Today when I look back, I realized I have missed more than what I saw. That's Japan for you. It is abundant and offers a lot to explore.
I love telling my travel stories but probably after my visit to Japan, I ran out of words to describe every aspect of the country. For sure I had to form the best lines for the culture, history, development, science, engineering, lifestyle, nightlife and food of Japan.
The highly systematic Chaos of Tokyo, the flashy Neon lights of Osaka, the tranquility of Kyoto and excruciating history of Hiroshima are crafted into my permanent memories. When these memories gets out through the floodgate, I wish to grab them and live with them forever.
Japan is an engineering pioneer, starting from toilets to sky scrappers you will experience the finest use of science and engineering. The bullet trains are going to thrill you and the automatic toilets gonna cool you :P.
When to visit Japan?
Japan experiences prominently four seasons Winter, Spring Autumn and Summer. Summer can get very hot and as we live in tropical weather conditions, I would suggest either Spring(March-May) or Autumn(September to Mid-November) when the temperature is mild cold and the nature is painted with beautiful colors.
Most of the tourists visit Japan during Spring, the cherry blossom season. The whole of country is blanketed with stunning bloom of flower petals. But everything becomes super expensive because of heavy flow of tourists.
In my opinion Autumn is the best time to visit Japan as you can experience the exuberant red maple color.
Japan Tourist VISA for Indians
If you have all the documents then tourist visa to Japan is a cake walk.The consulate processes the VISA in 3 working days :). You can submit the documents at any VFS center in India. But one catch is you have to submit the documents to the VFS center in your circle where your passport belongs to. If you want to submit documents in different circle then you need to have local address proof and the original bank statement with local address will serve the purpose. The document list goes as below:
1. Valid Passport
2. The duly filled Application form, can be downloaded from VFS website
3. Income TAX returns for last three years
4. Original bank statement with bank seal for last 6 months showing a minimum balance of Rs 100000.
5. The flight ticket itinerary, can be booked from visareservation website for $20. They provide verifiable flight ticket itinerary.
6. Hotel or Hostel booking confirmation through out your stay.
7. Two photographs according to the specification of embassy of Japan
8. Cover letter stating the complete stay and travel details. Sample can be found here.
9. NOC from employer with granted leave dates. Sample can be found here.
The VFS checklist for the documents can be found here.
Before you travel Japan??
Japan offers you a lot to see and experience. You have to plan the itinerary according to your interests. Most of the transactions in Japan are in cash, better to carry an amount of 20000Yen for the initial days, till u get familiar with the city. 7/11 stores are found abundant through out Japan, so all the Master and VISA cards can be used to get money.
Internet in Japan is costly affair. You can pre-book the pocket internet device from here and pick it at any airport from the designated stores mentioned in the link. But what I suggest the best thing to do is to get a 4G non calling SIM with required data plan. It would be little costly but you would not need one extra device to carry or charge it daily. Around the city all the electronics stores have plenty of options for SIM cards.
The most important thing before travelling to Japan is to learn about the Railways in Japan. Railways in Japan is tough to understand but once you get it, it is the easiest way to travel around the country. The Railways in Japan is mostly Japan Railways which is by the Govt and other private lines. Even the subways have private lines. After you plan your itinerary, check here that whether JR Pass is worth or not . Using JR Pass you can travel most part of the country in Shinkansen Bullet trains.
JR Pass can be pre-booked here else after reaching Japan it is also available in JR railway station but with a higher price.
Original Passport should be produced and a form needs to filled up if you are getting it in Japan at the JR stations. Information on the usage of JR Pass, the do's and don'ts are available here in detail.
It is advised to book your seat in advance in any JR station before your journey to avoid last minute rush.
Flying to Japan:
AirAsia and Malaysian Airlines have the cheapest and most convenient flights to Tokyo from Kualalampur. But I would recommend Malaysian Airlines as the service and comfort are way better than AirAsia. Book your tickets from Malaysian Airlines website before 2 months of your travel. The round trip will probably cost you around Rs40000. The total fly time will around 6 hours with a transit time of 2 hours in Kualalampur. Grab a plate of Nasi Lemak to pass the time in Kualalampur airport.
Tokyo from the sky will look mesmerizing and spread arms to adore you with its beauty.
The Tokyo Drift
Tokyo has two major airports, Narita and Haneda. Both airport have expansive connectivity to the city.
BY BUS from NARITA:
Keisei Bus transfer passengers from Narita Airport to Tokyo Station. If your hotel is near Tokyo Station or any of its very few stops, good for you. If not, you might still need to take the train.
