Sunday, April 21, 2019

Tokyo: Solo Travel Guide

A lot has been said & heard about Tokyo and I'm happy to say that most of it are true. You know we all have this notion of expectation vs. reality but Tokyo exceeded far more both my expectation and reality. I arrived in Tokyo early morning from the overnight bus I taken the night before from Kyoto and even in my dreamlike state, Tokyo was alluring me with its charm. It is a massive metropolitan city with lots of interesting districts, each with its distinct vibe and attractions full of cool and unusual things to do. You might spend a lifetime there and still not discover it all.

How To Apply for a Japan Visa
In case you're reading this first and not my previous blog post of Japan (link), I made a separate post about the Japan visa application. Click the link here to know more about this.

How To Get to Tokyo

There are two airports serving Tokyo namely Narita International airport and Haneda airport. If possible, try to find a flight that flies to/from Haneda airport since Haneda is so much closer than Narita, it will only take about 30 minutes to get you to the city via local train.

From Haneda airport:
From the map above, you can either take the Tokyo Monorail or Keikyu Railways. If you take the Tokyo Monorail alight at the Hamamatsucho Station (490 yen) and from there, transfer JR Yamanote or JR Keihin-Tohoku Line going to any station closest to your hotel. Same goes with taking the Keikyu Railways (420 yen) but you're just going to alight at the Shinagawa station and transfer to JR Yamanote line.

Alternatively, you can take the limousine bus from Haneda airport but I don't recommend it as it will take about 40 minutes to an hour depending on the traffic situation just to reach the Tokyo station.

From Narita airport:
There are a lot of options to travel from Narita airport to the city as this is a bigger airport serving International flight. But for 'budget' purposes of this blog, the cheapest option is the Keisei Main Line Limited Express for only 1,030 yen. This train will take you directly to Ueno station (where I stayed) and you can transfer to another line depending on where your hotel is located. Take note that this is different from Keisei Skyliner which is a faster route but for double the price costing 2,470 yen.

The JR Sobu Line (Rapid Service) is also a good option for only 1,320 yen. It is a slower but cheaper alternative from Narita Express. This train will stop directly at Tokyo station should your hotel is located near there.

How To Get Around Tokyo

* Or you can download the pdf for a clearer version by clicking this link Tokyo Subway map.

As I stated in my previous Osaka blog, download the Hyperdia app to help you get familiarize with the train stations because if you thought Osaka was crazy then Tokyo was obviously crazier. As you can see, most of the stations are seated side by side that it took me almost 10 minutes just to locate one station when I was finalizing my itinerary. Kelangan ata ng magnifying glass pero pra sa inyo netizen, let's breakdown this mazelike entangled stations. There are three operators that serve Central Tokyo: JR East, Toei Subway, and Tokyo Metro Subway.

> JR East or also known as JR line - they control the all-important JR Yamanote Line. Important because this is where all the major stations and of course, most of the tourist spots are located. If you refer to the map above, this line is the white & grey striped that form a big loop at the center. I think striped is the official color designated to JR line which makes it easier to find.

> Toei Subway & Tokyo Metro Subway are subway lines that are operated by separate companies but users of prepaid rail passes can freely interchange between the two networks. Basically all the colored-lines except the white & grey striped are under this network.

If Osaka has their own prepaid ICOCA card, then Tokyo has SUICA or PASMO card. You can still use the ICOCA card in Tokyo (if you happen to forgot to return it while you were in Kansai Region) but you won't be able to get the ICOCA's deposit or unused funds once you return it in Tokyo.

The only difference between SUICA and PASMO card is that they are owned by two different companies but both cards work the same. You can use it in ALL train stations and you can purchase these in any stations scattered around Tokyo.

Tokyo Subway Ticket

This ticket enable the users to have unlimited access to all subway lines -Toei & Tokyo Metro lines except the JR line. It is available for 24 hours (800 yen), 48 hours (1,200 yen) & 72 hours (1,500 yen). I think this is a better option out of all the passes to explore around Tokyo especially for first-time visitors as it won't matter how many times you're going to get lost since this ticket already got you covered. And cheaper too compared to the Suica/Pasmo card or any other passes. The only downside is that you're probably going to switch from one line to another since you can't use it in the JR line but I still think it's a better deal. You can purchase this online Tokyo Subway Ticket thru Klook.

Sounds easy right? Hopefully I made it easier for you guys but I can't guarantee that you won't get lost lol. Where's the thrill on that? Kidding aside, you can always ask the staff when you are in doubt, which is probably most of the time. In fact on my last day in Tokyo, I was already too tired of navigating and reading signs on which platform should I go to that I just approach the staff and asked him frantically "What platform should I go to going to Ueno?" He replied without blinking "Platform number 7." Do note that not a second passed when the staff answered instantly. I mean considering there are like gazillion platforms inside the station. Which is why I prefer to ask around than to navigate myself because locals always know best.

