Sunday, 3 October 2010

Osaka-Nara-Kyoto-Kobe-Okayama-Hiroshima trip - Prologue

I was hopping that budget airlines could fly to long haul destinations so that there would be more places where I can travel to. I was disappointed when I read in the newspaper that the Singapore authorities had rejected Jetstar application to operate the Singapore-Tokyo Haneda route last year. However, Jetstar Asia has applied to fly on the Singapore-Tokyo Narita route this year and was granted the right in Apr. Hopefully, they will start flight soon and give those premium airlines a run of their money.

In Apr, I received an admail from Jetstar offering flights to Osaka with a short layover time in Taipei starting from 5 Jul and how could I resist the temptation when the promotional fare inclusive of tax starting from $198! I was chatting with Chew Hiang and she was keen too. But we couldnt settle on the date, she proposed Jul while I preferred Oct. The travelling period for the promotion is from 5 Jul - 10 Nov excluding 15 Jul - 31 Aug. I didnt want to travel to Japan in Jul as it is summer and I'm flying to Kota Kinabula in mid Jul. I was considering Sep - Nov period. Sep is out as it is the typhoon season, hence Oct to Nov would be the preferred period. In the end, we decided to fly from 4 Oct and return on 15 Oct. This 12 days trip is currently the longest trip I have ever travel. At first, it's only Chew Hiang & me; Fredrick, his mom and his 2 relatives subsequently join in, so we have a group of 6 people now. They will returning a day earlier than us since there are no promotion ticket on 15 Oct.

The total cost of Jetsaver airfare is $438.84. I realised that normal seat selection is free for Jetsaver and Jetflex but not Jetsaver Light. For my past few trips with Jetstar, I booked Jetsaver light hence there is no free seat selection. For those who purchase Jetsaver Light, selection of normal seat cost $2. The flight journey takes 8hrs with a short layover time in Taipei as compared with 6.5hr direct flight by Singapore Airlines. A return SIA airtix cost a whopping $1,400 which I could use to purchase Jetstar airtix for 3 people. There are currently only 2 airlines which fly direct from Singapore to Osaka - SIA & Japan Airline.
Map of Japan

A brief intro on Japan: Japan (the Japanese name is Nippon) is also sometimes refer to as the "Land of the Rising Sun". Did you realised that the flag of Japan has a big sun in the centre? Japan is an archipelago of 6,852 islands in East Asia. The four largest islands are Honshu 本州, Hokkaido 北海道, Kyushu 九州 and Shikoku 四国. I shall make a mental note to visit all the four main islands in Japan in the future. 70-80% of Japan's land are unsuitable for residential or commercial use due to steep elevations, climate and risk of landslides caused by earthquakes, soft ground and heavy rain. This resulted in high population density at the coastal areas. As an island nation shut off from the rest of the world for a long time, Japan is a very homogeneous country with almost 99% of the population are ethnic Japanese.

I'm excited and yet a bit lost in planning this trip. Although there is an increase in the number of people doing a Free & Easy Japan trip nowadays, there are still people around who would book a tour. I'm definitely not one of those. I'm really blessed to be born in Generation Y. Have I been born earlier, internet would not be widely accessible then and a F&E trip would be more difficult. The main source for a F&E trip back then would be travel guide book but the informations inside would be outdated by the time the book was published. As a result, people back then have no choice but to go with tour group.

Other than Taiwan, the rest of the trips that I have been to are single cities. Multiple cities trip are tedious to plan. In a single city trip, subway is good enough to navigate around, but for multiple cities trip, train would be a more common mode of transport. The frequency of subway is normally within 10 min but the frequency of train to a designated destination varies. Hence planning precisely to the dot is important. Secondly, more research on accomodation have to be done since each night may be spend in different city. In addition, the number of attractions to research on would definitely increase.

Tourist normally land at Tokyo Narita or Haneda airport and start their Japan trip from Tokyo. I will use Osaka as the base instead as we are flying into Osaka Kansai Airport. For those who are able to buy an open jaw ticket, it would be better to fly into Tokyo airport and depart from Osaka airport or vice versa. This would save at least 2.5hr and ¥13,850 (~S$200) for a reserved seat for travelling from Tokyo to Osaka by Shinkansen Nozomi.

To get an idea on how to start my reseach for my Japan trip, I clicked on those travelogue links listed on my blog and found the tips from an avid travel blogger very useful. I linked them cos their travelogue are useful in planning my future trips. Since I got help from others, I shall also share my travel experience with others.

