This is the most “challenging” trip that I have prepared so far. It’s a trip with three other friends who will be coming from Kuala Lumpur, Manila and Dubai. We will travel separately and meet in Osaka to travel together around Japan. The planning stage started as early as 8 months before the trip and after so much “deliberation”, we have decided to hold the trip on the 2nd week of February 2016. And since all 3 of my friends are first time visitors to Japan, I have become the unofficial travel guide. All of them want to see both Osaka and Tokyo so we have to squeeze our itinerary very tight to accommodate all of each others request.
Travel visa, hotel and flight bookings, JR-Pass (since we are traveling Osaka to Tokyo) and data sim card are some of the basic pre-departure preparations that should be on everyone’s check list. I purchased my data sim card (Yokoso SIM / 38 SGD) on the same shop where I bought my JR-Pass (7-day pass / 364 SGD) in Singapore.
Day 1 / 06 February 2016 (Saturday) : Arrival Osaka
My friend from Dubai already arrived in Osaka two days ahead and another friend from Kuala Lumpur arrived yesterday. I will be arriving morning of Saturday while another friend from Manila is arriving Saturday noon.
It is still winter during our trip so we have to bring winter clothing and one of the challenge for everyone was, which one is the best “light packer”. From top left, clockwise; mine, from Dubai, from Kuala Lumpur and from Manila. So who do you think won? ;-p
It all started when our friend from Dubai posted in his instagram (@den_shoo) his shoe picture when he was transiting at Changi Airport en route to Osaka (top-right) then my friend from Kuala Lumpur (@dyimdelmundo) posted his while waiting in KLIA (bottom-right). So it has became a “requirement” to post a shoe picture at the airport, mine while waiting at Changi Aiport (top-left) and my friend from Manila (@awkward.kent) while waiting at NAIA (bottom-left).
My Vietnam Airlines flight will be leaving Changi Airport at 8:30 of Friday evening for a 2 hour journey to Ho Chi Minh where we will have a 3 hour stop over, from there another 4 hour 45 minutes flight to Osaka.
Our plane landed in Kansai Internationl Airport by 7:00 of Saturday morning, the last time I was here was almost 15 years ago so the feeling was a bit “nostalgic” upon seeing this scene.
I decided to stay at the airport and wait for the arrival of our friend from Manila so we can travel together from Kansai Airport to Osaka area.
We met our other two friends who our waiting at Hotel North Osaka, where we will be staying for the night before we head to Tokyo the next day.
Finally the Hobbits are complete! we kinda adopted the group name for obvious reasons ;-p
We decided not to use our JR-Pass yet so we had a “challenging” time buying the train ticket for the first time.
We met some local friend for dinner and karaoke to welcome us.
And just like that, the first day has gone by after glasses of beer and sake and Barry Manilow songs. Our local friend was very kind to send us to the train station for the fear that we might lost our way (almost) haha.
We only booked a twin room for me and my Manila friend but since we are travelling early morning the next day to Tokyo, we convinced our other two friends to stay with us (they stayed initially in one of their relative’s house). Imagine how small Japanese hotel rooms is, with four hobbits plus their luggage?
Day 2 / 07 February 2016 (Sunday) : Osaka to Tokyo
Today will be traveling from Osaka to Tokyo via Shinkansen or bullet train.
We wake up super early and had our breakfast at Shin-Osaka Station.
We exchange our voucher for the actual JR-Pass and presented them to book a seat for our Tokyo trip.
While waiting for our Shinkansen train.
And there it is, Shinkansen Hikari 460 arriving at our platform.
It was a very smooth ride and everyone was enjoying it despite the lack of sleep from previous night.
We arrive at Khaosan World Ryokan & Hostel in Asakusa earlier than the check in time so we just left our luggage at the counter and proceed to check first Sensoji, which is very near our hostel.
Senso-ji is Tokyo’s oldest temple. Known affectionately to people all over Japan as the temple of the Asakusa Kannon, it draws some 30 million visitors every year, remaining an important center of worship.
Hozomon Gate (Niomon Gate) According to Oei Engi, a chronicle written around the 15th or 16th century and the only source describing the establishment of Senso-ji, Hozomon Gate (known as the Niomon Gate when it was first erected), was built in 942 by military commander Taira no Kinmasa. He offered prayers at Senso-ji in hopes of becoming the lord of Musashi province (currently Tokyo and the surrounding areas), building the gate when his wishes were realized.
Hozomon Gate contains the very famous and massive red paper lantern. Hozomon Gate is the gateway to the Sensoji Temple.
The Main Hall (Kannondo Hall) is a national treasure built by third Edo shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu, the Main Hall was obliterated in the March 1945 Tokyo air raids. However, it was reconstructed in October 1958 through donations collected from adherents around Japan. Though it mirrors the original style, the current building features a solid reinforced concrete structure with titanium roof tiles.
One immediately apparent characteristic of the Main Hall is its dramatically sloping roof, quite tall compared to that of other temples, such that it can be seen from a great distance.
After a few more photos, we decided to leave Sensoji and walk back to our hostel to check in formally and leave our luggage in our room before with further explore Tokyo.
So finally got our room, a Japanese-themed room.
It has tatami floor with futons for four. The interior looks very “Japanese”. Lolz
The hostel has a kitchen and dining area on the first floor where you can prepare your own food.
Also on the first floor is a bar which is usually filled during the night with the guests of the hostel.
We then went out again to start formally exploring Tokyo. We went outside Tokyo Station first and check out Marunouchi area.
We then went to Shibuya Station from Tokyo Station and had our photo with the very famous Hachiko Statue just outside the station exit.
And of course the most popular spot in this area is the Shibuya Crossing
A prominent landmark of Shibuya is the large intersection in front of the station’s Hachiko Exit. The intersection is heavily decorated by neon advertisements and giant video screens and gets flooded by pedestrians each time the crossing light turns green, making it a popular photo and movie filming spot.
We then went to Center Gai, a busy pedestrian zone in the heart of Shibuya lined by stores, boutiques and game centers. In the evenings the street is crowded with young people heading to night clubs, restaurants and bars, or just loitering around.
We decided to have our dinner here, we pick this small noodle house in Center Gai, we have to order and pay via the vending machine outside before we go in.
The noodles are so good especially the soup just perfect from the cold weather.
I ordered Tsuke-Men or “dipped noodles”, the noodles come served separately on the side so that they cool slightly. You dip the noodles into a bowl of broth as you eat, pausing between bites to grab at the toppings. If the noodles are served cold on a bamboo mat in the style of soba, they’re called zaru ramen.
We head back to our hostel and call it a night. Day 2 has ended officially.