Wanderlust: Japan

Japan Day 1 & 2 : From Kyoto to Tokyo

10:29


When I arrived in Japan from Malaysia, it was already 10.15PM. By the time I got through custom checks and baggage claims, it was already 11.00PM.

The train I wanted to take to Kyoto, the Limited Express Haruka, had stopped running - the last train was at 10.16PM. The first Limited Express Haruka was at 6.40AM in the morning. Besides, to get my JR Pass, I had to wait until 5.30AM for the JR Ticket Office to open.


This picture was taken at around 5.20AM in the morning, when I was cold and tired out from the night before.

For a brief while before, I had thought of staying at the Hotel Nikko Kansai Airport, which was adjacent to the Kansai International Airport (KIX). I even booked via the website early, which got me a booking rate of ¥9,450.

Eventually, after thinking it over, I cancelled the booking and decided to spend the night at the airport instead - basically meaning a night of not sleeping.

 I could not justify to myself spending RM300.00 on a night at the hotel, especially when I would check in at around midnight and then take the first train out to Kyoto to meet my friend. That would work out to about RM50 per hour, if I spent the night at the Nikko.

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Not being particularly rich or anything, I decided to spend the night at the KIX Airport Lounge instead, after having my measly late-night dinner... one Teriyaki Burger from McDonald's'.


Sad late-night dinner for one. 

McDonald's was near the KIX Airport Lounge (to the right of McDonald's, if you come up from the escalators). Lawson was there too, if you feel like convenience food as opposed to fast food.

Here are a couple of pictures of the Airport Lounge - I paid ¥2,600 for 6 hours of watching movies on Youtube, plus free drinks. Not too bad, huh?


Free drink bar, and snacks to buy too if you are feeling peckish.


Two of the private group rooms, for larger groups of people. 

I was the first in the JR Ticket Office as soon as it opened - it was WARM, praise the Lord. I got myself a reserved seat, then passed through the Kansai Airport JR Station, took the escalator downstairs... and then proceeded to wait some more for the 6.40AM train, just sitting inside this little booth for 40 minutes or so, wishing the train would hurry up.

It took 75 minutes to get to Kyoto - when my best friend M said to meet at 'Central Gate', I panicked a little thinking I would get lost in JR Kyoto station. Thankfully, there were signs everywhere pointing to it.



Tadah! Kyoto Station Central Gate. We then took the subway to get to another station.

I was honestly so tired at this point I was ready to slump on the floor - but I didn't. In fact, I spent the morning chatting to M and taking a very long, hot shower. After all, I had not showered for a full 24 hours, and I missed my hot running water.

Thank you, whoever invented Hot Running Water. Thank you. 

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Sourced from Tumblr. 

For my first day in Japan that didn't involve transportation, I just chucked my belongings at M's place, and went out to catch-up lunch and desserts with both M and my Japanese friend N for a good four hours. Not something very exciting for travelling in Japan, I guess.

N made us walk around Kyoto looking for a ramen shop named Ryukishin (龍旗信) in Kyoto. In fact, we insinuated that the shop probably closed down (due to M's past interaction with N, in which they walked around a lot before N checked on his phone and realised that the shop had closed down), but luckily, Ryukishin was there.


Ryukishin is also available at Kansai International Airport, but fat chance for AirAsia visitors to sample it there, unless you want to wait until 7AM the next morning - it closes at 10PM.

Ryukishin operates by having a ticketing machine in the front foyer of their shop. After you feed it money, this ingenious machine spits out paper with the names of your order on them. You then hand over the strips of paper to the staff / cooks, who will then start preparing your meal accordingly.

I can't remember what I ordered - probably either the store bestseller or the one that is most popular among customers.I am going to assume I ordered something chashu (pork)-related, since I have two pieces of meat in my bowl that looks like the bowl in the online menu.

I didn't get any seaweed, though. Hmm.

ANYWAY.

What I do remember is that, for an autumn day and a full 24 hours of not eating proper food, I devoured that Ryukishin bowl like a lion attacks its prey. The broth was light and slightly salty, as it was shio (salt) ramen. My favourite ramen is still tonkotsu (pork bones) ramen, though.

We then made our way to a cafe (didn't get the name, sorry!) for some matcha-related desserts, and proceeded to spend about 2- 3 hours just talking in the cafe. The waitresses topped up our water several times, and we joked about them bad-mouthing these customers who only ordered one dish each but stayed so long.


I loved finally meeting my friends after months of not seeing them. It's been so long since Australia, and my university days. It honestly felt like I was back in Australia, only in Japan, with the rapid-fire Australian slang we threw at each other and reminiscing about 'back in the day'.

Oh God, I'm old.

It was good to know that we could all still get along, and poke fun at each other the way we used to. It was the perfect start to my Japan trip, just meeting some of my closest university friends that I met while studying Japanese classes in Australia. I was living the dream that university me had!


Well. Thank you, puri-kura machine. You're one of the very few that thinks so. Also, I don't think anyone is jealous. 

We then took some puri-kura pictures (of course we did), and soon enough in the evening, I was on the Shinkansen AGAIN, hurtling my way towards Tokyo... this time having not slept for 30+ hours.I finally conked out on the train itself unknowingly. The seats were just so comfy.

Having arrived at Tokyo Station, I still had to find another train that took me to Ikebukuro Station, before finding my way to Hotel Sakura Ikebukuro.

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^This is fast becoming my new favourite gif image

I did not even have GPS at that point, seeing as that the courier dude could not find M's address. My B-mobile SIM card did not arrive before I left for Tokyo. As such, I had to use the old-fashioned way - asking people for directions.