Places To Visit in Tokyo

Miura, Kanagawa

I know this place is not really well-known to most tourists but if you ever find yourself in Tokyo early February and you wanted to visit the most famous and if not, arguably the most beautiful season in Japan - the Cherry Blossom season, this is the place to be. Every year, the Miura Kaigan Sakura Festival is held along the railroad from Miurakaigan Station to Komatsugaike Park from the middle of February to the middle of March. There are approximately 1000 kawazu-zakura trees planted along the railroad. Unfortunately, I arrived a week early and there aren't any trees that are in full bloom the moment I step foot off the train but I still wished fervently "Lord kahit isang tree lang.." and sure enough He granted my wish. He gave me not just one but 3 trees. Of course it's not as picturesque had all the trees were in full bloom but it will do. You gotta work with you have.

To get here: Take the JR Keihin-Tohoku line and get off at Yokohama station. From Yokohama, transfer to Keikyu line and get off to Miurakaigan. Travel time is almost 2 hours from Tokyo for 1,120 yen.

Apart from Miura, there are also 2 other places that has an early Cherry Blossom but requires farther travel time, the Kawazu, Shizuoka  (around 3 hours)  and Matsuda, Kanagawa (2 hours & 30 minutes). Out of the three, I think I should have went to Matsuda instead, as this place offers a great view of Mount Fuji and there are little slides and train you can take around the park.
Tip: Visit the website Sakura Forecast by the Japan Meteorological Corporation (they were pretty much accurate with their predictions). Forecast gets updated every 1-2 week in the lead up to March/April.

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

Also commonly known as Tochō or Tokyo City Hall, has an observation deck that provides if not the best, an amazing view of the city from its 45th floor. You can even see Mount Fuji on a clear day. Tokyo's other famous viewpoint like Skytree and Tokyo Tower, although considerably taller, it is incomparable as the entrance fee to Tocho is absolutely FREE.
Nearest Station: Tocho-mae Station (Oedo Subway Line)

Tokyo Tower

A communication and observation tower, its structure is inspired by the iconic Eiffel Tower that lights up at night. Visitors can also enjoy the variety of souvenir shops, cafes, restaurants and the One Piece Tower, an indoor amusement park.
Nearest Station: The closest subway stations are Onarimon Station on the Mita Subway Line, Akabanebashi Station on the Oedo Subway Line and Kamiyacho on the Hibiya Subway Line, which are all about a 5-10 minute walk from the tower.

Tokyo Disneyland

I have a confession to make...I didn't maximize my time here because of poor planning & I arrived late and I'm still limping because of my sprained leg. How cool is that?lol But the worst part is, the park was OVERLY crowded. I know Disneyland is always crowded since I've already been to Disneyland Hong Kong but I wasn't expecting the influx of tourist in Disneyland Tokyo. It's like all the people in Japan have agreed to go on that same day, on Monday of all days. And then I didn't know I'm entitled to have a Fast Pass. I thought you have to pay for extra fee for that just like in Universal Studios but it's totally FREE and available for everyone who has a ticket. I ended up just trying 3 rides. I'm literally kicking myself right now.

So to avoid going through the same tragic fate that I had, Fast Pass ticketing is a way of bypassing the long lines since it will take you almost 2 hours of waiting without it. Every key attraction has Fast Pass ticket machines installed near the entrance. Just scan the QR Code of your ticket and it will give you a fast pass for that particular ride. The ticket indicates what time you can use the ride and the time you can get another Fast Pass so only ONE Fast Pass is allowed at any given time. And yes Tokyo DisneySea also has this feature. Actually there's a lot of rave reviews about Tokyo DisneySea claiming it is better than the Disneyland. Probably I'll try that when I'm back in Japan next time :)

You can book the ticket online by clicking here
Nearest Station: JR Maihama Station (Keiyo Line)

Lake Kawaguchi (Mt. Fuji)

If there's one place in Tokyo that I wanted to visit again, this will be it or any place around the Fuji region. The hype is real. Mt. Fuji was indeed breathtakingly gorgeous. I was lucky enough to see it up close but it just decided to show up later in the day. Still :) And I can honestly say that visiting this Japan's famous landmark sans expensive tour package is doable. Make sure to pre-book your trip beforehand. Depending on where your hotel is located, the two most common stations that offer a sightseeing bus tour are from Tokyo (Japan Bus Online) and Shinjuku (Highway Buses). Travel time is 2 hours. Kawaguchiko Station is the last stop so you don't have to worry of getting lost. Once there, adventure awaits because there's no shortage of things to do. It's actually advisable to stay for 2 to 3 days at Kawaguchiko but if you're short of time, then a day tour is also fine. To help you plan on which place to see, you can view the map with the routes and sights here.

The highlight of all my Japan trip was going to Ski Resort on Mt. Fuji. Maaaaann even if I can barely walk, I just have to ski lol. And no, skiing wasn't easy especially for a tropical girl like me. Or maybe I was just too scared of hurting myself more and end up in a stretcher lol What makes this ski resort worthy of a visit is that Mt. Fuji is like a vast, larger than life painting in the background. I myself had a hard time whether I should ski or take pictures or just stare at it all day. I was that hypnotized of Mt. Fuji lol. To see more details about the ski resort, you can visit their website Fujiten.

