudohakubutsukan station via New Shuttle line (2mins, 180yen)
The railway museum is just next to Tetsudohakubutsukan station.

How to return to Tokyo from the train museum?
Tetsudohakubutsukan station to Omiya station via New Shuttle line (2mins, 180yen).
Omiya station to Tokyo station via JR Keihin-Tohoku line (45mins, 540yen).
Or if you have the nationwide JR Pass or JR East Pass or JR Kanto Area Pass, you can take the Shinkansen from Omiya station to Tokyo station (25mins).




Karuizawa
(My visit to Karuizawa here)
Karuizawa Ginza
More info on Karuizawa: 

Suggested Itinerary:
0830-1000 Travel to Karuizawa
1000-1330 Explore Karuizawa (also go to Kumoba-ike pond if it's autumn season)
1400-1700 Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza
1700-1800 Return back to Tokyo

How to go Karuizawa from Tokyo:
Tokyo station to Karuizawa station via Shinkansen Asama (70mins, 5240yen for unreserved seat, or 5750yen for reserved seat for 1 way journey).

If you have the nationwide JR Pass or JR East Pass, you can use the railpass to take Shinkansen to Karuizawa at no costs.
If you do not have either the nationwide JR Pass nor JR East Pass, then I recommend that you buy the 3 days JR Kanto Area pass for 8000yen. Because considering that 2way journey between Tokyo and Karuizawa would cost 10480yen (unreserved seat), therefore it's cheaper to just get the JR Kanto Area pass for 8000yen and you can use the railpass to cover for the journey between Tokyo station and Karuizawa on Shinkansen. This would save you 2480yen.



Nikko

More info on Nikko: 

How to go Nikko from Tokyo:
(If you have JR Pass or JR East Pass or JR Kanto Area Pass)
Tokyo station to Utsunomiya station via Shinkansen (55mins)
Utsunomiya station to JR Nikko station via JR Nikko line (45mins)
Note that the train frequency for JR Nikko line is about 1 train departure every hourly.

(If you don't have any railpass)
Tokyo station to Ueno station via JR Yamanote Loop line (7mins)
Ueno station to Utsunomiya station via JR Utsunomiya line (105mins)
Utsunomiya station to JR Nikko station via JR Nikko line (45mins)
Total fare from Tokyo station to JR Nikko station is 2520yen for 1 way.
Note that the train frequency for JR Nikko line is about 1 train departure every hourly.

See Nikko related railpasses here:


Kinugawa Onsen
(my visit to Nikko Edomura and Kinugawa onsen here)
Nikko Edomura
Kinugawa onsen station

More info on Kinugawa onsen:
http://edowonderland.net/ (Nikko Edomura)
http://www.tobuws.co.jp/ (Tobu World Square)


How to go Kinugawa onsen from Nikko:
(See above for directions on how to go Nikko from Tokyo)
Tobu-Nikko station at Nikko to Kinugawa-onsen station via Tobu Nikko-Kinugawa line (40-50mins, 310yen)
*about 2 trains departure every hourly. 
**Sometimes you'd get a train that goes direct to Kinugawa-onsen without alighting to transfer to another train at Shimo-Imaichi, sometimes you'd get trains that ends at Shimo-Imaichi station and you'd have to alight and transfer to another train to reach Kinugawa onsen

There are 2 themed attraction parks (Nikko Edomura and Tobu World Square) near Kinugawa-Onsen, so I would recommend staying at least 1 night at Kinugawa onsen if you plan on visiting at least 1 of them.
You could also spend half a day at Nikko too, since Nikko is not too far from Kinugawa onsen.



Lake Kawaguchi (also known as Kawaguchi-ko)

Kawaguchi-ko is a popular place for people who wants to see Mt Fuji.  On clear days, you can see a nice view of Mt Fuji across Lake Kawaguchi-ko.  There are also quite a number of tourist attractions at the area to spend your time with.