*winces*
What is human contact? 
(Being emotionally dead and all, I find it hard to talk to people I don't know - the thought of talking to strangers terrifies me. Funnily enough, my job as a writer makes it a requirement. Ah, life. )

It was not that bad, though. At Tokyo station, relying on my VERY BAD Japanese, I asked the transportation staff which train I should take to Ikebukuro Station. I took the JR Yamanote line, just to get more out of my JR Pass, and it took me an additional 35 minutes to make it to the station.

When you consider that the JR Shinkansen I took took 2 hours and a half to get from Kyoto to Tokyo, you start to appreciate how fast the Shinkansen really is.

At Ikebukuro Station, I asked the station clerk which exit I should take to find the hotel. I got out of the wrong exit (obviously) anyway. I then went to the 交番, a small neighbourhood police station, and asked there as to where Hotel Sakura Ikebukuro was.

I must digress a bit here.

JAPANESE MAPS, WHY ARE YOU SO CONFUSING? 

The policeman was giving me directions and flipping this huge book of maps, which I did not understand at all when he showed it to me. The map did not correspond with the next page - he had to flip several pages after one instruction ("Go straight down here, then *flips pages* turn right") to show me where to go. I looked at the book with terror in my eyes.

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The policeman was kind enough to repeat his instructions twice. I repeated his instructions after him at the end, and he said: "分かりますか?" (Do you understand [my instructions]?),  and I replied: "分かる。。。と思います。" (I understand... I think). He then smiled at me and said that the hotel should be easy to find, because there would be a huge sign.

>_> / <_<

I'm sort of geographically-challenged, so suffice to say I was really proud of myself when I found the hotel just a few streets away. (WHY DOES IT TAKE A FEW PAGES TO DEPICT THESE FEW STREETS?) I checked in, took another nice long shower, and then conked out on the bed immediately.

Day 1 of my Japan trip was over, just like that. The next time though, I'd probably just fly to Haneda Airport if I was going to go to Tokyo, and make my way down to the Kansai area again, or vice-versa. Hopefully with lighter luggage, so I don't have to suffer hauling things around.

Hopefully.

...

Yeah not going to happen.

Day 2 was a day of more relaxation, catching up with my other best friend K, who kindly agreed to come along on the Tokyo leg of my Japan trip. More Australian friend meetups yay!

First on the agenda was lunch! Well, actually, first on the agenda was buying Studio Ghibli Museum tickets at Lawson, but they were all sold out for the day. The next day too. Not to mention, the day after. The 4th day? Nope, not a chance. Can't get into Studio Ghibli Museum during my Tokyo trip, at all.


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All sad gifs sourced from Mashable. Oh, the feels.

Sigh. So I gave the Studio Ghibli Museum a miss, and we headed out for lunch instead. Staying in Ikebukuro and all,  I Googled the place prior and found out that it was actually famous for 'ramen wars', that is, streets filled with ramen stores all jostling for customers.

It was impossible to head for all of them, so I headed for the ramen store which name I saw popping up frequently on websites and blogs - Mutekiya (無敵家). Here's a description from the website itself, if you're too lazy to click on it -

'The soup used in our restaurant is a pork-based stock made from pork thighbones, which have been boiled in a large pot on high heat for 16 hours, resulting in a thick tasty broth. The broth has drawn out the sweet succulent taste of the pork, and though the soup is thick, it has a light refreshing flavour. Please relish the flavour of this exquisite soup stock which is made fresh daily.'

Commas added by the English major in me. 

YES TONKOTSU RAMEN I LOVE YOU.

Funny story: 

I went looking for Mutekiya on K's GPS, and we were searching high and low for a ramen store that had the name 'Mutekiya' in it. At some point we stopped, and K said"Well, it says it is somewhere around here". I was looking across the street trying to find some ramen stores, when something made me turn around as K was still studying his GPS. I then clocked in the line that stretched around the corner for the store right behind us. I looked at the name - it said 'Mutekiya'.

Me: "K. It's right behind us." 

D'oh.

Funny story over. 


Joining the ramen-waiting fray!

We joined the queue, and soon enough one of the store's staff came out handing out menus. As a testament to how popular Mutekiya was, there were even English translations for the Japanese-illiterate tourists.

The line moved fast enough, and in 20 or so minutes we were already seated. Orders were taken while waiting in line; we both decided on the Honmaru Men, with Yaki Gyouza to share.

One of my favourite things about Japanese restaurants is how they hand out wet towels for all customers - in Malaysia, you would be charged RM1 for wet towel usage. Usually in Malaysia I'd hand back the wet towel to the cashier, just to ensure they won't add the RM1 to our tab. Japanese restaurants also usually serve free water, something unheard of in Malaysia.

My friend's N reaction upon hearing that you'd had to pay for water in Malaysia was, 'Are you serious!?', so yes, plain water is usually free at Japanese restaurants.


I am in love. 

The mouth-watering bowl of Honmaru men came out looking exactly like it did in the menu. I added crushed garlic (free!) to my bowl, took a spoonful of soup for a sip... and immediately declared it to be one of the best tonkotsu ramen I ever had, even before eating the ramen.

I just love pork bones broth so much. Thick, creamy, and strong-smelling, the Mutekiya tonkotsu ramen had my seal of approval, even if it does not have CNN's. What's wrong with you, CNN?!?!


The gyoza was pretty good too, but I preferred it with shoyu sauce rather than the dash of red pepper and radish spice.

