Travelling in Japan is so easy!
In my first week in Japan, I got an ICOCA pass that is similar to a Presto Pass. You can load money on it and “charge” it at the train stations to get on bus and train lines. There are many variations of this card, like PiTaP that are not accepted at all places. Living in Hirakata, I have found the ICOCA has worked just fine for me.
You tap in when you get on the bus at the back and again when you get off the bus at the front. Queuing is super important. Lines can be massive when waiting for the bus during busy periods! Remember to tap as you enter and exist.
If you don’t have or want a card, using cash is totally okay! If you don’t have exact change there is typically a different slot on the machine at the front of the bus, attached to where you pay. You can put a bill or coin there to get change. Credit card is not accepted here and you cannot pay online.
I found getting around in Japan is much easier than back home because of the different modes of transportation available. However, taxis are more expensive and Uber doesn’t really exist. Essentially all public transportation stops at or right before midnight. This is why events here end so early and why it is common for people who are out clubbing to stay out until 5 a.m. The first train is somewhere between 5 to 6 a.m. depending on where you want to go.
Google maps has been my lifeline whenever I have travelled somewhere. There are also other apps like NaviTime that my Japanese friends use to check train times. The buses, trains and subways have all always been on time The latest any have been were 1 or 2 minutes with very few exceptions. The one time the train was late, an attendant has actually come told people and apologized!
One of the cheapest options for flying domestically in Japan is Peach. The airline has been late a few times but it’ll do if you’re on a budget. Like most things in Japan they are very strict on the rules, so even if the flight is late, you as a passenger cannot be or you will not be let on.
You can get a limo bus or the train to get to the airport. The train can actually be more expensive. I think it cost me about 2500 JPY (30$ CAD) at to take the train and 1400 JPY ($17 CAD) to take the limo bus at one point, although it does depend on where you are and where you’re going of course!
Some places, like Okinawa have very limited transportation. There were no trains there, instead you could take the monorail if you were staying on the main island.
Hiroshima also had a tramcar (streetcar), in addition to other forms of transportation. If you do head to Hiroshima, I highly encourage you to go to the bottom of the prefecture and take the ferry to Miyagima to see the Itsukushima shrine! It’s one of the three wonders of Japan!
Another mode of transportation I’ve experienced in Japan is ropeways. If you want to go up a mountain it’s an awesome way to see the view, unless you would rather hike one of the many trails!
My school is in the Osaka prefecture but if you go towards the city there are awesome areas and shopping streets. One is Shinsaibashi, where they have the running man, and lots of shopping. Shinsaibashi is close to Dontonburi and Namba too. There is lots of shopping in these areas as well.
Umeda has a number of department stores and areas in Namba are great for high end shopping. If you’re in Umeda in the winter Tsuran Tsuran is great for skating! I love taking the Keihan Line to Kyobashi before switching to JR to head to JR Osaka station. It is right by Umeda and there are some really good restaurants and shopping along there too! It’s also one of the very few places I know that has bagels in Japan. Bagels are almost impossible to find here! It’s one of my staple breakfast foods in Canada, but here I’ve quickly switched over to smoothies!
Though out of the way, ExpoCity shopping outlet and Universal Studios Japan theme park are also super fun. You can get a year pass for USJ and if you go three times it’s essentially paid off. People get passes like this because they hold different events for things like Halloween (zombie walks! And scary mazes!) and Christmas (light shows!) on top of having general attractions and a rides. My speaking partner, Mao and I went to the Christmas light show, there were floating angels and a massive Christmas tree that broke a world record. Mao and I did something that a lot of close friends and sometimes what people in relationships do when they go out together- we dressed to match! It is really common when you go to touristy areas to see people dressed in the same outfits.
I loved going to Osaka Castle, and stopping for Osaka-style okonomiyaki for lunch! They also have some great takoyaki places and a number of Michelin star restaurants. I went to the Gyoza festival over Golden Week (a huge national holiday) and all I can say is yum!
Both a prefecture and a city in the prefecture, Kyoto city was the second capital of Japan and has been rebuilt after numerous fires and fighting in times like the Warring states period.
Nijo-jo (a Castle in Kyoto) is cool to go through because until Osaka Castle it hasn’t been transitioned into a museum with display cases and the outside preserved. The inside has been preserved as well to show how it would have been used and what it would have looked like when it was lived in.
