Japan, the land of the rising sun, had a mystic appeal to us. But the major reason we wanted to visit the country was because Dileep, my husband, is a huge Anime fan. He grew up following Naruto, Death Note, One Piece, Inu Yasha, Pokemon, Beyblade, Digimon, Studio Ghibli movies, Dragonball and One Punch Man among others. Dileep firmly believed that he would be able to considerably increase his action figure collection by visiting Japan. So, for years, Japan had been a dream destination for him.
But Anime brought us closer to Japanese culture and we came to know about some of the Japanese beliefs such as Ikigai and Zen. This inspired us and we yearned to know more about the Japanese way of living.
We decided to visit Japan in the year of 2019. While planning this trip we struggled to find accurate information about weather, holiday season, expenses and places to visit during winter. And while travelling, we busted a lot of myths and discovered things that were not mentioned in the multitude of blogs and vlogs. That’s why I want to pen everything down and I hope this travelogue helps you in planning your trip to this beautiful country better..
Here we go!
Plan in advance
We started planning around 6 months before our travel date, 24th Dec 2019. We perused the itineraries of popular online travel companies such as makemytrip, sotc, Thomas Cook etc. We compared them, placed call backs from the agents and discussed our options. But we had specific destinations in our mind and the itineraries did not match well with our plans. That’s when we decided to plan the trip on our own.This was one of the best decisions we took because the following weekends were full of case studies of Japan exploration. We loved every bit of the planning and it made the trip even more memorable.
First thing we did was roughly decide the cities to explore. We narrowed down our options to Osaka, Nara, Kyoto, Hakone and Tokyo.
Osaka was a choice we made for the buzz of business, streets of food, and the nightlife. Nara and Kyoto are famous tourist spots with world heritage sites, zen gardens and ancient shrines. We chose Hakone for the thrill of onsen (Japanese hot spring) and its proximity to Mount Fuji. We chose Tokyo because Tokyo is Tokyo (bgm : Teriyaki Boyz -Tokyo drift).
We finalised Osaka to be our starting point and Tokyo to be our last stop. Hence we booked our tickets for the below:
Kempegowda International Airport, Bengaluru > Kansai International Airport, Osaka
Narita International Airport, Tokyo > Kempegowda International Airport, Bengaluru
We booked our flight tickets in Thai Airways for the onward journey and in Malaysian Airlines for our return journey. We called both the airlines to check about layover and luggage transfer which they confirmed will be managed by them. As the first step, we made our bookings directly from the homepage of both the airlines and was happy to receive the PNR. We realised that we were actually going! We started to learn basic Japanese from Duolingo app!
The very next weekend was full of exploring places to stay. Japan is known for capsules or pod style hotels to Ryokans or traditional inns. We also found popular chains such as Marriott, Mistui Garden, APA and FP hotels which all provided good options. We decided to opt for hotel stay in the cities and opt for a traditional Japanese homestay in Kyoto.
Hotel reservations, VISA and Itinerary
We made all our bookings through booking.com. We double checked for cancellation policies as we wanted to keep our options open. We booked the following places for our stay. We recommend these places highly.
FP hotels Grand, South Namba – Osaka (4 nights)
Airbnb Kyo-Obataya – Kyoto (3 nights)
Mistui Garden Hotel Gotanda – Tokyo (4 nights)
The major part was done! Now it was the time to apply for Visa. We did not approach any agency and directly applied it from VFS global. As all went well, it took around only 20 days for us to receive our Visa.
Every weekend after that was about finding places to eat, shop and explore in these cities. Our itinerary was planned basis his interest to shop for anime action figures and my bias as a foodie. But we consciously skipped some tourist spots that were notorious for long queues and opted for similar but less crowded spots. We did not jam-pack our itinerary and left ample scope for impromptu plans.
After multiple iterations we tentatively finalised the itinerary below:
Click here to download the complete itinerary.
We got to explore more and different places, but having this blueprint helped us a lot to organise our travel better.
As we travelled during winter, we had anticipated weather ranging from 0 to 10 deg celsius. We had closely watched the weather reports till the week before our travel. There were mixed opinions and videos about whether it will snow in Japan. Thanks to Decathlon and friends who braved harsher weather, we were well equipped to meet one of coldest seasons in Japan.
I had bought 2 pairs of thermals, 2 pairs of woollen socks (highly discourage just 1 pair), 2 sweatpants, 2 jackets with hoodie (1 jacket was a lighter one for 5 deg celsius and above, the other one was for -5 deg to 10 deg celsius). The best buy was the boots from Decathlon (snow hiking shoes for temperature range -10 to 10 deg celsius) which was comfortable and served the purpose. I carried scarfs and pom pom hats. The trip gave me more than enough chances to use all of the aforementioned and not one proved a waste of purchase.
Finally the day arrived and we successfully manage to pack light. We had packed one check in trolley bag, one cabin bag and one backpack. The backpack was Nike’s solid backpack which we took in our hand and it helped us carry a lot of things in a compact manner.
We left for the airport around 4 hours earlier. As Xmas was around the corner the Kempegowda International terminal in Bengaluru was really crowded. But surely the holiday season made everyone merrier and I was given a kind smile and a joyous “Happy Vacation” by my immigration officer. Dileep, however, did not receive this as he looked a little suspicious with his ninja hooded sweater which he wore a little too soon than necessary!
We grabbed a hot beverage from Starbucks and waited near the gate. As every hour passed by I could feel the excitement growing too. Finally we were all set to start our trip and I knew it was going to be an amazing trip. I couldn’t wait to reach Osaka and start exploring, but I could never have imagined who would be there to welcome us!