After a satisfying meal, we ventured out to Ueno because I wanted to go to a Japanese park in autumn, thinking I'd see colourful leaves in late October.

Big mistake. 

THE LEAVES WERE STILL MOSTLY GREEN. The sadder part was that because it was a Monday, the Ueno Park Zoo was closed. SIGH. I want to see some dying leaves here!


What is this greenery?!?!



Koi fish in the Lotus Pond section of Shinobazu Pond. No lotus flowers, as summer was over. 

In the end we just wandered around Ueno Park looking at scenery, going to Starbucks, and then getting ourselves to the Shinobazu Pond's Boat Pond section for some boat-paddling.



Swan boats. Don't get them - their necks block views. Also they are the most expensive at ¥700 per 30 minutes. 


Admittedly, the scenery was still nice, even if the leaves were not dying.

Afterwards I insisted on going to Shibuya, because I wanted to see Shibuya 109 after seeing it heaps in fashion magazines.

Yeah, I'm superficial like that. I went inside Shibuya 109 and marvelled at all the pretty shop staff and cute clothes that were mostly out of my price range.

Oh, to be richer.

The shop staff were superbly pretty dressed in their shop's clothes. In the face of all these prettiness, I could suddenly tell why Japanese girls always had this image of looking so good. After all, if everyone around you cared about their appearances, and put in extra effort to look good, you would jump on the bandwagon too and strive to look your best as much as possible.

At night for dinner we travelled to Ginza to look for the elusive restaurant - Meikyuu no Kuni no Arisu Ginza restaurant, or, Alice in a labyrinth Ginza restaurant. It took us a while to find the building the Alice restaurant was situated in - nobody we asked knew where this Taiyo building was, but people definitely knew of the Alice restaurant.

We went to the 5th floor, and immediately the atmosphere transported us into the pages of a book. A waitress came out to guide us in. The waitresses were dressed in Alice uniforms, and were super courteous and helpful.

I went to visit the restroom on the way in - it was dim in lighting to fit in with the atmosphere. Actually, it was a little creepy, so I got out as quickly as I can :/. I was trying to figure out how to get the tap water to run, when I realised there was a button on the floor that I was meant to step on, in order to get the water flowing.

We walked past curtains that looked like the pages of an old, illustrated book - you can check it out in the gallery section of the linked website. We were then led to a table next to the cup in the Teacup Room. I'd love to have sat in the cup, but it wasn't for small groups, and it was already filled with a group of Japanese girls anyway.

The restaurant is pretty small, but looked bigger thanks to clever use of mirrors on the walls. My breath was taken away by the small details the restaurant had, such as the playing cards on the ceiling, the card themes on the tables, even the spider on the ceiling light.

The cutest thing had to be the box that the menu came in, though!


The waitress took out the closed menu from within that box, with actual clock ticking on the top right, and the cutest tiniest details such as a tiny light, and a table plus chair combo!


Let's be honest here, you come here for the ambiance, not the food really. The food was not 'bad' in any sense, but it's still edible. Kind of like a fancy cafeteria school lunch for rather exorbitant prices - I think I must have paid about ¥2,300 - ¥2,500 or so for this. Our 'Alice' waitress explained to us that each person must have at least one drink and one main meal.

Taking in payment for drinks, main meal, and the dessert, I must definitely have paid about ¥2,000++ for this dining experience. Look how cute the dishes are though!


Getting bread and tea, as one is wont to do in Wonderland / Underland.


Basically, biscuits and sweet jam. The waitress told us to look for a hidden Alice. Um, she's right there. ^


The main meal, Cheshire Cat's face on the spaghetti ragu. Of course, his face slowly disappeared, that cat (we ate him, oops).


Dessert! I believe this was chocolate cake with vanilla ice-cream and strawberries.

Would I go back to this restaurant again? Sure. Not all the time, maybe, but every once in a while, being transported to a different world in a physical sense (apart from my favourite other-world transport methods, reading books and writing) does my heart a world of good.

An advice - when asking for the bill, ask for 'check', not 'bill', as that will result in a glass of beer being brought to your table. True story. Lots of 'sumimasens' and 'gomenasai' commenced on both ends, for not understanding each other better.

Oops.

Next up, Disneyland and DisneySea! Stay tuned. :)

Wanderlust: Japan

Radiation Fears and Japan Travels

14:26


A few months prior to actually leaving for Japan, I was regretting that I told people that "I AM GOING TO JAPAN AND IT IS GOING TO BE EXCITING".


The view from the Shinkansen as I departed from Kansai International Airport. EXCITING. 

I don't know if it's because most people I know have a penchant for downing other people's enthusiasm, or if they are genuinely concerned. Well, some were genuinely concerned, the others were just statements like "Huh, you sure you want to go to Japan? You might become the Hulk when you come back".

I don't need to go to Japan to be the Hulk, I want to hulk-smash things when people make off-handed statements like that.

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Indeed, even without me bringing up that I was going to Japan, whenever Japan got brought up, this topic got brought up. Those who knew that I was going to Japan would then inform the rest that I was going to Japan, and then...

'What about the radiation? Aren't you afraid?'

They would then give me some radiation fear story, usually about some acquaintance of theirs ('my friend's cousin's wife's sister') going to Tokyo, then coming back to be diagnosed that DUE TO RADIATION POISONING, they can't give birth for the next *insert terrifying long amount of time here* years.

'You sure you still want to go?' 

They'd conclude, all 'concerned' and stuff.