How to get here: Most write-ups I read states that there's no shuttle bus going to the ski resort but you know me I'm gonna search far and wide lol. I just come across in an article in Tripadvisor that there is indeed one. Just across the Kawaguchiko Station, there's a bus tour that offers a round trip ticket for only 2,500 yen (& 1,000 coupon that you can use inside the resort for equipment rental, restaurants or souvenirs). Refer to the photo below for the timetable of the bus tour.

Imperial Palace

It is a large park area surrounded by moats and massive stone walls and is said to be the residence of Japan's Imperial Family. The inner grounds of the palace are generally not open to the public. Only on January 2 (New Year's Greeting) and December 23 (Emperor's Birthday), visitors are able to enter the inner palace grounds and see the members of the Imperial Family, who make several public appearances on a balcony.
Nearest Station: Tokyo Station (Marunouchi Central Exit), Otemachi Station (Exit D2) or Nijubashi-mae Station (Exit 6)

Sensoji (Asakusa Temple)

A Buddhist temple located in Asakusa, it is one of Tokyo's most colorful and popular temples.
Nearest Station: Asakusa

Tokyo Skytree

Just like the Tokyo Tower, Tokyo Skytree is a television broadcasting tower that has a two observation decks which offer spectacular views all over Tokyo. The two enclosed decks are located at heights of 350 and 450 meters respectively, making them the highest observation decks in Japan and some of the highest in the world.
Nearest Station: It is a 20 minute walk across the Sumida River from Asakusa. Alternatively, it can also be reached by direct buses from Tokyo Station (30 minutes, 520 yen one way, 2 buses/hour) & Ueno Station (30 minutes, 220 yen, 3-4 buses/hour).

Meiji Shrine / Yoyogi Park

Meiji Shrine and the adjacent Yoyogi Park make up a large forested area within the densely built-up city. The spacious shrine grounds offer walking paths that are great for a relaxing stroll.
Nearest Station: Harajuku (JR Yamanote Line)

Shibuya Crossing / Hachiko

Ok, I think this place is self-explanatory of what you can see here. Located outside the station is the famous statue of the faithful dog, Hachiko. Right beside it is the world-renowned busiest intersection, the Shibuya Crossing. The vibe in the crossing is electrifyingly contagious as you cross the street, nowhere else says "Welcome to Tokyo" better than this. Hundreds of people and at peak times (usually at night) can go thousands, cross slowly and all at once in all direction but still manage to dodge each other as if on cue.

That's it guys. Those are just one of the few places that I had the chance to visit because surely I barely scratch the surface of Japan. Apart from the place itself, what strikes me the most are the people. Everyone are so nice, disciplined, respectful and are always willing to help you. A little back story. When I was travelling from Osaka to Kyoto, I went on panic mode as I can't no longer find the train stations where the train is stopping on my map. Turns out I boarded the wrong train. I ask the girl seated next to me how am I supposed to get to Kyoto at that point. She happen to be not so well-versed in English so she ask another passenger who can speak in English to help us out. But the girl (who can speak better in English) are not that familiar on what's the best route for me to take. I think the old Japanese guy with his friends seated to the girl next to me overheard them and joined in. So in the end there were like 6 Japanese people hovering over me on what route I should take. I don't know if I should cry in relief or embarrassment. And yes, I arrived in Kyoto safe & sound all thanks to them. Japan, you are something else!

*Full details of my itinerary and breakdown of expenses are in the first part of my Japan blog or click the link Osaka + Kyoto: Solo Travel Guide for more details.

How To Apply for a Japan Visa (Filipinos Working in Saipan)

Disclaimer: This post is for Filipinos applying for a tourist visa in Saipan holding a Philippine passport. Rules may vary in other countries and other nationalities.

One of the main reason why most Filipinos are hesitant to travel to Japan is because of the need to apply for a visa. I used to be intimidated every time I hear the word 'visa' but now I just view it as a challenge. Yes it is bothersome and a hassle but there's no other way around it than to follow. My mantra has always been for as long as you provide all the necessary documents then there's nothing to worry about and your chances of getting a visa is relatively high.

The biggest difference between applying here in Saipan and in the Philippines is that you don't have to apply through an agency and therefore you don't have to pay for the processing fee. You still have to spend for the gas/taxi fare going to the embassy though. Nevertheless I think it is easier to apply here as I feel like you are talking one-on-one with the embassy themselves. In fact in the 4th times that I went back & forth in the consulate office, I was the ONLY applicant in there to the point that the guard and the staffs already knew me. 4th times because the 1st one was I need to pick up the list of all the required documents that I need to submit, 2nd was submission but there are a few revisions that I needed to make, 3rd was finalization & submission of all my documents and the 4th and last one was to pick up my passport with the approved visa. So in order to avoid this going back & forth in the embassy, read the required list below.

List of Japan Visa Requirements (Tourist/Transit Visa) in Saipan

1. APPLICATION FORM - The application form available at the office must be completed by typewriter or written legibly in print by the applicant. If the form is not properly completed, the applicant will not be accepted.

