Hey there my fellow travelers, how have you been?
It’s been so long since we’ve been able to pack our bags and explore the world, hasn’t it? But now that things are getting under control and the pandemic is easing up, it’s time to get excited about traveling again!
And guess what? I recently visited Japan, the country that had been at the top of my bucket list for the longest time! I have to admit, I was feeling a bit nervous about traveling to Japan during these times, but fortunately, I had a great itinerary planner who helped me immensely! Not only did she provide me with fantastic recommendations, but she also addressed all my queries and put my worries to rest.
MY TIME IN JAPAN
During my trip, I spent nearly two weeks exploring the rural areas of West Japan, which offered a unique and distinctive journey. Since there was a lot of commuting involved, I heavily relied on my JR West Rail Pass to get around. In general, you do not need to make a reservation for your luggage when taking a train with your JR West Rail Pass, but is great to check online for the latest regulations before we travel.
The rail pass is exclusively available to foreigners and provides unlimited rides and free seat reservations, even on the Shinkansen. I strongly recommend getting one as it is convenient and cost-effective, helping you save a lot on transportation expenses. During my time in Japan, I purchased a 5-day Kansai-WIDE Area Pass and a 7-day Kansai-Hokuriku Area Pass, which covered my entire trip.
I decided to stay in hotels near the train stations for my accommodation, and it turned out to be the best decision ever! Not only did it save me from unnecessary traveling, but the hotels themselves were also incredibly comfortable, with top-notch amenities and services that exceeded all my expectations. It was everything I could have asked for in a hotel!
INTO THE FINER DETAILS
As this was my first trip since the pandemic began, I’m incredibly excited and grateful for the experience! To ensure that it doesn’t fade from my memory, I’ve decided to note down the major highlights in my blog. So, read on to learn more about my escapade!
DAY 1 – 3: OSAKA
Upon arriving at Itami International Airport, I made a transit to JR Osaka Station and checked into Hotel Granvia Osaka. The location of this hotel is perfect – situated right above Osaka Station! The Granvia Lounge on the top floor was a nice touch, with complimentary refreshments and business support services for guests staying on the Granvia floors.
Let’s talk about the food scene in Osaka! I always have a thing for Takoyaki, adoring its rich umami flavor, crispy texture on the outside, and gooey consistency on the inside. Although this can be found in Singapore, it is a must-eat in Osaka, as this dish is believed to have originated from here. I spotted a cool Takoyaki store where I could sit to admire the chef in action before devouring the hot snack, lovely! What’s more, this store is conveniently located at a walking distance from my hotel!
Besides exploring the iconic landmarks such as Osaka Castle, Umeda Sky Building, and the vibrant Dotonbori district, I also ventured out to Arima Onsen, a hot spring town nestled in the mountains, for a peaceful getaway. The hot spring was incredibly relaxing, and the rural atmosphere was a welcome change from the city. You must try the Sansho Pepper Steamed Pork Bun when you are at here – it is extremely delightful!
DAY 3 – 5: TOYAMA
My trip to Toyama was absolutely amazing with many incredible things to do and see! For a start, I visited Fujiko F. Fujio Museum, a fascinating attraction for enthusiasts of the popular anime series, Doraemon, and its creator. Additionally, as the birthplace of the author of Doraemon, the museum holds a unique significance that adds to its allure.
The impressive bronze Takaoka Daibutsu is one of three largest buddha statues in Japan. It depicts Amida Buddha, who is believed to be the Buddha of Infinite Light and the ruler of the Western Paradise, seated in the lotus position with a grandeur that is truly awe-inspiring! Feeling really glad to check this out for the trip.
Toyama is famous for local delicacies such as Hotaruika Firefly Squid and Shiroebi Prawns, that are seriously mouth-watering no matter being cooked or eaten raw. I had them at a few places, including a sushi place, and a shop where they are served with a sake buffet!
Now, let me tell you about the cherry on top of my Toyama experience – Hotel Vischio Toyama! This hotel is situated right beside JR Toyama Station, surrounded by vibrant shopping malls, with its reception located on the 5th floor of the MAROOT shopping mall. The hotel’s modern design is impressive and I loved the glimpse of Alps from my hotel room! There is a garden-inspired public bath, and the breakfast buffet featuring approximately 60 local Toyama dishes was my foodie’s dream come true! Don’t even get me started on the guest lounge that provides complimentary refreshments!
DAY 5 – 7: KYOTO
During my trip to Kyoto, I was excited to explore the city’s iconic temples and shrines, which had always been on my bucket list. One of the most impressive ones was the Yasaka-jinja Shrine, famous for its stunning architecture and striking red torii gate at the entrance. This attraction was conveniently located near the bustling shopping district that I couldn’t wait to explore.
To make the most of my visit, I decided to stay at Hotel Granvia Kyoto, which came highly recommended by my friends. The hotel’s location above JR Kyoto Station and proximity to World Heritage Sites like Toji Temple and Nishi-Honganji Temple made it an ideal base for exploring the city’s cultural landmarks.
Additionally, the Granvia Lounge, exclusively available to Granvia Floor guests, was a favorite of mine as it offered complimentary refreshments and express check-in/out services. For those interested in Japanese art and craft tours, the newly opened Atelier Japan on the third floor was also worth a visit.
