This will be a long post as it will include some pre-trip things.
We got the return flight for free because of Jetstar’s sale, which saved us quite a bit. However, the caveat is that you have to go to and return from the same airport (Narita). A lot of people go to Osaka and fly back from Tokyo so they don’t have to do a round trip with the shinkansen that will cost quite a bit. The bullet train ticket from Osaka to Tokyo cost us 14,250 yen (reserved, ordinary car not green car).
Because of this caveat, we planned to do a 7-day trip towards Kyoto using the JR pass, then spend a while in Kansai region before returning to Tokyo.
If you don’t use the bullet train a lot, it’s probably not worth getting a JR pass. The 7 day pass costs 29,110 yen and if you only travel locally, you definitely will not spend that much. We know the cost of it so we made the comparison for the 7 day trip and it ends up being a bit more expensive than the JR pass so we got the pass.
We got the pass from Sachi Tours. They sell the pass in fixed AUD price of 348 instead of depending on exchange rate so it’s recommended to buy from them, especially if the AUD to yen exchange rate is getting weaker and because there may be international transaction fee charged on top. They have a $6 express postage fee per transaction so the more you buy the less the fee per person.
When you do use the bullet train, come to the train station a bit early so you can make the reservation even if you have a JR pass. If you have the pass, the reservation can be done for free. Otherwise, it costs an extra 500-1000 yen to reserve a seat and I would recommend doing this as it would save you from having to go to non-reserved car and rushing to find a seat.
If there is anything I forgot to mention and I remember later, I will include it in the next day’s blog post when I remember it so if you follow the series by day, you won’t have to go back and check if I made any updates. But if it’s specifically related to a certain place, I’ll have to go back and amend it, but I will make a mention on whichever post I’m working on.
And so without further ado, let’s move onto the actual trip.
Day 0 – to Yokohama
Because of the cheap ticket, we had to transit too. On the way there we transitted at Gold Coast and on the way back we transitted at Cairns. I recommend getting a direct flight with a bigger airline. The return trip, including meals and baggage allowance, cost us $530 each, and that is only because we share the baggage allowance cost (it costs a lot more if you get allowance on each ticket separately instead of getting a lot of allowance on one ticket only). If you can get a direct flight, and can go to Osaka and return from Tokyo (thus saving you the 14,250 yen ticket) I think it will be worth paying upwards of $850 (my friend got a ticket with Qantas for around $800 I think).
Because of the transit, we arrived at 7pm. The first thing we did was exchange the JR pass and get a Suica card. You have to pay 500 yen deposit for the card, which you will get refunded when you return the unused ticket before you return home. Any remaining balance will also be refunded (less 220 yen processing fee). If the remaining balance is less than 220 yen then they will just give you the deposit back. A good tip is to calculate how much you need to go to the airport and leave just enough on your IC card (including Suica, but there are others too, like Icoca).
IC card is very convenient because you can use it to pay at convenience stores, some buses, some vending machines, some coin lockers, etc. Please note that I use the word “some” because it mostly applies to big cities, as we went to smaller towns and they only accept cash. Convenience stores, however, always accept IC cards, I find.
Also, the train fare is discounted if you pay with IC card, although the discount is insignificant. Example, the trip from Shinjuku station to Sasazuka station (where we stayed in Tokyo, but more on that later) costs 130 yen, but it costs 124 yen with IC card.
Because it was night time already and we were staying in Yokohama instead of Tokyo, we got on the Narita Express (NEX). This is admittedly one of the most expensive way to get to and from Narita, as it cost approximately 4000 yen (I’m not sure because we used JR pass for this as it was quite pricey). A cheaper alternative would be a Narita Liner, which costs about 2500 yen, or the Narita Access train, which cost us 1153 yen on the last day with IC card.
To exchange the JR pass, we went to the JR East Service Centre. They will ask you to fill out a small form, and it turns out that that is the JR pass. They print out the ticket showing the date it is valid to, and tape it onto the postcard-sized form that you have to fill out with your name, passport number, etc. We also made the reservation for the NEX there and got a Suica card before we boarded the train.
Arriving at Yokohama, we went to Lawson to get some rice balls (onigiri) to eat. There were several types of onigiri: with and without nori (seaweed sheet). Even the ones with nori are divided into two types: where the nori is kept separate and where it’s already stuck onto the rice. The ones where the nori is separate has crispy nori and is really, really good. They all have English descriptions of what’s inside so you don’t need to be able to read Japanese to know what’s in it.
While I was eating my last onigiri, I realised there was a tab that you can pull to unwrap the plastic from outside, and if you slide the plastic packaging out gently, the rice ball will drop onto the nori perfectly. I used to open the plastic packaging and then struggle with the rice and the nori, so now you know. Don’t make the same mistake that I did.