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Why, my, I mean, I'd totally did not do any research on Japan and Fukushima, and I didn't know about the radiation fallout in FUKUSHIMA that has been going on since the 2011 earthquake/ tsunami/ nuclear reactor meltdown, oh man how scary, I will now proceed to CANCEL THE ONE TRIP I HAVE BEEN DREAMING ABOUT SINCE I FIRST STARTED MY JAPANESE CLASSES.



Especially Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea. Have I mention my Disney addiction before? Not sure if I have. 

 I mean, my dream of being in Japan with my university mates, the one dream we've all been working towards since starting Japanese classes in 2010 (I wanted to study in Japan too, but there was no scholarship available for me as a Malaysian international student in an Australian university, plus there are no J.E.T. Programme teaching positions available for Malaysians, so I settled for a measly two-week trip to Japan in 2013 instead)?

Pfffft.

Let's just destroy THAT precious dream, because of vague fears about radiation poisoning EVERYBODY in Japan and unfounded rumours of making women infertile just by being in Tokyo for a few days. What if it gets to me, when I am at most 287.1km away from the center of the radiation fallout in Fukushima, and Japan makes me infertile for the next ten years too?


Kyoto National Museum 


View near Fushimi Inari


Arashiyama area near the bamboo forest 

Also, Kyoto is about 522 km away from Fukushima, just FYI. 

Not that I really have plans to have kids at this point in my life, and there are already pre-existing conditions for my body that may make it hard to have kids, but yeah, 'OMG JAPAN! OMG RADIATION! OMG INFERTILITY! OMG WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE!'

That's 'funny', because one of the Japanese fashion producers I follow on Instagram, who arguably lives in Tokyo for the majority of her life, just recently gave birth to a bouncing baby girl. I saw tons of babies and cute toddlers running around Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, and Himeji. Also, while not from Tokyo, one of my Japanese friends is heavily pregnant and about to give birth soon.

While I am not an expert on the topic of radiation, and how different human bodies may react to levels of radiation around them, I can safely say that no, the radiation is not making EVERY WOMAN infertile, and certainly not EVERYWHERE in Japan.


This is Taiyo Park in Himeji. Himeji is 613.3km away from Fukushima. 

One of my acquaintance, who is also going to Japan sometime in the next few months, told me that people also kept trying to convince her to NOT go to Japan. In fact, and the sentence that most infuriates me after hearing her story, is the fact that people actually told her,

'Well, don't say I didn't warn you.'

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Well. No shit. Thanks, but no thanks. It's not like IF I did get radiation poisoning I'd be all like "ABC WHY DIDN'T YOU WARN ME I BLAME YOU XYZ"still, but if it makes you feel superior saying that about my 'hazardous' choice to go to Japan, all power to you.

Here's the thing about me and my trip to Japan in from late October to mid-November. No one, I assure you, no one was more anxious about the radiation fallout from Fukushima affecting MY trip AND me than *I* was.

My heart sank every time I read articles on the water containing radiation seeping into the ground / released into the ocean, in the months and days leading up to my trip and even after my trip ("TEPCO, what are you doing?!?!"). I looked at daily updates on different websites, from travel advisories from different countries' websites to Japan-related news sites, to peoples' opinions on the whole radiation issue.

Most of the travel advisories said it was safe to travel to Japan, APART from the site surrounding Fukushima. It seemed, however, that when I said 'I'm going to Japan', or the topic of me going to Japan was brought up, people seemed to hear

"OMGOSH I am like, SO TOTALLY, going to go to Fukushima and DRINK ALL THE CONTAMINATED WATER EVERY DAY UNTIL I PASS OUT, LOLOLOL, like wouldn't that be funniest and I'd be the first to do it LMAO" 

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instead of just plain and simple, "I am going to visit Japan for two weeks - the areas I will be going to are Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, and Himeji, which are ALL far away from Fukushima." Heck, even Ipoh is closer to Kuala Lumpur than Fukushima from Tokyo.

People asking me to not consume too much seafood in Japan? A little weird when this is Japan, but I am okay with that, considering how I don't like raw food / seafood that much anyway.

My close relative asking me to not consume tap water? Um, okay, it was hard to avoid when I was in someone's home, but since it made them and me feel slightly better, for the most part during my trip I consumed mineral water from the mountains - Evian and Suntory (Evian is cheaper in Japan than in Malaysia @_@).

These are 'harmless', in the sense that, okay, you acknowledge that I KNOW I am going to Japan, where there is radiation fallout in a part of the country - you aren't stopping me because OBVIOUSLY IF I BOUGHT THE TICKET AFTER THE YEAR 2011 I PRETTY MUCH KNOW WHAT I SET MYSELF UP FOR, but you do hope that in little ways I can minimize radiation effects, if there are any, during my trip in Japan.

I can take that as legitimate concern, or at least, offering what they think is helpful advice.

What really gets my goat, however, is when people ask/ tell me things I really didn't ask for, like "aren't you afraid of radiation?", "what if you come back an X-man" (<- this will be pretty cool, actually), "my cousin's step-sister's blood-uncle's mistress went to Tokyo and came back infertile from the radiation", and so on.

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The person who said "don't say I didn't warn you" was lucky it was not me he/she said it to, or there might be physical altercation.

You're not giving me something that is based on scientific fact, you're not giving me a sentence that stems from concern, even if you think it sounds like it.

Do you think that I, Miss Very Paranoid, did not research the pros and cons of travelling to Japan thoroughly, and check almost daily whether the 'scary scary radiation' is spiking in the areas I visit before I actually went? I do not need your help in fear-mongering or doubting whether it is wise to visit Japan - I do that well enough myself, and yet, YET, Miss Very Paranoid still chose to go to Japan.