I've visited Kawaguchi-ko many many years ago when I was still a kid (can't find my old photos though), but I don't own any photos of it, so am not linking any photos here. You can easily find photos of Kawaguchi-ko if u just do a search online.

More info on Kawaguchi-ko:
http://highway-buses.jp/fuji/ (bus from Tokyo's Shinjuku to Kawaguchi-ko)

Although you could take either train or bus to Kawaguchi-ko, but I would probably recommend taking the bus, since you'd require to do a few train transfers if you take train from Tokyo to Kawaguchi-ko.  Whereas the bus would be direct.  

It's a few hours' journey (whether you took bus or train) from Tokyo to Kawaguchi-ko, so if you are not intending to stay overnight at Kawaguchi-ko, it will probably be evening time by the time you arrive back at Tokyo.







Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Viewing Sakura in Tokyo



2014 Sakura (cherry blosssoms) forecast:


Sakura season in Tokyo usually starts from end March and ends around early April. 
However, weather is unpredictable, which is why during my visit in 2013, sakura season in Tokyo arrived 2 weeks earlier than normal...which was mid March!
I was really lucky that I was in Tokyo during that time and I wasn't even expecting to be able to see sakura since I assumed that my visit in mid March was way too early for sakura season in that area. 


Places in Tokyo where I visited during Sakura season 
(my visit was in March 2013):
(See a list of other sakura viewing places within Tokyo from this website: 


Ueno Park:  
(See my blog posts of my vist here, here, here, and here)
This is probably the most popular sakura viewing spot in Tokyo.
I had to wake up extremely early and reach here before 7am in order to take photos of this place to avoid the crowds.

Ueno Park during weekend mornings.
To reach Ueno Park: 
Ueno park is located just behind the JR Ueno station. 
It is also near the Metro subway Ueno station, as well as the Keisei-Ueno station. 



Asukayama Park
(See blog post of my visit here)
Located just a few stops away from Ueno Park, this place is relatively unknown to most tourists, therefore there is much less crowd here than compared to Ueno Park.
It is more like a neighbourhood park where there are playgrounds for children too.

To reach Asukayama Park:
The nearest station is Oji station (about 12mins train journey from JR Ueno station via the JR Keihin-Tohoku line). Asukawayam Park is located just opposite Oji station up on a small hill (you will have to climb some steps up the hill)




Koishikawa Korakuen
(See blog entry of my visit here)

To reach Koishikawa Korakuen:
10mins walk from Iidabashi, Suidobashi, or Korakuen station. 





Rikugien
(See blog post of my visit here)
During evening illumination
To reach Rikugien:
It is about 2mins walk from the JR and subway Komagome station.





Hama Rikyu
(See blog post of my visit here)
Not as many sakura trees here as compared to some of the other gardens, but nonetheless, this is a nice garden to visit. There was also a lovely field of yellow flowers during my visit here during Sakura season too. 

To reach Hama Rikyu:
10mins walk from JR Shimbashi station, or 5mins walk from Shiodome station (Oedo subway line and Yurikamome monorail line). You can also take the Water Bus from Asakusa to reach Hama Rikyu.





Shinjuku Gyoen
(see blog post of my visit here)
A very large park, with different varieties of Sakura.

To reach Shinjuku Gyoen:
About 15mins walk from "New South Exit" of JR Shinjuku station, or 5mins walk from Shinjukugyoenmae station (Marunouchi subway line), or 5mins walk from JR Sendagaya station (JR Chuo/Sobu line) 






Street near Fudomae station
(See blog post of my visit here)
This little suburban street is lined with sakura trees.


To reach this street near Fudomae station:
This street is located just in front of the Daiyonhino Elementary School near Fudo-mae station.
The street is 1 min walk from Fudo-mae station (Tokyu Meguro line). 





Meguro river
(See blog post of my visit here)
This river is actually within walking distance of the street which I mentioned above near Fudomae station. There are many sakura trees along this river which stretches for several hundred metres. 