Usually, most of my trips research are done from Tripadvisor. But this time round, most of the informations are from Japan Guide. Even the forumers in Tripadvisor would direct you to Japan Guide. This is such a comprehensive website for tourist and is definitely the best travel guide for a country which I have ever came across.

After some discussion, we decided on Osaka, Nara, Kyoto, Kobe in the Kansai region; and Okayama and Hiroshima in the Chugoku region. I omitted Hemeji as Hemeji castle is undergoing renovation from Apr 2010 to March 2014 and the entire castle are surrounded by scaffold. On the way back from Hiroshima, Fredrick opt to visit Osaka aquarium while I opt for Okayama. I notice that quite a lot of people planned too many cities into the itinerary cos they wanna see everything at one go but this makes it so hectic. I felt that this would be a waste on time and cost. Well, it's really up to individual preference but for me, I seldom plan my itinerary too pack cos I would like to spend more time in each city and better appreciate it. This is also one of the reason why I dislike joining tour group.

After deciding on the cities, I decide on the attractions to visit in each cities and the duration to be allocated to each city. Japan is really an expensive country cos even the temples charge admission fees. There are very few free attractions in Japan. =(

Japan has an intensive railway network around the whole country linking from the Kyushu all the way to Hokkaido. Majority of the tourist used Hyperdia as it is a very detail website which list the mode of transport and train route for travelling between cities. A big advantage is that it is able to exclude Nozomi train which is not valid for Japan Rail Pass. There are also other websites listed on Japan Guide which offers search options on Japanese trains and comparing the functions of each website.

Transportation in Japan usually contributes the biggest chunk in the cost and it is indeed expensive. Normally, the JR Pass is a highly cost effective rail pass for foreign visitors who visited more than one region in Japan. There are 3 type of JR Pass - 7, 14 or 21 days. For a 7 day JR Pass, it cost ¥28,300 ~ S$400 which can burn a hole in your pocket. However Nozomi train is not valid on JR Pass. The next fastest train that is valid with the JR Pass is Hikari, followed by Kodama which stop at every shinkasen train route.

After doing intensive research, I decided against buying JR Pass. As mentioned earlier, JR Pass is a highly cost effective rail pass but it is NOT cost effective all the times. As we will be spending 12 days in Japan, so if we were to purchase the 14 day JR Pass, it would cost us ¥45,100 ~ S$680 which is way too costly and the JR pass is not allowed on local buses and subway. A more cost saving way is to purchase the Regional Rail Pass if you intend to visit cities within a region. While the JR Pass must be purchase outside Japan, majority of the Regional Rail Pass can be purchase inside or outside Japan.

I decided to purchase the Kansai Rail Pass 1 day pass and Sanyo Area 4 days pass since the cities we would be visiting are in the Kansai region and Sanyo area. For Kansai Rail Pass, it range from 1 - 4 days and a 1 day pass cost ¥2,000. For Sanyo Area Pass, it only offers 4 or 8 days pass. A 4 days pass cost ¥20,000. After calculating the total transport cost including regional rail pass, local bus and subway, it adds up to about ¥37,000 ~ S$600.

Everything is expensive in Japan including accomodation. A western style hotel would set you back from ¥10,000 ~ S$150. Hostel would be a cheaper alternative but not all hostels offer ensuite bedroom. As listed on Japan Guide, business hotel chains such as APA Hotel, Super Hotel and Toyoko Inn, operate dozens of hotels across Japan and offer more affordable rate. Among the three, Toyoko Inn is the most affordable and most are within walking distance from the subways or train station. Popular hostels chain are Hana Hostel, J-hoppers and Backpacker K's House.

I did not have any problem making resevation in all the cities which we will be visiting except Kyoto. At first, I wanted to book 3 ensuite twin rooms at Hana Hostel Kyoto but it only has 1 twin ensuite room and 1 triple ensuite room. I intend to book a single room for Fredrick but to my dismay, there is no single room at Hana Hostel Kyoto. In the end, I make my reservation with Capsule Ryokan Kyoto, ranked No 1 in Tripadvisor Kyoto specialty lodging. All the rooms which we booked in Japan are ensuite rooms.

We intend to book a night stay at a traditional Ryokan but the Ryokan which I have choosen was fully booked. The purpose of staying in a traditional Ryokan is to sleep in a tatami and wearing the Yukata robe. I emailed another one and it was also fully booked. I make reservation 3 months in advance and yet it's fully booked. The Ryokans are so popular! Since there are tatami in Capsule Ryokan Kyoto, I decided to book all 5 nights in Capsule Ryokan Kyoto which result in a saving of S$50 per night!