Guess what? I had a swell time, added a bunch of lovely memories to my lifespan, and I cried in the train station when I got onto the train to the airport, because *I* wanted to stay longer.

Am I afraid of 'radiation'? Of course I am. I certainly don't want to be exposed to radiation mutating my body's code more than I have/ want to.

Heck, I am also afraid of the crime rates in Malaysia. I live in fear of people breaking into my house, being mugged while I am walking on the streets, being followed when I am alone in a shopping mall's car park, being a victim of snatch theft, having my belongings pick-pocketed (which has happened before), being a victim of a reckless car driver, being dragged off and raped before being murdered...

In this life, we can be afraid of many things that may  harm and kill us, if not now, then further on in the future. Yet.

We're all going to die eventually. True? Yes.

I mean, I want to live long enough to become a popular writer, and be the novelist of at least 50 books in my lifetime. I want to rise through the ranks of earning power, and earn enough so that I can care for my parents and repay them for looking after me. I want to live long enough to see myself, against all odds, get married and maybe even have kids - or at least if no one wants to marry me, I'll live long enough to see myself  live in a beautiful house filled with cats and be THE crazy cat lady of a lifetime.

I try to prolong my life through means I know how to - eating healthily most of the time, drinking a lot of water, exercising, avoiding going out too much to minimize chances of being a victim of crime, not going to places where I know there is a high chance of crime and violence, and etc - but that doesn't mean that I neglect the quality of my life while I am at it.

Well, to be honest, I often feel that I am putting the quality of my life on the backpedal while I pursue the prolonging of my life the majority of the time i.e. the crime issue, staying at home when I really want to go out. My perception of crime levels around me is probably escalated, but not without good reason.

But I digress.

If you came here wanting to look for answers as to whether YOU should go to Japan, I'm sorry, I can't provide the answers for you. What YOU do, and what YOU decide, is a decision YOU alone make, based on research YOU should do.

I am not going to say, "Yes! Go to Japan because it is super safe in all aspects!", because it is not true. Anything can go wrong anywhere, if you're unlucky enough, regardless of radiation or not.

What I CAN say, however, is if Japan is important to you the way Japan is important to me (for personal reasons), if you feel that the quality of your life can improve even just visiting Japan despite radiation fears and fear-mongering, if you are fully informed on what is going on in Japan and still feel like going... then, why ever not?

I did not choose to overlook the radiation factor when I planned my trip to Japan - I took it in, mulled over it, and decided that I would regret it if I did not go. It wasn't as though I was heading to a war zone, to a place where the environment is hostile for women, to somewhere where I knew I would be in imminent danger should I choose to go.

It's Japan. I fell asleep on the Shinkansen on the way to Tokyo from Kyoto involuntarily, because I was too tired. I woke up anxious an hour and a half later since I was on my own for the trip, yet all my stuff  was still intact and in the same place I kept them.

The radiation factor is scary because its effects are as yet unknown, but if I am to fear that something would kill me if I went there, heck, I am in fear of being attacked more back home.

Whatever it is, to me, life is short regardless of what happens. Japan is worth it enough for me to overcome my fear of radiation, or at least worth it enough for a short-term trip that is FAR away from the epicenter of the radiation fallout. I certainly won't want to go anywhere near the nuclear plant, because I will be useless, and I salute the people who are working hard to contain the damage.

Heck, I wish I could stay up to a year or more just soaking in the culture, and be able to say that Japan was my home for a short while, like Australia was when I was studying in university.

I don't regret going to Japan - in fact, it was the best two weeks of the entirety of 2013, to be honest. I'm glad I saved up for it, I'm glad I didn't give in to fear-mongering and my own doubts, and I'm glad that I have been there this year, even though I did not have the opportunity to study or work there like I once wanted to.

My intention with this blog post is not to convince people to go/ not go to Japan. That is entirely up to your discretion.

My intention is to show that, despite people trying to bring my happiness of going to Japan down, and my own feelings of fears of what the unknown can do, I still had a great time in Japan that I am thankful for (or else 2013 would kind of suck).

So really. If you're one of those people who like to ask people going to Japan if they fear radiation, or tell horror stories about Japan, or ask them if they are REALLY sure if they want to go, or even worse, get on your high horse and say "Don't say I didn't warn you", you can save it.


Bonnie the cat from cat cafe Nyanny in Sannomiya also wants you to save it. 

Chances are, the person who is going to Japan is plenty aware of the issue (like me!), have thought about it lots and still are REALLY SURE that they choose to go, and won't go around blaming you if something bad happens down the line.

(Heck, who'd say if whatever happens would be linked to Japan, even? Tons of people have medical issues that promise bad news down the line, does that mean those people should kill themselves now before something bad happens?)

People who choose not to go to Japan can make their own personal choices about it, and not dampen the spirits of other people who choose to go. All you really need to say is, "Have fun and stay safe!", and everyone can be happy as they go through their daily lives. Heck, you might even get better souvenirs.

To all those who are about to go to Japan when reading this, or ARE in Japan, "Have fun and stay safe". If you've even entertained the thought of going to Japan, you already know you want to go. It's up to you to decide whether it is worth it or not. For me, it was.

What about you?

Wanderlust: Japan

How to Financially Survive a Two Week Japan Trip

13:14

... when you are on a Malaysian salary like mine.