There is also the Gion District known for Geisha and their more colourful younger counterparts, Maiko. They hold dance performances during certain points of the year. If you see someone walking around in a Geisha costume getting their picture taken it probably is not a real Geisha. You can even pay to be dressed up as one yourself! Real Geishas come out in the early evening and don’t like to be stopped for photos as they are busy. There is lots of shopping around the Gion train station as well.
My speaking partner and I went to Fushimi Inari, a shrine that goes up a mountain. There are thousands of red tori gates that go up the mountain. It is amazing to see! The name also lends itself to local food Inari zushi and there are other kitsune foods. Kitsune means fox, and there are many fox statues around Fushimi Inari. We dressed up in kimono to go there. It was such a challenge climbing all the stairs wearing them, but well worth it! The rental shop not only dressed us in the kimonos but they also did our hair and gave us a full set of accessories as well. It was an awesome day!
Other things to do in Kyoto include Kinkakugi, a gold temple- I recommend going when the leaves are changing colour in the fall! It is so pretty and they sell gold covered soft-serve! If you go there at night, a couple different nearby temples light up at night and you are able to walk through them. The are a number of Zen Buddhist temples in Kyoto. There are also a number of Michelin star restaurants here as well.
If you go further into the prefecture there is Arashiyama which I also recommend in the fall as you can see the trees changing colour. A great spot to see them is the Arashiyama Monkey Park. The bamboo forest later in the year though, more December, is lit up at night and considered a romantic spit with couples going to the shrine to ask for luck in relationships.
My friend Sara’s speaking partner is in the softball circle and we all went to Arashiyama together. It was so much fun! We did a bento exchange where we each made a bento (a lunch set) and passed them in a circle until we were asked to stop. From there it was so funny to see what some people had packed. One girl looked like all she had gotten was a massive container of rice. She was so upset and started berating the guy that made it. Once she started to eat it though she realized there were layers of meat, umeboshi and other things, just buried in rice.
Sara, and the rest of us outside the softball circle had a time and a half figuring out what to do for our bento boxes. The majority of us decided on onigiri (rice balls, usually in the shape of a triangle) because they are what we refer to as a life staple. When we go to the convince store, konbini, at least one of us usually gets an onigiri. I adore the salmon ones along with the toronegi (red tuna and spring onion). Favourites of others include tuna mayo and rarely anything with umeboshi. Anyway, I filled mine with Korean style beef and had some sides. We all struggled at shaping them correctly and not burning our hands on hot rice. Meanwhile one of my friends paid Sara to make his bento box and had her put Oreos in it. Perfectly enough, the person who ended up with his bento, loved Oreos!
After the bento exchange, we all went to bother the monkeys (except not actually bother them because that’s a really bad idea). You could even feed them bananas!
In the Hyogo Prefecture, Kobe is a port city with so much to do! Arima Onsen on the top of Mount Rokku is very nice and you can hike or take a ropeway to! It has a few of the onsen close that let people with tattoos in.
Kobe is also known for its Kobe beef- I love it! And while it can be expensive, foodie or not it tastes amazing!
The trick art museum is so fun on a rainy day and is in an area where when Japan was forced to open its ports to the West, is where colonial families settled. You can tour old German houses and the like if interested!
Speaking of ports, Kobe port next to a shopping area and all that is there too. It from Kobe Port Tower, is maybe a fifteen to twenty-minute walk from the China Town. The China Town has amazing pork buns! People line up all the way around the mini sitting area there for them!
The longest suspension bridge in the world is there, connecting the mainland with one of Japan’s other main islands. I never thought a bridge would amaze me but that one did! You can’t actually walk across it but you can take ferries to the island or get across by car. I’m pretty sure it’s a toll bridge though-you’ve been warned!
There’s also a distillery district where you can go to a Sake museum and see some Sake factories. Now, I did something not smart and decided that I could get there on my own- I got so lost and the area looks very industrial. I wouldn’t recommend meeting a friend there. Walk there from the station with said friend unless you want to freak yourself out! That being said, it was still really cool to go to and was one of the largest sake museums that I’ve been to in Japan.
Finally, it isn’t really in Kobe, but it is close-ish, almost. Himeji castle! I still have yet to go, but it is a must do before I head back to Canada!