After a lot of hesitation, our next destionation is Japan! We start our journey in Tokyo, the capital of Japan, a huge metropolitan city which has a lot to offer on sightseeing. We visit famous buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, walk the busy Shibuya Crossing and dress up as true Samirai at the Samurai Museum.
After being in Nepal for one month and 2 months to go on our visa, we decide that we would rather visit another country than spending another month in Nepal. Nepal is a beautiful and cheap country, in which you can easily spend 3 months. Especially if you are planning on doing trekking after trekking. For us that unfortunately did not fit our budget, so it’is time to move on for now. After Everest Basecamp Trek, I’m pretty much done with mountains for now anyway. But we will be back in Nepal in 4 weeks. On November 14th we’ll start our Vipassana course, a silent meditation for 10 days! Very exciting! This is something that can be done all around the world but for us (especially Riny) Nepal is THE place to do it. He has had that idea for many years and now finally this dream can be realized for him. Also Vipassana has it’s origin and preservation in this region (India, Myanmar, Nepal, Tibet, Laos, Thailand). If you would like more information or would like to do Vipassana yourself, have a look at www.dhamma.org and see if you can do it close to your home.
So, we had to make a choice. Mongolia has been on our minds for quite some time, but after some online research and talking to various travellers who have been there, we found out that you need a car with a private driver to be able to disover this country. Outside the cities there are no roads, so it’s impossible to navigate on your own. We have a small buffer on our budget, but this is by far not enough to cover the costs of a private guide for a few weeks. On top of that, flying from Nepal into Mongolia was pretty expensive.
China was also an option, but getting a visa for China can be very hard. Especially a short term visa is difficult and they require you to fill in exactly where you are going within China and where you’re staying every night. Since we hardly plan anything and our plans can change over night, this is virtually impossible for us.
Japan, finally off the bucketlist!
Eventually we chose Japan! There were not many options to get anywhere over land from Kathmandu and if we’re flying anyway, we might as well spend a little bit more money to reach a magnificent location. Japan has always been high on our bucketlist, but since it’s an expensive country we’ve been avoiding it so far. But since we’re always looking for the cheapest way to travel, we thought we give it a shot in an expensive country like Japan, see how that goes. It’s a nice challenge for us and if it works we can write a blog how to travel in Japan on a budget, which would be nice for you!
Japan Railway Pass
When you want to travel great distances in a short amount of time in Japan, the Japan Railpass is your best option. For us this wasn’t convenient because we would only use it for 3 days in our 4 week stay. It’s only cheap if you can use it almost every day, but you most know you can also use it any train throughout the city. Not only the famous skinkansen, but also city trains. If you’re traveling to Japan anytime soon, and you would like to use this pass, have a look on this website for the best price. You can get it delivered to your home or your holiday residence in Japan, whereever you like basically. If you need any help on buying these tickets, make sure to contact us and we’ll help you out.
Landed safely in Sapporo, but now what?
We booked the cheapest flight we could find, heading to Sapporo. In hindsight, this was not the best idea haha. Tip number 1: always read about the country you want to visit before going there, for example in a Lonely Planet guidebook or online. Our idea to travel from Sapporo to Osaka in 4 weeks turned out to be way too expensive. The best way is by bullettrain, which is the most expensive train in Japan. There’s a Japan Railway Pass for tourists, but this is only worthwile if you want to make multiple long distance trips in a short amount of time, like one week. In our case we only needed to make 2 or 3 trips, devided over a period of 4 weeks, so the 4 weeks railpass would be a total waste of money.
It turned out our cheapest option was to book another flight from Sapporo to Tokyo, which we did. After landing in Sapporo we’ve been looking for a place to stay for that night, but it was impossible to find something we could afford. The cheapest accommodation would’ve cost us almost 50 dollars. Couchsurf and Workaway hosts didn’t respond in time, so we basically ran out of options. Tip number 2: plan and book ahead! We noticed accommodation was way cheaper a few weeks from now, so do not book last minute here.
Eventually we found a reasonably priced Airbnb in Tokyo. Quite far from the city center, but with Tokyo’s excessive public transportation network you can get anywhere in no-time. For us this Airbnb was great because it was our first experience in a Japanses home. It was such a nice house with wooden details on the walls, a living room with a low table and seats on the floor and a typical Japanese toilet with heated seating and a ‘fanny shower’. The toilet was quite confusing at first with all the buttons in Japanese, but eventually we figured it out.
After two nights in this Airbnb we found a Couchsurfing place in the neighbourhood of Shinagawa, south of the city center. We’ll stay with a nice Japanses family of 3 for 4 nights. During the day we explore the city and do some sightseeing, and at night we have dinner with the family and play with their one year old son. It’s such a nice, homey experience and we get to eat great Japanese food, veganized especially for me! Our host Aya is a wonderful cook. She made us udon noodles, tofu, sushi, dashi (broth) with lots of fresh, Japanese vegetables and so much more. Even for breakfast we got rice or noodles, which was quite the adjustment for us but a good experience.