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 *Rejoices* 

I finally have a topic to write about that can fall nicely under the 'wanderlust' category, apart from random lists, musings about myself as a person, and rants! You know you like the rants.

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With any luck, I can string this topic out until the end of the year. Actually, I probably can. I love Japan, in general.

Now we come to the real reason why I've been trying my best to save up all year long, since I first bought my AirAsia tickets in January 2013.

From 26th October 2013 until 9th November 2013, I had the best of fortune to be in Japan. It was a trip I had planned for forever, at least since 2011 when I was last in Japan.

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It only took concrete form when I purchased my plane tickets in January 2013. I waited impatiently as the days went by and my Japan Travel Money Jar filled up bit by bit.

It was hard - some months there were barely any changes in the Money Jar, as I had more pressing issues to pay for at the time.

My goal was to spend a total of RM6000.00 for my Japan trip, maybe RM7000.00 if I pushed it.

As of this point in time,

RM6000.00 = USD1870.00
 RM7000.00 = USD2190.00

Both might not seem like much in USD ( There are New York rental studios that cost more per month than the budget I saved up for ten months for) , but in Malaysia, that is a huge sum of money that people like me can barely save up for.

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I'd say that the two weeks in Japan was more than worth the pain I had to go through in saving up for it, though.

All in all, I spent about .....

*drumrolls*

.....RM6550.00  for Japan.

I paid RM978.40 for my AirAsia return flights. Therefore, for actual spendings within Japan, I spent about RM5,571.60 for the entire trip, or an average of RM398 per day (including pre-payment for my JR Pass and my b-mobile rental SIM card).

If this kind of spending happened in Malaysia on my salary on a daily basis, I assure you I'd be broke in less than a week. Plus, the thing is, apart from five nights during the entire trip, I did not have to pay for my accommodation for the other nine nights.

I also got treated to tons of things (from attractions to meals to products to experiences), which IF I paid for, could make my spending go up to RM7000.00 and more.

So, really. I guess... this kind of spending is quite horrifying.

I needed all the stuff I bought though. I mean, look at this. Come on. Just look at this.


Oh yes.

Disney owns my soul. I'd say I spent about RM1000.00 on Disney stuff (Tokyo Disneyland/Sea 2 Day Pass, Tokyo Disneyland/Sea souvenirs... FOR MYSELF, Disney Store merchandises) alone.

So, that explains some things.

(Also Tokyo Banana is nice, but for 1000 yen a box....  )

Nevertheless, I firmly believe that I am allowed to splurge, considering the way I have been living for 9.5 months before Japan. I already detailed here how I managed to save up that amount, so this time I will focus on how to financially survive a two week Japan trip, once you've saved up a certain amount like RM5,000.00.

You might have guessed, but it is really ALL about planning, AND sticking to the plan.

The sticking is very important, people.

I only fell a little bit off the planning bandwagon (spending about RM550 more than I wanted to), so I think I am good to dispense this kind of advice.

I think.

Oh yes. RM5,000 does go a long way in Japan for two weeks, but only if you are not planning to do much ~TRA-VE-LING~.

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Which is crazy talk and defeats the whole purpose and we shall not speak of such things here.

If I can go to Tokyo, Kyoto, Himeji, Osaka, AND Kobe on RM5,000.00, so can you.

Well, maybe just only for Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, considering that I had friends in Kyoto, Akashi, Osaka, and Kobe that kindly provided me with free accommodation and even transportation by car.

Yeah, I need friends in Tokyo too, so I can bum off them in the future. Anyone? Anyone at all?

Ahem. 

Anyway, behold!

***

Five Ways to Financially Survive a Two Week Japan Trip 

1. Plan Your Priorities

If you're thinking of a trip to Japan, ask yourself what are your foremost reasons for doing so. Japan is a great country for a multitude of things, be it scenery, theme park attractions, shopping, food,  relaxation, cute things, and/or etcetera.

Decide on your top three reasons, and then consistently stick to it while planning your itinerary in Japan. If you are there to eat all the sushi in the world, then be prepared to give up theme park attractions. If you want to stay in a gorgeous ryokan aka Japanese inn (15,000 yen per night is the norm for a single visitor), be prepared to buy less cute things.

For myself, it was

1. Theme Park Attractions (especially Disney, as I've mentioned),

2. Scenery (particularly autumn), and

3. Food and Shopping.

So even though I really wanted to, I didn't get the chance to stay in a ryokan, visit an onsen, or even eat or shop a lot despite it being number 3 on my list.

Well, I did go to several restaurants, but not as much as I wanted to, sadly.

For 1. 

I paid a fair sum for a Disney 2-Day Pass, as well as an Universal Studios Japan ticket - it amounted to RM560.00, and that does not even include theme park food (overpriced and crappy, mostly), as well as the theme park souvenirs I bought. Theme park food and theme park souvenirs must have rounded everything up to at least RM1000 from theme parks alone.

The Disney Store in Sannomiya, Kobe was another story....

If you must know, I really wanted to buy an Elmo plush toy in Universal Studios Japan, but I resisted. I think I deserve a medal for that.

For 2. 



The above is taken in Arashiyama, Kyoto.

Some scenery in Japan is, of course, free. I went to Ueno Park in Tokyo, and spent two hours pleasantly enough in it for free (besides Starbucks and paddling on the lake for a bit).

In Kyoto, however, most temples,shrines, and other attractions that are famous require a fee that ranges between 500 yen to 1,000 yen just to enter. Getting around Kyoto to these famous attractions was also a pain in the wallet, if I recall correctly.