Here are the rates:
Regular Hours (5am-12mn)
Adult: ¥900 if you reserve in advance, ¥1000 if you book at the airport
Late Night/Early Morning (11pm-5am)
Adult: ¥900 if you reserve, ¥2000 if you book at the airport
Child: ¥500 if you reserve, ¥1000 if you book at the airpot
To book in advance, visit the Keisei Bus website .
BY TRAIN from NARITA:
The cheapest train option is the Keisei Main Line Limited Express. Depending on where your hotel is located, your route will change and you might need to make a few train switches. To check, visit the Hyperdia website and enter the train station closest to your hotel.
Do not confuse this with the Keisei SKYLINER, for which seats are paid and reservations are mandatory. The great thing about the Skyliner though is that it can take you to the city in almost half the time (but for double the price).
Reserved Seat: ¥1230 (additional fee)
HOW TO GET AROUND TOKYO?:
Subway maps are available at tourist information center in any subway station.Use Hyperdia app or website if you are still confused with metro routes and trains. You can buy tickets from vending machines, choose English as Language, enter your destination and pay.
The best option is to buy passes for 1 day, 2 days or 3 days. Passes are available in any BIG C stores around the city or you can buy it online here.
I stayed in Shinjuku so that I can visit all part of the city and have a good connectivity.
My day started with Shinjuku Gyoen National Park, a lush green stretch of 143 acres with diverse floras and faunas right in the heart of city. The morning sunlight and the autumn red color were illustrating the bits of Tokyo beauty. The garden also have an artificial tropical garden in a Glass house. The French, the English and the traditional Japanese gardens will surely gonna amaze you. You can spend a good 2-3 hours here.
Tokyo metropolitan district is in walk able distance from Shinjuku. The metropolitan building is 45 storied building having North block and South Block and provides a spectacular city view both in day and night for free :).
The other sky scrappers look astounding with the autumn colors around.
Some movies do stay very close to our heart and Hachiko was one of them. It was my all time dream to please my eyes with the statue of Hachiko. So I headed towards Shibuya, the worlds busiest crossing and the place of Hachiko.
The Hachiko statue is right at the subway exit. I was in instant ecstasy to experience the statue of Hachiko, the symbol of loyalty and dedication.
Tokyo has so many shrines, you would need at least 4-5 days to cover all of them. Each shrine has its own historical significance and unique architecture. I visited the famous Senso Ji temple and Meiji Shrine.
There are many places in Tokyo, you can enjoy the luminous night view of the city. Sky tree is the famous one and a big tourist trap costing around 3000yens. But you should not miss it through your camera lens as it is an picturesque engineering excellence. Add The Eiffel Tower alike Tokyo Tower into your list as well.
NIGHT LIFE IN TOKYO:
Tokyo night life is legendary and I mean it. Japanese work hard and party harder. The night life includes cozy izakayas, whole night karaoke bars, hip-hop clubs and robot restaurants.
Roopangi, Shibuya and Shinjuku are the nightlife hubs. I planned for the famous Tokyo Pub Crawl with my co-travelers. Pub crawl is basically bar hopping ending in dance clubs, complimentary shots included. It was crazy to get drunk, walk in a drizzling night and dance the hell out till 5AM in the morning. I strongly recommend Tokyo Pub Crawl to experience the best of Tokyo night life.
I am a traveler in rush. I run, I walk and try to visit as many places I can in a city. After Tokyo Drift it was time for the cultural capital of Japan, Kyoto.
I boarded my first bullet train Hikari Shinkansen and yes it was the best train experience I ever had. Mount Fuji was eminently visible through the cruising bullet train. The tunnels and the immediate appearance of sunlight was giving me the illusion of hide and seek.
The Kyoto Diaries
Contrary to Tokyo, Kyoto is more of history, culture, and Japanese tradition. Is n't it amazing, there are almost 2000 shrines and temples around Kyoto.
I arrived Kyoto on a rainy day, with the hazy sky and mild drizzle Kyoto looked like a drenched angel. At the exit point of the JR Railway station, there is Tourist Information center where you get all the information and city maps.Daily and weekly bus passes are also available. For Kyoto, bus is more convenient than the metro to travel in the city and the city maps give you a clear idea about the bus routes.
There was not much of day light, so I planned to visit Kinkaku-Ji Golden Temple. You have to catch bus no 101 and 205 from Kyoto station to Kinkaku-Ji temple.