In 5 days you can see quite a lot of Tokyo, but unfortunately still not everything. In our case the weather didn’t alway permit us to do a lot of sightseeing and sometimes places you want to visit will be closed. Tip number 3: always check opening hours and days they are closed of the placed you really want to see. We didn’t and missed out on Akasaka Palace because of it.
Sights in Tokyo that we highy recommend are the following:
Asakusa street & Asakusa Shrine & Senso-ji temple
A crowded street full of cute, little shops and snackshops. Start on the east side of the street and walk towards the west until you cross a car-free street. Take a right into this street towards Asakusa Shrine and Senso-ji Temple.
This neighbourhood is know for it’s many high buildings and neon billboards, colourful anime shops and gamerooms and many electronic stores. Especially at night this is a nice street to wander around and take some Times-Square-like pictures.
View on Tokyo from above
On the 25th floor of the Bunkyo Civic Centre you can enjoy a rooftop view of the city for free! Ok, it’s not on a rooftop but it is high and you can see pretty far. Make sure to go here on a clear and sunny day so your chances on seeing Mount Fuji are high.
Tokyo Central Station
Inspired by our beloved Amsterdam’s Central Station, Tokyo’s Central Station is quite amazing. Some impressive architecture on the out- and inside. Make sure you are on the westside of the building.
A nice museum with beautiful, old Samurai clothing, helmets and weapons. It’s fun because you get to dress up as a Samurai or in a kimono. The free tour teaches you a lot about the history of Samurai in Japan. Best to visit in the afternoon, so you can enjoy a Samurai show after your tour through the museum. First show is at 2 pm.
Meiji Jingu Shrine
An impressive shrine in a nice, quiet, large park.
This street is known for it’s Japanese pop culture. Teenage girls, who got themselves looking like a real live doll, will shop here for their tule skirts, colourful make-up and fluffy hairpieces. You’ll also find popsicles and cake in the same colorful style, and plastic examples of these sweets in the shops windows (like most restaurants do in Japan).
The busiest crossing in Japan, or maybe in the whole wide world, who knows. Here you can even cross the street in a diagonal direction, which results in people walking everywhere. It’s a funny sight and best viewed from Starbucks on one of the corners.
The Imperial Palace East Gardens
The island that locates Edo Castle is worth visiting for a couple of hours. The park is just amazing. It has some beautiful ponds and gardens in the north of the island and it surely is the most memorable park we’ve visited in Tokyo (and we’ve visited a lot). On the west side there’s a large green field where you can have a picknick, play games or just lay in the sun.
Something we unfortunately had to miss is the City Mario Kart. We saw this in the streets and it looked like so much fun! Dress up as your favourite caracter and race through the streets of Tokyo! Unfortunately it was a little bit too expensive for us but make sure to check if it fits your budget. Especially fun with a group of friends.
Tokyo surely did not disappoint us. Even though we don’t gererally like cities, I must say Tokyo really is worth a visit. It’s a huge metropolitan that at some points looks really familiar to New York City, with all the tall buildings, neon billboards and straight streets. But, it’s also very charming with the many beautiful parks, colourful gardens and hidden ponds. In those places you can totally forget that you’re in a big city. It’s a city of extremes where you can easily spend a week without being bored.
Our next stop is Ome, about 1,5 hours by train from the centre of Tokyo. From the train we suddenly see the city disappear and green mountains appear. So beautiful! It’s amazing to see that the landscape can change so quickly, and that you can find this kind of nature so close to Tokyo. On WorkAway we found a nice hosting couple in Ome, where we can stay this week in exchange for some daily chores like gardening and cleaning. Unfortunately we’re not very lucky with the weather, but we do get one nice day on which we can explore the surroundings.
Mount Mitake, Ome
The main attraction in this area is Mount Mitake. A large mountain close to Tokyo. You can reach the summit on food or you can take the monorail up the last part of the track. Our host family lend us two bikes, so we bike all the way up to the start of the monorail, which is quite a steep road. I’m very lucky to be driving on the electrical bike, because Riny sure is having a hard time getting up this mountain. But hey, he is doing it. If it was me on that bike I wouldn’t even be able to get up here, haha. From the starting point of the monorail the road gets too steep to drive a bycicle, so we decide to take the monorail to the summit and then walk back down to our bikes. At the summit you can have a pretty nice view on the valley and the surrounding mountains on nice days. We are lucky enough to see some pretty autumn colours here, high up in the mountains. It’s cold enough here for the autumn leafs to change colour, so we still get to make a few nice pictures. You can walk to an old shrine, which is very nice to see.
After a week we’re fully rested and ready to go to our next destination. We’ve worked hard on the blog and we were really happy to have some luxoury here. The house is so nice and we liked that we could cook our own food and take a nice hot bath. Now it’s time to go back to the backpackers life and hop in the train to Fujiyoshida, a town with some nice views on Mount Fuji! You can read all about it in our next blog.