For example, to get to Arashiyama from Kyoto Station, I bought the all-day city bus pass at the station for 500 yen, but getting to Arashiyama ALSO requires another 170 yen payment before I could get off.

For 3. 

I spent quite a lot on food, considering I was there for two weeks. If you round up each meal to 1,000 yen, I easily spent RM900.00 on main meals in the duration of time that I was there. I am pretty sure I spent more than that, what with the snacks I bought from convenience stores like Family Mart and Lawson and chomped on like I had never heard of calories.

The cruncher for my most expensive food meal was definitely my last meal, though - Kobe beef at Royal Mouriya, which at 10,560 yen was worth RM341.00.

Yeah. I spent AT LEAST RM1,200.00 on food.


It was well worth it for the sake of saying that I've actually had authentic Kobe beef though - and it IS good.

As for shopping, I did a lot of damage to my wallet at theme park stores and my little one-day shopping at Shinsaibashi, Osaka. That was when I had to trot the card out, because I was running out of cash - and thus, I am now broke because I used up the money I need to survive in Malaysia post-Japan pre-salary day.



I NEED these though. NEED.

So technically I am still skipping lunch now, and postponing most of my bills.

Meh. 

Spending on all three of those in Japan made it hard for me to enjoy other aspects of Japan, but I certainly don't regret focusing on those for my first mostly self-funded (90%) trip to Japan.

2. Plan Your Savable Budget and Start Saving Early

All the way back in December 2012, I started making plans for my trip to Japan.

I already knew that I HAD to visit Japan in 2013 for certain personal reasons, such as most of my Australian university friends from university studying there on their exchange, and friends doing the JET Programme.

If I haven't made it plain enough before, I miss them. They are the group of people that gets me most.

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 They totally get my obsession with Disney.Or at least put up with it.

At first I wanted to visit during March 2013 for the spring blossoms, but I couldn't get as much time off PLUS I wouldn't have any money of sizable sum then. So then I wrangled for the time period of late October - early November, because if I can't have spring, I would like to have autumn.

Not that it was very autumn-y because tons of trees were still green. It was cold and I got to wear my coat, though, so meh. Good enough.

I did not actually go to Japan with RM5,000 in actual cash - that would have been crazy. I ended up going there with 110,000 yen (RM3,700.00) - the rest of  I spent on my JR Pass (which I will talk about in #4) and my b-mobile rental SIM card, so I could get data on my phone while in Japan.

How did I arrive at the conclusion I would need at least RM5,000 to survive two weeks in Japan? I figured I would use between 7500 yen to 8500 yen per day (not including the JR Pass), so I multiplied that by 14 days and went with it.

For a more accurate assumption of what you might spend in Japan if you have no friends to bum with / to treat you to meals, I'd say an estimate of 10,000 yen  - 12,000 yen per day is good. I stayed in a budget hotel in Ikebukuro, Tokyo while I was there, and I paid around 4,000 yen per night. If I did not go to Disneyland / Disney Sea, I am sure the other 6,000 yen will be sufficient for exploring one suburb a day in Tokyo, for food and drinks and other attractions like parks and museums.

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Just don't shop and you'll be fine. 

I do think that is impossible for me, of course, but I am sure it is possible for some of you reading this.  Good luck!

3. Plan Your Accommodation

I can't help much with this, considering I only booked the Hotel Sakura Ikebukuro in Tokyo to stay at - the rest I bummed with my friends, who kindly loaned their accommodation to me. I also stayed with my former host sister and family, whose family THEN did not allow me to pay for anything for the 36 hours or so I was with them - they took me out by car, paid for my attraction ticket, paid for my meals, and paid for my karaoke session.

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 I was so touched I ate like this staring at everyone.

 Okay not really.

I WAS touched, though. My Japanese host family is the best *cries*.

Thankfully for the budget travellers, Japan has myriads of hotels which cater to those who can't, say, justify a stay in Disney Resort Hotels (I totally wanted to T_T) or even a normal 3-star hotel. Check out business hotels, which go from anywhere between 2500 yen to 5000 yen, and capsule hotels (usually for men, though).

Most of the hotels have 90 days, 60 days, and 30 days special advance fares, so USE YOUR INTERWEBZ and book way early for a good discount. Most of these hotels are pre-booked fast, so it's good to get your reservation in first. For some of them, you don't even need to enter credit card details - you just pay when you get to the hotel itself.

You can try the airbnb website for accommodation with locals too, if you don't mind living in someone's house.

4.  Plan Your Transportation

There is no way of sugar-coating this - transportation in Japan is EXPENSIVE. Forget taxis and go for the trains and buses. It is even better if you can rent a bike, and bike around wherever you want to go.

The b-mobile rental SIM card was good to use for me - trust me, you NEED data to survive in Japan. I used my data a lot on GPS, whether I was walking, going on a bus, or taking the train. Google Maps was a God-sent in Japan.

In Japan, the train railways are owned by different companies (JR, Hankyu, Hanshin, city metro subways, etc) but some of them arrive at the same station or are in close proximity, so things can get confusing. Also, the major train stations are MAJOR in size (Tokyo, Kyoto, Umeda). They are practically shopping malls that just so happen to have multiple train stations at them.

Luckily, there are English signs that guide you to various trains you need to take to get to your destination. It's easy to tell Hanshin, Hankyu, JR, and subway train stations from each other with the signage.

If you can't be bothered standing at the ticketing machine and figuring out how much it would cost you to get to a particular destination, get an ICOCA or a SUICA card. They are accepted from all Japanese train companies, so just tap on and tap off as you like.