My detailed 12 days itinerary is as follows:
Attractions: Dotonbori 道頓堀
Accomodation: Hotel Chuo Selene (Twin ensuite room ¥3,000 per pax)
Transport: Nankai Aiport Express ticket (¥890) and individual subway ticket

Attractions: Univesal Studio Japan & Umeda sky building 梅田スカイビル
Accomodation: Hotel Chuo Selene
Transport: Individual train ticket

Attractions: Kasuga Taisha Shrine 春日大社, Todaiji Temple 東大寺, Nara Park (Nara Koen) 奈良公園, Kofukuji Temple 興福寺, Naramachi 奈良町, Higashimuki Shopping Street 東向き商店街
Accomodation: Capsule Ryokan Kyoto (Twin ensuite room ¥3,990 per pax)
Transport: Individual train ticket to Nara & from Nara to Kyoto

Attractions: Nishi Honganji 西本願寺, Higashi Honganji 東本願寺, Kyoto Imperial Palace 京都御所, Nishiki Market 錦市場, Nijo Castle 二条城, Sanjusangendo 三十三間堂, Gion District 祇園 & Pontocho alley 先斗町
Accomodation: Capsule Ryokan Kyoto
Transport: One day Kyoto Sightseeing Card (¥1,200)

Attractions: Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion) 銀閣寺, Path of Philosophy 哲学の道, Eikando Temple 永観堂, Nanzenji Temple 南禅寺, Shoren-in Temple 青蓮院門跡, Chionin Temple 知恩院, Chionin Temple 知恩院, Nene no Michi (The Path of Nene) ねねの道, Sannenzaka Area, Kiyomizudera 清水寺 & Kyoto Tower 京都タワー
Accomodation: Capsule Ryokan Kyoto
Transport: Kyoto City Bus One Day Card (¥500)

Attractions: Fushimi Inari 伏見稲荷大社, Tofukuji Temple 東福寺, Shimogamo Shrine下鴨神社, Shimogamo Shrine下鴨神社 & Toji Temple 東寺
Accomodation: Capsule Ryokan Kyoto
Transport: Kyoto City Bus One Day Card (¥500)

Attractions: Arashiyama 嵐山, Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) 金閣寺, Ryoanji 龍安寺 & Ninnaji 仁和寺
Accomodation: Capsule Ryokan Kyoto
Transport: Kyoto City Bus One Day Card (¥500)

Attractions: Akashi Kaikyo Bridge Guided Tour 明石海峡大橋, Kobe Chinatown/ Nankinmachi南京町, Hakutsuru Brewery 白鶴酒造, Mount Rokko 六甲山, Meriken Park & Kobe Harbourland
Accomodation: Toyoko Inn Kobe Sannomiya No.2 (Twin ensuite room ¥3,675 per pax)
Transport: JR West Kansai 1 day pass (¥2,000)

Attractions: Miyajima 宮島, Downtown Hiroshima – Hondori本通り
Accomodation: Hana Hostel Hiroshima (Twin ensuite room ¥3,400 per pax)
Transport: Sanyo 4 days pass (¥20,000) & Miyajima Free Pass (¥2,000)

Attractions: Peace Memorial Park 平和公園, Hiroshima Castle 広島城, Okayama
Castle 岡山城, Korakuen Garden 後楽園 & Tsutenkaku Tower
Accomodation: Hotel Chuo Selene
Transport: Use Sanyo 4 days pass, Individual ticket for Okayama Higashiyama Line

Attractions: Osaka Castle 大坂城, Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum インスタントラーメン発明記念館, Dotonbori 道頓堀
Accomodation: Hotel Chuo Selene
Transport: Use Sanyo 4 days pass and individual tickets

Attractions: Tenjinbashi-suji Shopping Street 天神橋筋商店街
Transport: Use Sanyo 4 days pass

Everything is expensive and yet the Japanese Yen is rising against the S$, this means this trip is getting more expensive! My budget is S$2,300 with the breakdown as follows:
- $600 for accomodation
- $550 for transport
- $300 for admission charges
- $550 for meals
- $300 for shopping & souvenirs

1 comment:

z said...

thanx for the info, really useful. I was so close of going to japan when the radioactive scare hit japan my friend cancel the trip. leaving not enough person to share the expensive room rate even in hostel. hopefully i could go there this year.