With the evening on the verge, the golden temple on the first sight was an absolute splendor. The crystal clear reflection was more of reality than the illusion. This temple attracts the most no of tourists in Kyoto.
The good luck souvenir from the temple in my hand and with a smile I returned to the city lights.
Nishiki Market offers a range of stores and stalls for all the materialistic needs. It serves you everything from sumptuous sea food to fancy clothes and obviously the picture worthy view. This market is also known as Kyoto's Kitchen for a reason.
I walked around the banks of Kamogawa River with the chilly breeze and warmth of my urge to explore. The pub streets of Kiyamachi-dori reminded me the canals of Amsterdam.
And the day ended with some delicious Sushi and shots of Japanese rice wine Sake.
Every night in Japan promised me the advent of next day with surprises and truth beyond the images in my mind.
On a November morning, the Arashiyama region looked like dream land with Autumn Forests, lazy water bodies and beautiful shrines.
A Picture in the bamboo forest ticked :).
Kyoto was like wine, it engulfs you with the intoxication of own beauty.
The Kyoto walk continued towards Nijo Castle, which was a combination of old Japanese architecture and beautiful gardens. It was like magic getting unfolded every step you take inside, at the top of the castle the gardens looked alluring.
As per the plan the last destination of day was famous Fushimi Inari shrine. Adjacent orange Toris were leading towards the fox shrine at the top of mountain. The hike was of 4 Kilometers, my fellow hostel mates decided to have a run. I could complete it 37 minutes with second position :). From the view point the arrival of evening and the Kyoto city were picture worthy.
I had to head for Osaka the next day morning. But I was sure that I was unfinished with Kyoto. After a 30 minute of discussion with my hostel owner, I decided to visit Sanjusangen-dō , the temple of 1000 Buddhas. This temple is very unique, kind of dark and quite intimidating for anyone who has no knowledge of Hindu Mythology or history of buddhism. Photography is not allowed inside. Once you get in the temple, you would see brass idols of 1000 buddhas and some Hindu gods. It was fascinating for me to make my hostel mate understand about the characters of Mahabharat and their significance.
Ohh Kyoto how can I amputate myself from you!!!!
I visited the 100Yen store to buy some souvenirs, a good and cheap place you can find some gifts for the loved ones back home.
It was time to say "Ta- Da" to Kyoto, well not before my delicious lunch of "Okonomiyaki", a noodle pan cake with choice of meat and sauce.
Kyoto To Osaka is a 30-40 minutes of train ride. You have to take a train which is covered by your JR pass. I reached Osaka around 5PM.
The Osaka Neons:
Osaka is the second biggest metropolitan city of Japan and the business hub. Umeda sky buildings right outside of the Osaka station was a magnificent structure. And then you will be lost in the VIBGYOR of bright Osaka neons once you enter the city.
I checked in my hostel, which was luckily a 200 meters walk from the Dotonbari street.
For me, when I first saw the entrance of Dotonbari , It was literally a time lapse of my memories of NewYork Times Square. It was bright, it was noisy, it was chaotic yet eye pleasing. I probably clicked some of my best clicks here.
Osaka night life was crazy and loud. The clubs were over crowded which is not of my kind. So I went to a bar, met some locals and had some nice conversations. By the time I realize it was already 3AM in the morning. I knew I was going to oversleep and start the next day pretty late. But somehow I could manage and was ready for the Osaka exploration by next morning 11AM.
So the catch in Osaka, you can buy the "Amazing Osaka" pass which covers all the tourist attractions and all the transport. A one day pass may cost you around 1200Yen and a two day pass will be around 2500Yen.
First on the list was the Osaka castle. The maple garden and the white castle was the greatest thing to capture through your lens. You will get a decent view from the top of the castle, nothing much to do inside the castle.
My Osaka trail continued, I arrived near Osaka port area for a ferry ride. It was windy and cold, the reflection of the shining sun on the water was just like a glitter in the diamond. When the ferry was below the vibrant and majestic red bridge, the view of setting sun was just spectacular.
Near by the port there is a giant wheel, you can have great views of the city lights. The wheel itself from some distance was a splendid click.
I carve for those lovely night views of the cities across Japan. For Osaka I have chosen Abeno Harukas 300, the tallest building of Japan as of March 2016 :). For this place you have to pay around 1000 Yen but worth every penny. The night view was nothing but stunning, way better than Tokyo.
The day ended with a cheap dinner :P , some sticky rice and eggs from 7/11 near my hostel.