DAY 7 to 9: NARA
I stayed at this amazing hotel called Nara Hotel, which I feel is a total highlight of my trip! This hotel is not like any others but a historic building with a unique and traditional Japanese style architecture. The exterior is made of wood and has a classic charm to it that makes it stand out. The building has a grand entrance with a porch, where guests can enter through large door. Once inside, guests will be greeted with a spacious lobby adorned with charming Japanese-style decor and furnishings.
I feel the hotel has a very welcoming and warm atmosphere, with a lot of natural light. Can you believe Nara Hotel has been around since 1909? Even famous peeps like Albert Einstein and Audrey Hepburn have stayed there!
There are many scenic trails in and around the hotel grounds for exploration, and I went to check out the Former Daijoin Temple Garden, St. Raphael Chapel, and Terrace Garden to get some Instagram worthy shots. The sceneries are perfect and I’m very satisfied with them!
But wait, there is more! The Tea Lounge in the hotel had the most delightful cakes, coffee, and tea, with a view that was just amazing. I even spotted some deer strolling by while I enjoyed my munchies.
Waking up to the next morning for a traditional Nara breakfast of tea porridge and pickles was one for the books, so delightful that I will never forget!
DAY 9 – 11: OKAYAMA
While exploring Okayama, I decided to venture off the beaten path and discover some unique spots. As much as I loved visiting the stunning Korakuen Garden, Okayama Castle, and Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter, I wanted to find something different. That’s when I stumbled upon Hotel Granvia Okayama.
This hotel was luxurious, and it quickly became one of my favorite places to stay. Not only was it a popular choice for wedding celebrations and travelers, but it was also conveniently located just a 3-minute walk from JR Okayama Station. And let’s not forget Lumiere, the hotel’s café where they served up the most delicious seasonal fruit parfaits made with locally sourced fruits. I felt like I was indulging in a little slice of heaven with every bite!
The real adventure began when I started exploring some unconventional recommendations from Irene. I visited a museum dedicated to jeans, which was surprisingly fascinating. I also checked out a Japanese sword museum and even went on a tour of a local beer factory! And of course, no trip to Okayama would be complete without experiencing the renowned Seto Ohashi. These unique sites were truly captivating, discovering a whole new side of the city.
DAY 11 – 13: SHIGA – OTSU
As my journey is coming to an end, my planner got me to stay in Otsu, a charming city conveniently located near Kyoto Station for my airport transfer. She suggested the Lake Biwa Otsu Prince Hotel, which turned out to be a spectacular choice! My room was incredibly spacious, and the view of Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest lake, took my breath away.
The hotel has plenty of lavish amenities, like hot spring bath, an outdoor pool, and complimentary shuttle service to and from Otsu Station. But what really impressed me was the welcome counter in JR Kyoto Station, where I could drop off my luggage and explore the city before heading to the hotel with ease.
While there are many activities to participate, I spent most of my time taking leisurely strolls around the freshwater lake. The scenery was absolutely picturesque, with stunning mountains, lovely parks and beaches surrounding the area. Walking around this lake was incredibly calming, the perfect way to unwind after a long journey.
Omigyu is a type of wagyu beef produced in Omi, a province in Shiga prefecture that includes the city of Otsu. It is known for its exceptional marbling, tenderness, and flavor, making it one of the most highly-regarded types of wagyu beef in Japan. The beef is typically served in high-end restaurants and is considered a delicacy. I was thrilled to finally taste it, and it was truly a culinary experience to remember – I must thank my planner again for this wonderful recommendation!
DAY 14 – BYE BYE JAPAN
The journey from Kyoto to Kansai Airport was an absolute breeze, thanks to the Kansai Airport Express and my trusty JR West Rail Pass. I couldn’t believe how effortless the whole experience was!
Boarding the direct train from JR Kyoto Station was a total no-brainer, and I didn’t have to worry about any extra fees since my rail pass covered the fare. The train was super comfortable and spacious, with plenty of room for my luggage. I was able to kick back and relax while enjoying the beautiful scenery as we zoomed towards the airport.
When we finally arrived, finding my way to the airport terminal was a piece of cake. The whole trip was so stress-free and enjoyable, it was hard to believe I was traveling! I highly recommend this option to anyone looking for a hassle-free way to get from Kyoto to Kansai Airport. Trust me, you won’t regret it!
A HEARTFELT THANK YOU NOTE TO IRENE
I can’t stress enough how much fun I had in Japan! From the incredible sights and activities to the delicious food and friendly locals, it was an unforgettable experience. But let me tell you, planning a personalized trip to Japan can be a daunting task, especially with the language barrier. This is why I’m really feeling thankful to Irene, for being such an amazing itinerary planner who made the most out of my time there.
Thanks to her meticulous planning, I was able to tick off most of the things on my list of must-see and must-do activities. With the new restrictions in place, reservations were needed in many places, but she had me covered. Her knowledge of attractions, travel times, weather, and the latest pandemic rules was top-notch, and she kept me up-to-date throughout my trip. It was clear that she had gained her expertise through years of experience working with a variety of travelers, from families to solo adventurers. Her thoughtfulness and insider knowledge proved invaluable and made my trip all the more enjoyable.
If you are planning a trip to Japan, I highly recommend getting in touch with Irene! Her email is at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can send her a message on Instagram at https://instagram.com/irene_sohst.
Overall, Japan is an amazing destination that I would recommend to anyone looking for a travel experience all round. Whether you’re into the bustling city life or the tranquil countryside, Japan has something for everyone! So what are you waiting for? Start planning now to get your wanderlust fixed!