2. PICTURE (4.5cm x 4.5cm or 2in. x 2in.) - A single picture is required. Taken within the last six (6) months. Photo should be clear and identifiable. Background must be white or light gray color. No shadows. Do not staple.

3. PASSPORT - The passport must be valid for travel to Japan and the next country of destination. If passport does not have available page(s), we will NOT accept application or issue visa.

4. AIRLINE RESERVATION (Copy) - Presentation of a reservation from an accredited travel agency, commercial carrier e-ticket to the effect that onward passage from Japan has been booked. Ticket is not required as the visa application may be denied. 

5. HOTEL RESERVATION (Copy) - If an applicant is scheduled to stay for a few days in Japan, confirmation from an accredited travel agency or hotel that a reservation has been made. In case an applicant is staying with a relative or friend, their name and address should be mentioned on the application form, and an original guarantee and invitation letter explaining the relationship and reason for the visit, itinerary, and an income tax declaration of the inviter will be required. Other documents may be requested.

6. LEGAL STATUS - Presentation of legal status is required (Green Card holder, US Visa and CW Visa) and must submit copy with application form. Tourists and short-term business visa holders are not considered CNMI Residents.

7. LETTER FROM CNMI EMPLOYER - If the applicant is employed in the CNMI, a letter from the employer, addressed to the office is required. It should mention date from when the applicant has been employed, the reason for the trip and the dates of departure and return to CNMI. If the applicant is the business owner, a copy of the business license and the last BGR tax and receipt are required.

8. TRAVELLING EXPENSES - Evidence of sufficient travel funds to Japan including costs such as accommodation, meal, local transport, etc. in Japan must be presented. It should be original bank statements for the past three months, and should take into account the length of stay and the number of accompanying family members. If applicant is a company employee, he/she must also present a copy of last W-2 form or tax return. In cases which the expenses will be covered by other organization or individual, the organization representative or the individual must fill out the Letter of Guarantee for the applicant.

9. DETAILED ITINERARY - A detailed itinerary should be submitted, commencing with the date and flight entering Japan, name(s) and relationship of all travelers accompanying the applicant, places of stay, daily account of places to be visited and ending with the date, flight and next destination when leaving Japan.

Out of all the list of requirements, I think the biggest concern of most people is the bank certificate or how much money you own in your bank account. The answer is that: It depends. It will really just depends on how long you are going to stay in Japan. Your savings should be proportionate to the days of your stay. How? You can already make a rough estimate of how much you're going to spend when you are planning your itinerary so do plan well.

Personally, the hardest part for me was the planning stage of my itinerary. Well does it ever get easier?lol The key is to have a non-negotiable spots that you wanted to visit and stick with it and plan as early as possible. I think I spent 2 months planning my itinerary since Japan can be overwhelming with all the things it has to offer. From hotels, tourist spots, foods, clothes to secret nooks, trains, gadgets, the list goes on. Name it, they have it. If you can't find anything you want/need in Japan, it probably doesn't exist. I now understand why so many people kept on coming back to Japan.

Also, I often got asked how I booked my flights or what airline did I booked. Unfortunately promo fares no longer apply to me. I mean there are promos but it's not as cheap as what I was used to (Hello Cebu Pacific and AirAsia). Which is why I did not include my flight ticket expenses anymore. Let's just say it's double the amount of the flights from Manila. I do know that tickets can be as low as Php8,000+ for Manila-Osaka, Tokyo-Manila via Cebu Pacific once they suddenly drop a promo fares so watch out for that. But for the sake of transparency and for all the Filipinos living and working here in Saipan, I booked via Jeju Air from Saipan to Korea since they don't have a direct flight to Japan and they switch to another airline from Korea to Japan. Here's the catch though. Jeju Air has this unspoken rule that passengers should have a valid US Visa, valid Korean Visa or any other valid type of entry document. I was already on the check-in counter when the staff of Jeju Air told me about this because as luck would have it, my US Visa is already expired and so is my Korean Visa. I only have a Japan Visa which doesn't suffice their airline requirements. My only option was to rebooked my flight to another airline that they are affiliated with (see photos below).

Sleep deprived and barely functioning, I rebooked my flight since I don't have the energy to argue anymore. Sakit bes. See what I have to go through? The perks of holding a third-world country passport. But everything turns out well. Sometimes it's really just a question of how much you really wanted something or in this case it means literally lol Japan was worth every bucks. In fact it just become one of my favorite country. Who else is planning to go there next year for the much-awaited 2020 Olympics? :)

Osaka + Kyoto: Solo Travel Guide

Can I just savor my travel experience in Japan & be selfish?lol Every time I was asked how was my trip in Japan, I really can't find the right words to describe it. Japan is a country of contradictions. It is thrilling yet maddening, traditional yet unconventional, historical yet futuristic, efficient yet confusing, laid-back yet chaotic. It's like a clash of two different worlds but that's exactly why Japan is unique and is one of the most coveted tourist destination.

How To Apply for a Japan Visa
As some of you already know I am now an Overseas Filipino Worker and I did my visa application in Saipan where I am currently working. I will understand if most of you can't find this relatable but most of the requirements are still the same so if you're still curious about my visa journey (it was an adventure in itself!), click the link here.

