Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Return to Japan (2016)

We are planning to return to Japan.

And because we haven't been to Osaka in the last two trip, this time we will aim to spend some time there. Especially after seeing this article "20 things to do in Osaka".

And because, the first city we visited in 1998 was Osaka.

From Osaka, we can go on to visit Kyoto, Nara, and Kobe.

Haven't been to Kobe. We'll eat at a McDonald's there and tell people we've eaten beef in Kobe.

Preferably, we would like to fly direct to Osaka. But on the days we wanted to fly, the prices were too high. Other flights (cheaper) had a stopover at Narita, and a connecting flight to Osaka. But if we are getting a Rail Pass, then it doesn't make sense to fly to Osaka (it would costs a little more) . It would be cheaper to fly to Narita, stay a day or so in Tokyo (or Narita), before heading to Osaka.

Alternatively, we could take the train to Osaka (about 200+ mins - under 4 hours. According to Hyperdia.).

And since we are travelling with a toddler, and more space might be appreciated, we are going to get the Japan Rail Green Pass. That is like the First Class cabin. On a Train.

We weren't planning on travelling this year actually.

After Zoe was born, we figured, we'll just skip travelling for a while. Lugging a baby along is not my idea of a relaxing time. The reality, as we saw it, was probably finding ourselves changing diapers in different hotels, and staying in hotels just to feed the baby.
But, as Zoe got older (she's 18 months now), she turned out not to be too fussy a baby, and we could see the possibility of travelling with her. She's observant, and curious, and we thought she might get something from a trip. So we're going back to Japan!

Which was also not part of my plans originally.

After the camper van trip from Perth, I was thinking of house boating (in Australia) with Zoe, next.

Maybe another time.

For sure.

The Plan

So here's the overall plan.
1) Fly to Tokyo, arriving in the morning.
2) Take a train to Osaka - about 4 hours by train. Spend a day or three there.
3) Travel to Kobe, spend some time there (say 4 nights?).
4) Make day trips to Kyoto (an hour or so by train),
5) Travel to Nara. Stay for 2 nights. (about 2 hours by train)
6) Then take the train back to Tokyo. Maybe stay at Shinjuku.
(We found this: KOKORO HOUSE 1 Bedroom Apartment near Shinjuku Station - K6. PL took one look, and went "book! book! book! Nice! I want!")
7) Explore Ueno, and the area around Tokyo.
8) Then fly back.

Tokyo is on the right and Osaka is on the left of the map. The distance (Tokyo - Osaka) is about 560 km by train.
Internet Connection (Wifi)
I get the sense that the Free Wifi situation in Japan is better than 3 years ago. But Free Wifi is always iffy. So I will still be using the paid Mifi from Pupuru (400Yen per day, plus insurance 100Y per day) as I have done before. This gives me peace of mind, and I don't have to log onto a new Wifi, find the free Wifi spot, hang out there desperately hoping that I can get a good connection. 500Y a day is less than SGD 7. In two weeks, I would spend less than $100.

After booking an apartment at Osaka, the owner gave us this link for DiGJapan - a travel app for tablets. I've downloaded it to my iPad Mini and I'll see how useful it is.

A lot of hotels now offer free Wifi. So if you don't need to be connected on the move, you can choose to be online only when you get back to your hotel.

Interestingly, several AirBNB-type lodgings/accommodations will rent you a Mobile Wifi (Mifi) if you wish. Not sure though how much they would charge.

But most interesting of all was one apartment in Tokyo I have booked (thru Agoda, but the owner also rents through AirBnB). The free Wifi provided was a Mifi. Which you can use in the apartment, or you can take it along with you when you explore the town. And it is free.

Free Wifi by NTT East: This free service for tourists (you will need to provide your passport) covers Tokyo and regions East and North of Tokyo all the way to Sapporo, at least.

So I am going to get a Mifi with Pupuru as I have done before, but I will terminate the rental when I am back in Tokyo (the last few days before we fly off). This will save me a few bucks (about $30). And I will use the Mifi provided by the apartment owner. Then when we check out, we can depend on the free Wifi by NTT East.

I've booked a private apartment for our first few days of stay at Osaka. We will be taking the train from Haneda straight to Osaka - about 4 hours. We will stay in Osaka for a couple of days then head to Kobe.

In Kobe we booked a hotel for 4 nights. We will make a day trip (or trips) to Kyoto. But it is increasingly likely that Kobe will have its own attractions.

When we were last at Nara we stayed at the Nara Washington Hotel Plaza, which is a very good location. It is along Sanjo-Dori which is the main shopping street on the way to Nara Park. So even though it was a little expensive for our budget, we booked this hotel for our two nights in Nara. Interestingly, in two years, a lot of the hotels now offer free Wifi (as mentioned above). Previously the Nara Washington Hotel Plaza did not offer free Wifi at all.

After Nara we head to Shinjuku, Tokyo to another apartment for the rest of our trip.

Things to do in Osaka
See Osaka Castle
Visit Minoo Park
And Koyasan

The DiGJapan App pointed out that there is a JoyPolis indoor amusement park at Umeda. We will check it out if we have time. It's near to our apartment.

Things to do in Kobe:
Basically eat Kobe beef. I Googled "Visit Kobe". The first 10 recommendations was to eat Kobe Beef.
Arima Onsen
Shin-Kobe Ropeway
Himeji Castle
And Chinatown!
The only China Town in Kansai. Abundant places to see including a splendid public rest room,
I need to find out if the "splendid public rest room" is really a public toilet and what's so splendid about it!

To minimise transfers from one hotel to another involving luggages and a toddler, We are planning to just stay put in one place (say Kobe) and then travel to Kyoto, and maybe Osaka.

Kyoto is 45 to 60 mins by train.

Osaka is even closer (less than 30 mins).

But we may want to stay at Nara for a couple of days (90 minutes away).

Day trip (or trips) to Kyoto. 
Initially, our priority was to visit that temple in the park with the Giant Kannon (in Muruyama Park), and I will need to unwalk the 4 rounds around the shrine and undo my wish for a slightly immoral wife (it worked too well!). And maybe walk 4 rounds to wish my daughter would work for Jesus.
Then, visit Kiyomizu, and the Higashi-Honganji Temple.
But after some research, I think we should prioritise Arashiyama Park, and the Bamboo grove.

Things to do in Nara
Why find the deers and take pictures with them!
According to Google Maps, there are a lot of Izakaya at Nara. So i dropped down to street view to look at one. And found... KFC!
And the streetview was taken in Mar 2015. It's sad when a traditional Izakaya falls to the Great KFC.

Things to do in Tokyo
Ueno and the Ameyoko, and maybe Asakusa during the day (and dinner at Ameyoko)
Day trip to Kawaguchi to see Mt Fuji? We can take the ropeway, which we did not the last time.
Shinjuku Park
Anyway, Tokyo has lots of parks and things to see. Enough for a week.

This time round, we won't be using the luggage transfer/delivery service as some accommodations are not hotels and and there would be no service staff to receive our luggage, or help us send the luggage to the next location. I guess hotel to hotel (from Kobe to Nara) we could still use the service. But we shall see.

So that's the plan so far. It's still too early to buy the Rail pass (90 days advance).

And I'll book the Mifi later as well.

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