To reach Meguro river:
This river stretches serveral hundreds of metres long, and you can walk to this river from either Nakameguro station, Meguro station, or Fudomae station.
The station that's closest to the river is Nakameguro station, which is located just next to the river.





Sumida River
(See blog post of my visit)
Sumida River is located somewhere between Sensoji shrine in Asakusa, and the Tokyo Skytree.
There are many Sakura trees along this river and you can see Tokyo Skytree from here as well.

To reach Sumida River:
The nearest station is Asakusa station (Tokyo Metro Ginza line / Toei Subway Asakusa line / Tobu Skytree line). 





Zozoji Temple
(See blog post of my visit here)
More info: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3050.html
This temple is near Tokyo Tower, therefore Tokyo Tower is visible from here. There are also quite a number of sakura trees in the area behind the temple.

To reach Zozoji Temple:
The closest subway stations are Onarimon station, Shibakoen station (Mita subway line) or Daimon station (Oedo subway line).  
Further away, there is also the JR Hamamatsucho station (JR Yamanote line/JR Keihin-Tohoku line) which is about 10mins walk away from the Temple.




Yanaka Cemetary
(See blog post of my visit here)

To reach Yanaka Cemetary:
This place is located just next to JR Nippori station (JR Yamanote Loop line / JR Keihin-Tohoku line)





Monday, March 3, 2014

Transportation and Railpasses within Kansai region.

*Note: prices listed on this article are before the tax increase in Japan in April 2014. Therefore prices/fares quoted here will probably be slightly different if your trip to Japan is from April 2014 onwards.  
Occasionally, the train operators might amend or discontinue the railpasses listed here, so please double-check the details with the railpass's websites for the details for the most current information. 

Kansai region is probably 1 of my favourite areas to visit in Japan (that, and Hokkaido during winter that is).

Basically, the Kansai region is located somewhere in the middle of Japan, and it consists of 7 prefectures:
- Osaka (City area, also where Universal Studios is located at)
- Kyoto (Temples, shrines, and geisha. Kyoto also used to be Japan's capital until 1868)
- Nara (Where there are deers roaming about freely in some parts of the town)
- Mie (Where 1 of my fav old towns Oharaimachi is located at)
- Wakayama (Where I took the Cat train to visit the Cat Stationmaster)
- Hyogo (Where Kobe, Himeji and Kinosaki onsen is located at)
- Shiga (Where you can find a few ski slopes that are near Kyoto, as well as where Lake Biwa is located at)

Kansai region is highlighted in red.

Kansai region
Getting to Kansai region
To get to Kansai region, taking a flight to Osaka's Kansai Airport is usually the best option.

Or if you are getting to Kansai region from Tokyo, you could either:
- Take a domestic flight from Tokyo's Narita or Haneda Airport to Osaka's Kansai Airport.
- Take a 3hr journey onboard the Shinkansen (bullet train) (Costs 13,240yen for a 1way from Tokyo to Shin-Osaka station)
- Take a bus.

Public Transport from Kansai Airport
From Kansai Airport, you could take either 1 of these methods to reach Osaka downtown.
- JR Kansai Airport Rapid Service train (costs 1160yen, takes 70mins to reach Osaka station).
This train also stops at other popular stations like Rinkutown, Tennoji, ShinImamiya, Bentencho. Since there is no reserved seat carriage for this train, so seats are on a first-come-first-served basis and you might have to stand throughout the journey. Not too sure whether there's toilet onboard this train since I've never taken this train before.