Where to Stay in Japan
I spend 9 days in Japan covering Osaka, Kyoto & Tokyo and Osaka was my first port of entry. The thing with Japan is that there are way too many options to choose from. From hotels alone, it took me days to finalize my booking due to the vast array of selections. I think I've already mentioned in my previous blog before that my main concern when it comes to accommodation is budget and location. And I based my decision through reading guest reviews and so far my intuition still hasn't let me down.
  • For 3 days & 2 nights in Osaka, I stayed in Hotel Shin Imamiya. I was surprised to find out that I actually have my own room. I was expecting it to be dormitory-type since it was only around $15.00 per night but it exceeded beyond my expectation. 
  • For 1 night in Kyoto, I stayed in K's House Kyoto-Backpackers Hostel. This one was quite far from Kyoto station, around 15 minutes walk so I don't really recommend it although the place is cozy especially the common room and the staffs are really nice. The guy even gave me a bandage for my sprained left leg because I had a little accident during that day hiking the Inari Shrine. If you don't mind the long walk going to/from the Kyoto station then it's still a nice place to stay.
  • For 5 days & 4 nights in Tokyo, I stayed in Centurion Ladies Hostel Ueno Park (Female Only). From the name itself, all allowed guests are strictly for female only and the hotel is right across the Ueno Park where it is one of the famous attraction during cherry blossom season. Do note that the price of their hotel shoot up during this season. 
Overall, I can honestly say that Japan has one of the cleanest accommodation I've ever been to considering I only stayed in the budget hostels. I noticed that all the staff are task to clean the shared bathroom everyday since I often wake up early and it is clean as new. Showers & toilet are in separate room so that's also a plus. All backpackers hostel should start doing that lol. You can request to have your bed sheets changed everyday if you want. They are really all about cleanliness & proper hygiene so I feel like I gotten more than what I pay for.

How To Get from Kansai Airport to Osaka City Center

By Train:
The train terminals are located on the second floor of the building next to arrival hall. Take the escalator & use the bridge to get to the other side or better yet just read the signs for easier convenience. Fare for the Nankai Airport Express is ¥920 and the travel time going to the city is around 45 minutes. If you want to make sure that you are seated comfortably, then you can purchase the Nankai Limited Express Rapi:t for ¥920 + ¥510 seat fee and travel time is only 38 minutes.

By Bus:
Alternatively, you can also opt to take the KIX Airport Limousine Bus transfer to Osaka City. Fare is around ¥51,050.00

Getting Around Osaka
This is the part that I'm most worried about as I already heard that train stations in Japan are complicated and confusing. And boy did I got lost so many times. If you never got lost in Japan, then you're doing it wrong. So first thing first, you need to download the Osaka Subway Route map or see below.

I know. The first time I saw this I was like 'What in the world is this?' And mind you this is only for Osaka alone. How they manage to make this work & connect one city to another is mind-boggling. Whoever invented these train stations is a genius.

It is also best to download the Hyperdia app which will tell you what train routes to take, estimated travel time and fare. Tip: Upon making your itinerary during the planning phase of your trip, try to use the Hyperdia and get familiarize with the train stations. Don't be like me where I did the familiarizing on the spot. Totally not a good idea as sometimes it took me 3 minutes just to locate one train station on the map.

And then there are cards/train passes. You will surely get confused with all the different types of train passes available. Japan is all about more choices more fun lol But that also mean choices overload so let's break down each one of this passes.

Osaka Amazing Pass

If you are travelling around Osaka only, then this pass is for you. It's the ultimate all-inclusive Osaka sightseeing pass that's available in 1 or 2 day versions. It gives the holder unlimited use of the subway, tramway, and bus system within the city. Not only that, you can also enjoy FREE access to
Osaka Castle Museum, Osaka Science Museum, the HEP FIVE Ferris Wheel, Umeda Sky Building Floating Garden Observatory, and many more. You can definitely save more using this pass so I highly recommend this. You can book one thru Klook.

JR West Kansai Rail Pass

If you are travelling to various cities in Kansai Region such as Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe and Nara for 1 to 5 consecutive days, then this will work best for you. You can use this to take rides on Kansai-Airport Express Haruka, the Rapid Services, local JR-West trains and JR buses. JR stand for Japan Railways which is composed of seven companies that operate many train systems all around Japan or practically 70% of Japan's railway network so you can often hear this term when you are navigating their train stations. Do note that you cannot use this pass on non-JR trains such as Hankyu Railway/Hanshin Railway, Keihan Railway, Kintetsu, and Nankai Railway. You can book this thru Klook.

Kansai Thru Pass

Like JR West Kansai Rail pass, this pass also offer unlimited train and bus rides in Kansai Region including Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe and Nara. The main difference is that Kansai Thru Pass does not cover JR trains but it's more flexible since it doesn't require to use it for 'consecutive days'. You can purchase this online via Klook.


