Kaitlin zips around Japan

Staff member: Kaitlin // Trip date: Oct 2016

Japan: Exploring the Land of the Rising Sun

 

With world class dining options, friendly locals and fun to be had all-year-round, there is plenty to love about Japan. As the airlines continue to slash their fares to Tokyo on routes from major Australian cities, Japan has become an increasingly popular holiday destination for Australians.


It is safe to say that travelling Japan with a JR Pass is the easiest and most cost-effective way to see the country. The pass is only attainable outside of Japan and is worth its weight in gold for the unlimited ground that it allows you to cover within your selected time frame. The passes are redeemable at all major stations using your exchange voucher, passport and 10 minutes of your time. Seat reservations can also be made at any JR office all the way up until the train's departure. There are non-reserved carriages if you happen to miss out on reserved seating.

 

Tokyo


Our time in Tokyo was what can only be described as a sensory overload. From the moment we emerged from one of Shinjuku Station's 200 exits and ventured out on to the bustling streets, we were in awe of the colourful, crazy, beautiful city. During our stay in Tokyo we purchased a Suica Card. This card can be used across Tokyo for; most metropolitan trains, vending machines and select convenience store purchases and are just plain awesome! You can top up with as much credit as you like and it saves you from staring blankly at the metro map and working out which fare you need to purchase every time you hop on a train. Although you could spend a good month in Tokyo and barely scratch the surface, some of the main highlights include; strolling through Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, lining up for an hour to devour delicious ramen at Fuunji, crossing the world's largest crossing in Shibuya, chowing down on fresh sushi at the Tsjuki Fish Market, admiring the fashion in Harijuku, Catching the coolest (yet strangest) show ever at the Robot Resturant, reliving your childhood at Tokyo Disneyland, visiting the Studio Ghibli Museum and amusing yourself for hours in Akihabara ('Electric City'). *Tip: choose accommodation close to a station on the Yamanote subway line. Most of the major attractions are centred around this line

 

Hakone


Once you have mastered the art of navigating Shinjuku Station, life in Tokyo becomes incredibly easy. The train stations in Japan have signs in both Japanese and English. Ensure that you memorise the direction in which you need to Exit and follow the signs accordingly (i.e. 'East Exit'). If you wish to use your JR pass for this sector, you can board a shinkansen for a 36 minute journey to Odawarra Station. Once you have arrived at Odawarra, you will need to exit the JR gates and head for the Odakyu platform where you can purchase a ticket that will get you from Odawarra to Hakone-Yumoto Station, a journey of approximately 20 minutes on the Hakone Tozan Railway. As we were staying closer to the attractions hub, we had to take another train to Gora Station, a quaint, little Swiss-style stop located in a valley. This leg of the journey takes you through the luscious green goodness and up the steep hills of Hakone. Hakone is a popular destination for viewing Mt Fuji, Japans tallest peak and the countries most revered site. Unfortunately for us, Mt Fuji was concealed beneath thick clouds of grey the entire time we were in Hakone. Highlights in Hakone include; The Open Air museum, taking a dip in one of the regions natural onsens, staying overnight at a ryokan, admiring the scenery from above on the Hakone cable way, riding a pirate ship across former-crater-turned-lake Ashinoko and strolling through the forest to visit the Hakone Shrine.

 

Hiroshima


From Hakone we made our way back to Odawara station the same way that we had arrived and reserved a seat on the Shinkansen from Odawara through to Hiroshima with a change-over at Shin-Osaka Station. Although the entire journey took approximately 4hrs 30mins in total, the trains were incredible and, an attraction in itself. We boarded a Hikari (Japanese word for 'light'). The train was extremely modern and featured; a ridiculous amount of leg room, power points, overhead luggage racks, comfortable reclining chairs, food service, an enclosed smoking area and the most pristine bathroom facilities you will ever see on a public train. Hiroshima Station was under construction while we were there however like every other Japanese train station it was incredibly well-signed and easy to navigate. When planning for our trip, we had only set aside 2 days for Hiroshima not envisioning that we would love the place so much. Although we had limited time, we managed to explore some of the city's major highlights including; learning about the 1945 tragedy at Hiroshima Peace Park and Museum, visiting the memorials and reading the placards around the town centre and the Atomic Bomb Dome (A-Bomb Dome), strolling the gardens surrounding the local castle, sampling one of the regions culinary delights 'Okonomiyaki' and the JR ferry ride to Miyajima island where you can frolic with deer on your way to visit Itsukushima Shrine.

 

Kyoto


As we had an extra day in Hiroshima to visit Miyajima Island we arrived at Hiroshima Station much later in the day. To get to Hiroshima we reserved a seat on the Sakura (Japanese word for cherry blossom flower) Shinkansen to Kyoto with a change over at Shin-Osaka where we hopped on a Kodoma Shinkansen the rest of the way. Although the design of both the Sakura and Kodoma trains that we boarded were slightly older then the Hikari, the train was immaculate and in pristine condition. Both of these trains had exactly the same features as the Hikari with the exception of the Kodoma also boasting a vending machine. In comparison to Tokyo, the streets of Kyoto possess an incredibly tranquil vibe and we found ourselves in a state of complete zen during our time there. Some of the highlights to be explored in Kyoto include; exploring some of the country's largest and ancient temples and shrines, trying to capture a selfie without being photobombed at the stunning orange tori gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine, sipping on blessed tea at a traditional tea ceremony, contemplating life as you zen out in one of the many Japanese traditional gardens, hiring a kimono and roaming the streets, catching a traditional Maiko show at Kyoto Tower, hand feeding little bags of fruit to cheeky monkeys and strolling through the deliciously-fresh bamboo forest.


Zipping through Japan using a Japan Rail Pass is the most efficient and cost effective way to travel Japan. We found that after only two journeys', the pass was better value then what it would have been had we purchased ordinary tickets. You can also use the pass on JR metropolitan trains and ferries, giving the product another gold star. We had no problem exchanging our voucher for the pass as there are JR Offices in locations across the country, the staff were easy to communicate with and the process was quick and easy. Although overwhelmingly large, Japan's train stations have fantastic English signage in place making it super easy to find your way. The Shinkansens have a great range of world-class facilities for passengers to enjoy as they are transported to their destination at speeds of up to 300kmph. I love Japan and cannot wait to explore more of this gorgeous country. The next time I go back I will certainly be taking a rail pass with me again!

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