- JR Haruka Express train (takes about 50mins and costs 2260yen for unreserved seat or 2770yen for reserved seat to Shin-Osaka, or takes 75mins and costs 2770yen for unreserved seat or 3280yen for reserved seat to Kyoto).
This Ltd Exp train stops at only Tennoji, Shin-Osaka (not Osaka station), and Kyoto station. It is also the only train which goes direct from Kansai airport all the way to Kyoto.
There are areas in each cabin for you to place your luggage and there are toilets onboard this train. For those with reserved seat tickets, you will have your seat number printed on your ticket and you will have a confirmed seat throughout your journey.
Special package: 1 way or 2 way Haruka Express + ICOCA card package

- Nankai Ltd Exp Rapi:t (takes about 37mins and costs 1390yen to reach Nankai's Namba station in Osaka for a reserved seat)
This is a Ltd Exp train stops at a few stations like Rinkutown, Izumisano, Kishiwada, Sakai, Tengachaya, ShinImamiya, and Nankai's Namba station in Osaka. It doesn't go further up north to Osaka station nor Shin-Osaka station area though. Like the Haruka Express, this train has an area in each cabin for you to place your luggage as well as toilets onboard the train. There are no unreserved seats on this train so you will have to purchase a reserved seat ticket.
Nankai company's discount tickets: See here
More info: See here.

- Nankai Airport Express (takes about 48mins and costs 890yen to reach Nankai's Namba station in Osaka)
This is a regular express train and runs on the same route as the Nankai Ltd Exp Rapi:t train, just that this train stops at more stations along the way as well as the same stops as the Nankai Ltd Exp Rapi:t train. There are no reserved seats on this train and seats are on a first-come-first-serve basis...kinda like taking subway. Not too sure if there's a toilet on this train or not though.
Nankai company's discount tickets: See here
More info: See here.

- Bus. More info: See this website



Railpasses (for use in Kansai region):
Well, there are a few railpass options for this region. It really depends on where you will be going and then decide for yourself which is more suitable for you.

I strongly recommend using Hyperdia website to calculate your train fares/schedule to compare and see whether it's worth getting a railpass for your trip. Note that there are many railway companies in Japan, so if you are getting a railpass offered by a certain company (for example, JR company), then that railpass is only valid on that company's train lines.

Meaning, even though you have a JR Kansai Area Wide pass, you can only use it to take JR train lines.
If you were to take subways in Osaka, then the JR railpass will not cover for the subway since the subway lines are not operated by the JR company.


4 days JR Kansai Area Wide Pass (7000yen)
Additional info: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2361_08.html
This is 1 of my favourite railpass which I've already used on a few trips.
If you plan on visiting places like Kinosaki onsen (which is about 3hrs train ride from Kyoto/Osaka), or planning to take a Shinkansen to Okayama or Himeji from Shin-Osaka, then this railpass is really worth getting. Bear in mind that this railpass doesn't cover the Shinkansen from Kyoto to Shin-Osaka, although you could use this pass to take regular JR trains between Osaka and Kyoto areas.

To put things into perspective (normal train fares if not using railpass):
1 way journey onboard the Ltd Exp train from Osaka to Kinosaki onsen would normally cost 4940yen (unreserved seat).
1 way journey onboard Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka to Okayama would normally cost 5350yen (unreserved seat).

But, if you are just visiting within Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe areas, then this railpass might not be worth getting. A regular JR train (not Shinkansen) from Osaka station to Kyoto station would only cost 540yen for 1 way journey if you are not using railpass.


1/2/3/4 days JR Kansai Area Pass (2000 to 6000yen)
Additional info: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2361_03.html
This railpass has flexibility since you can choose whether you need 1/2/3/4 days of coverage. It doesn't cover as large an area as compared to the Kansai Area Wide pass though, but it's a cheaper alternative.
You can use this pass to go up to Himeji via local and rapid trains from Osaka/Kyoto. But you cannot use this to take Shinkansen nor Ltd Exp trains. 1 exception is that you can use this railpass to take the Haruka Exp train.

To put things into perspective (normal train fares if not using railpass):
1 way journey onboard a regular JR rapid train from Osaka station to Himeji station will normally cost 1450yen.