ICOCA card is a prepaid or re-loadable card. It function like our very own MRT stored-value ticket (for easy reference lol) but in a more convenient and upgraded version. You can use this not just on trains but also on buses, lockers, vending machines, and even convenience stores. Aside from that, you can also use this card if you travel from Osaka to Kyoto, Kobe and Nara as long as they are on the same region. However, you cannot use this from Osaka to Tokyo and Nagoya. Tokyo has their own version of prepaid card which is the SUICA or PASMO Card but I'll discuss that on a separate Tokyo blog.

You can book this online from Klook which is already preloaded with ¥1500 + the deposit of ¥500. Or you can buy it directly to various train stations located in Osaka or to any cities in Kansai Region. You can get the deposit plus the remaining balance (if you still have one) once you return the card.

JR Pass (Nationwide)

This pass is only recommended if you're visiting multiple cities in Japan and you’re staying for at least 7 days. It includes unlimited rides on all JR Shinkansen, Limited Express, Express, Rapid, local trains, JR buses and many more. To know more about this, you can book thru Klook.

Aside from the various passes, you also need to know the different train types:
  • Local - trains that stopped to every single station. If your stop is 10 stations away then it will take a while for you to reach your destination.
  • Rapid - trains that skipped some stations but same price as the local train & same platforms too.
  • Express - trains that skipped even more stations than the Rapid.
  • Limited Express - stop only at major stations. Additional fee is required.
Now that you know this different types of train, you should be wary of the trains you're taking and might as well just take the local trains unless you're sure that you are not going to miss your stop if you take the Rapid/Express or Limited Express train. Silly me I boarded the wrong train and unknowingly taken the Limited Express train. I ended up stopping in a far away station. An hour away mind you. It cost me time & money so yeah learn from my mistake lol.

Places To Visit in Osaka

Universal Studios Japan

Universal Studios Japan just sets the bar high when it comes to movie theme park. No wonder this place tends to get overcrowded especially the newly opened Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Despicable Me Minion Mayhem. It took me almost 2 hours just to get inside and try their famous 4D rides which is definitely a must-try by the way. USJ also has a lot of extreme rides i.e. heart-stopping roller coaster rides so if you're like me and is totally up for it (I love roller coasters and all my friends hated me for it lol) then I suggest trying Jurassic Park, Hollywood Dream and Jaws for the much needed adrenaline high. Personally, I enjoyed USJ more than the Tokyo Disneyland probably because of the variety of the extreme rides that Disney doesn't have.

It is highly recommended to book the Universal Studios ticket online to avoid long queue and save time. You can book this via Klook or click here.  If you don't mind shelling out a few more bucks, you can also purchase the Express Pass wherein you can skip the long lines for up to 4 attractions.

Nearest Station: Universal City Station (JR Yumesaki/Sakurajima Line)
Opening hours: Between 8:30am and 9:30am and closes between 7:00pm and 9:00pm with longer opening hours on weekends and public holidays.

Osaka Castle

The castle is one of Japan's most famous landmarks and was built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi  during the 1500s. The main tower of Osaka castle stands tall against the sky at the center of the extensive premises of the castle. The observation deck on the 8th floor commands a panoramic view of the surrounding park while the exhibition rooms showcase authentic historical artifacts. To get here, you can alight at the Tanimachiyonchome (4-chome) Station (Tanimachi Subway Line, Chuo Subway Line) or Osakajokoen (JR Loop Line).

Opening hours:
9am-4:30pm from November to February
9am-9pm during Cherry blossoms season
9am-5pm the rest of the year

HEP Five Ferris Wheel

Located at the heart of Umeda (HS01), HEP Five is a big shopping complex which is also known for its 106-meter bright red Ferris Wheel. If you bought the Osaka Amazing Pass, then you can enjoy free access to this.

Opening hours: 11:00am to 10:45pm

Umeda Sky Building

One of the landmarks of Umeda, Osaka. On the top is the Floating Garden Observatory, where Osaka's cityscape can be viewed from a height of 170 meters. Nearest station are Osaka and Umeda. Use the google map when you are navigating as it is quite a walk from the station.

Opening hours: 9:30am to 10:30pm


Need I say more? A bustling street known as one of the most famous lively entertainment area in Osaka and renowned for its gaudy neon lights, extravagant signage, shopping haven and the enormous variety of restaurants and bars.

Known as the former capital of Japan for more than a thousand years, it's no wonder that Kyoto is brimming with well-preserved ancient temple, shrines and other historically priceless structures. It does feels like I'm in different world once I landed in Kyoto. Kyoto was calmer, laid-back and has this enigmatic vibe compared to Osaka. Nevertheless, the two still complements each other despite being world's apart. If you only have a day to visit Kyoto, fret not as Kyoto is easily accessible from either Osaka or Tokyo.

Getting From Osaka to Kyoto (The Easiest Way)

The fastest and most efficient way to travel between Osaka and Kyoto is by train. There are a number of different train systems connecting the two neighboring prefectures so let's take a look at the characteristics of each mode of travel.

> Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka Station to Kyoto Station

Shinkansen is the fastest option, taking 15 minutes to get from JR Shin-Osaka Station to JR Kyoto Station and your best bet if you have a Japan Rail Pass. If you don't have a JRP, it will cost you 1,420 yen.It is better to board the regular train (see below) which is less than half the price of the Shinkansen.