Osaka is a modern city mostly a business hub, so it does not give you something that blows your mind. You can plan for two days, not more than that.
The end of Osaka episode was thrilling for me because my journey was heading towards Hiroshima, probably the most compelling reason of this Japan adventure.
Histories Of Hirosima:
War history fascinates me, I have done a lot of research on world War II. I have a goal to visit the countries which had significance of world war II. 1945 August 6th morning 8:15AM, Hiroshima woke up for a normal busy day, but the "Little Boy" shattered everything. The Ota river turned into a red blood stream, over 70000 people were killed due to the atomic bomb explosion. The past of Hirosima was painful, but the people of Hiroshima rose and stood together.
Today the Peace Park of Hiroshima symbolizes the atomic peace. The atomic bomb dome symbolizes the dreadful effects of atomic weapons.
My first morning in Hirosima started with bright sunlight and pleasant wind. I walked towards peace park. I proudly signed for the nuclear peace near the dome. Every part of the peace park was carved with so much of world war history. Then I entered the war museum. The pictures, the videos just tore my heart apart. The museum had pretty much everything about the research, development, planning and execution of nuclear weapon by Americans. Nuclear power is probably the greatest scientific inventions and the worst curse as well.
I returned from the peace park with teary eyes empathizing the past that the city had gone through. I walked around the city, traveled by the trams (Only city in Japan have trams). The day ended with gossip in hostel and hopes for a better world.
Next day I decided to visit the UNESCO world heritage Itsukushima Shrine and Torii Gate. You have to take train ride for 30 minutes and then a ferry to reach there. The tourist information brochure have all the train and ferry timings clearly mentioned.
The shrine was beautiful so as the Torrii gate inside the sea. You can take a cable car ride to top of the mountain for an amazing view of the sea.
On the way back to Hiroshima, I was reiterating all the amazing experience I had in this country.
It was hard to realize that my trip was ending. I took my Shinakansen train back to Tokyo. I reached Tokyo around 9PM and booked a hostel. I had chosen the hostel in Akasaka, so that it would be easy to get the metro to Airport.
The rising sunlight through the metro windows was bidding adieu to me.
The last surprise in the airport for me was, people from Tokyo Metropolitan Office were taking feedback about Japan and giving tiny gifts in return.
Japan a true gem for travelers.
Hmmmm that's all ?No, it would be unfair if I am not writing about the Japanese food. Be it the Ramens, be it the Okonomiyaki, be it the rice&curries, be it the takoyaki everything was delicious.
Vending machines are huge part of Japan's daily life. You will find vending machines in each street for food and drinks across the country. It goes same for the Ramens. You choose the broth, the meat and toppings and pay the final amount in the vending machine. Get the token and show it to the waiter. Then they would give you a paper where you can choose your spice level and extra add on. A bowl of Ramen is not just yummy but filling as well. For me the best Ramen I had was in kyoto, Ichiran Kyoto Kawaramachi.
Try out the very famous Takoyaki in Dontonbari Osaka, a snack made of octopus and BBQ sauce.
The land of Sushi, you can never go wrong with it.
The next unique thing was Kushikatsu, they fry almost everything includes egg plants, mushroom, chicken, prawns, squids with the tempura batter. And the correct way to eat is to wrap it around a cabbage layer and dip it in a kind of soya sauce.
As an Indian our carving for rice and curries is inevitable. You can try the famous curry chain Co Co in all the cities. But spice alert, do not be over confident to try spice level above six. I tried an 8 and believe me it was painful :P.
Japanese desert mostly revolve around red beans and matcha (green tea flavored) ice creams and cookies.
You can travel Japan only for the food, there is so much to try. If you are beef lover then obviously Kobe is paradise for you. The Kobe beef is the finest beef in the whole world. Not to forget it is quite expensive.
How the inner me sees Japan:
Perfection is the other name of a Japanese. The people here are way too polite, tremendously hard working. What lies inside is a huge social pressure. Be it a girl or boy, they always try to be the best. But are they happy doing this? opposite to the whole world full of errors and being a bit easygoing. I leave it up to your imagination. You would find Japanese men crazily drunk after work and find it hard to walk across the streets. The youth population is the lowest, the uneagerness for marriages, high working hours are the problems this country needs to figure out.
With all these Japan still is an epitome of engineering advancement and developments.
Japan turned out be the best teacher to teach me how to follow rules, how to take responsibility, how to be polite and lot more.
Yes I would visit Japan again n again.
Keep travelling :)
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