4 or 8 days JR Sanyo Area Pass (20,000yen or 30,000yen)
Additional info: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2361_04.html
This is a more expensive railpass with a wider coverage. You can use this railpass take the Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka to not only Himeji and Okayama, but also to Hiroshima and up to Hakata station in Fukuoka on Kyushu.

To put things into perspective (normal train fares if not using railpass):
1 way journey onboard Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka station to Hakata station in Fukuoka will cost 14,080yen (unreserved seat).
1 way journey onboard Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka station to Hiroshima will cost 9440yen (unreserved seat)


7/14/21 days Nationwide Japan Rail Pass (28,300yen to 57,700yen)
This is my absolute favourite pass, although it is the most expensive railpass.
This is because you can use this pass to travel all across Japan on JR train lines. This includes Shinkansen and Ltd Exp trains too. You could use this railpass to travel from Hokkaido in the north, all the way to Kyushu in the south.
This particular railpass can only be purchased from OUTSIDE of Japan. You will have to bring the voucher which you bought to 1 of the JR offices in Japan to exchange for the actual railpass.

If you are planning to make a return journey between Osaka/Kyoto and Tokyo within 7 days, then the 7days version of this railpass is recommended. Because a 1 way Shinkansen ride from Shin-Osaka to Tokyo would cost 14,050yen (reserved seat). Therefore a 2 way journey (eg. Shin-Osaka to Tokyo, then a few days later, Tokyo back to Shin-Osaka) would cost 28,100yen if you are not using any railpass. On top of that, you could also use this pass for the airport express trains like Haruka Express (for access to Osaka's Kansai Airport) and Narita Express (for access to Tokyo's Narita Airport) and the regular JR train lines.

But if you are only visiting Kansai region and not venturing beyond Osaka/Kyoto/Nara/Mie/Wakayama/Kobe/Himeji....then this pass is not really worth getting.


5 days Kintetsu Railpass (3700yen for regular version, 5700yen for Wide version).
Additional info: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2357_006.html
This railpass is recommended for those who are planning to visit the Mie prefecture, or going to Nagoya.
Since this railpass is offered by the Kintetsu company, so you cannot use this for trains on the JR lines.
1 limitation for this railpass is that you can only take 3 times Ltd Exp trains within those 5 days. But you can take unlimited trips using their local, rapid and express trains.

To put things into perspective (normal train fares if not using railpass):
1 way journey from Osaka-Namba station in Osaka to KintetsuNagoya station in Nagoya would cost 4150yen (reserved seat) onboard the Ltd Exp Kintetsu train.


2 or 3 days Kansai Thru Pass (3800yen or 5000yen)
Additional info: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2357_005.html
This railpass covers the non-JR train lines within parts of Kansai region (Osaka/Kyoto/Nara/Kobe/Himeji/Wakayama/Koyasan)


2 or 3 days Kansai Wakayama Pass (3500yen or 5500yen) 
*To be discontinued from Apr 2014 onwards
Additional info: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2357_wpass.html
This railpass is for those who are planning to visit Wakayama, Koyasan and Kumano regions.


2 days Koyasan World Heritage Ticket (2780yen for regular version, 3310yen for Ltd Exp version)
Additional info: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2358_012.html
This is for those who are visiting just Koyasan within 2 days.



More info on some other various passes for use within Osaka:
http://www.osaka-info.jp/en/access/other_card.html

More info on various bus and subway passes for use within Kyoto:
http://www.city.kyoto.jp/koho/eng/access/transport.html

More info on the Wakayama Dentetsu Railway (Cat train and Cat stationmaster):
http://www.wakayama-dentetsu.co.jp/

More info on various discount tickets for travel within Kobe and Arima Onsen:
http://feel-kobe.jp/_en/profile/traffic_service/



(Note that taxes in Japan will increase from April 2014 onwards, so there will be an adjustments to the prices listed here from April onwards)

-posted on 3/3/14