>  JR Osaka Station to Kyoto Station

Take the Special Rapid train from JR Osaka Station (trains depart from platforms 8, 9 & 10) to arrive at JR Kyoto Station in about 30 minutes for 560 yen. The Special Rapid is the swiftest and most convenient service because it stops at only Osaka, Shin-Osaka, Takatsuki and Kyoto.

> The Keihan Main Line from Yodoyabashi Station

The Keihan Main Line runs from the south to the north of central Kyoto, and because its stations are reasonably close to many of Kyoto’s most iconic sightseeing locations, this line is very convenient for tourists. A Limited Express train will get you from Yodoyabashi Station to Sanjo Station in 55 minutes for 410 yen.

> Hankyu Umeda Station to Kawaramachi Station

The Hankyu Kyoto Main Line provides the cheapest route into central Kyoto from Osaka. Take the Limited Express train from Hankyu Umeda Station bound to Kawaramachi Station in central Kyoto for just 400 yen in 44 minutes.

Getting Around Kyoto
As you can see by the map above, Kyoto train system is much simpler compared to Osaka so getting around is also easier. If you plan on staying in Kyoto for more than 1 day, then I suggest to purchase the Kansai Thru Pass which is available for 2 or 3 days. Alternatively, if you are only staying for 1 day then it's better to just use the ICOCA card.

Places To Visit in Kyoto

Kyoto Tower

Standing 131 meters tall just across from Kyoto Station, Kyoto Tower is Kyoto's tallest structure and a rare modern iconic landmark in the city famous for its ancient temples and shrines. It has platform where it offers a 360 degree view of Kyoto and as far as Osaka on clear days. Should you wish to visit here, you can purchase the ticket here.

Opening hours: 9:00am to 9:00pm

Arashiyama Bamboo Groves

One of the most visited place in Kyoto, it is well known for its bamboo stalks that seem to continue endlessly in every direction. Tourists flocked this place so if you want to avoid the crowd (i.e. photobombed your picture), then be here as early as you can. There are still a lot of scenic spot around Arashiyama district so if you have more time check them out since most of it are free admission.

Nearest Station: Take the JR Sagano/San-in Line to Saga-Arashiyama Station and walk for about 10 minutes.

Fushimi Inari Shrine

Undoubtedly as one of the top tourist spot in Kyoto, it is famous for its thousands of torii gates leading to the sacred Inari mountain. Internet does not exaggerate when it says thousands as the shrines just goes endlessly as you climb up and it will take you approximately 2 hours to reach the top of the mountain. Actually, I wasn't planning to climb all the way to the top but I've passed a lot of elderly people climbing down and it's kind of embarrassing if I turn back half way. Yeah my competitiveness kicks in that I ended up spraining my left leg because I wasn't wearing the right kind of shoes.

Nearest station: Take JR Nara Line at Kyoto Station and alight at JR Inari Station

Kinkakuji Temple (Golden Pavilion)

Also known as the Golden Pavilion, Kinkakuji is a zen temple whose top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf. It is one of the most photographed temples in Japan as it rises above its reflecting pond like an apparition. It is also part of the 17 designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites located in Kyoto. However tourists are not allowed to enter the temple.

Entrance fee: 400 yen
Opening hours: 9:00am to 5:00pm
How to get here: There are no direct station nearest going here. The closest one is the Kitaoji Station but it requires to take another taxi or bus. It is best to take a direct bus from the Kyoto station by Bus number 101 or 205 in about 40 minutes for 230 yen.

Gion District

Located at the heart of Kyoto, Gion is known as the geisha district in all of Japan. It is dotted with various shops, restaurants, well-preserved machiya wooden houses and ochaya (teahouses) where geisha/geiko and maiko (geisha apprentice) entertain. If you here by evening, you can spot a real and actual geisha on their way to work. They are practically a celebrity as tourist often waits for them outside the ochaya just to take their photos. 

Nearest station: Take the Keihan line and alight at Gion Shijo station or on Kawaramachi station under the Hankyu line.

There you have it. The first part of my Japan blog is done. Click the link Tokyo: Solo Travel Guide to know more about the second leg of my Japan trip.

Itinerary (Breakdown of Expenses for 9 Days)

To be honest, my Japan itinerary is for the lack of a better word..'intense'. I know it's my own fault that I crammed everything that I can in a day just to make the most out of  9 days in Japan. What I'm trying to say is, this itinerary might not be for everybody. I travel like a guy lol. I forgot to eat, I moved fast, sometimes changing my mind impulsively. I always joke to my friends that my itinerary is like an Amazing Race. I'm always frantic to get to my next stop. Also for reality check, you're going to spent a lot of time walking around in Japan. As in ALL.THE.TIME. So prepare your legs for a 'leg-day' everyday. And Salonpas is life lol.