In Yokohama, we stayed at the hotel Yokohama Camelot Japan. The place itself is not far from the station, but the whole place stinks of cigarette smoke. It allows the guests to smoke even in the bathroom, so for non-smokers like us it was a nightmare. The room was also quite small, although it wasn’t expensive. We paid about $210 AUD for 2 nights.
The staff at the reception speaks limited English, but enough to help you check in smoothly if you don’t speak Japanese.
The next day is Day 1. We decided to go see Hakkeijima Sea Paradise because of Detective Conan, as it was mentioned somewhere that the inspiration for the aquarium that they went to sometimes is the Aqua Museum at Hakkeijima. It can only be reached by the Seaside Line, which is NOT a JR line, so we had to pay extra.
There are attractions on the island as well, but we didn’t plan on getting on any so we only got the Aqua Resorts Pass plus the Aqua Theatre pass for 3200 yen. You can also pay for the attractions individually. The one that we saw was quite popular was the tower drop-like one.
It was next to a crepe stand, and we tried some crepes there. The savoury ones were nice. The sweet ones aren’t too bad.
When we got there, they also had a 3D maze thing, a structure like a jungle gym but even more complicated. They also had some kind of missions game, but we didn’t have time to try any of those as we spent too long at the Aqua Museum.
The Umi Farm is nice if you’d like to try catching your own fish. We only walked past to see what it was like. The Dolphin Fantasy was so small! Even on the map it was very small compared to everything else. It was basically just a tunnel and a small room at the end. We waited quite a bit to see the dolphin and left after.
The Fureai Lagoon is not bad if you want to try touching the marine creatures. Unlike in Kaiyukan where there’s an indoor pool where the rays and sharks were just chilling, the ones in Hakkeijima can actually swim around and so you had to wait until they swim close enough to the edge so you can touch. Otherwise they have a show (you need to check the timetable. We got a copy from the Aqua Museum reception) where they show you some creatures like the seal, and allow you to come forward to touch it.
The Aqua Theater wasn’t bad, but it was so short (less than 15 minutes) and it was a documentary on JAMSTEC’s Shinkai’s expedition under the sea. JAMSTEC’s is Japan’s organisation for marine research, and Shinkai is their newest submarine model, I think. When we visited Miraikan in Tokyo I saw the model of Shinkai there (again, more on that later).
If you want to watch something in a dome theatre, I would recommend saving your money here and instead going to the one in Miraikan. It only cost 300 yen for a 30 minute-ish show, and you can get an English audio guide so you can keep up with what’s being said on screen. We watched the Man from 9 Dimensions (I think that was the title) and it was actually quite interesting.
Moving on, we watched the SeaPara show at the stadium at the top of the Museum. The show was entirely in Japanese but you can understand what’s going on most of the time. It wasn’t spectacular or very different from other similar shows in other aquariums, but still entertaining to watch anyway.
The Super Sardine Illusion, however, was very beautiful. I don’t know how they did it, but they managed to make the sardines move as one. This is highly recommended.
Most of the tanks at the Aqua Museum are small, but the one with sardines was big. If you see pictures on Hakkeijima Sea Paradise showing a huge aquarium with tall glass panes, that’s the tank with the sardines. No other tank was as big, not even close. Still, it was nice to walk around and see the creatures and read their descriptions, especially the deep sea ones.
We had originally planned on playing the 3D maze and the missions one after visiting the museum but our feet hurt because we were walking and standing too much, and it was close to 6pm when we were done so we decided not to.
On the way back, we originally planned to have yakiniku (BBQ) but it was full so we didn’t. We stopped at a local ramen shop called Ramen Sendai (it’s written in hiragana though). You have to order the ramen you want with a vending machine-like thing, and then give the ticket to the waiter. Please note that all menu items are only in Japanese, so it’s a good idea to know how some are written (like miso, shio, shoyu, etc). There are pictures but not on all. There was a Mandarin-speaking staff but no English-speaking staff.
The ramen was good! The soup base was really thick and salty, but everything was so soft. The pork loin was as soft as pork belly, the vegetables were soft, the noodle was soft. It was so good, and didn’t cost too much. Mine cost 850 yen and that was because it had extra 4 pieces of pork. The amazing thing about this place is that all toppings cost an extra 100 yen. In Ippudo, for example, if you add meat you will probably have to pay an extra $4-$5 dollar while an extra egg probably costs an extra $1-$2.
Anyway, we returned to the hotel after dinner and started packing, as we were leaving early the next day. For anyone curious, we went back to Lawson for more onigiri for breakfast and lunch (talk about being cheap!).
If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments and I will try to get back to you soon.
The next post will be Day 2 – Hakone =) stay tuned!