If you do your research well, you can also get ticket passes that will allow you, the tourist, to travel as you like in a day for a fixed price that locals can only envy.

For myself, I went for the 7-day JR Pass, that I already bought in Malaysia prior to flying. I flew to Kansai International Airport, and got my JR Pass from the office at 5.30AM in the morning (spending a night at the airport, since I arrived and got out too late for anything to get me to anywhere that would justify the cost).



This is the JR Ticket Office at Kansai International Airport. You need to take your Exchange Pass, and your Passport, to get your JR Pass.


This is partially how the JR Pass looks like. I tore up the part with my details on them, or else it will look like a little fold-able pamphlet.  It says I can use the JR Pass from the 27th of October to the 2nd of November only.

To be honest, I think I barely cracked the 28,300 yen price tag - if I did at all. I went to Kyoto on it (3000 yen), then back and forth from Kyoto to Tokyo, which I think is at most 16,000 yen on the Shinkansen Hikari. So think carefully if your transportation plans WILL top the price tag, or refrain from getting a JR Pass.

I eventually found the ICOCA so much easier to use, since in my second week I took Hanshin / Hankyu/ subway trains more than JR trains when I was in the Kansai area. Of course, I topped up several times, so I think I spent an additional 15,000 yen just getting around the various areas I visited.



JR stations announce themselves, so you don't end up using the JR Pass at non-JR train stations. Hopefully. You have to show your JR Pass to the person manning the ticket counter, which can be seen above on the far right.


The insides of the Shinkansen Hikari.


See what I mean about JR stations announcing themselves?

With any luck, if you plan your trip well, you should be able to save heaps on transportation. For me, the transportation cost of Kyoto - Tokyo - Kyoto - Himeji - Osaka - Kobe was probably most damaging to the wallet, even surpassing my Disney mania. However, as I bought my tickets to Kansai International Airport early, I did not really plan my two weeks until about five months prior to going, hence the Kyoto to Tokyo to Kyoto thing.

Ideally, I should have flown to Haneda Airport in Tokyo, and then flown back via Kansai International Airport. Might have made a difference with NOT purchasing a JR Pass. Then again, I won't have met my friends for lunch in Kyoto / have my friend's place as a spot to dump my heavy luggage since I have no close friends to bug in Tokyo, so I guess it all worked out.

There are fare adjustment tickets at every station, so you don't have to worry about overpaying or underpaying. The Japanese people understand that their train lines are confusing, and usually won't fine you, such as in Perth, where underpaying a ticket results in a freaking AUD 100 fine.

Honestly, though? Just get an ICOCA/SUICA card, and top it up. It will make your life in Japan so much easier.

5.  Plan Your Food Choices 

No food pictures for this post, but plenty more to come soon!

If you are a fan of Japanese food, and want to have the good stuff everyday, be prepared to shell out quite a bit - at least 3000 yen every day.

For myself personally, I did have a list of must-have food, such as takoyaki, okonomiyaki, omusoba (omusoba is the best, it is fried noodles wrapped with omelette), RAMEN, and... Kobe beef. I also wanted to go to a bunch of themed cafes, but in the end I ended up at two only - Alice in Wonderland cafe in Ginza, and cat cafe Nyanny in Sannomiya.

Easily the most expensive thing on the list was the Kobe beef, which I was hesitant about having. Since Kobe was the last place to visit on my itinerary, I told myself I would only have Kobe beef if I had 10,000 yen left in order to enjoy it.

So on the last day, I did have 10,000 yen left - barely - and I made my proper last meal in Japan Kobe beef. I'm so glad I did, though. It was good, and I'll blog about it later.

If good food isn't really on the agenda and you don't mind going cheap every now and then, Japan's convenience stores - conbini, as they call them - will be your Godsend.

Most are open to 11pm, and 7/11 opens 24 hours. They have instant noodles (you can boil them at your hotel, I imagine), snacks, and food like Lawson's fried chicken. Oden is also rolled out at convenience stores' now for the autumn/ winter season, so it can be another cheaper alternative .

With any luck, you can have a few expensive meals on certain days, and save on food for the rest of the days by going for cheap (but still good!) food. Hey, live like the Japanese do, right?

***

I started off the trip noting down my expenses as I went on my phone, but I gave up by the 3rd or 4th day since I walked all day and fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow at night. In the end, all my careful financial planning worked out pretty well, especially with the largess from my parents and friends helping out and treating me to stuff for two weeks.

I guess I am pretty penniless at the moment, seeing that I managed to, uh, use up most of my October salary while I was in Japan. At least I am not in debt from the trip, though, and that is how you know I am QUALIFIED to give financial advice on trips to Japan.

If you are planning on a trip to Japan on a budget, my best advice is to plan a year in advance, as I did (well, ten months, but who's counting).

Do your research well, write down your own itinerary, check Hyperdia for train times and fare prices, plan well geographically by circling places on a map of Japan, maybe leave the credit card at home (I did quite well with just my debit card), take the advice I just typed out above, and hopefully, you will be able to enjoy Japan without worrying about ending up in debt.

Now, to just wait for salary day while I skip lunch now...

P.S. Bonus tip - announce to everyone at home that YOU ARE NOT BUYING SOUVENIRS FOR ANYONE, AND IF THEY WANT SOMETHING FROM JAPAN THEY CAN ORDER ONLINE. It'll save you at least 7,000 yen.

Not going to make you popular? Well, I guess the proper question is, DO YOU WANT POPULARITY OR DO YOU WANT TO LIVE?

The end.