Jan. 30, 2019


Arrival at Kansai Airport
Collect Klook passes at Arrival Hall (Osaka Amazing Pass)

Board Nankai Airport Express to Shin-Imamiya

Check-in at the hotel


                     ¥ 920.00

      (3 days/ 2 nights)
Jan. 31, 2019


Purchase ICOCA Card

Purchase food in Family Mart
Train from Shin-Imamiya to Universal City (¥180.00)

Arrive in Universal Studio
(pre-booked online from Klook)

Universal City to Shin-Imamiya (¥180.00)



Feb. 1, 2019











Purchase food in Family Mart

Train from Shin-Imamiya to Tanimachiyonchome (Osaka Castle)

Osaka Castle

Train from Taniachiyonchome to Umeda

Ride HEP Five Ferris Wheel


Tombori River Jazz Tour
Explore Dotonbori/Namba

Umeda Sky Building Observatory

Train from Umeda back to hotel

Train from Shin-Imamiya to Osaka (¥180.00)

Take the Special Rapid Train from JR Osaka to Kyoto (¥560.00)

Arrive in Kyoto
Check-in at the hotel

Note: I did not include my transportation cost as these are already covered in the preloaded ICOCA card and I have free access to trains for 1 day in my Osaka Amazing pass








                      (1 night)
Feb. 2, 2019











Purchase food in Family Mart

Train from Kyoto station to Arashiyama (¥ 430.00)

Arrive in Arashiyama

Train from Arashiyama to Inari
(¥ 430.00)

Arrive in Fushimi Inari

Train from Inari to Kyoto

Take the direct bus number 101 or 205 in the Kyoto station

Arrive in Kinkakuji Temple

Bus from Kinkakuji to Kyoto station

Train from Kyoto station to Gion

Arrive in Gion

Train from Gion to Kyoto station

Take the overnight Willer Bus in the Kyoto station going to Tokyo (pre-booked online)
                  ¥ 1,000.00

                     ¥ 140.00

                     ¥ 230.00

                     ¥ 400.00

                     ¥ 230.00

                     ¥ 270.00

                     ¥ 270.00
                     ¥ 800.00

                  ¥ 6,200.00

Feb. 3, 2019







Arrive in Tokyo
Check-in at the hotel

Train from Ueno station to Miurakaigan

Arrive in Miurakaigan

Train from Miurakaigan to Tochomae

Tour Tokyo Metropolitan Building

Train from Tochomae to Akabanebashi

Arrive in Tokyo Tower

Train from Akabanebashi to Ueno
                ¥ 12,020.00
          (5days/ 4nights)
                     ¥ 500.00

                  ¥ 1,060.00


                  ¥ 1,200.00


                     ¥ 220.00


                     ¥ 800.00

                     ¥ 350.00
Feb. 4, 2019



Purchase food in Family Mart

Train from Ueno to Maihama

Arrive in Tokyo Disneyland

Train from Maihama to Ueno
                  ¥ 1,000.00

                     ¥ 390.00

                  ¥ 7,400.00

                     ¥ 390.00
                     ¥ 800.00
Feb. 5, 2019





Purchase food in Family Mart
Train from Ueno to Tokyo

Ride the bus from the Tokyo station going to Kawaguchiko station (pre-booked online)

Arrive in Kawaguchiko (Mt. Fuji)
Purchase the R coupon

Bus going to Fujiten Ski Resort (packaged tour)
Rental ski set

Bus from Kawaguchiko to Tokyo station

Train from Tokyo to Ueno station
                  ¥ 1,000.00
                     ¥ 160.00

                  ¥ 1,750.00

                  ¥ 2,360.00

                  ¥ 2,500.00

                  ¥ 2,000.00

                  ¥ 1,750.00

                     ¥ 160.00
                     ¥ 800.00
Feb. 6, 2019






Train from Ueno to Otemachi

Arrive Imperial Palace

Train from Otemachi to Ginza

Ginza to Asakusa

Arrive in Sensoji Temple/ Tokyo Skytee

Train from Asakusa to Akihabara

Train from Akihabara to Ueno
                     ¥ 600.00
                     ¥ 170.00


                     ¥ 170.00

                     ¥ 280.00


                     ¥ 320.00

                     ¥ 140.00
                  ¥ 1,000.00
Feb. 7, 2019





Train from Ueno to Harajuku

Arrive in Meiji Shrine/ Yoyogi Park

Train from Harajuku to Shibuya

Shibuya crossing/Hachiko/Shopping

Train from Shibuya to Ueno

Take the Limited Express train from Keisei Ueno station to Narita airport

                     ¥ 600.00
                     ¥ 200.00


                     ¥ 140.00

                     ¥ 800.00

                     ¥ 200.00

                  ¥ 1,030.00

              ¥ 76,250.00/ 
              USD 686.25/
          PHP 35,685.00

Again, this does NOT include airfare, shopping/pasalubong expenses and some street food that I tried here and there. But basing on my itinerary above, having a budget of PHP 50,000.00+ all-in for 9 days in Japan is doable. Personally, I don't think Japan is really that expensive. What makes it 'appear' to be expensive is that it just have so many things to offer, so many things to try from one city to another that you ended up spending MORE. It's really just a matter of proper planning and having a concrete set of priorities and compromises. Would you rather SPLURGE & SPLURGE, SPLURGE & SAVE or SAVE & SAVE? You decide. :)