Japan had been on my wish list for way too long and, when I suggested it to Sourena, he was suddenly positive about it so we immediately started looking into it.
Because I could only take so many days off from work, we ended up planning a short but very varied tour of Japan and I really believe that it couldn’t have been any better.
Since we like city life and people watching, but also relax and nature we thought about combining the main urban areas, Kyoto and Tokyo, with some off the track natural beauty. After a lot of research we finally made up our mind and the plan was well decided: 4 days in Kyoto with possible day-trips to Osaka and Nara, 3 days to the Yaeyama islands and 3 days in Tokyo; direct flight from Amsterdam Schiphol to Osaka Kansai airport, internal flight to Ishigaki, flight to Tokyo and return flight from there to Amsterdam.
We booked quite a lot in advance and we managed to get decently good prices for very good flights and I am glad we spent a little extra for the direct option. Life can be so much better with a bit of comfort.
I had collected tips and directions from the online version of the Lonely Planet and from travel bloggers and made a mix, it turned out to be a really nice combination as I could get the complete overview from the first one but also direct stories from the second ones.
I had pinned in advance interesting spots around and we decided daily how to move around. Even though I had a wish list, I also didn’t want to stress about seeing everything and I left with only this in mind: when in Kyoto visit a temple and the geisha district, in Tokyo do shopping and in the southern islands purely chill.
Of course we managed to do much more than that but it’s really true that when you set easy goals for yourself it’s much easiest to get motivated after accomplishing them effortlessly.
doing grocery shopping was on top of our wish list, quite basic
Because the three chapters of our trip were so diverse and full of stories to tell, I decided to write three separate journals (one for Kyoto and its surrounding, one for the Yaeyama Islands and one for Tokyo).
Because I love lists, I am going to give you a preview through the list of our personal tips and fascinating discoveries:
- BUS systems vary slightly from city to city, but the general rule is that you can pay on board and you shall get out from the front door next to the driver.
- If you also love going around by BIKE, be aware that if you are taller than 1,75m most of the standard bikes (including the one of the bike sharing systems) are going to be ridiculously small for you and you better search for places where they rent racing bikes (more expensive but an ideal option).
- Speaking of CYCLING, while everything else is perfectly regulated and perfectly executed, riding a bike belongs to pure anarchy and it is quite fun, terrifying and interesting to experience it.
- Simply try to make it to the ISLANDS IN THE SOUTH, they are nothing like the rest of Japan and they are stunning.
- Travel just after the school vacation at the BEGINNING OF MAY. The weather will be good, but prices will drop and you will have some of the attractions all for yourself.
- FRESH INGREDIENTS, fruits and vegetables are very difficult to find. Look for Fresco when in Kyoto or Don Quixote in Tokyo. There are expensive but you will find plenty of options.
- About ACCOMMODATION: if you are planning to visit Kyoto choose a traditional guest house, it’s going to make you enter a unique reality; in Tokyo experience the pocket-apartment life, it’s border-line illegal to rent through airbnb but that “border-line” makes all the difference; on the islands stay at a hostel, because they are one of the favorite destinations for Japanese solo travelers you are going to meet and connect with many interesting people ready to share their story.
- Besides booking the flights and hotels and double, triple checking that we didn’t need a visa, I had booked in advance a PORTABLE WIFI DEVICE. It turned out to be the best, most affordable investment ever. I blindly followed the recommendation of AsiaTravelBug and ordered a Pupuru wifi device to be picked up directly at the airport and it’s really the perfect tool to have unlimited wifi access anywhere. Considering the lack of free wifi and poor English it turned out to be very helpful (downloading a voice translator in combination was a good idea as well).
- Be aware that sweets and drinks are very LOW IN SUGAR and by the end of your trip you are going to be clean from your addiction. At the same speed you are also going to learn how to RECYCLE and take care of not producing trash or disorder.
- BARGAINING is the ultimate insult, do it at your own risk
- Japanese put a lot of pride in their WORK and you are going to be surrounded by this “I am doing the very best I can” atmosphere. In return, feel empowered to be the best tourist you can possibly be.